Donny's Ramblings

Teaching Church History

44 Comments

The more I study church history, the more I am convinced that our churches need to teach this in Sunday School. I have 30 pages to write for the Londen Institute in the next week and a half. Part of what I am going to be expressing is how this course has affected me. Has God spoken to me through the study of this course? Absolutely.

Not being the type to just accept one perspective, I picked up a total of 7 other books in addition to the required text. I’ve been blown away by what I’ve learned. I think every Christian needs to educate themselves on subjects such as the lost Gospels, why certain books were included in our New Testament while others were rejected, how much disagreement really went on during those early years… the list goes on.

I was surprised at how many other gospels have been written and attributed to Jesus’ disciples. A man named Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John) was very influential in deciding which Gospels are included in our New Testament. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed on which writings were and were not to be considered for inclusion in our scriptural readings.

In 313 when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he was very disappointed that Christians were not in agreement. He thought all Christians would be unified. When he found that wasn’t the case, he decided to work to create unity. He agreed with the teachings passed down from Polycarp and Irenaeus. Those who chose to believe that way were granted political power and tax exemptions. When he called religious leaders together in an attempt to unify them that particular counsel forever influenced the shape of Christianity to this day. Opposing viewpoints were subdued. Many writings were destroyed. Some were hidden away to be discovered many many many years later.

I’d go more into this, but I have a dinner appointment in 10 minutes. My thoughts on the matter can be summed up in a few sentences:

Today we listen to our Pastors teach their interpretation of scripture and how to apply it to our lives. We read the works of Christian authors. We eat the meat and spit out the bones. If something sounds off base, we dismiss it. If a message hits home we digest it. Why, then, are so many afraid to read the lost Gospels attributed to people who actually walked with Jesus? Nobody is asking that it be accepted as part of the canon of scripture we call our Bible. But I can tell you I have personally enjoyed reading some of this text, and think many others would too.

Feedback?

(PLEASE READ THE COMMENTS TO THIS ENTRY, as I’ve added more opinions in the comments section and will probably continue to do so)

44 thoughts on “Teaching Church History

  1. Donny,

    You might want to read this.

    Please don’t reject it out of hand. Give it a chance and hear the dude out, ok?

    http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/gospel-of-judas.html

    some other stuff to read:

    http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Emperor+Constantine&btnG=Google+Search&domains=www.wayoflife.org&sitesearch=www.wayoflife.org

    Be careful what you allow in your mind man. You could end up in a bad way.

    -Chuck

  2. Donny,

    You might want to read this.

    Please don’t reject it out of hand. Give it a chance and hear the dude out, ok?

    http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/gospel-of-judas.html

    some other stuff to read:

    http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Emperor+Constantine&btnG=Google+Search&domains=www.wayoflife.org&sitesearch=www.wayoflife.org

    Be careful what you allow in your mind man. You could end up in a bad way.

    -Chuck

  3. I don’t find much use for any of the gnostic stuff, but I really dig the Didache and 1 Clement. Granted, neither of those have the name of any specific disciple on them…

  4. I don’t find much use for any of the gnostic stuff, but I really dig the Didache and 1 Clement. Granted, neither of those have the name of any specific disciple on them…

  5. Donny,

    This rendering of Church History is actually not what the evidence shows, and is a consequence of the utilization of the Hagellian Dialectic – a system of reading history based on faulty grounds – and is actually completely in error.

    Emperor Constantine did nothing to “subdue” other viewpoints within Christianity, and the Gnostics were nearly wiped out by the end of the 3rd century – before Constantine came to power. However, the Neo-Platonists still maintained some influence all the way up to the collapse of the Roman Empire near the end of the 5th century.

    In fact, to attribute Constantine with doing any such thing makes no since, since Arianism would take over the Empire from the time of his death until the late 380’s – about 50 years.

    In fact, if you actually do read the Church Fathers, you will find nearly universal agreement on the Scriptural nature of both the Pauline Epistles and the Four Gospels. Also, the reason Irenaeus’ viewpoint won out in the matter was that of the fact that the writings he utilized could clearly be traced back to the Apostles, while those brought forth by the Gnostics could not.

    This “conspiracy theory” that Constantine did anything is really a strange rendering of history, one that is not built on facts but empty speculation.

    One of the interesting things about the gnostics is that their origins are Platonic and generally were anti-materialistic and also anti-Jewish in nature, something made quite clear in such writings as the Gospel of Judas. They also – being anti-materialistic – were without much to contribute to the history of Jesus’ life, which is radically different from the authentic Gospels themselves.

    They also did not seek to see Christ as the Jewish Messiah, and rarely (to my knowledge) made use of Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

    The truth is, it did not require a lot of effort to decide which Gospels were authentic and which were not. If you hated the Jews and did not see Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) promised in the Old Testament, and especially if you hated the Jews, then Gnosticism was the route to go. But all the writings that were authentic and from those who had touched, talked with, and seen Christ with their own eyes as a real figure of history rejected this and recorded his acts as both historical and real.

    To have taken the Gnostic position would have been to – as the form of scholarship you are apparently being bombarded with does – willfully obscure Christ and make him not a figure of history but a figure of the fancies of men. And that is not how the God of the Old Testament works – for he loves to interact with his Creation and walk in the history of it.

    I think you are right, Christians need to study their Early Church history so they can know that Constantine really had – at most – influence in attempting (unsuccessfully) to resolve the Arian controversy of the 4th century, and instead almost destroyed the Christian faith for all his well-intended efforts.

  6. Donny,

    This rendering of Church History is actually not what the evidence shows, and is a consequence of the utilization of the Hagellian Dialectic – a system of reading history based on faulty grounds – and is actually completely in error.

    Emperor Constantine did nothing to “subdue” other viewpoints within Christianity, and the Gnostics were nearly wiped out by the end of the 3rd century – before Constantine came to power. However, the Neo-Platonists still maintained some influence all the way up to the collapse of the Roman Empire near the end of the 5th century.

    In fact, to attribute Constantine with doing any such thing makes no since, since Arianism would take over the Empire from the time of his death until the late 380’s – about 50 years.

    In fact, if you actually do read the Church Fathers, you will find nearly universal agreement on the Scriptural nature of both the Pauline Epistles and the Four Gospels. Also, the reason Irenaeus’ viewpoint won out in the matter was that of the fact that the writings he utilized could clearly be traced back to the Apostles, while those brought forth by the Gnostics could not.

    This “conspiracy theory” that Constantine did anything is really a strange rendering of history, one that is not built on facts but empty speculation.

    One of the interesting things about the gnostics is that their origins are Platonic and generally were anti-materialistic and also anti-Jewish in nature, something made quite clear in such writings as the Gospel of Judas. They also – being anti-materialistic – were without much to contribute to the history of Jesus’ life, which is radically different from the authentic Gospels themselves.

    They also did not seek to see Christ as the Jewish Messiah, and rarely (to my knowledge) made use of Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

    The truth is, it did not require a lot of effort to decide which Gospels were authentic and which were not. If you hated the Jews and did not see Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) promised in the Old Testament, and especially if you hated the Jews, then Gnosticism was the route to go. But all the writings that were authentic and from those who had touched, talked with, and seen Christ with their own eyes as a real figure of history rejected this and recorded his acts as both historical and real.

