New Testament Tales - the Apocrypha
Which writings didn’t make the cut?1. Why didn’t the Gospel of Thomas get included in the Bible?
2. What is supposed to have written three different gospels about Jesus’ death?
3. How many ancient books are known to have been written about Jesus’ childhood?
4. Did Pilate become a Christian?
5. How many books of Acts didn’t make it into the Bible?
6. Why isn’t the Gospel of Judas included in the Bible?
7. How many Apocalypses were written in early Christian times?
8. Why are Paul’s writings included in the Bible?
9. Why are Luke’s writings included in the Bible?
10. Why isn’t the Left Behind series included in the Bible?
The early Christian church accepted Hebrew scripture as the word of God, looking to Jesus’ followers for interpretation and application. As the disciples died, they created a “canon” of books consistent with Christ’s teaching, just as the Jews had a canon of approved interpretations. Each document was authentically written by someone who knew and respected Jesus, or who was known and respected by those who knew him. Paul’s letters are included because of evidence that he saw resurrected Jesus, and because apostles who knew Jesus saw him as chosen by God. Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts are included because of Luke’s verifiable research amongst those who directly knew Jesus.
The Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the Bible. It includes two parts: The first, known as the Infancy Gospel, contains stories about Jesus turning clay birds into real birds and wounding playmates with a look; the second collects sayings of the adult Jesus. It’s believed to have been written in the 2nd or 3rd century. Like many religious writings, it was popular, but it probably wasn’t written by Thomas the apostle so it didn’t make it into the Bible. Other “gospels” about Jesus’ childhood include the Gospel of James, the Syriac Infancy, the History of Joseph the Carpenter, and the Life of John the Baptist. Three Jewish Christian may have been rejected because they dwelled on singular interpretations of words, such as “locust” being rendered “cake” to make John the Baptist a vegetarian, or because they excluded reference to Gentiles. Other “rival” gospels made more serious changes and were rejected because they were known to be derivative. The Gospel of Judas, recently discovered, contains religious theology dating from the 2nd century, making it clearly a later writing than the canonical gospels; it suggests, inconsistently with other writings, that Jesus only made his real purpose known to Judas.
Several gospels center on the passion of Christ. Like the (more recent) movie, they were written long after the death of Christ: The Gospel of Peter tells how the cross was miraculously able to speak and move; it was the first non-canonical gospel to be rediscovered by modern archeology. Scholars generally agree it was written in the second half of the 2nd century. Another “passion gospel” is that of Nicodemus, or the Acts of Pilate, written in the 4th century and including accounts of saints raised after the crucifixion, describing what had happened to the Sanhedrin. Another saint accompanies Christ to hell to witnesses the raising of the Patriarchs. There’s no record of Pilate becoming a Christian, and Pilate’s real letters to Rome date from much earlier. Bartholomew is credited with the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Questions of Bartholomew (which includes dialogs about the end of the world in different places in different versions) and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of which appear to have been written long after Jesus’ death. Rejected (apocryphal) books include those telling the stories of Joseph’s staff; Quo Vadis and Peter’s inverted crucifixion (Acts of Peter); and Veronica’s veil (Acts of Pilate).
There are at least twelve different books known as Acts, some written as late as 400AD, ten epistles (some by famous Christians, but not Biblical since they lived too long after Jesus), eight Apocalypses (not counting end-times books of the modern era), and numerous other documents, known from existing fragments, or from quotes and comments in other writings. And there’s the Bible, created only from documents which could be authenticated in those days when the death of Jesus was still recent history.