Apocryphal Gospels

a-pok'-ri-fal gos'-pels:


1. Early Gospels

2. Canonical Gospels

3. Apocryphal Gospels

4. Gospel according to the Hebrews


1. Gospel of the Ebionites

2. Gospel of the Egyptians

3. Gospel of Marcion

4. Gospel of Peter

5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles

6. Gospels of Barnabas and Bartholomew


1. Gospels of the Nativity

(a) Protevangelium of James

(b) Pseudo-Matthew

(c) The Nativity of Mary

(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter

(e) The Passing of Mary

2. Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood

(a) Gospel of Thomas

(b) Arabic Gospel of the Childhood

3. Gospels of the Passion and Resurrection

(a) Gospel of Peter (as above)

(b) Gospel of Nicodemus

(1) Acts of Pilate

(2) Descent of Jesus into the Lower World

(c) Other Fabrications


The apocryphal gospels form a branch of the apocryphal literature that attended the formation of the New Testament canon of Scripture. Apocryphal here means non-canonical. Besides gospels, this literature included acts, epistles and apocalypses.

I. Introductory.

1. Early Gospels:

The introduction to the third canonical Gospel shows that in the days of the writer, when the apostles of the Lord were still living, it was a common practice to write and publish accounts of the acts and words of Jesus. It has even been maintained (S. Baring-Gould, Lost and Hostile Gospels, xxiii, London, 1874) that at the close of the 1st century, almost every church had its own gospel with which alone it was acquainted. These were probably derived, or professed to be derived, from the oral reports of those who had seen, heard, and, it may be, conversed with our Lord. It was dissatisfaction with these compositions that moved Luke to write his Gospel. Whether any of these ante-Lukan documents are among those still known to us is hardly longer doubtful. Scholars of repute--Grotius, Grabe, Mill--were in earlier times disposed to place the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and the Gospel of the Egyptians among those alluded to by Luke, some holding the Gospel of the Hebrews to be as early as just after the middle of the 1st century. More recent criticism does not allow so early an appearance for those gospels, though a fairly early date is still postulated for the Gospel of the Hebrews. The Protevangelium of James (noticed below) is still held by some as possibly falling within the 1st century (EB, I, 259).

2. Canonical Gospels:

However this may be, there can be no doubt that by the close of the 1st century and the early part of the 2nd century, opinion was practically unanimous in recognition of the authority of the four Gospels of the canonical Scriptures. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (180 AD), recognizes four, and only four Gospels, as "pillars" of the church. The Harmonies of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (168-80 AD), and of Tatian, and the Apology of Justin Martyr carry back the tradition to a much earlier period of the century, and, as Liddon proves at considerable length (Bampton Lectures, 2nd ed., 210-19), "it is scarcely too much to assert that every decade of the 2nd century furnishes its share of proof that the four Gospels as a whole, and John's in particular, were to the church of that age what they are to the church of the present." The recent attempt of Professor Bacon of Yale to get rid of the important authority of Irenaeus (The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, New York, 1910) will not succeed; it has been shown to be merely assertive where there is no evidence and agnostic where evidence is apparently demonstrative. During the last century the Gospels, as regards their composition, credibility and historicity, were subjected to the most searching and unsparing criticism which, though intimations of it were previously not wanting, may be said to have begun when Strauss, to use Liddon's words, "shocked the conscience of all that was Christian in Europe" by the publication of his first Life of Jesus. The methods pursued in this work consisted largely in the application to the sacred books, and especially to the Gospels, of the principles of criticism that had for forty years previously been used in estimating the structure and composition of some of the literary products of antiquity; and the controversy excited by this criticism can hardly yet be said to have subsided. This is not the place for entering upon an account of the controversy; it may be sufficient here to say that the traditional positions of the church have been ably defended, and in particular, that the claims of the canonical Gospels have been abundantly maintained.

