Sunday, March 11, 2012

Are Some Extra-Scriptural Writings Mistakenly Not Included in the Bible?

Because a particular extra-scriptural writing is mentioned, quoted or referenced in scripture, but not included in scripture as a whole, does that mean that it is inspired of God?  This is a question that was brought up in a discussion thread on Facebook the other day.  There are two extra scriptural books mentioned specifically in scripture, one is Jasher and the other is Enoch.  (Look at Joshua 10:13, 2nd Samuel 1:18 and Jude 1:14)  Neither of these books were accepted into the canon of scripture by either the Jews with the Tanakh or by the early Christian church with what became the New Testament.  What about the mention of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia in the Book of Esther?  I could go on with many more references as well as quotes.

The Apostle Paul quoted extensively the classical Greek philosophers and poets in his attempt to persuade the Greeks in Athens.  Most of these quotes are recorded in the book of Acts.  To understand Paul’s reasoning to quote from pagan philosophers, it is extremely important to understand clearly who Paul is in relation to his cultural and educational background as well as to whom he was speaking.  The Apostle Paul, or rather Rabbi Shaul was highly educated, and as we all know, from the city of Tarsus in Cilicia.

Acts 21:37-39a KJV 37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? 38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? 39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city:

Tarsus was an immensely important city and the location of the most famous school of philosophy in the ancient world.  Strabo, 64 BC to 24 AD was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.  His writings tell us of the enthusiasm of the inhabitants of Tarsus for learning, especially for philosophy.  Strabo stated that “Tarsus surpasses Athens and Alexandria and every other university town.”  It was characterized by the fact that the student body was composed almost entirely of native residents, who, after finishing their course, usually went abroad to complete their education and in most cases did not return home.

It was, as it is today, an expensive proposition to travel abroad to complete one’s education, yet it is recorded that Paul studied “at the feet of Gamaliel” recorded in Acts 22.

Acts 22:3 KJV 3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel and president of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  Paul came from a wealthy family able to afford the type of education that he received.  A passage in the Mishnah outlines the method and path of a formal education in these ancient times.  According to Pirkey Avot 5:21 Formal education began at age 5 at the Beit Sefer (House of the Book) learning the alephbet and how to read.  At age 10 one would graduate to the Beit Talmud (House of Learning).  At 12 or 13 formal education was completed, but if it was desired, a student would be sent to the Beit Midrash (House of Study) to sit at the feet of the Teachers of the Law (Torah). 

Paul’s extensive education would have given him a thorough understanding of Greek philosophy from an early age.  Having studied “at the feet” of Gamaliel, in his late teens to early twenties, his further education would have been in the most orthodox of Jewish traditions of his day.  Paul describes himself as a Pharisee among Pharisees and having dedicated his life to the study and living of the Torah (Law)!

Acts 23:6 KJV 6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Philippians 3:5 KJV 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

With Paul’s education, he was intimately familiar with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Strabo, Aratus and Cicero and the philosophies of the Epicureans and the Stoics among many others.  He was fluent in several languages as demonstrated in Acts 21 where it is recorded that he spoke Greek to a government official and Hebrew to the gathered crowd of Jews.

Acts 21:39b-40 (NKJV) …I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. 40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue…

Paul could speak Greek and Hebrew, probably Latin and Aramaic as well.  He began his education in his home town of Tarsus, home of the greatest learning center of the ancient world at the time.  He studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem as a disciple.  This level and scope of education prepared him for the mission of “the Apostle to the gentiles”.  In his various journies, when he found his way to the Greek cities of Asia minor, he most often spoke in the synagogues, reasoning with the Jew and Gentile worshipers.  He would also take the Gospel message to the public market places and in Athens, this got him into a little trouble.  Athens was the center of idolatry in the world at that time, with temples, statues, and other monuments and shrines dedicated to nearly every pagan god imaginable.

Acts 17:15-19 NKJV 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed. 16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?

So afraid, were the people of Athens that they may forget to honor an obscure god, that they erected a shrine to “the unknown god!”  To us that seems absurd, but to them, they are hedging their bets.

Acts 17:22-28 NKJV 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 "for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 "for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'

This is amazing, Paul, in this passage from acts, in attempting to persuade the people of Athens as to the identity of this “unknown god” to whom they have erected a shrine.  Paul quotes from their own philosophers and poets to prove his point.  Where does the phrase “for we are also his offspring” come from?  It is taken from a didactic poem titled Phaenomena, written by Aratus from Cilicia in 300 BC!  Paul, being from Cilicia and educated in Tarsus, its greatest city, would have known this poet from an early age.

From Phaenomena 1-5:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.  For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.  Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.  Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zues.  For we are indeed his offspring…

In Titus 1:12 Paul quotes another Greek philosopher, Epimenides of Knossos (Crete).

Titus 1:12 NKJV 12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."

Epimenides was a semi-legendary Greek seer and philosopher-poet, who is said to have fallen asleep for 57 years in a Cretian cave sacred to Zeus, he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophesy.  Epimenides considered Zeus to be immortal.

The poem, Minos addresses Zeus thus:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one, The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou are not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.

Remember Acts 17:28 “…for we live and move and have our being…”?

Here is yet another one.  Meander (342-291 BC) A Greek dramatist, the author of over a hundred comedies wrote, “Evil communication corrupts good manners” in a play titled “Thais.”  Paul uses this line from Thais in 1 Cor. 15:33

1 Corinthians 15:33 NKJV 33 Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."

Paul was largely unsuccessful in Athens, for there was never a "Church" established in Athens.  Paul, thereafter limited his mission to the Jews and the Greeks in the synagogues.

Acts 18:1-5 NKJV 1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.

Paul learned from his mistake and makes the adjustment to his approach in his mission field.  Forgetting philosophy and returning to teaching Torah!

1 Corinthians 1:17-23 NKJV 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words (ie: philosophy), lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,

Where does one draw the line as to what is inspired of God and what is not?  Are writings that originate outside of scripture, but are then mentioned in scripture, to be, by such association, considered inspired or in some such way an equal to scripture, included in scripture?  If that is the case, then we must accept much of the ancient Greek philosophers that the Apostle Paul quoted as being inspired of God and include their writings as scripture as well.  What kind of mess would that result in?  So the answer to the title question is clearly no! It would be “mere folly” to do so.

שלום ברוך
Shalom and be blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

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