Do the Non-Canonical Gospels Challenge the Historicity of the New Testament?
by J Warner Wallace
A recent press release announced an upcoming conference in the United Kingdom in which two “scholars” are going to argue the story of Jesus was “actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar” in an effort to keep order amongst the citizenry of Rome. The new reinterpretation of Jesus is apparently based on a re-reading of Josephus’ War Of The Jews. This sort of thing is becoming more and more common, especially in an era of profitable television documentaries and book deals. Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson are also about to release a new book arguing for a reinterpretation of Jesus, this time based on what they call “The Lost Gospel,” a 6th Century Syriac manuscript “translated from much earlier Greek writing” (in other words: “Yes we realize this text first appears 500 years too late to be credible, but we’d like you to believe it can be dated to the 1st Century”). We are increasingly deluged with pseudo-academic efforts to discredit the classic Christian version of Jesus. Skeptics would like us to believe the canonical Gospels aren’t the only 1st Century stories about Jesus. They claim there are a number of ancient Gospels describing a version of Jesus very different from the one we accept today. If this is the case, how can we know which versions of Jesus are the truth and which are lies?
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Fortunately, we can separate late legend from early reliable history. The late non-canonical gospels (like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Judas) have risen in popularity as skeptics attempt to argue Jesus either (1) failed to perform any miracles, (2) failed to resurrect from the dead or (3) failed to teach the things described in the New Testament. The truth, however, is the canonical Gospels alone are the trustworthy source for information related to the life of Jesus.
The Non-Canonical Gospels Appear Too Late
The Gospels found in the New Testament appeared very early in history. There is good reason to believe that Mark’s Gospel was written as early as 50AD and that John’s Gospel was written no later than 70AD. These texts appeared early enough to be eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, just as they claim to be. By comparison, the entire catalogue of non-canonical Gospels were written much later in history (The Gospel of Thomas, for example, was written from 130-150AD, the Gospel of Mary from 120-180AD and the Gospel of Judas from 130-170AD). The non-canonical Gospels appear far too late to have been written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus…