How do we know that the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is not authentic?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: What is the Gospel of pseudo-Matthew and how so we know it's not authentic/reliable? thanks. (No profile data)

Answer: Greetings Friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries, and thank you for bringing this question to us... although I wish you had filled out your profile more completely. It would be helpful to know if you are a skeptic, a believer or a neutral passer-by. But since you are interested in this book’s authenticity, I’ll answer as though you are a biblically-literate Christian.

So, what would I say to a Bible-believing Christian — or someone who is at least culturally familiar with the 66 books of the Bible — who is wondering if the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew should have been included in the canon? Just read the English translation for yourself! If you are a person who reads your Bible with any regularity, the simple exercise of reading Pseudo-Matthew will provide the answer.

(You can find the entire text of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew at the following link:

Mary Jane Chaignot has written an approachable article on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Since her introduction also gives an overview, I’d like to start with her description of the book.

This gospel has also been known as The Infancy Gospel of Matthew, but apparently its original title was "The Book about the Origin of the Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior." Now it is called the Pseudo Gospel because scholars are in agreement that its original author was not the evangelist known as Matthew. This text primarily repeats the earlier stories contained in the Infancy Gospel of James, which focused on the birth and dedication of Mary. To that is added the story of the flight to Egypt. Obviously, this gospel was very important to the Coptic [Egyptian] Church. It ends with repetition from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. One notable addition to the birth stories is the placement of the ox and donkey at the nativity. In Luke's version, there were only shepherds with the possibility of sheep in attendance. Yet, in many modern nativity sets, an ox and donkey are included. This is their source.

I’ve included a small sampling of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew below this paragraph. After I read this section, a thought came to me: we should add dragons to our nativity scenes! That way, our churches might attract people who like the game Dungeons & Dragons. So, read this section and then tell me what you think.

[Chapter 17] Now the day before this was done Joseph was warned in his sleep by the angel of the Lord, who said to him: Take Mary and the child, and go into Egypt by the way of the desert. And Joseph went according to the saying of the angel.

[Chapter 18] And having come to a certain cave, and wishing to rest in it, the blessed Mary dismounted from her beast, and sat down with the child Jesus in her bosom. And there were with Joseph three boys, and with Mary a girl, going on the journey along with them. And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired. Then was fulfilled that which was said by David the prophet, saying: Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons; ye dragons, and all ye deeps. And the young child Jesus, walking before them, commanded them to hurt no man. But Mary and Joseph were very much afraid lest the child should be hurt by the dragons. And Jesus said to them: Do not be afraid, and do not consider me to be a little child; for I am and always have been perfect; and all the beasts of the forest must needs be tame before me.

Well... maybe we should pass on those nativity dragons. You can tell by the tone and the details that these are fanciful legends, not Scripture — and it’s like the writers couldn’t restrain themselves! The Bible has accounts of Jesus’ birth, and it has a lot of information about him as an adult. But it only has one story of him in adolescence. That leaves a huge exploitable gap in the narrative... and such a gap is the perfect place to insert false histories. This is where extra-biblical traditions about Jesus, Mary and their family come from... although extra-biblical means un-biblical in this case.

People often take shots at the biblical canon... saying that a "committee" picked out the books... and that such a method is definitively arbitrary and, therefore, prone to error... and since that’s the case, there’s no reason why other documents like the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew shouldn’t be in the Bible too.

But this premise is simply not true. No “committee” picked out the canon. It picked out itself.

In the first few centuries after Christ, scholars had many Scripture-sounding (or Bible-tasting) documents contending for the canon, but only 66 proved themselves worthy of inclusion in God’s special revelation... what we now call the Bible. These books made themselves known as God’s word... floating to the top (if you will) ... while books like the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew did not... and after reading it, you can probably see why.

I have much more to say about this topic, but I don’t want to do that here. You see, I’ve already answered a parallel question about the Gospel of Bartholomew... and most of the issues are the same. So, rather than just regurgitating my previous work, I’ll give you a link to that answer. Then you can explore more about those extra-canonical works at your leisure. Here’s that link:

I pray this answer has helped to give you even more confidence in the Scripture. God bless you.

(Note to reader: A questioner sometimes asks follow-up questions, and this is one of those times.)

