What About the Missing Gospels and Lost Christianities? – Program 3

By: Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2006
Is there a “better” version of Christianity that ought to be reconsidered today in light of newly uncovered documents? Do we need to rethink much of what we’ve been taught about Jesus and the Bible?

The Lost Christianities


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.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking about The Gnostic Bible. We’re talking about the Lost Gospels. We’re talking about The Secret Teachings of Jesus that are so popular. If you go into any of our bookstores across America, you find these things. They’re best sellers. And if you go to our top universities—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and some of our other schools—you find professors that are saying, “We need to rewrite Church history as you guys know it. The fact is, we’ve got a different God, a different Jesus, a different plan of salvation. And the fact is, we’ve got hard evidence to back up these views and show that it’s better than what you’ve got.”
And that hard evidence, they say, is the stuff that you find here in The Gnostic Bible, these books that give us information. They say these are alternative Christianities; that is, that they are Christianities that were back there with some of the traditional teaching, but they are just as valuable, just as legitimate as what you guys are saying. And then they’re saying, in some cases, more.
Now, what we want to talk about are the core beliefs of both groups. And we want to talk about why traditional Christianity does have historical sources and historical links that go right back to this person called Jesus that beats anything that the Gnostics are talking about. Then we want you to see that these core beliefs are not close. They’re not something that can be merged. These things are black and white. You’ve got a completely different Jesus. In fact, let me give you a quote from Harold Bloom who’s at Yale University. He says, “The Gospel of Thomas,” one of these books that have been discovered, “spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a god named Jesus.”
Well, your kids are going to be taught this stuff, [so] I want you to understand why that stuff is wrong. I want you to hear it from the expert who has read all of those books in the original. He’s appeared on ABC with Diane Sawyer, and he’s been on Dateline, and he’s been with O’Reilly. When they need an expert, this is the man they call. And I love him because, Darrell, you can say it so my mother can understand.
Tell us why this is important for people that are listening, that they grasp what is being said. What are the issues here, and then let’s talk about the Jesus that the Gnostics have.
Bock: Well, the key issue here has to do with whether Christianity really goes back to the person of Jesus, or whether Christianity is just kind of another religion out there on the shelf that I can walk up and say, “Well, I’ll take that one, that one, and that one. Or maybe I’ll mix a little this and that”—whether we’re part of a religious cafeteria, in effect. And what’s clear is that traditional Christianity has made very unique claims about who Jesus is; the uniqueness of his work, the uniqueness of his person. And the Gnostic materials deviate on this. They have a very different Jesus. It is an alternative Christianity. It’s very much different than what the traditional orthodox Christianity is. And so it’s important to know that, because some people think, “Ah, this is just religious talk, and as long as you’re going in the right direction, I mean, who cares?”
Ankerberg: Yes. And now Da Vinci Code comes out and takes the popular form of the scholarly views and says, “Look, I’ll tell you what, Jesus’ divinity, the person of Jesus was really invented in 325 at Nicea by the Church Fathers, and they jammed it down the culture’s throat, and that’s why you’ve got the views you hold today. And the first 200 years of Christianity, you didn’t have all the Christians thinking that was the Jesus that you have.” What’s wrong with that?
Bock: Well, the real problem is that we don’t have a single text anywhere that presents us with just a human Jesus. Even the most popular work out of the alternative, which is “The Gospel of Thomas,” presents us with a Jesus who is omnipresent. Who says that you lift up a stone, I’m there. You split a piece of wood, I’m there.” And so there’s this high view of Jesus that’s even in these alternative texts. We don’t have any texts from Gnosticism that simply present Jesus as a human being. In fact, the problem is the exact opposite of what we seen in the Gospels. In the Gospels we see a Jesus who is completely human and who is completely divine. Whereas in these Gnostic works what we sometimes see is a Jesus who is so divine he can’t be human at all. He can’t identify with us; he can’t share in our sufferings; he can’t represent us; he can’t connect with us; because he’s such a transcendent being. The real Jesus is such a transcendent being, in these Gnostic views, that he can’t take on matter, because matter is bad, it was created bad.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let’s go back, because some people say, “But, what evidence do you guys have for your traditional Christian views?” We’ve got 27 independent books, if you want, that were all written before 100 AD, alright? Gnostic books came out 100 years after all of that stuff.