    To have taken the Gnostic position would have been to – as the form of scholarship you are apparently being bombarded with does – willfully obscure Christ and make him not a figure of history but a figure of the fancies of men. And that is not how the God of the Old Testament works – for he loves to interact with his Creation and walk in the history of it.

    I think you are right, Christians need to study their Early Church history so they can know that Constantine really had – at most – influence in attempting (unsuccessfully) to resolve the Arian controversy of the 4th century, and instead almost destroyed the Christian faith for all his well-intended efforts.

  7. I’m not studying for the ministry or anything but I ran into these guys from the UK on the net a while back – called the “Bluffer’s Guide.” They talked a good deal about how the canon of Scripture came to be and all the disagreements. It was an interesting listen. They also talk about past heretical sects and stuff.

    Check out their material and podcast on their website: http://virtualtheology.net/

  8. I’m not studying for the ministry or anything but I ran into these guys from the UK on the net a while back – called the “Bluffer’s Guide.” They talked a good deal about how the canon of Scripture came to be and all the disagreements. It was an interesting listen. They also talk about past heretical sects and stuff.

    Check out their material and podcast on their website: http://virtualtheology.net/

  9. In fact, to attribute Constantine with doing any such thing makes no since, since Arianism would take over the Empire from the time of his death until the late 380’s – about 50 years.

    Ancient History is not my specialty, but I believe this statement is just wrong. Arainism was dominant within the Gothic culture and was a source of friction bewteen them and their Roman hosts, often leading to warfare between the two — much to the detriment of the emperors and the delight of the empire’s enemies.

    Donny,

    I agree that the books that are not included in the bible should be taught as part of Christian History, and should be taught in the Sunday schools so that the children can grow up with the whole picture and not just the picture that the Council of Nicea decided you should see.

    But it’s like an old joke I heard, lock three Christians in a room and they’ll come out with five different Christian religions.

    Delightedly,

    Randy

    PS May I have some more, sir?

  10. In fact, to attribute Constantine with doing any such thing makes no since, since Arianism would take over the Empire from the time of his death until the late 380’s – about 50 years.

    Ancient History is not my specialty, but I believe this statement is just wrong. Arainism was dominant within the Gothic culture and was a source of friction bewteen them and their Roman hosts, often leading to warfare between the two — much to the detriment of the emperors and the delight of the empire’s enemies.

    Donny,

    I agree that the books that are not included in the bible should be taught as part of Christian History, and should be taught in the Sunday schools so that the children can grow up with the whole picture and not just the picture that the Council of Nicea decided you should see.

    But it’s like an old joke I heard, lock three Christians in a room and they’ll come out with five different Christian religions.

    Delightedly,

    Randy

    PS May I have some more, sir?

  11. Donny: Just want to add my two cents to the above comments. I don’t know what’s required from your educators, but I have learned not to waste my time on just anything that happens to be “cool” or “hot” at the time. There’ s a ton of junk out there and we certainly need the discernment of God to sort through what is edifying and what is not. Knowledge is a good thing, but spiritual wisdom is priceless and a gift! I add my caution to you as well to be careful what you choose to believe.

  12. Donny: Just want to add my two cents to the above comments. I don’t know what’s required from your educators, but I have learned not to waste my time on just anything that happens to be “cool” or “hot” at the time. There’ s a ton of junk out there and we certainly need the discernment of God to sort through what is edifying and what is not. Knowledge is a good thing, but spiritual wisdom is priceless and a gift! I add my caution to you as well to be careful what you choose to believe.

  13. Drew and “Wayward”,

    I haven’t yet read the Gospel of Judas and I don’t know why that particular Gospel was singled out for comment. There are many, many others.

    The two different Gospels of Thomas were interesting: The Gospel of Thomas and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The former is just a list of sayings of Jesus. The way it’s put together doesn’t give any context or tell any stories like the Gospels included in our New Testament.

    I particularly enjoyed the writings of Elaine Pagels about Thomas’ gospel. The book I read by that author is called Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Ms. Pagels doesn’t tell us how to believe or try to change our beliefs. Her personal opinion is never clear. She just writes facts and also gives the opinions of opposing sides. I appreciated her writing style. She has dozens of pages of references listed at the back. Which isn’t surprising when you consider her education and occupation:

    Pagels earned a Master’s degree from Stanford University and Ph.D. “with distinction” from Harvard. She possesses a working command of Greek, Latin, German, Hebrew, French, Italian and Coptic. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and is a very strong Christian.

    BUT, like me, she thinks education is essential. Of all the different books I’ve read lately, I highly recommend picking up her books and started from there. The one just mentioned (about the Gospel of Thomas) is a great place to start. Not only does she talk about that book, she goes into great detail on church history from the time of Christ through Constantine in the 300’s. FASCINATING STUFF!!

    Jean,

    Your very statement reflects the reason I choose to read so much. That you label such things “cool or hot” really shows the effectiveness of suppression that has gone on for centuries. These writings aren’t trendy, new discoveries. They were discussed from the time of Christ. Irenaeus (the man who greatly influenced the New Testament you hold in your hands: everything he thought should be included WAS included, and everything he thought should NOT be included was NOT included) mentions them in his writings. He was born sometime between 115 and 125 AD. He labeled many of these writings heresies. Heresy means “unorthodox”, and orthodox means “correct thinking”. In other words, Irenaeus didn’t believe many of the gospels attributed to those who walked with Christ himself were correct and he sought to destroy them. Some copies have survived, but Christians have always been afraid to read them because they have been declared heretical by so many religious leaders throughout history.

    I am NOT making a statement as to whether or not one should accept the teachings of these gospels, but I believe we should be aware of what they say. As mentioned above, many of us read books written by modern day evangelicals. We read Rob Bell or John Eldredge or Donald Miller or C.S. Lewis or Brian McLaren or Rick Warren or Lee Strobel. We are all intelligent enough to read the works of these men and consider what they have to say, throwing out parts we feel are off base.

    That same intelligence can be accessed while reading the writings of men who actually walked with Jesus, don’t you think? What I’ve read so far has been fascinating.

  14. Drew and “Wayward”,

    I haven’t yet read the Gospel of Judas and I don’t know why that particular Gospel was singled out for comment. There are many, many others.

    The two different Gospels of Thomas were interesting: The Gospel of Thomas and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The former is just a list of sayings of Jesus. The way it’s put together doesn’t give any context or tell any stories like the Gospels included in our New Testament.

    I particularly enjoyed the writings of Elaine Pagels about Thomas’ gospel. The book I read by that author is called Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Ms. Pagels doesn’t tell us how to believe or try to change our beliefs. Her personal opinion is never clear. She just writes facts and also gives the opinions of opposing sides. I appreciated her writing style. She has dozens of pages of references listed at the back. Which isn’t surprising when you consider her education and occupation:

    Pagels earned a Master’s degree from Stanford University and Ph.D. “with distinction” from Harvard. She possesses a working command of Greek, Latin, German, Hebrew, French, Italian and Coptic. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and is a very strong Christian.

    BUT, like me, she thinks education is essential. Of all the different books I’ve read lately, I highly recommend picking up her books and started from there. The one just mentioned (about the Gospel of Thomas) is a great place to start. Not only does she talk about that book, she goes into great detail on church history from the time of Christ through Constantine in the 300’s. FASCINATING STUFF!!

