What About That Other Bible
What About That Other Bible
There's another bible you can buy in your bookstores. It is the Gnostic bible. This bible has books in it like The Revelation of Adam, The Sermon of Zostrianos, The Gospel of Truth . Some people like this alternate bible better than the one we are acquainted with. They like what it teaches about God, Christ, and women. This bible permits us to make God into whoever or whatever we want him or her to be. This bible refers to the divine feminine and personal esoteric knowledge. At last we're free from restricting doctrine such as the Virgin Birth, the unique deity of Christ and his resurrection. This new bible is broad enough to embrace our culture and lets us believe pretty well whatever we wish. There's a growing perception that there is an alternate canon, and these are the books used in TheDa Vinci Code to make their arguments.
The Da Vinci Code and the Gnostic bible
Since the Bible, the traditional one, has stood the test of time and the disciplines of history and archaeology, let's check these Gnostic gospels. That is difficult to do. It's not like the Bible you brought with you today, and the reason is because these Gnostic gospels make no reference to places, towns, rivers, lakes, and seas like our Bible. Our Bible can be investigated by historians; archaeologists can go digging, and they can verify the text. But this bible is filled with the musings of various Gnostics and their teachings, and so it's a difficult bible to evaluate.
That word Gnostic comes from Greek gnosis , which means knowledge. More precisely the word is used to refer to hidden knowledge available only to the enlightened. The Gnostics believed they were privy to spiritual experiences that gave them an inside track on a religious interpretation of the world. Their version of Christianity was among other things, pro-feminine. Male and female were blended together. Some of the writings speak of sexual rituals, and others make reference to new teachings about Jesus and the disciples. Understandably this Gnostic bible is being used in feminist literature to promote the feminist agenda, and supposedly tell the real story of early Christianity.
Listen to what Time magazine said about the book: "Dozens of Christian Scriptures were holy writ, then heresy, then forgotten. Why are we looking at them again?" These gospels "fill a perceived need for alternative views of Christ." And on the part of New Age seekers and mainline believers people are finding there's "a new way to be Christian." Since these gospels are frequently appealed to in The Da Vinci Code and are widely used in various occult interpretations of the New Testament, we must take a close look at their origin and content.
As of this moment we are engaged in nothing less than the battle for the real Bible. When were the Gnostic writings found? In 1945, various documents were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. A man who was trying to fertilize his crop came across some jars that contained writings. He did not realize he had found an important trove of documents. Those are the documents that primarily comprise the Gnostic Bible.
These Gnostics were a group of thinkers who were highly influenced by Plato. They differed among themselves about many things. Thus it is difficult to summarize in a few sentences what they believed. Let it be sufficient to say they denied that God came in the flesh because matter was regarded as evil. Hence, God could not have become a man. They believed that humanity created God. Man's problem, therefore, is not sin but need for self-knowledge. They denied the resurrection. Others taught that Jesus did not die on the cross but a substitute died for him. Though they differed regarding how salvation was to be attained, they did agree that redemption is within our power, and that it could be achieved by encountering God directly without the mediation of Christ or the church.
Time magazine is right when it says the recovered texts feed America's ever sharpening appetite for mystical spirituality. People are seeking a relationship with God that is not tied to doctrine. The Gnostics will allow you to find God in your own way.
The Gnostic bible lacks credibility
How credible is the Gnostic bible? For openers, not even the most radical liberal scholar seriously believes that The Gospel of Thomas was written by the Thomas of the New Testament or that The Gospel of Philip was written by Philip of the New Testament. And the same can be said for other gospels that bear the names of the early apostles. Everyone agrees that the names of the apostles were attributed to these documents to give them respectability and to pretend that they are Christian. Any writer who attributes his writings to someone more famous in order to get acceptance, such a writer's ethics are suspect. Paul the apostle was already aware of such writings in his day and wrote, "We ask you brothers not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report, or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come" (2 Thessalonians 2:2). One of the reasons the Book of 2 Peter was rejected by some as canonical in the early centuries is that there were doubts as to whether or not Peter was the author. You can't have a book attributed to somebody if he didn't write it. That's the first strike against the so-called Gnostic gospels.
Second, these documents are not eyewitness accounts of the events of the New Testament. While one of the earliest documents may date to about a.d. 150, that's about a 100 years after the time of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, but others come to us from the fourth and the 5th and the 6th centuries. We're talking about a huge gap of time between these authors, whoever they were, and the actual events of the New Testament. Contrast this with the writings of the canonical Gospels, our Bible, written by eyewitnesses and completed before a.d. 60. Think about how different our Bible is from these documents.
Third, if you read the Gnostic gospels you will not be impressed with their similarity with the New Testament but rather the striking differences. These gospels are non-historical and even anti-historical. They contain little narrative and have no sense of chronology. They show no interest in research, geography, or historical contexts. These documents make no serious pretense of actually overlapping with the canonical Gospels. They are filled with garbled New Testament quotations along with foolish sayings that are put in the mouth of Jesus.
In order to give you the flavor of some of these books, here are a few of the sayings of Jesus found in the famous Gnostic gospel, The Gospel of Thomas. "Jesus said, 'Blessing on a lion if a human eats it, making the lion human. Foul is the human if the lion eats it, making the lion human.'"
