What do heretical/non-canonical works tell us about Christianity?

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Contents

  • What we can establish from non-Canonical sources?
  • Texts
    • Coptic Gospel of Thomas
    • Protoevangelium of James
    • The Second Apocalypse of James
    • The Apocryphon of James
    • The First Apocalypse of James
    • Gospel of Peter
    • The Preaching of Peter
    • The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
    • Gospel of Nicodemus
    • Gospel of Mary
    • Gospel of Phillip
    • The Traditions of Matthias
    • The Book of Thomas the Contender
    • The Apocryphon of John
    • Gospel of Judas
    • The Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle
    • The Questions of Bartholomew
    • The Gospel of Basilides/Basilides himself
    • The Gospel of Marcion/Marcion himself
    • Gospel of the Egyptians
    • Second treatise of the Great Seth
    • The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit
    • Pistis Sophia
    • The Dialogue of the Saviour
    • Sophia of Jesus Christ
    • Gospel of Truth
    • Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour
    • The Gospel of the Saviour
    • The History of Joseph the Carpenter
    • Gospel of Jesus’ wife
    • Epistle of Barnabas
    • Didache
    • Epistle to the Laodiceans
  • Adding it all up

What we can establish from non-Canonical sources?

So non-Christian sources grant us a wealth of information. What about the information from non-canonical sources? From the texts that try to piggyback on the Christian texts as they become well known? Or the non-canonical Christian works that circulated in the late first to second century? What facts can we determine from these documents? Here I have attempted a summary of them and compiled them into short lists.

Skip to the end for the full list if you're running low on time...

Coptic Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas (130-180AD) is a late non-canonical text that was first discovered in 1945 as part of a large collection of papyri excavated near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. It is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, written in the Coptic language, and attributed to a conversation recorded by Didymus Judas Thomas. We have 3 fragmentary second century texts, one 4th century text, it’s filled with speculations about creation of the universe, avoids Jesus’ upbringing but is a collection of sayings. These Sayings are often partly from a Gospel and then contain a Gnostic twist. So This is a Gnostic (½)  + Gospel (½) work as opposed to full blown Gnostic and is rather a mess as a result, the rest of the text can be seen to be too ambiguous. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus as a real person in history
  2. Affirms Jesus as a wise teacher 
  3. A good collection of his Gospel saying are also in Thomas in some form
  4. Affirms Jesus had many disciples
  5. Jesus was a popular travelling preacher in Samaria and Judea
  6. Confirms Jesus had brothers and Sisters
  7. Mentions John the Baptist by name

http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html

Example Texts

Parable 64 sounds initially like Jesus’ parable but then it ends Gnostically

(64) Jesus said, “A man had received visitors. And when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite the guests. 

He went to the first one and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’ He said, ‘I have claims against some merchants. They are coming to me this evening. I must go and give them my orders. I ask to be excused from the dinner.’ 

He went to another and said to him, ‘My master has invited you.’ He said to him, ‘I have just bought a house and am required for the day. I shall not have any spare time.’ 

He went to another and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’ He said to him, ‘My friend is going to get married, and I am to prepare the banquet. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused from the dinner.’ 

He went to another and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’ He said to him, ‘I have just bought a farm, and I am on my way to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused.’ 

The servant returned and said to his master, ‘Those whom you invited to the dinner have asked to be excused.’ The master said to his servant, ‘Go outside to the streets and bring back those whom you happen to meet, so that they may dine.’ Businessmen and merchants will not enter the places of my father.”

Gnostic texts are often anti-semetic

(53) “His disciples said to him, “Is circumcision beneficial or not?” 

He said to them, “If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable.”

Some Gnostic texts have been used in support for feminism because of the radical equality, but equality in the sense of the sexless person 

(114) Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” 

Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Protoevangelium of James

The Protoevangelium of James is what’s known as an Infancy supplement. These texts assume Christ’s deity meant that he emerged form the womb as if he were an adult able to hold conversations and speak within months/weeks, sharing gifts of wisdom. These ideas emerged from Gnostic circles and some non as well. 

