There are other early writings that have been referred to as “gospels.” An excellent resource is Bart Ehrman’s book, Lost Scriptures : Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. This book is a collection of early Christian and gnostic writings. The book is Ehrman’s own, very readable, translation of these works. In most cases, a casual reading of these works makes it pretty clear why they are not in the New Testament.
In The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (no relation to the Gospel of Thomas), the writer undertakes to give an account of Jesus’ missing childhood years. Jesus is portrayed more like a character from a Harry Potter novel than as a normal child. He uses His power to kill another child who bumps into Him (He raises him from the dead when the boy’s parents complain), He fashions some birds out of clay and then brings them to life, and He lengthens a board when His father cuts it too short.
But what about the texts that did make it into the New Testament? Are they complete? The earliest Gospel is commonly accepted to be the Gospel of Mark. Of the four, it has generated the most controversy in regards to its ending. The earliest manuscripts end at chapter sixteen, verse eight, “The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone because they were too frightened to talk.” Was this the original ending of Mark’s story? Scholars have debated this for years. Helpful scribes added two endings to Mark, one of which adds another twelve verses.
I make the case in my book, Miracles in Mark, that Mark actually did intend to finish his gospel at verse eight. His entire story has been one of the disciples and others struggling to understand Who Jesus actually was. Even here at Jesus’ resurrection, the women were scared and did not fully understand what was happening. Mark seems to end his story like he does to allow the reader to decide what to do with with what they have just read.
The letters that the Apostle Paul wrote bring up the question of gaps in the Scriptures. The Corinthian correspondence, for example, refers to other letters that were not preserved. In First Corinthians seven, verse one, Paul refers to a letter that the Christians in Corinth wrote him, “Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter.” It would be interesting to read a letter written to the Apostle Paul from one of his churches.
In Second Corinthians, chapter two, Paul refers to another letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth to bring some correction. He is saying, in essence, that he is sorry that he had to be so heavy-handed in the letter and is sorry to have caused them such sorrow. This is obviously a letter that was not preserved because First Corinthians is not heavy-handed and would not have caused sorrow. It is a letter of teaching and answering questions from the letter that they sent Paul.
Another letter of Paul’s that does not seem to have been preserved was his letter to the Laodiceans, mentioned in Colossians four, verse sixteen. Some scholars have thought this might possibly be referring to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians is one of Paul’s least personal letters and appears to be written as a circular letter to be shared among different churches. It is possible that this was the Laodicean letter that Paul mentioned.
While there are some areas of controversy within the field of New Testament studies, this should never muddy the water of the importance of studying the Scriptures. The New Testament canon was formally acknowledged in the mid 300’s AD. For over one hundred years before that, however, almost all of the books that would later make up our New Testament were already accepted as Scripture. The early Christians felt that the New Testament was complete. There is no good reasom for us to feel otherwise.
What other questions do you have about the reliability of the New Testament?
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