There were many Gospels of Jesus in the early days of Christianity. In addition to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the New Testament and the four Nag Hammadi Gospels, many other documents have been referred to as ‘gospels’.
Although many of the early Christian sects did not agree with the orthodox view that the scriptures came directly from God, there was fairly general agreement at the time that they had been written by people who were God-inspired.
In 302 Bishop Damascus directed Jerome to write a Latin text to standardise the scriptures. This came to be called the Latin Vulgate Bible and was used throughout the Christian world as the standardised Church text for at least a thousand years. Since it was in Latin, it was up to the Church to ‘interpret’ it to their congregations, which was very much part of their intention as it diminished the likelihood of heresies arising.
Also in the fourth century, Augustine declared that every part of the text had been chosen by God, although written by various Christian writers. Although the Church fathers superficially went along with this, many of them did not agree, as is clear from some of their writings.
Somewhere around the middle of the fourth century the New Testament as we know it began to be collated, and in or about 367 AD Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria gathered together a selection of writings that were approved first by the Council of Hippo (393AD) and then by the Council of Carthage (397 AD).
Over the centuries, these texts were further ‘edited’ and many important sections – presumably those which the Church saw as undermining of its authority or likely to cause dissension – were excluded.
Ten centuries after the Vulgate had originally been accepted, the same old disagreements continued to raise questions and cause dissension. Only in1546 were the four Gospels of the New Testament approved by the Council of Trent… and that only because of the threat to the Roman Catholic Church of the Protestant Reformation
Relating to information about the ministry of Christ in the Nag Hammadi gospels, in an interview published in the US News & World Report, Collector’s edition: Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, James Robinson, general editor of The Nag Hammadi Library, says that of the four Nag Hammadi codices, only the Gospel of Thomas can really be regarded as a gospel because it is the only one that claims to quote the actual words of Jesus. Other sources would regard this as a splitting of hairs since the words of Jesus are reported in other Nag Hammadi gospels.
Nobody knows how many Gospels there originally were, and it might be that some are yet to be discovered. Hundreds of caves offer possible hiding-places.
Since we know that the Four Gospels of the New Testament were selectively chosen and subsequently much edited, adapted and reduced, and as we cannot know what ancient records will still come to light, the issue of the Gospels as contributing to the ‘real’ history of Jesus remains an open question.
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