The Gospels that most people know about are Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s and John’s. In reality, in the early “days” of Christianity, there were many Gospels: Gospel of Marcion, of Mani, of Apelles, of Bardesanes, of Basilides, of Thomas, of Peter, of Nicodemus, of Bartholomew and many more. All these Gospels are supposed to tell the same story: we would call it today the Biography of Jesus. But the word gospel means good news, and these books were supposed to divulge the message that Jesus himself was divulging as well. All these versions are not only justified by what different witnesses might have seen or heard, but also by which message they were trying to divulge. The Christian communities, the Churches, needed consistency from a theological perspective and also to help keeping the communities united.
The debate on which Gospels to consider canonical was on for three centuries. By the turn of the V century, the Catholic Church in the West, under Pope Innocent I, recognized a biblical canon including the four Gospels, which had been previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome in 382, the Synod of Hippo in 293 and two Synods of Carthage (397 and 419). This canon, which corresponds to the modern catholic Canon, was used in the Vulgate, an early V century translation of the Bible made by Jerome under the commission of Pope Damasus I in 382.
This is the first large scale standardisation exercise that the early Western Church conducted. The other Gospels soon became apocryphal: a Greek-origin word which means obscure, suspect, to be hidden away. Like Barth D. Ehrman said:
The victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers then naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning…. The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history….
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