Have you ever heard somebody claim that there should be more than the four gospel accounts we have in our Bible? Sometimes these are referred to as the “lost,” “hidden,” or “Gnostic,” gospel accounts.
“With so many hidden gospels now brought to light, it is now often claimed that the four gospels were simply four among many of roughly equal worth, and the alternative texts gave just as valid a picture of Jesus as the text we have today” (Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p.7).
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were randomly chosen to be in the Bible — in reality, there are several other gospel accounts that should also be in the Bible. These “lost gospel accounts” shed further light on Jesus and His followers and they should be included in the Bible.
“If you had ten documents and you arbitrarily selected four of them and said only they have a connection with the apostles, and you didn’t have any reason for saying that – then that would be prejudice, I agree. But if you go through all ten and you discover that you actually do have credible historical evidence for four of them as having some kind of apostolic connection and the others not a chance – then it’s not a dogmatic prejudicial assertion. It’s a reasonable and considered conclusion, based on the evidence” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.34).
While it is not within the scope of this study to thoroughly examine every single alleged lost gospel account, we will take a quick examination at the more popular ones and show why they should be discredited.
We will also show why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do rightfully find their place in the Bible while (rightfully) no other so-called “gospel accounts” find their place in the Bible.
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas should be rejected because it was written at the wrong place, at the wrong time and by the wrong person (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.35-38)
The gospel accounts were published in the Greek language and then Christianity spread to all sorts of language groups. This included traveling eastward, where people speak Syriac (A form of Aramaic).
In 175 AD., Tatian (who was a student of Justin Martyr) created a written version of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John called the Diatessaron. This was a blend of all four gospel accounts put together in the Syriac language (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
In blending together Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Syrian, Tatian created some new forms exclusive and distinctive to the Syrian language, because it was part Matthew, part Luke, and so forth. Interestingly enough, those distinctive Syrian forms are present in the Gospel of Thomas. Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas has word order and identical arrangement of material found in the Diatessaron. This simply means that the Gospel of Thomas had to be written sometime after 175 AD. (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 37).
Second, the Gospel of Thomas refers to Thomas as Judas Thomas. Why is this important? Because that name is found only in the Syrian church and nowhere else. Furthermore, the Syrians did not like wealth, business people and commercialism. They were heavy ascetics and these ideas are reflected in the Gospel of Thomas (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.38).
Most telling is that there are more than five hundred Syrian catchwords that link virtually all of the Gospel of Thomas in order to help people memorize the gospel. This was a Syrian memorization aid (ibid, p.38). All of the evidence points towards the fact that the Gospel of Thomas is of Syrian origin, dated sometime after 175 AD. and is fraudulent.
A few scholars turn to what is called “special pleading.” They’re aware of the evidence against the Gospel of Thomas, so they hypothesize that perhaps there was a earlier Gospel of Thomas that we just don’t know about. In other words, instead of modifying their theory to fit the evidence, they modify the evidence to fit their theory (ibid, p.39).
The Gospel of Mary
This alleged Gospel Account was popularized by The Da Vinci Code. Scholars are virtually unanimous that this Gospel Account was written between 150-200 AD thus could not have been written by Mary because it is too late (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.46-48).
The Gospel of Mary is full of inaccuracies and was never accepted as truth. These texts are not only unhistorical, but they don’t even claim that Jesus and Mary were married (as so many often claim that they do).
The Secret Gospel of Mark
First, this alleged “secret gospel” is not even in existence today (thus, how could it be included in the New Testament)? The story of the secret gospel account of Mark is absurd. Morton Smith, who was a professor of Judeo-Christian origins at Columbia University for years, announced in 1960 that he had earlier made a discovery at the Mar Saba Monastery in the Judean wilderness (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp. 48-52).
Smith claimed that he found a letter which contained two quotes from a previously unknown mystical or secret version of the Gospel of Mark. In this writing, there is a homosexual reference made to Jesus.
The quotes describe Jesus raising a young man from the dead and then later the young man comes to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body and remaining with him that night so Jesus could teach him the “mystery of the Kingdom that night.”
Smith later wrote two books analyzing the quotes he had found – one 450-page scholarly treatment published by Harvard University Press, and a more popular edition for a general audience.
The headlines in the New York Times at the time of Smith’s announcement reflected the controversy. “A New Gospel Ascribed to Mark,” said the newspaper on December 30, 1960.