Question: Hello. Thanks for your response — and yes I am a believer! I had a few follow up questions. You say "Now it is called the Pseudo Gospel because scholars are in agreement that its original author was not the evangelist known as Matthew" How do the people who put together the bible/ scholars know who is the author of each book and how do they verify it? Also- with all due respect to the Bible, why is it "weird " for lack of a better word about dragons and them responding to Jesus, who does have supernatural abilities, rather than Jonah being swallowed up by a big fish? Why is one considered genuine and canonical and one not? Thank you!

Answer: Hello again friend (and fellow believer!)

Your questions have to do with “textual criticism” which is (sort of) one of the “advanced” Christian disciplines... and I use the word “advanced” because, if a believer is not secure in the right things concerning the basis of his or her faith, then textual criticism could turn them apostate.

For example, King James Onlyism does not fair well under textual criticism. People who have faith in the wrong thing — that is, that this one version is God’s only inspired and true revelation — must select from an equally rigid critical method which chafes against the most current document finds. Here are two links to articles that tell how textual criticism works.

In general terms, the more data scholars can get about an ancient book, the more accurate their textual criticisms, and as the books get older, the data tends to get thinner... and one of those thin places is authorship. We simply don’t know who wrote many of the Bible’s books (like Hebrews), but this doesn’t stop the books from being God’s inspired word. Unless the text of the book — not the title of the book — identifies the author (1 Corinthians 16:21), we are just taking educated guesses.

So, what does this mean? Authorship is certainly important... but it’s not a deal-breaker for believing in an inspired and an inerrant word of God — and that’s a good thing. You see, we’re not even sure of the authorship of the Gospel of Mark — and Matthew and Luke used that text for information to write their gospels! It’s just tradition that we assign the authorship to John Mark — and it may be true. But the fact that tradition might have it wrong does not affect whether or not the text is the text God wants us to have.

The link above is about Bible book authorship... and notice the emphasis on “traditional” author assignment. If scholars discovered that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, it would still be the inspired word of God. I agree with you that authorship is important. But do not put too much pressure on what are often mere traditional assignments of authorship.

So, unless the authorship information is in the text, treat it as you would information in a commentary. A commentary may be right or it may be wrong... but what the commentaries say about the Bible has no bearing on whether the content of the Bible is inspired.

Concerning the last part of your question — Jonah versus the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew — where you asked, “Why is one considered genuine and canonical and one not?” I answered that the last time when I sent you a link to my answer about the Gospel of Bartholomew. Since you are asking that again, I’m wondering if you forgot to read it or if the link didn’t work. Here it is again.

I pray that all this helped to clarify some issues.

Question: So when a book is named by a person like Ruth or Luke then we know the author because it said so in the original text/copy?

Answer: Nope... you’re still missing it.

The Book of Ruth is about Ruth... it's not by Ruth. Nowhere in the text does it say that Ruth was the one writing the book. It is traditionally ascribed to Samuel... but we're not even sure about that. Remember, in their original forms, these books did not have titles. They just had text. Over the years people added the titles in front of the text for easy ID of the text, but these titles were extra-textual and often wrong.

The problem is that since they are "in" the Bible, people (like me) who believe in biblical inerrancy might think that they must relay accurate information. But the titles do not come under the inerrancy umbrella. Only the text does... and that's only the original text in the original language.

Most Christians ascribe the authorship of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts to Luke. But again, this is only a tradition. Luke nowhere describes himself as the author. In Acts, however, there are some "we" passages where the author describes himself as getting in on the action (like Acts 16:10-17)... and many people just assume that's Luke. But he never self-identified as the writer like the Apostle John did in Revelation. Here he identifies himself as the one who was in the action and as the one doing the writing.

“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.” (Revelation 22:8, NIV)"I John saw..."

When I teach or preach, unless it's an issue concerning textual criticism — and this question does concern textual criticism — I “agree” with the traditional assignments of authorship by not challenging them. I just get on with my lesson.

You see, in ancient literature like the Bible, the story is what's important... not the author. The story is the basic communicative and organizational unit, and since many Old Testament stories came from an oral tradition, they were fluid in their transmission. But God made sure to preserve the stories he wanted us to have in a written form we can use today. What he didn’t do was “inspire” the add-ons like glosses (which marginal notes) or titles. These we tacked on for purposes of identifying the stories, and they still perform that function even when they are wrong.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew— consider doing so at the following link: 20200323 Textual criticism and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew).

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