In 1609, Johannes Uber published the first part of his Very Useful and Necessary Disputation Concerning the Holy Bible (Von der heiligen Bibel sehr nützliche und nötige Disputation, VD17 1:050537Y) in which he argued for two points. First, that the Bible was no longer whole “because of the many lost holy books that the holy prophets and apostles wrote and referred to in their writings”; and second, that therefore those who leave the Catholic Church and rely only on the Bible cannot find salvation. Uber divided the work into five sections:
- A list of 57 lost books, from the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14) to Paul’s epistle to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16).
- References to lost biblical books in the apocrypha, patristic literature, and Catholic authorities, from the lost 204 books of Esdras (4 Esdras 14:44) to an attestation from the Jesuit Benedict Pereira (1535-1610) that the Bible was missing books it earlier had.
- A tu quoque list of citations from Protestant authorities that admit to defects in the Bible, including from Calvin and Luther.
- The fourth section argues that the Bible is not complete because the correct interpretation and understanding of the Bible depends on the Holy Spirit, which is not contained in the text but is instead external to it. Without the Spirit, the words of the Bible are nothing. (This argument over the location of meaning, extended to the interpretation of all texts, continues to the present day.)
- The fifth section finally argues that the incompleteness of the Bible necessarily leads to the rejection of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, as those who believe only what is in the Bible must therefore reject its interpretation by the Spirit.
Uber’s Disputation anticipates by two centuries the appearance of lost biblical books in Mormon discourse, providing an example of a Latter-day conversation that continues medieval and early modern dialogues. My impression is that we typically borrowed the Protestant side of confessional polemics, but in this case we seem to have adopted something closer to the Catholic argument. For Mormons, the lost books are usually cited as evidence that continued revelation is necessary, although they are also cited as a sign of apostasy in Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages, to which Johannes Uber would no doubt have taken great exception.