Most every Christian throughout the world is familiar with the English King James version of the Holy Bible. Most believe, or have been taught, that it is contains the ONLY books of the Old and New Testament ever written. But in fact, it contains only the church approved books by the Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox faiths. There are in fact other banned books of the Bible, written in the early years of Christianity. They never made the cut for the New Testament by the Catholic Church, or subsequent Orthodox or Protestant religions. Few people today know they even exist.
First, let’s briefly look at the Old Testament differences based on religion. The word Bible, comes from the Greek biblia, which means “scroll.” After the death of Jesus of Nazareth, 46 books of the Hebrew Bible [or Tanakh] became known as the Old Testament; and the writings of Jesus’ disciples, the New Testament [27 books]. The Protestant Bible contains 7 less books in their Old Testament, excluding Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, Wisdom, and 1 & 2 Maccabees The Orthodox Bible contains 7 more books in their Old Testament compared to the Catholic, including Manaseh, 1 & 2 Esdras, 3 & 4 Maccabees, Odes, and Psalm 151.
The New Testaments books were likely written in Kione Greek in the first century AD. None of the original scrolls exist, so the exact timing of their creation or who exactly authored them, despite the Gospel names, are not known for certain. Any scroll remnants remaining today are written copies of the originals.
Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine converted in 313 AD. The list of books to be included in the canon of the Catholic Bible was started by the Council of Rome in 382 AD. It was a synod of bishops lead by Pope Damascus, under the blessing of then Emperor Theodosius. It was finalized after 15 years of intense discussion in 397 AD. They decided on the four Gospels – Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, written in that order, roughly between 70 and 100 AD. It also included 23 other books, following Peter, Paul, John and other apostles as they spread Christianity across the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire.
Here are the top 8 banned books that were excluded from the New Testament by the church.
- The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – believed to be written by Jesus’ brother in the second century in the Syriac language. It relates the childhood of Jesus from age 5 to 12, not included in the other Gospels, including various early miracles he performed. The early church considered it spurious and heretical fiction.
- The Infancy Gospel of James – written in Greek in the second century, it covers in greater detail the Immaculate Conception, through the Nativity in Bethlehem and the visitation of the Magi. It states Mary remained a virgin her entire life and depicts Joseph as an elderly widower with prior children.
- Gnostic Gospel of Thomas – written in Coptic in the first or second century, and discovered in 1945. Believed to be written by the apostle Thomas, it is not a narrative like the other Gospels, but rather a collection of Jesus’ sayings, parables and dialogues, and does not mention the crucifixion or resurrection.
- Gospel of Peter – supposed written by Saint Peter in the second century and discovered in 1886 in Egypt. It describes in greater detail the Passion of Jesus, including Herod sentencing Jesus to crucifixion, not Pilate, and the resurrection. It was rejected by the 4th century church as apocryphal.
- Gnostic Gospel of Philip – written in the 3rd century, too late to be by the apostle Philip, and rediscovered in 1945. It relates a closer relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, implying they may even have been married, depending on the translation. Rejected for obvious reasons.
- Gospel of Mary – written in Coptic in the second century and rediscovered in 1896. Exactly which Mary wrote it is up for debate, with scholars believing it was Mary Magdalene. It depicts, in greater detail, the events following the resurrection. It was rejected as women were not allowed to be preachers.
- Gnostic Gospel of Judas – written in the second century, not by Judas but rather early Christians, about his relationship with Jesus. It states Jesus instructed Judas to betray him in order for him to die for man’s sins; and other gnostic teachings that did not match the canon of the 4 included Gospels.
- Gospel of Nicodemus – supposedly written in Hebrew by the disciple of Jesus. It relates Jesus’ trial with Pilate in greater detail as well as the resurrection. It names, for example, the two criminals executed with Jesus, Dismas & Gestas. It was deemed apocryphal by the 4th century church and not included.
Let’s take a brief look at the history of the Bible since the 4th century.
The Great Schism of 1054 occurred when the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches officially separated. The Orthodox Church however, continued to use the same 27 books of the New Testament that the Catholic Bible does. In 1455 German Johannes Gutenberg invented a revolutionary new printing press with movable type. This allowed him to print over a hundred of his Latin Gutenberg Bibles to be sold throughout all of Europe. Prior to that, Bibles were slowly and painstakingly hand written.
The Protestant Reformation was initiated by German Martin Luther in the year 1517. The Protestant religions that resulted continued to use the same 27 books of the New Testament that the Catholic Bible does. Though 7 Old Testament books were excluded from the Protestant Bible – Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch.
The King James Bible was an English language version commissioned by English King James I in 1604. It was to use ‘contemporary’ English, rather than Latin, which few could read other than clergy. This is the Bible that most Christians have paper copies of in their home today. The Bible itself has actually been banned in some atheist, Communist or Islamic nations over time. In the 21st century, the Bible was digitized and is now easily available via the internet or Apps on most of the phones in our pockets.
So the “Lost” Banned Books of the Bible were never actually lost. The early Catholic church leaders purposely excluded them from the New Testament for various reasons in the 4th century, a decision that has lasted ever since.
For more by historical writer Paul Andrews, click BOOKS.