Surely you have heard of the apocryphal gospels and you may have been interested in some of the stories they explain and which often complement what the canonical gospels tell us. At some point in history someone decided that certain writings were outside the Canon and in Supercurioso we wanted to find out more about the apocryphal gospels, why are they considered so?
The term "apocryphal" comes from the Greek "από" which means "far" and "κρυφος", "occult" and which passed into Latin as "apocryphus". From the original meaning that was "hide away" derived into "hidden" or "dark". Today it means "assumed", "pretended" or "fabulous" and gives us a sense of falsehood.
The Apocryphal Gospels
"Apocryphal" was added as an adjective to the word Gospel and applied to all those writings that arose during the first centuries of Christianity speaking of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, with a name or characteristics similar to those of the canonical texts, but which were not recognized as part of the Holy Scriptures. First they designated the gospels of Gnostic communities that had hidden messages that could only be understood by the initiated and later applied to all similar writings that were not accepted in the New Testament canon. The canons are different for Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, but very similar.
If they were called "gospels" it is because of their formal similarity to the four canonical gospels. In general they differ from those accepted in their style and also in their content and were dismissed by the Christian communities.
What is the difference between the apocryphal gospels and the canonicals?
The first difference that is usually mentioned is the temperate and unadorned style of preaching reflected in the canons and the abundant fantasy that is given in the apocryphal gospels.
The second is that they transmit mysterious teachings reserved to small or very different groups from those embodied in the canonical Gospels.
Thirdly, it is often mentioned that unlike the canonicals, in the apocryphal gospels much emphasis is placed on the authorship of the writing; Philip, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, etc., seeking that with that name as support are more readily accepted.
Despite not having entered the canon, the apocryphal gospels have had much more influence than you imagine on Christian iconography. We will give you 6 examples that may surprise you about traditions that only appear in them and not in canonical texts.
- The names of the Virgin's parents, who have become saints, only appear in the apocrypha: Joachim and Anne. It appeared for the first time in the apocryphal "Gospel of James".
Giotto, Encounter of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim in the Golden Door (1305)
- The name of The Three Wise Men: Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar . They didn't meet until the 5th century. At that time they appeared among other texts in the "Armenian Gospel of the Childhood of Jesus".
- The ox and the donkey present in the manger where Jesus was born.
- The name of the good thief "Dimas" and the bad thief "Gestas". They do not appear in the canonical Gospels, but only in the apocrypha; in this case in the "Gospel of Nicodemus" or in the "Proto-Gospel of James".
- The tradition of Veronica that has its place in the Way of the Cross comes from the "Gospel of Nicodemus".
- Longinus, the name of the centurion who with his spear pierced the side of Jesus when he was on the cross, was taken from the "Gospel of Nicodemus" also known as "Acta Pilati".
San Joaquín, Santa Ana, San Longinos or Santa Verónica are characters that are not directly mentioned in the canonical Gospels. Did you know that all these traditions had been extracted from the apocryphal Gospels? If you want to know more about some of them we invite you to read: The apocryphal gospel that tells the story of Jesus' childhood. What's the story? o How is Peter's Gospel different from the others? Why was it discarded?