The Protoevangelium is a second century popular document where over 130 ancient manuscripts have survived for (Earliest copy 4th century). The wild story describes giving birth to Jesus with her Hymen still intact! The Roman Catholic doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary is also often promoted from this document

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Earliest non-canonical document to state Mary was a virgin
  2. Identifies Mary and Joseph as Jesus’ parents
  3. Confirms the sequence of events leading up to Jesus’ birth
    1. The Angel visiting Mary
    2. Angel’s declaration to Joseph in a dream
    3. Census causing Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem
    4. Arrival of the Magi

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-james/

The Second Apocalypse of James

This document is dated 130-150AD with scholars believing it was written mid second century at the earliest. It was discovered with the First Apocalypse of James in 1945 as part of the Nag Hammadi collection in Egypt. Even though it’s called the second, scholars have dated it prior to the first Apocalypse. The earliest manuscript of this is 3rd-4th century. This document is a supposed dialogue between Jesus and his brother, James. A priest named Mareim is said to be the one recorded.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is referred to as ‘Lord’, ‘Righteous one’, the ‘Life’ and the ‘Light’
  2. Jesus is the Judge of the world who had many disciples
  3. Jesus is a wise teacher with wisdom from God

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-james/

The Apocryphon of James

This document is dated towards the end of the 2nd century generally (150-180AD) and was found in Egypt with the other Nag Hammadi material in 1945 and only one single damaged copy has been recovered. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus lived
  2. Jesus died on the cross
  3. Jesus was resurrected
  4. Jesus had 12 disciples
  5. The life of Jesus was eventually recorded by his disciples
  6. Jesus is described as the Son of Man
  7. Jesus spoke in parables and affirms
    1. The Shepherds
    2. The Seed
    3. The Building
    4. The Lamps of the Virgins
    5. The Wage of the Workers
    6. The Double Drachma
    7. The woman

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-james/

The First Apocalypse of James

This document is dated between the 3rd – 4th century, after the Second Apocalypse of James surprisingly (250-325AD) and was found in Egypt with the other Nag Hammadi material in 1945 and only one single damaged copy has been recovered. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is a wise teacher who possesses the knowledge of God
  2. Jesus is called Lord, Rabbi
  3. Jesus has many disciples
    1. Salome, Mary and Martha mentioned by name
  4. Jesus is Crucified (Inferred)
  5. Martyrdom of James is mentioned

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-james/

Gospel of Peter

Discovered several miles from the Gnostic Nag Hammadi library, the 8-9th century manuscript of the Gospel of Peter was discovered. Scholars date this document to 150-200AD (Likely due to Church fathers discussing the document years after. This document is fragmentary and gives us mainly the passion story of Christ’s life. We do not know if this document said more than just the passion. The document was known to the Church Father’s so it must of had some public knowledge.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Identifies Pilate and Herod by name
  2. Identifies Joseph (likely of Arimathea considering context) as the “friend of Pilate” who asked for Jesus’ body
  3. Passion story is quite similar to the Gospels
  4. He is beaten as the Jewish trial prior to his Roman trial before Pilate
  5. Garments divided
  6. His cross read “this is the king of Israel”
  7. Jesus was given gall and vinegar
  8. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn in two and the sky became dark
  9. Jesus was removed from the cross and place din Joseph’s tomb
  10. Pilate assigned guards to the tomb
  11. Mary and her women friends visited the tomb
  12. Peter, Andrew and Matthew are specifically mentioned

The Preaching of Peter

This document that remains lost remains with us in a couple of fragments from written works by Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) and Origen (185-254AD). Some estimation datings put it the earliest 100-150AD

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is a real person 
  2. Jesus is the Son of God
  3. Through Jesus God created the universe
  4. Jesus had many disciples 
  5. Twelve disciples were commissioned especially
  6. Jesus was persecuted by the Jews
  7. Jesus was crucified
  8. Jesus resurrected
  9. Jesus ascended
  10. Affirms Old Testament prophesies related to Jesus

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-peter/

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter

Yet another document found in the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt in 1945 with the surviving text being 4th century and the text likely to go back to late 2nd, early third century (160-210AD). It is written in the Coptic language and is sometimes known as the “Coptic Apocalypse”. Like many other of these Gnostic documents, they are portrayed as private conversations and this version is between Jesus and Peter.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is described as Saviour & Son of Man
  2. Peter is one of Jesus’ disciples
  3. Jesus is a wise teacher
  4. Jesus has divine knowledge
  5. Contains similar Canonical verses (Like Matthew 7:16 for example)
  6. Jesus’ death on the cross
    1. Pierced with nails

Gospel of Nicodemus

This document, dated in the 4th century is actually a medieval Latin text written by the “Order of Nicodemus” Within is there is a section called “The Acts of Pilate”.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is identified as “Son of God”, “Lord Jesus Christ”, the “Christ”
  2. Jesus has twelve disciples who testify on his behalf
  3. Virgin conception of Jesus
  4. Jews accusations of Jesus being illegitimate child
  5. Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection
  6. Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea are all mentioned
  7. Pilate was reluctant to deliver the charges against Jesus
  8. Jesus accused of healing on the Sabbath
  9. Pilate’s wife warns Pilate on her dream
  10. Jesus was beaten and forced to wear a crown of thorns
  11. Jesus was crucified between two criminals
  12. Jesus is pierced in the side on the cross
  13. Jesus is given vinegar to drink with gall
  14. The darkness at the death of Jesus is described as an eclipse (1st century Roman historian Thallus claimed as such)
  15. Joseph of Arimathea acquires the body of Jesus and places Him in the tomb. 
  16. The tomb is sealed

