What About the Missing Gospels and Lost Christianities? – Program 5

By: Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2006
Do we need to rethink what we’ve been taught about God, Jesus, the Bible and even salvation?

Do We Need to Rewrite Christian History?


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: Alright, we’re talking about a broadside that’s coming against the Christian church by some of our leading scholars in our universities today. It has to do with the books that were found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It’s been put into this book, The Gnostic Bible. And, Darrell, I want you to tell our audience what some of these professors at our leading universities are saying and why they think that the evidence shows we need to rewrite Christian history: Jesus isn’t God, the God of the Bible—they’ve got a different God than the God of the Bible, and the whole plan of salvation is different. And they’re saying the evidence supports that. You say they are dead wrong. But first of all, tell our audience, give them the flavor of what these scholars are saying to our students.
Bock: Well, as we’ve been suggesting, we do think that they are wrong historically. But we think what makes this attractive is it fits the spirit of our age. If we can make Jesus into just another religious teacher, then we’ve removed the problem of his uniqueness. If we can affirm religious diversity, so that every religious approach to God is on equal ground, then we’ll have less conflict in the world and we’ll get along better. I think that’s part of what motivates some of this.
Let me give you a couple of examples of material coming from these teachers. This is a quote, well this is actually a blurb about a book that Marvin Meyer wrote, entitled The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus, that came out last year. And this is how the catalog trumpeted the arrival of this book: “These texts, especially when taken together, present an image of Jesus as the ultimate wisdom teacher, a kind of mysterious Jewish Zen Master, who scandalized listeners by his radical egalitarianism regarding women, slaves, the poor, the marginalized, as having equal status and by his insistence on truly living the message.”
Now, if you think through that list of things, you’ll see that we’ve said that Jesus is wise, we’ve said that Jesus is Jewish in his background, and yet he kind of fits in with Zen. He’s an egalitarian; he cares about the slaves, the poor, the marginalized. You can see the feel of this. It really appeals to the spirit of our age. And just like the Gnosticism of the Gnostic gospels was an attempt to combine and syncretize Christianity with the philosophy, the Greek philosophy of its time, this is an attempt to syncretize, I think, Christianity with a kind of acceptable cultural angle of things that people, many people, care about in our culture.
Ankerberg: You’re also saying that some of these guys are selling you a product that even the Gnostic gospels sometimes do not support.
Bock: Absolutely. And later on in this show we’re going to show you that. Let me give you another taste of this. This is from Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. You know, you can’t have one of these titles that has the word “gospel” in it without having an adjective: secret, or missing, newly-discovered, or something like this. This is Elaine Pagels, [who] teaches at Princeton, and she says this: “But the discovery of Thomas’s Gospel shows us that other early Christians held quite different understandings of the gospel. For what John rejects as religiously inadequate: the conviction that the divine dwells as light within all beings”—See we all have the spark of God within us; all we need to do is find it— “is much like the hidden good news that Thomas’s Gospel proclaims. Many Christians today who read the Gospel of Thomas assume at first that it is simply wrong, and deservedly called heretical. Yet what Christians have disparagingly called Gnostic and heretical, sometimes turns out to be forms of Christian teaching that are merely unfamiliar to us; unfamiliar precisely because of the active and successful opposition of Christians such as John.”
And I say, that idea is incomplete. It’s not unfamiliar because of the successful opposition, active opposition, of Christians such as John, it’s unfamiliar because it wasn’t the Christianity of the beginning, as our evidence shows. And neither is it reflective of the Christianity that Jesus taught when he presented himself and his work, and when his followers picked up the baton and continued his teaching and developed it in light of his resurrection.
Ankerberg: What else is going on here?
Bock: Well, I think they’re playing off the hype that you can develop when you can say something’s hidden, something’s secret, something’s been lost and found. There’s drama that comes up with that. That has a flare of mystery about it. And I think they’ve been playing off of that element as well.
But the real truth is that we knew about this material long ago. It isn’t new. It isn’t hidden. And it isn’t secret. The writings of the Church Fathers in the second and third centuries described what these people held, told us what they believed, and criticized it.
