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An Examination of the "Secret Book of James"

BY Hal Flemings
July 1996

On occasion, some sincere or insincere individuals raise the question: How do we know that certain documents called by some "New Testament Apocrypha" should not be included in the New Testament? Others have dealt with this question and so the present abbreviated work is not breaking virginal ground. The strategy here is simply to compare elements of the two bodies of literature as they treat the same events or matters and see if there exists harmony or tension. Here we are examining the:


Apparently, there is only one extant copy of this book and it was found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. According to one authority, the text was untitled and appeared in the Coptic language. It is difficult to date this document.

According to Secret Book of James 4:4, the Lord Jesus offered Peter and James this advice: "But if you are oppressed by Satan, and are persecuted, and you do his will, I [say] that he will love you, and will make you equal with me, and will regard [you] as having become [beloved] through his providence according to your own choice." The notion of equality with Christ deserves some analysis. Philippians 2:9 asserts that with the exception of Jehovah no one is either greater than or equal to Jesus: "For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name is above every other name." And, at 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, we are plainly told that equality with Christ is not an option: "Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing. For [God] ‘subjected all things under his feet.’ But when he says that ‘all things have been subjected,’ it is evident that it is with the exception of the one who subjected all things to him. But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone." Our position is that the Secret Book of James is not in harmony with the "New Testament" on this issue.

In another place, we read: "Become seekers of death, therefore, like the dead who are seeking life, for what they seek is manifest to them. So what can be of concern to them? When you inquire into the subject of death, it will teach about election. I swear to you, none will be saved who are afraid of death; for God’s domain belongs to those who are dead. Become better that I; be like the son of the holy spirit!" --Secret Book of James 5:3-6

Is ‘seeking’ death consistent with Jesus’ instructions at Matthew 10:23? There we find: "When they persecute you in one city, flee to another." Was Paul ‘seeking’ death based on the account at 2 Corinthians 11:32,33 ? Here we note: "In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes to seize me, but through a window in the wall I was lowered in a wicker basket and escaped his hands." Indeed, does not the Bible encourage living as long as one can in order to praise and promote the great God Jehovah? Psalm 115:17 responds to the inquiry with this clear message: "The dead themselves do not praise Jah, Nor do any going down into silence.

Can one be ‘better’ than Christ in his approach to death? To put a finer point on the question, can any imperfect human exceed what Christ the perfect man did in his interaction with death or what Christ the perfect, immortal spirit today could do with the menace of death? (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 7:26) The message of the Secret Book of James at chapter 5 and verse 6 where Christ allegedly stated, "Become better than I", is incongruous with the "New Testament".

Secret Book of James 6:27 reports that Jesus said to Peter and James: "Pay attention to instruction, understand knowledge, love life. And no one will persecute you, nor will any one oppress you, other than you yourselves." Notwithstanding this comment, John 15:20 reports that Jesus forewarned all of the apostles with these words: "Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have observed my word, they will observe yours also."

We will consider one more excerpt. This one comes from Secret Book of James 9:5,6 where Jesus tells Peter and James: "Accordingly, disregard rejection when you hear [it], but when you hear about the promise, exult all the more. I swear to you, whoever receives life and believes in the domain will never leave it - not even if the Father wishes to banish him!" This text indicates a certain power that humans can exercise and thus limit God. But this view is at odds with a number of Bible passages. Here are a few:

Isaiah 55:10,11 : "For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it."

Isaiah 46:9,10 : "Remember the first things of a long time age, that I am the Divine One and there is no other God, nor anyone like me; the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done; the One saying, ‘My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do".

Romans 9:15,16 : "For he says to Moses: ‘I will have mercy upon whomever I do have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I do show compassion.’ So, then, it depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy."

We as Jehovah’s Witnesses have no reservations about rejecting the Secret Book of James. Perhaps the Secret Book of James should return to being a secret.

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