Homologoumena, Antilegomena, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

Canonicity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  53:57
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Homologoumena, Antilegomena, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Lesson # 14

In the third century, Origen categorized Christian writings in order to identify for the church which books were recognized by the church as canonical and which ones were not.
He established three categories: (a) anantireta (“unobjectionable”) or homologoumena (“acknowledged”), which were in general use in the church, (2) amphiballomena (“included/contested”), which were contested, and (3) psethde (“false”), which included books that were rejected as falsifications and therefore the products of heretics.
Then along came Eusebius of Caesarea who in the fourth century reworked these categories formulated by Origin.
He categorized Christian writings as follows: (1) homologoumena (“acknowledged”), (2) antilegomena (“disputed”): (a) gnorima (“acquainted with”), for those most Christians acknowledged, (b) notha (“illegitimate”), for those regarded as inauthentic, and (3) apocrypha (“hidden”), which were recognized as spurious.
Today, these categories of writings are seen by scholars as being in four categories: (1) Homologoumena, books accepted by virtually everyone as canonical; (2) Antilegomena, books disputed by some; (3) Pseudepigrapha, books rejected by virtually everyone as unauthentic; and (4) Apocrypha, books accepted by some as canonical or semi-canonical.
The term homologoumena identifies those Christian writings that were undisputed during the first three centuries of church history and ultimately accepted into the New Testament canon.
For Eusebius, the homologoumena, the writings acknowledged as Scripture by the church of his day, included the four Gospels, Acts, fourteen letters of Paul (including Hebrews), 1 Peter, 1 John and perhaps Revelation.
The term antilegomena was used to identify those writings whose inspiration and canonicity were disputed (ἀντιλεγόμενος, “spoken against”), as opposed to those that were accepted by all (i.e., homologoumena).
In the New Testament, these books were Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation.
The term “pseudepigrapha” was used to identify those writings which were not recognized by the church as being inspired by God and thus not included in the New Testament canon.
This term is sometimes used synonymously with New Testament Apocrypha.
During the first few centuries, numerous books of a fanciful and heretical nature arose that are neither genuine nor valuable as a whole. Eusebius of Caesarea called these “totally absurd and impious.” Virtually no orthodox Father, canon, or council considered these books to be canonical and, so far as the church is concerned, they are primarily of historical value, indicating the heretical teaching of gnostic, docetic, and ascetic groups, as well as the exaggerated fancy of religious lore in the early church. At best, these books were revered by some of the cults and referred to by some of the orthodox Fathers, but they were never considered canonical by the mainstream of Christianity.[1]
The following writings fell under the category “pseudepigrapha”: (1) The Gospel of Thomas (early second century) (2) The Gospel of the Ebionites (second century) (3) The Gospel of Peter (second century). (4) Protevangelium of James (late second century). (5) The Gospel of the Hebrews (second century). (5) The Gospel of the Egyptians (second century). (6) The Gospel of the Nazaraeans (early second century). (7) The Gospel of Philip (second century). (7) The Book of Thomas the Athlete (8) The Gospel According to Mathias (9) The Gospel of Judas (late second century). (10) Epistle of an Apostle (Epistula Apostolorum) (second century). (11) The Apocryphon of John (second century). (12) The Gospel of Truth (second century).
In relation to the New Testament canon, the term “Apocrypha” was used to identify those books which were not recognized by the church as canonical and like the Pseudepigrapha, were used by the heretics and were sometimes quoted by orthodox writers.
The following writings fall under this category: (1) Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (c. a.d. 70–79). (2) Epistle to the Corinthians (c. a.d. 96). (3) Ancient Homily, or the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (c. a.d. 120–40). (4) Shepherd of Hermas (c. a.d. 115–40). (5) Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve (c. a.d. 100–120). (6) Apocalypse of Peter (c. 150). (7) The Acts of Paul and Thecla (170). (8) Epistle to the Laodiceans (fourth century?). (9) The Gospel According to the Hebrews (a.d. 65–100). (10) Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (c. a.d. 108). (11) The Seven Epistles of Ignatius (c. a.d. 110).
In general, these books have no positive theological value, and almost no historical value, except as they reflect the religious consciousness of the church during early centuries. Their value may be summarized as follows: 1. They contain, no doubt, the kernel of some correct traditions that, by careful “demythologizing,” may furnish some supplementary historical facts about the early church. 2. They reflect the ascetic, docetic and gnostic tendencies, and heresies of early Christianity. 3. They show a popular desire for information not given in the canonical gospels, such as information about the childhood of Jesus, and the lives of the apostles. 4. They manifest an illegitimate tendency to glorify Christianity by means of pious frauds. 5. They display an unhealthy desire to find support for doctrinal interests and heretical teachings under the guise of apostolic authority. 6. They reveal an unwholesome attempt to fill up supposed lacks in the canonical writings. 7. They demonstrate the incurable tendency of depraved curiosity to arrive at heretical and fanciful embellishments of Christian truth (e.g., Mary worship). There is no doubt that the theological and historical value of most of these books is much higher than that of the Pseudepigrapha. In brief, they are valuable, but not canonical. 1. They provide the earliest documentation of some of the canonical books of the New Testament. 2. They reveal beliefs within the subapostolic church. 3. They form a bridge between the apostolic writings of the New Testament and the patristic literature of the third and fourth centuries, thus providing some clues to that transition. 4. They possess hints as to the rise of later false teachings and heresies (e.g., allegorical interpretation in Pseudo-Barnabas, or baptismal regeneration in the Shepherd). 5. They contain much of historical value about the practices and policies of the early church. With the above values in mind, it should be emphasized that none of these books is to be considered canonical or inspired. Several reasons may be proffered in support of that contention. (1) None of them enjoyed any more than a temporary or local recognition. (2) Most of them never did have anything more than a semicanonical status, being appended to various manuscripts or mentioned in tables of contents. (3) No major canon or church council included them as inspired books of the New Testament. (4) The limited acceptance enjoyed by most of these books is attributable to the fact that they attached themselves to references in canonical books (e.g., Laodiceans to Col. 4:16), because of their alleged apostolic authorship (e.g., Acts of Paul). Once these issues were clarified, there remained little doubt that these books were not canonical.[2]
[1] Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (1986). A General Introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded., p. 301). Chicago: Moody Press.
[2] Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (1986). A General Introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded., pp. 313–317). Chicago: Moody Press.
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