Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tell Me What's-a-Happenin'

I recently finished the "Gospel of Judas". I mean a book of essays about the Gnostic text of the same name (including the Gnostic text itself). The Gospel itself exists in only one manuscript, a Coptic translation from the Greek autograph, as is supposed. And the manuscript is rather fragmentary. It is thus not entirely clear, taken in isolation, what is therein being said (at least to a layman like myself). But the basic idea, according to the essays, is that Jesus was a Sethian guru-Sethians were a sect of Gnostics-and Judas Iscariot was the only enlightened one of the 12. The others followed the creator God of the material world who is evil and, most certainly, not the father of Jesus. Jesus instructs Judas in the secret gnosis because he alone of all the apostles has the spark of the divine. After the impartation of the arcane metaphysics, Jesus instructs Judas to betray him to the authorities. The purpose of the betrayel is so that Jesus can die and thus escape the prison of his body. How such an exalted spiritual being as Jesus was supposed to be could die is not made clear.

Anywho, it is the essays (and other buzz about such Gnostic Gospels) which I really wanted to talk to you about today. It seems that scholars of late have been reading too many Dan Brown novels. What I mean to say, is that the picture is often painted that there were many different strands of Christianity, in the early days, and all were fighting for a voice. But then the infamous Constantine came along and imposed his peculiar brand of Christianity on the rest of us. He had his views stamped with the official status of orthodoxy.

But such revisionist history, while making for interesting fiction in dramatic novels, bears no resemblance to what actually happened. In the essays the original Gospel of Judas is dated at about approximately 150 AD. In fact, all the Gnostic Gospels are of the second century or later (unless you are John Dominic Crossan who feels the Gospel of Judas dates to the first century, but this is hardly uncontroversial). Moreover, the Gnostic Gospels bear the names of New Testament charecters but were certainly not written by them. For example, Judas died prior to 70 AD and his Gospel wasn't written until 150 AD. He wasn't even alive when he was allegedly writing!

Why all of this is important is because the canonical Gospels, and only the canonical Gospels, were written close to the time of the events they describe and were written under the authority of apostolic eye-witnesses. Not so with the Gnostic Gospels. It is incomprehensible to me why Crossan would put so much stock in Thomas and so little stock in Mark-but that's another story.

In other words, we expect the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be very historically reliable and the Gnostic Gospels to be very unhistorical particularly where they contradict the older, more reliable, Gospels. The situation is as follows. Jesus comes along and founds the Christian movement. Even atheist historians ought to admit as much. Within the pages of the Christian scriptures themselves, Gnosticism starts to rear its ugly head. As time went on ecumenical councils were convened to clearly explain what the true biblical teaching was. In this way, new or gullible saints would not be mislead by wolves in sheep's clothing.

Modern-day wolves in sheep's clothing repudiate the councils (and their creeds) as being an addition to the Bible. Not so. It is the redressed heresies of the cultists that are additions to the Bible. These cultists misinterprate the Bible and deny creedal orthodoxy as an addition to the Bible. I was recently talking with an LDS gentleman online. He tried pulling this on me so I challenged him to produce a single historical quote which established (implicitly or explicitly) that the Mormon charicature of the creeds was correct. He gave an irrelevant qoute from the 19th century-long after the time of the councils-and said, contrary to what all Mormons have always said, that the councils were merely to clarify the Bible after all (though apparently, because of the alleged apostasy, they were misinterprating the Bible and purported modern-day prophets give the real meaning of the Bible).

But I am getting away from the main topic. Namely, there was, is, and always shall be one, and only one, Christian faith. I don't care what Elaine Pagels, Bart D. Ehrman, or Dan Brown says to the contrary. The Gnostics were not Christians. We know this because Gnosticism contradicts Christianity at important points. The God of the Old Testament, for example, is the Father of Christ. This is made clear in the canonical scriptures. The later Gnostic scriptures were an attempt of Johnny-come-latelys to sound Christian to fool the gullible Christians of the patristic period. The ecclesiastical fathers were wise to convene councils and craft creeds to help their brethren out.

There is at bottom no distinction between orthodox Christianity and Christianity pure and simple. And Gnosticism ain't it.

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