Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Gnostic Texts (Eighth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, The Church

On my Facebook feed the other day, someone wrote, “CNN’s series on Jesus showed their virulent, anti-Christian agenda. Last night the second episode on this series aired. The title says it all, ‘The Judas Gospel.’ This sole ‘discovery’ paints Judas as a misunderstood disciple, the closest disciple to Christ, the sole recipient of ‘mysterious, secret knowledge’ from Jesus, and part of Christ’s plan in the crucifixion … The Bible was rarely mentioned and left what the Bible Georgiosaid about Judas and Christ nearly mute or denied by this ‘new’ gospel. That wasn’t enough, this work of Satan also depicted all the disciples (except Judas) as drunkards, degenerates and guilty of the most degenerate, evil actions.

What CNN, The History Channel (History should be in quotes) and most of their scholars, The Da Vinci Code and most who are into the Alternative History movement, Oprah (Gnostic-Lite), and a host of others are doing is not actually new. Neither are the sources they are shouting from the rooftops are “True Christianity.” The Gospel of Thomas? The Gospel of Judas? Ancient heretical Gnosticism. In fact, all of this is old, tired stuff that the Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Hippolytus, and Origen were refuting in the 2nd – 3rd centuries (which makes a good contemporary and practical reason to delve into the Fathers). In this post I want to focus on ancient Gnostic literature.

A good definition of Gnosticism is, “A diverse religious and theosophical movement of the first three centuries A.D. The name derives from the means of salvation: the Gnostic is saved through possessing a special knowledge (Gk.. gnṓsis). Gnosticism best refers to the organized expressions of the second and third centuries. Although scholars sometimes apply the term to Gnostic tendencies of the first century, evidence for a pre-Christian Gnostic movement isnag-hammadi inconclusive.[1] Most people think Gnosticism owes its origins purely to Greek (Platonic) philosophy. In actuality, it was an eclectic mix of that plus Persian religion (especially Zoroastrianism) and, perhaps especially, Judaism.

There were many Gnostic books floating around in the early centuries of Christianity. A whole pile of them were discovered in Egypt in a place called Nag Hammadi, 280 miles south of Cairo. In December of 1945, several local farmers found a sealed jar containing thirteen different codices containing 52 texts, most of which were Gnostic. These date back to the second and third centurys A.D. These tractates include (among many others):

  • The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
  • The Gospel of Truth
  • The Treatise on the Resurrection
  • The Hypostasis of the Archons
  • On the Origin of the World
  • Exegesis of the Soul
  • Plato’s Republic
  • The Testimony of Truth
  • The Gospel of Mary
  • The Teachings of Silvanus
  • and the now infamous Gospel of Thomas

As you can tell just from the names alone, the Gnostics were fascinated with philosophy, the New Testament, and speculating about just about anything, so long as it gets ratings (which never means orthodox theology). Sounds pretty much like a History Channel TV show to me!

So why include post like this here? Obviously, it isn’t to promote them as orthodox Christianity. Far from it. But as Peter Jones points out in The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (a great book title if ever there was one), the American religion is increasingly and rapidly returning to the ancient heresies of Gnosticism. There is a concerted effort on many levels to promote Gnosticism as if it were Christianity. Parts of this theology have gone mainstream and most people today don’t know the difference. Why, just yesterday I was in a conversation with someone wanting me to do a radio show on Giants. I found out his program was Gnostic, and when I asked him about it he replied, “I promote Gnosticism and cover many subjects. But I’m also a Christian of the Catholic faith.” How people can live with such contradiction is beyond me. Can you? Do you?

Know your Scripture well. Then read the Nag Hammadi Library and find out just how completely different from Christianity it actually is, despite what Dan Brown and others try to sell you. A good place to start might be the Gospel of Thomas (which isn’t a Gospel at all, but is actually a series of 114 proverbial sayings) which ends with Peter saying, “‘Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said: ‘Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Saying 114). Then consider such a saying in light of contemporary culture and sexuality and the “progressive” thought it thinks it has. That which is progressive is actually regressive and profoundly enslaving of true freedom which only comes in the real Christ of actual history.[2]

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 421.

[2] One of the best introductory lecture series I’ve ever heard on Gnosticism was done by Dr. Michael Heiser here: This is the full multi-hour presentation, but the classes (there are five or six of them here) can also be watched individually as well. Just search “Heiser” and “Gnosticism” under videos on Google.


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