Apocrypha from the New Testament

Home | Category: The Gospels and Early Christian Texts


20120508-Gospel_of_Peter 2.jpg
Gospel of Peter
There were dozens, probably hundreds, of religious texts circulating around at the time the Gospels were written and coming into common usage in the early centuries after the death of Christ. They include “The Gospel of Peter” , “Origins of the World” , “Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)” , “Acts of John” , “Homilies of Truth” and “The Gospel of Truth” . Many were simply written and forgotten. Others were carefully scrutinized by Christian scholars and rejected for one reason or another, in many cases because the doctrines they promoted were regarded as threatening or heretical.

The “Second Discourse of the Great Seth” declares that the true Christ was never crucified. “The Secret Book of John” claims that Adam and Eve received their divine spirit from a true God while the Old testament God hid the truth from mankind.

Some of the early texts were quite bizarre. One tells the story of the Garden of Eden from the snake’s point of view. Another uses the voice of a female spirit. Another features a description of the resurrection with a walking and talking cross; a stone tomb door that moves by itself; heads that stretch to the sky and a voice that asks, “Have you preached to those who are sleeping?”

The main Rejected Gospels that have generated interest among scholars and the general public include: 1) Gospel of Thomas; 2) Gospel of Mary; 3) Gospel of Judas; 4) Gospel of Philip; 5) Gospel of Peter; 6) Unknown Gospel: Egerton Papyrus 2; 7) Gospel of Q. [Source: gospels.net]

Books: “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas” by Elaine Pagels and "Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It Into the New Testament" by Bart D. Ehrman

Websites and Resources: Early Christianity: PBS Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christianity BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org

Nag Hammadi Manuscripts

20120508-Gnost dag hammadad -Dialogue_of_the_Savior.jpg
Gnostic Dag Hammadi
Dialogue of the Savior
Many early Christian texts that remain with us today are Nag Hammadi manuscripts, a trove of ancient papyri books found in the village of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. Written in Coptic, the manuscripts consisted of 13 codexes with 52 texts that were stored in a heavy waist-high clay jar and may have been stored there by monks from the nearby monasteries of St. Pachpmius.

Some regard the Nag Hammadi manuscripts to be as important as the Dead Sea scrolls. The 52 texts found there include previously unknown Gnostic gospels, epistles, apocalypses and other religious writings held sacred to early Christian groups . They had titles like “The Secret Book of James” , “The Apocalypse of Peter” , “The Gospel of Philip” and The “Gospel of Thomas” . Most were dated to the A.D. 4th century but are likely translations of Greek originals that dated back to as early as the A.D.1st century.

Initially the Nag Hammadi texts were only of interest to religious scholars, many of whom dismissed them as offering few new insights into the historical Jesus. But in recent years they have been reexamined and are now regarded as important materials to understanding the development of Christianity.

The Nag Hammadi manuscripts were found by an Arab peasant named Muhammed Ali al-Sammam while collecting dung as fertilizer for his fields. He took the texts home and tossed them in courtyard used by his animals. Before they made their way to antiques dealers and scholars some pages were used to light stoves and others were bartered for cigarettes.

Book: “The Gnostic Gospels” by Elaine Pagels of Princeton University (1979) was awarded a National Book Award and was a surprise bestseller. Also worth a look is “The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammandi Library”(HarperSanFrancisco. 2005)

Apocryphal Texts

According to the BBC: “But the Bible isn't the only source. In 1945 at Nag Hammadi, in southern Egypt, two men came across a sealed ceramic jar. Inside, they discovered a hoard of ancient papyrus books. Although they never received as much public attention as the Dead Sea Scrolls, these actually turn out to be much more important for writing the history of early Christianity. They are a cache of Christian texts. The Nag Hammadi texts tell us about early Christians. They were written in Coptic, the language of early Christian Egypt. As most ancient Christian texts have been lost, this discovery was exceptional. [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“The discovery includes the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Peter. None of these texts were included in the Bible, because the content didn't conform to Christian doctrine, and they're referred to as apocryphal. They tend to concentrate on things that one doesn't read about in the Bible. For example, New Testament gospels report that after the resurrection Jesus spent some time talking with the disciples, but you don't learn much about what he said. In the gospels of Nag Hammadi you can read what he said. |::|

