Gnosticism Today

Some of you may have read recent articles about the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, carbon dated to 300AD. It details a secret interaction between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ in which Jesus singles Judas out for special status and asks him for help in escaping his physical body to liberate his spiritual self (dualism). One professor says, He?s the good guy in this story and the only one who understands Jesus. Another professor says that the writing highlights the diversity of expression in early Christianity, that Jesus? teachings were understood and embraced in many different ways after his death. He goes on to say that this was normal until the 4th century when a powerful group emerges and establishes itself as the rightful teachers and labels others as heretics. The victorious group decides which books are included and excluded in the New Testament.

It is acknowledged that this Gospel of Judas originates from an early sect called the Gnostics. Gnosticism was a very complex ancient heresy that was manifested in many different forms and beliefs. The Gnostics taught that Christ has imparted secret knowledge, ?gnosis?, to a select few, who in turn transmitted hidden truths to an elite. Central to Gnosticism is the denial of the goodness of matter, leading to a denial of the reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of His bodily Resurrection. Gnosticism came into prominence in the second century. Several schools of Gnosticism taught that salvation consisted of liberation from the physical body and of growth to a higher, non-physical, spiritual level of existence. Orthodoxy has always rejected Gnosticism (see 1John and Pastoral Epistles), teaching that the world and man were created good and will be redeemed by Christ and transformed to the end of this age. (Gen. 1:1-31; Rom. 8:19-22; 1Corinthians 15:35-55; Rev. 21:1) See p.683-84 in Oxford Dictionary of Christianity.

                Now lest you think that this little discovery of a papyrus manuscript will have little or no effect on modern belief. Consider this, another Gnostic-influenced writing is gaining wide popularity these days. The DaVinci Code, written by Dan Brown, has been bestseller for the last few years. Now, it?s being made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. The DaVinci Code purports to be a true story but in reality it is a total fiction. The problem is that many readers take the book as historical fact. Some of the many false assertions in the book include:

1)       The Winners Write History- Therefore, we cannot really trust what we?ve been taught about the past.

2)       Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a child named Sarah.

3)       Roman Emperor Constantine (325AD) chose which of the 80 competing gospels to be included in the Bible. He accepted those that treated Jesus as Divine and rejected those portraying Him as mortal. Fact- Constantine had nothing to do with formation of biblical canon. Process started well before him and was finalized about 50 years after his death. The four gospels we use today were chosen because of their authenticity and their Orthodoxy. They were the earliest documents and were circulated in the churches from the first century. Many of the apocryphal writings came much later and were filled with all sorts of hybrid teachings, superstitions and foolish heresies. Names of Jesus? disciples and apostles were attached to these documents to give them credibility.

4)       Jesus was not considered divine by His followers. His status was upgraded to deity by Constantine in the 4th century. Fact- Even the NT writings themselves testify to the deity of Christ. He says John 8 ?Before Abraham was, I AM? and John 10 he says ?I and the Father are one.?

 

Formation of Biblical Canon

                The Scriptures were written and the Bible formed for the Church by the people within the Church. To have them interpreted by those outside the Church (canonically and spiritually) to tell believers within the Church what they mean is preposterous.

                The existence of a document/writing does not guarantee the truth of its content. The Gospel of Judas and the DaVinci Code are good examples.

                We must be more discerning when reading and listening to the media. Ultimately, everything must be measured against the truth of Christ. The truths of His teachings are self-evident.

 

Conclusion

Don?t stick your head in the sand. Read, but read with discernment.

The teachings of Christ are not secret, they are given/proclaimed to the whole world.

However, they remain hidden to those who lack faith and those whose minds are clouded by the stain of sin.

Prayer is an exercise of faith each day, worshipping in the church is an exercise of faith each week.

Repentance and Confession is a cleansing of sin through the forgiveness of God.

New York Times

April 6, 2006

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today. In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so.

Though some theologians have hypothesized this, scholars who have studied the new-found text said, this is the first time an ancient document defends the idea.

The discovery in the desert of Egypt of the leather-bound papyrus manuscript, and now its translation, was announced by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington. The 26-page Judas text is said to be a copy in Coptic, made around A. D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before.

Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.

"The codex has been authenticated as a genuine work of ancient Christian apocryphal literature," Mr. Garcia said, citing extensive tests of radiocarbon dating, ink analysis and multispectral imaging and studies of the script and linguistic style. The ink, for example, was consistent with ink of that era, and there was no evidence of multiple rewriting.