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-nicodemus-or-the-acts-of-pilate/

Gospel of Mary

Uncovered in 1896, this supposed Gospel was discovered with other papyrus manuscripts and other manuscripts have since been discovered to help us piece together this document, yet we still don’t have a complete manuscript. Scholars have dated this work from the mid to late second century generally with no one putting it in the first century to my knowledge (120-180AD). As to which Mary, many have posited it as Mary Magdalene to be the likely candidate.

Useful external attestation details

  1. Describes Jesus as Saviour and the Son of Man
  2. Mary, Levi, Andrew and Peter are attested to in dialogue 
  3. Jesus is a source of divine knowledge

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-mary/

Gospel of Phillip

This is another document found with the Nag Hammadi collection dug up in 1945 in Egypt. This document was bound up with the Gospel of Thomas but is not a sayings document, more a collection of Gnostic teachings. We do not know the name of the document, but since Phillip is the only disciple mentioned in the text, that is where the attribution comes from. It is dated anywhere between 180-250AD.

Useful external attestation details

  1. Jesus is the “Christ”, Saviour, Nazorean, Messiah, Son of Man, the “Word”
  2. Possesses the wisdom of God
  3. Jesus’ followers were called “Christians”
  4. Disciples and Apostles existed
  5. Jesus laid down his life as a ransom to save and redeem
  6. Jesus died a sacrificial death on the cross
  7. Jesus rose from the dead
  8. Mary and Joseph are mentioned
  9. Mary Magdalene is mentioned
  10. Phillip is mentioned
  11. Quotes New Testament 
    1. Matthew 6:6
    2. John 8:34
    3. 1 Corinthians 8:1
    4. 1 Peter 4:8
    5. Matthew 3:10
    6. John 8:32
    7. Matthew 15:13

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-philip/

The Traditions of Matthias

This document dated outside the Apostolic era between 110-160AD is talked about by Clement of Alexandria in 210AD. Origen, Eusebius, Ambrose and Jerome also mention a document named Gospel of Matthias, with an assumption that the two are the same document. We only retain a few quotes from Clement as we have no manuscripts for it. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus was a wise teacher referred to as “The Word”, “Lord” and “Saviour”
  2. Saved those previously lost
  3. Had disciples
  4. Taught a moral code 

The Book of Thomas the Contender

This is not the Gospel of Thomas, this is something else with some reckoning this is the Gospel of Matthias that was lost. It was discovered with the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library found in Egypt 1945. The Book of Thomas the Contender reportedly records a conversation between Jesus and “Judas Thomas”, and many scholars believe that it was part of a larger Gnostic collection of Thomas-related manuscripts that emerged some time after the canonical Gospels.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is known as “The Saviour” and “Lord”
  2. Jesus is a wise teacher
  3. Jesus had many disciples
  4. Jesus told his disciples to preach the truth who had not heard (Great commission)
  5. Contains “woes” and “blessed” statements similar to Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-matthias/

The Apocryphon of John

This Gnostic text from a Sethian sect was discovered with the Nag Hammadi collection in Egypt 1945. They found a few copies with them dated 4th century, with scholars predicting the text is of 2nd century origin (120-180AD). The story has Jesus, after the ascension, appearing to John and passing on secret knowledge, much like any other Gnostic work.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus lived
  2. Jesus was killed
  3. Jesus rose from the dead
  4. Jesus ascended into heaven
  5. John was the brother of James, son of Zebedee
  6. This John was an important disciple of Jesus
  7. Assumes John could be an author

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-attributed-to-john/

Gospel of Judas 

This document is like many of it’s Gnostic counterparts: a second century text (scholars dating it anywhere between 130-170AD), contains conversations between Jesus and in this case Judas to which esoteric knowledge is provided. But what additions are made is telling the Jesus story from Judas’ perspective of Jesus’ crucifixion. There is but a single manuscript of this supposed gospel. The text was discovered in the 1970’s near Beni Masah in Egypt (You need these dry, arid places) written in Coptic and it is very damaged, missing much of its text.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Presumes the canonical Gospels are true and available to those who have this text
  2. Affirms the last supper
  3. Recognises Jesus as “The Son of God”
  4. Jesus is a miracle worker
  5. Jesus had a group of disciples
  6. Jesus is a reliable source of information from heaven
  7. Judas was approached by Jewish leadership to betray Jesus and received payment for the location of Jesus

