Why There Are No “Lost” Gospels

July 23, 2011 — Leave a comment

9780061551826I finished up reading through N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope this morning while sitting poolside. Toward the end, he made a parenthetical comment on why certain “gospels” were left out of the New Testament. It occurs in the last chapter where he is clarifying how he thinks the mission of the church needs reshaping. In the section on Scripture, he says that the Bible

…is the book who whole narrative is about new creation, that is, about resurrection, so that when each of the gospels ends with the raising of Jesus from the dead, and when Revelation ends with new heavens and new earth populated by God’s people risen from the dead, this should come not as a surprise but as the ultimate fulfillment of what the story had been about all along (p. 282-83).

Speaking of the so-called “lost” gospels, Wright then says:

This, by the way, is the deep-level reason why the other gospels were not included in the canon. It isn’t that they were the really exciting or subversive bits that the early church excluded in the interests of power and control. They were the books that had stopped talking about new creation and were offering a private, detached spirituality instead.

In other words, they were left out because they didn’t fit the rest of the story, not because they were trying to be suppressed. But then Wright goes on to indict our modern fascination with these writings:

The sudden enthusiasm for these other gospels in certain quarters of the Western world in our own day is a token not of the rediscovery of genuine Christianity but of the desperate attempts to avoid it. New creation is far more demanding – through ultimately, of course, far more exhilarating – than Gnostic escapism (p. 283).

Gnostic impulses are much more compatible with some of our modern sentiments than Christianity is, hence the excitement over these resurrected writings from the supposedly early Christian period. But in the end, they just don’t fit into the story of Christianity at all. Some of the names in these writings appear the same, but they lost the plot and started improving in ways that those faithful to Christianity recognized as idiosyncratic and incongruent with the overall story. For that reason, there are really no “lost” gospels. Only imitations that missed the trajectory of the story and don’t have a place in the grand narrative of creation, fall, and redemption.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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