I love, there’s one statement in your new book that’s coming out, that you said, every one of those 27 witnesses that compiled those New Testament books, every one of them mentioned that Christ was deity, and they said it in different ways, but they all had that same theme. So you have 27 independent witnesses before 100 AD saying Jesus claimed to be God, was God, or they identify him as God in some way in those passages. And this is 100 years before the Gnostics come on the site. Now, the fact is, you’re saying some of those Gnostic sites even reflect that tradition, right?
Bock: And they alter it, but they don’t alter it by pulling Jesus down, they alter it by raising him up to such an extent that he no longer is in contact with us. Actually, these 27 witnesses are not only saying that Jesus is fully divine, which is the problem that “The Da Vinci Code” wants to deny, they’re also saying that he’s completely human, which is something that these Gnostic works want to deny; or at least some of them. And so, these works, these Gnostic works, that begin to show up in the second century, but really proliferate at the end of the second century, they’re so concerned to have a pure Jesus, that he can’t be human. So it’s actually the opposite problem to what “The Da Vinci Code” is claiming.
Ankerberg: Alright, two questions. Number one is that, I always remember, the people that actually saw Jesus, they knew he was human. They had a hard problem accepting the fact he was God.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: Okay. Then after he passes off the scene, the apostles pass off the scene, they had no problem accepting he was God, their problem was, “Was he really a man? Did he really suffer pains? Did he really suffer on the cross?” This kind of thing. Now, that’s was my first observation. The second thing is, are the scholars—Harvard, Yale, and so on—[Elaine] Pagels, and Bart Ehrman, and these folks—are they giving us the whole scoop on who the Gnostics were saying that Jesus was, or are they just pulling things out of the Gnostic writings? Are there any hints of both in the Gnostic writings, or are they giving us the straight scoop?
Bock: Actually, what you have in the Gnostic writings is a spectrum, okay. And so some of them come close to the kinds of things that we see in Christianity, with a little bit of human, and a little bit of divine. And then some of them have an exclusively divine Jesus. What none of them have is an only human Jesus. See, here’s the interesting thing. Once you embrace Jesus as being the key to Christianity, the problem is not how low to make him, the question is, how high should you go; which is the opposite of our modern instinct. Our modern instinct is to say, “Well, he started out as a human being, and everyone would have perceived him as a human being, and then it’s going up.” No. If you embrace Jesus, he was the core of Christianity. Even the alternatives agree about that. But the question is, “How is he the core?” Is he a core because he’s both human and divine? Or there’s what’s called docetism—he appeared to be human, but he really was divine. That’s the kind of thing that you see in the Gnostic materials.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s go around this circle. Let’s start with the Gnostics and come back to the traditional texts and we’ll show the difference here in the sense of the core beliefs that came down, and why this is night and day difference here. The fact is, give me a statement from the Gnostic writings that is kind of descriptive of their total view of Jesus, in the sense of who he was.
Bock: Well, here’s one example. This example that I’m going to give you is from a work that is called “The Apocalypse of Peter.” Here’s the quote: “I [that is, Peter], said, ‘What am I seeing, O Lord? It is you, yourself whom they take? And are you holding on to me? Who is this one above the cross who is glad and laughing? And is it another person whose feet and hands they are hammering?’ The Savior said to me, ‘He whom you see above the cross, glad and laughing, is the living Jesus. But he whose hand and feet they are driving in is his physical part, which is the substitute. They are putting to shame that which is his likeness.’” In other words, they are not crucifying the real Jesus.
Ankerberg: So what’s the bottom line? The Gnostics in this text are saying that you’ve got two Jesuses?
Bock: You’ve got a Jesus and you’ve got a substitute. The real Jesus is up above in heaven…
Ankerberg: He’s spirit.
Bock: He’s spirit, and he is laughing at what is going on on the earth, because they think they’re crucifying him, but they’re really not.
Ankerberg: What’s the importance of that in terms of what we’re saying? Why does that matter?
Bock: It matters because now the cross and the work of the cross goes entirely out of the picture, and the only thing that matters is what your relationship is to God as an individual, and you’ve lost any mediating work or any central role of Jesus. So Jesus becomes a key figure in pointing you to the way in Gnosticism, but that way has nothing to do with him.
Ankerberg: He’s just a pointer.
Bock: That’s exactly right.
Ankerberg: His death on the cross doesn’t really affect your sin problem; in fact they’re not even saying your sin problem is important, because you haven’t got sin.
