The New Testament recognized by most Christians today comprises 27 books accepted as authoritative, or canon. But what made some writings canonical and others not? It took time, centuries in fact, for the early church to determine which texts should be added to the Jewish Tanakh to form the Christian Bible … and which texts should be excluded.

By the end of the second century, the Church urged Christians to avoid reading any writings other than the official canon of Christian scripture; in fact, many writings were “lost” (or hidden) for centuries. It wasn’t until the beginning of the Renaissance that scholars began to uncover old manuscripts in monastic libraries. Many more writings were “lost” for far longer, some rediscovered in only the past hundred years.

Why do these writings matter? Isn’t the New Testament the final authority? Well, scholars will tell you it depends on which New Testament you mean. The shape of the Christian Bible has not remained static across the centuries. The Eastern Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Armenian Church, Ethiopian Church, and others each have their own interpretation of the New Testament canon.

From the very beginning, Christianity has been a religion of texts and story. It is inevitable that some non-canonical, or apocryphal, writings will contradict what is now considered canon. But scholars emphasize that these writings—no matter how controversial—are worth studying, because they contribute to a deeper understanding of the origins of Christianity.


The Proto-Gospel of James

by Mark Goodacre


How the Books of the New Testament Were Chosen
Bible Review, April 1993 By Roy W. Hoover

How did the Church decide which books to include in the New Testament? When was the decision made? By whom? The surviving evidence unfortunately does not provide answers in the detail we would like, but it does document a number of the developments that eventually produced the New Testament as we know it.

“Lost Gospels”—Lost No More
Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2016 By Tony Burke

The apocryphal gospels didn’t make the cut. But were they truly rejected, suppressed and destroyed? Until recent times there was no doubt. But now this “truth” may be unraveling. Many early Christians may have regarded these apocryphal texts as sacred.

The Gospel of Thomas: Jesus Said What?
Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2015 By Simon Gathercole

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which the man eats, and the lion becomes man.” Jesus said, “Be passers-by!”

The Gospels that Didn’t Make the Cut
Bible Review, August 1993 By Robert J. Miller

A few years ago, I was part of a team of scholars who set out to produce a new translation of the gospels. We were all teachers frustrated with the various New Testament translations in our college and seminary courses. While most of the major translations are quite good, they are designed primarily for […]

The 34 Gospels
Bible Review, June 2002 By Charles W. Hedrick

In 1995, I discovered a lost gospel.