Do the Gnostic Gospels Present a Credible Alternative?

Leading Jesusanity scholar Bart Ehrman would like us to believe that the views expressed in the Gnostic gospels expose Christianity’s diverse roots, and that the reason modern mainstream Christianity appears more united in thought is simply because one system prevailed over the rest. Ehrman said, “one of the competing groups in Christianity succeeded in overwhelming all the others.” This is the Jesusanity’s take on Christian history.

Jesusanity is defined in Dethroning Jesus by Darrell Bock and Dan Wallace:

“(Jesusanity is) an ideology advocated in universities and in the media which depicts Jesus of Nazareth as a first-century political radical, and advocate for social justice, and a prophet of mystic wisdom. It explicitly denies any historical basis to the Jesus of faith and the creeds.”

This is the view being promoted, to a greater or lesser extent, by Bishop Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, and the Jesus Seminar. As such, it is not a friend to true Christianity. Christians need to be aware of this mentality, for it underlies much of what is being sold as a scholarly and honest look at Christian origins. Many people are being tricked into believing that the views presented by Jesusanity are more credible than those beliefs to which Christians subscribed for centuries. As more books hit the shelves, and movies such as “Angels and Demons” (based on the novel by Dan Brown, of the Da Vinci Code fame), are in the works, we must confront these challenges. One such challenge is the place of the Gnostic gospels. Do they really give us a look into what could be a credible alternative to traditional Christianity?

In Dethroning Jesus, Bock and Wallace quote Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst from the Gospel of Judas:

“This perspective of the Gospel of Judas is different in a number of respects from that of the New Testament gospels. During the formative period of the Christian church, numerous gospels were composed in addition to the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Among other gospels that have survived, as a whole or in part, are the Gospel of Truth and the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Philip, Mary, the Ebionites, the Nazoreans, the Hebrews, and the Egyptians, to name a few, and these gospels demonstrate the rich diversity within early Christianity. The Gospel of Judas was yet another of the gospels written by early Christians as they attempted to articulate, in one way or another, who Jesus is and how one should follow him.”

So the conclusions that Christianity has come to are really the result of one strand defeating the rest, and for all we know, had history taken a different course, we could be believing something totally different.

This is a vitally important issue to confront. The allegations made by the Jesusanity scholars feed into the arguments from Muslim apologists, the New Atheists, and other opponents of Christianity. Sadly, these things are being propagated by those “within” the realm of Christendom.

According to Bock and Wallace, the Gospel of Judas does not provide a “thriving alternative” to Christian beliefs in the first century.

1. the Gospel of Judas presents an alternative view from the second century, not the first

The earliest witnesses we have of Christianity’s views are found in the Gospel records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Interestingly, skeptics doubt the veracity of the traditional Gospels because they may have been written between 30 and 90 years after Christ, yet the same are quick to accept the credibility of the Gnostic Gospels, which come in at a later date.

No one doubts that different views about Christ existed in the first few centuries. They still exist now! But if 2,000 years from now, someone finds a copy of the New World Translation of the Bible or the Book of Mormon, neither would prove to be the actual view of Christianity, especially if age is one of the determing factors.

2. the Gospel of Judas, as with other Gnostic gospels, is incompatible with the authority of the Old Testament

Not only is the teaching of the Gnostic Gospels incompatible with New Testament teaching, it also goes against the authority of the Old Testament.

Bock and Wallace quote Ehrman:

“When Christianity started out – with the historical Jesus himself – it already had a set of sacred written authorities. Jesus was a Jew living or ministering predominately in Galilee and Judea, he accepted the authority of the Jewish scriptures, especially the first five books of what Christians called the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), sometimes called the Law of Moses.”

The problem is the Gospel of Judas doesn’t just present a different look at Jesus; it presents a different view of Creation. By doing so, the content of Judas automatically disqualifies it from becoming a credible alternative, for Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, not a conflicting system of belief.

Part of Jesus’ ministry was validating Himself in accordance with the Old Testament. If He came and said to the Pharisees and His disciples, “Listen, God didn’t create you as your scriptures say. In fact, a superior angel named Sakla, one of the twelve ruling angels sharing control of this realm with El, created humanity after the likeness and after the image,” no one would believe Him, and reasonably so! But this is what is found in the Gospel of Judas. Gnostic gospels abound with concepts that contradict the already established authority.

We Christians have to remember the importance of the Old Testament here – it also helps determine truth. Isn’t that how we know Mormonism is false? Without looking into their perspective of Jesus, the fact that Mormonism teaches a plurality of gods, or that god was once a man, goes against Old Testament truth. It therefore cannot be a viable alternative to what we received as authentic Christianity. The same is true for these second century manuscripts called the Gnostic Gospels.

N.T. Wright said, “anything will do, it seems, as long as it is not classic Judaism or Christianity.” How true this is! I’ve discovered, with talking to people, that they are very quick to believe in something if it goes against the common perception. We’re all like that, I guess (I’m a Baptist Red Sox fan living in a Catholic Yankees fan environment). But the evidence for true Christianity is overwhelming. The evidence for things such as the Gnostic Gospels is not. It is considerably late, contradictory, and unsure. In fact, it is the embodiment of every accusation skeptics have against the Bible! Perhaps people want to believe because Dan Brown’s novel is so cool, and after all, the Church has been a menace to society so it can’t be trusted. That’s how the New Atheist argues, and the Jesusanity folks are giving them more fuel for the fire. Unfortunately for them, they might not realize it. However, thank God for Christian apologists who take time to refute this claims and show how outlandish it all really is.

