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Antilegomena (from Greek ἀντιλεγομένα, meaning things contradicted or disputed, literally spoken against) was an epithet used by the Church Fathers to denote those books of the New Testament which, although sometimes publicly read in the churches, were not for a considerable amount of time considered to be genuine, or received into the canon of Scripture. They were thus contrasted with the Homologoumena (from Greek ὁμολογουμένα), or universally acknowledged writings.

The term is sometimes applied also to certain books in the Hebrew Bible. There are records in the Mishna of controversy in some Jewish circles during the second century A.D. relative to the canonicity of the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Some doubts were expressed about Proverbs during this period as well. The Gemara notes that the book of Ezekiel had also been questioned about its authority until objections to it were settled in 66 A.D. Also, in the first century B.C. the disciples of Shammai contested the canonicity of Ecclesiastes because of its pessimism, whereas the school of Hillel just as vigorously upheld it. At the school of Jamnia (circa 90 A.D.) there was further discussion, see Development of the Jewish Bible canon for details.

The first church historian, Eusebius, circa AD 303-325, applied the term Antilegomena to the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, the Apocalypse of John, and the Gospel according to the Hebrews:

"Among the disputed writings, [τῶν ἀντιλεγομένων] which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews, with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted. And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books. [τῶν ἀντιλεγομένων]"

The Epistle to the Hebrews is also listed earlier:

"It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed [ἀντιλέγεσθαι] by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul."

Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth century text, includes the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.

The original Peshitta excluded 2-3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation. Some modern editions, such as the Lee Peshitta of 1823, include them.

During the Reformation, Luther brought up the issue of the Antilegomena among the Church Fathers Since he questioned Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, these books are sometimes termed Luther's Antilegomena.

F. C. Baur used the term in his classification of the Pauline Epistles, classing Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians as homologoumena; Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians and Philemon as antilegomena; and the Pastoral Epistles as notha (spurious writings).

In current Lutheran usage antilegomena describes those of the New Testament books which have obtained a doubtful place in the Canon. These are the Epistles of James and Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, the Apocalypse of John, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.


  • The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 23: The New Testament Canon of Eusebius by Everett R. Kalin, pages 386-404

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