    Jean,

    Your very statement reflects the reason I choose to read so much. That you label such things “cool or hot” really shows the effectiveness of suppression that has gone on for centuries. These writings aren’t trendy, new discoveries. They were discussed from the time of Christ. Irenaeus (the man who greatly influenced the New Testament you hold in your hands: everything he thought should be included WAS included, and everything he thought should NOT be included was NOT included) mentions them in his writings. He was born sometime between 115 and 125 AD. He labeled many of these writings heresies. Heresy means “unorthodox”, and orthodox means “correct thinking”. In other words, Irenaeus didn’t believe many of the gospels attributed to those who walked with Christ himself were correct and he sought to destroy them. Some copies have survived, but Christians have always been afraid to read them because they have been declared heretical by so many religious leaders throughout history.

    I am NOT making a statement as to whether or not one should accept the teachings of these gospels, but I believe we should be aware of what they say. As mentioned above, many of us read books written by modern day evangelicals. We read Rob Bell or John Eldredge or Donald Miller or C.S. Lewis or Brian McLaren or Rick Warren or Lee Strobel. We are all intelligent enough to read the works of these men and consider what they have to say, throwing out parts we feel are off base.

    That same intelligence can be accessed while reading the writings of men who actually walked with Jesus, don’t you think? What I’ve read so far has been fascinating.

  15. By the way, here is an interesting thought/fact/factoid:

    According to the books I’ve read, almost half of Christians at the time of the formation of our New Testament DID NOT AGREE on what should and should not be included. That is totally contrary to what I’ve always assumed.

    But don’t worry, dear constant readers, my beliefs are not in peril. In fact, my faith has increased through this journey of discovery. The more I read, the more real it all becomes to me. And that is a fact. 🙂 To put into words why I am able to say this, I cannot yet do. I don’t fully understand why myself. But this course in church history somehow seems to remove the “religious” perception and in its place leave behind a sense of reality. There have been many times throughout my life when the two haven’t always gone hand in hand in my mind.

    Seeing conflict from the very beginning just SCREAMS “reality” to me, because humans are never going to be in full agreement and to believe otherwise is just unrealistic. Even Jesus’ own disciples grumbled amongst themselves. John and Thomas seemed to have issues with each other (which may be why the Gospel of JOHN is the only one that refers to him as “Doubting Thomas” – the other three do not).

    Randy’s comment above (“Lock three Christians in a room and they’ll come out with five different Christian religions”) is so true. To think that early Christians were fully in accord with each other is ludicrous. Reading about all the bickering and disagreement on what should be canonized just makes sense.

    BUT, being the person I am, I want to read what was NOT canonized as well. I don’t want someone TELLING me why the rest of it is off base, I want to go to the source and LEARN why. In person. For myself. 🙂

    But that’s just me.

    Our children are growing up in a world that is going to try to shake their faith at every turn. NOT preparing them is doing them a great disservice. “Because I told you so” doesn’t work, either. I strongly feel we have an obligation to learn WHY we believe what we believe, and to pass that education onto our children.

    Can I get an “amen”?

  16. By the way, here is an interesting thought/fact/factoid:

    According to the books I’ve read, almost half of Christians at the time of the formation of our New Testament DID NOT AGREE on what should and should not be included. That is totally contrary to what I’ve always assumed.

    But don’t worry, dear constant readers, my beliefs are not in peril. In fact, my faith has increased through this journey of discovery. The more I read, the more real it all becomes to me. And that is a fact. 🙂 To put into words why I am able to say this, I cannot yet do. I don’t fully understand why myself. But this course in church history somehow seems to remove the “religious” perception and in its place leave behind a sense of reality. There have been many times throughout my life when the two haven’t always gone hand in hand in my mind.

    Seeing conflict from the very beginning just SCREAMS “reality” to me, because humans are never going to be in full agreement and to believe otherwise is just unrealistic. Even Jesus’ own disciples grumbled amongst themselves. John and Thomas seemed to have issues with each other (which may be why the Gospel of JOHN is the only one that refers to him as “Doubting Thomas” – the other three do not).

    Randy’s comment above (“Lock three Christians in a room and they’ll come out with five different Christian religions”) is so true. To think that early Christians were fully in accord with each other is ludicrous. Reading about all the bickering and disagreement on what should be canonized just makes sense.

    BUT, being the person I am, I want to read what was NOT canonized as well. I don’t want someone TELLING me why the rest of it is off base, I want to go to the source and LEARN why. In person. For myself. 🙂

    But that’s just me.

    Our children are growing up in a world that is going to try to shake their faith at every turn. NOT preparing them is doing them a great disservice. “Because I told you so” doesn’t work, either. I strongly feel we have an obligation to learn WHY we believe what we believe, and to pass that education onto our children.

    Can I get an “amen”?

  17. I absolutely agree. I am taking a course right now where we are examining the history of the canon and why certain books were chosen and others not. It is time we start learning about our own history. If we are going to claim to believe something we have to know why we believe it. The most important question we can ask is why we believe what we believe. By learning the history we learn what formed the doctrine we followed. This is especially true for those who grew up in the church. We have heard these stories all our life, and its time that we make sure we know why we believe them instead of just saying that someone told us it was true. If we are going to believe in these books, we need to know about the ones that were not chosen as a part of the canon and why they were not chosen. We have to stop relying on other people telling us what is true and not true and learn first hand ourselves. Or we can keep ourselves in the dark the rest of our lives afraid that if we question our faith it will crumble. If that’s the case, we don’t have much of a faith to begin with.

  18. I absolutely agree. I am taking a course right now where we are examining the history of the canon and why certain books were chosen and others not. It is time we start learning about our own history. If we are going to claim to believe something we have to know why we believe it. The most important question we can ask is why we believe what we believe. By learning the history we learn what formed the doctrine we followed. This is especially true for those who grew up in the church. We have heard these stories all our life, and its time that we make sure we know why we believe them instead of just saying that someone told us it was true. If we are going to believe in these books, we need to know about the ones that were not chosen as a part of the canon and why they were not chosen. We have to stop relying on other people telling us what is true and not true and learn first hand ourselves. Or we can keep ourselves in the dark the rest of our lives afraid that if we question our faith it will crumble. If that’s the case, we don’t have much of a faith to begin with.

  19. The edifying “Gospels” are those which declare the Diety of Christ as the Jewish Messiah Who fulfilled the OT by His death, burial, and resurrection and redeemed us by faith alone in Him alone. (Good for Irenaeus to see the difference!!)

    Any others are false and should be rejected. You want to read them? Go ahead, I have no problem with that, but I consider most a waste of time and have no interest in reading about Judas or Mary Magdelene who was presented as the wife of Jesus and mother of His children. Those without a solid faith in Jesus are being led miserably astray because of the untruth and deception. I see no need to share that error with my young children; it’s hard enough to present the honest Truth to them. Not as harmful to a 34-year-old seminary student….

  20. The edifying “Gospels” are those which declare the Diety of Christ as the Jewish Messiah Who fulfilled the OT by His death, burial, and resurrection and redeemed us by faith alone in Him alone. (Good for Irenaeus to see the difference!!)

    Any others are false and should be rejected. You want to read them? Go ahead, I have no problem with that, but I consider most a waste of time and have no interest in reading about Judas or Mary Magdelene who was presented as the wife of Jesus and mother of His children. Those without a solid faith in Jesus are being led miserably astray because of the untruth and deception. I see no need to share that error with my young children; it’s hard enough to present the honest Truth to them. Not as harmful to a 34-year-old seminary student….

