What are the pseudepigrapha?
Question: "What are the pseudepigrapha?"
Answer: The pseudepigrapha are the books that attempt to imitate Scripture but that were written under false names. The term pseudepigrapha comes from the Greek pseudo, meaning “false,” and epigraphein, meaning “to inscribe,” thus, “to write falsely.” The pseudepigraphical books were written anywhere from 200 BC to AD 300. They are spurious works written by unknown authors who attempted to gain a readership by tacking on the name of a famous biblical character. Obviously, a book called the “Testament of Abraham” has a better chance of being read than the “Counterfeit Testament of an Unknown Author.”
While the pseudepigrapha may be of interest to students of history and ancient religious thought, they are not inspired by God and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture. Reasons to reject the pseudepigrapha are 1) they were written under false names. Any pretense or falsehood in a book naturally negates its claim of truthfulness. 2) They contain anachronisms and historical errors. For example, in the Apocalypse of Baruch, the fall of Jerusalem occurs “in the 25th year of Jeconiah, king of Judah.” The problem is that Jeconiah was 18 years old when he began to reign, and he only reigned 3 months (2 Kings 24:8). There is no way to reconcile the “25th year” statement with the biblical account. 3) They contain outright heresy. In the pseudepigraphal Acts of John, for example, Jesus is presented as a spirit or phantasm who left no footprints when He walked, who could not be touched, and who did not really die on the cross.
The apostle Paul had to deal with pseudepigrapha written in his own day. Addressing the Thessalonian church, Paul says not to be alarmed by a “letter supposed to have come from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Obviously, someone had tried to mislead the believers with a forged letter imitating Paul’s style. Paul was forced to take precautions: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17; see also 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; and Colossians 4:18).
There are many books that fall under the category of pseudepigrapha, including the Testament of Hezekiah, the Vision of Isaiah, the Books of Enoch, the Secrets of Enoch, the Book of Noah, the Apocalypse of Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe according to Jeremiah 36:4), the Rest of the Words of Baruch, the Psalter of Solomon, the Odes of Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Adam, the Testament of Abraham, the Testament of Job, the Apocalypse of Ezra, the Prayer of Joseph, Elijah the Prophet, Zechariah the Prophet, Zechariah: Father of John, the Itinerary of Paul, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Itinerary of Peter, the Itinerary of Thomas, the Gospel According to Thomas, the History of James, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistles of Barnabas.
Recommended Resource: The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce
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What are the pseudepigrapha?