What About the Missing Gospels and Lost Christianities? – Program 1

By: Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2006
Are there other Gospels that ought to be in our Bible? Do they give us better, more accurate information about Jesus? How can we know?

What Are the Lost Gospels?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, What about the Missing Gospels and Lost Christianities that archaeologists say they have now? Some scholars at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale claim that these lost Gospels and alternative Christian groups existed shortly after the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Further, these people claimed to be true Christians, but did not believe Jesus was God, nor did they believe in his resurrection from the dead. Some scholars claim that this new evidence indicates we must rewrite church history and give up traditional beliefs about Jesus. God, and the Bible. Is this true? What evidence refutes these views?

Today, you will find out. My guest is considered one of the top historical Jesus scholars in the world. He is Dr. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He has appeared on ABC with Diane Sawyer, on NBC’s dateline with Stone Phillips, and with Bill O’Reilly on Fox. His new book The Missing Gospels, Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities, examines these lost Gospels and tells why they are not true Christianity. He has also written 13 other books including, Breaking the Da Vinci Code.

We invite you to join us.


Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I’m talking with one of my favorite guests, Dr. Darrell Bock, and the topic that we’re talking about is crucial. We’re talking about the new school of theology in our universities. If you send your son, your daughter, to one of our American universities, they’re going to hear the kind of things we’re talking about today. And it’s a broadside against Christianity. They’re saying they’ve found some hard evidence that if you read that evidence, you need to rewrite Church history as we know it; that their evidence will be better than the Christian traditional evidence. That’s wrong, and we’re going to tell you why it’s wrong today. And, Darrell, let’s, first of all talk about, what are these “lost gospels”? People didn’t know they were lost. We’re actually talking about some strange-sounding books that were found in 1945 in Egypt. Tell us about those books and why they’re so important.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, these books were found in Egyptian caves, and they were part of what is called a Gnostic Christian community. Now, I need to stop there and just say, what’s Gnostic? Well, Gnostic is a belief that you have access to special knowledge. It’s knowledge of mysteries. And gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge, so that’s where it comes from. So it’s a special type of Christianity that really redefines the faith. It says that the creation is bad and evil from the start; there was not a good creation at the beginning. It says that God wasn’t responsible for that creation, but rather underlings were. The actually word, technical term, is demiurge. It says that Jesus wasn’t both human and divine. And in fact, what the Gnostics often said is that he was just divine; whereas today they tend to suggest that he’s just human. And then finally, it suggests that salvation doesn’t have anything to do with sin or our responsibility before God. It has everything to do with proper knowledge about yourself and that there’s a divine spark within you. So out of those kinds of four areas, you see the differences between this kind of Christianity and Christianity as we’ve known it historically.
Ankerberg: Now people still aren’t catching, though. What we’re trying to say is what the professors at some of our schools…. Let me give them a quote from one of our profs at Yale, okay? And he’s writing in books like this, this is Elaine Pagels at Princeton, The Gnostic Gospels. We’ve got The Secret Teachings of Jesus. If you go into any bookstore you’ll find The Gnostic Bible. You find the popular literature like The Da Vinci Code and the movies that are being made about these kinds of things. They’re giving the popular side of this scholarly discussion that we’re talking about.
But here’s a quote from Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, okay? He says that as a result of these books that we’re talking about, these Gnostic library books, okay? “The Gospel of Thomas [which is one of them] spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus. If you turn to the Gospel of Thomas, you encounter a Jesus who is unsponsored and free.”
Now, my mother that might be listening to this program would be out there saying, “Why does that even concern me?” Well, if you have a son or a daughter that’s going to these universities, they are saying, “The traditional Christianity that your parents raised you in is not historically true. This is the good stuff, that’s the bad stuff. This stuff trumps that stuff, and you need to be free, you need to get a new Jesus.” But like you say, you’ve got a new God, you got a new Jesus, you got a new problem—you don’t have sin. And so, the fact is, that’s what we’re dealing with here, right?