  21. Oh, Donny, just wanted to let you know I am proud of you for your intellectual pursuits and am in no way trying to discourage you from the learning process.

    I do love you…..

  22. Oh, Donny, just wanted to let you know I am proud of you for your intellectual pursuits and am in no way trying to discourage you from the learning process.

    I do love you…..

  23. Beautiful comment, Katy! I particularly liked the last two lines:

    “…we can keep ourselves in the dark the rest of our lives afraid that if we question our faith it will crumble. If that’s the case, we don’t have much of a faith to begin with.”

    Amen! 🙂

  24. Beautiful comment, Katy! I particularly liked the last two lines:

    “…we can keep ourselves in the dark the rest of our lives afraid that if we question our faith it will crumble. If that’s the case, we don’t have much of a faith to begin with.”

    Amen! 🙂

  25. I think we should “question” our faith – we’re told to “test” God and the spirits to see whether they are of God or not, so questioning is good if done with an open, honest heart before God. The indwelling Holy
    Spirit is our Affirmer and Assurer, God’s Truth will be known if earnestly sought.

    My problem is with the rest of “that ton of junk” available to spend our time “questioning.” It takes a Spirit-filled discerning spirit on our part and our choice of what we wish to learn.

  26. I think we should “question” our faith – we’re told to “test” God and the spirits to see whether they are of God or not, so questioning is good if done with an open, honest heart before God. The indwelling Holy
    Spirit is our Affirmer and Assurer, God’s Truth will be known if earnestly sought.

    My problem is with the rest of “that ton of junk” available to spend our time “questioning.” It takes a Spirit-filled discerning spirit on our part and our choice of what we wish to learn.

  27. Hey Donny,

    I’ve read Ms. Pagels works and I disagree with your characterization of her as a strong Christian.

    Here’s a link to one criticism of her work

    link

  28. Hey Donny,

    I’ve read Ms. Pagels works and I disagree with your characterization of her as a strong Christian.

    Here’s a link to one criticism of her work

    link

  29. Jim,

    After reading the first two sentences of the article to which you linked, I stopped. I cannot respect that article because the author’s first two sentences prove that he was not paying attention. I’ll quote his first two sentences and then explain what I mean. He wrote:

    Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels, written in 2003, is a small book consisting of only five chapters that seeks to show that what is today considered Christian orthodox belief is not validly derived from the teachings of early Christianity. In this book, Pagels outlines her notion in five stages.

    These two sentences demonstrate that the author TOTALLY missed the point of Ms. Pagels’ book. Ms. Pagels was not “outlining her notions” at all. Ms. Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton, and when one truly has the heart of a teacher they present disputed evidence from a non-biased opinion whenever possible. Ms. Pagels’ book never reveals what HER notions or beliefs happen to be. She simply presents all sides without bias. I’ll repeat those last two words: WITHOUT BIAS.

    It takes a Professor’s heart to set aside one’s personal opinions and teach in this manner. It is a quality so rare that most of us are not used to such. We think that if a person puts information on the table, that person must BELIEVE the information they present. That IS NOT THE CASE.

    One example: I truly enjoyed reading the Gospel of Thomas. From that statement, you might assume I buy into the Gospel of Thomas. You would be wrong in making that assumption. Simply because I state that I enjoy reading that Gospel does NOT mean I believe that Gospel.

    Ms. Pagels wrote her book with that same attitude. She did an amazing job of presenting both sides. She presented evidences that you and I may not agree with, and because she didn’t slant her work to reflect that SHE disagrees with the information it is a common, easy-to-make mistake to assume she BELIEVES the information you and I might disagree with. But as I already stated, the fact of the matter is that she never once states WHAT SHE PERSONALLY BELIEVES.

    Therefore, it is impossible for you to discern whether or not she is a strong Christian based upon reading that particular book. I believe she is, and I base that belief on statements she has made that are NOT in her book.

    When I enrolled in the Londen Institute we took tests that are supposed to illuminate our strengths. One of my top 10 strengths was that of a Learner. That wasn’t surprising to me. And as a Learner, I appreciate reading from the perspective of a true Teacher, one that presents all evidence with as little bias as possible. Elaine Pagels does that.

  30. Jim,

    After reading the first two sentences of the article to which you linked, I stopped. I cannot respect that article because the author’s first two sentences prove that he was not paying attention. I’ll quote his first two sentences and then explain what I mean. He wrote:

    Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels, written in 2003, is a small book consisting of only five chapters that seeks to show that what is today considered Christian orthodox belief is not validly derived from the teachings of early Christianity. In this book, Pagels outlines her notion in five stages.

    These two sentences demonstrate that the author TOTALLY missed the point of Ms. Pagels’ book. Ms. Pagels was not “outlining her notions” at all. Ms. Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton, and when one truly has the heart of a teacher they present disputed evidence from a non-biased opinion whenever possible. Ms. Pagels’ book never reveals what HER notions or beliefs happen to be. She simply presents all sides without bias. I’ll repeat those last two words: WITHOUT BIAS.

    It takes a Professor’s heart to set aside one’s personal opinions and teach in this manner. It is a quality so rare that most of us are not used to such. We think that if a person puts information on the table, that person must BELIEVE the information they present. That IS NOT THE CASE.

    One example: I truly enjoyed reading the Gospel of Thomas. From that statement, you might assume I buy into the Gospel of Thomas. You would be wrong in making that assumption. Simply because I state that I enjoy reading that Gospel does NOT mean I believe that Gospel.

    Ms. Pagels wrote her book with that same attitude. She did an amazing job of presenting both sides. She presented evidences that you and I may not agree with, and because she didn’t slant her work to reflect that SHE disagrees with the information it is a common, easy-to-make mistake to assume she BELIEVES the information you and I might disagree with. But as I already stated, the fact of the matter is that she never once states WHAT SHE PERSONALLY BELIEVES.

    Therefore, it is impossible for you to discern whether or not she is a strong Christian based upon reading that particular book. I believe she is, and I base that belief on statements she has made that are NOT in her book.

    When I enrolled in the Londen Institute we took tests that are supposed to illuminate our strengths. One of my top 10 strengths was that of a Learner. That wasn’t surprising to me. And as a Learner, I appreciate reading from the perspective of a true Teacher, one that presents all evidence with as little bias as possible. Elaine Pagels does that.

  31. What it all boils down to is that a good Professor will not tell you WHAT to think, but WILL tell you HOW to think.

    How one should think is to consider all sides and come to a conclusion of your own, rather than blindly trusting and believing what others have told you.

    When I was a young teenager, I heard several preachers denounce various denominations, basing their conclusions on differences they felt were important.

    As an adult I decided to go to a leader in different denominations and ask them what they believed. I found the information I’d been TOLD they believed was usually very very very off base and incorrect.

    Many Christians make the mistake of accepting the opinions of others without question. They extend this acceptance even into why “THAT GROUP” is wrong and “THIS GROUP” is right, never bothering to go directly to “THAT GROUP” to see what “THAT GROUP” actually believes.

    One great example:

    I was told as a child that Catholic people pray to Saints and to the Virgin Mary instead of to God. This was denounced because only God can answer our prayers. When I asked a Catholic Priest about this I learned that Catholics do not pray to Saints or Mary in expectation of an answer to prayer… they pray to certain Saints and ask those Saints to pray FOR them, similar to a Protestant asking a Pastor or friend to pray FOR them. They pray to the saint of this or the saint of that because they believe that Saint’s life experience applies to the situation they are experiencing, and if Saint so-and-so will pray FOR them, perhaps God will answer their joint prayer together. They even point to verses in the Bible that hint that such things are possible.

