4 Canonical

Gospel of Mark

Date Written: c. 70

Earliest Manuscript: P45 (Chester Beatty Library), 3rd century

First Line: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’”

Gospel of Matthew

Date Written: c. 80

Earliest Manuscript: P64 (Oxford), c. 200

First Line: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, Son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Gospel of Luke

Date Written: c. 90

Earliest Manuscript: P75 (Bodmer Library), 3rd century

First Line: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything very carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account…”

Gospel of John

Date Written: c. 95

Earliest Fragment: P52 (Rylands Library 457), c. 125–140

First Line: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

4 Complete Noncanonical

Infancy Gospel of James

Date Written: Mid-2nd century (after Matthew and Luke)

Earliest Manuscript: P. Bodmer 5, 4th century, Greek

Length: 25 chapters

Contents: Story of Mary’s birth, childhood and pregnancy and of birth of Jesus; explains why God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother; falsely attributed to apostle James

First Line of Last Chapter: “Now I, James, am the one who wrote this account at the time when an uproar arose in Jerusalem at the death of Herod. I took myself off to the wilderness until the uproar in Jerusalem died down. There I praised the Lord God, who gave me the wisdom to write this account.”

Secret Book of James

Date Written: 100–150

Earliest Manuscript: 4th century, Coptic

Length: 11 chapters

Contents: Letter attributed to James recording a revelation Jesus imparted to James and Peter 550 days after his resurrection and immediately before his ascension

First Lines: “…Since you asked me to send you a secret book that was revealed to Peter and me by the Lord, I could neither refuse you nor dissuade you; so [I have written] it in Hebraic letters and have sent it to you—and to you alone. Nevertheless, you should do your best, as a minister of the salvation of the saints, to take care not to disclose this book to many—the things the Savior did not wish [to] disclose to all of us, his twelve disciples.”

Discovery: Nag Hammadi, Egypt, 1945

Gospel of Thomas

Date Written: c. 70–140

Earliest Manuscripts: c. 140, Greek (fragments); 4th century, Coptic translation (complete)

Length: 114 sayings (complete)

Contents: Sayings of Jesus

First Line: “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and that Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.”

Discovery: In the late 19th century, British archaeologists began excavations in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, and found a hoard of texts, including Greek fragments of Thomas; these were not identified, however, until a complete Coptic copy of Thomas was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, by laborers seeking fertilizer (sebakh) in a millennia-old trash heap

Infancy Gospel of Thomas

Date Written: 2nd century

Earliest Manuscript: 6th century, Syriac

Length: 19 chapters

Contents: Story of Jesus as a child, from his birth to his first visit to Jerusalem

First Lines: “I, Thomas the Israelite, am reporting to you, all my non-Jewish brothers and sisters, to make known the extraordinary childhood deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ—what he did after his birth in my region. When this boy, Jesus, was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. He was collecting the flowing water into ponds and made the water instantly pure. He did this with a single command. He then made soft clay and shaped it into twelve sparrows. He did this on the sabbath day, and many other boys were playing with him. But when a Jew saw what Jesus was doing while playing on the sabbath day, he immediately went off and told Joseph, Jesus’ father: ‘See here, your boy is at the ford and has taken mud and fashioned twelve birds with it, and so has violated the sabbath.’ So Joseph went there, and as soon as he spotted him he shouted, ‘Why are you doing what’s not permitted on the sabbath?’ But Jesus simply clapped his hands and shouted to the sparrows: ‘Be off, fly away, and remember me, you who are now alive!’ And the sparrows took off and flew away noisily.”

7 Fragmentary Noncanonical

Egerton Gospel

Date Written: 50–100

Earliest Fragments: Mid-2nd century

Length: Parts of 6 incidents/segments

Contents: Miracle stories, dialogues, accounts of violence against Jesus

Most Distinctive Feature: Includes otherwise unknown miracle story, in which Jesus causes a plant to produce fruit instantaneously

Discovery: 4 fragments purchased from dealer in Egypt in 1934; plus 1 found among the University of Cologne’s papyrus collection in 1987; all 5 may come from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt

Gospel of Mary

Date Written: Late 1st/early 2nd century

Earliest Manuscripts: P. Rylands 463 and P. Oxyrhynchus 3525, both 3rd century, Greek; longest version is 5th century, Coptic (in Berlin)

Length: 9 chapters (half the text is missing)

Contents: After the savior discusses sin and the end of the world with the disciples, Mary Magdalene further explicates his teachings

First Line: (first 6 pages missing) “‘Will matter then be utterly destroyed or not?’ The savior replied, ‘Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with each other. They will dissolve again into their own proper root.’”

