Disputed Books of the Bible

There are dozens of books, chapters, and gospels that were once included in the Hebrew Bible, or that various scholars believe should be included. Some of these books have questionable attribution, or were written by groups that eventually came to be considered heretical. Others are accepted only by one or two of the three main branches of Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox).

The most common are 14 books that are included between the Old and New Testaments, called the Apocrypha (meaning “obscure” or “to hide away” in Greek). The Catholic church considers these canonical books of the Old Testament.

In a larger sense, “apocrypha” is sometimes used to refer to any book outside the traditional 66 included in most Hebrew Bibles. There is a separate category of “New Testament Apocrypha” which refers to disputed texts of Jesus’s life and the early church.

The deuterocanonical books are Old Testament books accepted by Catholic and (or something only) Eastern Orthodox churches, but rejected by Protestant churches. These include about a dozen full books – including between two and four books about the Maccabees – and additions to books like Esther and Daniel.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were a series of texts discovered in the 1940s and 50s along the Northern shore of the Dead Sea. Many of them were copies of existing, accepted books, while others contained Biblical-related texts, and other pseudepigrapha.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Egypt in 1945, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, which claims Jesus and Judas collaborated on a plan to hand him over to the authorities (see the PS on their authenticity, below). The Gospel of Judas was only reconstructed and translated in 2006.

There are several other “lost” books that are mentioned or quoted in other texts, but no copy survives. Some of these include:

  • The Jewish-Christian gospels
  • Gospel of Bartholomew
  • Gospel of Matthias
  • Gospel of Matthias
  • Epistle to the Laodiceans (a letter from Paul)

Any discussion of disputed sections of the Bible opens up larger questions about Biblical formation or canon, which is the study of how the structure of the accepted Bible was formed. In a larger sense, by what authority do we delegate the selection of content included in the Bible?

And what is the threshold for something to even rise to the claim of “disputed”? Could I write a book of the Bible, claim it was revealed to me my God, and thereby call it a “disputed book”? At what level do we feel something is credible enough – but ultimately discredited – to be considered a disputed book?

Why I Looked It Up

I just got to wondering about this when I was walking the dog one day.


Added on December 26, 2022

I found this in God's Not Dead: Evidence for God in An Age of Uncertainty

All the New Testament books were written in the first century and were referenced in the writings of the early church fathers. That’s a key difference in distinguishing the true writings from the false and spurious: the real Gospels were written in the first century while the other imposters (such as the Gospels of Thomas and Judas) were written well into the second century.

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