Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, “A Triumph and a Tragedy,” is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine, and a weekly guest on “Catholic Answers Live.”
A correspondent writes:
I’m just in need of a helping hand from you, because I’m in the middle of a debate with a muslim friend.
While we’re in the middle of discussion, he happen to addressed me with a question that blew me away, because I don’t have any idea on how I could tackle his question.
This is what he said, “Could you also tell me that there are hundreds of Gospels, then how come only four made it through the New Testament?”
I know that the “Books or Gospels” contained in the New Testament are all inspired by the Holy Spirit, but I think there are much more broader explanation regarding this matter.
I hope you could give me a helping hand regarding this subject Sir. I would really appreciate it if you could give me at least a brief explanation and answer regarding this.
The correspondent is correct that the canonical gospels are inspired by the Holy Spirit and false gospels aren’t. The question is how the Holy Spirit guided the Church into a recognition of which were inspired and which weren’t.
Here’s how that happened . . .
I don’t know that there are literally hundreds of gospels (that would mean 200 or more), but there are a large number of purported gospels that were written between A.D. 100 and A.D. 400. There may have been hundreds written back then (and people continue to crank out false gospels even today, like the Aquarian Gospel of Levi), but only a few dozen survive from those centuries.
The reason that they are not in the New Testament is that they are all fakes. The Church recognized them as such because (1) they often theologically contradicted the canonical gospels that had been passed down from the apostles and their associates and (2) they showed up out of nowhere, with no history of having been read in the churches down through the years.
The canonical gospels, by contrast, all date from the first century, they were written by the apostles or their associates, they were given to the first churches to read, and the churches read them all the way down through history. Also, the doctrine contained in them agreed with the doctrine passed down by the apostles to the bishops and handed on by them.
The later-written “gospels” thus were spotted as phonies because they had not been passed down like the others and they contained bad doctrine.
Eventually, as a warning to the faithful who might be confused by the new gospels, some of the early Church councils—like Rome in 382, Hippo in 393, and Carthage in 397 (among others)—published official canon lists naming the specific books of Scripture that had been handed down as sacred from the time of the apostles.
Incidentally, the image is Matthew 23:3-15 from an Arabic New Testament. (Note also that it reads from right to left.)
Hope this helps!