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by Lenny Esposito
Yesterday, I began to discuss the so-called Lost Gospels, those second and third century writings claiming to be Gospel accounts by Apostles like Peter, Thomas, and Judas. As I noted, the Apostles names applied to these writing are clearly forged. The writings themselves are too late to come from those living at the same time Jesus ministered, unlike the four recognized Gospels of the New Testament. However, that doesn't stop some skeptics from trying to promote the idea that these documents are somehow on par with the canonical Gospels.
In his book Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman makes the claim that there was some kind of competition between the four Gospels we know and these other writings. He states:
The Gospels that came to be included in the New Testament were all written anonymously; only at a later time were they called by the names of their reputed authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But at about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available, sacred texts that were read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world: a Gospel, for example, claiming to be written by Jesus' closest disciple, Simon Peter; another by his apostle Philip; a Gospel allegedly written by Jesus' female disciple, Mary Magdalene; another by his own twin brother, Didymus Judas Thomas.1
Ehrman then claims "Someone decided that four of these early Gospels, and no others, should be accepted as part of the canon," and then asks "How can we be sure they were right?"2
Obfuscating the Late Composition of the Gnostic Texts
As a New Testament scholar, Ehrman is being extremely disingenuous here. First, notice the phrasing of the sentence "about the time these names were being associated with the Gospels, other Gospel books were becoming available." It is written to mislead readers that the Gnostic accounts are nearly contemporaneous with the Gospels. That isn't true. The Gospels were well known and circulated from the first century onward. As I've shown here and here, early church fathers named the authors of all four of the Gospels by 100 AD and no other candidates were ever seriously advanced.
The Gnostic texts weren't even written until the second and third centuries, and that's when the church began making lists of what counts as Scripture and what doesn't. Thus, when Ehrman claims that "other Gospel books were becoming available," he means other Gospel books were being written. And when he claims this happened "about the same time these names were being associated with the Gospels" he means the Church put down on paper a list of Gospels bearing the names Matthew. Mark, Luke, and John.
But what of Ehrman's other claim that these texts were considered sacred, revered and worthy to be considered as part of the Christian Scripture? Internet skeptics make similar assertions all the time. However, these Gnostic texts, although labeled by their forgers as "Gospels" don't hold a candle to the real Gospels. In fact, all it takes is a quick read of them to show they are about as similar to the Gospels as a pulp science fiction novel is to one of Shakespeare's plays. Let's take a look at a few snippets to get a flavor…
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