A primary criticism of the New Testament is that critics say that Christians intentionally left out and/or suppressed certain writings, primarily what we call the Gnostic Gospels and that they should be part of our New Testament and aren’t.
It isn’t just scholars who are affected by these views. Consider this quote:
“It seems to me that the only true Christians were the Gnostics, who believed in self-knowledge, i.e. becoming Christ themselves, reaching the Christ within, the light is the truth. Turn on the light.”
That was the opinion of John Lennon of the Beatles and this idea, along with many other New Age and alternate ideas about spiritual truth have caused many to doubt the solid foundation of our New Testament, which is the ONLY source that truly tells us both how to be saved by faith in Jesus AND how to live our lives after we accept Him as Savior in ways that are pleasing to Him.
But there are alternative voices, and ways to be saved and live a “spiritual” life. These ideas have been the inspiration of books and movies that promote the idea that you need to discover the “god within you” (without Jesus) and the Gnostic Gospels are the origin of where much of this comes from.
This lesson looks at a textual analysis of where they came from and why in every way they are not equal to the Gospels in our Bibles.
Included in the lesson are excerpts from them that will help you see how they have little in common with the true Gospels.
Below are links to the podcast, video, downloadable chart, and eBook mentioned in the lesson, plus a transcript/notes following them.
Do our Bibles leave out important writings
• Why are some books included in the New Testament and others aren’t?
• What is the Gospel of Thomas?
• What is Gnosticism and the Gnostic Gospels?
• These questions and more we’ll answer in our lesson today…..
How we got the New Testament,
Part 2—why the Gnostic Gospels aren’t part of it & implications for today
Teacher, Yvon Prehn, Bible805
A primary criticism of the New Testament
• Is that critics say that Christians intentionally left out and/or suppressed certain writings, primarily what we call the Gnostic Gospels and that they should be part of our New Testament and aren’t.
• We need to take their challenges seriously because our New Testament contains both how to be saved by faith in Jesus AND how to live our lives after we accept Him as Savior in ways that are pleasing to Him.
• But there are alternative voices, ways to be saved and live a “spiritual” life.
• The Gnostic Gospels are what we are going to look at because…
It isn’t just scholars who are influenced by them
• “It seems to me that the only true Christians were the Gnostics, who believed in self-knowledge, i.e. becoming Christ themselves, reaching the Christ within, the light is the truth. Turn on the light.”
• John Lennon
• The idea of God within you (without Jesus) is very popular today and…..
• Whether these books are part of the New Testament or not isn’t just a matter of scholarly trivia, but one that has immensely important consequences to individual lives.
A cautionary passage is in Matt. 7:15-24
• “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
• 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
• 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
What we see from this passage
• There are false prophets, and we should be able to identify them by “their fruits.”
• And Jesus goes on to state what fruit from a false prophet is—thinking that big, bragging actions, miracles even, are what makes you a Christian.
• And Jesus clearly says that isn’t it. It is KNOWING Him that makes an eternal, saving relationship.
• And how do we do that? The answer is right here and is very simple: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
The point is—to hear what Jesus has to say and put it into practice
• Your eternity depends on it as well as the peace and satisfaction of the life you are living now.
• KEY and why we are doing this lesson—this means you need to KNOW what the Bible says, what is truly the Bible and what isn’t and obey it.
• That includes NOT adding false teachings to it, making certain we have the right manuscripts that are from God.
• That is why what we are studying is so important—that we have the correct texts about Jesus.
• We’ve been studying the history of them and our next lesson will be on “Canonicity” being sure we have the correct books in our Bibles.
• In this lesson, we look at why certain ones are NOT in our Bibles.
Our plan for this lesson
• Review the foundation for it on why we have the documents we have in our New Testament.
• Brief summary of Gnosticism—basically the idea that special knowledge is required for salvation. Scientology is a contemporary example of this as well as a lot of popular sayings and images.
• How the Gnostic Gospels were found and an evaluation of them in the same way we evaluated the previous texts.
• We will look at them, you’ll have copies in your notes.
• How to apply what we’ve learned
In our last lesson
• We established the historical reliability of the New Testament documents—that they can be relied on to give us the true history of who Jesus was and what He did.
• We established our New Testament reliability from manuscript dating, from eyewitness accounts, the accounts of those who were not Christians, historians, politicians, and critics who wrote at the same time and shortly after Jesus’ life on earth.
• And we learned that the manuscript evidence was not only in a few fragments but in thousands of them.
• See the chart available on www.Bible805.com and with the notes for this lesson.
Conclusion of the lesson
• Please see it or listen to it (available at www.Bible805.com) for the complete verification of the truth of what we believe, but the conclusion is…..
• Based on irrefutable manuscript and historical evidence in our New Testaments—
• Jesus lived, did the miracles written about him, died, rose again, and offers eternal salvation who those who trust him as Savior.
• We then ask, Why aren’t the Gnostic Gospels, which also talk about Jesus, included?
• We’ll now look at them and see how different and they are in both textual history and content.
The Gnostic Gospels, what they are
• Primarily two groups of mostly poorly preserved fragments of manuscripts discovered during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by archaeologists at Oxyrhynchus and Nag Hammadi in Egypt. The manuscripts date from the 1st to the 6th century AD.
• These are the only places these are found—not copied and shared as the NT documents were.
• Only 1-4 (Gospel of Thomas) copies of each separate work exist.
• Various topics, some of the manuscripts tell a very different story about a different Jesus.
• And they then laid the foundation for ….
Liberal Scholars & Popular Culture
• Earlier popular translations of them and then…..
