'Point of Reference' with Fred Price
Originally posted on 04/12/2019
So says Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit’s role of revelation in and through the Word. Yet the world continues to echo Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” John 18:38 An article appearing in Time magazine titled, “The Lost Gospels”, addressed this on-going search for truth in surprisingly balanced fashion, citing mankind’s desire for full disclosure and understanding while seeking additional revelation to either support or supplant what they’ve learned.1
The so-called gospels of Peter, Mary, Thomas and Truth, along with the Acts of John, the Homilies of Clement and the Origin of the World are mentioned as examples of non-canonical writings being explored today as alternative authorities or “lost Christianities.” Which is merely a resurgence of difficulties Paul and the early church dealt with; an attempt to re-package the Gospel of Christ to meet man’s expectations rather than attempting to measure up to His – a user-friendly gospel.
Author Marcus Borg bluntly noting, “There’s a lot of interest in early Christian diversity because many people who have left the church – and some who are still in it – are looking for another way of being Christian.”2Allowing them to bypass what they perceive as some of their faiths theological restrictions, appealing to those searching for a mystical inner path to the divine; one where a relationship with God is not strictly aligned to formal worship. This in turn promotes a Christianity less concerned with foundational doctrines (Hebrews 6:1,2) such as the virgin birth and Christ’s divinity while embracing a tailor-made salvation based on personal experience and convenience.3
Author Bart Ehrman contributes to this examination of the more striking “Christian” paths not taken. Among them are: The Ebionites, who – much to Paul’s chagrin – insisted on full obedience to Jewish law, reciprocating Paul’s intolerance of them by branding him the “enemy.” The Marcionites were exact opposites, refraining completely from any reference to or obedience of Jewish law, characterizing good and evil as two separate entities; evil the harsh Jewish God of the Old Testament, good being Christ and his message of salvation through love. The Gnostics too believed in inferior and superior spiritual beings, humans possessing a spark of divinity within themselves yet having lost the knowledge to exercise it. Re-attainment of this knowledge (Gnosis) allowing them to leave the delusional material world for a genuine spiritual existence. The Gospel of Thomas promoting self-knowledge, encouraging a realization of God through one’s own capacity for the divine; circumventing Christ’s claim of exclusive authority in John 14:6,7.4 (It’s amazing how little man has changed!)
Those promoting these and other discredited variations of Christianity are guilty of what Frederica Mathewes-Green calls theological cherry-picking. “They take the parts they like and reject the rest,…”5 (Their search for and attempt to be ‘like God’ mirroring Adam and Eve’s – Genesis 3:4 – on their terms) Paul’s verdict of such behavior ringing true yet today. “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”; exchanging, “…the truth of God for a lie,…”; as they, “…claimed to know God, but by their actions deny him.” Romans 1:22,25 & Titus 1:16 Some may very well be zealous for God, “…but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they (do) not know the righteousness that comes from God, and (seek) to establish their own,…” Romans 10:2,3 As such, Paul declared, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” Colossians 2:25 (See also Titus 1:9-11)
His unbending resolve stemmed from the real danger exposed in the lives of those who practiced, “…a form of godliness but (who denied) its power.”; who were, “…always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:5 & 3:7 And he exhorts us to be prepared at all times to defend, correct, rebuke and encourage those who need it with careful instruction. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-5 A case in point being Hymenaeus and Philetus, who, having wondered from the truth, were already – by the time of Paul’s letter writing to Timothy – preaching an alternative gospel that Paul feared would spread like gangrene. (See 2 Timothy 2:16-18)
What needs remembering is that the story of Christ was first converted from oral tradition to a written gospel within about 60 years of His life and death with the church’s identity being formed throughout this process. Luke assuring us that his was one of several eye-witness accounts of Jesus ministry and that he had carefully investigated and written it in an orderly fashion. (Luke 1:1-4 & Acts 1:1-3) Paul, writing to the church in Corinth around 55 A.D., recounted the essentials of faith and listed a number of eyewitnesses, including a group of about 500 (a number of Paul’s letters circulating among the established churches before the gospels were fully composed in written form.); most of whom were still living and thus able to corroborate or deny what was being written. (1 Corinthians 15:6) John’s stated purpose in writing his account echoed by the other gospels, “…that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ… and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30 (see also Romans 15:4)
Most alternative gospels ceased being taken seriously by the late 300’s, there being imperial laws against the possession of heretical texts by this time; heresy being defined as teaching opposed to established views and doctrine. As questioning established tradition is not always a bad thing, rebellion against God’s word is; and even though some early church leaders were not above the politics of their day, God’s hand should not be discounted in the preservation and selection of the gospel message and its designation as canon. (Which is defined as the straight rod or rule of the church – by which all other divergent writings were compared and judged.) In essence, the many councils called, such as the ones at Nicea and Chalcedon, merely recognized the core Christian beliefs already accepted and practiced by the majority of believers.
Self-seeking individuals who reject God’s truth will find only wrath. (Romans 2:8) For the gospel of the cross is the power of God for the salvation of all men (Romans 1:16 & 1 Corinthians 1:18), and any prophecy (or teaching) that does not acknowledge the Christ of the cross is not of God. (1 John 4:3) Paul exhorting us to stay true to the pattern of sound teaching we have received through the gospel and subsequent pastoral writings (2 Timothy 1:13), John cautioning in his Revelation against adding or subtracting from his prophecy and, I believe, the scriptural message of our Bibles as a whole. (Revelation 22:18,19 – see also Proverbs 30:5,6, & Deuteronomy 4:2) God’s desire being for all men to be saved through the knowledge of truth concerning his will expressed in his Son, saving us as a consequence of belief in that truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 & 2 Thessalonians 2:13)
1Co-written by Maggie Sieger and Chris Taylor
2 The Heart of Christianity
3Noted by Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels
4Bart Ehrman, author of Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
5 Author of The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path to Transformation