Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On the New Testament and Bible in general

'Most of the New Testament writers never met or saw Jesus in their lives. They lived many years after Jesus left the Earth. They wouldn't have known Jesus of Nazareth if they walked into him on the street.

The Bible writers were great believers and great historians. They took stories which had been passed down to them and to their friends by others - elders - from elder to elder, until finally a written record was made.

And not everything of the Bible authors was included in the final document.

Already 'churches' had sprung up around the teachings of Jesus - and, as happens whenever and wherever people gather in groups around a powerful idea, there were certain individuals within these churches, or enclaves, who determined what parts of the Jesus story were going to be told - and how. This process of selecting and editing continued through the gathering, writing, and publishing of the gospels, and the Bible.

Even several centuries after the original scriptures were committed to writing, a High Council of the Church determined yet one more time which doctrines and truths were to be included in the then - official Bible - and which would be 'unhealthy' or 'premature' to reveal to the masses.

And there have been other holy scriptures as well - each placed in writings at moments of inspiration by otherwise ordinary men.'


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7:40 PM  
Blogger whoami123 said...

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7:41 PM  
Blogger whoami123 said...

From Traitor to Hero?
Responding to "The Gospel of Judas"

Headlines around the world are announcing the publication of a "long lost"
and "suppressed" ancient document, known as The Gospel of Judas. The
National Geographic Society announced the publication at a major media event
on Thursday, just in time to boost publicity for its Sunday night special on
the National Geographic Channel.

The announcement led to a frenzy of media coverage, ranging from responsible
reports to outrageous sensationalism. According to some commentators, the
publication of this new document will force a complete reformulation of
Christianity and our understanding of both Judas and Jesus. In reality,
nothing of the sort is in view. The document is highly interesting, however,
offering an ancient and authoritative source into the thinking of heretical
groups who offered alternative understandings of Christianity.

The document purports to be written by Judas, even though it certainly was
written long after Judas's death. Nevertheless, the very existence of this
document, rooted in the third century after Christ, indicates something of
the struggle Christian leaders confronted in defining and defending the
authentic Gospel against heretical groups such as the Gnostics.

A quick look at The Gospel of Judas reveals the contrast between this
document and the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The English version, edited by Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor
Wurst, presents an accessible and readable version of the portions of the
Codex Tchacos now available. The most remarkable feature of this text is its
thoroughly Gnostic character. The substance of this gospel bears virtually
no resemblance to orthodox Christianity--a fact which explains why the early
church recognized this writing for what it is, and rejected it as neither
authoritative nor authentic.

In The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, Herbert
Krosney explains how the codex was discovered and traces the events that led
to its publication in English this week:

"In the mid- to late 1970s, hidden for more than fifteen hundred years, an
ancient text emerged from the sands of Egypt. Near the banks of the Nile
River, some Egyptian peasants, fellahin, stumbled upon a cavern. In biblical
times, such chambers had been used to bury the dead. The peasants entered
the cave, seeking ancient gold or jewelry, anything of value that they could
sell. Instead, among a pile of human bones, they discovered a crumbling
limestone box. Inside it, they came upon an unexpected find--a mysterious
leather-bound book, a codex."

The portion of the text that is now translated is taken from thirteen pages
of papyrus, with the text written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egypt.
Most scholars agree that The Gospel of Judas was originally written in
Greek, and later translated into Coptic. This was the common history of many
Gnostic texts, especially those associated with groups common to the area in
which the manuscript was found.

The Lost Gospel reads like a suspense thriller at times, tracing the odd and
admittedly remarkable story of how the codex was preserved and eventually
published. Those familiar with the story of the Dead Sea scrolls and the
documents of the Nag Hammadi library will recognize significant parallels in
the saga of how the texts and manuscripts were found and eventually made
available for scholarly review and publication.

The Gnostic character of the text is immediately evident. In his supposed
conversations with Judas, Jesus speaks in Gnostic categories such as "aeons"
and an "eternal realm." Judas is identified as the "thirteenth spirit" who
was appointed by God to be the agent of releasing Jesus from the physical
body in which He was trapped in the incarnation.

When Judas speaks of a vision and asks for its interpretation, Jesus
answers: "Judas, your star has led you astray." Jesus continues: "No person
of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place
is reserved for the holy. Neither the sun nor the moon will rule there, nor
the day, but the holy will abide there always, in the eternal realm with the
holy angels. Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and
I have taught you about the error of the stars; and . . . sent it . . . on
the twelve aeons."

