A couple of months ago, I had a keen interest in the Gnostic Christian writings. Many of them sounded weird but some really did catch my interest. Those that caught my interest include the “Protoevagelion of James”, “Arabic Infancy Gospel”, “Acts of Thomas” and “Gospel of Nicodemus”. Now let me tell you why. The Protoevangelion of James seems to explain some missing parts of the New Testament without any contradiction to the canonical gospels. It talks about Mary’s and Joseph’s life. Mary was a 16 year old who was married legally to an old man Joseph who didn’t want to marry but was forced to. He already had kids including James. The Arabic Infancy Gospel provides interesting details about the childhood of Jesus, but I’m not sure if it contradicts the canonical gospel because I have not read it completely.
Acts of Thomas talks about the mission of Apostle Thomas who preached in the southern part of India and it doesn’t contradict with the canons. It could have been written by Thomas himself.
The Gospel of Nicodemus sounds pretty authentic too.
I know there are many fake Christian writings by the heretic Gnostics out there, but can some of the books included in the Gnostic list (mainly those I mentioned above) be authentic stories?
We should be careful making too broad generalizations about the extra-biblical writings from the early church–including the so-called Gnostic writings. These vary vastly. There are Gnostic writings which are so blatantly Gnostic that no believer would give them “the time of day” as they say. For example, the “Gospel of Judas” is so ridiculously variant from the Christian teaching that, although this document is very interesting from an historical perspective, no serious person would consider it a Christian document. It is so obviously more influenced by Gnosticism than by the actual gospel message, we can simply dismiss it out of hand. The author was not even trying to fool his readers into thinking that this was a “real” gospel. There are other gnostic writings in which the author seems to be making more effort to make his letter be Christian-like. Yet, anyone with much experience in the New Testament will find it fishy immediately. An example is the Gospel of Thomas. It has some of the trappings of genuine scripture. Many of the words it puts in Jesus’ mouth sound like something he might have said. But then, there are some things which are way off, such as the misogynistic statement about Mary that she is not qualified for salvation because she is not a man. This writing is Christian-like, but is detectably influenced by Gnosticism. Then there are other letters whose genuineness are not blatantly decided based on simple reading of the content. There is little if any blatantly unchristian content. This would include the Letter of Clement of Rome or the Didache. These are rejected as inspired for two reasons. 1. Because the primitive church did not accept them as inspired. and 2. Although these are not obviously non-Christian, they do not rise to the level of inspiration because the quality of the writing is not high enough or because there is something questionable. For example the Didache has people being immersed three times and being annointed with oil in a baptism.
As for your examples, in my opinion, they are most likely in the middle category. The story of Mary and Joseph in the Protoevangelium of James (also known as the Infancy Gospel of James) is very suspect. The infancy stories about Jesus are almost certainly not true. These stories are rather obviously made up as nice little fantasies, but there is no evidence from the writings of the apostles of their close companions that any of these supposed childhood miracles are true. Scholars believe that this particular letter is fairly early–from the mid-second century, but we cannot take these miracles stories seriously. In fact, John tells us that the water-to-wine miracle is the first of Jesus’ miracles.
More or less the same can be said for the Arab Infancy Gospel and the Acts of Thomas. In the Arab Infancy Gospel there is the quaint (but thoroughly unbelievable) story: He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom you have brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to you; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world. Sorry, but we cannot take this to be serious literature. It is quite obviously a myth. In fact this myth also found itself into the Gospel of Thomas.
As for the Gospel of Nicodemus, if you say that it appears to be authentic, then I would challenge you to be a bit more skeptical. This is not a high quality document at all compared to the canonical writings. It is a compilation of various materials, with no central theme, including rather obviously made-up stories about Pilate.
For example in the “Gospel” of Nicodemus there is this scene when Jesus walks in before Pilate: Now when Jesus entered in, and the ensigns were holding the standards, the images (busts) of the standards bowed and did reverence to Jesus. And when the Jews saw the carriage of the standards, how they bowed themselves and did reverence unto Jesus, they cried out above measure against the ensigns. But Pilate said unto the Jews: Marvel ye not that the images bowed themselves and did reverence unto Jesus. The Jews say unto Pilate: We saw how the ensigns made them to bow and did reverence to him. And the governor called for the ensigns and saith unto them: Wherefore did ye so? They say unto Pilate: We are Greeks and servers of temples, and how could we do him reverence? for indeed, whilst we held the images they bowed of themselves and did reverence unto him.
Then saith Pilate unto the rulers of the synagogue and the elders of the people: Choose you out able and strong men and let them hold the standards, and let us see if they bow of themselves. And the elders of the Jews took twelve men strong and able and made them to hold the standards by sixes, and they were set before the judgement-seat of the governor; and Pilate said to the messenger: Take him out of the judgement hall (praetorium) and bring him in again after what manner thou wilt. And Jesus went out of the judgement hall, he and the messenger. And Pilate called unto him them that before held the image and said unto them: I have sworn by the safety of Caesar that if the standards bow not when Jesus entereth in, I will cut off your heads.
And the governor commanded Jesus to enter in the second time. And the messenger did after the former manner and besought Jesus much that he would walk upon his kerchief; and he walked upon it and entered in. And when he had entered, the standards bowed themselves again and did reverence unto Jesus.
(Taken from a translation at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelnicodemus.html). This is a quaint little story, but we cannot take this seriously. By the way, scholars believe that the Gospel of Barnabas was put together in the fourth century. It is orthodox, in that there is no heretical theology here, but we cannot take this document seriously.
It is fun and interesting to read the extra-biblical writings, but to me they do more to increase my faith than to challenge it because ALL of these, though they vary widely in quality and how far they deviate from true Christianity, all of them are of vastly inferior in both quality of writing and in evidence for inspiration. All of them have teachings incompatible with Christian doctrines or practice, or contain clearly mythical stories, created for a fairly incredulous audience. Hopefully, we will not be so easily manipulated into thinking that these may be inspired writings.