"This is absolutely typical of ancient Coptic manuscripts," said Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at the University of Munster in Germany. "I am completely convinced."

The most revealing passages in the Judas manuscript begins, "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus.

Unlike the accounts in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the anonymous author of the Gospel of Judas believed that Judas Iscariot alone among the 12 disciples understood the meaning of Jesus' teachings and acceded to his will. In the diversity of early Christian thought, a group known as Gnostics believed in a secret knowledge of how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse ? and fascinating ? the early Christian movement really was."

The Gospel of Judas is only one of many texts discovered in the last 65 years, including the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Philip, believed to be written by Gnostics.

The Gnostics' beliefs were often viewed by bishops and early church leaders as unorthodox, and they were frequently denounced as heretics. The discoveries of Gnostic texts have shaken up Biblical scholarship by revealing the diversity of beliefs and practices among early followers of Jesus.

As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out.

For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

Scholars say that they have long been on the lookout for the Gospel of Judas because of a reference to what was probably an early version of it in a text called Against Heresies, written by Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, about the year 180.

Irenaeus was a hunter of heretics, and no friend of the Gnostics. He wrote, "They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."

Karen L. King, a professor of the history of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, and an expert in Gnosticism who has not yet read the manuscript released today, said that the Gospel of Judas may well reflect the kinds of debates that arose in the second and third century among Christians.

"You can see how early Christians could say, if Jesus's death was all part of God's plan, then Judas's betrayal was part of God's plan," said Ms. King, the author of several books on Gnostic texts. "So what does that make Judas? Is he the betrayer, or the facilitator of salvation, the guy who makes the crucifixion possible?"

At least one scholar said the new manuscript does not contain anything dramatic that would change or undermine traditional understanding of the Bible. James M. Robinson, a retired professor of Coptic studies at Claremont Graduate University, was the general editor of the English edition of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic documents discovered in Egypt in 1945.

"Correctly understood, there's nothing undermining about the Gospel of Judas," Mr. Robinson said in a telephone interview. He said that the New Testament gospels of John and Mark both contain passages that suggest that Jesus not only picked Judas to betray him, but actually encouraged Judas to hand him over to those he knew would crucify him.

Mr. Robinson's book, "The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and his Lost Gospel" (Harper San Francisco, April 2006), predicts the contents of the Gospel of Judas based on his knowledge of Gnostic and Coptic texts, even though he was not part of the team of researchers working on the document.

The Egyptian copy of the gospel was written on 13 sheets of papyrus, both front and back, and found in a multitude of brittle fragments.

Rudolphe Kasser, a Swiss scholar of Coptic studies, directed the team that reconstructed and translated the script. The effort, organized by the National Geographic, was supported by Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, in Basel, Switzerland, and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, an American nonprofit organization for the application of technology in historical and scientific projects.

The entire 66-page codex also contains a text titled James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), a letter by Peter and a text of what scholars are provisionally calling Book of Allogenes.

Discovered in the 1970's in a cavern near El Minya, Egypt, the document circulated for years among antiquities dealers in Egypt, then Europe and finally in the United States. It moldered in a safe-deposit box at a bank in Hicksville, N. Y., for 16 years before being bought in 2000 by a Zurich dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos. The manuscript was given the name Codex Tchacos.

When attempts to resell the codex failed, Ms. Nussberger-Tchacos turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation for conservation and translation.

Mr. Robinson said that an Egyptian antiquities dealer offered to sell him the document in 1983 for $3 million, but that he could not raise the money. He criticized the scholars now associated with the project, some of whom are his former students, because he said they violated an agreement made years ago by Coptic scholars that new discoveries should be made accessible to all qualified scholars.

The manuscript will ultimately be returned to Egypt, where it was discovered, and housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

Ted Waitt, the founder and former chief executive of Gateway, said that his foundation, the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, gave the National Geographic Society a grant of more than $1 million to restore and preserve the manuscript and make it available to the public.

" I didn't know a whole lot until I got into this about the early days of Christianity. It was just extremely fascinating to me," Mr. Waitt said in a telephone interview. He said he had no motivation other than being fascinated by the finding. He said that after the document was carbon dated and the ink tested, procedures his foundation paid for, he had no question about its authenticity. "You can potentially question the translation and the interpretation, he said, but you can't fake something like this. It would be impossible."