I have been reading a fairly old book “The Lost Books of the Bible” that is a collection of books from much longer ago. So far I have read, “The Gospel of the Birth of Mary,” “The Protoevangelium,” “The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ,” “Thomas Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ,” “The Epistles of Jesus Christ and Abgarus King of Edessa,” and presently in “The Gospel of Nicodemus.”
One surprising things I found was that the collection was compiled in 1926. What I found surprising is that the compiler sets a strong line of demarcation between the canonical books of the New Testament and these books. Based on the title, I was expecting the compiler/editor to be seeking to “muddy the waters.” That is, based on the title, I thought the editor was promoting the idea that the present Bible was a collection of “the winners” with other books equal in reliability but kept out or lost for some reason. However, the editor makes it clear that the books of the New Testament not only have a historical basis for superiority but a textual superiority as well. For the editor, this did not suggest that the “lost books” should be ignored. Rather, one should read these books oneself and decide for oneself.
It is interesting to read these other gospels. They serve as “miracle dumps.” That is, they focus on miraculous signs. In the Four Gospels, miracles by Jesus tend to serve three purposes—- a sign of Jesus’s identity, demonstration of His compassion, and serve as a foundation for His message. The “Lost Gospels” are all about signs. A few of the miracles also point to the compassion of Jesus. However, none seem to serve as a foundation for His message (as far as I see). Strangely, some of them show Jesus very negatively— doing miracles seemingly on a whim, and sometimes as a powerful tyrant.
In these, especially the Infancy Gospels, it is pretty clear that the storyteller is struggling with Jesus as God versus Jesus as Man. Thus, in some stories, Jesus is talking like an adult while still an infant, and not needing any instruction. On the other hand, in some, Jesus is a spoiled child who harms others (miraculously) who harm Him.
From this, we see an interesting quality to many of these writings is that they often feel a bit as if they are serving as a midrash. A midrash is a commentary on a Biblical (Hebrew Bible) story. Sometimes they are works of speculative fiction. As such, they are not seeking to replace the Scriptural text, but instead seeks to address questions that a student of the NT scriptures would have. That makes some of these “lost books” works of speculative theology.
In recent years, people have banked on the ignorance of Christian and non-Christian alike regarding early Christianity. That has led to an awful lot of confusion about what early Christians believed. It is best for us to read them ourselves. While there are certainly works from the early centuries that would be described as heretical works, most are works of sincere Christians dealing with both Scripture and Experience.
We gain from learning from them through their writings… understanding that they are dealing with issues very different from our own in many ways, and very much like our own in others.