“Although they're not Biblical texts, experts still believe that they give us significant insights into Christian history. In these apocryphal texts we might have genuine traditions about Jesus that for one reason or another didn't make it into the New Testament. For the first time in hundreds of years there was a new source of information about Mary Magdalene. She appears very frequently as one of the prominent disciples of Jesus. In certain texts where Jesus is in discussion with his disciples, Mary Magdalene asks many informed questions. Whereas the other disciples at times seem confused, she is the one who understands. |::|

“"Apocryphal" took on very negative connotations, especially in comparison to the Bible. It often means that it's not to be read, not to be taken seriously, not to be considered, not true. The contents of these books are regarded by many people as legends. So can we believe the Gospel of Philip? Was Mary really Jesus' closest companion? Well, there is other evidence for this, and some of it is even in the Bible itself. |::|

New Testament Apocrypha

Apocrypha are works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin. Biblical apocrypha is a set of texts included in the Latin Vulgate and Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible. While Catholic tradition considers the texts to be deuterocanonical, Protestants consider them apocryphal. Thus, Protestant bibles do not include the books within the Old Testament but have often included them in a separate section. Other non-canonical apocryphal texts are generally called pseudepigrapha, a term that means "false writings". The word's origin is the Medieval Latin adjective apocryphus, "secret, or non-canonical", from the Greek adjective apokryphos ("obscure"), from the verb apokryptein ("to hide away"). [Source: Wikipedia]

Dead Sea Scroll: the Temple Scroll

List of New Testament Apocrypha from pseudepigrapha.com:
Dead Sea Scrolls
Community Rule
The 'Zadokite' Document
Narrative of Joseph of Arimathaea
Epistle of the Apostles
Report of Pilate the Procurator
History of Joseph the Carpenter
Apocryphon of James (Another Version)
The Letter of Peter to Philip
Book of John the Evangelist
Ptolemy's Commentary on the Gospel of John Prologue
Avenging of the Saviour
The Apocryphon of John (Long Version)
The Sentances of Sextus
Book of Thomas the Contender [Source: pseudepigrapha.com]

Lost Books of the Bible
The Gospel of the Birth of Mary
The Protevangelion (Another Version)
The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas Composit
Greek (A)
Greek (B)
Infancy Compilation (All)
The Gospel of Pseudo-matthew
The Epistles of Jesus Christ and Abgarus King of Edessa (Another Version)
The Gospel of Nicodemus (Or Acts of Pontius Pilate) (Another Version)
Letters of Herod and Pilate

Gospel of Judas

The Apostles' Creed
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Laodiceans
The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to Seneca (W/seneca's to Paul)
The Acts of Paul and Thecla
The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
The Second Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
The General Epistle of Barnabas
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp
The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians

The First Book of Hermas (Or Visions)
The Second Book of Hermas (Or Commands)
Letters of Herod and Pilate
The Lost Gospel According to Peter
The Gospel of Peter - Last
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians
The Martyrdom of Ignatius
The Martyrdom of Polycarp
Tertullian on Specticals
Tertullian on Prayer
Tertullian on Patience
Tertullian on Martyrs

The Report of Pilate to Caesar
Gospel of Bartholomew
Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Phillip
Secret Gospel of Mark
Book of Marcion
Excerpts from the Gospel of Mary
The Letter of Aristeas
The Didache
Letters of Pontius Pilate
The Gospel of the Holy Twelve

Myth of Origins, Non-Canon Heretics and Gnostics

medieval Gnostic Colegium

Karen King at Harvard Divinity School is a critic of what she calls the “master story” of Christianity: a narrative that casts the New Testament as divine revelation that passed through Jesus in “an unbroken chain” to the apostles and their successors—church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried its truths into the present day. Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science: According to this “myth of origins,” as she has called it, followers of Jesus who accepted the New Testament canon—chiefly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written roughly between A.D. 65 and A.D. 95, or at least 35 years after Jesus’ death—were true Christians. Followers inspired by noncanonical gospels were heretics hornswoggled by the devil. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, October 5, 2015 /~/]

