Are There "Lost" Gospels that Were Left Out of the Bible?
The Apostle John mentions that "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book" (Jn 20:30). Doesn’t that open the door to the existence of other records of Jesus' life? In 1945, 52 papyri manuscripts were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Some of the books were called Gospels. These writings date from the second to fourth centuries. Scholars have known of their existence since the time they were written, but until 1945, the books were assumed forever lost. Their rediscovery caused much controversy and speculation. Skeptics charged that the early church had lied about Jesus and suppressed the books that told His true story.
The "lost gospels" fall into two categories: New Testament apocrypha and gnostic writings (gnosis means knowledge).
Apocrypha means "hidden things". The apocryphal writings deal with two periods of Jesus' life that are not covered much (hence, hidden) in the NT – His childhood and the three days between His death and resurrection. The motivations for writing such works apparently included entertainment and a desire to redefine who Jesus was. The juiciest of the apocryphal writings is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It includes a story in which the child Jesus called another child an "unrighteous, irreverent idiot"(3:1-2), and stories in which young Jesus struck other children dead for offenses such as bumping into Him (4:1-2; see also 14:3). No, I'm not making this up!
Then there are the gnostic writings that present Jesus as a gnostic philosopher. Here is a chart showing the sharp differences between the biblical worldview and Gnosticism.
One God and Creator.
The world, body, soul, and spirit are good.
Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
Jesus came to restore relationships broken by sin.
Faith in Christ brings salvation (available to all).
The world and body are evil. Only spirit and soul are good.
Jesus only appeared human; He was only a spirit being.
Ignorance, not sin, is the ultimate problem.
"Special knowledge" brings salvation (available to only a few).
Popular gnostic writings include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas. In the latter, Jesus invites Judas to betray Him. The Gospel of Thomas is even more scandalous. "Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I Myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven'' (saying 114). Both quotations fit with the gnostic worldview but clash badly with the biblical worldview.
Bottom line, the apocryphal and gnostic gospels were not lost to the early church; rather, early Christians knew about them and rejected them because they were written long after Jesus' original followers had died, and because they clearly contained fanciful and heretical ideas (cp. Irenaeus in A.D. 180). While historically interesting, the so-called "lost gospels" do not offer us true information about the historical Jesus. As always, the NT writings are the earliest and most reliable witnesses to Jesus' true words and works.
This article can be found in "Apologetics Study Bible for Students", page 1150.
Please also see our comprehensive study for the book of John that includes commentary from www.enduringword.com.