3. Apocryphal Gospels:

Whatever was the fate of the ante-Lukan and other possible 1st-century gospels, it is with the 2nd century and the formation of an authoritative canon that the apocryphal gospels, such as we now have, for the most part begin to appear. In the days of the reproduction of documents by manuscript, of restricted communications between different localities, and when the church was only as yet forming and completing its organization, the formation and spread of such gospels would be much easier than now. The number of such gospels is very considerable, amounting to about fifty. These exist mainly in fragments and scattered notices; though some, as pointed out below, are either entire or nearly so. The apparent number has probably been increased by the use of different names for the same document. Thirty are named by Hofmann with more or less explanation in RE, I, 511; a complete hat is given in Fabricius (Cod. Apocrypha New Testament, I, 355 ff). Ebionistic and Gnostic circles were specially prolific of such gospels. "It would be easy," says Salmon (Intro, 1st ed., 239) "to make a long list of names of gospels said to have been in use in different Gnostic sects; but very little is known as to their contents, and that little is not such as to lead us to attribute to them the very slightest historical value." Of many indeed no more is known than the names of the authors, such as the gospels of Basilides, of Cerinthus, of Apelles, of Matthias, of Barnabas, of Bartholomew, of Eve, of Philemon and many others. The scholars and authorities of the early church were quite well aware of the existence and aims of these productions. It is noteworthy also that they had no hesitation in characterizing them as they deserved. The Marcosians, according to Irenaeus, adduced "an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves had forged, to bewilder the minds of the foolish"; and Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25) gives the following list of spurious and disputed books: "That we have it in our power to know both these books (the canonical) and those that are adduced by the heretics under the name of the apostles such, namely, as compose the gospels of Peter, of Thomas, and of Matthew, and certain others beside these or such as contain the Acts of Andrew and John, and of the other apostles, of which no one of those writers in the ecclesiastical succession has condescended to make any mention in his works: and, indeed, the character of the style itself is very different from that of the apostles, and the sentiments, and the purport of these things that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible from sound orthodoxy, evidently prove they are the fictions of heretical men: whence they are not only to be ranked among the spurious writings but are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious." In the appendix to Westcott's Introduction to the Study of the Gospels will be found, with the exception of those recently discovered in Egypt, a complete list of the non-canonical sayings and deeds ascribed to our Lord as recorded in the patristic writings; and also a list of the quotations from the non-canonical gospels where these are only known by quotations.

The aim of the apocryphal gospels may be regarded as (1) heretical or (2) supplemental or legendary: that is to say, such as either were framed in support of some heresy or such as assume the canonical gospels and try to make additions--largely legendary--to them. Before considering these it may be well to take separate account of the Gospel according to the Hebrews.

