The Whole Bible: Analysis of the Canonical and Apocryphal New Testament Scriptures

Brief History of the New Testament Analysis of the Canonical and Apocryphal Scriptures

Always under construction!Always under construction!


  1. Robert J. Miller, ed. The Complete Gospels. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1995.
  2. Willis Barnstone, ed. The Other Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984.
  3. James M. Robinson, ed. The Nag Hammadi Library In English. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990.
  4. Rutherford H. Platt, J. Alden Brett, ed. The Lost Books of the Bible. New York: World Bible Pub., 1974.
  5. Maxwell Staniforth, ed. Early Christian Writings. New York: Penguin, 1987.
  6. J.K. Elliott, ed. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  7. Ron Cameron, ed. The Other Gospels. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982.
  8. Marvin Meyer, ed. Secret Teachings of Jesus. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.

(sources indicated below in parentheses)

Many of the apocryphal scriptures can be accessed online from Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings site, or the Noncanonical Homepage at Northwest Nazarene University.


The word gospel is the English translation of the Greek evangelion, which literally means "the good news." The first known use of the word in Christian writings was by Paul, who referred to the message about salvation through Christ. It was not until the writings of Justin Martyr in the mid-second century that the term began to be used specifically in reference to scriptures about the deeds and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The four gospels in the canonical New Testament are of the narrative variety—specifically, they tell the story of Jesus's life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection as handed down through decades of oral tradition. However, these four by no means represent all of the traditions of the day, but only the select few that were precisely in accord with the orthodox (Catholic) beliefs of the late fourth century. Three of the four (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are derived from at least one common source, and are referred to as the "synoptic" gospels due to their similarities.

Even those who unwaveringly accept only the canonical accounts can still benefit from a study of the apocryphal narratives and why they were rejected by the Catholic church.


The earliest Christian writings (i.e., the letters of Paul) focus on Jesus's death and resurrection. By the time the gospels of Matthew and Luke were penned, the focus was also upon the circumstances of His birth. Eventually, the infancy gospel developed as a separate format to supplement the traditions in the narrative gospels.


The apocryphal Acts were intended to supplement the gospels and canonical Acts with narrative details about the missionary work of the individual apostles. The five primary Acts in particular (those of Peter, Paul, John, Andrew and Thomas) were widely popular in the early church and the traditions contained therein are still accepted by many Christians today. Because of their relatively late dates of composition, however, the historic validity of these Acts is questionable.


The format of the sayings gospel is derived from Jewish Wisdom literature, and seeks to preserve not an historical or biographical history of Jesus, but rather a collection of his teachings in the form of isolated sayings or hypothetical dialogue. While no sayings gospels were canonized into the New Testament, most scholars theorize that such a gospel ("Q") was used as a source by Matthew and Luke.



Written and maintained by Geoff Trowbridge, 6/97

"The canon is neither a total nor a random collection of early Christian texts. It is both deliberate and selective and it excludes just as surely as it includes. I would even say that you cannot understand what is included in the canon unless you understand what was excluded from it. When the [extracanonical] gospels are played over against the four canonical gospels, both the products and the processes of those latter texts appear in a radically different light." — John Dominic Crossan, Prof. Religious Studies, DePaul Univ.

Return to the Introduction

Return to Geoff and Heidi's homepage