Bock: Yes, it’s a very different deal. I mean, Dan Brown said it best in The Da Vinci Code. He basically said everything that the Church has told us about the first three centuries is false. And so they want to totally reconfigure the way we think about Christianity. And it not only involves your kids, it involves your neighbors. If you’ve got people next to you who don’t know very much about Christianity and they’re trying to hear about what true Christianity is, and you start talking about traditional Christianity, they’ll go, “No, no, no, no, no. I just saw on TV last week. That’s not the way it really is. Let me tell you what the scholars are saying.” And so this is a serious problem that is creeping rapidly into our culture, and is trying to reformulate the way everybody thinks about Christianity.
Ankerberg: Alright. Let’s talk about the two sides. The new religious views, they’re making the old traditional Christianity the bad guys, and they’re the good guys, their Gnostic texts are the good guys. Before we talk about their stuff, let’s talk about how Christianity came down to us. Because what they’re saying is, “Look, you’ve got your books, but the fact is, we’ve got our books. And these books, they came out about the same time your books, and this is an alternative Christianity. This stuff is just as good as your stuff.” That’s not true, and their claims are exaggerated.
But let’s talk about, first of all, how Christianity has come down to us. Just give us a quick outline. We’re going to keep coming back to this, but so people that haven’t even heard this before, how did it come down? Start with Jesus and work down through history.
Bock: Okay. In the beginning there was Jesus.
Ankerberg: Uh huh.
Bock: Let’s start there.
Ankerberg: Uh huh.
Bock: And he went around and ministered and he ministered with the twelve, the apostles. Part of the reason he ministered with, and picked out, twelve was so that some of the people around him would be very, very familiar with what his ministry was all about. Because he was well aware, not long into his ministry, that he was likely headed to death, to die. He was going to be crucified, he was going to be removed from the scene, and whatever he represented would have to be picked up and carried on, the baton would have to be passed, to these twelve.
Then from the twelve, we have writings, either that they are directly responsible for or people around them are responsible for. If we look at our four Gospels, we’ve got Matthew and John that go back, in each case, to one of these twelve. Or we’ve got Mark and Luke that go back, in the case of Mark probably to Peter and his circle; in the case of Luke to Paul and his circle. And Luke probably was well-circulated [and] knew many of these twelve. So we’ve got these apostolic roots.
But there’s a practical problem. And that is, even though these Gospels were produced in the latter part of the first century, somewhere between 50 and 90 AD, they weren’t functioning in the way we think of the Bible until at least the end of the second century; that we know. Individual books may have been cited and engaged, but they weren’t working like the four Gospels like we think about today. So then the question becomes, “How do we know that this stuff is true?”, and more importantly, “Before these books were being circulated so that people would know what the truth is, how did Christians know what to believe?”
Well, we know that from the little bits of material in our best historical sources, which are in these books, these little traditions that were passed on in memorable form; hymns that were sung so that theology would be remembered through singing; and rites that the Church participated in, like the Lord’s Table, in which you reviewed the death of Jesus every time you went to the table. So these things allowed the basic core of orthodoxy to be affirmed to people who, by the way, normally you didn’t have books in this period—everything that you did, if you were an average person, on the street would normally have been done orally. You would have heard it.
Ankerberg: Let me see if I can frame it in Ankerberg terms here, and you correct me, okay? Today we have alternative Christianities. Everybody knows the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, okay? The Mormon Church says Jesus was a God, the Holy Spirit was another God, and the Father was a third God. And, oh, by the way, if you join the Mormon Church, and follow their ways, you can become a God too. Okay? And they had extra texts that they would point to.
We, as Christians, if you want to refute that, you say, we’ve got this New Testament, okay? You point to a verse. Jehovah’s Witnesses, they subtract from the New Testament, okay? Jesus is not a God, he’s something in between God and man, okay? And they have to subtract verses from the New Testament. Now, Christians use the New Testament and the Old Testament to talk to them.