4. Gospel According to the Hebrews:

The undoubted early date of this gospel, the character of most of its not very numerous quotations, the respect with which it is uniformly mentioned by early writers, and the esteem in which it is at present held by scholars in general, entitle the Gospel according to the Hebrews to special notice. Apart from the tradition, to which it is not necessary to attach too great importance, that represented our Lord as commanding His disciples to remain for twelve years in Jerusalem, it is reasonable to suppose that for the Christian communities resident in Jerusalem and Palestine a written gospel in their own language (Western Aramaic) would soon be a necessity, and such a gospel would naturally be used by Jewish Christians of the Diaspora. Jewish Christians, for example, settled in Alexandria, might use this gospel, while native Christians, as suggested by Harnack, might use the Gospel of the Egyptians, till of course both were superseded by the four Gospels sanctioned by the church. There is no proof however that the gospel was earlier than the Synoptics, much less that it was among the ante-Lukan gospels. Harnack, indeed, by a filiation of documents for which there seems hardly sufficient warrant, placed it as early as between 65 and 100 AD. Salmon, on the other hand (Intro, Leer X) concludes that "the Nazarene gospel, so far from being the mother, or even the sister of one of our canonical four, can only claim to be a grand-daughter or grand-niece." Jerome (400 AD) knew of the existence of this gospel and says that he translated it into Greek and Lat; quotations from it are found in his works and in those of Clement of Alexandria. Its relation to the Gospel of Matthew, which by almost universal consent is declared to have been originally written in Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic), has given rise to much controversy. The prevalent view among scholars is that it was not the original of which Matthew's Gospel was a Greek translation, but still that it was a fairly early composition. Some, like Salmon and Harnack, are disposed to regard Jerome's Hebrew Gospel as to all intents a fifth gospel originally composed for Palestinian Christians, but which became of comparatively insignificant value with the development of Christianity into a world-religion. Besides two references to the baptism of Jesus and a few of his sayings, such as--"Never be joyful except when ye shall look upon your brother in love"; "Just now my Mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and bore me away to the great mountain Thabor"--it records the appearance of our Lord to James after the resurrection, adduced by Paul (1Co 15:7) as one of the proofs of that event; but of course Paul might have learned this from the lips of James himself as well as from ordinary tradition, and not necessarily from this gospel. This indeed is the principal detail of importance which the quotations from this gospel add to what we know from the Synoptics. In other divergences from the Synoptics where the same facts are recorded, it is possible that the Gospel according to the Hebrews may relate an earlier and more reliable tradition. On the other hand, the longest quotation, which gives a version of Christ's interview with the Rich Young Ruler, would seem to show, as Westcott suggests, that the Synoptics give the simpler and therefore the earlier form of the common narrative. Many scholars, however, allow that the few surviving quotations of this gospel should be taken into account in constructing the life of Christ. The Ebionites gave the name of Gospel of the Hebrews to a mutilated gospel of Matthew. This brings us to the heretical gospels.

II. Heretical Gospels.

1. Gospel of the Ebionites:

The Ebionites may be described generally as Jewish Christians who aimed at maintaining as far as possible the doctrines and practices of the Old Testament and may be taken as representing originally the extreme conservative section of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Ac 15:1-29. They are frequently mentioned in patristic literature from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, and the prolonged Gnostic controversies of those times may well have founded among them different sects or at least parties. Accordingly Jerome, a writer of the 4th century, states (Ep ad August. 122 13) that he found in Palestine Jewish Christians known as Nazarenes and Ebionites. Whether these were separate sects or simply supporters of more liberal or narrower views of the same sect cannot well be determined. Some, such as Harnack and Uhlhorn, have held that the two names are general designations for Jewish Christians; others regard the Ebionites as the most retrograde and the narrowest of Jewish Christians, while the Nazarenes were more tolerant of difference of belief and practice. The Gospel of the Ebionites or the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, as it was also called, represented along with the Gospel of the Hebrews (noticed above) this Judeo-Christian spirit. Some fragments of the Gospel of the Ebionites are preserved in Epiphanius (d 376). He speaks of the Nazarenes as "having the Gospel according to Matthew in a most complete form, in Hebrew" (i.e. Aramaic), though he immediately adds that he does not know whether "they removed the genealogies from Abraham to Christ," that is to say, whether they accepted or rejected the virgin birth of Christ. In contrast with this statement he says that the Ebionites had a gospel "called the Gospel according to Matthew, not entire and perfectly complete, but falsified and mutilated, which they call the Hebrew gospel." The extant fragments from the gospel are given in Westcott (Intro, 437 f). They "show that its value is quite secondary and that the author has simply compiled it from the canonical, and especially from the Synoptic Gospels, adapting it at the same time to the views and practices of Gnostic Ebionism" (DCG, I, 505).

