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Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize: #2: “Apocryphal Writings are All Written in the Second Century or Later”
by Michael Kruger
In the prior post, we discussed the first basic fact about the New Testament canon, namely that the New Testament writings are the earliest Christian texts we possess. We were careful to make clear that the early date of these books does not make them canonical, but the early date does show that these books were written during a time period when eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive.
In this current post, we address the issue of “apocryphal” New Testament writings. These are writings that were not included in the New Testament, but have a similar genre (gospels, acts, letters, apocalypses, etc.). And these writings are often attributed to famous individuals; e.g., the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of John.
While we cannot go into extensive detail about these various apocryphal writings, we can at least note one basic fact that is often overlooked: all of these apocryphal writings are dated to the second century or later. Thus, this post is the corollary of the prior one. Not only are all New Testament writings from the first century, but all apocryphal writings (at least the ones that are extant) are from the second century or later. And many are from the third or fourth century.
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What is particularly noteworthy about this fact is that even critical scholars agree. While there is dispute over the dating of some New Testament books (e.g., 2 Peter, the Pastoral Epistles), there is virtual unanimity over the late date of apocryphal books. There are, of course, fringe attempts to place some apocryphal writings into the first century—e.g., Crossan argues that a “cross gospel” embedded in the Gospel of Peter is from the first century—but these suggestions have not been widely received.
The observation of this simple fact quickly calls into question sensationalistic claims about how these “lost” books contain the “real” version of Christianity…
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