Monday, May 17, 2010

A People's History of Christianity: The New Testament Apocrypha (Part Three)

Below is part two of the three post blog on the New Testament Apocrypha; it covers the Apocalypse. You can read part one Here.

Finally, I will consider the last major section of the NT Apocrypha, the Apocalypse. For many of the same reasons that Revelations was so hard to adopt into the NT canon, these books also are hard for many to accept. The Apocalypse texts are also the most important to the future world of art; the images the authors created with words would later be painted by several artists. These books, like the acts of the apostles, were also important to the growth of Christianity, because of the strong themes found in them.

To assert there is hell is not as strong as to describe what hell looks like, and such descriptions were strong enough to give grown men nightmares—which is exactly what the Apocalypse of Peter and Paul did. In these books hell was not just hell—hell was where people were hung, “by their tongues,” and where lakes were made from “discharge and excrement;” unlike the NT, people were violently tortured in the apocryphal hell—an incredibly powerful message to someone who did not believe. Both books make clear, though more so in Paul, that there is a heaven, and it’s a place a person would not want to pass up.

What the Apocalypse also shows is a profound love for Judaism within Christianity—such is the case for The Ascension Of Isaiah. It, like Peter and Paul, wants show the unbeliever that hell is their destiny, but it also wants to show that Isaiah had seen Christ when he ascended into heaven. To do this the author uses a unique writing style—he writes the Apocalypse just like the OT. Except for the reference to Christ this book could easily be mistakes for a OT work.

If these books were so influential to Christians there is still the question of why they did not make it into the canon. It is not the hardest question to answer—some books because they were written too late, some because they contained too many issues the church fathers considered heretical, some because they did not provide truth or facts. All these books, however, contained the answer to the questions historians would later come to ask—who were the early Christians.

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