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4 Gospels That Didn’t Make it into the New Testament

Biblical canon is a messy topic, less so because of the subject itself than because it tends to be little-known or understood outside specific academic or religious circles. The Bible is the Bible, right? Eh, it’s complicated. There’s more to it. The four gospels that most people know are just the ones that made it in. Canon was decided by the Synod of Hippo in the late 300s, a group of bishops who decided what made it in based on various factors. Plenty of works didn’t, gospels or otherwise. In essence, the word “gospel” is the derivation from the Angle-Saxon translation of Evangelion (εὐαγγέλιον), which means ‘good news in English. The term itself refers to the central message of Christianity and in no way implies that it is limited to the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These are some of the gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament.

Table of Contents

1. Infancy Gospel of Thomas

Sbs-0008 028r Jesus macht die Tonvögelchen lebendig

Schaffhausen City Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is one of the better known of the apocryphal gospels and tells various stories of the life of Jesus between the ages of 5 and 12. It was a very popular work; there were many manuscripts, but they tended to differ radically. It shows Jesus as having his power and knowledge from childhood and, as such, is sometimes considered ‘gnostic,’ though gnostic works have a ridiculously detailed cosmology that doesn’t show up here at all. We don’t know for sure when it was originally written but sometime in the 1st century seems to be the most widely accepted date

Outline

  • After gathering and purifying water from a stream, Jesus makes sparrows out of mud and brings them to life when chastised for playing on the sabbath
  • Jesus withers a playmate, seemingly aging him,
  • Jesus kills a kid who runs into him
  • Jesus blinds the people accusing him
  • Jesus humiliates a teacher with allegorical explanation of the Greek alphabet.
  • Jesus resurrects a kid who fell off the roof while they were playing, after the parents accuse him of pushing him.
  • Jesus heals a woodcutter’s foot.
  • Jesus multiplies grain harvest and gives it to neighbors.
  • Jesus stretches wood to help his father make a bed for a client
  • Jesus harms a teacher
  • Another teacher takes Jesus to school where Jesus teaches the Law. When the teacher praises him, Jesus heals the one he previously hurt.
  • Jesus saves James from a snakebite by breathing on it, which blows up the snake.
  • Jesus resurrects a baby
  • Jesus resurrects a man
  • Jesus meets Pharisees in the Temple and they praise his knowledge.
  • Jesus resurrects a fish
  • Jesus predicts the future

2. Gospel of Peter

Das Fragment von Akhmim in Griechisch

Henry Barcley Swete (1835 – 1917), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

First referenced by the church father Origen, this gospel was largely lost to history until it was rediscovered in the 1800s. It’s a very typical gospel in many ways, being a retelling of the passion and resurrection. However, it focuses on vilifying the Jewish people, completely absolving the Romans. One of the significant structural differences from the typical gospel is that it shows Jesus exiting the tomb, supported by beings that seem to be angels.

Outline

  • Trial and mockery by Herod and his subjects
  • Crucifixion
  • Robber calls out the Jewish authorities and the respond by not breaking his legs so that he dies suffering
  • Sky goes dark at noon as Jesus is crucified.
  • Jesus ties and the Temple curtain is torn in half.
  • Jesus’ body is placed on the ground and there is an earthquake before the sun comes back
  • Joseph prepares the body for burial
  • Pharisees ask for tomb guards to prevent the disciples from taking the body
  • On the Sabbath day two men come from the sky, the stone rolls away from the tomb, and the men enter
  • 3 men come from the tomb, two holding up one. The heads of the two reach the sky while the head of the other reaches above the sky. A cross follows them.
  • Someone comes from the sky and enters the tomb
  • Mary Magdalene and friends find the tomb open, go in, and find a man in bright clothes who tells them that Jesus has risen and left
  • Mary Magdalene and friends flee
  • Simon Peter and his brother Andrew go fishing. 

It ends on that odd note. We’re probably missing large portions of it.

3. Gospel of Judas

Codex Tchacos p33

WolfgangRieger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a very non-traditional work, as far as gospels are concerned. It’s a complete Gospel and was rediscovered in 1945 as part of the Nag Hammadi Library. The manuscript itself, written in Coptic, dates from the 4th century, and Iraneus mentioned the work.

It is very gnostic, to the point where it is barely comprehensible to anyone without a thorough grounding in those beliefs. As shown from the title, the focus is on Judas, who is portrayed as being set apart from the other disciples. The gnostic teachings imparted by Jesus are the major point of the work, and the crucifixion is not described. The work is mostly a series of dialogs between Judas and Jesus during Passover week.

Outline

  • Jesus gathers the disciples
  • When Jesus tells the disciples that none of them know him, Judas says that he is from the aeon of Barbelo.
  • Jesus says he will tell Judas the mysteries of the kingdom but then leaves
  • Jesus returns to his disciples and tells them that no one born of this aeon will see the holy generation
  • On a new day Jesus’ disciples tell him about a vision of a great house and an altar with men in front of it invoking Jesus’ name while surrounded by evil people.
  • Jesus interprets the vision and tells the disciples that they were the priests
  • Jesus tells the disciples what will happen after people bring the time of the kingdom to an end
  • Judas tells Jesus about a vision he has of the other disciples persecuting him, and of a house surrounded by People. He asks to be taken into the house.
  • Jesus tells him that no mortal can enter that house, that it is reserved for the holy.
  • Jesus tells Judas that he will be cursed by the remaining generations, that he will rule over them, and that he will not ascend.
  • Jesus speaks at length about the gnostic version of the creation story
  • Judas and Jesus discuss the nature of the human spirit, baptism, and Saklas (another name for the Demiurge, the entity that maintains creation)
  • Ends with Judas’ betrayal for money

4. Gospel of Mary

Gospel of Mary

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This very short gospel takes place after the resurrection and before the disciples scatter to preach the gospel. It was written in Coptic and, as far as we know, unknown to the early church. We didn’t even rediscover it until the late 1800s, and large portions are missing. It is heavily gnostic in nature and makes no sense to anyone without an understanding of those beliefs.

Outline

  • Jesus discusses matter dissolving and the nature of sin
  • Jesus sends his disciples to preach before leaving
  • The apostles are disturbed and afraid. Mary calms them.
  • Peter asks Mary to tell them the things Jesus taught her
  • Mary talks about having a vision and describes the ascent of the soul through the seven authorities of Wrath
  • Andrew and Peter dispute her story
  • Levi defends her, and they leave to preach the gospel.
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