    Now, I personally believe it’s useless to pray to dead humans, but the point is that the way I was TOLD Catholics believed was INCORRECT. So many don’t bother seeking out whether or not they are being taught CORRECT information.

    In my opinion, it’s a horrible habit to blindly accept information passed on from others without researching it.

  32. What it all boils down to is that a good Professor will not tell you WHAT to think, but WILL tell you HOW to think.

    How one should think is to consider all sides and come to a conclusion of your own, rather than blindly trusting and believing what others have told you.

    When I was a young teenager, I heard several preachers denounce various denominations, basing their conclusions on differences they felt were important.

    As an adult I decided to go to a leader in different denominations and ask them what they believed. I found the information I’d been TOLD they believed was usually very very very off base and incorrect.

    Many Christians make the mistake of accepting the opinions of others without question. They extend this acceptance even into why “THAT GROUP” is wrong and “THIS GROUP” is right, never bothering to go directly to “THAT GROUP” to see what “THAT GROUP” actually believes.

    One great example:

    I was told as a child that Catholic people pray to Saints and to the Virgin Mary instead of to God. This was denounced because only God can answer our prayers. When I asked a Catholic Priest about this I learned that Catholics do not pray to Saints or Mary in expectation of an answer to prayer… they pray to certain Saints and ask those Saints to pray FOR them, similar to a Protestant asking a Pastor or friend to pray FOR them. They pray to the saint of this or the saint of that because they believe that Saint’s life experience applies to the situation they are experiencing, and if Saint so-and-so will pray FOR them, perhaps God will answer their joint prayer together. They even point to verses in the Bible that hint that such things are possible.

    Now, I personally believe it’s useless to pray to dead humans, but the point is that the way I was TOLD Catholics believed was INCORRECT. So many don’t bother seeking out whether or not they are being taught CORRECT information.

    In my opinion, it’s a horrible habit to blindly accept information passed on from others without researching it.

  33. Wow – a lot of debate. Last semester I took church history for my Masters of Divinity. That makes two church history classes for me at the graduate level. Whew – never had to do so much writing in my life.

    There really wasn’t that much debate in regards to which books of the NT were to be included. The real debate was over Arianism and other heresy. Generally speaking the early church father’s agreed on which NT “books” were inspired and felt the gnostic and apocryphal books were either useful for edyfing or not worthy of reading.

    As far as Ireneus in concerned he is not the main contributer or dictator of what books of the Bible should be included in the NT canon. That developed as the 2nd century church delt with gnostism and other heresy. Ireneus used the already excepted books of the NT canon to defend against these heresies.

    Athanasius, by the 300’s wrote an Easter Letter to his church, in which he included all 27 books as we have them today. So it wouldn’t be a fair assesment to say that one person determined what were to be included in the NT canon.

    The prespective of the historian is always going to color the story they tell. People like Dr. Pagels (no matter how distinguished) write about history with a preconcieved conclusion or opinion in mind. I think it is noble to read as broadly as possible, but I think that people like Dr. Pagels are dangerous because of their predetermined position – which is going to color their interpretation of history.

    Graig L. Blomberg, Bruce M. Metzger, F.F. Bruce, Bruce Shelley, Mark A. Knoll are some good names to check out. Dr. Blomberg is probably on the cutting edge of modern scholarship along with Bruce Shelley and Dr. Knoll. However, Bruce M. Metzger’s work is outstanding can’t recommend it enough.

    If you want to read original sources check out http://www.ccel.org. Another outstanding web site is http://www.str.org‘.

    Paul Copan wrote a book entitled: “That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith.” This is not so much about church history, but it is a good lesson on basic reasoning. It is not as technical as Blomberg (although his stuff is pretty much written on the popular level) but is still challenging.

    Check this stuff out. It is good stuff. I think.

  34. Wow – a lot of debate. Last semester I took church history for my Masters of Divinity. That makes two church history classes for me at the graduate level. Whew – never had to do so much writing in my life.

    There really wasn’t that much debate in regards to which books of the NT were to be included. The real debate was over Arianism and other heresy. Generally speaking the early church father’s agreed on which NT “books” were inspired and felt the gnostic and apocryphal books were either useful for edyfing or not worthy of reading.

    As far as Ireneus in concerned he is not the main contributer or dictator of what books of the Bible should be included in the NT canon. That developed as the 2nd century church delt with gnostism and other heresy. Ireneus used the already excepted books of the NT canon to defend against these heresies.

    Athanasius, by the 300’s wrote an Easter Letter to his church, in which he included all 27 books as we have them today. So it wouldn’t be a fair assesment to say that one person determined what were to be included in the NT canon.

    The prespective of the historian is always going to color the story they tell. People like Dr. Pagels (no matter how distinguished) write about history with a preconcieved conclusion or opinion in mind. I think it is noble to read as broadly as possible, but I think that people like Dr. Pagels are dangerous because of their predetermined position – which is going to color their interpretation of history.

    Graig L. Blomberg, Bruce M. Metzger, F.F. Bruce, Bruce Shelley, Mark A. Knoll are some good names to check out. Dr. Blomberg is probably on the cutting edge of modern scholarship along with Bruce Shelley and Dr. Knoll. However, Bruce M. Metzger’s work is outstanding can’t recommend it enough.

    If you want to read original sources check out http://www.ccel.org. Another outstanding web site is http://www.str.org‘.

    Paul Copan wrote a book entitled: “That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith.” This is not so much about church history, but it is a good lesson on basic reasoning. It is not as technical as Blomberg (although his stuff is pretty much written on the popular level) but is still challenging.

    Check this stuff out. It is good stuff. I think.

  35. As a fellow seminarian I would agree with the idea that we should be well read. It is important to not only read and understand what it is that we believe and hold to be true, but also to read what is said by other religions and even those skeptics that would disagree with our position. It’s especially important to understand the historical process that got us to where we are today.

    That having been said, I am extremely disturbed at the lack of mention made to the role of the Holy Spirit as a guiding factor in what actually did take place during those early years when the Church Fathers painstakingly underwent the process that brought us the Cannon of Scripture we hold today. I think that it is crucial to understand that God orchestrated the events that took place in order to preserve the word that He wanted us have. The process definitely took place through men who were fallible, however through the leading of the Holy Spirit these men were able to accomplish the tasks in which God ordained them to. As Christians we cannot discard the role the Holy Spirit played in the compiling of the Cannon of Scripture, or the role He plays now in our understanding of those works that were left out.

    Just as the early church fathers applied reason given them by the Holy Spirit, so too must we apply reason guided by the Holy Spirit when reading texts that are outside the Cannon of Scripture. It’s a dangerous thing to approach academics without allowing the discernment of the Holy Spirit to guide us. We need to make sure that we don’t approach academics with the attitude of applying reason or the Spirit, rather we need to apply reason guided by the Spirit.

    As a final note I would also say that anything that we read regarding the Scripture or any other works for that matter be approached with discernment and prayer. There are a great many books written on the subject of Scripture and other ancient writings that would lead a believer down the wrong path without the guidance of the Spirit. It’s always a dangerous thing to remove the spiritual aspect from our academic pursuits.