Here's number 56 of the 114 sayings in The Gospel of Thomas: "Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a carcass. And whoever has discovered a carcass, of that person the world is not worthy."
This is from The Gospel of Thomas.
When you make the two into one and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner and the upper like the lower and when you make the male and the female into a single one so that the male will no longer be a male nor the female be a female, and when you make the eyes in place of an eye, a hand in the place of a hand, a foot in the place of a foot, an image in the place of an image, then you'll enter into the Father's domain.
The simple fact is that the Gnostics tried to use Christianity to give their writings credibility, but they are essentially pagan documents and Christianity stood against paganism.
The Gnostic bible articulates pagan philosophy
I want to specifically discuss with you two texts that have to do with Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
In The Gospel of Philip we have this passage:
The companion is Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved her more than his students. He kissed her often on the face more than all of his students. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than us?" The Savior answered saying to them, "Why do I not love you like her? If a blind man and one who sees are together in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, the one who sees will see light; the blind man stays in darkness."
What do we do with this passage? We should note in passing that because of the poor quality of the documents the text reads "Jesus kissed her often" and then it's blank. Scholars fill in the blank with mouth, face, or forehead. For all we know, the text said hand or cheek, because the statement says that he kissed the others also.
Even if this account is true, and we have every reason to believe it's bogus, it says nothing about marriage. But TheDa Vinci Code makes the claim, "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion here in those days literally meant spouse." These documents weren't in Aramaic. They were in Coptic, for one thing. The word companion either in Aramaic or Coptic does not mean spouse. So is this account even credible? This book is dated by scholars as written in about the 3rd century, 200 years after the time of Jesus, so it's not an eyewitness account. You will find this gospel to be a rambling and disjointed work with abrupt changes in subject matter. It teaches such things as: "There are many animals that exist in the world which are in human form." And also, "Winter is the world; summer the other realm. It is wrong to pray in winter."
In the rest of the book, Jesus is presented as one among many beings that emanated from God. These kinds of texts are clearly intended to articulate a pagan philosophy, not to write something credible about Jesus. You can write anything you like if you are not concerned about the facts and the primary eyewitness documents.
Even though we have every reason to reject the accounts given in these two Gnostic gospels, even if they are accurate, it is a stretch to say that Mary had a romantic relationship with Jesus, much less does it imply that she was married to him. TheDa Vinci Code is basing its conclusions on imaginary data evidently hoping that gullible readers will give credence to these tales.
Is it possible for Jesus to have been married? The answer to that question is, in a narrow sense, theological. The Bible says that the bed is undefiled. Sex is not sin. It is made by God, and it is pure and holy. But some of us struggle with the question of how someone who is absolutely holy and perfect could possibly be joined in such an intimate relationship with a sinner. Presumably if Jesus would be married he'd have to marry somebody who was as holy as he was, which would limit his possibilities. The reason we know Jesus was not married is because it would have ruined the picture of his coming marriage. The Bible says that when we are with him in heaven at the marriage supper of the Lamb, he is the Bridegroom, we are the bride, and we shall be married to Jesus. Not in any kind of sexual way, obviously, but with the communion of fellowship and beautiful relationship we have with him. In that sense, Mary Magdalene will then join us also, participating in that gorgeous wedding feast.
Reasons why the Gnostic bible is popular
Why would anyone believe the Gnostic gospels whose history is basically a house of cards hung together with ropes of mist? Why would anyone accept those gospels rather than the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament, which can be checked out in so many different ways? Let me give you a couple of reasons.
First of all, because the Gnostic gospels allow radical feminists to support radical ideas like the notion that Mary Magdalene was to be the one upon whom the church is built, but Peter and these male dominant, money hungry, power hungry men came along and usurped the church from the hands of the women.
Second, because in the Gnostic gospels, at least in one of the texts that I was reading, sex is a sacrament. The Da Vinci Code teaches, as do these other occult revelations, that you encounter God through sexual ecstasy. The church is viewed as the sex-repressing church that has stood against this glorious experience by which we encounter God. It's a message fit for the times.
I listened to a lecture on The Da Vinci Code , where many good things were said in terms of evaluating it. But one of the reasons given for its attractiveness is, "Isn't it wonderful to read about a Jesus who is more human, a Jesus like us?" If you believe in a Jesus like us, you'll be damned forever.
Talking about false teachers, 2 Peter 2:2 says, "And many will follow their sensuality and because of them the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words."
If you want to know what God thinks about false teachers, read the book of Jude, read the book of 2 Peter. You'll discover they are people who make up their beliefs in accordance with their desires. If ever you wonder whether or not the Gnostic gospels are real, spend a couple of hours reading them. You will soon find that those Gnostic gospels are straw that can be blown in the wind. Pick up the Bible and read it, and you say to yourself Surely God has spoken.
Erwin Lutzer is senior pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. His books include The Da Vinci Deception (Tyndale, 2004).
(c) Erwin Lutzer
Preaching Today Issue #257
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Erwin Lutzer is senior pastor of Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois