by Gregory Koukl
Many bookstores carry titles in the religious section suggesting the discovery of lost books of the Bible. The Gospel of Thomas, unearthed in the Nag Hammadi library in Upper Egypt in 1945, serves as a well-known example of one such lost-and-found ancient manuscript. The idea that lost books of Scripture may exist excites some people and jars others. It certainly raises questions: “Have archaeologists uncovered ancient biblical texts that cast doubt on the current canon of Scripture?” “Is it possible that the Bible is incomplete?”
These questions can be answered without ever doing any research. No ancient tomes need to be read, no works of antiquity perused. Curiously, the entire issue can be answered by careful consideration of one word: Bible.
The whole question of allegedly lost books of the Bible hinges on what the word Bible means. When asked what the Bible is, a Christian would likely say, "The Bible is God's Word." Pressed for a more theologically precise definition, he or she might add that God superintended the writing of Scripture so that human authors, using their own style, personalities, and resources, wrote down word for word exactly what God intended them to write in the originals. This verbal plenary inspiration is a critical part of the Christian definition of the word Bible.
A common objection to the notion of inspiration is that the Bible was written by men, and men make mistakes. However, it does not logically follow that because humans were involved in the writing process, the Bible must necessarily be in error. Mistakes are possible, but not mandatory. To assume error in all human writing is also self-defeating. The humanly derived statement, "The Bible was written by men, and men make mistakes," would be suspect by the same standards. Human beings can and do produce writing with no errors.
Further, the challenge that men make mistakes ignores the main issue—whether or not the Bible was written only by men. The Christian accepts that humans are limited, but denies that man's limitations are significant in this case because inspiration implies that God's power supersedes man's liabilities.
So the first definition of the word Bible necessarily includes God's authorship (by inspiration) and supernatural preservation. The divine inspiration of the Bible automatically solves the problem of human involvement. Since God insures the results, it doesn't matter who did the writing. Supernaturally inspired by God, the Bible is both adequate and complete, 66 books compiled under one cover, preserved and protected by his power.
The second possible definition of Bible concedes no supernatural ground. According to this view, the Bible is not God's inspired and inerrant word. Rather, it is merely a statement of human beliefs adopted as creed by early Christian leaders.
This view says that while Christians treated the Scriptures as divinely inspired, they were mistaken. The Bible merely represents a consensus, a collection of books chosen by the early church to represent its own beliefs. A book that didn't make the cut was rejected for one reason: early Christians didn't accept its theology. The cause was human and political, not divine and supernatural. Christianity is no different from other religions that have collections of authoritative writings. Even individual professions identify certain books as official representations—“bibles”—of their respective fields.
So, the options are these: Either the Bible is divinely inspired, or it's merely a human document representing the beliefs of a religious group known as Christians. Given these two definitions, could any books of the Bible be lost?
Whether the supernatural claim is accurate or not, the first definition of Bible allows for no lost books becauseGod cannot lose something. The lost books thesis would be reduced to this: "Certain books that almighty God was responsible to preserve got lost." God cannot be both almighty and incapable at the same time. If the Bible is in fact the inspired Word of God (the first definition), then the almighty power of God himself guarantees that no portion of it could ever be lost.
Could there be lost books given the second definition? If the Scriptures were merely a product of human design, then the term Bible would refer not to the Word of God (the first definition) but to the canon of beliefs of the early church leaders (the second definition). The lost books thesis would be reduced to this: "Early church leaders rejected certain books as unrepresentative of their beliefs, that they actually believed reflected their beliefs." The contradiction is obvious. If the Bible is a collection of books that early church leaders decided would represent their point of view, then they have the final word on what is included. Any books they rejected were never part of their Bible to begin with, so, even by the second definition lost books of the Bible would be a misnomer.
"Lost books" advocates often point out that rediscovered texts were missing because the fathers suppressed them. Bible critics think this strengthens their case. Instead it destroys their position by proving that the "lost books" were not lost, but discarded. The early church acted fully within its authority when it rejected as noncanonical the Gospel of Thomas, for example, and other similar books. The leaders rightfully decided which writings represented their beliefs.
Another approach to Scripture is worth mentioning. Some academics, like those of the Jesus Seminar, reject the idea that the Bible has supernatural origins. Since the Bible is only man's opinion, the text can be amended to fix what is now considered defective or out of step with the times.
Such a reshuffling of the biblical deck—tossing out some books and including others to reflect what the church currently believes about spiritual truth—certainly creates an alternative view of Scripture. If the Jesus Seminar wants to include the Gospel of Thomas in its bible, it can do so. However, their action would not restore a lost book of the Bible, but merely redefine the canon to fit their tastes.
Has archaeology unearthed previously unknown ancient texts? Certainly. These books may be interesting, noteworthy, and valuable. The rediscovery of manuscripts such as the Gospel of Thomas is significant. Such books might be lost books of antiquity, great finds, even wonderful pieces of literature––but they are not lost books of the Bible.
This article was adapted from “No Lost Books of the Bible” available from http://www.str.org/ free/commentaries/apologetics/index.htm; Internet; accessed 2/14/02.
Gregory Koukl, founder and president of Stand to Reason, hosts a radio talk show advocating clear-thinking Christianity and defending the Christian worldview. He is coauthor of Relativism—Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Baker).