Skeptic Pastor: The gift of the Gospels that aren’t in the Bible

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“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?

gospelofthomasAs 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

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website: JeremyWords.com

Join the conversation....

  1. It’s refreshing to follow open discussions. I’ve learned a lot as my faith has grown through exposure to a variety of insights into the Scriptures.

  2. DL Herring says:

    Pastor Jeremy, thank you! I discovered the apocryphal New and Old Testament texts when I was in High School (1978 -1982). My Pastor’s reaction was extreme to say the least! He seemed to believe that these works were directly Satanic and I was endangering my eternal soul. But, that only piqued my curiosity and read and studied all I could get my hands on. These text, even though not canonical, give wonderful insight into the daily life, customs, and traditions of the times they were written. Maccabees I & II gives a great historically accounting of the Jews that should be required in advanced Christian studies. Studying these works in the proper context is most beneficial!

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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