Now, the one thing that is new is, rather than hearing it through the opposition of the critics from the tradition side against this stuff, we now have the stuff directly. But that allows us to lay this stuff next to what the Church Fathers said in the second century, Church Fathers like Irenaeus, and say, “Did Irenaeus basically get this right?” Well, when we read what Irenaeus wrote, most scholars today say, “Well, you know what he’s describing? He’s describing stuff in The Apocryphon of John, which means he got it right.”
So they’re playing up and hyping and spinning this stuff, and historically we’ve known about it for centuries. And it kind of died a death, and then now they’re trying to resurrect it again on the basis of these new finds. And they’re overplaying the evidence.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Bock: That’s really what’s going on.
Ankerberg: Go back and review for our people, the new scholars are also saying, “Look, this was just one of many options in the first 200 years of Christianity.” Some say it was just side-by-side. Some would say it’s there by itself. But the fact is, regardless, it was a legitimate option. Where we are saying, “Look you’ve got real, historical links that go back to the real Jesus. You might not like this information; you might not like that Jesus is God; you might not like that you’re a sinner; you might not like that he died on the cross for your sin problem, but this is real, solid stuff, and you’re face to face with this guy that actually showed up, named Jesus Christ, who made these claims. Alright? Show the links, because they would say this throw-away to the students, “Well, you didn’t have a Bible in the first 200 years.”
Bock: Yes. Really, the turning point here, if you listen to the story of the made-over history, the revisionist history, that is coming is that we ought to blame Irenaeus and Tertullian in the late second century, the early third century, Constantine, the Council of Nicea—now we’re coming into the fourth century—for orthodox Christianity.
Now, everything that I have been citing to you up to this point has come from the period before that. And the reason we’re going backwards is, we’re trying to show there is a consistent theology that is orthodox that is running through these writers. And these core beliefs were passed on from generation to generation by tradition and by these writings that were emerging that eventually became part of the Canon and part of the Bible. But the reason they were accepted and responded to and recognized is because they expressed the theology that the church held to. And so we work backwards.
So we start with someone, say, like Justin Martyr. Justin Martyr is writing in the middle of the second century, in 155. And let me just read you a little summary of the type of thing that he said. This is in his first Apology from chapters 12 and 13: “Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the times of Tiberius Caesar. And that we reasonably worship him, having learned that he is son of the true God himself. And holding him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this: that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the creator of all, for they did not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we have made plain to you, we pray you to give heed.”
Now, a little of that English at the end is a little tricky, but here’s basically what you’re getting from Justin Martyr. He’s saying, you know, the person that we worship is Jesus Christ. We hold him in second place to God. That’s a reference to the ranking within the function of the Trinity. You have the Father, and then you have the Son, and then you have the Spirit. And he’s talking about the work that he performed in terms of a crucified man.
So you have all the basics of faith. And if you will run that backwards in time from Justin Martyr, then back into the books that are written in the 90s in the New Testament, all the way back to the books that are written in the 50s in the New Testament, by Paul, you will see this teaching consistently coming forth all the way through. And if you think about what led to Paul’s conversion and the way he responds, and the experience that he represents, you push it all the way back to the 30s and the time of the resurrection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: These historical links are vital for scholars. And the fact is, you can’t get around it. Sources rule!
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: You can’t just hype it, you can’t discard it. And a lot of the scholars today are ignoring this. They don’t even talk about this line. Why?
Bock: Well, actually, what they’re trying to do, they don’t ignore it; they try and discredit it. And when they try and discredit it, they’ll say things like, “Well, you know, the resurrection, there are little differences in the stories.” Or, “The resurrection is something that came later, it didn’t come early. I mean, after all, Paul’s writing in the 50s, so there’s been 20 years for this to develop.”
