Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It is not uncommon when talking to someone about the authenticity or composition of the Biblical canon to for the subject of the so-called "lost" gospels to be brought up. An explanation of the process used to determine canon, specifically the criteria the criterion of cohesion with the rest of the Bible can, among the more skeptical, bring about the claim that the early church was guilty of suppressing documents showing accounts that "show the truth" about the claims of Jesus or show Him in a negative light, etc.

One would expect, if the claims at truth are indeed valid, these pseudepigraphal writings would show some degree of harmony within themselves, both the early (The Gospel of Judas, for instance) and the late (Gospel of Thomas). This is equally true for Old Testament non-canonical books such as The Book of Enoch. Harmony within these writings would support the truth claim and make a reasonable argument for their content. Disharmony amongst themselves would lessen the credence and support those which are harmonious as being true.

Therefore, to what degree is there harmony among the books left out?

share|improve this question
    
What exactly are you asking? I think you are asking what degree of harmony is there among the Gnostic Gospels? Is that right? –  fredsbend Aug 31 '13 at 20:15
    
Yes, but not limiting it to that. I'm asking about harmony between anything not included in the Bible: Apocalypse of Peter, Acts of Andrew, Gospel of Thomas, Shepherd of Hermes, 2 Clement, etc... If that is too broad, I will gladly edit my question to just Gnostic works –  Mark Anthony Songer Aug 31 '13 at 20:44
    
If the left out books have harmony among themselves, does that mean they have harmony with the books of the Canon? Would it be better to ask whether there is harmony between Canonical books and left-out books? –  Mawia Sep 2 '13 at 17:08
    
@Mawia, I do not believe that would be a better question because I do not believe there is harmony between the canonical books and those that are non-canonical. My question revolves around the argument that those which are not canonical should be given weight. If the information in those books is truthful, should they not be harmonious in and of themselves? I am asking if they are. –  Mark Anthony Songer Sep 3 '13 at 2:48
    
I decided that I like the question. But it is going to be a while before you get some answers (if ever). A decent answer would have to come from someone who has studied a good portion of the ancient, non-canonical books. I honestly have never met anyone who has read more than a few, never mind studied them. –  fredsbend Sep 3 '13 at 23:35

1 Answer 1

tl;dr> Patterson Brown, in particular, has argued the disunity within the Nag Hammadi Corpus. That's about the best you're going to get without defining a positive corpus, as opposed to the inverse of the canon.


The problem with answering this question is that you are asking a question akin to "Are the books not on the NY Times Best-seller list as unified as the ones that are?" At a very basic level, of course you can say that the Acts of Thecla doesn't harmonize well with the Gospel of Judas. One is popular orthodox fiction, the other is Gnostic.

To posit that every other book has some sort of cohesion is problemmatic, because "Gnostics" especially in the time of Paul and the early church, were as diverse as that heterodox entity that became the church. Furthermore, Gnostics weren't the only heterodox "false teachers" out there. Judaizers, Docetists, Marcionists, and others wrote their own books. Marcion in particular may or may not have shared Gnostics views - but his existence alone would show there is not unanimity amongst the non-canonical Scriptures.

The real question then, isn't "Do non-canonical books all agree?" but rather are there things present in the canonical ones that aren't in everything else.

There are marks of canonicity that are widely accepted, but the inverse leaves "everything else." That there should be a presumption of harmony in "everything else" is a hard thesis to make in any endeavour, let alone canonicity.

It is also useful to actually read the supposedly "suppressed" Scriptures. When you do, the differences become obvious.

To answer your question directly, then, I would invite you to check out one Gnostic "Gospel" - probably the most famous - The Gospel of Thomas. Rather than focusing on its harmony with other Gnostic Gospels (discussed below), it is probably more fruitful to understand the exact nature of its disharmony with canonical Scripture. By understanding what it does and does not purport to do, anyone should be able to see what message if any is being "Suppressed(TM)" and why.

In reading that Gospel (its short - just 115 verses), a few salient facts will jump out.

  1. Unlike the four canonical Gospels, Thomas does not purport to give any sort of chronology. It is merely a list of the sayings of Jesus. To ask "does this line up with the account of the Gospels" is akin to asking if Gen. Custer's shopping list lines up with his battlefield report prior to Little Big Horn.

  2. There is actually substantial overlap between the actual actual sayings that are recorded, and those found in the canonical Gospels. Rather than showing some kind of conspiracy theory that the early church tried to "Supress(TM)" these, reading it belies the Truth that there isn't anything that is "covered up." Rather, the wheat is already recorded in the Gospels, and the chaff- those parts peculiar to the Gospel do line up with what the majority of the church did accept.

  3. John - the disciple who most stressed love ("Little Children let us love one another") - actually made the criteria explicit in canonical Scripture. (Again, it's a bit of a chicken and egg, because nobody actually said 'This is good, this isn't quite as good' until much later). He wrote in 2 John:

    7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we[a] have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son

    This would directly contradict Thomas, who records Jesus as "saying":

    "If the flesh came into being because of the spirit, it is a wonder. But if the spirit (came into being) because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders.

    This Gnosticism - that Jesus only appeared to flesh directly countered what the majority had "received and been taught." It wasn't evil, it was just wrong. There are "churches" that teach that "God hates fags." The overwhelming majority of Christians have rejected their writings as well. This was just an error that the majority of the church rejected. One should not be surprised if the corpus of Republican Presidential platforms is not in harmony with those of the Democrats. This is exactly why the two corpi are distinct.

    The church, holding to what it had been taught and received likewise rejected this notion - and equally preserved their false writings to show it.

  4. The traditional marks of canonicity - apostolic authorship, harmony with the received message, fidelity to the person of Jesus (again as understood by the church at the time) are simply missing in everything Gnostic or Apocraphyal. As such, these were rejected.

The result, one can show the disharmony between everything that wasn't accepted and everything that was canonical. The most famous compilation of Gnostic Scriptures - the Nag Hammadi Library is available online, and oddly enough, was perserved (once found) through the Coptic church. Other collections in the past have been available to scholars who read them. Reading them is fruitful to understand the heresies and false teachings against which the church contended in the early centuries.

But to presume everybody who disagreed with the church in exactly the same way is unreasonable. Patterson Brown, in particular, has argued the disunity within the Nag Hammadi. He posits the three most famous (Thomas, Peter, and "Truth") actually differ from the others in being closer to accepting the incarnation. He points to his proof in the linked article.

Still, the skeptic needs to define what the criteria for study is. There are differences to be sure, but finding universally accepted truths in any of the corpora is difficult indeed.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.