What Motivated Early Non-Canonical Writers to Modify the Story of Jesus?
by J Warner Wallace
As an early investigator of Christianity, I was interested in everything ever written in antiquity about Jesus. One day, while searching the religion section of a local bookstore, I discovered a book entitled, The Lost Books of the Bible. I purchased it immediately, expecting to find evidence our current understanding of Christianity was somehow incomplete or inaccurate do to the loss of original data about Jesus. After all, this book claimed to include the ancient record of eyewitnesses who had been lost from the original canon of Scripture. I spent several weeks investigating these “non-canonical” legends and stories, and I was eventually disappointed to find the book had been mistitled. It should have been called, The Late, Obviously False, Discarded Legends of Christianity. These weren’t early eyewitness accounts lost in antiquity; they were the late fictional efforts of religious believers trying to rewrite the nature and history of Jesus to accommodate their own religious desires. The early Christian believers and leaders knew these legends were false and protected the church by excluding them from the New Testament.
It shouldn’t surprise us a character as historically important as Jesus would inspire such late fiction. Like George Washington and the story of the cherry tree, later generations of admirers (and people with their own agenda related to Jesus) began to craft their own version of the Jesus story. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, we should expect His life would evoke a number of legendary responses and attempts to co-opt His name. Thousands of years later, it’s sometimes hard to sort the truth from the legend and distortion. We need to take the time to carefully examine the non-canonical tales of Jesus to see if they contain any truth at all, and this begins by understanding what motivated these late authors. The writers of the non-canonical gospels were driven by a number of desires causing them to gently (or dramatically) twist the story of Jesus…
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