But what they’re missing is, you’ve got to explain the conversion of Paul. And everyone recognizes the fact that Paul was converted in the 30s. He was converted within, some people say, as short as a year or two years within the time of the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. He knew exactly what was going on in Jerusalem. And we get to hear his voice directly as to what turned him from a persecutor into one of the people who was one of the most prominent people in the church, and that all is historically well grounded. There probably is no event in history that is as well grounded as the conversion of Paul. And that’s rooted in the resurrection and the claims of Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk about a broadside on the resurrection, and a broadside on what Jesus did at the cross and what salvation is. The Lord’s Supper, what is that all about? And these are two powerful pieces of evidence that show up in all of the writings, and it’s so consistent. You’ve got to stick with us. We’ll be right back.


Ankerberg: Alright, if you’ve been into your local bookstore, you’ve seen Lost Christianities, talking about the Gnostic gospels, and how this is a broadside from our scholars in some of our major universities to our students on campus, that we ought to chuck church history as we know it, we want to revise it, and we want to come up with this new plan of salvation. And they’re discarding some of the key elements of traditional Christianity, one being, we don’t need a resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and we don’t need Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of humanity.
Darrell, there is strong evidence, whether you like it or not, it’s the evidence that came down from Jesus, from Jesus himself. Talk about the Lord’s Supper, or the resurrection, either one.
Bock: Well, let’s start with the resurrection, since we’ve been working backwards towards it. You know, we’ve got to be able to explain what caused Paul to move from Saul to become Paul; Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle. What caused that? Well, Paul tells us that it was his experience with the risen Jesus. Well, what’s the presupposition for that? The presupposition for that is the resurrection itself.
Now what I’d like to do is explain why the resurrection could not, out of its Jewish background, be a created event by the early church, which is what many of these scholars will suggest. They’ll suggest the resurrection was created by the early church to try and get a Jesus who had been crucified to continue to live on to generate the movement. Because now he was gone from the scene, and so it was the best explanation they could put forward.
But in the context of Judaism, out of which this came, the idea that someone would be raised physically from the dead—in the midst of history—is an innovation. Jews believed in a resurrection. The resurrection that they believed in was the idea that, at the end, everyone would be raised and there would be a judgment. So had this been done in the context of the expectations of Judaism, what we would have seen is a Jesus raised at the end of time, who then is inserted into the role of judge. But that’s not what we get.
Ankerberg: What you’re saying is that if the disciples had made it up, they would have made it up in that Jewish frame of mind, because they were all Jewish, basically.
Bock: Exactly right. And those were the categories that they had. Something caused them to shift their thinking on resurrection. And we know this was the Jewish view, because a book like 2 Maccabbes 7 has persecuted Jews who were getting ready to lose tongues and limbs, say, “You can destroy this body now, but I’m going to get it back in the end.” So we know they believed in a physical resurrection.
By the way, that’s in counter distinction to the Gnostics, who didn’t hold a physical dimension to resurrection at all. So that goes back into Judaism as well. The reaction to Gnostic Christianity was not just a Christian reaction; it was a reaction to the Jewish roots. So that’s one reason why it wouldn’t be created.
The second reason why it wouldn’t be created is the issue of the women. You wouldn’t have women discover the empty tomb as your first event. You wouldn’t create that in the culture. Why? Because women didn’t have any role as witnesses in the culture. So if you were making up a story, you wouldn’t make up a story that has your first witnesses be people who don’t count as witnesses. That doesn’t make sense.
So these counter cultural elements in the resurrection story speak to its credibility. And it means, then, that the resurrection is likely not made up, that the innovation comes as a result of a real event that changed the disciples’ minds; and the women are seen as the witnesses at the empty tomb at the start because they were the witnesses at the empty tomb at the start, and there was no way to eradicate that from the story.
Ankerberg: Alright, everybody take a breath, because, I mean, the conclusion of that is, you’re face to face with a Jesus that rose from the dead.
Bock: Exactly right. And now we’ll kind of pull together what we’ve been saying through all the shows, we know this through the rites that the early church practiced. And what I mean by that is that when you come to the Lord’s Supper, and you take the cup, and you take the bread, and you do that in the context of solemn worship, because this is the Lord’s Table, that itself mirrors the Last Supper. And you recognize that the bread and the cup represent the body and the blood of Jesus, you’re right onto the central point of his work.
