A new “Bible” has just been published. Your problem is that you thought you had a complete one – the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 of the New Testament. The problem is that those pesky patriarchal early church fathers excised some of the books that should rightfully be included in Scriptures. You were left short changed with an incomplete canon.
We all know, and the Davinci Code made clear, that the authoritative books of the New Testament were determined by men who had something to lose if certain writings were included in the authoritative list of books of the church – you know, those books that made a larger place for women and made Jesus more human than the letters of the Apostle Paul seemed to do. The early church leaders wanted a more mystical Jesus. The more mystical he was the more the church would need leaders to represent him. If he was only a man who simply died and passed into history, that just wouldn’t do. The Apostles needed status, and they needed Scriptures that gave it to them.
And they needed Scriptures that kept women out of leadership. It would not do to have a democratic Jesus where all were equal. Slavery needed to be validated and women should be kept in check. Once again, the Apostle Paul would do the trick.
This narrative has power for those who are convinced that the Church is merely human and a play at power control. This narrative also has power for those who are uneasy with the Bible as we have it on such issues as homosexuality, same sex marriage, gender issues, capitalism, ecology, etc. By “finding” other excluded books of the Bible there is support for another version of early Christianity, which means that Christianity is more elastic and less absolute than its current popular version.
Walla!!! Let there be another Bible!!! And behold, there is!!! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has just released a new testament that includes some of the discarded books. It is titled, A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. The publisher comments:
It is time for a new New Testament.
Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these scriptures are rarely read in contemporary churches; they are discussed nearly only by scholars or within a context only of gnostic gospels. Why should these books be set aside? Why should they continue to be lost to most of us? And don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians?
To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in A New New Testament. Reading the traditional scriptures alongside these new texts—the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of Mary, Paul’s letters with The Letter of Peter to Philip, The Revelation to John with The Secret Revelation to John—offers the exciting possibility of understanding both the new and the old better. This new reading, and the accompanying commentary in this volume, promises to reinvigorate a centuries-old conversation and to bring new relevance to a dynamic tradition.
“Numerous lost scriptures”? This assumes what remains to be proved, that these writings were of the status of Scripture, a more technical designation of books believed to be inspired by God and therefore authoritative for the church. These newly included books were not nearly so influential as the publisher and the author claim in the underlying assumption that there were many kinds of Christianities alive in the early church, all in dynamic tension with one another with no single version trumping the rest.
The reality is much different than this imagined scenario. The scarcity of these texts is not the result of exclusion but the result of no longer being read and therefore no longer worthy of the effort of copying and preserving. The reality is that the early church was mostly comfortable with including as Scripture those books authored by Apostles or those immediately associated with them. They are first century writings written within the lifetime of Apostles. None of the other “new new testament books” were earlier than the second century and many were later.
The author comments
A New New Testament opens the door to a wider set of expressions, practices, stories, and teachings than they have previously known.
This is exactly what modern humankind needs, isn’t it? A wider set of expressions and practices. Nothing authoritative here folks. Just move on. Just move on.
The book’s author asserts that Martin Luther removed from the Bible some books of the Old Testament, supposedly demonstrating that the Bible is a fluid thing, subject to historical forces and cultural biases. Did Luther remove books from the Bible. Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! Luther was merely repeating the practice of many before him of not including the Apocryphal books that were part of the Septuagint version, a Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, along with the inclusion of some works that were not in the Hebrew Bible. These works might have been in Hebrew. They might never have been in Hebrew. We just do not know. But no one disputes the reality that the Bible Jesus knew and used was the Hebrew Bible with its (in English) 39 books. Some church fathers believed these deuterocanonical books (as the Roman Catholic Church calls them) should be authoritative for New Testament believers, some did not. In no case was it believed that these books were authoritative for Palestinian Jews of Jesus times. Jesus quotes from all sections of the Hebrew Bible but never from the Apocrypha.
As you can imagine, this discussion could, and does, go on and on. What is clear is that A New New Testament is not a product of neutral scholarship but an expression of the belief that there is no authoritative tradition that derives from an inspired canon but only creative versions of Christianities that in the author’s opinion would make the church more vibrant. And if there is any opinion in the book that is mere opinion, this is the one.