New Testament Apocrypha - Infancy Gospels

Text: II Peter 1:13-21

 

I.         Reasons for existence

            A.        Promotion of a false doctrine because support cannot be found in the Scriptures

            B.        Gaps led to speculation

                        1.         Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ childhood was like? So have many others, which has lead to infancy gospels to tell us what people imagined his childhood was like

                        2.         What happened to Joseph?

                        3.         What happened to Mary after Jesus’ death?

                        4.         What happened to the other apostles?

                        5.         Depending on how it is read, some suppose that Paul wrote three letters to the Corinthians

II.        Infancy Gospels

            A.        Infancy Gospel of James

                        1.         Dating

                                    a.         Written about AD 145.

                                    b.         First mentioned by Origen of Alexandra in the early 3rd century, who said it was a recent work of dubious character.

                                    c.         “"But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or "The Book of James," that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end, so that that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word which said, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee," might not know intercourse with a man after that the Holy Ghost came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity." [Origen of Alexandria. "The Brethren of Jesus". Origen's Commentary on Matthew 10.17].

                        2.         Claims to be written by James from Jerusalem.

                                    a.         Can’t be the apostle James since he died in Acts 12, around AD 42; yet, the Infancy Gospel of James clearly borrows and elaborates on Matthew and Luke’s accounts which hadn’t been written at this time.

                                    b.         Perhaps a claim to be James, the Lord’s brother, but secular history puts his death at AD 62, which again is a bit too early when things are based on Luke.

                        3.         Content

                                    a.         Three parts

                                                (1)       The birth of Mary to Joachim and Anna in their old age, her childhood and dedication to the temple

                                                (2)       Starting at age 12, how an angel has lots used to select Joseph to be her husband

                                                (3)       The nativity of Jesus, the visit of midwives, hiding Jesus from Herod the Great, hiding John the Baptist from Herod Antipas.

                                    b.         Presents Mary as a perpetual virgin.

                                    c.         States that Joseph was a widower with children.

                                                (1)       Have you thought of the difficulty presented if Joseph had children before marrying Mary?

                                                            (a)       Jesus would not be first born, so he would not inherit the kingship through Joseph

                                                            (b)       How could the other children of Joseph be the Lord’s brothers and sisters if they had different fathers and different mothers?

                        4.         Problems

                                    a.         Joachim’s offering is rejected because he had no children.

                                    b.         Anna and her maid Judith know it is time for Jesus’ coming, as if it was common knowledge.

                                    c.         Borrows from the birth of John (elderly childless couple)

                                    d.         Borrows from the birth of Samuel (prayer for a child and dedication to God)

                                    e.         Has an angel appearing to Zacharias as Mary is presented to the temple at the age of 3 (if true, then Zacharias should not have had problems with the angel later at his son’s birth).

                                    f.         Gnostic ideas

                                                (1)       Mary not allowed to walk on the earth, so as not to be defiled

                                    g.         Has both Joseph and Mary take the trial for adultery

                                                (1)       Though that trial in Numbers was used for a wife accused by her husband and only she took the bitter water (conclusion is that the author was not Jewish).

                                                (2)       Conflicts with Matthew’s statement that Joseph wanted to put Mary way quietly

                                    h.         Has Herod searching for John to kill (how does he know who John is?)

                                                (1)       Zacharias is murdered protecting John.

                                                (2)       Doesn’t appear to know that Jesus and John were in different places.

                                                (3)       Even though Joseph is in the middle of Judea, he asks around for a Hebrew midwife and the woman makes sure he is an Israelite before she accepts. Hmm.

                                    i.         Borrows characters from the Gospels and reassigns roles, such as Salome is Mary’s midwife.

                                                (1)       All names are unqualified. For example, James and Salome are common names, but it doesn’t try to tell us which one.

                                    j.         Only place names are Judea, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

                        5.         This is where the Roman Catholics get much of their mysticism regarding Mary. But the book itself is rejected by the Roman Catholic church

                                    a.         Their own writings state that the Infancy Gospel of James "is based on the canonical gospels which it expands with legendary and imaginative elements, which are sometimes puerile or fantastic." [The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 607. ]

                                    b.         The book "was condemned in the western church by Pope Damascus (382), Innocent I (405) and by the Decreturn Gelasianum (496?)." [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 198]

            B.        Infancy Gospel of Thomas

                        1.         Dating

                                    a.         Mid second century

                                    b.         First mentioned by Irenaeus of Lyon, about AD 185 as part of a list of unreliable, unaccepted writings

                                    c.         Borrows from Luke’s account of Jesus in the Temple

                                    d.         Manuscripts are old (13th century and later)

                        2.         Content

                                    a.         Relates the purported miracles of Jesus before the age of 12.

