Summary: Second in the series Our Still Point with God: The Reliability of the Bible. Gnosticism is still dangerous because it puts man at the center of the universe instead of God.
What about Those Other Gospels?
(Second in the series Our Still Point with God: The Reliability of the Bible)
DISCLAIMER: The material in these three messages come from others who are better scholars than I! Contact me if I can credit anything in this series to its original source.
Introduction: Christians of the early church saw Gnosticism, a religious movement that took root in the second century A.D., as a threat to the historic Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching. Gnosticism is making a comeback in our day through the so-called Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code, and now its upcoming sequel, Angels and Demons, which draws on extra-biblical documents as the base for its story line.
Many Christians are uncritically embracing Gnosticism. But why did the early church reject the Gnostic gospels? Why aren’t the Gnostic gospels relevant for today? Why are so many people returning to Gnostic ideas?
Identify the Current Issue: The reemergence of Gnostic teaching in modern life can be traced to the discovery of Gnostic manuscripts in December 1945. An Arab peasant found a red earthenware jar near Nag Hammadi, a city in Upper Egypt. Inside the jar were 13 leather-bound papyrus books, dating from approximately A.D. 350. According to some scholars, these manuscripts were penned mostly by Jesus’ disciples and hence carry their names, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas is particularly interesting because it states that Judas was not the traitor that Christians have assumed all these years. Rather, he was Jesus’ most trusted disciple, because it was through his betrayal that Jesus was able to go to the cross. According to the story, Jesus gave Judas permission to betray him so that, through death, he could be freed from his physical body (Gnostics believe that matter, including the physical body, is evil). So Judas was actually portrayed as a hero.
At its core, the debate calls into question whether the Gnostic gospels are in fact historically accurate and compatible with the biblical canon as we know it.
Proposition: What makes Gnosticism so dangerous is that it puts man at the center of the universe instead of God, a trend already popular among those who want a convenient and customized faith.
1. The early church rejected the Gnostic gospels for good reason (1 Corinthians 15:1–8).
There is ample evidence from early Christian documents that there was a single Christian faith from the very beginning. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around A.D. 55, he spoke of a gospel message he “received” and “passed on” to others. That message included the account of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–8.
• Having read that passage, please understand that Gnostics do not believe in a bodily resurrection.
In numerous places in the New Testament there are warnings to the early church to reject false teaching and hold to sound doctrine.
• The early church teachers were very concerned about fighting against ideas that were not compatible with their doctrine.
• There was a discernable Christian orthodoxy in the early, first-century church, long before Gnosticism took hold or the Gnostic gospels were written.
The other important point is that Christianity is based upon historical fact.
• Its claims are rooted in actual events, not just ideas;
• In people who lived in time and space, not just principles;
• In revelation, not speculation;
• In incarnation, not abstraction.
Historical accuracy was of prime importance to Luke, who wrote the gospel known by his name. Read Luke 1:1–4.
• The text affirms that Luke was after nothing less than historical certainty, presented in an orderly fashion and based on firsthand testimony.
2. Gnostic writings contradict biblical doctrine (1 Corinthians 15:14–19).
The gospels of the Nag Hammadi library present a view of the world at extreme odds with the one found in the Old and New Testaments.
For starters, an all-good or powerful God did not create the universe.
According to the Gospel of Philip, the world as we know it is really a mistake. The creator of the universe supposedly bungled the act of creation, and as a result, the material cosmos is filled with pain, decay, and death. The record of God’s creation in Genesis stands in stark contrast to this botched view of creation. God pronounces his work of creation as “very good.”
• It was man’s choice to turn away from God that has caused the pain, decay, and death we know in this world. Read Romans 3:10–23.
Another crucial difference between Gnosticism and Christianity concerns the identity and purpose of Jesus’ life.
According to Gnostic teaching, Jesus was neither God nor man, and his main purpose was not to save us from sin but to guide us to spiritual understanding. But Jesus’ deity is clearly seen in numerous passages in the New Testament.