There are many theories out there stating that the formation of the Bible is a conspiracy by the early church to cover up other writings about Jesus. In this sermon, Greg conspires to show how those theories have their own problems and addresses some of the questions these theories raise.
In this “new age” that we live in, there are many different mystical experiences. They sometimes say they have secret knowledge or understanding of the world that no one else has. Whether it’s a guru or some ancient text that was just found on an archaeological dig, there are many different philosophies out there about life. However, this is not a new phenomenon.
Paul, in Colossians 2, is writing against his age’s “new age”. In his day, it was Gnosticism—a movement that claimed it had secret knowledge of Jesus’ life and mission. He warns that this movement is hollow and deceptive, in that it looks good on the outside, but it has no substance to it. He told the Colossians to hold firm to the fullness of Jesus Christ, and we need to follow the same command.
Around 1945, some ancient texts (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, and Gospel of Judas, plus others) were unearthed in a library in Nag Hammadi in Egypt, and there have been others discovered since then. These texts are called the Gnostic gospels. Little was made of these discoveries until the past twenty years or so. In recent history, there has been a rash of people claiming conspiracy theories about the Church covering up these texts and that the early church leaders banned these books from the Bible for their own reasons.
Fear has gripped many Christians over the last couple decades due to this. Many churches don’t preach about the validity of the Bible, and it seems that only people in seminary know how to address these texts. Movies like the Davinci Code, Religulous, Stigmata, and books like “Banned from the Bible” have all contributed to this fear that our early church leaders have led us astray or are hiding some secret knowledge. And sometimes it isn’t fear, but rather that these texts paint a different picture of Jesus that people like. This Jesus tends to be mystical, a wise sage, and is often less confrontational on people’s lives than the NT Jesus. These texts are used to claim that the original teacher was just a good, enlightened teacher but not the Messiah. It is the same argument that Paul faced in Colossians.
In defending our beliefs in the Bible, it is important to answer two important questions. The first question is “Are the Gnostic gospels as reliable as New Testament writings?” The answer is no for a few reasons. The first is that there is historical and geographical proximity for the NT letters. They were all written in the 1st century, whereas most of the Gnostic gospels come up later in history, from dates of the 2nd century to the 5th century. The second reason is that there is a lot of corroborating evidence to support the 1st century writings of the gospels in the Bible, whereas the Gnostic gospels have none.
The second question we have to answer is “Have the New Testament writings been doctored up?” While there are variations in the NT text, these account for small factors in the texts and do not disagree with the foundational points in the text. For instance, the divinity of Jesus is never a variation in the texts. Every manuscript prior to 325 AD has a divine Jesus, and there are over 200 quotes from church fathers that state Jesus is God. In addition, these variations can be explained by one simple mechanic in communication.
While in our day and age, we look for preciseness of reproduction in quotes and stories, this was not the case in ancient times. Instead of printing presses and the internet, they had an oral culture that put writing in a minor role. The telling of stories was of greater importance than writing down these stories. And different locations had different variations on the same story, but that was an acceptable variance in ancient times—as long as the foundational aspects of the story were true.
Jesus, as portrayed in the New Testament, shows us the way to the fullness of God. There is no secret knowledge that is necessary—just faithful following and seeking after the Jesus of the Bible. His Spirit guides us in this process, and our community helps us discern the Spirit. Jesus is much more than some guru or wise sage. He is the Alpha and Omega. It’s all in Christ, and we are complete in Jesus Christ of the New Testament.
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