Why Some Ancient Texts Made It Into the New Testament and Others Didn’t

by Timothy Paul Jones

Gospel of PeterFrom the first century onward, Christians viewed testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus as uniquely authoritative. The logic of this standard was simple: The people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these witnesses. So, although Christians wrangled for some time about the authority of certain writings, it was something far greater than political machinations that drove these decisions. Their goal was to determine which books could be clearly connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus.

With this in mind, let’s look at a couple of real-life examples of how some writings ended up excluded from the churches’ collections of authoritative books.

:: The Gospel of the Talking Cross ::

In 199 A.D., a pastor named Serapion became the lead pastor of the leading church in Syria, the church in Antioch. As the leading pastor in Antioch, Serapion was responsible not only for his own church but also for several smaller congregations in the area. One of these congregations gathered in the village of Rhossus.

Within a few months, Serapion heard rumors that the church in Rhossus was on the verge of a rift. So, Serapion found himself trudging the stony coastal road that took him north of Antioch, toward Rhossus.

When he arrived in Rhossus, he discovered that some church members had problems with a Gospel that was “inscribed with Peter’s name.” When he heard this, Serapion replied, “If that’s all that threatens to produce hard feelings among you, let it be read.” After all, if this retelling of Jesus’ ministry came from Simon Peter, surely it represented eyewitness testimony!

But the authority of this text wasn’t nearly as clear-cut as Serapion thought…


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