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What Is the Pseudepigrapha?

Based on solid biblical reasoning, we can conclude that the canon will remain closed, so there is no need for additional books. Pseudepigrapha comes from the Greek word pseudo meaning false, and epigraphein, meaning to inscribe or write falsely.

Dave Jenkins
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The pseudepigrapha are books that attempt to imitate Scripture but were written under false names. Pseudepigrapha comes from the Greek word pseudo meaning false, and epigraphein, meaning to inscribe or 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.

Reasons to Reject the Pseudepigrapha

While pseudepigraphical books may interest students of ancient religious thought or history, they are not inspired by God and are not part of the Word of God.

These books were not included in the 66 books of Scripture because they were written under false names. Any falsehood or pretense negates the claims of its truthfulness.

The second reason is there are historical errors in these books. One example of this is in the Apocalypse of Baruch: the fall of Jerusalem occurs “in the twenty-fifth year of Jeconiah, king of Judah.”

The problem is that Jeconiah was 18 years old when he began to reign, and he only reigned for three months (2 Kings 24:8). There is no way to reconcile the “twenty-fifth-year” statement with the biblical account.

Third, pseudepigraphical books contain heresy. In the pseudepigraphical Acts of John, John is presented as a spirit or phantasm who left no footprints when He walked, who could not be touched, and who did not die on the cross.

The Apostle Paul and Pseudepigraphical Issues

The Apostle Paul had to deal with pseudepigrapha written in his day. Addressing the Thessalonian church, Paul says not to be alarmed by a “letter supposed to have come from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). 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; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18).

Books within the Pseudepigrapha

Many books fall under the category of the 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. 

Athanasius and the Canon of Scripture

No other figure in church history shines as brightly as Athanasius. Athanasius was born in AD 295 and quickly rose through the ranks of the Alexandrian Church.

He became a personal assistant to the bishop and was there at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Athanasius was the first to recognize what is now the 27 letters in the New Testament.

The first list of 27 books in the New Testament appears in AD 367 in a letter written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.

It was not until after that date that uniform agreement on the list was found among all teachers in the Catholic Church.

Around the end of the second century, most of the 27 books of the New Testament were accepted by the Catholic Church and were placed alongside the Jewish Scriptures.

The Meaning of the Word Canon

The word canon means to stand or rule. The canon is the list of authoritative and inspired Scripture. In Protestant Christianity, the canon is the body of Scripture that constitutes the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.

What to Do with Pseudepigraphical Books Like It

Christians should not treat the pseudepigrapha as Scripture. If you decide to read these books, you may read them as an interesting novel containing interesting stories from history. You may not read them as the inspired, inerrant, infallible, clear, and authoritative Word of God.

Christians can rest our confidence in the faithfulness of God the Father who would not lead his people for two thousand years to trust as His Word something that isn’t His Word.

And we find our confidence repeatedly confirmed both by historical investigation and by the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling us to hear God’s voice in a unique way as we read from every one of the 66 books of Scripture.

In all known literature, there are no candidates that even come close to Scripture when consideration is given to their doctrinal consistency with the rest of Scripture and to the type of authority, they claim for themselves.

Once again, the faithfulness of God to His people convinces us that there is nothing missing from Scripture that God thinks we need to know for obeying him and trusting him fully. The canon of Scripture today is precisely what God wanted it to be, and it will stay that way until Christ returns.

Scripture Is Closed

Revelation 22:18-19 contains warnings of severe divine judgment for disobedience in adding to or removing Scripture. Revelation is the only book of the New Testament to end with this kind of teaching and was the last book in the New Testament to be written.

These facts tell us that Revelation was the last book of the canon and that the Bible was completed with it, so to either add or delete would bring God’s divine displeasure and judgment.

The early church, those closest in time to the apostles, believed Revelation concluded God’s inspired writings, the Scripture.

Based on solid biblical reasoning, we can conclude that the canon will remain closed, so there is no need for additional books like those of pseudepigraphical, nor should they be considered Scripture.

For further reading:

What Are the Apocryphal Books and Do They Belong in the Bible?

What Are the Lost Books of the Bible?

What Does it Mean That the Word of God Is Alive?

Did Paul Know That His Letters Would be Scripture?

What Is the Gospel of Thomas?

How Many Books Are in the Bible?

What Does it Mean that the Bible Is Infallible? What Is Biblical Infallibility?

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dave jenkins author bio pictureDave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on FacebookTwitter, InstagramParlerYoutube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

Originally published January 26, 2021.