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-judas/

The Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle

This text is made up of three Coptic fragments with a date difficult to establish. The best manuscript is 12th century, but the older ones have undecided dates on them. Likely 5th-6th century is where it sits (200-550AD is the span scholars generously give as some believe it to be the lost Gospel of Bartholomew.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is described as “all-powerful” and identified as the “First Born of the Father”, “the Saviour”, the “Son of God”, the “Holy Lamb” and the “Shepherd” who came from Heaven.
  2. Judas Iscariot is identified as the one who betrayed Jesus
  3. Jesus died
  4. Jesus was crucified
  5. Jesus was pierced in the side 
  6. Jesus rose from the dead
  7. Jesus’ body is recovered by Joseph of Arimathea 
  8. Jesus was laid in a new tomb
  9. Jesus was wrapped in linen and anointed with oils and perfumes
  10.  Mary and other women followers go to the tomb (this book specifies those women as Salome, M. Magdalene and Martha)
  11. Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection
  12. Jesus ascended into heaven
  13. Jesus’ disciples are acknowledged and named: Bartholomew (of course), Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon Zelotes, Thaddeus, and Matthias.

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-bartholomew/

The Questions of Bartholomew

This is also possibly the lost Gospel of Bartholomew, there is no consensus, however, this document is dated later on in antiquity anyway (200-550AD). There are signs such as the veneration of Mary that give us a good indication that this document was written later. This manuscript exists in Greek, Latin and Slavonic and so certainly made the rounds. There is assumptions theories that perhaps this document was originally Coptic in Egypt, but no ones putting it in the apostolic period.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is identified as “Lord” 
  2. Jesus is the source or spiritual wisdom 
  3. Jesus was crucified on a cross
  4. There was darkness in the sky as he died
  5. Jesus rose from the dead
  6.  Bartholomew, Peter, Andrew and John are mentioned
  7. Virgin conception of Jesus (Though a heretical version of it)

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospels-attributed-to-bartholomew/

The Gospel of Basilides/Basilides himself

This document has no surviving manuscripts today, not even a scrap! What we know about this supposed Gospel come from the letters of Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Hegemonius (all of whom described Basilides as a heretic). Basilides was an early Gnostic teacher in Alexandria, Egypt between 117-138AD.  The Gospel of Basilides by name is mentioned by Origen, Jerome, Ambrose, Philip of Side, and Venerable Bede. Scholars give estimate dates for Basilides writing to 120-130AD at the earliest.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus lived
  2. Jesus’ life was recorded by eyewitnesses (his own commentaries tells us more)
  3. The New Testament Gospels were well established to provide the foundations for Basilides “Exegetica, a large volume of work he produced
  4. Virgin conception of Jesus
  5. The baby Jesus was visited by Magi who followed a star
  6. Jesus carefully controlled the time of his ministry with statements quoted like “my time has not yet come”

The Gospel of Marcion/Marcion himself

This document, used by Marcion a famous heretic of his time so it’s dated around 130-150AD. We do not have a copy of the text, but the church fathers and apologists such as Tertullian extensively criticised such a Gospel. Marcion’s Gospel scholars suggest is a clear alteration of Luke’s Gospel and a slicing out of all the Jewish references. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is a miracle worker
  2. Jesus taught disciples
  3. Jesus was crucified on a cross
  4. Jesus rose from the grave

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-marcion/

Gospel of the Egyptians

The Gospel of the Egyptians is another lost document that scholars at the earliest put between 120-150AD. Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus and Epiphanius of Salamis tell us all we know of this document. It’s either some form of narrative or a collection of sayings, we just have no idea.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is a wise teacher
  2. Jesus had disciples who considere dhis words to be a source for life
  3. Jesus is described as “The Word”, Lord, Saviour
  4. There is a body and a soul
  5. Affirms Father, Son and Holy Spirit trinity
  6. Jesus is interested in teaching women
    1. Salome is described as a target of his attention 

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-the-egyptians/

Second treatise of the Great Seth

This document dated anywhere between 180-300AD was found with the NAg Hammadi documents in Egypt 1945. It is an example of Sethian Gnosticism by a group who worshipped Adam’s son, Seth who they saw Jesus as the second coming of Seth. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is the “Word”, the “Christ”, “Jesus Christ” and the “Son of Man”
  2. Recognises many elements of the passion narrative
    1. Jesus was beaten
    2. Forced to wear a crown of thorns
    3. Nailed to a cross
    4. Died on the cross
    5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
    6. The veil of the Temple was torn in two at the time of Jesus’ death
  3. John the Baptist is mentioned

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-second-treatise-of-the-great-seth/

The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit

Well.. impressive name to say the least, sounds a bit red indian tribe but I’ll bite. There are two versions of this document that were discovered among the papyri of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt. It is considered another Gnostic Sethians document of the second century (120-180AD).