  36. As a fellow seminarian I would agree with the idea that we should be well read. It is important to not only read and understand what it is that we believe and hold to be true, but also to read what is said by other religions and even those skeptics that would disagree with our position. It’s especially important to understand the historical process that got us to where we are today.

    That having been said, I am extremely disturbed at the lack of mention made to the role of the Holy Spirit as a guiding factor in what actually did take place during those early years when the Church Fathers painstakingly underwent the process that brought us the Cannon of Scripture we hold today. I think that it is crucial to understand that God orchestrated the events that took place in order to preserve the word that He wanted us have. The process definitely took place through men who were fallible, however through the leading of the Holy Spirit these men were able to accomplish the tasks in which God ordained them to. As Christians we cannot discard the role the Holy Spirit played in the compiling of the Cannon of Scripture, or the role He plays now in our understanding of those works that were left out.

    Just as the early church fathers applied reason given them by the Holy Spirit, so too must we apply reason guided by the Holy Spirit when reading texts that are outside the Cannon of Scripture. It’s a dangerous thing to approach academics without allowing the discernment of the Holy Spirit to guide us. We need to make sure that we don’t approach academics with the attitude of applying reason or the Spirit, rather we need to apply reason guided by the Spirit.

    As a final note I would also say that anything that we read regarding the Scripture or any other works for that matter be approached with discernment and prayer. There are a great many books written on the subject of Scripture and other ancient writings that would lead a believer down the wrong path without the guidance of the Spirit. It’s always a dangerous thing to remove the spiritual aspect from our academic pursuits.

  37. Donny,

    I wish to note a few things.

    First, you mentioned used an example of how you were taught that the Roman Catholics prayed to the Saints and how a priest told you otherwise. The priest, however, did not tell you that the Papacy does not denounce the praying to the saints and expecting the SAINTS to answer it. In fact, while that priest might not believe that, I knew countless Catholics growing up who – when I lost something – told me to pray to St. Anthony to help me find what I was looking for, and when it was found, told me tnat St. Anthony had found it for me. So, to say that the Catholics do not do this is a deceptive lie on his part. It is true that official dogma of Rome does not say that the Saints directly answer your prayer, but God does because they are holy (that is what “saint” means – “holy one”) and we are not, and therefore God answers the prayers of the saints and really doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to ours unless the saints speak for us. That is, officially, how things are positioned – but they never tell their people it is wrong (and in fact, in most places south of the American border it is the norm) to expect the saints to answer their prayers. But that is a whole different issue.

    As to this whole issue of the Canon, you need to recognize something: you are reading a particular line of thought that finds its origin in the Hagelian Dialectic which is used to study history with various anti-Christian (in fact, blatantly atheistic) presumptions are employed. This methodology/philosophy was brought forth in the 18th century, and from it Higher Critical Scholarship (which you are being taught) and Evolutionary Theory (in the reading of Natural History) are employed equally.

    What is the Hagelian Dialectic? It is simply an idea that all of history can be read into a simple, ever-repeating set of events that has 3 events that continually repeat themselves. First, a main stream of idea, often called the “Thesis” is produced. Second, in order to bring about balance, a counter idea is produced, which is normally called the “anti-thesis.” Third and finally, from these two coming into great conflict, a “synthesis” (often called “progress” or “evolution”) is derived. And this is how our world continually progressing/evolving.

    As a result, when one reads back into history, one sees that one must find the conflict that led to a particular stream of thought, and then behind that, another conflict, and so forth. And, since the synthesis/progress/evolution is the result of two things coming together, it is also presumed that we are moving from simpler ideas/creatures to more complex ideas/creatures as this process takes place.

    However, the Biblical view of history is opposed to this theory in every way. According to Scripture, there has always been God’s way and the sinful misrepresentations and imitations of it. There has always been one stream of thought and lots of attempts by Satan and sinful man to imitate it but not submit to the true and right ways of thinking.

    The difference in these two lines of thinking is dramatic. First, conflict in the Biblical view is a consequence of Sin and is therefore an inherent evil; in this other viewpoint (which Ms. Pagels and others are building upon) conflict is an inherent good and at worst a necessary evil.

    The difference in how history is interpreted is shown most clearly in how she is interpreting events. She is saying that all the Gnostic schools came up at the same time as the orthodox schools, and that the orthodox happened to win out over the gnostics. Now, if this is true, that means that there was NEVER a faithful handing down of the teaching of Christ through the Apostles. It means that a whole lot of people thought about what Jesus meant to them and started talking about it with other people who Jesus had influenced, and that in time a lot of thesis/antithesis/synthesis happened, until two major lines of thought – gnosticism and orthodoxy – conflicted.

    Contrast this to the Biblical view of things, as well as the orthodox view – that things were faithfully handed down from age to age to Christ, and from Christ through the apostles and those they taught. When the imposters appeared, it was clear that they were imposters because the orthodox knew that they had received what they had from Christ through the Apostles, and that the writings were always known as Scripture from their very origin, while the gnostic writings were not known and therefore were not trusted by those who were faithful.

    Why? Because Jesus had risen from the dead and had given to the Apostles – who were teaching in and around Jerusalem for many years so their message had the chance to be proven false by the Jewish Authorities – the message they had received DIRECTLY from Christ. They taught there so the Jews could say that “Jesus didn’t say that” or “You are making up the resurrection – here’s the body” or something else of the kind.

    However, if the higher critical view is correct – and now I note something that Ms. Pagels and her kin are universally in agreement on – Jesus did not BODILY resurrect from the grave, and so whatever happened the disciples were merely reflecting on how good Jesus was and how he made them feel – but not on the message they had received from the flesh and blood bodily resurrected Christ.

    I am guessing that Ms. Pagels did not note that the strongest part of Irenaeus’ appeal was not to the illogical nature of the gnostic message but that those living in the 2nd century did not know the origins of the gnostic writings though they did know – without question – the origins of the orthodox ones. And so, the argument was based not on anything less than HISTORICAL FACT and CLEAR TRACEABILITY of the writings to the Apostles themselves – something the gnostics were unable to do.

    The problem with the higher critical approach is that it is very popular in the big schools because it is seen exclusively as “scholarly” among “theologians” (as Evolutionary Theory is seen exclusively as “scholarly” among “scientists”). Unfortunately, they are building on a premise that has again and again forced them to revise their prior conclusions closer and closer to the orthodox conclusions. A perfect example is how the Gospel of St. John was dated as mid-2nd century until a scrap of it was found that dated back to the end of the 1st-century or beginning of the 2nd century in Egypt – and that created problems since everything that is known about its composition is that it was composed on the other side of the Mediterranean in Ephesus – which means John was composed in the last decade of the 1st century at the latest.

    It also means that Ms. Pagel telling you that the Gospel of Thomas – which almost exclusively is dated to the early part of the 2nd century (though not the 1st decade normally) as well as the other gnostic gospels was written after the writing of John’s gospel, and her conclusion to the contrary shows the desperation of the higher critics just as there is so much desperation on the part of Evolutionary Theorists in defending their ideology that is based on philosophy and not fact.

    Oh, and if you want to read a real scholar on these matters, look for the writings of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, who holds (at last count as I recall) 8 graduate or post-graduate degrees, and understands logic better than most since he is not only an Ivy-League Classicist and a well-trained theologian, but one of the chief lawyers of the European Court on Human Rights, a British Barrister, and one of the few who are licensed to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. He has also written over 80 books in French, German, and English (of course) – and maybe even Spanish as well.