Now, take the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons and go back into the first 200 years of Christianity when you had no New Testament. What you’re saying is, what did the people point to? How would they say, “If you’ve got another Jesus, you’ve got another god”? How in the world would those people, without a Bible, how would they talk to somebody?
And what you’re saying is you start with the twelve. You’ve got Jesus, who makes his own declarations, and the twelve that are around him. The people saw the twelve, I mean, they lived with him and walked with him for three years. The fact is, then Jesus passes off the scene and you’ve got these disciples, these apostles, preaching, and they’re founding churches, and people knew what they said. And then you’ve got the disciples of the apostles and they’re writing. And so you’ve got these historical links that the new religious people, they would sell their grandmother to get this kind of evidence. If our students are listening right here, they don’t have this kind of evidence.
Bock: Exactly right.
Ankerberg: But we’ve got this kind of evidence, and it does go back. But you’re saying it didn’t come out in a book. The 27 books of the New Testament didn’t come out in a package. Those were letters, each one of those were independent witnesses that were sent to congregations or to people. And they influenced those people; they were read out loud. This was not secret stuff; this was out loud stuff.
Bock: That’s right. It’s for the public.
Ankerberg: And so that was the corrective, and that was what people were talking about. Take it from there, now.
Bock: Well, basically, within those pieces that are being read in the churches, which are long—I mean, it would take a long time to go through the Gospel of Matthew, or the Gospel of Luke, and even to go through the letters of Paul; I mean, you know, that would take a while to listen—but embedded within them are pieces of traditional material. This is stuff that was passed on orally. These would be one- or two-verse bits of material, real small, real memorable, laid out in parallelism so that you could remember it. Repeated over and over and over so you would remember it. It’s a lot like memory verses today. You know how sometimes we give people memory verses: “If you’ll remember these two things, you’ll have at least a start on this topic.” That’s exactly what’s going on, except it’s going on orally. There isn’t a Bible to point to to do it, it’s just simply, “This is what we’ve passed on.” Because we’re coming out of a Jewish culture, and Jewish culture honored the oral word and the tradition.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk about one of the number one questions that’s in “The Da Vinci Code” and on the minds of people that might be listening right now, and that is, “Well, listen, when you finally did get these letters, who picked them out? And, I mean, how did you guys know those were authoritative? And how did you put down these other books that this Gnostic library now has come out, and the new scholars are saying, ‘hey, that’s the stuff’?” Who made those decisions, and why do we believe what you’re saying, Darrell, versus what the guys at Princeton, Yale and Harvard are saying? Okay? We’ll talk about it when we come right back.


Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Darrell Bock, and we’re talking about Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Our professors at our universities, many of them, are talking about the lost Scripture books, so called, the Gnostic books that have been found. And they’re reading those and saying, “This is an alternative Christianity. It’s something we didn’t know before, and now, the fact is, we know it and this stuff is better than your traditional Christianity. And, oh, by the way, you don’t need the God of the Bible, you don’t need Jesus being God, you don’t have a problem with sin. You’ve got a whole different religious view over here, and that’s just as valid as what you guys are saying.”
Darrell, we were talking about, the fact is, how the information came down from Jesus and the apostles. And we have core beliefs that have historical links all the way back. And let’s drive that in. Why is that important? And then the next thing is, people want to know, when we finally did choose the New Testament and rejected other books, how did the church do that, and who were the people that were powerful enough to do that? Was that because of Constantine in 325 at Nicea? Or was that because of the church collectively understanding some of these core beliefs that had come down?
Bock: Well, the core beliefs are those things that were passed on in the oral tradition, verbally, literally mouth-to-mouth. I mean, Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15 how he passed on to the Corinthians what he himself received, and he’s talking about something that came to him orally. And he’s talking about the resurrection, so that if you look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, for example, you see that “Jesus was crucified according to Scripture, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now that is a real brief amount of material. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about a theological summary of a core belief: the theological summary is in three lines, and the core belief is the resurrection. And it’s stated in a form that everyone can remember it.
