There is a prevalent myth among both Christians and Muslims that the early Christian church was monolithic. This myth is far from the historical truth. In fact, each church, e.g., at Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, Rome, Lyons, etc. was fairly independent from every other church. Each and every church had its own bishop or leader, its own doctrinal and theological preferences, and its own set of recognized scripture.

In that sense, there was no “orthodox” set of Christian beliefs in the first few centuries of Christianity.

Likewise, several centuries would pass before there was a universally accepted canon of scripture within Christianity. Early on, each church determined its own dogma and recognized its own scripture, independently from what any other church had decided. However, beginning in the fourth century CE, this state of affairs began to change quite radically, with such change being ushered in by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. (Danielou J, Marrou H, 1964)

At Nicaea, orthodox doctrine and creeds began to be established, and steps were taken to begin an authorized canon of scripture, which later became known as the New Testament. The process of arriving at a set and universally accepted canon of scripture was filled with rancor and dispute, and consumed the early Christian churches for the next couple of centuries.

At the end of this process, the canon of New Testament scriptures that finally emerged represented only a very small selection of the voluminous Christian writings that were regarded as scriptural by this or that early Christian church.

As presently constituted, the New Testament consists of 27 books, of which four are classified as gospels. Those books, which were not included within the New Testament canon, but which were once part and parcel of early Christianity, were dubbed apocryphal.

To give the reader an indication of just how much early Christian writing came to be regarded as apocryphal, the author has included in below, a partial listing of apocryphal gospels, not all of which continue to exist.! The list, obviously does not include apocryphal epistles, acts, apocalypses, etc., but only apocryphal gospels. The list would have been greatly enlarged if these other types of apocryphal writings were to be included:

A list of Apocryphal Gospels

  1. The Dialogue of the Savior
  2. The Gospel of Andrew
  3. The Gospel of Apelles
  4. The Gospel of Bardesanes
  5. The Gospel of Barnabas
  6. The Gospel of Bartholomew
  7. The Gospel of Basilides
  8. The Gospel of the Birth of Mary
  9. The Gospel of Cerinthus
  10. The Gospel of Eve
  11. The Gospel of the Ebionites
  12. The Gospel of the Egyptians
  13. The Gospel of the Encratites
  14. The Gospel of the Four Heavenly Regions
  15. The Gospel of the Hebrews
  16. The Gospel of Hesychius
  17. The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ
  18. The Gospel of Judas Iscariot
  19. The Gospel of Jude
  20. The Gospel of Marcion
  21. The Gospel of Mani
  22. The Gospel of Mary
  23. The Gospel of Matthias
  24. The Gospel of Merinthus
  25. The Gospel According to the Nazarenes
  26. The Gospel of Nicodemus
  27. The Gospel of Perfection
  28. The Gospel of Peter
  29. The Gospel of Philip
  30. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
  31. The Gospel of Scythianus
  32. The Gospel of the Seventy
  33. The Gospel of Thaddaeus
  34. The Gospel of Thomas
  35. The Gospel of Titan
  36. The Gospel of Truth
  37. The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles
  38. The Gospel of Valentinus
  39. The Protevangelion of James
  40. The Secret Gospel of Mark
  41. Thomas’s Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ

As noted earlier, The above list of 41 books, and is still not a complete listing of even the apocryphal gospels, much less of other types of apocryphal books. In marked contrast, the New Testament canon includes only FOUR gospels, i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The contrast is quite dramatic, and illustrates the wealth of early Christian scripture, which the early Christian church found convenient to ignore, ban, or destroy, once it began its campaign to construct a unified dogma, theology, and set of beliefs.

In short, only four of over 45 gospels found their way into the New Testament, a meager 9% of what was possible.