Q. Why are the other Gospels not in our canon of scripture?
A. Ultimately, it was the bishops – the leaders of the Church – who made the final decision but this decision was not reached in some smoke-filled back room. It was a decision that was based upon the experience of early Christians – people like you and me – who, in the first century, had come to embrace certain books as worthy of being considered inspired by God while designating other works as either falling short of that or just downright missing the mark.
This being, said, there was no definitive list or canon of the New Testament until the 4th century. Much of what was not included in the Canon remains available to us in the form of what we now refer to as apocryphal writings. Such books give us a glimpse into the mind and heart of early Christianity and are worthwhile for study; however, they are not considered inspired because of errors they contain in their presentation of the Gospel message.
Some of our Catholic Tradition can be traced to the apocryphal Gospels. For example, the names of the parents of Mary – Joachim and Anna – come to us from apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of the Birth of Mary and the Proto-Gospel of James. Likewise, have you ever wondered why images and statues of Saint Joseph often portray him holding lilies? This is the result of a legend, included in the apocryphal writing known as the Protoevangelion, about how Joseph came to choose Mary as his spouse.
In addition to these lovely images and passages, we also find strange and misleading passages such as the story from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas in which the child Jesus gets upset with one of his playmates and strikes him dead! This is not the Jesus we know.
In recent years, author Dan Brown has made a fortune exploiting the lack of knowledge that most people have about the apocryphal gospels by proposing that the Church has been involved in a massive cover-up of these writings for centuries. Not true. They’re on library shelves and on the internet.
Joe Paprocki, D.Min. – National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago
CtH: I scoped out a few of the non-canonicals, then decided I don’t know the real Scriptures well enough to be confusing myself with this stuff and stopped.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – Purports to describe the doings of Jesus in his boyhood. Includes this disturbing story:
IV. 1 After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course (lit. go all thy way). And immediately he fell down and died. But certain when they saw what was done said: Whence was this young child born, for that every word of his is an accomplished work And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children.
Infancy Gospel of James – Aka, Protevangelium of James. The oldest manuscript is from the third century and Origen quoted it in the second century. The author is not familiar with Jewish life, but seems to have simply embellished wildly on stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. One example:
XV. I [Mary and Joseph were brought together] unto the place of judgment. … [Mary] wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God liveth I am pure before him and I know not a man. 4 And the priest said unto Joseph: Wherefore hast thou done this And Joseph said: As the Lord my God liveth I am pure as concerning her. …
XVI 1 And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the conviction of the Lord, and it will make manifest your sins before your eyes. 2 And the priest took thereof and made Joseph drink and sent him into the hill-country. And he returned whole. He made Mary also drink and sent her into the hill-country. And she returned whole. And all the people marvelled, because sin appeared not in them.
The Gospel of Mary [Magdalene] – Composed mid to late 2d century, this document communicates not the Christian vision of a world that will pass away in favor of a new world order, but a Gnostic world that needs to dissolve because it is only an illusory chaos of suffering and death. Examples:
Peter said to [Jesus], “Since you have now explained all things to us, tell us this: what is the sin of the world.” The Savior said, “Sin as such does not exist, but you make sin when you do what is of the nature of fornication, which is called ‘sin.’” …
Peter said to Mary [Magdalene], “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than other women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you have in mind since you know them; and we do not, nor have we heard of them.”
- Why are the noncanonicals @ http://bustedhalo.com/questionbox/why-are-the-non-canonical-gospels-not-considered-valid
- Noncanonical literature gospels @ http://wesley.nnu.edu/sermons-essays-books/noncanonical-literature/noncanonical-literature-gospels/
- Infancy Gospel of Thomas resources @ http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancythomas.html
- Infancy Gospel of James resources @ http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancyjames.html
- Gospel of Mary @ http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospelmary.html
- Excerpts from the Gospel of Mary @ http://wesley.nnu.edu/sermons-essays-books/noncanonical-literature/noncanonical-literature-gospels/excerpts-from-the-gospel-of-mary/