Bock: Exactly right.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to talk about this more, who the Jesus of the Gnostics actually was. And we’re also going to give you the information in the New Testament witnesses and the disciples of the apostles and the Church Fathers. We’re going to show you that it all jibes together. They’ve got one view in terms of Jesus was both human and divine. He was God-man, alright? We’ll talk about that when we come right back.


Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Darrell Bock. We’re talking about The Gnostic Bible, the books that have been found in 1945. And, Darrell, we want to talk about how the Christian witnesses,… we had 27 independent books that were written before 100 AD, and these go back to Jesus himself, and you’ve got historical links that go back to Jesus. This is better evidence than what the Gnostics ever dreamed of having. They don’t have it. It doesn’t exist. The new scholars are spinning a web of fantasy here. Talk about the evidence about Jesus that we do have and how it has come down to us.
Bock: Well, these 27 books that you talk about really come from nine figures. We’re talking about Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; we’re talking about James and Jude, the author of Hebrews, who as Origen said, only God knows who that is. So, you know, people like this. So we’ve got relatives of Jesus in the case of James and Jude. We’ve got people who walked with Jesus as part of the twelve in Matthew and John. By the way, even if you are a moderate, even if you think this comes through the Matthean school or the Johannine school as opposed to going back directly to Matthew and John, you’re still saying this is coming through a tradition whose roots go back to Jesus.
Ankerberg: Yes, because Matthew was one of the apostles, John was one of the apostles. And everybody knows that Luke traveled with Paul, and Mark traveled with Peter.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: So the fact is, this goes right back to the boys themselves.
Bock: Exactly right. And so what you’ve got is material that is taking you back to the earliest time. The Gnostic material doesn’t have anything like that. The only book that they have that comes close is The Gospel of Thomas.
Ankerberg: Gnostic books came out when? They were written when?
Bock: Generally speaking, they start appearing in the second century, early second century, and then they really start to proliferate in the middle part of the second century, the latter part of the second century, the early part of the third century.
Ankerberg: So this stuff is 100 years past the end of the apostles.
Bock: By the time it’s starting to multiply, yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. And the view that we find in the traditional sources here, this information that you’re just talking about, how do we know who Jesus actually is? Give us indications of that from that information.
Bock: Well, as we suggested, what we have within the witnesses that we have that are in the Bible that are our best historical witnesses, these texts are important to us in this discussion, not so much because they are a part of the Bible, but because they are our best historical witnesses. And history is about sources. And when you look at these earliest sources, they have these short traditional summaries, and they have hymns, which means that people were singing this stuff regularly. And usually when you sing stuff, you remember the words—all you have to do is hear the tune and you’re off and running. Or you have religious rites that you are undertaking on a regular basis where you have liturgy that you are repeating or liturgy that you’re hearing regularly. So, for example, with the Lord’s Supper, you know, when you take the bread and you take the cup you’re hearing about the death of Jesus on a regular basis. Those are the types of things that we’re thinking about.
And most of the witnesses that we have for these little pieces of tradition are embedded in the Pauline epistles, which are our earliest witnesses that come from the 50s. And we know that it predates that. And as I also have suggested, when you think about Paul’s own experience, about how he came to the Lord, he had to have a process by which he recognized who the risen Jesus was and what the theology was that was informing that, when he had that experience in the 30s, so we know that some of this stuff goes back to, really to the very beginning points of Christianity.
Ankerberg: Give us some of those little tidbits that we find in these writings that talk about Jesus.
Bock: I’ll summarize a few of them for you. In Romans 1, we have this section, in verses 2-4 that connects Jesus at a human level to being the son of David, but it connects him at a divine level as being demonstrated to be full of divine power, or the son of God, as a result of the resurrection. That’s one example. That’s a traditional piece.
Example of a hymn is in Colossians 1 where we get Jesus being the firstborn of the creation who actually participates in and is responsible in the creation and for the creation. And then the second part of it has to do with him being head of the church. So it has a creator/redeemer theme built within it. It’s all within five verses, it’s laid out in an even structure in Greek so that you can tell this is something that’s been laid out to be memorized.
Third example: 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul says there may be many gods in the world, but for us—that is for Christians—there is one God, the Father—and again it talks about the creation—and one Lord, Jesus Christ—and it talks about the creation again. So within the biblical material—that’s only two verses long—within the biblical materials, we have these short little bits of, if you will, teaching that are chock full of theology that were passed on and were put in memorable bits so that people would know, here are the core teachings of the faith.