Useful external attestation details 

  1. God is described as triune (It is worth noting their trinity is bizarre)
    1. The member of this Godhead that is called Son is also Called Christ
  2. Jesus is described as the “Son of God” and the “living one” 
  3. Jesus came into the world
  4. Jesus was crucified

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-holy-book-of-the-great-invisible-spirit/

Pistis Sophia

This is a document that’s been around for more than a hundred years prior to the Nag Hammadi library. It is Gnostic, has at least two scribes styles, and is in Coptic. The name has two potential meanings but scholars disagree as to it’s translation. It contains passages relating to Jesus transfigured teaching about the mysteries of heaven, though this was apparently over 11 years! Scholars put this document anywhere between 200-425AD

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is a wise teacher who has the wisdom and knowledge of God
  2. Jesus had disciples
  3. John the Baptist and his mother Elisabeth, several Mary’s, Martha, Salome, Philip, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Simon and Bartholomew are named
  4. Jesus taught at the Mount of Olives
  5. Jesus is called the “Savior”, the “Lord”, and “Rabbi”
  6. Jesus is worshipped by his disciples
  7. Jesus has divine power and authority
  8. Jesus pre-existed from eternity
  9. Jesus died
  10. Jesus was resurrected
  11. Many quotations or sayings from the Gospels appear in the document

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-pistis-sophia/

The Dialogue of the Saviour

This document is yet another found with the Nag Hammadi collection in 1945, Egypt. The text is damaged but it is discernible that it’s a dialogue between Jesus and some of his followers or sayings like the Gospel of Thomas. Scholars reckon, based on how the text jumps around from context to context, that this is a number of texts written together as a collection. This document is generally dated 120-180AD, never earlier.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is described as the “only begotten son” of God, and the “Savior” and “Lord”
  2. Jesus had many disciples with Matthews, Mary and Judas being named in the text
  3. Jesus taught these disciples about prayer, bout creation, about the end times
  4. Church fathers generally rejected this type of document where we have records

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-dialogue-of-the-saviour/

Sophia of Jesus Christ

This document was found with (wait for it) with the other Nag Hammadi texts in Egypt in 1945. Sophia is believed to mean the word “wisdom” and claims to be to do with a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Scholars date this anywhere between 150-250AD, never earlier generally.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Identifies Jesus as “the Savior”, “the Holy One” and “the Lord”
  2. Jesus had twelve disciples and several women disciples
    1. Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew and Mary are mentioned by name
  3. The disciples are referred to as Holy Apostles
  4. Jesus died on the cross
  5. Jesus rose from the dead
  6. Jesus taught many lessons
    1. Oliver discourse
  7. Key quotes from the Gospels are mentioned (John 14:27; Matthew 11:15)
  8. Jesus is described as having the wisdom of God and a source of divine knowledge for mankind

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-sophia-of-jesus-christ/

Gospel of Truth

Dated to the mid to late second century (140-180AD), the Gospel of Truth was discovered in the Nag Hammadi library with other Gnostic texts in 1945. The Gospel of Truth is connected with Valentinus, a gnostic teacher who lived 100-160AD wrote this poetic homily, so it’s not really a gospel as we would identify it.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Presumes the existence of Canonical letters and Gospels
  2. The Gospel of Truth references many of Paul’s letters (such as 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians), many letters from other New Testament writers (such as 1 John, Revelation and Hebrews) and some of the canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew). 
  3. Jesus was a wise teacher unlike any of his day
  4. Jesus is referred to as “The saviour”
  5. Jesus came to redeem those who did not know the Father
  6. Refers to parable of the lost sheep and describes Jesus as the shepherd.
  7. Jesus was nailed to a cross

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-gospel-of-truth/

Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour

A late on document far beyond the councils 450AD+, this infancy Gospel like they other ones was written to fill the gap of curiosity many people had about Jesus’ life. It was first likely written in Syriac and translated to Arabic. IT borrows heavily from the Infancy Gospel of James on stuff to do with the Virgin Mary, material from Jesus’ childhood from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and other information form unfamiliar sources related to the “Holy family” having to flee to Egypt. 

