Discerning Truth: The (False) Gospels and Other Writings

The (False) Gospels and Other Writings

A question sometimes arises within Christian circles today:  What if someone finds another letter allegedly from Paul or another possible Gospel?  Should we add it to the New Testament?

The short answer: No!   

In recent years, many voices (not usually Christian ones) have spoken of "lost" gospels and new writings, sometimes pointing to their mystical powers or supposed authority. Dan Brown, in his popular book In The DaVinci Code, claimed there were numerous gospels that almost made it into the New Testament.  The fact is, however, not one of the documents Brown speaks about is truly a "Gospel." They are wholly unlike the four New Testament Gospels and should be considered false Gospels. 
          These bogus writings can be grouped into at least three categories:1

          1. Narrative Gospels (9): Gospel of Peter, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Protevangelium of James Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of Nicodemus (Acts of Pilate)

          2. Revelation Dialogues and Discourses (19): Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Judas, 1st & 2nd Apocalypse of James, Apocryphon of James, Apocryphon of John, Questions of Mary

          3. Sayings Gospels and Collections (2): The Gospel of Thomas, Teachings of Silvanus

          As for why we should NOT add these additional books to the New Testament, several factors ought to be taken into consideration:
          FIRST, these ancient letters and discourses were known to ancient and early Christians, and they flatly rejected them. Knowing of their authorship and discerning their content, we should defer to those early Christians who recognized the false, even sometimes heretical, nature of these works.

          SECOND, even if we discover a manuscript that the early church did not know about (which is not very likely), how would the academy ever prove that it is genuinely a Gospel?  The answer is, they cannot.  We must assume that the early Christians knew about the supposed document and that it was rejected by them for good reason.

         THIRD, why would God would want to add extra books to the NT now, given that 2,000 years of Christians did not have it?  Why would there be "new" revelation for future generations now, when for example, the book of Revelation so clearly warns against adding to God's word under the penalty of plague and curses (Rev. 22:18)?  

         FOURTH, we have great confidence in the state of both our OT and NT cannons. Not only do we know a lot about how the early Christians discerned which writings should be brought into the canon, but we also have ways to recognize the books that have divine qualities and authoritative authors. Furthermore, with great confidence, textual criticism has determined the genuine fragments of the original Scriptures.  While we do not have the original-original (referred to as the autographa), we do have so many verified and authentic copies that match each other that the church remains confident about what the original writings contained and looked like. For more background on the biblical canon, see this article.

         FIFTH, we must remember that Jesus Christ is God's final revelation (Heb. 1:1-2).  There is no one else in human history, not Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, or anyone else, who reveals God.  Scripture itself also claims that all biblical books are inspired by God, literally "God-breathed," and as such, they are not like any other book. (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  As such, they all point to Jesus, and Christ is their interpretive "key."  Moreover, all of the NT books were either written by eyewitnesses or close associates of Jesus.  The so-called "lost" gospels in the discussion above each fail that test.

         SIXTH, the "lost" writings mentioned above each fail all four tests of canonicity. An authentic canonical book must pass all four tests, which are: 1) it must be clear the Holy Spirit is involved in the writing 2) It must be written by an eyewitness or close associate of one 3) it must have sound doctrine and agree with everything in the Bible 4) it must have wide acceptance among Christians, across generations and groups.  Again, not one of these so-called "lost" writings comes anywhere close to passing all four of these tests.  As such, they are all false.

         For example, let's consider the Gospel of ThomasIn it, Jesus is unlike the true Jesus of the four NT Gospels. He is mysterious, aloof from the world, a speaker of riddles, anti-Semitic, a male chauvinist,  and a teacher of the falsities of early Gnosticism (e.g., they are not Christian).  The writer of Thomas completely ignores Jesus’  Jewishness, messiahship as the anointed Christ, as well as the future return of Christ. The real Jesus spoke frequently about these topics. So what's the bottom line? The Gospel of Thomas speaks of another Jesus and is not Christian.  It promotes a false religion: universalism.  

Given all of what we've discussed today, my prayer is that each of us remains vigilant and discerning outside attacks on the integrity, authority, and sufficiency of the biblical canon. Let us hold fast to them and not fall prey to new ideas or false deceivers coming as wolves in sheep's clothing.   As we conclude today, let us meditate on Ephesians 4:11-15 as a good word of encouragement for us all:

         So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.

God bless,
Pastor John

[1] Jim Wicker, Prof. of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theol. Seminary, 2018.





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