So that if we think through the nature of Paul’s conversion, and we think through the nature of the Last Supper, or the Lord’s Table, both of which go very, very, very far back into the roots of Christianity, they both go into those core events leading to the core teaching. We’ve got the death of Jesus Christ, and we’ve got the resurrection of Jesus Christ, right at the hub of what Christianity is all about.
And I think that the other point to see here is that when you actually go back to the Last Supper, and you ask yourself, what is that event? That event is a Passover meal, or at least it happens in the Passover week, and Jesus is changing Jewish liturgy. What gives him the authority to do that? How can we go from having this look back to the Exodus to having it now look back to his impending crucifixion? See, and that’s part of why it made an impression.
But it also communicates the authority of Jesus. Here is someone who has authority over the very worship structures that go back to the God of Israel. And this is why the Jewish-Christian connection is so important. Because Christianity is inheriting from Judaism it’s view of God, it’s view of resurrection. And it’s those things that the Gnostic alternative Christianities are rejecting.
There’s another way to say this. And maybe this is being a little too clever, but I think you don’t hear talk about alternative Judaisms at this point, but really, the alternative Christianities are also alternative Judaisms. And that’s why the traditional Christians rejected it, because they were rooted in the basic doctrines of Judaism: that there was one God who was the creator, and there is a resurrection coming at the end where we’ll all be accountable to him; and it will be physical as well as spiritual.
Ankerberg: Alright. If you’re talking to students out there—and you are right now—that are going to go to universities where some of these professors are presenting these views, what do you want them to know? Summarize what you’ve been saying; what are the punch lines? Why is this wrong? Why is this right? Why are you stuck with the Jesus, a real Jesus, of traditional Christianity? Summarize it.
Bock: Alternative Christianities are wrong because the sources that they’re working with are late. Alternative Christianities are wrong because the sources that they’re working with do not go all the way back to Jesus. Alternative Christianity is wrong because it’s working with the wrong kind of problem. I don’t need to find an actualization into myself in order to discover the way to God.
Jesus has got to be a key to Christianity in order for Christianity to be Christianity. Without it, it’s “Jesus-anity” or something else, but it’s not Christianity.
Traditional Christianity is right because it goes all the way back to Jesus. Traditional Christianity is right because the sources are well rooted. Traditional Christianity is right because it identified the right kind of problem. That problem is a problem within us—our tendency to turn away from God into rebellion. And what Jesus provided is a way to turn us back, to bring reconciliation.
And this isn’t a matter of a classroom, this is a matter of life. Life and death. And the offer that God is making is not an intellectual offer about history. It’s not even an issue of ideas or wisdom or how to live life better. He’s not offering you a pop religion, which is what these alternatives are doing. What he is offering you is an ongoing eternal quality relationship with God. Forget the fact that if you come to Jesus you’re not going to be judged. That’s not why God wants to save you. God doesn’t want to save you to spare you from something. God wants to save you to bring you to someone—himself. And he does that by showing the depth of his love in the work and person of Jesus Christ, the offer of the forgiveness of sins. And if you’ll just trust him for that, he will bring you into relationship with him by doing two major things: forgiving your sins, and giving you his spirit so you can be in touch with him. And you can be in touch with him forever.
Jesus said, “I came to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.” So we’re talking about quality of life here. You know, the world goes all over the place searching for quality of life. And it can be found, very simply, in trusting Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: We’ve been talking about what the scholars are saying at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, many other schools today. What the popular books are doing is copying what the scholars are saying, and now you’ve got The Da Vinci Code as one of them, that’s sold over 25 million copies. You’ve got a movie coming out. And one of the things that you have written about has to do with these Gnostic sources that said, “Hey, you know, Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene.” And the Church, The Da Vinci Code suggests that the church wanted to keep that secret, because if Jesus was married it would destroy this whole idea that he was deity, and it would just destroy the church as you know it.
We’re going to talk about all that and let you unscramble what The Da Vinci Code hype is all about, and what the sources are saying, and what traditional Christianity shows. Join us next week.

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