Discovery: Egypt

Gospel Oxyrhynchus 840

Date Written: Late 1st/early 2nd century (?)

Only Manuscript: 4th century

Length: 45 lines, single small leaf of vellum, with only 2-inch-wide writing surface

Most Distinctive Feature: Decorated with red ink; original codex may have been intended for magical, amuletic use

Contents: Savior arguing with Pharisee

Last Lines: “The savior said to [the Pharisee]: ‘Damn the blind who won’t see. You bathe in these stagnant waters where dogs and pigs wallow day and night. And you wash and scrub the outer layer of skin, just like prostitutes and dance-hall girls, who wash and scrub and perfume and paint themselves to entice men, while inwardly they are crawling with scorpions and filled with all sorts of corruption. But my disciples and I—you say we are unbathed—have bathed in lively, life-giving water…’”

Discovery: Oxyrhynchus, Egypt

Gospel Oxyrhynchus 1224

Date Written: c. 50 (?)

Only Manuscript: Late 3rd-early 4th century

Length: Two badly mutilated fragments, one 5 lines, one with 2 columns; no line is complete

Contents: Sayings of Jesus

Last Lines: “[A]nd p[r]ay for your [ene]mies. For the one who is not [against y]ou is on your side. [The one who today i]s at a distance, tomorrow will [b]e [near you].”

Discovery: Oxyrhynchus, Egypt

Gospel of Peter

Date Written: Mid-1st century

Earliest Manuscript: 8th–9th century

Length: 14 chapters from a codex, beginning and ending passages are missing

Contents: passion story, empty tomb story, epiphany and introduction to probable postresurrection appearance story; credits Simon Peter as author

Second Chapter: “Joseph stood there, the friend of Pilate and the Lord, and when he realized that they were about to crucify him, he went to Pilate and asked for the body of the Lord for burial. And Pilate sent to Herod and asked for his body. And Herod replied, ‘Brother Pilate, even if no one had asked for him, we would have buried him, since the sabbath is drawing near. For it is written in the Law, “The sun must not set upon one who has been executed.”’ And he turned him over to the people on the day before the Unleavened Bread, their feast.”

Discovery: 1886, by French archaeologists in a monk’s grave at Akhmim, in Upper Egypt

Claim To Fame: May include earliest extant passion story

Dialogue of the Savior

Date Written: c. 150

Earliest Manuscript: 4th century, Coptic

Length: 41 fragmentary chapters

Contents: Conversation between savior and disciples about baptism

First Line: “The Savior said to his disciples, ‘The time has come, (my) brothers, for us to leave our labor and rest, for the one who rests will rest forever.’”

Discovery: Nag Hammadi, Egypt

Gospel of the Savior

Date Written: Late 2nd century

Only Manuscript: P. Berolinensis 22220, Berlin Egyptian Museum, 5th century, Coptic

Contents: Dialogue between savior and apostles before crucifixion

First Lines: “…Blessed is [the one] who will eat with me in [the kingdom] of the heavens. You are the salt of the earth, and you are the lamp that illuminates the world.”

Length: 34 fragments from 30 pages

Discovery: Purchased on antiquities market in 1967; rediscovered in Berlin museum storeroom in the 1990s

4 Known Only from Early Quotations

Secret Gospel of Mark

Date Written: 2nd century

Only Manuscript: 18th century, written on endpapers of 17th-century collection of Ignatius of Antioch’s letters

Number Of Quoted Passages: 2

Contents: Copy of a letter purportedly written by the church father Clement in the 2nd century about an unusual version of Mark’s gospel in circulation in Alexandria. According to Clement, Mark originally wrote two gospels, one for the general public and a second, “more spiritual” gospel for those being initiated into “the great mysteries” of Christianity. Clement quotes two passages from the gospel. The first falls between Mark 10:34 and 10:35 and the second between Mark 10:46a and 10:46b. The former (and longer) includes a description of Jesus raising a young man from the dead. Six days later, the youth comes to Jesus “wearing nothing but a linen cloth. And he stayed with him for the night, because Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God.”

