The Folly Of Gnosticism
The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. A gnostic is a person who believes that "special knowledge", not divine grace, leads to God. This is the core doctrine of gnosticism.
This doctrine stands in direct conflict with the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Because of this fact, only one of these two doctrines can be correct. We know that the cannonical Gospels are reliable manuscripts, written by either an apostle or an associate of an apostle. Can we say the same about the gnostic texts? Do they accurately portray Jesus of Nazareth, or are they phonies? In this post, I will give dates for three popular gnostic texts. These dates show that these so-called gnostic "gospels" could not have been written by the apostles whose names they bear. Let's start with the most popular gnostic text........
Gospel Of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas is the most well-known of all of the gnostic texts. This text was made famous by the Jesus Seminar. The Gospel of Thomas was among those discovered in 1945 near Nag-Hummadi, Egypt, in buried jars. The Gospel of Thomas is one of the earliest texts from this discovery. Is the Jesus Seminar correct in asserting that this text deserves an early date? Or is this simply more poor scholarship on their part? I do not believe that this text deserves an early date, especially not one earlier than the Gospel of John. This has to do with some second-century writings.
Tatian, an early Christian theologan and writer, created a blended version of the four cannonical Gospels around the year 170 A.D. This paraphrase is known as the Diatessaron, and was the standard text for the Gospels until the fifth century. The Diatessaron also plays a part in helping us to date the Gospel of Thomas.
The Gospel of Thomas appears to share some information in common with the Diatessaron. Yet the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the Diatessaron. The Gospel of Thomas was probably written shortly after the Diatessaron. It was written before Ireanus' writings in 180 A.D. From this information, we can reasonably say that it was written between 170 and 180 A.D. If news about it had spread half as fast as it is today, then it is not a wonder why Ireanus considered it a heresy, an important reason to address it! Since the Gospel of Thomas failed to provide early support, let's try again......
Gospel Of Judas
The Gospel of Judas was discovered only thirty-three years after the Gospel of Thomas. The date given for this text is close to that given for the Gospel of Thomas as well--the middle of the second century A.D. This is a widely accepted date among scholars. This means that this text is too late to have been written by anyone associated with an apostle. However, this text has even more problems.
This text was definitely written in the second century--probably between 150 and 180 A.D. This, however, is not the only problem with this text. Its most major issue? It appears to come more from a Greek source than from a Jewish source!! This is what separates many gnostic documents from the Gospel accounts.
Many ancient Greeks believed that the flesh was bad. This is an element that is contained in many gnostic texts. However, Jewish sources would have said that the flesh was created good. We have since messed up and corrupted nature. This text also displays the Greek idea. Therefore, we can confidently say that the author was neither a disciple of Jesus, nor associated with an apostle, nor one of the Jews that witnessed Jesus' ministry. This means that the Gospel of Judas is a forgery. Let's look at one more gnostic document......
Apocalypse Of Peter
The Apocalypse of Peter is another gnostic text. Many liberal scholars have attempted to find a way to date it earlier than Revelation (around 90 A.D., written by John the apostle). However, the majority of scholars now agree that it dates closer to the mid-second century. This places it far too late to have been written by the apostle Peter. Even with the earlier date, it still could not have been written by the apostle.
The Apocalypse of Peter dates to around or just after 125 A.D. Considering that Simon Peter was martyred around 65 A.D., it would have been quite a feat to be able to write this in 125 A.D. This is a feat that we can say did not happen.
The gnostics were an early group that believed that "special knowledge", not divine grace, leads to God. This doctrine stands in direct conflict with the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. This means that only one of these two doctrines could be correct.
The gnostics texts display Jesus as a gnostic teacher, but little more than that. However, as we have seen, the gnostics do not have early manuscript evidence for this view of Jesus. However, the cannonical Gospels have early dates (one possibly earlier than 50 A.D.), and can be traced back to one of the original apostles or their associates. The gnostic texts can claim neither. They were early forgeries, and somewhat interesting from a historical standpoint, but little more than that. They should therefore be discarded. These documents were attempts by people to shape Jesus in their own image, instead of conforming to His. This is perhaps the most dangerous thing a person could do.
Questions For Reflection
1.) Why do you believe that so many people buy into gnosticism, despite its lack of early manuscript evidence for the Jesus it portrays? How aware do you believe people are of this fact?
2.) What other major differences do you see between gnostic doctrine and orthodox Christian doctrine?
3.) Should Gnostics call themselves Christians? Why or why not?