Know Your Bible

VOL. 5                           June 11, 2006                           NO. 21

The Da Vinci Code #3

The Lost Gospels

    Unbelievers seek to cast doubt on the New Testament by affirming the legitimacy of the apocryphal gospels of the Gnostics. According to "Leigh Teabing," a fictional scholar in Dan Brown's "historical novel," The DaVinci Code, "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion" (pg. 231). One reading this book with the assumption that the background and environment of the story are historically accurate would naturally assume that a conspiracy was formed to keep certain writings from the public eye. This is precisely what Brown claims in this volume.

    The fact is that the number "eighty" is a wild exaggeration by any count. These books which are called the "New Testament apocrypha" (which means of doubtful origin) were second and third century writings by the Gnostics. This was a label given to several sects that differed on various details but agreed that matter is essentially evil and spirit good. Conclusions they reached relative to the Gospel of Christ included the denial that God could not have been God and Christ, the Spirit (if He was God) could not have been man.

    Ben Witherington III, author of The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci, writes: "The novel expresses in popular form what some scholars have been arguing or implying for years. Twenty years ago, Elaine Pagels wrote The Gnostic Gospels, a book that introduced the larger public to the other 'Christian' writings that arose in the early centuries of the church. Regarding the books of the New Testament, Pagels asked, "Who made that selection, and for what reasons? Why were these other writings excluded and banned as 'heresy'?"

    One must understand that scholars are under a great deal of pressure to publish and make a name for themselves and the institutions they represent. This is true whether one is a scientist, historian, theologian, or whatever. The majority of scholars are people of integrity, hopefully, who do not go out on a limb to publish fanciful theories that really have little or no basis in truth. Human nature being what it is though, we may be sure that getting attention is more important than truth for some.

    Pagels claimed (as does The Da Vinci Code) that there was no such thing as orthodoxy or heresy prior to the period of the great councils (325 and after). The novel puts it this way: "Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine's version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history." Now, is that an accurate assessment?

    To argue that there was no orthodoxy is to say there was no recognized belief system in the church of the first century. Any Bible student will immediately think of a number of New Testament references. Jude said he wrote to exhort brethren "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). John told his readers to "not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1). John's epistles are a defense against the early stages of Gnostic teaching. Paul in his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus refers often to "sound doctrine." He declared to the Ephesians, "There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father" (Eph. 4:4-6).

    Also, the Gnostics rejected the Old Testament Scriptures which affirm that God created matter and that He saw His creation as good. The New Testament, however, affirms the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21) and constantly quotes from them. New Testament scholar Pheme Perkins notes how rarely the Gnostics literature refers to the Old Testament: "Gnostic exegetes were only interested in elaborating their mystic and theological speculations concerning the origins of the universe, not in appropriating a received canonical tradition...(by contrast) the Christian Bible originates in a hermeneutical framing of Jewish Scriptures, so that they retain their canonical authority and yet serve as witnesses to the Christ-centered experience of salvation."

    The fact is, there is no evidence that the Gnostic writings were ever accepted by early Christians as legitimate scriptures. The earliest of these writings is supposed to be the Gospel of Thomas and all the data indicate that it was written after the New Testament books were widely circulated and recognized as authoritative. Other Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Mary, and etc. were published much later.

    Christians of the second century like Irenaeus and Tertullian (commonly called ante-Nicean fathers) were opponents of Gnosticism and opposed such in their works: Against Heretics and The Prescription Against Heretics. Such were obviously published long before the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). In about 180, Irenaeus, who was a bishop of the church in Lyons, wrote in the above mentioned work of the New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and called them the Four-fold Gospel.

    Furthermore, the Muratorian Canon of the late second century gave a near complete list of New Testament Scriptures that were generally accepted. The Gnostic documents are not among them. They were never considered for inclusion into the New Testament. They were recognized from the beginning as forgeries and works of heresy having no connection with the apostles of Jesus Christ. The Muratorian Canon mentions that several books "can not be received into the catholic (universal) church, for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey."

---Ken Green

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 Can We Always Know Right And Wrong?

    A friend that we've been studying with has written the following: "I believe that God gives us minds and reasoning to figure things out for ourselves, based on the Bible. We may have different interpretations that lead us to different conclusions. This does not mean that there is always a right and wrong way; just different ways."

    Our friend has done a masterful job of expressing one of the most commonly held religious views in the world today. This "I'm OK, you're OK" philosophy has deceived multitudes. It is patently false.

    If the view our friend has espoused is true, consider the ramifications:

(1)    God Himself would be the originator of all the confusing and contradictory religious doctrines being taught in the world today. But, this is not so! 1 Corinthians 14:33 says He is "not the author of confusion, but of peace".

(2)    Our Father would also be guilty of giving us a Bible that cannot be understood alike by reasonable men using their God-given intellectual talents. This is false, too. Paul says all we need to do is read and we will be able to understand (Ephesians. 3:2-4).

(3)    And, how can we know when varied interpretations are allowed and when they are not? For instance, am I allowed to have my own interpretation about murder, adultery, lying, or stealing? If not, why not?

    We are forced to the conclusion that the Bible is, in fact, what it claims to be: a complete and perfect guide "unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). If it is not, then it is meaningless and useless.

---Greg Gwin

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