    If we want to bring the scholars to the table, Elaine Pagels doesn’t hold a candle when compared with Dr. JW Montgomery, and he is a former atheist who realizes that what you are being taught is not built on fact as much as it is a particular set of lenses that are inherently hostile to the Christian faith – and that is what they are teaching you to be as well. You will, I can almost be sure – become an intellectual heretical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic through that – and it is not built on fact but a particular way of viewing things.

    By the way, if you want to see how unswervingly clear which writings were accepted and how far back, read the earliest Church fathers and look at the writings they reference – almost unconditionally the same texts that are in today’s New Testament. And that doesn’t matter if you look pre-Irenaeus or after.

    Another important thought: Irenaeus in no way would have won out if he didn’t have the strong majority of those who had connections to the Aoostles and those who had known the Apostles behind him. They would have known he was in error, since the churches knew what they had received and where it had come from – or at the very most skeptical – where they had been told it had come from.

    The reason the gnostic gospels were not received was because people who had known Thomas or Andrew or any of the other apostles knew what they had done and written. It was public knowledge and in the oral culture of that day, a well-known set of facts among the Christians who had been taught by them and had known them personally. Many people were elders in Irenaeus’ day who had been taught as children by these same men, and so it is no wonder that they easily realized that Thomas had not written the gospel of Thomas and that what they got from St. Matthew was really what Matthew had written.

    Even the great heretic Marcion, who is probably the only sect of gnosticism that had any real chance of being considered authentically Christian pre-Irenaeus – utilized a canon of Lukan/Pauline literature, because he knew that the gnostic gospels had no credibility (if they even existed at that time).

    The only reason why the church fathers citations of the Gospels isn’t proof enough for the higher critical crowd is because they would have to accept as historically accurate what is written in the texts, and that would just prove their guilt for not buying into them. It isn’t like we are talking about something that is very complicated here.

    Also, I should note that the “canon” that was “eventually decided” wasn’t decided until the late 4th century at the earliest (in fact, I don’t know if it every really was formally decided, since I’m not sure what council declared it because as far as I know none actually did until the Council of Trent in the late 16th century), since the first list with the 27 we have is from St. Athanasius in the 330’s, and at the time he was in the midst of his battle with the Arians that led to him being elevated to Bishop of Alexandria and defrocked over and over again.

    And the strange thing is, even the ARIANS – who were HERETICS – agreed on the canon at the time – showing that just because there was not a published list didn’t mean there wasn’t one the entire time. The Arians didn’t say, “hey, what about this other gospel from way back when?” They knew better – as everyone did – that these weren’t trustable because no one knew from where they had originated. And that is the point – the Early Church knew the origins and we are arrogant to think that they didn’t.

    We are arrogant to think that some group who had clearly Greek Platonic underpinnings and rejected the Old Testament’s validity (and made that God to be a weaker god than the “true” god) could have ever been taken seriously. That is just plain “I don’t want to take seriously the idea that the gnostics came along and tried to piggy back Jesus into their ideology to sound more acceptable” – which is exactly what happened.

    I will also say one more thing – saying we rely on “the Holy Spirit” for knowing that what we have in the canon is right is foolish. This is because the way we know that the Holy Spirit is speaking – and not another spirit – is because it lines up with the Holy Scriptures, and if we then set the Holy Spirit as the basis for how the canon was determined we have produced what is called a circular argument – which is thereby unverifiable and thereby demonstrates that we are in fact a very superstitious people.

  38. Donny,

    I wish to note a few things.

    First, you mentioned used an example of how you were taught that the Roman Catholics prayed to the Saints and how a priest told you otherwise. The priest, however, did not tell you that the Papacy does not denounce the praying to the saints and expecting the SAINTS to answer it. In fact, while that priest might not believe that, I knew countless Catholics growing up who – when I lost something – told me to pray to St. Anthony to help me find what I was looking for, and when it was found, told me tnat St. Anthony had found it for me. So, to say that the Catholics do not do this is a deceptive lie on his part. It is true that official dogma of Rome does not say that the Saints directly answer your prayer, but God does because they are holy (that is what “saint” means – “holy one”) and we are not, and therefore God answers the prayers of the saints and really doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to ours unless the saints speak for us. That is, officially, how things are positioned – but they never tell their people it is wrong (and in fact, in most places south of the American border it is the norm) to expect the saints to answer their prayers. But that is a whole different issue.

    As to this whole issue of the Canon, you need to recognize something: you are reading a particular line of thought that finds its origin in the Hagelian Dialectic which is used to study history with various anti-Christian (in fact, blatantly atheistic) presumptions are employed. This methodology/philosophy was brought forth in the 18th century, and from it Higher Critical Scholarship (which you are being taught) and Evolutionary Theory (in the reading of Natural History) are employed equally.

    What is the Hagelian Dialectic? It is simply an idea that all of history can be read into a simple, ever-repeating set of events that has 3 events that continually repeat themselves. First, a main stream of idea, often called the “Thesis” is produced. Second, in order to bring about balance, a counter idea is produced, which is normally called the “anti-thesis.” Third and finally, from these two coming into great conflict, a “synthesis” (often called “progress” or “evolution”) is derived. And this is how our world continually progressing/evolving.

    As a result, when one reads back into history, one sees that one must find the conflict that led to a particular stream of thought, and then behind that, another conflict, and so forth. And, since the synthesis/progress/evolution is the result of two things coming together, it is also presumed that we are moving from simpler ideas/creatures to more complex ideas/creatures as this process takes place.

    However, the Biblical view of history is opposed to this theory in every way. According to Scripture, there has always been God’s way and the sinful misrepresentations and imitations of it. There has always been one stream of thought and lots of attempts by Satan and sinful man to imitate it but not submit to the true and right ways of thinking.

    The difference in these two lines of thinking is dramatic. First, conflict in the Biblical view is a consequence of Sin and is therefore an inherent evil; in this other viewpoint (which Ms. Pagels and others are building upon) conflict is an inherent good and at worst a necessary evil.

    The difference in how history is interpreted is shown most clearly in how she is interpreting events. She is saying that all the Gnostic schools came up at the same time as the orthodox schools, and that the orthodox happened to win out over the gnostics. Now, if this is true, that means that there was NEVER a faithful handing down of the teaching of Christ through the Apostles. It means that a whole lot of people thought about what Jesus meant to them and started talking about it with other people who Jesus had influenced, and that in time a lot of thesis/antithesis/synthesis happened, until two major lines of thought – gnosticism and orthodoxy – conflicted.

    Contrast this to the Biblical view of things, as well as the orthodox view – that things were faithfully handed down from age to age to Christ, and from Christ through the apostles and those they taught. When the imposters appeared, it was clear that they were imposters because the orthodox knew that they had received what they had from Christ through the Apostles, and that the writings were always known as Scripture from their very origin, while the gnostic writings were not known and therefore were not trusted by those who were faithful.

    Why? Because Jesus had risen from the dead and had given to the Apostles – who were teaching in and around Jerusalem for many years so their message had the chance to be proven false by the Jewish Authorities – the message they had received DIRECTLY from Christ. They taught there so the Jews could say that “Jesus didn’t say that” or “You are making up the resurrection – here’s the body” or something else of the kind.

