We live in a time when false gospels abound, from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to the prosperity movement, from Bethel Church to the Mormons, from the so-called apostles and prophets to Islam.
But it's not the first time that false gospels have been taught. In fact, within a few decades the Galatians were being tempted to abandon the true Gospel for a false one (Galatians 1:6-7, 5:2-4).
Twice each year, around Easter and Christmas, the media resurrects claims that some gospels were left out of the Bible. We know that this is not true; Dr. Michael J. Kruger has written at length about the canon of Scripture, and shows that what the church has possessed since the first century is complete and authoritative.
Canon or corrupt?
The apocrypha fail any test of canon.
- They have no apostolic authorship.
- They were written well after the the apostolic period.
- They were never accepted as Scripture by the church as large (in fact, according to Michael Kruger, most apocryphal books were found in Egypt, not distributed through the Christian world of the 2nd-3rd centuries).
- They lack the internal consistency that we see in Scripture.
- They were not ignored by the church, but rejected by the church. For instance, Irenaeus (140-198 A.D.) wrote in reference to The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, "Besides the above [misrepresentations], they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth." (Irenaeus Against Heresies, from The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, vol. 1, page 344).
Since few who have heard or speak of these "missing" or "lost" documents have ever read them, I thought it would be beneficial to share some of their contents. I've also taken the liberty of highlighting clearly unbiblical, mythological, or "magical" statements. Anyone who reads the four canonical Gospels and the Infancy Gospels will quickly see that the gnostic books are poor substitutes indeed for the God-breathed Scriptures.
(Note: These quotes are taken from three different apocryphal texts, The Gospel of James, The Gospel of the Infancy, and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, printed in the book The Infancy Gospels of Jesus: Apocryphal Tales from the Childhoods of Mary and Jesus – Annotated and Explained, by Stevan Davies.)
From The Gospel of James, the section entitled "Mary: Raised In Blessing And Purity":
Note: Three-year-old Mary is brought to live in the temple, probably a reference to Samuel:
Mary sat down on the altar’s third step and God gave her grace; she danced on her feet in the Temple and everyone in Israel loved her. Her parents went home thanking and praising God, because their daughter was content and did not try to follow them. From that time on, an angel brought Mary’s food to her and Mary lived in God’s Temple, as carefully cared for as if she were a dove. (pages 15-17).
From The Gospel of James, the section entitled "Herod: The Murder of Zechariah":
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, hearing that murderous men were coming to kill her son John, took him out and fled into the Judean hills looking for a place to hide him, but she couldn’t find a secure secret place.
She felt terrified and said, “Please, mountain of God, hide this mother and her child,” but Elizabeth could not climb up any further. Finally the mountain was broken in two and took them in and light blazed within it as an angel of God arrived to protect them. (page 57)
From The Gospel of James, the section entitled "Herod: The Murder of Zechariah":
Note: Zechariah, John the Baptist, was murdered between the altar and the temple.
The Temple itself howled and the priests ripped their own clothes apart from top to bottom. Zechariah’s body had completely disappeared except for some dried blood that was hard as stone. (page 59)
From The Gospel of the Infancy, the section entitled "The Magi and Herod: Varying Views of Jesus":
Note: The Magi come to visit Jesus:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in Herod’s time, magi came to Jerusalem from the east according to Zartosht’s prophecy. They brought offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which they gave to the baby Jesus, for they revered him. Mary took one of his baby blankets and gave it to the magi as a gift instead of giving them only a blessing, and they accepted it as a fine gift indeed.
Soon the same angel that had appeared before them as a star guiding them to baby Jesus returned and led them as a supernatural light all the way back to their own land.
When they arrived, the princes and the kings of their country came to them asking what they’d done and where they’d gone and how their journey forth and back had been. They showed off the blanket that Mary had given them and in its honor they all gave a great feast. Then, because it was their national custom, they built a fire and worshipped the fire.
Finally, at the climax of their ceremony they threw Jesus’s blanket into their sacred fire, where it disappeared completely. Later, when the fire was extinguished, they recovered Jesus’s blanket and it was not the least bit scorched. The fire hadn’t touched it. They took it out and kissed it, laying it over their eyes and on their heads, saying, “It’s amazing that the fire didn’t burn this blanket in the least.” Eventually they put the blanket into the vault where they kept their greatest treasures, doing so with the utmost respect. (page 75)
From The Gospel of the Infancy, the section entitled "The Bridegroom Mule: A Brother Restored":
Joseph and Mary encounter three women returning from a graveyard, crying bitterly. They are invited to the women's home, and go with them. The servant girl learns that the women's brother had been turned into a donkey by a witch. The servant girl urges them to ask Mary for help.