                                    b.         There are large variations in versions

                                    c.         Describes Jesus as a trickster, infinitely wise yet cruel

                                                (1)       Kills one child for scattering his water

                                                (2)       Kills another who bumps him (or throws a stone at him– depends on the version)

                                                (3)       Blinds neighbors when they complain

                                                (4)       Scolds Joseph for punishing him for his mischief

                        3.         Problems

                                    a.         Miracles before Jesus first miracle at Cana - John 2

                                    b.         Has miracles being done in Nazareth, contradicting Luke 4 where it is mentioned they thought of Jesus only as the carpenter’s son

                                    c.         Has Jesus acting out of revenge, contrary to Romans 12:17ff

                                    d.         Mistakes about Jewish life and customs

                                    e.         Rejected by Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Origen as heretical

                                    f.         Thomas is called “Thomas the Israelite” – not a good qualifier

                                                (1)       Only non-biblical name is Zeno. Most characters are unnamed

                                                (2)       Only place name mentioned is Jerusalem, picked up from Luke 2

            C.        The Life of John the Baptist

                        1.         Believed to be written by Serapion, the bishop of Thmuis in AD 385-390.

                                    a.         Mentions Pope Theophilus who died AD 412.

                        2.         Content

                                    a.         A retelling of the Gospel account of Luke and Matthew but also borrows heavily from the Infancy Gospel of James

                        3.         Problems

                                    a.         Moves John’s home from southern Judea to Bethlehem (solving problem of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the killing of the infants)

                                    b.         Has Elizabeth fleeing with John and Zacharias staying behind to become a martyr.

                                                (1)       Still doesn’t explain how Herod is even aware of John.

                                                (2)       By the way, this is down to explain Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:35.

                                    c.         Has the killing of infants wide spread instead of in a small region.

                                    d.         Anachronism:

                                                (1)       mentions the lack of a monastery of monks in the wilderness

                                                (2)       Has the sign of the cross done over Elizabeth as she is buried

                                    e.         Gets the children of Herod named wrong and mixed up (not hard to do).

                                                (1)       Has Herodias married to Herod the Younger instead of Herod Antipas who said to have a stroke when John’s head flies away.

                                                            (a)       The head, by the way, flies for 3 years over Jerusalem proclaiming that it was not lawful for Herod to have married Philip’s wife

                                                            (b)       Herodias supposedly dies by the earth swallowing her up to her neck, but history tells us she died in exile with her husband Herod Antipas

                                                (2)       Also gets the name of Herodias’ daughter wrong according to what Josephus records, calling her Uxoriana instead of Salome. [Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5,4].

                                                            (a)       The daughter supposedly dies by falling through ice up to her neck. History tells us she married another of Herod’s descendants, also named Philip

            D.        Infancy Gospel of Matthew (actually a composite of the first two).

                        1.         Also known as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior

                        2.         It was popular during the middle ages.

                        3.         Dating

                                    a.         Written between AD 600 and 625. Some date it later to the 8th or 9th centuries.

                        4.         Content

                                    a.         Starts with a series of letters between Jerome and the bishops Comatius and Heliodorus where a request is made that Jerome translate a work of Matthew concerning Mary’s birth and Jesus’ childhood.

                                                (1)       The problem is that the letters purported to be from Jerome do not reflect his style of writing

                                                (2)       The letters indicate a late writing of this document.

                                    b.         Supposedly translated from Hebrew, though we know that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek.

                                    c.         It contains the Infancy Gospel of James, followed by an account of the flight into Egypt, and ending with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

            E.        Syriac Infancy Gospel

                        1.         Believed to have been written in the fifth or sixth century

                        2.         It is based on the Infancy Gospel of Matthew

                        3.         It has Jesus speaking as an infant from the cradle. This story is repeated in the Qur’an (Surah 19:29-34) but with different words.

            F.        The History of Joseph the Carpenter

                        1.         Believed to have been written in the sixth or seventh century

                        2.         Written in Greek, but the only surviving copies are an Arabic translation and a Coptic translation

                        3.         A retelling of the Infancy Gospel of James

III.       Why do we care?

            A.        These documents are were several Roman Catholic beliefs are introduced

                        1.         The idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin is traced back to the Infancy Gospel of James

                        2.         The idea that Joseph was a widower and that the other siblings of Jesus were from the first marriage comes from the Infancy Gospel of James

                        3.         Miracles of Jesus in childhood comes from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

            B.        We can see the stories building as one author borrows from the prior authors

            C.        Even though they are recognized to be false works, still the myths introduced became a part of Catholic tradition - II Timothy 4:3-4

            D.        When God is silent, people have a strong tendency to fill in the gap with their imagination. We don’t want to fall into that trap.

                        1.         The Bible is not an evolving fairy tale as some wish to claim.