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The Other Gospels

By Edited Jul 25, 2015 1 3

The four gospels in the New Testament -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- are our main source of information about the life and teachings of Jesus. But early Christians also wrote some other books about Jesus that didn't get included in the Bible. Old manuscripts of several of these non-biblical books have been discovered during the last century, although in some cases only a fragment of the book has been found. Unfortunately, some other early gospels have been missing since ancient times and could be permanently lost.

But just because an early Christian book was left out of the Bible doesn't mean that it has no value. In fact, some biblical scholars believe that one such book, the Gospel of Thomas, may contain some authentic sayings of Jesus that aren't in the New Testament. Other excluded books may offer some unique insights into the thoughts and views of the first believers. Some of them may also provide valuable information about sects or groups that existed on the fringes of early Christianity.

Several of the rediscovered books belong to a group known as secret gospels. Some of the early Christians thought that these books contained secret knowledge, and only certain people were given the opportunity to read them. In some cases, such a gospel was used by one particular sect of believers, who kept it hidden from outsiders. This secrecy may have been one of the reasons why none of these gospels got into the bible.

Some of the other early books are called Infancy gospels. This is because they contain stories about the infancy and boyhood of Jesus. But most of these stories appear to be fanciful creations rather than descriptions of real events. For this reason, most scholars doubt that this group of gospels has much historical value. Early church leaders must have agreed, because none of these books made it into the Bible.

Gospels that were left out of the Bible are sometimes called non-canonical gospels. The best-known of these are the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Actually, some of these books were probably written by anonymous authors who used the names of famous disciples to try to attract attention to their books. For example, the Gospel of Peter probably wasn't written by Simon Peter, but by an unknown person who used his name.

Some scholars think that the Gospel of Thomas was originally a secret gospel. Other secret gospels include the Apocryphon of James, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Secret Book of John, the Dialogue of the Savior, and the Gospel of Truth.

Early Christian writings contain references to some other lost gospels for which there are no known surviving manuscripts. Actually, it's possible that some of these still do survive, but at unknown locations. Unfortunately, some may be lost forever.

But there also may be hope that some missing books will be discovered in the future, because small fragments of several possible unknown gospels have been found at archaeological sites and other excavations.



Mar 3, 2010 8:52pm
Good article.

I've often thought it ridiculous that there are other texts (which may even give us a more complete view of His physical life than what is presented in the NT) yet someone made the decision that those wouldn't be included in the scriptures. From the time He was about 12 until He was in His late 20s or early 30s, we read nothing about His life. That's a lot of missing (and no doubt useful) information.

Understandably, some of it was deemed to be fictional, but someone somewhere had to be chronicling the life of this incredible teacher and leader during those "missing years". I can't believe that everything written about Him before He began hand selecting disciples was fictional or that it wasn't important.

Thanks for writing about this.
Mar 26, 2010 4:43pm
Contrary to what many have been taught, after the disappearance of the Apostle John, Christians went off in various directions until there were different versions of Christianity in most major cities. All these non-scriptural texts are proof of that fact. Constantine united these factions by his authority as a dictator. These lost "scriptures" are at least food for thought.
My favorite book among these texts is the Epistle of Barnabas which has little backing as a true writing of that Apostle. Yet as for beliefs of the early centuries, this book's inclusion of a directive against abortions and killing unwanted children is of interest. Should Christians today be approving of abortions? The chapter/verse reference differs from one publication to another, but it's near the end of the book; 14:11 in one, 19:5 in another.
May 29, 2010 3:23am
There were reasons that these alterative "Gospels" were excluded from the Canon. Matthew and John read as eyewitness accounts and tradition attributes them to the diciples Matthew and John. If these diciples were not the true authors than the early church (and Matthew and John) would have rejected the documents as false. Mark is believed to have been written under the direction of, or from information supplied by, Peter. Luke was a close associate of Paul and writes as a historian.

The other gospels do not have the clean petigree and therefore were rejected by the early church leaders. While they may contain some truth (everything does) they also contain much error that is at odds with canical gospels and other parts of the Bible. A little error poisons the whole book if the book is to be relied on for truth.
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