    However, if the higher critical view is correct – and now I note something that Ms. Pagels and her kin are universally in agreement on – Jesus did not BODILY resurrect from the grave, and so whatever happened the disciples were merely reflecting on how good Jesus was and how he made them feel – but not on the message they had received from the flesh and blood bodily resurrected Christ.

    I am guessing that Ms. Pagels did not note that the strongest part of Irenaeus’ appeal was not to the illogical nature of the gnostic message but that those living in the 2nd century did not know the origins of the gnostic writings though they did know – without question – the origins of the orthodox ones. And so, the argument was based not on anything less than HISTORICAL FACT and CLEAR TRACEABILITY of the writings to the Apostles themselves – something the gnostics were unable to do.

    The problem with the higher critical approach is that it is very popular in the big schools because it is seen exclusively as “scholarly” among “theologians” (as Evolutionary Theory is seen exclusively as “scholarly” among “scientists”). Unfortunately, they are building on a premise that has again and again forced them to revise their prior conclusions closer and closer to the orthodox conclusions. A perfect example is how the Gospel of St. John was dated as mid-2nd century until a scrap of it was found that dated back to the end of the 1st-century or beginning of the 2nd century in Egypt – and that created problems since everything that is known about its composition is that it was composed on the other side of the Mediterranean in Ephesus – which means John was composed in the last decade of the 1st century at the latest.

    It also means that Ms. Pagel telling you that the Gospel of Thomas – which almost exclusively is dated to the early part of the 2nd century (though not the 1st decade normally) as well as the other gnostic gospels was written after the writing of John’s gospel, and her conclusion to the contrary shows the desperation of the higher critics just as there is so much desperation on the part of Evolutionary Theorists in defending their ideology that is based on philosophy and not fact.

    Oh, and if you want to read a real scholar on these matters, look for the writings of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, who holds (at last count as I recall) 8 graduate or post-graduate degrees, and understands logic better than most since he is not only an Ivy-League Classicist and a well-trained theologian, but one of the chief lawyers of the European Court on Human Rights, a British Barrister, and one of the few who are licensed to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. He has also written over 80 books in French, German, and English (of course) – and maybe even Spanish as well.

    If we want to bring the scholars to the table, Elaine Pagels doesn’t hold a candle when compared with Dr. JW Montgomery, and he is a former atheist who realizes that what you are being taught is not built on fact as much as it is a particular set of lenses that are inherently hostile to the Christian faith – and that is what they are teaching you to be as well. You will, I can almost be sure – become an intellectual heretical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic through that – and it is not built on fact but a particular way of viewing things.

    By the way, if you want to see how unswervingly clear which writings were accepted and how far back, read the earliest Church fathers and look at the writings they reference – almost unconditionally the same texts that are in today’s New Testament. And that doesn’t matter if you look pre-Irenaeus or after.

    Another important thought: Irenaeus in no way would have won out if he didn’t have the strong majority of those who had connections to the Aoostles and those who had known the Apostles behind him. They would have known he was in error, since the churches knew what they had received and where it had come from – or at the very most skeptical – where they had been told it had come from.

    The reason the gnostic gospels were not received was because people who had known Thomas or Andrew or any of the other apostles knew what they had done and written. It was public knowledge and in the oral culture of that day, a well-known set of facts among the Christians who had been taught by them and had known them personally. Many people were elders in Irenaeus’ day who had been taught as children by these same men, and so it is no wonder that they easily realized that Thomas had not written the gospel of Thomas and that what they got from St. Matthew was really what Matthew had written.

    Even the great heretic Marcion, who is probably the only sect of gnosticism that had any real chance of being considered authentically Christian pre-Irenaeus – utilized a canon of Lukan/Pauline literature, because he knew that the gnostic gospels had no credibility (if they even existed at that time).

    The only reason why the church fathers citations of the Gospels isn’t proof enough for the higher critical crowd is because they would have to accept as historically accurate what is written in the texts, and that would just prove their guilt for not buying into them. It isn’t like we are talking about something that is very complicated here.

    Also, I should note that the “canon” that was “eventually decided” wasn’t decided until the late 4th century at the earliest (in fact, I don’t know if it every really was formally decided, since I’m not sure what council declared it because as far as I know none actually did until the Council of Trent in the late 16th century), since the first list with the 27 we have is from St. Athanasius in the 330’s, and at the time he was in the midst of his battle with the Arians that led to him being elevated to Bishop of Alexandria and defrocked over and over again.

    And the strange thing is, even the ARIANS – who were HERETICS – agreed on the canon at the time – showing that just because there was not a published list didn’t mean there wasn’t one the entire time. The Arians didn’t say, “hey, what about this other gospel from way back when?” They knew better – as everyone did – that these weren’t trustable because no one knew from where they had originated. And that is the point – the Early Church knew the origins and we are arrogant to think that they didn’t.

    We are arrogant to think that some group who had clearly Greek Platonic underpinnings and rejected the Old Testament’s validity (and made that God to be a weaker god than the “true” god) could have ever been taken seriously. That is just plain “I don’t want to take seriously the idea that the gnostics came along and tried to piggy back Jesus into their ideology to sound more acceptable” – which is exactly what happened.

    I will also say one more thing – saying we rely on “the Holy Spirit” for knowing that what we have in the canon is right is foolish. This is because the way we know that the Holy Spirit is speaking – and not another spirit – is because it lines up with the Holy Scriptures, and if we then set the Holy Spirit as the basis for how the canon was determined we have produced what is called a circular argument – which is thereby unverifiable and thereby demonstrates that we are in fact a very superstitious people.

  39. Donny, check out “Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome” by Rodney Stark. IIRC, he isn’t a Christian(I think?) but he riffs on Elaine Pagels viewpoints with regard to the Gospel of Thomas. I googled but couldn’t find anyone discussing what his argument actually was and I can’t remember anymore.

    http://www.amazon.com/Cities-God-Christianity-Movement-Conquered/dp/B000WAH00G/ref=pd_sim_b_title_1

  40. Donny, check out “Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome” by Rodney Stark. IIRC, he isn’t a Christian(I think?) but he riffs on Elaine Pagels viewpoints with regard to the Gospel of Thomas. I googled but couldn’t find anyone discussing what his argument actually was and I can’t remember anymore.

    http://www.amazon.com/Cities-God-Christianity-Movement-Conquered/dp/B000WAH00G/ref=pd_sim_b_title_1

  41. Studying church history can also enlighten minds to where we got off track from the true faith of Yeshua/Jesus and of the apostles. May our studies of these things lead us back to true first century Torah-based faith in Messiah Yeshua. Here is an article I wrote about Christmas for anyone interested.
    Shalom in Yeshua!
    Rachel

    http://www.onestickministries.com/One%20Stick%20Reports/Echad_Etz/Teachings/Entries/2007/11/9_ORIGINS_of_the_MASS_of_CHRIST,_by_Rachel_Grier_.html

  42. Studying church history can also enlighten minds to where we got off track from the true faith of Yeshua/Jesus and of the apostles. May our studies of these things lead us back to true first century Torah-based faith in Messiah Yeshua. Here is an article I wrote about Christmas for anyone interested.
    Shalom in Yeshua!
    Rachel

    http://www.onestickministries.com/One%20Stick%20Reports/Echad_Etz/Teachings/Entries/2007/11/9_ORIGINS_of_the_MASS_of_CHRIST,_by_Rachel_Grier_.html

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