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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The New Testament Apocrypha Books

Don Stewart :: What Caused the Apocryphal Gospels to Be Written?

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What Caused the Apocryphal Gospels to Be Written?

The New Testament Apocrypha – Question 3

We know that there were a number of apocryphal gospels which were written. They either added to, or took away from, the content of the four canonical gospels. A number of questions naturally arise.

First, it is fair to ask, why were these apocryphal gospels written and circulated? What made people compose them and others receive them as truthful?

There are a number of reasons as to why they arose and would receive some degree of acceptance among Bible believers. They can be listed as follows:

1. Jesus Did Many Other Things That Were Not Recorded

One motivation of apocryphal gospels was to fill in the gaps in the life and ministry of Jesus. We know from the New Testament itself that the things written about Jesus were only selective.

For example, John said that the things he wrote down about the life of Jesus were only selective of what He said and did. He wrote the following:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 HCSB)

John also said that Jesus did many more things than he recorded. He wrote:

This disciple is the one who told all of this. He wrote it, and we know he is telling the truth. Jesus did many other things. If they were all written in books, I don’t suppose there would be room enough in the whole world for all the books. (John 21:24-25 CEV)

These types of statements would lend themselves to people filling in some of the gaps. Perhaps people had actually heard stories about Jesus that they believed were credible. Since believers wanted to know everything they could about Jesus, this would motivate their publication.

2. The Silent Years of Jesus Needed Filling In

There is also the fact of the silent years of Jesus. Except for one recorded incident when He was twelve, we know nothing of anything that He said or did until He was about thirty years of age. Consequently, there is the opportunity to fill in these silent years with imaginative stories about the child Jesus. This is exactly what occurred.

3. The Time Between Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Was of Interest

Another area of interest for the writers of apocryphal gospels was the time between Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. There was curiosity about what happened to Jesus during this time. This lent itself to the composition of a number of stories to fill in the details.

4. The Time Between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension Was of Interest

There was also interest in the time between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension into heaven. The Bible speaks of this period as follows:

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3 NRSV)

Jesus appeared to a number of people in those days. The New Testament does not give us much detail concerning what He said. This caused certain people to fill in those details which the New Testament does not provide.

5. Jesus Told Certain People Not to Tell What He Did

Finally, we also find Jesus telling certain people not to tell others about certain things which He had done. For example, after He was transfigured in front of three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, He told them not to tell what had happened. We read about this in the Gospel of Matthew. It says:

As they descended the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I, the Son of Man, have been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9 NLT)

The idea that Jesus told people not to tell anyone about certain events in His life until after His resurrection provided the motivation to write fanciful stories and attribute them to Jesus. The writers could contend that these words and deeds actually occurred, but the people were instructed by Jesus not to tell anyone at that time. They had to wait until after His resurrection.

These are a few of the factors that lead individuals to compose apocryphal works about the life and ministry of Jesus.

Summary – Question 3
What Caused the Apocryphal Gospels to Be Written?

The rise of the apocryphal gospels can be attributed to a number of factors. First, the New Testament itself says that it is only selective about what it teaches. Furthermore, it emphasizes that Jesus did many more things than are recorded in the Scripture.

There is also the issue of Jesus’ silent years. Until the age of thirty, we know practically nothing about what Jesus said or did.

There is also interest about what happened to Jesus after His death but before He appeared to people as the risen Savior. In addition, the appearances of the risen Christ would also be a subject of interest. What did He say when he appeared to His disciples?

Finally, there are instances in the New Testament, when Jesus told people not to tell others what He had done. The transfiguration of Jesus, for example, was not to be revealed until after His resurrection. This would lead to speculation about further events which occurred in the life of Christ which were not to be revealed until after He came back from the dead.

In short, there are a number of reasons as to why people would wish to write apocryphal stories about Jesus.

What Are Some of the Important Apocryphal Gospels? ← Prior Section
What Are Some of the Important Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles? Next Section →
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