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Acknowledges the Canonical Gospels and use them as a structure to add new content
  2. Jesus is identified as “Master”, “Saviour”, the “Lord Jesus Christ” and “Savior of the World”
  3. Jesus harnesses the power of God from a young age
  4. Jesus is wise beyond his years
  5. Jesus makes the rabbis and teachers stumble
  6. The nativity narrative is present
  7. Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem for the census
  8. Jesus’ birth is heralded by angels, the Shepherds celebrate in the fields, 
  9. Jesus is visited by Magi who bring gifts and adore Him, 
  10. Herod attempts to destroy Jesus and the Holy family eventually escapes to Egypt. 
  11. Following the birth of Jesus, the story of Simeon’s adoration is repeated in this text. 
  12. Other theological concepts (such as the Trinity) are affirmed as well. 
  13. Jesus’ baptism

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-arabic-gospel-of-the-infancy-of-the-savior/

The Gospel of the Saviour

This Gnostic text was discovered in all places at a museum! There’s only a fragment of it and it’s generally dated between 4th – 7th century with it assumed to have been written second century (120-180AD). It is a series of “sayings” like the Gospel of Thomas.

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is referred to as the “Savior” and as “Lord”
  2. Disciples Andrew, John and Jude are mentioned by name 
  3. Talks about the cross often 
  4. Canonical messages from Jesus is pulled from Matthew, Mark Luke and John
  5. Jesus was God before he ever became a man
  6. Jesus was divine
  7. Jesus became human
  8. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father
  9. Jesus will sit on his throne and judge the world

The History of Joseph the Carpenter

This document dating in the 5th century (400-480AD) Follows narratives like the infancy Gospels of Thomas and James to fill in the gaps we don’t know about Jesus but people would like to presume. This work is written as a message from Jesus where he talks about his stepfather. The origins of this work are rather unknown, two versions have survived — one in Coptic and another in Arabic. The text also conveniently answers issues raised in other Nag Hammadi documents like the First Apocalypse of James

Useful external attestation details 

  1. It assumes the validity of the Gospels
  2. Jesus is described as “Jesus of Nazareth” the “Lord Jesus Christ”, “Saviour”, “Master”, “God”, “Christ” and “Son of God”
  3. Taught on the mount of Olives
  4. Jesus is crucified
  5. Jesus is resurrected
  6. Jesus had to die for Adam and those following after
  7. Jesus gave the great commission 
  8. Jesus’ nativity is laid out
  9. Mary is described as a young virgin 
  10. Jesus’ conception is described as a mystery
  11. Joseph is visited by an angel
  12. Herod the great is identified
  13. John the Baptist’s martyrdom is mentioned
  14. Jesus being obedient to his parents
  15. Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, 2 Corinthians and the Book of Revelation are mentioned

https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/why-shouldnt-we-trust-the-non-canonical-history-of-joseph-the-carpenter/

Gospel of Jesus’ wife

Karen King, the Gnostic scholar who published the manuscript, has titled it the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. It is a very small fragment, only 12 partial lines, of an ancient Gnostic book. The Coptic written fragment is dated 4th century but it seen as a copy of an older book. Modern research however is coming to a conclusion that the manuscript is indeed a fake. https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2012/jesus-wife-papyrus-an-update

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Jesus is mentioned
  2. There are disciples 
  3. Jesus allowed women disciples
  4. Jesus knew someone named Mary

Epistle of Barnabas

This document (Estimated 70 – 132AD) is considered one of the Apostolic fathers documents and it is largely Orthodox in its views, that is, it has evangelical doctrine to it. But nobody thought it was written by Barnabas. The Muratorian Canon tells us it is a good book to read but it is not scripture as “it is written in our time”. This document is preserved completely in the codex Sinaiticus

Useful external attestation details 

  1. Animal sacrifices are no longer needed
  2. Christians are to be a temple rather than rely on offerings
  3. Christians not to be content with their sinful lifestyle 
  4. Cites Isaiah 53 prophecy of the cross
  5. God had to come incarnate in the flesh (Jesus) so we could stand in his presence one day
  6. Jesus mentioned by name
  7. He appeals to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as a type of Christ
  8. Christians were allowed to eat all meats
  9. Defends water baptism
  10. Defends the cross in the Old Testament
  11. The temple was destroyed in 70AD
  12. God’s truth is often embedded in parables

http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/historical-theology/the-epistle-of-barnabas/

Didache

Didache means “teaching”, the full name of this document being “The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.” Historians are given the impression that this document acted as a manual for new believers, something Christians do often today, a summary fo teachings.  

