What are the “lost Gospels”?
The term “lost Gospels” usually refers to ancient writings that were excluded from the New Testament, even though they included supposed recollections of events and teachings from the life of Jesus. A few of these lost Gospels have lasted throughout the centuries. Others survive only in tiny fragments of papyrus or in brief quotations found in the writings of early Christian scholars. Several lost Gospels were discovered anew in the past 100 years. Copies of some texts—such as Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, and Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians—were unearthed in 1945 in Egypt, near a village known as Nag Hammadi.
If a Gospel is defined as an ancient retelling of the events or teachings from Jesus’ life, there are fewer than thirty known Gospels. Unlike the New Testament Gospels, many of the lost Gospels record only isolated teachings or fragmentary incidents from the life of Jesus.
Why were the lost Gospels never included in the New Testament?
The lost Gospels were excluded because they did not include reliable, eyewitness testimony about Jesus. Some scholars today depict this decision as having been made by powerful church leaders in the fourth century, three centuries after the books in the New Testament were written. One such scholar claims that a letter from a powerful bishop, Athanasius of Alexandria, declared the list of authoritative books in AD 367. He claims,
Athanasius wrote his annual pastoral letter to the Egyptian churches under his jurisdiction, and in it he included advice concerning which books should be read as Scripture in the churches. He lists our twenty-seven books, excluding all others. This is the first surviving instance of anyone affirming our set of books as the New Testament. And even Athanasius did not settle the matter. Debates continued for decades, even centuries.
Each fact in this summary may be technically correct—though Michael Kruger has argued compellingly that the first surviving record of the current twenty-seven-book canon may be found much earlier. Yet it omits several key facts, leaving readers with these false impressions: (1) until the late fourth century, there was no consensus about which Christian writings were authoritative and true, and (2) even then, the church’s standard was simply the authoritative statement of a powerful bishop.
So when did Christians agree on which writings were authoritative for their congregations? And what was the standard for this decision? Even in the first century AD, testimony that came from apostolic eyewitnesses of the risen Lord was considered to be uniquely authoritative. When the apostles and their associates began to write, their written interpretations of the gospel were every bit as authoritative as their spoken instructions. “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter,” Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians, “take special note of that person and do not associate with him” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Before the end of the first century, Christians already referred to Paul’s writings as “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16), and Paul himself cited words that would become part of Luke’s Gospel as “Scripture” (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). Christians disagreed about whether a few texts in the New Testament could be clearly traced to apostolic eyewitnesses—but a clear standard existed from the very beginning. The lost Gospels were excluded because they couldn’t be clearly connected to persons who walked and talked with Jesus.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 36.