Can I Trust The Bible? (Part 21)
In our last study, we saw reasons why 1 Esdras is not the Word of God. So, what about the rest of the Esdras writings? Are they the Word of God? Let’s see what we can learn and what we should believe about them.
2 Esdras is sometimes called the Apocalyptic Esdras and is made up of different writings. 2 Esdras 1 – 2 is known as 5 Esdras and deals with God’s displeasure with the sins of Israel, His rejection of Israel, and His turning to save the Gentile nations and give them His Name.
“Go thy way, and shew my people their sinful deeds, and their children their wickedness which they have done against me; that they may tell their children’s children: Because the sins of their fathers are increased in them: for they have forgotten me, and have offered unto strange gods.” 2 Esdras 1:5-6
“What shall I do unto thee, O Jacob? thou, Juda, wouldest not obey me: I will turn me to other nations, and unto those will I give my name, that they may keep my statutes. Seeing ye have forsaken me, I will forsake you also; when ye desire me to be gracious unto you, I shall have no mercy upon you.” 2 Esdras 1:24-25
2 Esdras 2 prophesies the coming of a Savior, the Son of God, who will save the nations and establish a new people of God.
“And therefore I say unto you, O ye heathen, that hear and understand, look for your Shepherd, he shall give you everlasting rest; for he is nigh at hand, that shall come in the end of the world. Be ready to the reward of the kingdom, for the everlasting light shall shine upon you for evermore. Flee the shadow of this world, receive the joyfulness of your glory: I testify my Saviour openly. O receive the gift that is given you, and be glad, giving thanks unto him that hath led you to the heavenly kingdom. Arise up and stand, behold the number of those that be sealed in the feast of the Lord; Which are departed from the shadow of the world, and have received glorious garments of the Lord. Take thy number, O Sion, and shut up those of thine that are clothed in white, which have fulfilled the law of the Lord. The number of thy children, whom thou longedst for, is fulfilled: beseech the power of the Lord, that thy people, which have been called from the beginning, may be hallowed. I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.” 2 Esdras 2:34-48
The writing of 2 Esdras is obviously the work of someone after the time of the writings of the Apostles. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, the Dispensation of the Grace of God was a mystery God revealed to Paul, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.” (Ephesians 3:5-7) God did not reveal the Gentile Church to Ezra or any other prophet before the 1st century AD.
The writing of 2 Esdras is not even remotely that of Ezra the priest and scribe. Ezra and Nehemiah were focused on one thing, restoring Israel as God’s chosen people and leading them to be obedient to God. There is no indication in the Books of Ezra or Nehemiah that God rejected Israel in favor of people from Gentile nations before the middle of the 1st century AD.
2 Esdras 3-14 is also known as 4 Esdras and appears to be the work of a Jewish writer toward the latter part of the 1st century AD. Here’s why I believe that. The historical setting of 2 Esdras 3 is almost 30 years after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian Army in the early part of the 6th century BC.
“In the thirtieth year after the ruin of the city I was in Babylon, and lay troubled upon my bed, and my thoughts came up over my heart: For I saw the desolation of Sion, and the wealth of them that dwelt at Babylon.” 2 Esdras 3:1-2
The problem with that is Ezra was not alive at that time. Jerusalem fell to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Ezra was born about 100 years later and was involved with the Persian King Artaxerxes. The king sent Ezra with a large group of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem in 458 BC (“in the seventh year of the king” – Ezra 7:8) to reestablish obedience to the Law of God (Ezra 7:10). The Esdras of 2 Esdras 3 cannot be the same person as Ezra of the Old Testament. 4 Esdras is disqualified from its first verse.
2 Esdras 3-14 contains nothing that is similar to the Book of Ezra. It introduces the reader to an angel of God named Uriel who is sent by God to Esdras to answer his questions. The only angels mentioned by name in the Hebrew and Christian Bible are Gabriel and Michael. We will learn the names of several additional angels in the Apocrypha, but it’s important to note that only Gabriel and Michael are in the Old and New Testaments and are consistent in their types of service to God in both. Stories of angels with names other than Gabriel and Michael are greatly suspect.
Esdras has a series of visions that eventually leads him to comfort a woman who suddenly turns into a great city.