2. Gospel of the Egyptians:

Three short and somewhat mystic verses are all that are left of what is known as the Gospel of the Egyptians. They occur in Book III of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, who devoted that book to a refutation of Encratism, that is, the rejection, as absolutely unlawful, of the use of marriage, of flesh meat and of wine. Already in the Pauline Epistles are met parties with the cry (Col 2:21) "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch," and (1Ti 4:3) "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats." The verses in Clement read as follows: "When Salome asked how long will death prevail? The Lord said, As long as ye women bear children: for I have come to destroy the function of women. And Salome said to him. Did I not well then in not bearing children? And the Lord answered and said, Eat of every herb, but do not eat of that which is bitter. And when Salome asked when the things would be known about which she had inquired, the Lord said, When ye trample on the garment of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female neither male nor female." The words assuredly vary much from the usual character of those of our Lord. Modern writers vary as to their encratite tendency and as to how far the Gospel of the Egyptians was practical. With so little to go upon, it is not easy to form a conclusion. It may have contained other passages on account of which Origen deemed it heretical. It was used by the Naassenes and Sabellians. The date of the Gospel is between 130 and 150.

3. Gospel of Marcion:

The Gospel of Marcion would seem to have been intended as a direct counteractive to the Aramaic gospels. A native of Pontus and the son of a bishop, Marcion settled at Rome in the first half of the 2nd century and became the founder of the anti-Jewish sect that acknowledged no authoritative writings but those of Paul. This work forms a striking example of what liberties, in days before the final formation of the canon, could be taken with the most authoritative and the most revered documents of the faith, and also as showing the free and practically unlimited nature of the controversy, of which the canon as finally adopted was the result. He rejected the Old Testament entirely, and of the New Testament retained only the Gospel of Luke, as being of Pauline origin, with the omission of sections depending on the Old Testament and ten epistles of Paul, the pastoral epistles being omitted. The principal Church Fathers agree upon this corruption of Luke's Gospel by Marcion; and the main importance of his gospel is that in modern controversy it was for some time assumed to be the original gospel of which Luke's Gospel was regarded as merely an expansion. The theory was shown first in Germany and afterward independently in England to be quite untenable. It was lately revived by the author of Supernatural Religion; but Dr. Sanday's work on The Gospels in the Second Century (chapter viii) may be said to have closed the controversy. (Compare also Salmon's Intro, LectXI .)

4. Gospel of Peter:

Until about a quarter of a century ago no more was known of the Gospel of Peter than of the crowd of heretical gospels referred to above. From Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 12, 2) it was known that a Gospel of Peter was in use in the church of Rhossus, a town in the diocese of Antioch at the end of the 2nd century, that controversy had arisen as to its character, and that after a careful examination of it Serapion, bishop of Antioch (190-203), had condemned it as docetic. Origen (died 253 AD), in his commentary on Mt 10:17, refers to the gospel as saying that "there are certain brothers of Jesus, the sons of Joseph by a former wife, who lived with him before Mary." Eusebius further in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 3, 2 knows nothing of the Gospel according to Peter being handed down as a catholic writing, and in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25, 6 he includes the Gospel of Peter among the forged heretical gospels. Theodoret, one of the Greek ecclesiastical historians (390-459), says that the Nazarenes used a gospel called "according to Peter." The gospel is also referred to in Jerome (De Viris Illustr., chapter 1) and it is condemned by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). Salmon (Intro, 231) remarks: "Of the book no extracts have been preserved, and apparently it never had a wide range of circulation." These words were written in 1885. In the following year the French Archaeological Mission, working in upper Egypt, found in a tomb, supposed to be a monk's, at Akhmim (Panopolis), a parchment containing portions of no less than three lost Christian works, the Book of Enoch, the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter. These were published in 1892 and have given rise to much discussion. The gospel has been carefully reproduced in facsimile and edited by competent scholars The fragment is estimated to contain about half of the original gospel. It begins in the middle of the history of the Passion, Just after Pilate has washed his hands from all responsibility and ends in the middle of a sentence when the disciples at the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were betaking themselves to their homes "But I (Simon Peter, the ostensible writer) and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea; and there was with us Levi the son of Alpheus whom the Lord. ...." Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen, IX, 2, 2nd edition, 76) exhibits about thirty new traits contained in the Petrine account of the Passion and burial. These are given in detail in an additional volume of the Ante-Nicene Library: Recently Discovered manuscripts, etc., Edinburgh, 1897. But Dr. Swete (Gospel of Peter, xv, London, 1893) shows that "even details which seem to be entirely new or which directly contradict the canonical narrative, may have been suggested by it"; and he concludes that notwithstanding the large amount of new matter which it contains, "there is nothing in this portion of the Petrine Gospel which compels us to assume the use of sources other than the canonical gospels." To Professor Orr (NT Apocryphal Writings, xix f) the Gnostic origin of the gospel seems clear in the story given of the Resurrection; and its docetic character--that is, that it proceeded from those who held that Christ had only the semblance of a body--from the statement that on the cross Jesus was silent as one who felt no pain, and from the dying cry from the cross, "My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me," the really Divine Christ having departed before the crucifixion. The date of the gospel has been placed by some in the first quarter, and by others in the third quarter, of the 2nd century. For the other newly discovered "Sayings of Jesus," see LOGIA.

