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People Wrote Many Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses in Original Christianity, Some of Which Were Trustworthy

Christian gospel writing was not limited to the four Gospels we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are many known accounts of the life and times of Jesus. These include the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Story of Thomas, the Arabic Infancy Gospel, the Armenian Gospel of the Infancy, the History of Joseph the Carpenter, and the Gospel of the Birth of Mary.i All of these works are about the earlier life of Jesus. The Gospel of Nicodemus, otherwise known as the acts of Pilate, and the Gospel of Bartholomew refer to Jesus’s visit to Hades. There is an unknown gospel, known as Egerton Papyrus 2, that appears to have some events of Christ written from memory.ii The theologian Jerome took an interest in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which is slightly shorter than the Gospel of Matthew.iii The gospel of the Egyptians was accepted as canonical in Egypt.iv The early church father Origen refers to the Gospel of Peter in his commentary on Matthew.v

Above are just some of the Gospels. We also have many other books including the Acts of Paul, the Acts of John, the Epistle of the Apostles, the Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Apocalypse of Paul.vi As we know that there were many lost books over the centuries, there were probably many more gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypses written.

The reason for all of these writings is that just like today many wanted to record significant events. This is stated at the beginning of the gospel of Luke;

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.Luke 1:1-4

Examining these verses we see the writer of the book of Luke stating how the book came to be and what its purpose was. “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us” states what we have said above. There were many who chose to write an account of the events they witnessed. “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,” says that these accounts, in this case the book of Luke, is written by someone who is both an eyewitness and a Christian minister. “it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order” says that it was the authors chose to write his account because he had traced the events out, in other words, he had a good understanding of them. “that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.” says that he is writing down this record so that you can know the certainty of which the things that you are told are true. What can be inferred then is that not all of the accounts are true.  Not all the writings, the other gospels, acts, epsitles, and so forth are accurate.  So, in order that believers can know what the true accounts are, Luke decided to write his gospel.

It seems that many Christians today base their faith on the Gospels and many other books of the Bible being authored by God himself. I want to challenge that belief.  There are many writings that are not authored by God that are very accurate. Consider the example of an automotive manual. When you want to know how to do something with your car you might choose to look in the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual is not written by God, nor is it written by the man that engineered the car, or the people that actually built it.  While they are probably hired by the manufacturing company the manuals are usually written by technical writers.  But still owner’s manuals are very trustworthy even though they may have something in them that is ambiguous or unclear. Perhaps a better example are third-party automotive manuals. These are books written by people who buy a car, work with it, and then write a book on how to fix it. They are very good. They are so good that millions and millions of them have been sold. But they are not perfect. Occasionally you’ll find mistakes. The mistake will probably be typographical, but occasionally there will be incorrect information. Stil, automotive manuals are a very trustworthy resource. They are trustworthy even though they weren’t written by the people that designed the car, or built the car.

Luke 1:1-4 says that the gospel at least falls into the category of trustworthiness that the automotive manual does. It was written by someone who witnessed the events, as well as practiced and ministered the faith.

What the author of Luke does not say is that God told him to write the book. He doesn’t say “thus says the Lord”. Â He doesn’t say that God authored the book. He says he, the writer, chose to write it and it says he, in fact, wrote it. It doesn’t say that it is perfect. It says that it is accurate. We should take these verses at their face value. We don’t need to throw the whole book away because it isn’t God authored. We can understand that because it is humanly authored there may be some minor mistakes. Nevertheless, it is a trustworthy document. It appears that this is what original Christianity understood about these writings. The documents that they trusted were written by men that could be trusted. Â They are very accurate, but they are of human origin.

i. THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 167

ii. ibid p. 168

iii. ibid p.169

iv. ibid p.171

v. ibid p.171

vi. ibid p.174-189

(c) 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

April 18th, 2009 Posted by | Original Christianity | no comments

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