“Until the last century, virtually everything scholars knew about these other gospels came from broadsides against them by early Church leaders. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, France, pilloried them in A.D. 180 as “an abyss of madness and of blasphemy”—a “wicked art” practiced by people bent on “adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.” A challenge to Christianity’s master story surfaced in December 1945, when an Arab farmer digging near the town of Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt, stumbled on a cache of manuscripts. Inside a meter-tall clay jar containing 13 leatherbound papyrus codices were 52 texts that didn’t make it into the canon, including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip and the Secret Revelation of John. /~/

“As scholars translated the texts from Coptic, early Christians whose views had fallen out of favor—or were silenced—began speaking again, across the ages, in their own voices. A picture began to take shape of long-ago Christians, scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean, who derived sometimes contradictory teachings from the life of Jesus Christ. Was it possible that Judas was not a turncoat but a favored disciple? Did Christ’s body really rise, or just his soul? Was the crucifixion—and human suffering, more broadly—a prerequisite for salvation? /~/

“Only later did an organized Church sort the answers to those questions into the categories of orthodoxy and heresy. (Some scholars prefer the term “Gnostic” to heretical; King rejects both, arguing in a 2003 book that “Gnosticism” is a construct “invented in the early modern period to aid in defining the boundaries of normative Christianity.”)” /~/

Crazy Stories from Apocrypha

Mark Oliver wrote in Listverse: “1) The Serpent Was Just Trying To Help: “The Testimony of Truth” retells the story of the Garden of Eden except that the serpent is not the Devil this time. He’s just a particularly clever animal, and God just calls him “Devil” because He’s angry. The big change, though, comes at the end of the story. It begins with ‘But what sort is this God?” and then starts calling God out on all the weird parts of the stories, from pretending not to know where Adam was to majorly overreacting over eating a fig. The book even says that God “has shown Himself to be a malicious grudger!” Even though it sounds like an antireligious book, it’s actually a Christian text with a uniquely complex view of God. Still, it’s easy to understand why this one isn’t in your Bible. [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 4, 2016 /=/]

2) “The Apostle John Talks To Bedbugs: Another book called the Acts of John follows Jesus’s disciple on his own journeys. In this book, John is capable of performing miracles, but they’re less impressive than Jesus’s. For example, John lies down in a bed at an inn but can’t sleep because of all the bedbugs. Instead of filing a complaint with the manager, John tells the bugs, “Behave yourselves!” and makes them all leave the inn. In the morning, the bedbugs are patiently waiting outside the door for John to let them back in. “Since ye behaved yourselves,” John tells them like a weary father trying to set his child right, “come unto your place.”

3) “Saint Peter Uses A Talking Dog As A Messenger: The “Acts of Peter” tells the story of the disciple Peter—best known as the first Pope of the Catholic Church—who, apparently, spent most of his time fighting wizard battles. In particular, Peter pits himself against a man named Simon Magus, a sorcerer who upsets God. Peter comes to town to confront Simon in the weirdest confrontation ever. To prove he’s God’s servant, Peter gives a dog the power of speech and sends it to call out Simon. The dog does, but Simon is not impressed. He tells the dog, “Tell Peter that I am not within.” The greatest part of the story is that the dog calls him out on it. “Here is a dumb animal sent unto thee which hath received a human voice,” the dog tells him, before finally just asking him, “Art thou not ashamed?” /=/

4) Peter Casts The First Stone At A Flying Wizard: The battle between Peter and Simon gets crazier after the incident with the dog. Simon, wanting to prove that he is the true messenger of God, flies up into the sky and challenges Peter to do the same. It’s weird that Simon’s miracle works but even weirder that Peter can’t meet Simon’s challenge and fly up with him. Instead, Peter prays to God and asks Him to make Simon fall down and “break his legs in three places.” God does, and Simon comes crashing to the ground. But it’s the cold, clinically written ending that makes it truly strange: “Then every man cast stones at him and went away home and thenceforth believed Peter.”

