Lost Gospels Revealed

A final issue when it comes to New Testament studies: The so-called “lost” Gospels.

As skeptics tell it, reflecting the worldview captured in The Da Vinci Code, the Christian church systematically suppressed the truth about Jesus and his early disciples, “censoring” alternative accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching because these texts didn’t reflect the “dogma” (primarily the alleged “sexism” and “homophobia”) of the institutional Church.

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Examples of these “alternative” Gospels include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of James. More recently, a Gospel of Judas was discovered and published.

The Da Vinci Code was hardly original in taking this line: In 1972, novelist Irving Wallace wrote a thriller called The Word that described, interspersed with lots of sex, the alleged discovery of an alternative gospel (the Gospel of James) that would “blow the lid” off of institutional Christianity and reveal the truth that the evil Church had kept hidden for millennia.

There’s even a secret society that has suppressed the truth that Jesus survived the crucifixion – and a man who, “if he can survive long enough,” struggles to tell the whole world what really happened.

So, is there truth to the charge? Did the Christian church “suppress” lost facts about and sayings of Jesus?

The answer of mainstream biblical scholars would be: If only! That’s because, for two centuries now, scholars have been poring over every word of every “apocryphal” (non-canonical) gospel available, desperately searching for a lost saying or an authentic new fact. Far from being “lost,” every single apocryphal gospel extant can be easily read in translation in such collections as The Nag Hammadi Library (edited by James Robinson), or in more popular anthologies such as The Complete Gospels (edited by Robert J. Miller) or The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (edited by Ron Cameron).

Alas, the results have been disappointing.

The researches of such scholars as Elaine Pagels and Bart Erhman have taught us a lot about early Gnosticism but precious little new about Jesus.

The primary reason for this is because these lost, “apocryphal” gospels were written, by and large, decades, sometimes even centuries after the canonical Gospels.

They were the creation of Gnostic sects (sort of second- and third-century New Agers) that usually just followed the outlines of the canonical Gospels and simply put into the mouth of Jesus various philosophical ramblings of a particular Gnostic sect.

Most of them strike modern readers as deadly dull and quite bizarre… and nothing like the canonical Gospels in vivid, real-life detail.

Here is a typical passage from The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), a favorite with New Agers and conspiracy theorists:

The Savior said, “All natures, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is resolved into the [roots] of its nature alone. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

As you might guess, if the church “suppressed” these texts it was probably more for bad writing than for heresy.

The simple truth is that, when the early Christian leaders looked over the various works purporting to be about the life and teaching of Jesus, they found that most had little if anything to do with the Jesus proclaimed by the Church and instead were full of bizarre Greek philosophical ideas (about various deities and emanations from the godhead) that Jesus would have had nothing to say about.

That’s why the church historian Eusebius, writing around A.D. 324, spoke of the books that are “adduced by the heretics under the name of the apostles, such as the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthew, and others beside them or such as the Acts of the Apostles by Andrew John, and others.”

He added the common sense observation that “indeed the character of the style itself is very different from that of the apostles, and the sentiment and purport of those things that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible form sound orthodoxy, evidently proves they are fictions of heretical men.”

These “other” gospels, Eusebius concludes, are “spurious writings [that] are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious.”

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Robert J. Hutchinson is an author and essayist. His most recent book is Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth (Thomas Nelson, 2015).

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