We have only one complete Greek copy of the Didache, and one Greek fragment. [get source] This single complete text was discovered in 1873. Before this discovery, scholars knew of the Didache, because Athanasius and Eusebius 4th century) both mentioned its existence.[get source] As for it’s authorship, there’s little to grasp out without a mention within the text itself but scholars to pin the dates 70 – 150 AD on it. A scholar C. N. Jeff Old puts it between 80-110 and sees it as a document that evolved as teaching was more clearly stated and understood. Scholars K. Niederwimmer and H.W. Attridge hold that the Didache was edited and redacted considerably. However, they write, “In general, one can say that the sources, that is, the predidachistic traditions, should probably be located in the first century AD, most likely toward the end of the century. It is impossible to make any more precise determination.” These scholars date it between 110-120 AD

Useful external attestation details 

As one of the earliest non-canonical texts, it is important to see what this document outlays to us at a time not far from John and Josephus, the Jewish Historian. 

  1. Legalism and formalism (4.6; 8.1, 3).
  2. Adult baptism—not infant baptism (7.4).
  3. A Trinitarian formula for baptism (7.1).
  4. The purpose for the Lord’s Supper: “thanksgiving,” not transubstantiation (9.1-4).
  5. The importance of evangelism (ch.10)
  6. The Old Testament bondage of the church. Old covenant concepts spilled over into the new covenant. The NT prophets were seen as similar to the OT high priests (13.3).
  7. The meeting time for Christian fellowship. These Christians met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (14.1).
  8. Local churches should govern themselves (ch.15). A monarchical episcopate is not in view in the Didache. Instead, churches select their own bishops and deacons (15.1).
  9. Futurism—not Preterism (ch.16). The decline of spirituality, morality, and theology are all future to the author.

http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/historical-theology/the-didache-the-lords-teaching-through-the-twelve-apostles-to-the-nations/

Epistle to the Laodiceans

  • End of third century
  • Unknown author
  • Comprised of 20 verses
  • The letter is said to be written by someone in prison, possibly trying to “imitate Paul”? Or just someone genuinely in prison

Useful external attestation details

  1. Warns against heretics
  2. The Apostle Paul exists
  3. Jesus is “Lord”
  4. Paul proclaimed the Gospel
  5. Reinforces attestation for the book of Philippians

What we can establish from non-Canonical sources 

So what can we assemble from our non-canonical, and in most cases, heretical documents generally? 

Birth

  1. Jesus came into the world as a human
  2. The Angel visiting Mary
  3. Mary is described as a young virgin 
  4. Jews accusations of Jesus being illegitimate child
  5. Angel’s declaration to Joseph in a dream
  6. Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem for the census
  7. Virgin conception of Jesus 
  8. Identifies Mary and Joseph as Jesus’ parents
  9. Jesus’ conception is described as a mystery
  10. Jesus’ birth is heralded by angels, the Shepherds celebrate in the fields, 
  11. The baby Jesus was visited by Magi who followed a star
  12. Simeon’s adoration of Jesus
  13. Herod attempts to destroy Jesus and the Holy family eventually escapes to Egypt. 

Passion narrative

  1. Judas Iscariot was approached by Jewish leadership to betray Jesus and received payment for the location of Jesus
  2. Affirms the last supper
  3. Pilate’s wife warns Pilate on her dream
  4. Pilate was reluctant to deliver the charges against Jesus
  5. Jesus was beaten
  6. Forced to wear a crown of thorns
  7. Nailed to a cross
  8. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
  9. Jesus was crucified on a cross
  10. Jesus was given gall and vinegar
  11. His cross read “this is the king of Israel”
  12. Jesus was crucified between two criminals
  13. Jesus is pierced in the side on the cross
  14. Jesus died on the cross
  15. There was darkness in the sky as he died
  16. The veil of the Temple was torn in two at the time of Jesus’ death
  17. Jesus was removed from the cross and placed in Joseph’s tomb
  18. Joseph of Arimathea acquires the body of Jesus 
  19. Jesus was wrapped in linen and anointed with oils and perfumes
  20. The tomb is sealed
  21. Pilate assigned guards to the tomb
  22. Mary and other women followers go to the tomb (this book specifies those women as Salome, M. Magdalene and Martha)
  23. Jesus rose from the dead
  24. Jesus told his disciples to preach the truth who had not heard (Great commission)
  25. Jesus ascended

General Historical details

  1. Jesus lived
  2. Jesus’ life was recorded by eyewitnesses (his own commentaries tells us more)
  3. The New Testament Gospels were well established for heretics to use and abuse
  4. Jesus is a miracle worker
  5. Jesus taught disciples
  6. There is a body and a soul
  7. Jesus has divine power and authority
  8. Jesus pre-existed from eternity
  9. The disciples are referred to as Holy Apostles
  10. Jesus is described as having the wisdom of God and a source of divine knowledge for mankind
  11. References many of Paul’s letters (such as 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians), many letters from other New Testament writers (such as 1 John, Revelation and Hebrews) and some of the canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew). 
    1. Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, 2 Corinthians and the Book of Revelation are mentioned
  12. The meeting time for Christian fellowship. These Christians met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s Supper 
  13. The Apostle Paul exists
  14. Martyrdom of James is mentioned
  15. Identifies Pilate and Herod by name
  16. Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea are all mentioned
  17. This John was an important disciple of Jesus
  18. Assumes John could be an author