5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles:

A Gospel of the Twelve is mentioned by Origen (Hom. I, in Luc), and a few fragments of it are preserved by Epiphanius (Haerea, 39 13-16,22). It commenced with the baptism, and was used by the Ebionites. It was written, Zahn thinks, about 170 AD.

6. Gospel of Barnabas and Bartholomew:

A Gospel of Barnabas and Gospel of Bartholomew are condemned in the decree of Pope Gelasius. The latter is mentioned by Jerome (Prooem ad Matt).

III. Supplementary or Legendary Gospels.

In all of the gospels of this class it is noteworthy that considering the desire of the writers of non-canonical gospels to multiply miracles, no notice is taken of the period in the life of Christ that intervened between his twelfth year and his thirtieth. The main reason for the omission probably is that no special dogmatic end was to be served by the narrative of this period of the Saviour's life. Where access cannot be had to these documents in their original languages, it may be useful to point out that a good and full translation of them may be found in Vol XVI of Clark's Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1870.

1. Gospels of the Nativity:

(a) The Protevangelium of James.

The earliest of these documents is the Protevangelium of James. James is supposed to be the Lord's brother. The title "Protevangelium" or First Gospel--a catching title which assumes much and suggests more--was given to this document by Postellus, a Frenchman, who first published it in Latin in the year 1552. In the Greek and Syriac manuscripts, it is known by various other titles, such as, The History of James concerning the Birth of the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mother of God and of Her Son Jesus Christ. Tischendorf in the notes to chapter i of his Evang. Apocrypha gives a long list of the names descriptive of it in the various manuscripts. In the Gelasian Decree depriving it of canonical authority it is simply styled Evangelium nomine Jacobi minoris apocryphum. In this document the birth of Mary is foretold by angelic announcement to her parents, Joachim and Anna, as was that of Jesus to Mary. It contains in twenty-five chapters the period from this announcement to the Massacre of the Innocents, including accounts of the early training of Mary in the temple, the Lukan narrative of the birth of Christ with some legendary additions, and the death of Zacharias by order of Herod for refusing to give information regarding the place of concealment of Elisabeth and the child John who, in their flight during the massacre, are miraculously saved by the opening of a mountain. At chapter 18 a change takes place in the narrative from the third to the first person, which has been taken (NT Apocrypha Writings by Professor Orr, D.D., London, 1903) to suggest an Essenian-Ebionitic origin for the document, and at least to argue for it a composite character, which again may account for the great variety of view taken of its date. It has been assigned (EB, I, 259) to the 1st century. Zahn and Kruger place it in the first decade, many scholars in the second half of the 2nd century; while others (e.g. Harnack) place it in its present form as late as the middle of the 4th century. Good scholars (Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century) admit references to it in Justin Martyr which would imply that possibly in some older form it was known in the first half of the 2nd century. In its latest forms the document indicates the obvious aim of the writer to promote the sanctity and veneration of the Virgin. It has been shown to contain a number of unhistorical statements. It was condemned in the western church by Popes Damasus (382), Innocent I (405) and by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). It would seem as if the age thus deprived of the Protevangelium demanded some document of the same character to take its place.