Here is the interesting part about this so-called document: It is gone, there is no trace of it. Smith claimed that he left it at the monastery, but nobody can find it. Smith simply took photos of the alleged document and that is all we have today. The photos of the document have since been analyzed and have been found to be nothing but a hoax.
When experts examined the photos of the text, they found what is called “forger’s tremor.” This is where the text isn’t really written, but drawn in attempts to deceive. There are shaky lines and pen lifts in the middle of the strokes – all signs of a forgery.
Furthermore, the photos indicated the presence of mildew on the book – something that couldn’t occur in a book from the dry climate where the monastery was located where this document was allegedly found.
The evidence continues to pile up showing that the Secret Gospel of Mark is counterfeit. There is no evidence at all, prior to Smith’s alleged discovery, of this book/document being in the Mar Saba library. Therefore, there is no evidence it was ever there before Smith’s alleged discovery nor is there any evidence it was there after Smith’s alleged discovery.
If indeed this was a hoax, then Morton Smith was the “hoaxer.” But why would he do this? Why would he go to such great lengths to forge a false document, make up a false story about Jesus being gay and then write two books about it?
The obviously answer might be fame and fortune. But even more interestingly than that, it came out years later that Smith himself was gay — which he had kept a closely guarded secret in the 1950s.
The Jesus Papers
A man by the name of Michael Baigent wrote a book entitled, “The Jesus Papers.”
He reported the discovery of two papyrus documents written in Aramaic and dated back to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Allegedly, this is a gospel account written by Jesus Himself.
The first problem is that Baigent is a conspiracy theorist and writer – he isn’t a historian or Bible scholar (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.52-54).
Baigent describes how he went into a walk-in safe of an antiquities collector and saw the papyri under glass. He couldn’t take a picture of them. He admitted he doesn’t read Aramaic nor did the other guy with him. However, he has assured that two well-known archaeologists, Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad, have confirmed it (ibid, p.53).
There is only one problem – these men are both dead and there is no evidence, other than one man’s testimony – Baigent’s testimony.
So, we have an author with dubious credibility in the first place, an antiquities dealer who can’t be identified, documents that Baigent can’t read or produce (and which there is no evidence for their existence in the first place) and two archaeologists who are dead.
On top of this, there are no papyrus buried in the ground of Jerusalem that could survive two thousand years, no exceptions. You can’t bury papyrus in the moist ground and expect it to still be legible two thousand years later (ibid, p.53).
The Gospel of Judas
On April the 6th, 2006, it was announced that a new gospel account – the Gospel of Judas – had been discovered. Carbon 14-dating indicates the papyrus dates back to the AD 220 to 340. The original gospel account was written around 180. Therefore, making this another late gospel account (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.56-57).
Furthermore, Irenaeus, who lived around 130-202 AD warned about this alleged gospel account being fictitious history (Against Heresies 1.31.1).
Criteria for Document Authenticity
(1) When was it written?
(2) Where was it written?
(3) Is the document culturally/historically accurate?
(4) What is the motivation/intent for writing?
(5) Is the document/writing verified?
“We look at the New Testament documents and, yes, they have an agenda: they’re affirming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But they also make all kinds of statements that can be evaluated. Are they culturally accurate? Are they true to what we know from other historical sources? Were they written in a time and place that has proximity to Jesus’ life? The answers are yes.” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp. 32-33).
In other words, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are included in the Bible and accepted as true because:
(1) They were written by friends of Jesus and/or associates of eye witnesses of Jesus.
(2) They were written within close proximity to Jesus’ life and His geographical location (the events could be verified by eye witnesses).
(3) The documents are culturally and historically accurate and reliable.
(4) The documents were accepted by the early church/Christians.
On the contrary, when we consider the alleged “lost gospel accounts,” we will find that:
(1) They were written at a later period of time (too late).
(2) They were written from other places (too far).
(3) They contain historical and cultural inaccuracies (too unreliable).
(4) They were rejected as heresy and marked as fraudulent when they were written (too exposed).
(5) They were never accepted by Christians as genuine (too false).
“The problem…is there are so many people pursuing doctorates, writing dissertations, pursuing tenure, and trying to get published that there’s a tendency to push the facts beyond where they should go. If you’re hoping to get on the network news – well, news has got to be new. Nobody is going to get excited if you say the traditional view of the Gospels seems correct. But if you come up with something outrageous – that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs, for example – then that warrants a headline. Or if you say there’s a gospel just as valid as Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but it was suppressed in an early Christian power play, well, that’s news.” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.32).
– Kevin Pendergrass