t) “Hell Is Brutal: In the “Apocalypse of Peter,” Peter is taken on a guided tour through the brutal torments of Hell. Murderers spend their time getting attacked by snakes and calling out, “O God, thy judgment is just!”—which isn’t unreasonable since they seem to be getting off pretty easily compared to everyone else. Women who have had abortions get it much worse. They spend their time drowning in a lake of the murderers’ blood while their unborn babies sit above them crying. And just for good measure, their eyes are repeatedly set on fire. Rich people who don’t donate to charity have to roll on red-hot rocks sharper than swords. High-interest lenders sit in a pitch full of blood. And homosexuals are repeatedly taken to the top of a cliff and thrown down for all of eternity.

Crazy Stories from Jesus from Apocrypha

Mark Oliver wrote in Listverse: “1) “Baby Jesus Tames Dragons: After the birth of Jesus, Herod sent men out to have the baby killed. But our Bible doesn’t go into much detail on how Jesus got away. We’re just told that Mary and Joseph hid out in Egypt for a while. That would have changed, though, if the “Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew” had made it in. According to this book, Mary and Joseph tried to hide in a cave, only to find that it was full of massive, fire-breathing dragons. That didn’t bother the one-month-old Baby Jesus, though. Jesus hopped down from his mother’s arms, walked over to the dragons, and stared them down until they “retired.” Then Infant Jesus turned to his terrified mother and said, “Do not consider me to be a little child.” Because, as it turns out, even Jesus wanted his mom to stop babying him. [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 4, 2016 /=/]

2) “Baby Jesus Goes On A Killing Spree: “In the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” one-year-old Jesus goes on a killing spree. The book starts with Baby Jesus playing in a pool of water and turning clay into living birds. When another kid messes up his game by splashing the water with a stick, Jesus curses the boy to be “withered like a tree” and leaves him to die. The town doesn’t really care for Jesus’s murder-happy habits, and they ask Joseph to discipline his child. He tries, but Jesus doesn’t apologize, promise to change his ways, or bring anybody back to life. Instead, he curses half the town with blindness. /=/

Describing some of the incidents in the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas”, one of the Apocrypha. Harry Sidebottom wrote in The Telegraph: When Jesus was young, another boy bumped into him in the village street. Jesus cursed him — “You shall go no further on your way” — and the boy dropped dead. His parents complained about Jesus to Joseph and Mary: “Teach him to bless, and not to curse; for he slayeth our children.” This was a slight exaggeration — previously Jesus had merely crippled another child — but the plea didn’t work. Jesus cursed them too, and they were struck blind.

3) “Jesus Pulls Judas Aside And Tells Judas To Betray Him: We know that the Biblical character Judas betrayed Jesus, but we don’t get much insight into why—except in “The Gospel of Judas.” In this Gnostic gospel, Judas isn’t some evil betrayer—he’s Jesus’s closest confidant. Jesus tries to tell the disciples about a great generation that is yet to come, but they can’t understand the idea. So Jesus pulls Judas aside and tells him because Judas is the only one who gets it. Jesus also tells Judas to betray Him and that it’s okay. He tells Judas that, compared to every other Christian, “You will exceed all of them.” Jesus also says that “[Judas’s] star has shone brightly” and that he has a place waiting for him in Heaven in exchange for his willingness to sell out Jesus and complete His destiny.

4) Jesus Denies Being The Son Of God In the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus is just a prophet who can’t stand being called the Son of God. He even yells at his disciples, “Cursed be everyone who shall insert into my sayings that I am the Son of God!”—and every one of the disciples falls down as if dead. When he asks Peter who he is, Peter responds, “Thou art Christ, Son of God.” This makes Jesus so furious that he calls Peter “the Devil” and threaten the disciples by saying, “I have won from God a great curse against those who believe this!” The Gospel of Barnabas never made it into the Bible and has been rejected outright by Christians. But in some Muslim communities where Jesus is viewed as just a man, it’s been called a sacred text.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.