Perhaps you’ve heard the story of how Jesus walked on the water, or about how he calmed the storm, healed the blind man of Jericho and turned the water into wine.
How about the story of how Jesus curses a boy who bumps into him, causing him to fall down dead? You’re not familiar with that one?
All five stories are told in ancient documents about Jesus. The first four come from the biographies of Jesus in the Bible (The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John respectively). The last one is from a document called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.1
Let’s try again. How familiar are you with the following teachings attributed to Jesus?
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
“Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.2
The first four teachings come from the biographies of Jesus in the Bible (again the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John respectively), while the last quote comes from the Gospel of Thomas.
I share these stories and quotes to illustrate a point. When it comes to the life and teachings of the historical Jesus it’s important to consider the source.
I’m a bit of a geek and like to read ancient documents. I’ve read all four gospels in the Bible numerous times. I’ve also read other purported “gospels,” including those attributed to Thomas, Phillip and Mary. It becomes pretty obvious when one reads them that there is no comparison between the biblical gospels and the “other gospels.”
I find it interesting when people suggest that those who assembled the Bible chose the four gospels they wanted and left out all the others that didn’t fit into their theology. In the first place, this shows a complete misunderstanding about how the inspired, biblical books were identified. In the second place, I highly doubt that most of those who make such a claim have actually read the gospels themselves. If they had, I believe they would see how obvious the consistent, compassionate, compelling teaching of Jesus in the Bible is so foreign to the bizarre teaching and acts attributed to Jesus in the “other gospels.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength….Love your neighbor as yourself” (in the biblical gospels)
“Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children.’ After that Jesus laughed.” (in the Gospel of Judas).3
You see: the source material for the real Jesus of history really does matter. Comparing the biblical gospels to the Gnostic gospels is like comparing apples and oranges.
The fact is that the four gospels in the Bible are the earliest and best-attested biographies of Jesus life and teachings. They were written in the first century, and contain the memories of eyewitnesses of Jesus. All have direct ties to those who had personally experienced Jesus: Matthew and John were part of the 12 apostles, while Mark recorded Peter’s memories and Luke was a companion of the Apostle Paul. The biblical gospels portray a clear, consistent picture of a man, who claimed to be the long awaited Messiah – God Himself – who lived, died, and rose again and said that repentance and forgiveness in his name would be preached to all nations.
So where did the “other gospels” come from? They were written between 150 – 300 years after Christ with the rise of a belief called Gnosticism (literally meaning “secret knowledge”) At that time, if you wrote a gospel, with new secret knowledge, you had better standing in the Gnostic community. So people chose the names of well-known historical figures, (ie. Philip, Peter, Mary, James, Thomas, Judas, etc.) to be their fictitious authors.
Let me give you an example: I do genealogical research on my family. If my neighbor came to me and said, “I have secret knowledge that I received by vision or revelation about your Great, Great, Great, Great grandfather,” I’d be skeptical.
That’s essentially how the Gnostic gospels came about. They’re basically full of fanciful stories, and sayings purported to be from Jesus, some of which sounds like they are rewriting some of Jesus’ teaching from the biblical gospels, and some of which is just plain bizarre. While they contain stories about Jesus you may have never heard before, they’re just not accurate descriptions of his life or teachings.
Rather, take the time to read about the real Jesus in the best biographies we have of him…the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. In them you’ll find the good news!
For The Record…
For those who are seeking and interested in learning more about Jesus by doing their own research, I highly recommend the following resources:
–The Case for Christ and The Case for the Historical Jesus, by Lee Strobel
–Eusebius: The Church History, a new translation by Paul L. Maier
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infancy_Gospel_of_Thomas (Accessed January 25, 2019)
2 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/gospelthomas114.html (Accessed January 25, 2019)
3 http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/judastxt.pdf (Accessed January 25, 2019)