Ankerberg: And the reason that’s cool is that we know the book was written in 55 [AD] and he says it goes back before he got there.
Bock: Exactly right.
Ankerberg: So this goes right back to, if Jesus died about 30 AD, you’re getting right back to Jesus.
Bock: In fact, you can almost push it all the way back to the 30s. And the reason I say that is that when Paul has his experience of Jesus on the Damascus Road, and the Lord says to him, you know, “I, the Lord, am speaking to you” in effect, he’s got to know who that is and what he did, and why that would make a difference. Paul didn’t have to struggle to process that. He knew immediately what had taken place, who it was he was seeing, and why it was significant he was seeing Jesus. If he’s seeing Jesus, Jesus must be raised from the dead. So that puts you back into the 30s. So you’re talking about perhaps THE peg of all the core beliefs going in right there. And out of the resurrection comes everything else that comes from Christianity.
Ankerberg: Why is information right back to the time of Jesus, why does that trump information that came up 100 years later, or 200 years later?
Bock: Well, your question pretty much says it, and that is that you’ve got a time gap in this new material. It doesn’t go back to these early roots. No one claims that this material goes back that far.
Ankerberg: The material being in the Gnostic library.
Bock: The NEW material, that’s right, the new Gnostic material. Not only does nobody claim that, but the most they can claim is, “Oh, well there were a lot of people taking the name of Jesus and identifying with it, calling themselves Christians, and they just had a wide variety of beliefs.” But then the next question is, why should someone believe this Christianity—the new Christianity—versus the old, when that material is later, the theology is very different? I think it’s very clear when you compare these two theologies to one another why, immediately, both sides kind of clash, because these were very distinct theologies. You can’t believe what’s going on over here and at the same time believe what’s going on over there.
Ankerberg: Let’s put it the other way. America is about 200 years old, okay, the fact is that if you have somebody writing about George Washington now, or if you go back to Thomas Jefferson and the boys who actually wrote then, and knew Washington, which one would you trust?
Bock: Well, you’d certainly have to start with the…
Ankerberg: Guys that were right on the scene.
Bock: Exactly. The guys who were right there who lived with them, who knew them, etc. And the thing here that’s important is that we aren’t dealing with a portrait over here, say the traditional Christianity, biblical Christianity, orthodox Christianity, in which something’s being said, and then this is coming along side and elaborating it. That’s not what’s going on. What we’ve got is orthodox Christianity over here saying certain things about God, Jesus, salvation, the redemption of the body, as well as the redemption of all the creation, what salvation involves. It involves the totality of what God created.
And over here you’ve got something very different. So it’s not elaboration. Sometimes reflection over time does give you historical perspective. But what we’ve got going on over here are two completely different models of what’s going on.
Ankerberg: Yes, and they are really different. In the weeks to come we’re going to fill in this outline. When we say that they’ve got a concept of God, it is a completely different God than the one that Jesus is talking about, the one of the Old Testament, or the New Testament books.
Bock: Exactly right. Let me just give you an example. For example, in one of these books we have the Pistis Sophia, a divine feminine, if you will, that’s so popular in a lot of the discussion. She’s responsible for the creation. She creates without consulting her consort. She didn’t check with the chief, in other words.
Ankerberg: This is the stuff you find in the Gnostic library.
Bock: This is in the Gnostic library.
Ankerberg: This is the God over here you’ve….
Bock: That’s exactly right. And she creates, and she botches the job. I mean, it’s a messy creation. In fact, creation is so messed up that the creation itself, the material world, is evil from the beginning. And because it’s evil from the beginning, it can never be redeemed. Well, that’s not only different from what Christianity taught, orthodox Christianity, that’s also different from what orthodox Judaism taught and what the Old Testament taught.