The concept of secret and mysterious knowledge was central to Gnostic sects.
The Gospel of Judas purports to reveal conversations between Jesus and Judas
that had been kept secret from the rest of humanity. The Gnostics prized
their secret knowledge, and taught a profound dualism between the material
and spiritual worlds. They understood the material world, including the
entire cosmos, to be a trap for the spiritual world. In essence, the
Gnostics sought to escape the material world and to enter the world of

Accordingly, the most revealing statement in the entire text of The Gospel
of Judas records Jesus saying to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them.
For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

In other words, Judas would perform a service to Jesus by betraying Him to
those who would then crucify Him, liberating Jesus from the physical body
and freeing Him as spirit. As the editors of The Gospel of Judas indicate in
a footnote, "The death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to
be the liberation of the spiritual person within."

Needless to say, this is in direct conflict with the Christian gospel and
the New Testament. The consistent witness of the New Testament is that Jesus
came in order to die for sinners--willingly accepting the cross and dying as
the substitutionary sacrifice for sin.

This redemptive action is completely missing from The Gospel of Judas. For
that reason, the text was rejected by early Christian leaders. Writing about
the year 180, Irenaeus, a major figure among the early church fathers,
identified the text now known as The Gospel of Judas as heretical. In his
foreword to The Lost Gospel, Bart Ehrman, a professor at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains, "This gospel was about the
relationship between Jesus and Judas, and indicated that Judas didn't
actually betray Jesus, but did what Jesus wanted him to do, because Judas
was the one who really knew the truth, as Jesus wanted it communicated."

Ehrman, no friend to orthodox Christianity, has correctly explained the
problem. Irenaeus rejected the text precisely because it was in direct
conflict with the canonical gospels and with the teaching of the Apostles.
Accordingly, it was his responsibility to warn the church about the
heretical nature of this document. Still, the very fact that Irenaeus
mentions the document with such a specific reference gives considerable
credence to the claim that The Gospel of Judas is as old in its origin as
its patrons now claim.

We now know a great deal about the Gnostic sects common to the first
centuries of Christianity. The particular sect thought to be associated with
the origin of The Gospel of Judas was known as the Cainites. The peculiar
teachings of this sect included the rehabilitation of many characters
presented negatively in the Bible--starting with Cain. In essence, the
Cainites attempted to take the negative figures of the Bible and present
them in a heroic light. In order to do this, of course, they had to create
alternative texts and an alternative rendering of the story of Jesus.

What are Christians to make of all this? The publication of The Gospel of
Judas is a matter of genuine interest. After all, it is important for
Christians to understand the context of early Christianity--a context in
which the church was required to exercise tremendous discernment in
confronting heretical teachings and rejecting spurious texts.

The scholarly research behind the publication of The Gospel of Judas appears
to be sound and responsible. The codex manuscript was submitted to the most
rigorous historical process in terms of dating, chemical composition, and
similar questions. In the end, it appears that the document is most likely
authentic, in terms of its origin from within a heretical sect in the third

Nevertheless, extravagant claims about the theological significance of The
Gospel of Judas are unwarranted, ridiculous, and driven by those who
themselves call for a reformulation of Christianity.

The resurgence of interest in Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas and
The Gospel of Judas is driven by an effort, at least on the part of some
figures, to argue that early Christianity had no essential theological core.
Instead, scholars such as Elaine Pagels of Princeton University want to
argue that, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic
religion, and demonstrating how diverse--and fascinating--the early
Christian movement really was." What Pagels and many other figures argue
is that early Christianity was a cauldron of competing theologies, and that
ideological and political factors explain why an "orthodox" tradition
eventually won, suppressing all competing theologies. Accordingly, these
same figures argue that today's Christians should be open to these variant
teachings that had long been suppressed and hidden from view.

Metropolitan Bishoy, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, dismissed The
Gospel of Judas as "non-Christian babbling resulting from a group of people
trying to create a false 'amalgam' between the Greek mythology and Far East
religions with Christianity . . . They were written by a group of people who
were aliens to the main Christian stream of the early Christianity. These
texts are neither reliable nor accurate Christian texts, as they are
historically and logically alien to the main Christian thinking and
philosophy of the early and present Christians." The Metropolitan is right,
but we are better armed to face the heresies of our own day if we face with
honesty the heresies of times past.

Simon Gathercole, a New Testament professor at Aberdeen University,
defended the text as authentic, but relatively unimportant. "It is certainly
an ancient text, but not ancient enough to tell us anything new," Gathercole
explains. "It contains themes which are alien to the first-century world of
Jesus and Judas, but which became popular later."

Indeed, those Gnostic ideas did become popular later, and they are becoming
increasingly popular now. The truth of the Gospel stands, and Christians
will retain firm confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament and, in
particular, of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nevertheless,
old Gnosticisms are continually repackaged and "rediscovered" even as new
forms of Gnostic thought emerge in our postmodern culture.

Informed Christians will be watchful and aware when confronting churches
or institutions that present spurious writings, rejected as heretical by the
early church, on the same plane as the New Testament.

The verdict of Athanasius, one of the greatest leaders of the early church,
still stands: "Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from
these, for concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said,
'Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.' And He reproved the Jews, saying,
'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.'"

7:44 PM  

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