(b) Pseudo-Matthew.

A forged correspondence between Jerome and two Italian bishops supplied a substitute in the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, which Jerome was falsely represented to have rendered in Latin from the original Hebrew of Mt. The gospel is known only in Latin and, as already indicated, is not earlier than the 5th century. The Protevangelium is freely used and supplemented from some unknown (probably Gnostic) source, and further miracles especially connected with the sojourn in Egypt have been wrought into it with others added from the Childhood Gospel of Thomas. Some of the miracles recorded of Egypt are represented as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy, as when (chapter 18) the adoration of the infant Jesus by dragons recalls the fulfillment of what was said by David the prophet: "Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons: ye dragons and all ye deeps"; or as when (chapter 19) lions and panthers adored them, showing the company the way in the desert, "bowing their heads and wagging their tails and adoring Him with great reverence," which was regarded as a fulfillment of the prophecy: "Wolves shall feed with lambs and the lions and the ox shall eat straw together." In this gospel, too, appears for the first time the notice of the ox and the ass adoring the child Jesus in the manger, of which much was made in Christian article The gospel is further eked out by the relation of several of the miracles connected with the Gospel of the Childhood.

(c) The Nativity of Mary.

The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary was written in Latin. It goes over much the same ground as the earlier portion of the Pseudo-Matthew, but so differs from it as to indicate a later date and a different author. It includes more of the miraculous element and daily angelic visits to Mary during her residence in the temple. This gospel makes Mary leave the temple in her 14th year; according to the gospel next described, where the narrator is represented as the Son of Mary Himself, she left the temple in her 12th year, having lived in it nine years. It was for long held to be the work of Jerome, and from this gospel was almost entirely formed the "Golden Legend" which largely took the place of the Scriptures in the 13th century. throughout Europe before the invention of printing. It was among the books early printed in some countries where (as in England) it might not be safe to print the Scriptures. Its services to medieval literature and art should not blind us to the fact that it was a forgery deliberately introduced into the service of the church about the 6th century, when the worship of Mary was specially promoted in the church.

(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter.

To the same class of compositions belongs the Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter. Originally written in Coptic, it was translated into Arabic, in which language with a Latin version it was published in 1722. The composition is devoted to the glorification of Joseph, a cult which was specially favored by the monophysite Coptics. It dates from the 4th century. It contains in 22 chapters the whole history of Joseph and relates in the last part the circumstances of his death at the age of 111 years. These are of some importance for the history of dogma.

(e) The Passing of Mary.

Transitus Mariae: although not strictly a gospel of the Nativity notice may here be taken of the account of John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep (koimesis) of the Holy Mother of God or as it is more commonly called "the Passing of Mary" (transitus Mariae). It was originally written in Greek, but appears also in Latin and several other languages. Two years, it seems, after the ascension of Jesus, Mary, who paid frequent visits to the, "Holy tomb of our Lord to burn incense and pray" was persecuted by the Jews and prayed her Son that He would take her from the earth. The archangel Gabriel brings an answer to her prayers and announces that after three days she shall go to the heavenly places to her Son, into true and everlasting life. Apostles from their graves or from their dioceses are summoned to her bedside at Bethlehem and relate how they were occupied when the summons reached them. Miracles of healing are wrought round the dying bed; and after the instantaneous transportation of Mary and the attendant apostles to Jerusalem, on the Lord's Day, amidst visions of angels Christ Himself appears and receives her soul to Himself. Her body is buried in Gethsemane and thereafter translated to Paradise. Judged by its contents which reveal an advanced stage of the worship of the Virgin and also of church ritual, the document cannot have been produced earlier than the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century, and it has a place among the apocryphal documents condemned by the Gelasian Decree. By this time indeed it appears as if the writers of such documents assumed the most unrestricted license in imagining and embellishing the facts and situations regarding the gospel narrative.

2. The Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood:

(a) Gospel of Thomas.

