“Did you know that when Jesus was a kid, he made birds out of clay and brought them to life?”
Well I think if you’re asking this question you have either been reading the infancy gospel of Thomas or watching the History Channel’s special on the ‘forbidden gospels’!
I remember asking something just like that in college to a minister I knew. The answer was simple, he said, “…those Gospels are not true and you should spend your time on something productive.” Of course, I immediately ran back to the dorm to read every word. What about these words were so so scandalous? Why did this pastor feel threatened? Why was the church trying to suppress these stories about Jesus?
As it turns out, these accounts of Jesus’ life are as interesting and engaging as they are unreliable. Somewhere between their taboo-ness and their sensational and/or philosophical content is something which makes them fascinating to many people. If we look carefully, we can see them for what they truly are — a gift. These stories of Jesus teach us about who we are, who God has called us to be, and how we should live in the world. They have the power to teach us but not in the way we may expect when we first sit down with a copy.
First off, these works make canonical history sexy and fascinating in a way that nothing else does. There is nothing else that makes people beg me to tell them the history and theology around the formation of the Biblical cannon like the Gospels that aren’t in the Bible. Without knowing of the Muratorian fragment and the early consensus around the New Testament collection, many assume that Dan Brown is right when he says that Constantine made that call. And knowing that history not only engenders confidence in the Bible, but it shows the curious the importance of Church history in their everyday relationship with Jesus.
It is these non-Biblical gospels’ likely origins that really help people grow closer to God. When Jesus ascended and then sent the Holy Spirit, the disciples fanned out taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Those stories were passed on from person to person and sometimes lost or forgotten. In those regions where those disciples went, later stories would arise and were attributed those disciples. Everyone came with what they remembered of Jesus and shared it with whoever would listen. Was it all correct? Did it all come down perfectly? No. That’s why we will randomly find these crazy stories about Jesus’ life.
That is where the power resides. You see, these gospels teach us something far beyond their actual content. Every Christian doesn’t have to be a brilliant theologian. We don’t have to have everything right. We don’t even need to know the whole story before we share the Gospel with our friends and family. We share what we know. As incomplete and incorrect as it may be, we share what we know of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit use our words to woo those around us closer to him. And, that is powerful.
What a gift! Now it is time for you to go read some of these gospels that aren’t in the Bible, and let them cause you to figure out where they diverge and converge with scripture, letting their clarion call spread wide in your heart, filling you with the confidence to share the story you know. After all, there’s no way you could be as wrong as the story where Jesus smites a kid for making fun of him. Go tell what you know