What About the Lost Books of the Bible?

Ever since The Da Vinci Code became a best-seller, this question has been asked a lot.  In Dan Brown’s popular book/movie it was suggested that early church leaders had concealed the truth about Jesus by covering up several ancient writings about Him.  It was said that these other writings revealed a Jesus who was different than found in the Bible’s four Gospels and that they revealed a different gospel message.  The conspiracy theory suggests that a church council decided on which books to keep and which to dispense with, thus redirecting Christianity with the emphasis they wanted.

The Da Vinci Code was fiction but included some details that are true.  For instance, there are a number of very old books written about the life and teaching of Jesus Christ which do not appear in our Bible.  That is true.  However, that’s about where the truth of Dan Brown’s book wears off.

I first learned about the books that “didn’t make the cut” when I was a teenager in the 70s.  At first I was aghast.  Then I was angry. I didn’t like it that someone was withholding stories of Jesus from me.  I wanted to know what those stories were and why I didn’t have them in my Bible!  Flash-forward forty years later and those “hidden books” are all now on the shelf in my library.  I’ve had the opportunity to read them and I know why they aren’t part of my Bible.  And, I’m no longer angry.

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote any letter or book that survived. Instead, He authorized his disciples to carry on His teaching.  These disciples – or Apostles – soon began writing letters to the churches that they had started or visited. These letters were kept, copied, and circulated to neighboring churches.  In addition to the letters written by the Apostles other edifying letters were kept in these early church libraries.

In time, the church began to suffer persecution.  Christian books were confiscated, and it became illegal to have them.  It soon became apparent that a decision had to be made about which books were worth dying for. Who wanted to lose their life for owning a book that wasn’t inspired?  Additionally, heretical teachers were forming their own lists of inspired books and the church felt the need to respond.

Although we don’t know exactly what the early church was using as a standard to choose, one thing seems certain: books that couldn’t be traced to an Apostle were not being included.  For example, a very popular book in the early-second century was The Didache.  It means “the teaching” and was supposed to represent the teaching of the twelve apostles.  Although many churches had this book in their libraries it didn’t appear to have been written by any of the Apostles.  Therefore, though the book was, and still is, helpful, it wasn’t included.  But what about the other gospel accounts?  Why, were they not included?

Our New Testament Bible contains four accounts of Jesus’ life. We call these the Gospels.  Early church history traces these four Gospels to either Apostles or people who were very closely associated with the Apostles.  There was never any dispute about these books.  However, it is no secret that there are other books that are also called “gospels.”  The foremost reason why these other books were not included in our Bible is because they were known forgeries.  For example, the Gospel of Peter is dated to about the middle of the second century – long after Peter had been martyred.  Therefore, whoever wrote it was lying about who he was.  As well, the Gospel of Thomas was probably written around the same time frame and couldn’t have been written by the Apostle Thomas.  Likewise, Judas, who hanged himself before Jesus was even crucified, could not have been the author of The Gospel of Judas.

These gospels are sometimes referred to as gnostic gospels.  That is because they belonged to a style of teaching known as gnosticism.  Gnosticism was a false teaching that had attempted to creep into the church very early but was swiftly recognized as inconsistent with what the gospels that were known to be non-forgeries taught.

It apparently had become popular for authors to write books and then assign them to someone more important, like Mary Magdalene or Peter.  Books that were falsely attributed to others are called pseudepigrapha books.  They are not limited to just the New Testament class of books, but older ones as well. For example, The Book of Enoch was written a few centuries before Christ.  Because it was clearly not written by the real Enoch (seven generations after Adam), it was never even considered as part of the Jewish canon.

It is sometimes suggested that Emperor Constantine had either made the decision about what books were to be included in our Bible or he directed the church to do so.  This simply is untrue. Constantine had called for a church council in 325 AD in Nicea because there was a dispute that was tearing the church (and empire) in two. That matter was whether Christ had been created or not. There is no evidence whatsoever supporting the notion that Constantine arranged the Bible or ordered it arranged.

In 397 AD, years after the death of Constantine, the Council of Carthage is credited with fixing what we know as our Bible.  However, long before this happened, most churches had already informally recognized the list of books that were considered authoritative. The few that were in dispute were decided upon at that time and an official list was compiled.  None of the gnostic gospels were in the running because they were written by people who lied about who they were.  The church just wasn’t interested in liars.

The “lost books of the Bible,” as they are sometimes called, were never lost.  And, they were never part of the Bible.  They are still available and can be read.  Generally, it doesn’t take a critical reader long to recognize the difference between these books and those that we have in our Bible.  For instance, in the Gospel of Thomas we find saying #114, “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.’” (emphasis mine).

This teaching on women doesn’t line up at all with the teaching of Jesus as compared with all early writings.  So, not only was it a forgery; it wasn’t even a good one.

We can see, then, that the only “conspiracy” in deciding which books to include was a conspiracy against liars.  The church simply wasn’t interested in listing these books alongside the genuine teachings of the Apostles.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



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