It may be a surprise to many people that there isn’t one single version of the Bible and that even today, there are several versions used depending on the type of Christian you are. Throughout history, the Bible canon has been changed, with some books being added and others removed, which is ongoing in modern times. Depending on if you’re an Orthodox Christian, Catholic, or Protestant, there are differences in the Bible’s makeup that’s taught. Additionally, some versions are more ‘academic’ with additional information, and others with different books aren’t found in mainstream versions.
The History of Bible Canon
The ‘official’ Bible has been modified over the last 1700 years. The first attempt to create a standardized version was in 325 A.D., when Emperor Constantine ordered for 50 copies of the Bible to be created. However, this wasn’t yet seen as official canon. It wasn’t until later, in 367 A.D., that the first official version of the Bible was developed. The Bishop of Alexandria Athanasius listed the books that should make up the New Testament.
The next major change came during the Protestant Reformation when significant changes were made to Christianity in the face of Catholics’ questionable actions in the 16th century. The Church of England appeared from the Protestant movement and came with some changes to the Bible used. At this time, the invention of the printing press made the ability to print and distribute a standard version of the Bible far easier.
With several versions of the Bible now in circulation, many Christians prefer Bibles that contain five additional books, which are known as the Apocrypha.
The Gospel of Thomas
The first of the removed books is The Gospel of Thomas, which is interesting in that it varies quite significantly from the other books in the New Testament. Most of the book is made up of the sayings of Jesus, which appear almost identically in the other Gospels. However, there are a few significant differences with no reference to the crucifixion of Jesus, the resurrection, or the final judgment. The book wasn’t added to the official version of the Bible. It was seen as a Gnostic text, an early arm of Christianity that valued spirituality over the orthodox teachings of the Church and was deemed heresy.
The Book of Enoch
Most of the books that have been removed from the Bible, or deemed not canon, are in the New Testament, but the Book of Enoch is unique in the Old Testament. The Book of Enoch was written around the 2nd Century B.C. and differed significantly from the other canonical Old Testament texts. Enoch was Noah’s grandfather and had a more mythological reading than any other text seen in the Bible. An example is a significant description of the Nephilim, which is only briefly mentioned in the other texts. For more information, you can read this detailed article on the book of Enoch and why it’s not in the Bible here.
The Infancy Gospel
Another text related to the Gnostic Christians, the Infancy Gospel, also known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, focuses on the life of Jesus before His teenage years. The early years of Jesus are almost entirely missed by the books in the official version of the Bible, making this a text of great interest. When the canonical version of the Bible was being decided on, the Infancy Gospel was considered heretical in its telling of Jesus as a child; his depiction of a boy with that could be mischievous. Two other apocryphal books have information about Jesus’ childhood, known as The Syriac Infancy Gospel and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which were removed for similar reasons.
The Gospel of Mary
The Gospel of Mary is an exciting text and doesn’t follow the same focus on the teachings of Jesus as the other ‘official’ Gospels, which has caused a debate between scholars if it should be considered a ‘true’ Gospel. There’s also debate on which Mary, the text, is narrated from between Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information in the text to answer this question. The Gospel has several pages missing from both the beginning and the middle, but in the pages that still exist, the text tells of Jesus as He was resurrected, speaking to Mary and giving her teachings in the form of a vision. Mary discloses this to Jesus’ disciples, but they are skeptical why He would tell her in confidence as she’s a woman. Likely, this is also why the Gospel wasn’t added to the canon of the Bible.
The Acts of Paul and Thecla
This text details the life of a Christian woman named Thecla, a virgin engaged to a powerful man in Iconium. Upon learning about Christianity and chastity from Paul, she decided to refuse to marry the man and was sentenced to be burned. God intervened and saved the new Christian, allowing her to join Paul, traveling to Antioch. When he was there, the city’s magistrate attempted to sleep with her, but she refused. This led to the man trying to have her killed, but God was there to save her again. Scholars theorize that the texts weren’t included in the Bible because of her decisive actions as a woman.
If the books of Apocrypha were included in the Bible, the telling would be significantly different from what’s commonly taught today. The stories of a young Jesus give a different and potentially more complete view of the man He eventually became, humanizing him further. Although these Gospels aren’t in the official Bible canon, translators have worked to make the texts available to anyone who wishes to read them and understand what was removed for largely subjective reasons. Even today, more texts are being found and translated, giving us more historical and religious context, broadening our perspective on Christianity and how it has reached its current form.
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