Having heard the girl, the women quickly went to find Mary and, introducing themselves to her, sat before her and began to cry, saying, “Lady Mary, take pity on us. We have no man to be the head of our family, no father, no brother to assist us. This mule was our brother! But a woman worked witchcraft on him and made him what you see. Please help us.”
Mary, having compassion for the women, placed her baby on the mule’s back. She said to Jesus, “Use your power to restore this mule so that he is the same man in physical form and in intelligence that he originally was.” As soon as she spoke, the mule transformed into a human being, and he was a fully intelligent person again. Then he, together with his sisters and his mother, revered Mary and held baby Jesus up above their heads and kissed him, saying, “Jesus, savior of the world, your mother is blessed and blessed are our eyes that have had the chance to see you.” (pages 87-91)
In The Infancy Gospel of Thomas Jesus is not merely presented as a mythological figure; He is actually presented as an evil character who must be corrected by His parents.
In the section entitled "Clay Sparrows: A Dark Miracle":
Note: The child Jesus has ordered the water of a creek to form pools.
The scribe Annas's son took a willow branch and broke down the little pools of water Jesus had made. All the water flowed back into the creek and Jesus, furious, said, “You ungodly fool, what harm were my pools of water doing to you? You, dry up like a dead tree that can’t grow leaves or fruit or roots.” And the boy completely withered up.
In the section entitled "The Vengeful Boy: Christ in Conflict":
Another time Jesus was walking through the village of Nazareth and a child, running along, banged into Jesus’s shoulder. Jesus said angrily, “You’ll go no further,” and immediately the child dropped dead.
The people who had seen this said, “Why was this child Jesus ever born? When he says something, right away it happens.”
The boy’s parents held Joseph responsible and they ran to him saying, “You can’t go on living here with a child like that! You have to teach him to bless people and to stop cursing them. He’s killing our children!”
Joseph took little Jesus aside and scolded him, saying, “Why are you doing things that make your neighbors suffer so? Now they’re furious at us.” Jesus answered, “These aren’t your own words and so I’m not going to be angry with you. But the people who told on me will be punished.” Instantly, all of those who had accused Jesus were struck blind.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas also includes a number of mythological stories about Jesus as a child.
From the section entitled "Divine Carpenter: Jesus Adjusts His Elder's Mistakes":
Once, when Jesus was six years old, his mother gave him a water pot and sent him to the well to bring home water. As he went through the crowd that gathered by the well his pot struck against someone else’s pot and his shattered. Jesus took off his shirt, filled it up with water, and brought it home to his mother.
Joseph the carpenter usually made wooden ploughs and yokes, but once a wealthy man put in an order for a bed. Joseph made a bed, but discovered at the end that one of the two sidepieces was too short. He couldn’t think of any solution to the problem. Then Jesus said to his father, “Put the two boards side by side and hold one end of the shorter board,” and, after Joseph complied, Jesus took the other end of the shorter board, pulled on it, and it stretched to be the same length of the other piece.
From the section entitled "The Pupil Teaches His Teacher":
Note: Jesus is being taught the alphabet, and challenges his teacher's knowledge (this is the myth denounced by Irenaeus in the quote above):
The teacher, offended, was furious and slapped Jesus on the head painfully and Jesus, responding, cursed him so that he passed out and fell face-first to the ground. The child went back home and Joseph, who was now very angry, ordered Mary to make sure that he stayed indoors, and said to her, “Don’t let him go outside because if anyone makes him angry they might die.”
Sometime later one of Joseph’s friends, a teacher, came to Joseph and said, “If you bring your child to my school, I think I can talk him into learning to read.” Joseph replied, “If you’ve got the courage for it, go ahead and take him along with you.”
Some Christians – perhaps many – might shy away from reading the gnostic gospels, fearing being trapped by some subtle deception. As the above examples show, there is nothing subtle about the content of the gnostic works! I encourage you to read them and be prepared to obey First Peter 3:15-16,
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (First Peter 3:15-16).