The Missing Gospels (3 of 3)
Mr. Mark Yarbrough: Welcome to DTS Dialogue: Issues of God in Culture. I'm your host Mark Yarbrough, Executive Director of Communications at Dallas Theological Seminary. Today our discussion topic is "The Missing Gospels."
Well, what advice would you give? We're going to have a lot of listeners that get caught up in this discussion. You know they have it at the cooler at the workplace. And, it is going to surface in regards to the reliability of the Bible.
What advice would you give people, when it goes that direction? It really is the question that your son, hypothetically had there. What would you say to people that are out there. They've listened to this discussion. They've been able to make the distinctions. They know they can separate the two with time, with theological issues. There is a reason it was not included in the canon that we had. When the discussion goes toward the reliability of what we do have. What would you say to them?
Dr. Daniel Wallace: I would say that one of the things that they need to wrestle with is a recognition that these Gnostic gospels are, for the most part, non-narrative gospels. They are not something that is memory in community. It is secret sayings given to one person so that this one individual knows what Jesus is really like. It doesn't connect with history.
The gospels of The New Testament do connect with history very strongly. You hear about people, places, things that Jesus did. It speaks about eyewitnesses. Paul says 500 brothers and sisters at one time saw the risen Lord, most of whom are still alive. That kind of a comment is meant to tell us that there is some verification that we can have historically about what is going on here.
You just don't have that in the Gnostic gospels at all and, consequently, even though people are, as Hall said, interested in this conspiracy theory. The fact is that it's a completely non-verifiable kind of a gospel. My recommendation for Christians would be to go back and look at the Gospels and recognize that this is essentially talking about God, who had become man in human flesh. It is God invading time, space, history in the person of Jesus Christ.
Consequently, it is meant to be taken as an historical narrative that we can verify and test. The Gnostic gospels can not be. I would like to see Christians start engaging in resting with that very issue and realize that their Christianity is not something that they can just take for granted. But, they need to start thinking about some of these historical issues.
Mark: Well, there is a great challenge out of that. It says know what The New Testament gospels say. It is short and sweet.
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think it is important to appreciate the fact that these Gnostic materials were inherently divisive works. What I mean by that is that there is the secret knowledge that only SOME Christians have. It is only intended for the group that is in "the know." That is the Gnostic part of it, if you will. Even the Apostles aren't in "the know." It is only these people who got this special revelation, who were kind of cut away from the Apostles. So, in that sense, there is that quality of the material.
There is a tonal issue that I think is important. That is a lot of people who ask these questions, are asking, in many cases, very sincere questions. I like to tell people to distinguish between the people who are promoting this material.
One of the reasons this stuff is so in the public square, is that you have some publishers who are literally publishing book after book after book after book. It is really the same stuff. It is just repackaged year after year after year after year. Purporting it as new, as sensational findings, that kind of thing. It has finally penetrated the public square.
The people who are doing the publishing know what they are doing. But, the people who are reading the books being published are simple absorbing information, in what is largely a vacuum of knowledge that they don't have. So, because there is nothing else that goes in and these works are said to come from experts, they are tending to trust this material that they are being told about. And, so it is very important to understand that some people are asking very sincere questions because of what they've heard.
I think their questions need to be treated with respect, with sincerity, while dealing with the data. Rather than our tendency sometimes is to say, well, you're being gullible. You've just been looped in. Well, I don't think it is always that sinister. In some cases, it is a very honest engagement that the person has when they are asking these questions.
Dr. Hall Harris: I agree with that. I really don't think this is rocket science. I really don't think it takes a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, or in New Testament Studies or in ancient history to sit down and read The Gospel of Matthew or The Gospel of John or The Gospel of Luke or The Gospel of Mark and put it over against The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of Judas or The Acts of Paul and Thecla or some of these other works that are out there.