Gospel details

  1. Jesus carefully controlled the time of his ministry with statements quoted like “my time has not yet come”
  2. Affirms Father, Son and Holy Spirit trinity
  3. The member of this Godhead that is called Son is also Called Christ
  4. Jesus is interested in teaching women
  5. Jesus is the “Word”, the “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, “Lord”, “Saviour”, “Rabbi”, “Son of Man”, “Son of God”, “only begotten son”, “the holy one”, “master”, “Lord Jesus Christ”, the “life”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “saviour of the world”, “righteous one”, “Nazarean”, “Messiah”, the “Word” and the “living one” 
  6. Jesus had disciples who considered his words to be a source for life
  7. Jesus is worshipped by his disciples
  8. John the Baptist and his mother Elisabeth, several Mary’s, Martha, Salome, Philip, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Simon and Bartholomew are named 
  9. Jesus taught at the Mount of Olives
  10. Jesus taught these disciples about prayer, about creation, about the end times
  11. Olivet discourse
  12. Jesus came to redeem those who did not know the Father
  13. Refers to parable of the lost sheep and describes Jesus as the shepherd.
  14. Jesus harnesses the power of God from a young age
  15. Jesus is wise beyond his years
  16. Jesus makes the rabbis and teachers stumble
  17. Jesus’ baptism
  18. Jesus was God before he ever became a man
  19. Jesus was divine
  20. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father
  21. Jesus will sit on his throne and judge the world
  22. Jesus had to die for Adam and those following after
  23. Jesus gave the great commission 
  24. Herod the great is identified
  25. John the Baptist’s martyrdom is mentioned
  26. Jesus being obedient to his parents
  27. Animal sacrifices are no longer needed
  28. Christians are to be a temple rather than rely on offerings
  29. Christians not to be content with their sinful lifestyle 
  30. Cites Isaiah 53 prophecy of the cross
  31. God had to come incarnate in the flesh (Jesus) so we could stand in his presence one day
  32. appeals to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as a type of Christ
  33. Christians were allowed to eat all meats
  34. Defends water baptism
  35. Defends the cross in the Old Testament
  36. The temple was destroyed in 70AD
  37. God’s truth is often embedded in parables
  38. Legalism and formalism 
  39. Adult baptism—not infant baptism 
  40. A Trinitarian formula for baptism 
  41. The purpose for the Lord’s Supper: “thanksgiving,” not transubstantiation 
  42. The importance of evangelism 
  43. The Old Testament bondage of the church. Old covenant concepts spilled over into the new covenant. The NT prophets were seen as similar to the OT high priests 
  44. Local churches should govern themselves. A monarchical episcopate is not in view in the Didache. Instead, churches select their own bishops and deacons
  45. Futurism—not Preterism. The decline of spirituality, morality, and theology are all future to the author.
  46. Warns against heretics
  47. Paul proclaimed the Gospel
  48. Jesus was a popular travelling preacher in Samaria and Judea
  49. Jesus had brothers and Sisters
  50. Jesus had 12 disciples
  51. The life of Jesus was eventually recorded by his disciples
  52. Jesus spoke in parables and affirms
    1. The Shepherds
    2. The Seed
    3. The Building
    4. The Lamps of the Virgins
    5. The Wage of the Workers
    6. The Double Drachma
    7. The woman
  53. Jesus was persecuted by the Jews
  54. Affirms Old Testament prophesies related to Jesus
  55. Jesus accused of healing on the Sabbath
  56. Jesus laid down his life as a ransom to save and redeem
  57. Jesus died a sacrificial death on the cross
  58. Saved those previously lost
  59. Contains “woes” and “blessed” statements similar to Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.
  60. Jesus’ followers were called “Christians”
  61. John was the brother of James, son of Zebedee
  62. Jesus is a reliable source of information from heaven

So after that mammoth list we can strongly affirm with great confidence a few points from here and further:

  1. Unsympathetic Non-Christian sources describe and tell us many essential Jesus, Christian beliefs and practices
  2. Heretical non-canonical sources describe a wealth of specific details about Jesus and Christianity 
  3. The Gospels are out best source for information on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth with non-canonical and non-christian sources only reinforcing what Christians have always believed even if the sources goals were unsympathetic to Christianity. 

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