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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: What Are Some of the Accounts of Jesus That Differ from the New Testament?

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What Are Some of the Accounts of Jesus That Differ from the New Testament? Could They Tell the Real Story?

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 16

Is the New Testament the only written document that contains reliable information about the words and deeds of Jesus? Are there other sources, apart from the gospels, that give us correct information about His life and ministry?

Some people think so. Throughout history, there have been a number of documents written that supposedly supplement what the four gospels tell us, or, in some cases, contradict what they say. Should we believe these documents rather than the four gospels?

We can divide these sources into two distinct groups: sources that are used by some modern scholars to reconstruct Jesus’ words and sources that nobody takes seriously but have become popular among the masses.

Sources Used by Some Modern Scholars

There are a number of sources that are variously used by modern scholars to reconstruct the life and ministry of Jesus. They include, but are not limited to the following works.

1. The Gospel of Thomas

The “Gospel of Thomas” was a document probably written in the second century A.D. It consists of a group of sayings purportedly made by Jesus. There is no historical context for these sayings. Some of them are identical, or similar, to the sayings of Jesus as found in the four gospels. Other sayings are completely different.

2. The Gospel of Peter

There is another ancient work called the “Gospel of Peter” that allegedly was written by the most prominent of the apostles. It is mentioned, but not cited, in several ancient works. Like many other writings, it gives a view of Jesus that was influenced by Gnosticism; those who sought “secret” knowledge.

3. The Gospel of the Hebrews

One ancient work, of which we only know about through other writings, is the “Gospel of the Hebrews.” This work has not survived in any manuscript form. We only know about it from other writings.

4. The Secret Gospel of Mark

The “Secret Gospel of Mark” was supposedly additions to Mark’s Gospel that were later made by of Mark himself. No such document has been discovered, rather a copy of a manuscript reportedly written the second century churchmen, Clement, cites what he claims are portions from this secret gospel. However, the manuscript that revealed the existence of the secret gospel of Mark is itself now gone.

5. The Cross Gospel

Some modern scholars give credence to a work known as the “Cross Gospel.” Among other things, it describes a giant Jesus coming out of the tomb as well as a talking cross! While obviously legendary in content, some scholars see certain things in this work they believe to be earlier than the four gospels.

6. The Egerton Papyrus

The Egerton Papyrus is a small scrap of ancient papyrus that contains a few sayings that supposedly came from Jesus. Some scholars believe that these sayings may be authentic.

7. The Protevangelium of James

The “Protevangelium of James” is an ancient document that fills in some of the gaps in the life of Christ.

Not all scholars use each of these documents. Yet they have been variously used in an attempt to write the true story of Jesus.

Popular Accounts That Nobody Takes Seriously

There are a number of accounts about Jesus, His silent years, as well as events in His life that the gospels do not cover, that have been written about. Three of the most notable are the “Archko Volume,” “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ,” and “The Lost Books of the Bible.” We will briefly describe each of these here but devote an individual question to each where we go into further detail.

The Archko Volume

The “Archko Volume” has enjoyed popularity among for a number of years as an accurate account of certain aspects of the life of Christ which are not recorded in the New Testament. However, it is a fraud.

The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ

There is a work known as, “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.” It allegedly gives us information about Jesus’ silent years. This work is also fraudulent.

The Lost Books of the Bible

The “Lost Books of the Bible” are a compilation of writings that claim to give early information about Jesus. However, they do no such thing.

A number of things need to be noted about these writings.

Not All of These Writings Are Taken Seriously by Scholars

These writings are the most celebrated among scholars and lay people. However, as we have indicated, not all of these writings have been taken seriously; even by unbelieving scholars. Works such as the Archko Volume, the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and the Lost Books of the Bible are obvious frauds written later in history. No one really believes they are what they claim to be. We only mention them because they have achieved some sort of popularity among the masses.

However, these other writings mentioned are believed by some scholars, to give an accurate alternative view of Jesus. This picture is different than the one found in the New Testament. However, there are no good reasons to accept the authenticity of these documents and many good reasons to reject them. Yet, for some people, these writings contain the real story of who Jesus was and what He said.

The Key Issue: What Is Our Starting Point to Discover the Genuine Jesus?

These works cited are often used to cast doubt on the New Testament portrayal of Jesus. It is argued that they, not the four gospels, tell us what really happened. Consequently, these documents are used as the starting point to reconstruct the real Jesus.

