Do the Holy Scriptures contain references to the New Apostolic Church or is the reference to the fourth book of Ezra just a myth?
In this article, we want to clarify whether, as the New Apostolic Church has often claimed in the past, there are references to the New Apostolic Church in the 4th Book of Ezra, or whether it is a myth.
When the New Apostolic brethren visited me (a priest and his deacon), we had an intense conversation about the contradictions between the New Apostolic doctrine and biblical teaching. When they could not refute the biblical arguments, they pointed me to the 4th Book of Ezra: “It is already written in the Bible that there will be a New Apostolic Church,” they said. I am not the only one who has experienced this. Many others report similar occurrences.
Again and again, one encounters this assertion. Just a few days ago I received another e-mail asking what the Apocryphal 4th Book of Ezra and the New Apostolic Church were all about: “However, this also generated much need for discussion with individual priests in their congregation who repeatedly refer to contents of the 4th Book of Ezra in the justification of the New Apostolic Church.” Is it a myth that in Holy Scripture in the 4th Book of Ezra there is mention of a New Apostolic Church?
The Significance of the Book of Ezra for the New Apostolic Church
In fact, this book played a special role in the justification of the New Apostolic Church (NAC). How else should one understand the answer to question No. 15 in the Catechism (1) of the New Apostolic Church: “Question: What is the nature of the fourth book of Ezra? Answer: The first group, to which the fourth book of Ezra belongs, is omitted from the new editions for reasons unknown to us. The content of this book, however, is so important for our time that we can only assume it has been suppressed with a special intention in recent Bible editions.”. Also in the booklet ‘Divine Promises and their Fulfillment’ (2) in which an attempt is made to present the origin of the New Apostolic Church as part of the divine plan of salvation, the New Apostolic Church refers to this 4th book of Ezra and devotes three full pages to it (2).
The controversial text
What does it say that is so important that it should be suppressed? Let’s take a look. A table of contents for the 2nd chapter of the 4th book of Ezra reads as follows:
“Ezra preaches to the New Testament church that the old grace of God is to be brought upon her. The kingdom is prepared for her. God wants to make them alive. To give them the knowledge of his name abundantly. He teaches how the new apostolic church should conduct itself and perform services pleasing to God. Promise it his fatherly protection until the Last Day” (3).
Is this a text of the Holy Scriptures?
Quick clarification is brought into the apocryphal 4th book of Ezra. The 4th Book of Ezra is a so-called pseudepigraph or pseudograph, i.e. a book that bears the name of a biblical person but is demonstrably not written by that person. For this reason and its questionable content, it is not part of the canon of Holy Scripture but is only added to some editions of the Bible as an apocryphal book. Moreover, only the table of contents of the 2nd chapter of the 4th book of Ezra speaks of a “new apostolic church”. This table of contents does not belong to the text of the book itself but was prefixed to the 2nd chapter as a commentary by an editor in the Middle Ages.
The new apostolic church of the first century
It is clear from both the table of contents and the book itself that the editor means the new apostolic church of the first century, that is, the New Testament churches and apostles of the Lord. This summary of the contents of the 4th Book of Ezra is found only in a 17th century Nuremberg collection of writings. In older editions of the Bible and Scripture collections, the table of contents for chapter 2 (if it exists at all) does not mention a “new apostolic church.” So is the New Apostolic Church relying on a myth in relation to the fourth book of Ezra?
Luther did not include the fourth book of Ezra in his translation of the Holy Scriptures, because he was of the opinion:
“For the same two books of Ezra /, we did not want to interpret badly / because there is nothing in them / that cannot be found much better in Ezopo (book of fables) (4) / or even lesser books” (5).
Antics and Fables
Furthermore, Luther says of the third and fourth books of Ezra: “Tertium Esdrae (3rd Ezra) I throw into the Elbe. quarto sunt somnia Esdrae (4th Ezra), which are beautiful, and are also otherwise good böslin (Pösslein, antics) inside”. (6) So Martin Luther thinks that there are nice antics in the 4th book of Ezra!
The 4th book of Ezra was never in the Holy Scriptures!
First “In the second half of the 17th century, the fourth book of Ezra was included in the Luther Bibles printed in Nuremberg by ‘Endter’. Likewise in 1748 in the ‘Carriere Bible’ from Lörrach. From the 19th century, one removed this addition to the Luther Bible again – thus the Luther Bible was again without a fourth book Ezra, as Luther wanted it himself. So the fourth book Ezra was not removed from the real Luther Bible – it was never in it at all – because LUTHER wanted it that way!” Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) (7) wrote Siegfried Bühler a renowned expert in the field of ancient and medieval writings on the subject.
