Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Lost Gospel”
by Lenny Esposito
Are there really “lost” Gospel texts that were eliminated from the Bible? The claim has been circulating for many decades now, with specials on television that highlight the Gospel of Judas or books such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Yet, simply because someone calls a writing “Gospel” does that mean it should be considered as a candidate for Scripture alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? I don’t think so.
There are a number of reasons why the texts that are collectively known as the “lost” Gospels are nothing of the kind. First of all, they were written much later than the canonical Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all penned in the first century, within 30 to 60 of Jesus’s ministry. However, scholars have dated the vast majority of the Gnostic Gospels to originate in the second or third centuries. Scholars who are both liberal and conservative agree that the Gnostic accounts were created after the apostolic age.1 That means Gnostic works bearing the name of Thomas or James or Peter or Judas are definite forgeries.
Gnostic Texts Rely on the Canonical Gospels
Although the Gnostic Gospels are forgeries, the reason why they use the names of well-known apostles is interesting. The writers knew that for their writings to have any credence at all, they would have to bear the name of recognized figures during Jesus’s ministry. Thus, the names of Thomas, James, Peter, and Judas are used to try and give these writings an air of authority.
Martin Hengel makes the point that unlike the original four Gospels, these Gnostics were written with the name attached to them from the very beginning. He notices that there are no competing claims nor are there any discussions about the author attribution for the Gnostic texts as there was for the canonical Gospels. He then concludes, “The uniformity of this unusual form of title strongly suggests that the titles “were not secondary additions but part of the Gospels as originally circulated. . . . [T]hese superscriptions were not added to the Gospels secondarily, long after their composition . . .”2
The question one should ask next, though, is how did those reading the Gnostic texts know these names of the apostles? The answer is simply that the four canonical Gospels were not only already in existence, but…
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