The Canon of Scripture, Part 7: The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

The 7th part in my ongoing (and long) series on the Canon of Scripture – discussing what books that do and don’t make the divine Cut.  Here are the first 6 parts:

Today we are examining the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which claims to represent the final treatise of each of the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel on their respective death beds.  It’s often divided into 12 books, one for each son.

Although often accused of being Christian (or interpolated by Christians), fragments of the Testaments – comprising portions of Levi (in Aramaic) and Naphtali (in Hebrew) were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, predating Christ.  There are several similarities (but also important differences) between the Testaments, and Qumran’s own Damascus Document.  The Testaments were also found among the Cairo Geniza, a Jewish collection of Biblical manuscripts from the Middle Ages, once again comprising portions of the testaments of Levi and Naphtali.  They were also once included in the Armenian Orthodox canon.  There are likely references to them in the Talmud (see, which calls them ”ancient writings”.  Despite being proven to predate Christ/Yeshua, they contain strong and clear Messianic prophecies, kinda like the Book of Enoch.  

“And I saw that from Judah was born a virgin wearing a linen garment, and from her was born a lamb, without spot; and on his left hand there was as it were a lion; and all the beasts rushed against him, and the lamb overcame them, and destroyed them and trod them under foot”. (Testament of Joseph 2.74)

“Do ye therefore, my children, observe the commandments of the Lord, and honour Levi and Judah; for from them shall arise unto you the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world, one who saveth all the Gentiles and Israel”. (Testament of Joseph 2.77)

Conversely, they also contradict the Christian notion that the Torah/law is done away with, which may explain their rejection – along with the fact they they very heavily reference the Book of Enoch.

“Sun and moon and stars change not their order; so do ye also change not the law of God in the disorderliness of your doings. The Gentiles went astray, and foresook the Lord and changed their order, and obeyed stocks and stones, spirits of deciet”. (Testament of Naphtali 1.24,25)

Tertullian seems to have accepted the Testaments, whereas Origen did not.

They were aluded to in the New Testament, in a similar fashion to the Apocrypha.

Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.  (1 Thessalonians 2:16 KJV)

And thus they did to all strangers, taking away their wives by force, and they banished them. But the wrath of the Lord came upon them to the uttermost. (Testament of Levi 6:10-11, R.H. Charles’ translation)

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.  (Romans 12:19 KJV)

And now, my children, I exhort you, love ye each one his brother, and put away hatred from your hearts, love one another in deed, and in word, and in the inclination of the soul.  (Testament of Gad, 6:1 Charles’ translation)

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:21, KJV)

For the good man hath not a dark eye; for he showeth mercy to all men, even though they be sinners. And though they devise with evil intent concerning him, by doing good he overcometh evil, being shielded by God:  (Testament of Benjamin 4:3)

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.  (2 Corinthians 7:10, KJV)

These things I learnt at last, after I had repented concerning Joseph. For true repentance after a godly sort [destroyeth ignorance, and] driveth away the darkness,  (Testament of Gad 5:7, Charles’ translation)

Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.  (Ephesians 5:6, KJV)

Be ye, therefore, not eager to corrupt your doings through covetousness or with vain words to beguile your souls  (Testament of Naphtali 3:1, Charles’ translation)

Here’s Charles’ discussion, as discussed in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The authority cited in the article for this information is R. H. Charles. Here is the relevant passage from the article by the Rev. Prof. Charles:

“My first examples will be drawn from the Pauline Epistles. First of all, there is the well-known passage in 1 Thess. ii. 16: ” Wrath hath come upon them to the uttermost,” which is a word-for-word quotation from the Test. Lev. vi. 10. Next, Romans xii. 21, ” Overcome evil with good,” is the equivalent of Test. Benj. iv. 3, “By doing good he overcomes the evil.” With Rom. xii. 19, “Avenge not yourselves, but leave room for God’s wrath,” compare Test. Gad. vi. 7, “Forgive him … and leave vengeance to God.” With 2 Cor. vii. 10, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation,” compare Test. Gad v. 7, “A true godly sorrow … leadeth the mind to salvation.” With 1 Tim. ii. 5, ” One mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” compare Test. Dan vi. 2, where Michael is described as the angel ” who intercedeth for Israel, the mediator between God and man.” With Eph. v. 6, ” Let no man beguile you with vain words,” compare Test. Naph. iii. 1, “Beguile not your souls through vain words.” With 1 Cor. vii. 5, ” Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer,” compare Test. Naph. viii. 8, ” There is a season for a man to be with his wife, and there is a season to abstain with a view to prayer.” With 2 Cor. vi. 14, 15, ” What communion hath light with darkness, and what concord hath Christ with Beliar,” compare Test. Lev. xix. 1, ” Choose for yourselves light or darkness, the law of the Lord or the works of Beliar.” With Phil. ii. 15, ” Ye are seen as lights in the world,” compare Test. Lev. xiv. 3, “Ye are the lights of Israel.”

“The following Pauline phrases are found also in the Testaments: “the God of peace,” “the spirit of holiness,” “singleness of heart,” etc.

“From the above evidence, which is not exhaustive, we conclude that St Paul knew and used the Testaments.”

Source: R. H. Charles, “The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs,” The Hibbert Journal: A Quarterly Review of Religion, Theology, and Philosophy, Vol. III: October 1904-July1905, ed. L. P. Jacks and G. Dawes Hicks (London: Williams and Norgate, 1905), pp. 569-570.


The Testaments had a partial early acceptance – among the Jews, no less (as well as Christians) – has been proven to pre-date Christ, and yet contains strong Messianic prophecies, and is possibly alluded to by the New Testament.  They at least deserve a read.

3 thoughts on “The Canon of Scripture, Part 7: The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

  1. I do accept as true with all the concepts you’ve presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too brief for newbies. Could you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.


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