We have begun a discussion of the gnostic origin theory as an outgrowth of our discussion on the positive case for Christ. Among the objections to the positive case, the gnostic origin theory explicitly denies all aspects of the positive case. Those who accept the gnostic origin theory deny the positive case on the basis questionable reconstruction of church history and a number of inaccuracies about the gnostics, themselves. Last time, we discussed the Gnostic beliefs, noting the oddities in gnostic theology. Many modern writers (as well as a large segment of the population) believe the gnostic gospels are equivalent to the canonical gospels. Thus, they will describe them as “the lost books of the Bible” or with a similar, sensational title. We will therefore go through a discuss the general nature of the gnostic gospels.
Details versus General
The Gnostic gospels are generally “low resolution” when it comes to history. We do not see many historical figures, such as the Herodians. Within the canonical gospels we have a fairly compelling picture of the Pharisees and other Jewish sects. At times there are explanations of their beliefs. With the gnostic gospels these types of details are not present. When details of this kind are present, they are typically wrong. For example, one of the gnostic gospels implies that Christ died under the governance of Archealus, the son of Herod the Great rather than Pontius Pilate; (Archealus reign ended long before Jesus ministry began).
Most gnostic gospels begin by indicating a particular apostle who received special “secret” knowledge from Jesus, that was not available to every member of the twelve. This “secret” knowledge is best understood as an attempt to explain why the canonical gospels do not contain the same ideas as those presented in the gnostic gospels. Thus, this writing format indicates that the gnostic gospels were written after the canonical gospels were already published, and distributed.
Late rather than early
Historically, the evidence of the oldest church histories suggests that the earliest gnostics used the canonical gospels rather than writing their own. For example, the second century saw a small movement among the orthodox known as the “alogoi,” who did not accept the gospel of John, because of the book’s use by gnostic sects. Likewise, another early gnostic, Marcion, produced his own edited version of the epistles of Paul and the gospel of Luke as the true Christian canon, dismissing everything else in the New Testament. This editorial activity makes little sense if the gnostic gospels were already in existence and widely published.
The most important thing that has actually been proven by the gnostic gospels that have been found is that we now know that Irenaeus and others early Church fathers were accurate in their descriptions of the gnostics. The fathers have always been an important and useful source of historical information about Church history – while Biblical protestants do not consider the fathers to be authorative they are useful historical sources about the transmission of the biblical materials. Previous to our finding these gospels
The Gospel of Thomas
The gnostic work that is most commonly cited as being early is the gospel according to Thomas, but there are two reasons to dismiss this claim out of hand. First, the gospel of Thomas makes use of a second century translation of the gospel of Matthew. Thus, one cannot date Thomas before this translation. Additionally, Thomas has an unusual trait for the gnostic gospels: It quotes numerous apostles as important as a source of estoric knowledge. One of the defining traits of the gnostics that is prevalent in their writings is the tendency to focus on a single teacher as the dispenser of “secret wisdom.” This indicates that the book of Thomas is a composite work, drawn from earlier gnostic writings rather than being an early work.
The left accepts the gnostic gospels not because there is intrinsic evidence to support the gospels, but because they fit a framework of the gnostic origin theory. Therefore, the modern use of the gnostic gospels reveals the circular reasoning of the left’s use of the gnostic origin theory. Now that we have discussed the gnostics themselves, we will discuss an underlying contention that the Gnostic origin theory relies on: How monolithic was the teaching of the early Church.