• Elaine Pagel’s Gnostic Gospels
• Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code
• Brought these manuscripts & beliefs into mainstream consciousness.
• Basic idea in both is that these discoveries and particularly 3 manuscripts: the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Thomas are Gnostic Gospels that tell the true story of the early church but were suppressed.
• Let’s evaluate them historically also.
Gospel of Thomas
• After the Coptic version of the complete text was discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, scholars soon realized that three different Greek text fragments previously found at Oxyrhynchus, also in Egypt, were part of the Gospel of Thomas.
• 3 Greek and one Coptic Manuscript
• Manuscripts from 200s to 340
• Unknown author
Gospel of Mary
• Evaluated and dated in the same way that we did other New Testament documents.
• The Gospel of Mary discovered in 1896 in a 5th-century papyrus codex.
• 3 fragments
• Written 120-180 AD
• Unknown author
Gospel of Judas
Textual Comparisons Summary
What is their content?
• Not at all like the 4 Gospels we have in our Bibles.
• Did not have that name early on; were NEVER listed with the traditional 4 Gospels, never grouped with them, never included and then suppressed.
• To call them “Gospels” are simply current (somewhat sensational) names given to them.
• Do not tell the story of Jesus as our 4 Gospels do; DO NOT cover his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
• Instead, primarily Gnostic stories and sayings.
• Let’s look at what that means….prepare for a headache……
What is Gnosticism?
• Gnosticism was a kind of Christian mysticism in the early centuries of Christianity.
• Gnostics got their name from “gnosis” or knowledge, that they believed could be gained of spiritual realities beyond material existence.
• Because the material world was subject to decay and death, they did not worship the same God as Jews and Christians but taught that He (the God of the Old Testament) was simply a lesser being, a corrupt and ignorant being trying to imitate higher, perfect beings who had created a higher, more perfect spiritual realm.
• Humans were conflicted and disordered because they had both spiritual and material realities conflicting inside them. Through gnosis, sacred understanding, human beings could transcend the flawed material universe and ascend to a spiritual realm.
• It then followed that a person needs a teacher or writings or a group that will give them the special secret knowledge they need to be enlightened and find the “god” within themselves.
That “secret” special knowledge
• Is what makes up the core belief of Gnosticism—that there is some special secret, and the secret is that that you don’t need an outside Savior, that all you need is to discover the “god within you” and that you need to be taught that
• However, certain enlightened individuals can know these secrets and pass them on and that is what Jesus did.
• “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down”
from the Gospel of Thomas
• We’ll look at it in more detail in a few minutes.
Judge for yourself
• Let’s look at quotes from these books included in your notes. SEE HANDOUTS of them—don’t be afraid to read things like this.
• Yes, they are confusing and don’t make logical sense.
• Even a casual reading shows an entirely different voice, underlying teaching, point of view.
• Jesus said (speaking of himself as the Shepherd), “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:4b,5
• Jesus doesn’t play games or try to confuse us.
Why so important to understand Gnostic thought & writing?
• In many ways much more dangerous than those of the Apocrypha.
• Apocrypha might be a bit odd and not orthodox, but the same God is worshipped.
• Gnostics preach and teach
an entirely different Jesus and Gospel.
• Teaching more in common with other religions and cults today.
• The idea that you don’t need a Savior outside you—that “god” is within you and YOU have the power to tap into it has always been appealing since Satan told Eve she could “become like God” if she ate the forbidden fruit and it is still tempting today.
In contrast to the fanciful sayings of the Gnostic Gospels
• A correct New Testament teaches us how to be saved and how to live
• Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30,31
• All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
• We won’t believe or know how to live if we don’t have a correct text.
• But as I trust you can see from this lesson and the previous lesson, we DO have a historically verifiable, trustworthy text—our primary application is to READ IT and LIVE IT!
Summary Comparison NT and Gnostic writings
• Based on OT Prophecy, Theology
• Consistent message
• Verified authors
• Eyewitness accounts
• Written soon after events
• Hundreds of manuscripts for each book
• Accepted by the church
• Reliable source for salvation and growth as a disciple
• Based on Gnostic belief system
• Inconsistent, scattered teachings
• False authors
• No eyewitness accounts
• Written 100 or more years after events
• 1-4 manuscripts per book
• Condemned by the church fathers
• Deceptive source of salvation and spiritual growth
Why important to understand this lesson
• Much theology comes and will come from popular culture—books, movies, blogs, and quotes online.
• But many teach a false Jesus and a false “gospel.”
• We cannot become God or find a “God within”. We need a sinless Savior to bridge the gap between us and God.
• When people say things about Jesus, or God or “spirituality” ask where did they get that idea?
• On what are they basing their eternal destiny?
Remind yourself of the sure foundation you have
• Review the materials on this topic on www.Bible805.com.
• There are podcasts, videos, notes, charts, and other resources for you.
• Knowing we have solid historical, textual, archeological reasons for our beliefs is not the only thing that matters, but we shouldn’t ask for anything less on issues of such immense importance.
• Learn them for your own peace of mind and so you can answer others with gentleness and respect.
• Above all, we need to read our Bibles daily, obey what it says, and live in such a way that when we meet our Lord it will be with great joy.
• If you don’t know where to start reading your Bible, go to www.Bible805.com for a FREE copy of this eBook that will help you start reading the Bible.
• I also strongly recommend you plan on reading through the entire Bible in chronological order, which we will be doing in a new way through podcasts and videos on Bible 805 starting in 2023.
• Go to www.Bible805.com to sign up for our newsletter to be updated on it.
• Links to:
• Podcasts, blogs, and eBooks
• Printables & merch of Bible verses & encouraging sayings
• Chronological Bible-reading schedules