Next to the Protevangelium the oldest and the most widely spread of the apocryphal gospels is the Gospel of Thomas. It is mentioned by Origen and Irenaeus and seems to have been used by a Gnostic sect of the Nachashenes in the middle of the 2nd century. It was docetic as regards the miracles recorded in it and on this account was also acceptable to the Manichees. The author was one of the Marcosians referred to by Irenaeus. Great variations exist in the text, of which there are only late catholic recasts, two in Greek, one in Latin and one in Syriac. One of the Greek versions is considerably longer than the other, while the Latin is somewhat larger than either. They are very largely concerned with a record of miracles wrought by Jesus before He was 12 years of age. They depict Jesus as an extraordinary but by no means a lovable child. Unlike the miracles of the canonical Gospels those recorded in this gospel are mainly of a destructive nature and are whimsical and puerile in character. It rather shocks one to read them as recorded of the Lord Jesus Christ. The wonder-worker is described by Renan as "un gamin omnipotent et omniscient," wielding the power of the Godhead with a child's waywardness and petulance. Instead of being subject to His parents He is a serious trouble to them; and instead of growing in wisdom He is represented as forward and eager to teach. His instructors, and to be omniscient from the beginning. The parents of one of the children whose death He had caused entreat Joseph, "Take away that Jesus of thine from this place for he cannot dwell with us in this town; or at least teach him to bless and not to curse." Three or four miracles of a beneficent nature are mentioned; and in the Latin gospel when Jesus was in Egypt and in his third year, it is written (chapter 1), "And seeing boys playing he began to play with them, and he took a dried fish and put it into a basin and ordered it to move about. And it began to move about. And he said again to the fish: `Throw out the salt which thou hast, and walk into the water.' And it so came to pass, and the neighbors seeing what had been done, told it to the widowed woman in whose house Mary his mother lived. And as soon as she heard it she thrust them out of her house with great haste." As Westcott points out in his Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, 444, "In the apocryphal miracles we find no worthy conception of the laws of providential interference; they are wrought to supply present wants or to gratify present feelings, and often are positively immoral; they are arbitrary displays of power, and without any spontaneity on our Lord's part or on that of the recipient." Possibly the compilers of the 1st-century narratives above mentioned had in many cases deemed it expedient to make the miraculous an essential--even a too prominent--part of their story; and this may be the reason why John in the opening of the Fourth Gospel declared all the reported miracles of the Childhood to be unauthorized by the statement that the first miracle was that performed, after the beginning of the public ministry, at the marriage at Cana of Galilee. "This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (Joh 2:11).

(b) Arabic Gospel of the Childhood.

The Arabic Gospel of the Childhood is a composite production. Though first published in Arabic with a Latin translation in 1697, its Syriac origin may be inferred from the use of the era of Alexander the Great in chapter 2, from the acquaintance of the writer with oriental learning, and from that of the child Jesus, when in Egypt, with astronomy and physics. The popularity of the book among the Arabs and Coptics in Egypt may also be explained by the fact that the most important of its miracles take place during the Sojourn in Egypt. It is noteworthy also that according to this gospel (chapter 7) it was on the ground of a prophecy of Zoroaster regarding the birth of the Messiah that the Magi undertook their journey to Bethlehem. Some of its stories also appear in the Koran and in other Mohammedan writings. Chapters 1 through 9 are based on the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke and on the Protevangelium of James, while chapters 26 to the end are derived from the Gospel of Thomas. The intermediate portion of the work is thoroughly oriental in character and reads like extracts from the Arabian Nights. It is not easy to treat seriously the proposal to set productions like these on anything approaching equality with the canonical Gospels. The gospel also has much to do with the growth of the veneration of the Virgin.

3. Gospels of the Passion and Resurrection:

(a) Gospel of Peter (as above).

(b) Gospel of Nicodemus.

