By the beginning of the 4th Century AD there was not a single belief system regarding Christian doctrine. Numerous Christian sects had evolved—each basing their faith and liturgy on disparate manuscripts. Such was especially the case between the Roman church and the Greek-speaking East’s Oriental Orthodoxy, the Assyrian church in Asia Minor, and the Middle East.
To resolve this schism, in 325 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine I called an Ecumenical Council of all his bishops to meet in Bithynia (a region in Northern Anatolia—modern day Turkey) to attain consensus of all Christendom on a universal profession of faith. Two critical outcomes were confirmed: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the conclusion that the Arian belief that Jesus Christ was an inferior God was heretical. Many documents previously used were proscribed, and the approved sacred manuscripts defined Christian dogma as the “New Testament.”
Not all heresies were resolved in 325 AD Council. Accordingly, in 381, Roman Emperor Theodosius I called the Second Ecumenical Council, or the First Council of Constantople. Pope Damascus I sent his delegates to resolve the heresies of:
- Apollinarianism– Jesus Christ was God but not fully human.
- Macedonianism- denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He was subordinate to the Father and Son.
- Arianism- believed that Jesus Christ was not God–he consisted of a human body and a divine mind.
- Other liturgical beliefs in dispute.
The Council condemned these heresies and confirmed that only 27 manuscripts comprise Christian Scripture. All others are heretical. The creed devised by the Council is the profession of liturgical faith that is widely used by the Catholic Church today—the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and other writings—the Epistles of Christ followers, for example.
Over the years various manuscripts were found that expanded the history of Jesus and early Christianity. These lost scriptures are often referred to as the “lost gospels” or pseudepigrapha. For example, the cache of Gnostic writings discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945.
Ehrman presents a potpourri of these lost gospels each preceded with a precise summary. He categorizes them as:
- Non-Canonical Gospels:
- The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
- The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)
- The Secret Gospel of Mark
- Non-Canonical Acts of the Apostles
- The Acts of John
- The Acts of Thecla
- The Acts of Peter
- Non-Canonical Epistles and Relating Writings
- The Treatise on the Resurrection
- The Letters of Paul to the Laodiceans
- The Letter of Barnabas
- Non-Canonical Apocalypses and Revelatory Treatises
- The Secret Book of John
- On the Origins of the World
- The Shepherd of Hermas
- Canonical Lists
- The Canon of Euebius
- The Muratorian Canon
- The Canon of the Third Synod of Carthage
The narrative in this book is demanding. Nonetheless, for those with the mental stamina and singular purpose, this book will reveal keen insight into early Christianity and the “new” information revealed in these “false Gospels.”