When this controversial book of Ezra was added to the Luther Bible in the 17th century, it was done with the remark: “That we nevertheless want to append the above-mentioned books, as it were, to the abundance, nothing else than the inquisitiveness of some people causes us to do so. I do not know what secrets and prophecies they seek in these writings, especially in the fourth book of Ezra, and want to spread among the people in the German language … it remains, however, that these books are ‘apocryphal’ (added later), their contents uncertain, partly drawn together from other, credible ones, without their statements being as certain as the other books”. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) (8)
In summary, we can say that a “new apostolic church” is only mentioned in the table of contents of the 2nd chapter of the 4th book of Ezra, which was written by a commentator or editor. The 4th book of Ezra itself, and even more so its contents, cannot be called a biblical text, that is, belonging to the Holy Scriptures. The fourth book of Ezra was not suppressed, as claimed by the New Apostolic Church, because in reality it never belonged to the Holy Scriptures. To claim that there is already a reference to the New Apostolic Church in the Bible is therefore untenable and inadmissible.
On shaky ground
One must seriously ask why the New Apostolic Church places its legitimacy on such shaky ground and, with regard to the content, says: “The content of this book, however, is so important for our time” (1)! Even Luther, who according to the New Apostolic view became New Apostolic in the hereafter (9) and whose Bible translation is used, considers this book comparable to the fables of Aesopus (4) and even less meaningful than these. The New Apostolic Church thus relies on a myth in relation to the fourth book of Ezra.
Fortunately, Chief Apostle Richard Fehr has probably also recognized that this text has been overrated in the past. He answered the question in an interview with the youth, “What is the significance of the reference to the 4th book of Ezra for the New Apostolic Church?” Answer: “It can be considered merely one reference among many to the work of God of the present time” (10) He does try to put things into perspective here, but unfortunately, this answer again makes two things clear. Firstly, he actually still sees a reference to the New Apostolic Church in the text, and secondly, he once again expresses the exclusive claim of the New Apostolic Church: “the work of God of the present day“.
© Lutz Jusko
1) Questions and Answers about the New Apostolic Faith, Question No. 15, Verlag Friedrich Bischoff GmbH, 1981, Frankfurt am Main.
2) Divine promises and their fulfillments page 26-28, New Apostolic Church – International Apostles’ Federation, 1983, Zurich.
3) Table of contents for the 2nd chapter of the 4th book of Ezra from a 17th century Bible edition, quoted via: Around the Fourth Book of Ezra and the “New Apostolic Church” Version 4.2, Siegfried Bühler, 1998.
4) Esopo = Aesopus, Aesopus was a Greek slave, he lived in the 6th century BC and wrote animal fables. Luther translated some of these fables, because the fable material handed down from antiquity was popular reading material in the medieval monastery schools
5) Preface to Baruch, Luther Bible of 1545, quoted via Siegfried Bühler see 3).
6) D. Martin Luther’s works, Tischreden 1st volume, page 337, no. 692, 1912, Weimar.
7) Siegfried Bühler see 3)
8) Preface to the Third and Fourth Books of Ezra and the Third Book of Maccabees, quoted on Divine Promises and Their Fulfillments, page 26, New Apostolic Church – International Apostles’ Federation, 1983, Zurich.
9) Apostle F.W. Schwarz writes on April 10, 1874, in the periodical &Mac226; De Herinnering’ the following about Luther’s baptism: “…And just think, at the end of the service a prophecy came (but I have not received it yet): >>I, the Lord…remember my servant Martin LUTHER today, that he may belong to my bride. My servant VERKRUISEN, go to my servant the apostle and be baptized for my servant Martin LUTHER.<< Henceforth Father LUTHER belongs to the firstfruits and probably to the tribe of Judah!” and then further on April 16 about the sealing of Luther: “…Then I can tell you the following face: >>At the sealing of Martin LUTHER, a radiance of light surrounded the apostle SCHWARTZ and brother VERKRUISEN<<…“! Quoted on ‘The Dormition – An Exposition of Faith and Action in the Work of the Lord…’, pp. 70-71, Günter Knobloch, 1984.
10) Interview of the youth from southern Germany who submitted written questions to the Chief Apostle,