In our day and age, we might be of the mistaken opinion that the integrity of doctrine, and the misuse of “copyrights” of individuals and organizations and the promotion of fraudulent documents with the look of legitimacy but with contents full of lies is a new phenomenon, but an examination of the history of the late BC and early AD period will show that religious copyright infringement was alive and well then as well. This fact ought not to be surprising, as counterfeits and fakes are aspects of lying and stealing from the intellectual integrity of others or seeking to steal the legitimacy of others for one’s own heresies and rebellions.
Second Temple and Early Christian Pseudographia
The post-biblical second temple period was full of false works being written and ascribed to famous biblical personages, including additions to Daniel (like Bel and the Dragon) and Esther, a Prayer of Manasseh, and also substantial works like First Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, both of which are referred to in scripture with apparently ironic purposes (which will be noted shortly), and others like the Wisdom of Solomon, some of which ended up in the “official” Apocrypha, and others of which were relegated to the still more shadowy Pseudographia (or “fake writings”).
What would be the purpose of writing “fake” religious works while lacking the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit but seeking to cloak such works in legitimacy by making them appear as if they were written by faithful biblical personages? It would appear as if this was a cloak by which heresy was spread into the religious community of Judaism and later early Christianity, as people might not be convinced by heretical teachers speaking directly against the Bible but might be convinced by something that was fake but “looked” official.
The Use of Pseudographia in the Bible
As mentioned above, two different works of Pseudographia are referenced in the Bible, though somewhat ironically given the context. In an atmosphere where “official” books of the Bible were looked upon as being propaganda and people sought the “secret” truths of pseudographical works that supposedly expressed the truths which were refuted and rejected by official channels, Jude quotes two works of that Pseudographia to preach scriptural truths to those who had rejected the messenger of scripture. Let us examine how.
Jude verses eight through ten make the first such use of the Pseudographia, in this case, the work in question is the Assumption of Moses, a work which does not survive intact from its second temple origin: “Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.” Here we see that Jude was speaking to those who rejected the authority of others to rebuke them for their sins, but whose belief in these texts allowed Jude to draw a parallel defending his authority (and that of the apostles) from their heathen works in which they trusted. Jude proved a truth from scripture from the premises and worldview of heretics.
Jude makes a similar point from 1 Enoch, a spurious work that is considered to be canonical according to the Coptic tradition, in Jude verses fourteen and fifteen: “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and all of the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”” Here again, from the false works held to be true by the ungodly recipients of Jude’s warning letter, Jude draws the scriptural truth that those who commit sins and make false accusations against God and the legitimate authorities within the Church, there will come judgment for such rebellion. The rebels of Jude’s time ought to have realized that from the works they held dear, but as they lacked spiritual discernment they could not draw truths from either the scriptures or such false works. Therefore Jude, a man of God, had to draw such conclusions for them to either accept and repent, or face God’s judgment if they persisted in error and rebellion.
Jude was not the only divinely inspired human author of scripture to recognize the problem with false works being written under the name of godly leaders. After all, during the early Christian period an elder of the Church was found to have written a pseudonymous epistle, entitled “The Acts of Paul and Thecla” which supported the right of women to preach and baptize, for which he was “de-credentialed” by the early Church of the second century AD . Paul himself was conscious of such efforts as may be seen by his conscious efforts to provide an “autograph” to the recipients of his letters in order to prove their authenticity, as it was in question even at that early period in the first century AD.
Let us review some of these Pauline autographs, which usually occur at the end of letters. 2 Thessalonians 3:17 reads: “The salutation of Paul with my own hand which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.” Colossians 3:18 closes that epistle with the following note: “This salutations by my own hand–Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.” Galatians 6:11 reads: “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand.” 1 Corinthians 16:21 and 22 read: “The salutation with my own hand–Paul’s. If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” In all of these cases there is an attested autograph of Paul’s to show the legitimacy of his letters, in proving that they came from him and not someone else.
A further example occurs in verse 19 of Philemon, which I wish to discuss separately because of its implication for Roman contract law. This verse states: “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay-not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.” Paul, in promising to repay what the runaway slave Onesimus had stolen from the slave owner Philemon, was obligating himself to that debt according to the suretyship obligation . This obligation had to be made by one’s own personal signature in order to be valid. Again, we see from this particular verse not only Paul’s deep concern to provide legitimacy for his statements by signing his own letters, but also his deep concern for obeying the laws of his time.
Religious Theft in Our Times
If we wish to show the same sort of respect and consideration for the laws of our time concerning conduct that Paul showed in his, let us examine a few behaviors that should be avoided but that can tempt people who wish to support their point through dishonest ways. Let us examine some of these behaviors, keeping care to remember that these examples are hypothetical and that godly people ought not to even be named as having engaged in such activities themselves.
- Attempts to steal church property, like buildings, by denying the owner’s representatives into such property by the use of force.
- Attempts to use the name of a church while denying its authorities, claiming legitimacy without being in association with it, in violation of the appropriate national laws as well as rules of association of the parent organization.
- Attempts to fraudulently transcribe audio recordings in order to claim that somewhat says what they do not with the aim to falsify evidence about a given meeting.
- Attempts to publicize recordings of meetings and messages without the consent of the speakers and with the false accusation attached that such meetings and messages were supposed to be secret, in order to attack the reputation of godly and honest men.
- The use of copyrighted material, including letterhead and symbols, that belongs to others in order to make one’s own false accusations and libelous statements claim to come from an “official” source.
Anyone engaging in these or similar behaviors is behaving at variance not only with God’s law concerning behavior, but often with man’s law as well. As we are called to be law-abiding citizens who should be at peace with the legal authorities (Romans 13:1-5) as well as with authorities within the Church, let us all take every opportunity we can to avoid engaging in any attempts to defraud or falsify the writings of other believers, but rather to let those words stand for themselves to be commended or to be corrected. It is the truth that will set us free (John 8:32), not false letters and fraudulent behavior justified by the supposed rightness of our cause.