As far as the Gnostic Gospels and Jesusanity are concerned, I highly recommend getting the book, Dethroning Jesus. It has been such a help to me.

As far as our role in all of this, let us determine to be diligent students of His Word. Let us determine to live our lives in accordance with it, that the skeptics cannot have any reason for not trusting us. Finally, pray for those out there caught up in this nonsense, that God would penetrate their hearts with the Truth.


13 comments so far

  1. bshelley on

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful presentation of the facts. It is unfathomable that some could hold that Jesus came only in Spirit and not in flesh. How much of the New Testament must one disregard to hold to such blasphemy? This kind of division was its original intent and these new “disciples” of a different gospel are being duped by their desire to unseat the King. They will fail because Jesus will prevail.

  2. mithrasb on

    Anything we can learn about Christianity the better. there is a good book called the 5 gospels by funk and hoover and the Jesus seminar I recommend reading it . It’s a good read. The gospel of Thomas plays a n important part. Thank-you mithrasb

  3. TJ on

    I just bought Dethroning Jesus. Amazon is awsome!
    Seriously though…
    This is one of those newer issues that we have to tackle. It comes in such subtle forms (novels, movies, even video games!), but at the end of the day it is soul-threatening heresy.

  4. mithrasb on

    there is a big difference in one who does scholarly studies and one who reads but doesn’t understand, if you like to read and learn John Dominic Crossant is a great example of a scholar. mithrasb P.S. the gospel of Thomas is just as old as the other synoptic gospels.

  5. TJ on

    “the gospel of Thomas is just as old as the other synoptic gospels.”
    Really? Do you know when exactly the Synoptic Gospel were written?
    The earliest quotation of Matthew is found in Ignatius who died around 115 A.D. Therefore, Matthew was in circulation well before that time. The most widely held dates for the Gospel of Matthew are between A.D. 40 – 140. But because of Ignatius’ quotation, Matthew had to be written before he died. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.
    Mark, a disciple of Peter and not directly of Christ, received his information from Peter. Mark is said to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.
    Likewise, Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Christ, but rather was a companion of the Apostle Paul. However, he had ample opportunity to meet numerous disciples who were eyewitnesses. Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65). These are all things that surely would have been included in Acts had it been written after these events. Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written at least before A.D. 62.
    Now as for the Gospel of Thomas…
    The most frequent dating that I have seen is 100-150 AD, a pretty big span of uncertainty and pretty far from being “just as old as the synoptic gospels.” The fact is, the author of this document is unknown.
    There is no doubt that the Gnostic tradition is ancient. It is delt with in the New Testament repeatedly. People have tried to strip Jesus of His deity for centuries. Only now, people base these attacks off of the latest Dan Brown novel at the least and a questionable Gospel of Thomas at the most. May I suggest that you read the Christ of the Gospels that were unanimously accepted by the early church. There is no room for gnostic theology in the Gospel of Matthew Mark Luke and John.
    Thanks for the comments, though. We really appreciate the conversation.

  6. mithrasb on

    remember back then there were more sects of Christianity then than there is now, also from the top of my head i believe mat was written 64 ad the other two around the 80 – 90s. remember that it was accepted practice in those days to use the authors name and in reality the author never wrote it, there is a word for that but i am not by any books, have a great day mithrasb I can only get back with you guys once a week because Iam a little busy, I was religious studies major at Cleveland State University, and you seem to know , or you have a lot of knowledge. thank you mithrasb

  7. TJ on

    I completely understand. We are all busy.
    In the mean time, read this article from a very reliable source.
    Thanks again.

  8. […] the Gospel of Thomas Based upon the comments from a previous post about the Gnostic gospels, and Judas in particular, I’d like to consider the validity of the […]

  9. mithrasb on

    great article ! love all that stuff. I seen this on the history channel the catholic church wanted the apocalypse of peter as the last book of the new testament, but then decided on the revelation of john ! have a great week all, mithrasb

  10. Joe Blow on

    With more and more scholars like Dr. Ehrman starting to come to the forefront of the debate, and with the internet making it tougher to hid such works from the public the abomination that is called Christianity and the destruction, pain, suffering and death that it has brought upon the world for the last 2000 years, may finally be starting to come to an end.

    One can only hope that day comes soon before Christians and other religious fanatics in the world bring our species to an end.

  11. CL on

    I found this very helpful and insightful. Thank you for posting this. But I do find the quote ” after all, the Church has been a menace to society and can’t be trusted,” offensive. Yes, the Church had a period of dark times, but in recent history – it is in no way a menace to society.
    Other than that comment, I really enjoyed your work.

  12. paul on

    Mithrasb i just want TJ to understand that the Acts of the apostles has nothing to do their life history but rather how the holy spirit work through them to bring salvation to the unsaved unrepented.

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