Discovery: Morton Smith of Columbia University discovered the letter in 1958 while cataloguing manuscripts in the Mar Saba monastery, outside Jerusalem

Problems: No biblical scholar since Smith has seen the original manuscript, and scholars remain divided about its authenticity. Author Hedrick has recently published new, previously unpublished photos.

Gospel of the Ebionites

Date Written: Mid-2nd century

Quoted by: Mentioned by Irenaeus (2nd century) but quoted only by the church leader Epiphanius of Salamis (4th century)

Number of Quoted Passages: 7

Contents: Epiphanius is discussing the Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian group that probably lived east of the Jordan in the 2nd century. Epiphanius notes that the group had its own gospel, and includes several quotations that describe Jesus’ baptism, the call of the 12 apostles and the Last Supper. According to Epiphanius, the Ebionites believed Jesus was the adopted son of God. They thus excluded from their gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and genealogy.

Lines Quoted by Epiphanius: “Now the beginning of their [the Ebionites’] gospel goes like this: ‘In the days of Herod, king of Judea, John appeared in the Jordan River baptizing with a baptism that changed people’s hearts…When the people were baptized, Jesus also came and got baptized by John. As he came up out of the water, the skies opened and he saw the holy spirit in the form of a dove coming down and entering him. And there was a voice from the sky that said, “You are my favored son—I fully approve of you,” and again, “Today I have become your father.”’”

Gospel of the Hebrews

Date Written: Early 2nd century

Quoted by: Mentioned by Hegesippus (2nd century) and quoted by Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century), Origen (early 3rd century), Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century), Didymus (4th century) and Jerome (4th–5th century)

Number of Quoted Passages: 9

Contents: Describes Jesus’ and Mary’s existence before they came to earth as humans; preserves baptism and temptation accounts, sayings of Jesus and postresurrection appearance of Jesus to James

First Lines, Quoted by Cyril: “It is written in the Gospel of the Hebrews that when Christ wanted to come to earth, the Good Father summoned a mighty power in the heavens who was called Michael, and entrusted Christ to his care. The power came down into the world, and it was called Mary, and Christ was in her womb for seven months.”

Gospel of the Nazoreans

Date Written: 100–150

Quoted by: Origen (3rd century), Eusebius (4th century), Jerome (4th–5th century)

Number of Quoted Passages: 11

Contents: Closely related to Matthew

Lines Quoted by Eusebius: “[Christ] himself taught the reason for the separation of souls that takes place in households, as we have found somewhere in the gospel that is spread abroad among the Jews in the Hebrew language, in which it is said: ‘I choose for myself the most worthy—the most worthy are those whom my Father in heaven has given me.’”

2 Hypothetical Gospels


Date Written: c. 50 (before Matthew, Mark and Luke)

Contents: Sayings of Jesus

Manuscripts: None—vast majority of scholars are convinced that Q existed and that it served as a common source for Matthew and Luke

Signs Gospel

Date Written: Before 90 (before John)

Contents: Account of Jesus’ miracles

Manuscripts: None, but many scholars are convinced that a good deal of the narrative in John comes from this lost document

First Line: “There appeared a man sent from God named John.” (=John 1:6)

13 Known Only by Name

The Gospel of the Four Heavenly Regions

The Gospel of Perfection

The Gospel of Eve

The Gospel of the Twelve

The Gospel of Matthias

The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Bartholomew

The Gospel of Cerinthus

The Gospel of Basilides

The Gospel of Marcion

The Gospel of Apelles

The Gospel of Bardesanes

Matthew’s logia collection

Much of the basic information in this sidebar comes from The Complete Gospels, ed. Robert J. Miller (Sonoma: Polebridge Press, 1994). Full translations and comments on the gospels listed here are included in this handy one-volume work.