Why Weren’t “Secret” Gospels Included in the Bible? 3 Quick Reasons.
In the past few years, conspiracy stories have arisen around the “lost” books of the Bible that could change the way we view Jesus. Popular stories like The Da Vinci Code claim that church suppressed 80 “lost gospels” in favor of the canonical four.
These kinds of claims are popular on the Internet, and in fiction, but there is little reason to take them as credible. Here are three quick reasons, from Evidence that Demands a Verdict, as to why the selection of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was not a conspiracy.
1. The Canonical Gospels Date Much Earlier. There is little debate that the four Gospels were all written in the first century. Liberal dating places the four Gospels between AD 70-100. Conservatives place some Gospels as early as the 50s. Regardless, the earliest alternative “gospel” dates to the early second century, at least a generation removed. And many of these “gospels” date to the end of the second century (and beyond). The canonical Gospels were arguably written by eyewitnesses who knew the risen Jesus, but the “lost gospels” are pseudepigraphal, that is, written by someone who falsely claims to be the author.
2. The Genre of the four Gospels is Different. The four Gospels are typically understood to be “bioi” or “lives” of Jesus. A bioi typically focused on the most relevant aspect of someone’s life that contributed to their mission. These kinds of writings are not fictional but tell the historical story of a person’s life. In contrast, the “lost gospels” rarely have a narrative framework. The Gospel of Thomas, for instance, consists of 114 sayings that is totally unlike the genre of the canonical Gospels.
3. The “Lost Gospels” Were Not Seriously Considered for the Canon. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of Judas offer historical value into the teachings and practices of gnostic and ascetic groups of the second century. But except in rare circumstance, they were never seriously considered to be included in the Bible. Although historically valuable, early councils largely ignored them from consideration into the canon.
We love conspiracies. We always will. We love hearing about possible “secret” information. And yet despite the popularity of the claim that there are secret “gospels” left out of the Bible, there is no good reason to believe it. The evidence is too strong against it.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us the best window into the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.