Because, you can read them and you can see that these are just not the same thing. One of the key things of points of difference in almost all the Gnostic works is that if an apostle or famous Christian figure, like Thomas or Judas or Peter or Paul gets mentioned, they get mentioned as an individual. "This is Judas speaking" or it's spoken to Judas or about Judas or "This is Thomas speaking."
What you don't have is the Eleven or the Twelve, the Apostles, speaking with a unified voice. So this is our testimony, collectively, about who Jesus is, like you have at the end of Johns Gospel, we get this plural "we," "We know that what this one said is true." You get the unified testimony speaking.
Not that there are no differences. There are differences in perspective and emphasis and characterization and other types of things. But the underlying theological unity of the canonical, the New Testament Gospels, is set over against this shotgun approach of all the Gnostic works that go in every direction with no real unity and no unified voice.
Dan: It's really the difference between secret knowledge on the one hand and memory in the community in the other.
Mark: That's a good way to say it.
What resources are out there? People need to become familiar with this and we get questions and phone calls all the time, and hundreds of emails on this particular topic. What resources would you recommend?
Darrell: One resource I'd recommend is just pick up a copy of the Gospel of Judas online. You can do it through National Geographic and read through it, it's only about seven pages long. It doesn't take very long. It's a very representative work of what these Gnostic gospels are like.
I now sometimes teach a Sunday school class in which I take people though it in an hour with a lot of interest and curiosity. When they're done I say, when the discussion about what are those others gospels, what about them? You can say, "Well, have you ever read one of these works all the way through?" and you can say "Yeah, I've read one of them. I've been through the Gospel of Judas."
So sometimes as Paul was suggesting earlier, this isn't rocket since you don't need a Ph.D., if you have the academic qualifications of being able to read, then you can get through this material and you can see for yourself what's going on. Now beyond that in terms of resources we can engage in some selfish self-promotion here and the way I'll do it is mention Dan's book.
Dan: I'll reciprocate you!
Mark: That's great!
Darrell: Dan's has done a book called, Reinventing Jesus. He's done it with Ed Komoszewski, who graduated here a several years ago, and Jim Sawyer, who did as well. It is a survey of the various issues that come up in relationship to the historical Jesus, written for a popular audience. It's written so that you don't need a rocket science degree before you undertake it. You might need a spelling degree before you can spell the names of the authors but that's a different deal. Anyway, but it's very, very well done in a very, very accessible book on the wide range of issues related to Jesus.
Mark: Yes it is. Excellent book.
Dan: Darrell has written a book called The Missing Gospels, which just dovetails into exactly what we're talking about today. So that's the one to get to follow up on our conversation here today.
Mark: OK. So we've got a couple books. Any other resources that we want to talk about?
Darrell: Well we can tell people to keep their eyes open for something. We're working right now; Dan and I are working on a book that is tentatively titled, Dethroning Jesus. Not because we are trying to do so, but because we are discussing how Jesus is being handled in the public square.
We're going to take on a look at several books that have been New York Times Bestsellers, or have come close to the bestseller list, related to the public display and discussion of who Jesus is and analyze them for what they're doing both with respect to Jesus and how the Bible is being handled.
That book will hopefully be out this time next year. It will be a very helpful look at many of these issues. Thomas and Judas are going to be discussed directly and then we're also going to discuss some of the major books that have come out that have kind of caught the public's attention in that last few years.
Mark: Hmm, that's great. Guys, thank you so much for your time. Greatly appreciate it. Again, busy time of the year, busy time of the semester, and we thank you for sparing the time for us. Why don't we close with a word of prayer? Hall, would you lead us?
Hall: Sure. Our gracious Heavenly Father, we do thank you that we do have the opportunity to look at the documents which have been left for us and to see in them our Lord Jesus Christ with the testimony of the apostolic eye witnesses to affirm it's truthfulness. We pray to this, we continue to examine these issues and as we are confronted by the ongoing discussion in the public square that You by Your Spirit would guide us and help us to be a good and vibrant witness, a testimony to the truth of the gospel as contained in these apostolic eye witnesses and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in His name that we pray. Amen.
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