New Testament Apocrypha

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Early Christian writings partly parallel to canonical books of the NT but not accepted by the Church. Some are complete; of some, only fragments survive; others are known by name only. Those in the gospels category tend to supply information about Jesus that the curiosity of a later generation welcomed, especially about his infancy, or teaching of a Gnostic kind said to be given after the resurrection. Much of the literature was intended to be edifying, but some seems unpleasing to a modern reader.

In order to gain credibility, some of the apocryphal writings were ascribed to historical personages such as Thomas—a tendency already to be found within the canonical NT itself, e.g. 2 Peter is certainly not the work of the apostle Peter. There is also a gospel of Nicodemus, which includes the Acts of Pilate; this section marks a further step on the road, apparent in the four gospels, of diminishing Pilate's responsibility for the death of Jesus. The perpetual virginity of Mary makes its first appearance as a doctrine in the 2nd‐cent. Protevangelium of James (also known as the book of James), a narrative about the infancy of Jesus.

These apocryphal writings were not so much formally rejected by the Church as never universally accepted. They were suspected of heresy by Church leaders such as Irenaeus (c.190 ce), who was the first to use the term ‘apocryphal’ or ‘secret’ of these works. A modern reader finds some of their stories too bizarre to be taken seriously as historical record—as when in the Infancy gospel of Thomas Jesus aged 6 is said to have broken a pitcher and miraculously put it together again. It can be said of the writings that there are a few sayings attributed to Jesus which have the ring of truth. And they certainly put us in touch with popular piety of the early Christian centuries. Many other alleged sayings of Jesus appear in early Christian writings, and even in certain Jewish and Islamic texts.

Subjects: Biblical Studies.

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