Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The "Missing Gospels"

The Missing Gospels by Darrell Bock is a discussion of the “lost gospels” discovered at Nag Hammadi which have received so much media attention. Dr. Bock, and expert in the field, compares and contrasts viewpoints appearing in these “missing gospels” with the viewpoints contained in “traditional” sources.

These traditional sources include the documents eventually collected in our New Testament, as well as other sources not in the New Testament: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, etc. Bock generally confines his discussion to documents written in the first and second centuries AD.

Bock compares these two categories of sources in four areas: 1) The Nature of God and Creation, 2) Jesus: Divine and/or Human 3) The Nature of Humanity’s Redemption and 4) Jesus’ Death: Knowledge, Sin and Salvation.

1) The nature of God and creation: The traditional sources teach that there is only one God who is the creator of the universe. Originally, the creation was good but became “fallen” though sin and rebellion. While the Gospel of Thomas also refers to just one God, most of the “missing gospels,” refer to numerous gods and divine beings, and the material creation is presented as a fundamentally evil mistake from the very beginning.

2) Jesus: Divine and/or human: Contrary to The DaVinci Code, none of the ancient texts— whether traditional or “missing gospels”—present Jesus as merely an ordinary human being. All of the “missing gospels” present Jesus as some kind of exalted or heavenly figure. In fact, some go so far as to say that he wasn’t really human at all—he just appeared to be human. By contrast, the traditional sources consistently refer to Jesus as both human and divine at the same time.

3) The Nature of Humanity’s Redemption: The “missing gospels” consistently present the material world of creation as fundamentally defective and “fallen.” Mankind is divided into two classes: those who understand and embrace the spiritual nature of the world and those who hang on to the physical. Only the former will be redeemed with “the ascent of the spiritual one back into the perfect nonmaterial world.” (146). The flesh will eventually be destroyed. By contrast, the traditional view believes not only in a spiritual world, but the redemption and resurrection of the body as well.

4) Jesus’ Death: Knowledge, Sin, and Salvation: Generally speaking the “missing gospels” present Jesus’ work as leading people out of their “ignorance and forgetfulness” (i.e. ignorance of the fact that they are really spirit creatures trapped in a defective material world) and into future “rest and immortality.” By contrast, the traditional view teaches that Jesus not only showed the way, but is the way. He came to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Many biblical critics and members of the media present these “missing gospels as evidence for the diversity of ancient Christianity—often implying that the “missing gospels” have just as much right to be considered “truth” as the traditional sources. The fact is, however, that the earliest traditional sources date back to the first century whereas (with the possible though extremely improbable exception of the Gospel of Thomas), the “missing Gospels all date from the second, third, or even fourth centuries AD.

Far from being family disputes within Christianity, Bock demonstrates that the “missing gospels” present views that are not even in the same ballpark as traditional Judeo-Christian thought. Traditional Christian sources show a striking similarity to the Jewish ground from which Jesus and the apostles came.

The “missing gospels,” on the other hand, appear to be attempts to twist this original Jewish message of Jesus and his earliest followers to make it more palatable to second-fourth century Greco-Roman religious and philosophical speculations which, to those who actually take time to read the “missing gospels” will appear much more bizarre, unbelievable and even offensive than anything found in the New Testament.

Unfortunately, by the very nature of a summary, I have oversimplified Darrell Bock’s arguments and outstanding study. Please read The Missing Gospels for a more detailed and accurate assessment.