The Apocryphal Gospels, the hidden side of Christianity

The acceptance of the so called "apocryphal texts" is often tied to the historical, cultural, and theological context of each Christian tradition. In fact, these texts can provide unique perspectives on the beliefs and practices of early Christians, but their status within the broader canon of Scripture remains a subject of ongoing discussion and interpretation.

Oct 2, 2023 - 00:53
The Apocryphal Gospels, the hidden side of Christianity
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The term "apocryphal gospels" refers to a collection of ancient texts that are related to the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus Christ but were not included in the New Testament canon. These texts provide alternate perspectives on Jesus and his ministry, often featuring stories, teachings, and miracles not found in the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The apocryphal gospels were written by various authors and emerged within the early Christian tradition, but they were not widely accepted as authoritative by the broader Church.

Some examples of apocryphal gospels include:

  • Gospel of Thomas: This gospel consists of a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. It is notable for its focus on Jesus' teachings and lacks a traditional narrative structure. The Gospel of Thomas was discovered among the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt in the mid-20th century.

  • Gospel of Peter: This gospel contains an account of Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. It includes details not found in the canonical Gospels, such as the portrayal of a talking cross at the crucifixion. It was widely known in the early Church but ultimately not included in the New Testament.

  • Gospel of Mary: This gospel includes a dialogue between Jesus and his disciple Mary Magdalene, focusing on her interactions with the other disciples and her understanding of Jesus' teachings. It is part of the Nag Hammadi library.

  • Infancy Gospel of James (Protoevangelium of James): This text elaborates on the early life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and includes stories about her upbringing, the birth of Jesus, and his early years.

  • Infancy Gospel of Thomas: Similar to the Infancy Gospel of James, this text features stories about the childhood of Jesus, portraying him as a precocious and miraculous child.

  • Gospel of Judas: This gospel presents an alternative perspective on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, suggesting that Judas was fulfilling Jesus' instructions by handing him over to the authorities.

  • Secret Gospel of Mark: A disputed text attributed to Mark, this gospel supposedly contains additional stories about Jesus that are not present in the canonical Gospel of Mark. However, its authenticity is highly debated.

While these gospels offer different insights into early Christian thought and beliefs, they were not included in the New Testament canon due to various reasons, including concerns about theological consistency, historical reliability, and apostolic authority. The development of the New Testament canon involved a careful selection process, and the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were the texts that gained widespread acceptance as authoritative accounts of Jesus' life and teachings within the early Christian community.

However, some apocryphal texts, including certain apocryphal gospels, are accepted and revered by some branches of Christianity, although their status and acceptance can vary widely among different denominations and traditions. These texts are often considered part of the broader Christian literature and hold particular significance for certain groups, particularly within some branches of the Orthodox Church. For example:

  • Eastern Orthodox Church: The Eastern Orthodox Church holds a more inclusive view of some apocryphal texts compared to some other Christian traditions. For instance, the "Protoevangelium of James," which presents stories about the childhood of Mary and Jesus, is considered part of the Orthodox tradition. Similarly, the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Mary" are sometimes studied and respected within the Eastern Orthodox Church, though they are not given the same status as the canonical Gospels.

  • Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church: The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a broader canon that includes several apocryphal texts not found in other Christian traditions. They have a collection called the "narrower canon," which includes books like the "Book of Enoch" and certain apocryphal books of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Coptic Orthodox Church: The Coptic Orthodox Church also has a rich tradition of apocryphal texts, and some of these texts are venerated within their tradition. The "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Mary" are among those that hold some significance in the Coptic tradition.

  • Syriac Orthodox Church: Similarly, the Syriac Orthodox Church has its own historical collection of apocryphal texts that are part of their liturgical and theological tradition.

The acceptance of apocryphal texts can vary even within a particular tradition. Some individuals and scholars within these churches may view these texts with more skepticism, while others may value them for their insights into early Christian thought and spirituality.

Janet Bluesky Member of EA Coordination Team