Ankerberg: Diane Sawyer asked you to be on her special on the Passion when she was interviewing Mel Gibson. You were one of the experts. You’ve been on Dateline, you’ve been on O’Reilly, and all these programs as the expert. And I remember one of the things that, in the Passion, everybody just kind of blew by real quick was that Jesus claimed, when he was on trial there in front of the Jewish leaders, “Are you the Christ”—meaning the Messiah—“the son of the blessed one?”—that’s the son of God. And he says, “I am, and then you’ll see the son of man coming in the clouds of glory, great power…” and so on. You did your doctoral dissertation in Germany on that “son of man.” People didn’t catch the impact of what you have. And all the gospel writers talk about that little section. The fact is that he was the “son of man.” What does that mean, and why was that a mind-blowing phrase that is recorded in our earliest documents?
Bock: Well, in fact, it’s the very reason Jesus was crucified. His answer to that question put him on the cross. And the reason it was a mind-blowing claim was because in the background of Judaism, there’s only one God. No one shares God’s glory. They could conceivably contemplate a religious great of some type possibly sharing glory under certain circumstances, very special circumstances. But it certainly wouldn’t be an independent Galilean teacher roaming the fields in the first century with no background to have that kind of a connection.
So when the High Priest asks, “Are you the son of God?” by which I think he’s actually asking, “[Are] You the Messiah,” because he wants to prove to Pilate that he’s claiming to be a king that Rome didn’t have anything for. Jesus actually gives him more than he bargained for. He says in Mark, “I am. And you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Two Old Testament passages: Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7. Psalm 110:1 is the idea of this figure being seated at the right hand of the father. And the coming on the clouds is a statement out of Daniel 7. That’s one like the son of man coming to the Ancient of Days. Now that’s all gibberish until I explain it to you, so let me go through those one at a time. Start with Daniel 7 first. When you ride on the clouds in the Old Testament, you’re either God or the gods in the Old Testament.
Ankerberg: And the guys he was talking to knew this by heart.
Bock: They knew this by heart. They clicked in immediately with what it was he was saying. So when he says, “I’m coming on the clouds,” he says “I have divine authority. I’m like a figure, the son of man. I’m actually a judge. In other words, let me put it to you this way, I may be on defense, the defendant in this trail, but one day, in the day that really counts, I’m going to be your judge.” They didn’t want to hear that.
The second thing that’s important here is the idea of the right hand. And the right hand of God is important because Jesus was making it clear by his remark about riding the clouds that what he was envisioning is somehow a vindication that took him to heaven, and then, from heaven he’s able to ride the clouds. Because right now he’s on earth. He’s on terra firma. So, “I’m going to be at the right hand of the father.” They immediately understood that what he was claiming is God was going to vindicate him in such a way that Jesus was going to end up being parked at the side of God. “No one shares God’s glory. At least you don’t. We know that.” Because in their minds they didn’t think he was divine and had any kind of rights like that. And only someone who could share divine glory could park in God’s presence.
So Jesus answered the question, “Not only am I the Messiah, but I’m going to park in heaven by the side of God, and I’m going to ride the clouds, and one day be your judge.” It’s even worse than it sounds in some ways, because we know that in the Temple that was in Jerusalem, in the Most Holy Place, a human being could only go in once a year to offer a sacrifice. He was in and out. In fact, one of the Jewish traditions says the High Priest had a rope tied around him so they could pull him out in case something happened so no one else had to go in. That’s sacred space. Jesus is saying— it’s worse than saying— “I’m going to go into the middle of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, and I’m going to live there.” We know that if someone had made that kind of a claim or had performed that type of an action, they would have been totally offended. And that’s exactly how the Jewish leaders heard it, because they didn’t buy the premise. And the premise that Jesus was making is, “I have the right to be there because of who I am.”
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re out of time this week, but we’re going to pick this up, because we’ve got more. We want to go on to the disciples of the apostles, the Church Fathers down below, how they actually repeated these phrases. And the fact is, again, all 27 books, they have statements that Jesus is both God and man. And we want to get to that suffering part, because it has to do with the salvation. And the Gnostics have a Jesus that doesn’t suffer any pain. And yet you’ve got a human Jesus all the way through the New Testament. You’ve got human and divine. And why that’s important. Folks, this is tremendous information. Join us next week. We’re going to continue talking about these supposedly lost gospels.

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