The Lost Gospels (4 of 4)

Please have a look at part 1, part 2 and part 3 before reading this.

In this post you’ll find other material not directly answering issues raised by the documentary:

  • Differences between the Gnostic gospels and the canonical gospels:
    • The Gnostic gospels lift Jesus out of the concrete specifics of time and place, whereas the canonical gospels are biographical.
    • The Gnostic gospels lack a connection with the OT, while the canonical gospels are closely intertwined with it. The Gnostic texts don’t engage with the Jewish roots of Christianity, and when they do, it is usually negative.
    • The god of the Gnostics isn’t the God of Israel. The material world is the work of a demiurge, and Jesus comes as an emissary of the true deity.
    • The canonical gospels have their narrative embedded in a verifiable historical context. Gnostic gospels neither preserve real historical references, neither are they concerned to.
  • Did the four gospels come before the alternatives, or were they a reaction to the alternatives?
    • Scholars are divided. However, the Gnostic gospels augment and transcend the teaching in the canonical gospels, so it is reasonable to conclude that they came later. With that view, the church simply confirmed those texts that had previously been recognised as authoritative.
  • Most of the alternative texts in their present form date to the early to mid-2nd century, making them later than the canonical texts, which all date to the 1st century. The only exception is the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.
  • Even if the alternative texts had an early date, they would still be in opposition to traditional Christianity. They have a different view of:
    • God and creation, including a non-monotheistic view of God;
    • the person of Jesus, His death and resurrection;
    • salvation.
  • How did Christians know what to believe before books were written? They inherited a robust oral tradition from the Jews. They also used hymns and rites, such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Before there was a New Testament, there still was an apostolic theology. The New Testament is therefore a written account of this apostolic theology.

Conclusion

If you have some time to spare, use your favourite search engine to look up some of the Gnostic texts. The gospels of Thomas and Judas are fairly brief, so I’d recommend those. While you’re at it have a look at the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache, just to be balanced. Hopefully you’ll be able to appreciate the differences between these works and what we have in the Bible, and to have an idea of why the early church didn’t include them in the canon.

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