The Gospel of Judas? Gospel of Thomas? Gospel of Mary Magdalene? In the last few years the popular media has made it seem like new “gospels” have been discovered which should compete with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for a place in the New Testament. We almost never see magazine articles or TV stories about why they do not belong!
To help my church history students know “the facts” about this imagined controversy, each year we watch a 45 minute video by Dr. Michael J. Kruger. Dr. Kruger is the President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. He is a renowned scholar on 2nd Century Christianity and the New Testament canon (i.e., the books that are in the Bible). Here is the video to watch:
I also provide my students with a brief outline of what is in the video. Here are those notes:
Four Basic Facts about Our Four Gospels, Which Are NOT True of Others Like the Gospel of Thomas
- As an aside, our culture’s fascination with diversity of ideas, religions, moral views, etc. is used to say all are equally valid, and one is just as valid as the others.
- #One: Our four Gospels are the earliest gospels we have – eyewitness sources
- The only ones written and dated to the first century – thus closest to the events they purport to record
- All others are 2nd century or later
- Our four are the ones most likely to be accurate
- Coming from 1st century they had to pass the test of others who were also alive when those events transpired
- #Two: Our four Gospels are only ones with a credible connection to the Apostles – authoritative eyewitness sources
- Not just early, but close to the right sources – Jesus closest disciples and friends
- How do we know who wrote the Gospels – the only authors ever associated with these books by slightly later church fathers, and internal evidences consistent with their authorship
- Apocryphal gospels, though very late, still attached credible names in hopes of misleading
- #Three: Our four Gospels lack the legendary embellishments of later, apocryphal gospels
- Qualitatively different – bizarre, strange, etc. as compared to matter of fact, almost newspaper style storytelling.
- Several examples show the difference
- #Four: Our four Gospels were recognized as authoritative and trusted by the earliest Christians we encounter
- The only ones widely copied and distributed
- Irenaeus said, only four gospels
- Muratorian fragment, only four
- Clement of Alexandria, only four
- Apocryphal gospels – evidence of their use and distribution exceedingly scant
- Never appear together with canonical 4 Gospels
- Never appear in canonical lists together with our 4 Gospels
- Number of manuscripts of apocryphal gospels
- Thomas – 3 fragments in Greek, a few more in Coptic
- Others only known about from only one copy, or only mentioned by one writer somewhere… and all dated much later than accepted NT gospels
- All evidence points in only one direction: only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
- True diversity of accepted Gospels did not exist in earliest Christianity, or even later Christianity!
Dr. Kruger has several books out which address the subject of the New Testament canon in much greater detail. He also has debated and provided refutation for much of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s various claims. Go to www.amazon.com for several of Dr. Kruger’s books. And you can find his books, various articles and his videos on his website. Videos are also on www.youtube.com.
Our image is from the Wikipedia article on the Gospel of Thomas and is in the public domain.