The Lost Gospels (1 of 4)

One sunny Saturday morning last month, I found my brother watching the BBC documentary The Lost Gospels when I went down for breakfast. I wasn’t interested, and probably had other things to do, so I left him to it. Four or five days later while looking for something else on the internet, I found a website with audio resources on the lost gospels, and this blog post was born.

I watched the 90-minute documentary (watch on Google Video or on YouTube), read the gospels of Thomas and Judas online and listened to over four hours of interviews and lectures (Richard Bauckham’s lecture The Four Gospels and The Other Gospels; a conversation with Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace and Hall Harris; one long interview and a second shorter interview with Darrell Bock). I also read some of Darrell Bock’s The Missing Gospels on Google Books.

If you can’t be bothered with all that, here’s a lamentably incomplete liveblog of the documentary.

Following are some statements made in the documentary, and the response from evangelical scholars, where available, as well as my own thoughts [in square brackets].

Christianity would have been very different, or wouldn’t have survived had these alternative texts not been discarded.

[True, only if you discount the power of God to preserve His word. (The scholars didn’t explicitly address this. They weren’t responding to this documentary :)) ]

The Gospel of Thomas, which probably dates back to the 1st century, was excluded because of its first line: “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.” The early church objected to the secrecy of the sayings.

According to the Gnostics, the human problem was about finding the divine spark within you, which is done through gaining secret knowledge. The early church saw that this was in contrast with orthodox teaching on sin and the need for a Saviour.

The Gnostic gospels were excluded because they offered no assurance in the face of persecution. The early church found a model for suffering in Christ’s suffering.

[Another point not addressed by the scholars. The way it was presented in the documentary made it sound like Christians had masochistic tendencies and wanted to suffer. The reason Christ’s suffering is important is because that is how He atoned for our sin. The Gnostic gospels deny His work on the cross, in contrast with orthodoxy. That said, Christ did leave us a model for perseverance under unjust suffering.]

The Gnostic gospels have a different portrayal of women as compared to the canonical gospels. In the Gospel of Mary, for example, Mary Magdalene is a part of the core group of disciples. The Gospel of Philip alludes to a possible physical relationship between Mary and Jesus, but that portion of the scroll has been eaten away.

Had Jesus been married, why didn’t the authors of the canonical gospels tell us about it? It would have been hard to keep a relationship of that kind secret. [I must say that I find this answer rather unsatisfying.]

All posts in this series