Some critics of the Bible say the early Christians purposely left certain Gospels out of the New Testament that may have told us the real truth about Jesus. Is that true? Well, Christians in the early church of the first three centuries did leave some books out of the New Testament. And there’s a good reason why. They never belonged in the New Testament!
When the so-called Gospel of Thomas and other “gospels” purportedly written by Judas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene started appearing on the scene long after these persons had died, Christians recognized them for what they were—pseudo gospels that were uninspired, spurious writings. They realized these writings were not written by Thomas and the others, but by false teachers seeking to influence the Christian church with their unbiblical ideas. Scholars, Christian and non-Christian, date these “gospels” to the second and third centuries—long after the time Jesus, Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip lived.1
In addition to the late arrival of these writings, there was plenty of internal evidence that gave them away as fakes. Consider these outlandish, even sexist words The Gospel of Thomas puts in the mouths of the apostle Peter and Jesus. Peter supposedly says to Jesus:
“Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven.”2
I think you can see why the early Christians knew instantly that this was nothing Peter or Jesus would have said.
There’s another work allegedly written by Thomas called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It showed up in the second or third century AD. It purports to tell us details about Jesus’ childhood. Look at this excerpt. Thomas supposedly writes...
“When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing in a narrow part of a rushing stream. He was gathering the flowing waters into ponds, and immediately they were made clean, and he ordered these things with a single word. And after he made clay, he molded twelve sparrows from it...clapped his hands and shouted to the sparrows, “Depart, fly, and remember me now that you are alive.” And the sparrows departed shrieking...The son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Jesus. Taking a branch from a willow tree, he dispersed [drained] the waters which Jesus had gathered. When Jesus saw what had happened, he became angry and said to him, “You godless, brainless moron, what did the ponds and waters do to you? Watch this now: you are going to dry up like a tree and you will never produce leaves or roots or fruit.” And immediately, this child withered up completely.” (The Infancy Gospel of Thomas 2:1-3:3)
So, this short little “gospel” (as some call it) shows up on the scene sometime in the second or third century claiming to have been written by Thomas (who went to be with the Lord many years earlier). It tells us Jesus was a five year old murderer who worked miracles for childhood entertainment.
Well, it was obvious to the Christians that this “gospel” was not written by Thomas, nor was it a trustworthy account of Jesus’s life.
Consider the so-called Gospel of Judas.3 Some of the bizarre things put forth in it include:
• Judas telling Jesus that He was “from the immortal realm of Barbelo”4
• Jesus telling Judas that he (Judas) will be “cursed by ...other generations” for his deeds only to one day “rule over them”5
• Jesus honoring Judas above the other disciples by giving him privileged information about “the mysteries of the kingdom”6
• Judas being commended by Jesus for betraying Him into the hands of those who would crucify Him and liberate His spirit from His physical body (a deed that would exceed all other good deeds)7
Well, of course these and many other strange statements contradicted the known teachings of Jesus and the apostles regarding Judas (e.g., Matthew 26:24, 27:3–10; John 6:70–71). And so, it was immediately obvious to the early Christians (e.g., Irenaeus8 and Tertullian9—two prominent church fathers who wrote about The Gospel of Judas) that this “gospel” was not genuine or trustworthy. And it was left out of the Bible.
Should the early Christians have accepted every fraudulent book (containing things they knew were not true) into the Bible to avoid the charge centuries later that “they purposely left out certain books”? I think not. Should editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica accept articles submitted to them, even if the articles contain patently false information? Of course not. I’m glad they don’t do that. And we can be thankful the early Christians didn’t do that either.
New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig Evans tells his students who are curious about these writings outside the New Testament, to read them. He says, “You tell me: Should [The Gospel of] Thomas be right alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?” Without exception, after they read them, they come back and say, “My goodness, what weird stuff.” 10 If you read them, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion.
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1. Erwin Lutzer says, “Even scholars who want to give these documents credibility say that the very earliest date is about AD 150, at least one hundred or, more likely, one hundred and fifty years after the time of Jesus’s crucifixion.” The Da Vinci Deception (2004), 27.
2. The Gospel of Thomas, 114.
3. Available here: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/_pdf/GospelofJudas.pdf
4. The Gospel of Judas, hardcover published by National Geographic (2006), 23.
5. Ibid., 33.
6. Ibid., 23.
7. Ibid., 43.
8. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 31. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xxxii.html
9. Tertullian, Against All Heresies, Chapter 2. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.xi.ii.html
10. Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (2007), 43.