“Now therefore keep thy sorrow to thyself, and bear with a good courage that which hath befallen thee. For if thou shalt acknowledge the determination of God to be just, thou shalt both receive thy son in time, and shalt be commended among women. Go thy way then into the city to thine husband. And she said unto me, That till I not do: I will not go into the city, but here will I die. So I proceeded to speak further unto her, and said, Do not so, but be counselled. by me: for how many are the adversities of Sion? be comforted in regard of the sorrow of Jerusalem. For thou seest that our sanctuary is laid waste, our altar broken down, our temple destroyed; Our psaltery is laid on the ground, our song is put to silence, our rejoicing is at an end, the light of our candlestick is put out, the ark of our covenant is spoiled, our holy things are defiled, and the name that is called upon us is almost profaned: our children are put to shame, our priests are burnt, our Levites are gone into captivity, our virgins are defiled, and our wives ravished; our righteous men carried away, our little ones destroyed, our young men are brought in bondage, and our strong men are become weak; And, which is the greatest of all, the seal of Sion hath now lost her honour; for she is delivered into the hands of them that hate us. And therefore shake off thy great heaviness, and put away the multitude of sorrows, that the Mighty may be merciful unto thee again, and the Highest shall give thee rest and ease from thy labour. And it came to pass while I was talking with her, behold, her face upon a sudden shined exceedingly, and her countenance glistered, so that I was afraid of her, and mused what it might be. And, behold, suddenly she made a great cry very fearful: so that the earth shook at the noise of the woman. And I looked, and, behold, the woman appeared unto me no more, but there was a city builded, and a large place shewed itself from the foundations: then was I afraid, and cried with a loud voice, and said, Where is Uriel the angel, who came unto me at the first? for he hath caused me to fall into many trances, and mine end is turned into corruption, and my prayer to rebuke.” 2 Esdras 10:15-28
This is obviously fictitious as nothing like this exists in the Hebrew Old Testament Book of Ezra. It’s believed to be a Jewish writing from the end of the 1st century AD in response to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Jews were trying to make sense of the destruction of the Holy City in light of the prophecies of the Old Testament. They believed The Great Revolt (66-73 AD) was divinely inspired, so why did it lead to the destruction of Jerusalem? The Kitos War (115-117 AD) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 AD) were Jewish attempts to throw off Roman rule and reestablish Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, but they also failed. The vision of the eagle and lion in 2 Esdras 11-12 would also support the idea that Rome was in view. The writing style reminds me of The Revelation of Jesus Christ and makes me wonder if the writer didn’t get some of his or her apocalyptic ideas from reading the writings of the Apostle John.
Another issue with 2 Esdras 14 is that Esdras claims God spoke to him from a bush and asked Esdras to restore the Law that was lost.
“And it came to pass upon the third day, I sat under an oak, and, behold, there came a voice out of a bush over against me, and said, Esdras, Esdras. And I said, Here am I, Lord And I stood up upon my feet. Then said he unto me, In the bush I did manifestly reveal myself unto Moses, and talked with him, when my people served in Egypt: And I sent him and led my people out of Egypt, and brought him up to the mount of where I held him by me a long season, And told him many wondrous things, and shewed him the secrets of the times, and the end; and commanded him, saying, These words shalt thou declare, and these shalt thou hide. And now I say unto thee, That thou lay up in thy heart the signs that I have shewed, and the dreams that thou hast seen, and the interpretations which thou hast heard: For thou shalt be taken away from all, and from henceforth thou shalt remain with my Son, and with such as be like thee, until the times be ended.” 2 Esdras 14:1-9
Esdras asked God to send the Holy Spirit to him so he could write “all that hath been done in the world since the beginning” (2 Esdras 14:22). Esdras claims that God answered him by saying, “Go thy way, gather the people together, and say unto them, that they seek thee not for forty days” (2 Esdras 14:23). Here’s what Esdras says happened next.
“Let no man therefore come unto me now, nor seek after me these forty days. So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we went into the field, and remained there. And the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, Esdras, open thy mouth, and drink that I give thee to drink. Then opened I my mouth, and, behold, he reached me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the colour of it was like fire. And I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory: And my mouth was opened, and shut no more. The Highest gave understanding unto the five men, and they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread. As for me. I spake in the day, and I held not my tongue by night. In forty days they wrote two hundred and four books. And it came to pass, when the forty days were filled, that the Highest spake, saying, The first that thou hast written publish openly, that the worthy and unworthy may read it: But keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people: For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge. And I did so.” 2 Esdras 14:36-48
Other translations of 2 Esdras have a different count for the number of books – 24 that match the Tanakh and 70 that are the hidden books (Apocrypha).
“So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, ‘Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.’ And I did so.” 2 Esdras 14:44-49 (RSV)
This does not correspond with the clear Word of God in Ezra or Nehemiah. The Law of Moses was known by the people of Israel many years before Ezra was born.
“And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.” Ezra 3:1-3
Ezra was a skilled scribe in the “Law of Moses” when he left Babylon for Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6). Ezra had a copy of the Law of Moses when he left Babyon (Ezra 7:14) The idea that God would call Esdras from a bush to rewrite the Law He had given Moses because it was lost is preposterous. That is not supported anywhere in the Law, Prophets or Writings.
2 Esdras 15-16 is also known as 6 Esdras and contains prophecies of doom against God’s enemies: including Egypt, Syria, Babylon, and Asia. Some scholars believe 6 Esdras was the work of a writer in the late 3rd century AD based on the description of the “Arabian dragons” and the “Carmonians.” It should be obvious to students of God’s Word that 2 Esdras is not inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In the next part of our study, we will look at one of the most important of the apocryphal writings – 1 Maccabees. However, even though important from an historical perspective, should it be included as inspired by the Holy Spirit and part of Holy Scripture?
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”