What are the Apocryphal Gospels?

   The Apocryphal Gospels are those which the Church did not accept because their contents are lacking in authenticity. Some of these writings are known by name only, while others have survived as fragments of the original works. Although having much the same relationship to the New Testament books as the Old Testament Apocryphal writings have to the Old Testament canon, they have not, as a whole, been as highly regarded. None of them has ever been widely accepted as authoritative.

   The Apocryphal gospels may be conveniently divided into three classifications: (1) those dealing with the birth and early life of Jesus; (2) gospels of a more general character, comparable to the New Testament Gospels; (3) writings which are concerned with the passion and resurrection of Jesus. In the first group the more important writings include the Protevangelion of James, a book which claims to give an account of the early life of Mary, the birth of Jesus, and the death of Herod and martyrdom of Zacharias; the Gospel According to Thomas, a Gnostic work which deals with the childhood of Jesus and emphasizes his miraculous powers and knowledge; the Arabic History of Joseph the Carpenter, which, as the name suggests, is concerned in large part with telling about Joseph, particularly his death and burial.

   The second group includes the Gospel of the Hebrews, one of the most important of the Apocryphal writings, which contains much of the material to be found in the canonical Gospels and also additional sayings of Jesus not in the canonical works; the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, a work which has been preserved only through quotations in the writings of Epiphanius and which apparently represented the teachings of some Christian group opposed to sacrifices.

   Contained in the third group of gospels are the Gospel of Philip, a work which has been preserved only as a fragment in the writings of Epiphanius; the Gospel of Matthias, mentioned by Origen as a heretical writing, supposedly the work of Matthias who was elected an apostle after the Resurrection; the Passing of Mary, fragments of which exist in various versions, giving an account of the death of Mary and telling of fantastic miracles; the Gospel of Nicodemus (also called the "Acts of Pilate"), which supposedly gives an account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.