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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
  Is There a Fifth Gospel?

"I saw a book called The Five Gospels in the library the other day. Are there other gospels that aren't in the Bible?"

The book our reader saw is a product of the Jesus Seminar, a fellowship of scholars who have stirred the pot of controversy with their work. This group of scholars postulated which of the sayings of Jesus are authentic as opposed to what the church and what the gospel writers say Jesus said. The scholars discussed and applied their work to five gospels.

Five gospels? Yes, believe it or not, there are many other gospels other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Others include the lost gospel of Peter (we only have fragments of this one), the infancy gospels of James and Thomas, and the one included in The Five Gospels, the gospel of Thomas.

Most of these gospels were rejected by the early church as extra-biblical writings not worthy to be placed into the canon of scripture. Those readers who have been exposed to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas understand why -- in these writings Jesus is a bit spoiled and on one occasion strikes a child dead who was tormenting Jesus. Most of these gospels were rightly rejected.

But the gospel of Thomas may be different -- it might be an authentic work.

How so?

Because it may have been used by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as one of their sources for the sayings and teachings of Jesus. Of the 114 saying of Jesus in the book, Thomas includes 47 parallels to Mark, 17 to Matthew, 4 to Luke, and 5 to John. In fact, the four biblical gospels include 57% of Thomas. However, while Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all narrative in style, Thomas is like many of the wisdom writings in that it is a collection of sayings -- like "blessed be the poor" and so forth.

So why isn't it in the Bible today? Well, 57% of the book already is in the Bible; however, there are a number of reasons why the book itself may not have been included. First, Thomas was not as widely circulated as the other gospels. Indeed, until 1945 when the Nag Hammadi library was discovered (the Dead Sea Scrolls), we had only three fragments of the gospel discovered in Egypt in 1897. When the Nag Hammadi library and the gospel of Thomas was discovered, scholars realized the three fragments of 1897 were part of this gospel. But because of the rarity of the fragments and copies of Thomas, it is clear it was not circulated much beyond the locality where the fragments were found. And since one of the primary criteria for acceptance into the New Testament canon in the fourth century was wide acceptance by the church, Thomas obviously missed out. This is the most probable reason it isn't in our Bibles today.

But there's another reason why Thomas may not have been included in the canon . . . its content. Although much of Thomas is included in biblical gospels, the 43% that isn't contains material Christians might find a bit difficult to swallow (although, we don't balk at commands such as selling all we own and giving the proceeds to the poor -- we just ignore those commands). For instance, Thomas 27.12 reads, "If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom of God. {2} If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the Father." Another reads, "I am the light over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. {2} Split a piece of wood; I am there. {3} Lift up the stone, and you will find me there" (Thomas 77.1-3). Certainly there could be many objections to either of these sayings by orthodox Christianity, so this may be another reason why this gospel was rejected from the canon.

The gospel of Thomas includes a wealth of sayings that are interesting, informative, and reflective of early Christianity. Should it be included in the Christian Bible? Who's to say? Tradition suggests the canon of scripture is closed and no books should be added. In today's world this doesn't preclude the Christian from reading other works and being inspired by God through their words. However, until the average Christian takes to heart and practices the commands of Christ to love God and to love their neighbor as contained in the four biblical gospels, any extraneous reading can only be inspiring and informative -- it can't replace or even satisfactorily supplement the heart of the Christian gospel.

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