The principal documents in this connection are the Gospel of Nicodemus and to some extent, as above shown, the Gospel of Peter. The Gospel of Nicodemus is a name given not earlier than the 13th century to a duplicate composition the two parts of which were (1) the Acta Pilati or Acts of Pilate and (2) the Descent of Christ to the Lower World. The document professes to be a translation into Greek from the Hebrew, and to have been made in the 17th year of the emperor Theodosius and the 6th of Valentinian. It exists in six forms, two Greek and one Latin of the Acts of Pilate, and two Latin and one Greek of the Descent to the Lower World. The general consensus of scholars places the composition in the 5th century, though Tischendorf, relying upon references in Justin and Tertullian, places it in the 2nd century, a date by which it is quite possible for the legend to have arisen. Possibly there has been some confusion between the report on the proceedings connected with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus that had to be furnished to the emperor, as required by the rules of the Roman civil service, and the extended record of the proceedings contained in the Gospel of Nicodemus. The writer was obviously a Jewish Christian. He wrote for this class and was anxious to establish his record by evidence from the mouths of the enemies of Jesus and especially of the officials connected with the events before and after the death of Jesus.

(1) Acts of Pilate

Pilate in particular is shown to be favorable to Jesus and--a gap that must have struck many readers of the canonical narratives--several of those on whom miracles of healing had been wrought come forward to give evidence in favor of Jesus--a most natural step for a late narrator to suppose as having taken place in a regular and formal trial, but one which, as may be gathered from the silence of the canonical writers, was omitted in the turbulent proceedings of the priestly conspiracy that ended with the crucifixion. With all the writer's acquaintance with Jewish institutions "he shows himself in many points ignorant of the topography of Palestine; thinks, e.g. that Jesus was crucified in the garden in which he was seized (chapter 9) and places Mr. Mamilch or Malek (S. of Jerusalem) in Galilee, and confounds it with the Mount of Ascension" (Orr, op. cit., xix).

(2) Descent of Jesus into the Lower World

The second part of the gospel--The Descent of Christ to the Lower World--is an account of an early and widely accepted tradition not mentioned in any canonical Gospel but based upon 1Pe 3:19: "He went and preached unto the spirits in prison." Two saints who were raised at His resurrection relate how they had been confined in Hades when the Conqueror appeared at its entrance, how the gates of brass were broken and the prisoners released, Jesus taking with Him to Paradise the souls of Adam, Isaiah, John the Baptist and other holy men who had died before Him. The document is purely imaginary: its only importance is in showing how this article of the creed was regarded in the 4th century.

(c) Other Fabrications.

Of even less importance are some late fabrications referring to Pilate sometimes in the manuscripts attached to the Gospel of Nicodemus, such as Pilate's Letter to the emperor Tiberius; Pilate's Official Report, above referred to; the Paradoses of Pilate and the Death of Pilate, who, after condemnation to the most disgraceful death, is represented as dying by his own hand. In the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea the writer gives a loose rein to his imagination.

The study of the documents above described fully justifies the observation of the editors of the Ante-Nicene Library that while they afford us "curious glimpses of the state of the Christian conscience, and of modes of thought in the first centuries of our era, the predominant impression which they leave on our minds is a profound sense of the immeasurable superiority, the unapproachable simplicity and majesty, of the Canonical Writings."


In addition to the books quoted above may be mentioned the following: Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus, 1719; the collections and prolegomena of Thilo (1832); Tischendorf, Gospels, 1853, Ellicott, "On the Apocryphal Gospels" in Cambridge Essays, 1856; Lipsius, article "Gospels (Apocrypha)" in Dict. of Christ. Biog.; Dr. W. Wright in Journal of Sacred Lit. (January and April, 1865) on the Syriac versions of the Protevangelium, The Gospel of Thomas, and the Transitus Mariae: Studia Sinaitica (No. XI, 1902) giving new Syriac texts of the Protevangelium and Transitus Mariae. A. F. Findlay, article "Acts (Apocrypha)," where will be found a very copious body of references to works, British and foreign, dealing with all branches of the subject.

J. Hutchison

Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

Scripture reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.