What about these so-called "gospels"? Are they real, contrived, accurate, true, fake, or hidden? How do you find out?
Can we, or should we, put our faith in what they say? How many are there? Why aren't they in the Bible we know?
Yes, there are a lot of questions surrounding this subject. This piqued my interest, so I began looking into some of the information available. On the site at List of Gospels (Wikipedia) you can find a surprisingly long list of gospels with links to pages that explain more about each of them. The first thing that is apparent on the top of the page is the word Hypothesized in bold type. In itself, this is not enough to discard this information as false, but it clearly invites investigation. Let's look at a few items in the list.
Let's take a look at some
The first in the list is the "Cross Gospel". While the article attributes the word "Cross" to association with the Gospel of Peter (another "lost" gospel), it seems natural to wonder if it is not a nickname modified from the name of the main proponent of this view. His name is John Dominic Crossan, a former Catholic priest, who holds that Jesus was not divine (he calls His divinity metaphorical) and that the message of His Second Coming is a corruption of His actual message. This paragraph from the Wikipedia site mentioned earlier will give you the concept of Crossan's position with comments from one of his books (try to get past the first part, because the shocking stuff is near the end):
In God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (2007), Crossan starts with the presumption of reader familiarity with key points from his earlier work on the nonviolent revolutionary Jesus, his Kingdom movement, and the surrounding matrix of the Roman imperial theological system of religion, war, victory, peace, but discusses them in the broader context of the escalating violence in world politics and popular culture of today. Within that matrix, he points out, early in the book, that "(t)here was a human being in the first century who was called 'Divine,' 'Son of God,' 'God,' and 'God from God,' whose titles were 'Lord,' 'Redeemer,' 'Liberator,' and 'Saviour of the World.'" "(M)ost Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus." Crossan cites the adoption of them by the early Christians to apply to Jesus as denying them of Caesar the Augustus. "They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason."
While I cannot confirm or deny the validity of his positions, I choose not to change my views about the Lord at this time. If Jesus is (not was) not divine, we have no Hope. Sorry, just can't go there.
Letters? Didn't want to take credit?
The next several gospels listed include Q, M, and L. These are hypothetical documents considered to be the source of statements and sayings found to be either common to multiple actual gospels (Q is seen in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark), unique to Matthew (M), and unique to Luke (L). So, this is a hypothetical list of possible common sources that were supposedly already available at the time the apostles and Luke were writing their accounts of the actions of Jesus. My questions here are , 'If the content of these sources are already in the accepted synoptic gospels, how can they be considered "lost", and "Why look for a 'common source' in the first place?" Again, nothing concrete here, but I see nothing to cause a change of belief or faith due to the discovery of these documents.
Too late to make the deadline
Now, the next section of the list is of the Gnostic Gospels that List of Gospels (Wikipedia) calls "a collection of 54 ancient texts based on the teachings of several spiritual leaders which were written from the 2nd to the 4th century A.D." The first problem with this bundle of texts is the dates of compilation. Also, if you read these "gospels" or anything comprehensive that was written about them, you find many things that contradict the accepted gospels. Here is an example of questionable content in the Gospel of Thomas that I found at CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry):
4. Heretical Nature and Gnostic-like Overtones
Third, another reason why the Gospel of Thomas does not belong in the New Testament is due to its heretical nature which disagrees with the undoubtedly authentic New Testament books. The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas teaches many things which are contrary to the Jesus of the canonical Gospels. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas saying, "Simon Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'" This quote is in striking contrast to the New Testament where Jesus affirmed the value of women, and the fact that Paul taught that we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Again, did Jesus and Peter have this conversation? Well, obviously, we weren't there. I just cannot imagine the series of passages that would have to be put together in order to justify and make this conversation compatible with the context of Jesus' speech and demeanor in the accepted gospels.
Changing things even back then
Next in a list of the Jewish-Christian "gospels", there are some glaring differences between the claims of these gospels and the accepted gospels. The Gospel of the Hebrews claims the Holy Spirit as the mother of Jesus. The Gospel of the Nazarenes has a contradiction in the account of Jesus' baptism (evidently the baptism was supposedly His mother's idea, which He opposed at first, then finally relented). The Gospel of the Ebionites has certain differences best described in the Wikipedia article:
The surviving fragments derive from a gospel harmony of the Synoptic Gospels, composed in Greek with various expansions and abridgments reflecting the theology of the writer. Distinctive features include the absence of the virgin birth and of the genealogy of Jesus; an Adoptionist Christology, in which Jesus is chosen to be God's Son at the time of his Baptism; the abolition of the Jewish sacrifices by Jesus; and an advocacy of vegetarianism. It is believed to have been composed some time during the middle of the 2nd century in or around the region east of the Jordan River. Although the gospel was said to be used by "Ebionites" during the time of the early church, the identity of the group or groups that used it remains a matter of conjecture.
The last in this list is the Gospel of the Twelve, listed by Origen in his Homilies in Luke as part of a list of works considered heretical in his time.
The list goes on and on, and any references to them have links that you can follow on List of Gospels (Wikipedia). The only reason this page was written was to show that I am aware of their existence and am not against further discussion if there is any interest. These "gospels" were not included in the original Canon for various reasons including date of writing, contradictory content, original language, downright forgery, and others. One in particular, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, caught my attention, until I read this at The Gospel of Jesus' Wife (Wikipedia):
A radiocarbon dating analysis of the papyrus by the Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in 2013 dated the papyrus to between 404 and 209 BC. However, the cleaning protocol had to be interrupted during processing to preserve the fragment. A second analysis was performed by Harvard University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found a mean date of AD 741. A Raman spectroscopy analysis at Columbia University found that the ink was consistent with those in manuscripts from 400 BC to AD 700-800. These analyses suggest that the fragment as a material artifact is probably medieval and not modern.
Analysis of text
However, while the papyrus itself is medieval, additional errors that suggest it is not authentic. In October 2012, Andrew Bernhard observed that there is a close resemblance between Mike Grondin's Interlinear of the Gospel of Thomas and the text that the forger appeared to have used to compose the text of the Gospel. Karen King has now made available the interlinear translation provided to her by the owner of the papyrus, and Bernhard has shown that every line shows evidence of copying from Grondin's Interlinear.
Given the extraordinary similarities between the two different texts, it seems highly probable that Gos. Jes. Wife is indeed a "patchwork" of Gos. Thom. Most likely, it was composed after 1997 when Grondin's Interlinear was first posted online. (emphasis mine)
Well, if you want to...
So, if you feel like researching some interesting, if not necessarily accurate or honest, documents from the past, there are many to choose from. You can decide for yourself whether or not you feel they should have been included in the accepted Canon of books we know as the Bible.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.