Therefore, one has to decide which sources will be used to determine the genuine Jesus. Will it be the four gospels which everyone agrees were written earlier, by known associates of Jesus, which claim eyewitness testimony, claim to tell the exact truth, and give specific historical details that do indeed match known history? Or are we to accept later writings that give us no historical setting, that are written at unknown times, by unknown writers who have no connection with Jesus, and which portray a radically different Jesus than the One found in the New Testament?

Many choose these later writings. The reasons why this is done are varied. However, the one thing which those who choose the later writings have in common is that they reject the supernatural picture of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. This assumption, or pre-supposition, guides their quest. Before the evidence is considered, it is determined that the supernatural Jesus did not exist. The world view of the New Testament is considered unscientific and mythical. Therefore, it is to be rejected.

With this as a starting point, they then examine the ancient references to Jesus. Those which teach a supernatural Jesus are rejected because they do not fit what they have assumed to be the truth.

Points to Be Recognized by Those Who Choose the Later Writings over the Gospels

If one does choose to believe these sources over the four gospels, a number of points need to be understood.

1. The Other Sources Were All Written Later

There is no doubt that all the other sources we possess were written long after the time of Jesus. While it is possible they contain earlier, accurate information, it is also possible they do not. What we do know is that they were written during a time when fanciful stories about Jesus were being told. Of this, there is no doubt.

2. The Historical References Are Few in These Works

Add to this, the historical references are few. For example, the Gospel of Thomas allegedly consists of sayings of Jesus without giving any historical setting. It is an anthology of things He supposedly said. However, when He said them, and where He said them, is not stated. Thus, the specific historical references in these other works are few in number.

3. These Writings Contradict Everything Known about Jesus from Other Sources

It should be observed that the things written about Jesus, from these other documents, contradict everything else we know about Him. Not only do they contradict the New Testament and the writings of the early Christians, they also contradict the writings of non-believers! Those who rejected Jesus’ claims provide the same general outline of who He claimed to be and what He said. This was not the issue. It is not that they or did not know about Jesus’ claims, or misunderstood them. They simply, for whatever reason did not believe them.

However, they never denied He made the claims or was alleged to have performed miracles.

4. None of Us Is in a Position to Deny the Supernatural Jesus

This last point is most crucial. None of us, no matter what our background or training, is in a position to rule out the possibility of a supernatural Jesus. Granted, this has not been our own personal experience. We do not see the same sort of things today which are pictured in the New Testament. However, this does not mean that they cannot occur or never have occurred. In fact, the whole point of Jesus’ coming to earth was to demonstrate His uniqueness. John’s gospel notes the following about the words of Jesus:

The temple guards answered, “No human has ever spoken like this man.” (John 7:46 God’s Word)

No one has ever spoken like Jesus, no one has ever done the sort of things Jesus did. Why is this so? The Bible says it is because Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Furthermore, it not only makes these claims about Jesus, it backs them up with convincing evidence.

Summary – Question 16
What Are Some of the Accounts of Jesus That Differ from the New Testament? Could They Tell the Real Story?

We find that there are a number of written accounts about Jesus apart from the New Testament that claim some sort of authority, or have had certain claims made for them. They can be divided into two general categories.

First, there are works which certain New Testament scholars assume contain authoritative words about Jesus. Yet there is another group of writings which have become popular with large groups of people which no scholar takes seriously.

A number of people argue that some of these writings give a more authentic picture of Jesus than the New Testament. They use these writings as their starting point in their search for the genuine Jesus. However, there is nothing in these documents that give us any reason to believe that they contain more trustworthy information about Jesus than the four gospels.

First, all of them were composed later than the gospels. They were written during the time when many fanciful stories about Jesus were circulating. This fact alone makes these writings suspect.

There is also the lack of specific historical references in these works. Contrast this to the four gospels which provide with many detailed references as to where Jesus was when He made certain statements and performed certain miraculous deeds. However, these others writings contain no specific testimony as to where or when Jesus said these things which they attribute to Him.

A huge problem is that these works not only contradict the four gospels, they also contradict the secular sources about Jesus! In other words, they present a Jesus that nobody else wrote about. Neither friend nor foe knew of a Jesus that these documents write about.

Much of the motivation to use these writings, rather than the four gospels, is the desire to have a Jesus who is not a supernatural Jesus. They do not want to acknowledge the One who is the Savior of the world and eventually will be its Judge. Yet none of us are in a position to do this. Furthermore, when we examine the evidence we find that the New Testament portrayal of a supernatural Jesus is one which fits the facts.

What about Alleged Sayings of Jesus That Are Not Found in the Four Gospels? ← Prior Section
What Is the Gospel of Thomas? Next Section →
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