Ankerberg: Which is going to be very important in the weeks to come.
Bock: Exactly right. Because, what they were teaching was that creation came directly from God, and that in the beginning it was good. It was very good. It wasn’t evil. Matter is worth redeeming, because it’s part of what God gifts us with when he places us in the creation. And then what happened is that we had the fall, we had sin, and that was our responsibility. That became our responsibility. See, in the Gnostic model, the responsibility is elsewhere. In the Christian model, we are responsible for how we act before God. That’s a very big difference.
Ankerberg: And of course our guys today and even a lot of people back then, they didn’t like that idea that I’m responsible before God for how I live and accepting his gift of salvation. And the fact is that, I mean, that’s still with us today, if what we’re talking about in Christianity is true, that’s still on the table. You’re face to face with Jesus and what you’re going to do with him. Elaine Pagels, at Princeton, writes a little section about why she doesn’t like the old Christianity. Okay? And she says, you know, it’s kind of restrictive and you’ve got a different god and you can know yourself and you can kind of float with the spirit.
Well, that’s the spirit of our age. Okay? We said we were going to tell them who picked out this information. We got down to Nicea. It’s very popular in The Da Vinci Code and other books like The Da Vinci Code in popular literature, and even some of the scholars are saying, “Look, the powerful won!” Okay?
Bock: Yes.
Ankerberg: “If it had been anybody else, we might have been reading those Gnostic gospels now, not the stuff you guys have in the New Testament. The powerful won because the Church leaders, they’re the ones that put the screws down on this thing. And that’s how we got what you’re talking about.” Why is that wrong?
Bock: Well, the mantra is that history is written by the winners. But sometimes the winners deserve to win. And in this particular case, the people who won deserved to win. Because what’s going on is, these choices weren’t made at Nicea. We know that by the end of the second century the four Gospels were being used in the church and other books were being excluded. We have quotes from Origen in the early part of the third century—200s—125 years before Nicea saying, “We don’t read Thomas in the churches.” And we have quotes from Irenaeus. In 180 he says “The Gospel is the fourfold Gospel”—that’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He says, Justin Martyr, in 155 says the Gospels are called “the memoirs of the apostles.”
The reason these Gospels rose to the top was because, if I can say it this way, they came from the top. These were people who had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and their assistants who had exposure to Jesus or exposure to the people who had exposure to Jesus. They put this material down. In some cases what they were recording were traditions that were circulating in the church, much like the pieces of tradition that we talked about, these little individual stories about Jesus that make up the contents of our Gospels. And they wrote that down so the church would have it—to use the words of Muhammad Ali—“forever and ever and for all time.” And so that’s what’s going on. And so those works go all the way back, and they were chosen—it isn’t so much that…, well, they were chosen in one sense, but in another sense they were recognized. They were recognized for being the authentic tradition of Jesus that they claimed to be.
Ankerberg: We’re also going to show them, starting next week, why the Christians rejected these Gnostic books. Because you’re going to give us some sections that will curl their hair. If you had a little bit more, the fact is, it would curl yours, too. But the thing is, this stuff, it sounds so silly, and yet, like you say, if it wasn’t the scholars at Harvard and Yale and Princeton and University of North Carolina, and in our schools in California that were saying this, it would just be hype, because the foundation is not there. But if our kids are going to the school, and they don’t have this information that we’re going to be talking about, the fact is they can fall to that, and they can leave Christianity because they don’t have a solid foundation.
So folks, we’re going to talk, next week, about the God that you find in these Gnostic books. And we’re going to compare that with this traditional material that we’ve been talking about that came down from Jesus, the apostles, the apostles of the apostles, and all the way down. We’re going to show you this, the historical links and the core evidence, all the many witnesses to the belief in God that we have, the person of Jesus, the work of Jesus and the problem that man actually has before God. So, please, please join us for that program.

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