Donny's Ramblings

The Lost Gospels – And a Disclaimer

30 Comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working toward a Seminary degree. The Londen Institute For Evangelism (LIFE), with whom I’d originally enrolled, merged with Hope International University not long ago (the merger was announced in January). Just last week Hope International gave us a list of options that we can choose from based on our educational goals.

THE LOST GOSPELS

Built into me is this inner need to dig deeper into course materials than what is required. I don’t want to be the type of person who blindly accepts the agenda of another person or group of people. What I mean by this is that I want to hear all sides of an argument and not be dismissive towards materials that others before me have decided to ignore. I want to know why decisions were made as they were, and then I still want to hear the thoughts of “the other side”. For example, when learning about the canonization of scripture, I want to know why the books included in the Bible were chosen, but I also want to know why others were not. And I want to read those books that were not chosen.

This applies directly to the Church History course I began in October of last year. The two books that were assigned to me by LIFE were supplemented by several books I found on my own. Amongst other authors, I found it interesting and enlightening to read the work of Elaine Pagels. Ms. Pagels, who is a professor at Princeton University and received her PhD from Harvard, goes into depth on the Lost Gospels. I’ve read criticism of Ms. Pagels online, but it seems to me that such is unjustified. Where critics have said, “Ms. Pagels can’t be a Christian because she believes x, y or z”, I’ve found that she never actually tells us what she personally believes. Rather, she merely does her best to objectively present all sides. I appreciate this, and also enjoy her writing style. If you’d like to educate yourself on topics you’ll likely never hear in church, head to your nearest Barnes and Noble and pick up any of Elaine’s books. I’d suggest starting with Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Not only does it present the Gospel that is attributed to Thomas (and written a bit before the book of John) it also dives into a lot of church history. This may sound boring, but if you’ve an interest in the early days of Christianity this book is an easy , informative read.

I’ve also read most of the Nag Hammadi Library and will complete what I haven’t read soon. These books are also referred to as Gnostic Scriptures and pre-date the canonization of scripture as we know it today.

AND NOW FOR A DISCLAIMER

What is it about humans that causes many of us to so easily jump to conclusions? I’ve mentioned the things I’ve just written about to others and am usually cautioned about heading down the wrong path. What part of the paragraphs I’ve written above indicate that I’m ready to turn away from “traditional” Christianity and embrace gnosticism or some other form of religious belief? I’m simply the type of person who wants to know WHY I believe what I believe. I have to admit, I kind of look down on those who choose not to do so. I feel we owe it to the society in which we live to be educated Christians. Is it wrong of me to do look down on those who don’t agree with that? Absolutely. I know it is. This is just an admission on my part.

I remember when I was in the midst of my rebellious years of porn production… I approached various Pastors and asked them a list of tough questions. I really wanted answers, but not a single one of them could assist with such answers, nor could they refer me to someone who could. In the year and a half since surrendering my life to God I’ve gone out and found the answers to nearly every question I used to ask. It appears to me that the Seminary training obtained by the ministers I approached didn’t extend beyond the pre-determined agenda or yoke of teaching that their schools had established. In this time of questioning, I think it’s a mistake not to prepare our religious leaders to address the questions the world asks of us. It’s frustrating to those who don’t believe when circular reasoning is used to answer their questions. If a person does not yet believe the Bible, the Bible can’t be used to prove anything. That’s like me writing a book declaring myself the Messiah, and when asked for proof, pointing to the book I’ve written. There is an enormous wealth of outside proof to the things we believe as Christians, and it’s time more of us educate ourselves about such information.

And that, my friends, is what fuels my desire to hear all sides. Just a few days ago I had an all-day email conversation with a man who produces porn. He kept sending me messages about how I needed to educate and enlighten myself on certain aspects of Christianity. His attitude seemed to be that he had some “secret knowledge” that I as a Christian did not possess. I enjoyed receiving his challenges and kept asking for clarification as to what he wanted me to know about. All the while I had a pretty good idea of the direction he was headed. When he finally sent me the “killer” questions I referred him to names I’d mentioned earlier in our conversation… the names of authors I’ve read that discuss the very issues he thought would spiritually “slay” me. I then elaborated on the very points he made to me. In other words, I was prepared for his arguments. I’ve read and studied them. Recently. The questions he asked of me were the types of questions I used to ask of religious leaders and receive no answers.

I guess the “disclaimer”  I’d like to put out is that those of you who consistently read the things I write are likely going to witness controversial topics discussed on this website.  It may be easy to assume that I’m confusing myself and heading down a wrong spiritual path.  Please, don’t worry.  Wouldn’t you agree that a faith that can’t stand up to questioning is not a very good faith at all?  I’m in the process of learning, and that process is likely to take years.  Or the rest of my life.  This blog is just me thinking out loud.  Feel free to join in the discussion.

30 thoughts on “The Lost Gospels – And a Disclaimer

  1. Donny you have an excellent mind and are definitely not a “lazy” Christian. I respect you a lot for your willingness to be informed and ready to answer some of the hard questions.
    Lately I’ve been trying to “see” Christianity from the perspective of a non-believer (though I am definitely a believer).
    I got Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for the Real Jesus,” but it is not easy reading for me.
    I’m amazed at all you are doing, Donny!

  2. Donny you have an excellent mind and are definitely not a “lazy” Christian. I respect you a lot for your willingness to be informed and ready to answer some of the hard questions.
    Lately I’ve been trying to “see” Christianity from the perspective of a non-believer (though I am definitely a believer).
    I got Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for the Real Jesus,” but it is not easy reading for me.
    I’m amazed at all you are doing, Donny!

  3. I here what you’re saying in your disclaimer. But why not actually read the works of people who actually translated the Gospel of Thomas into English and whom is consider to be the preeminent authority on Canonization, etc. That being Bruce M. Metzger?

    People have question Pagel for her lack of objectivity. ALL historians come to the table with some bias – PERIOD. The question is this – when we examine the facts of history does what Pagel write about the canonization of the scripture square with the facts. Sadly the answer is no.

    Why? Simply put the “gnositic” gospels do not pre-date the the OT (which was the BIBLE of the disporia and first generation of Christian) nor do they pre-date the apostolic witness whether oral or written. Furthermore, the universal church already had recognized and began to formalized the letters of the NT as early as the mid 100’s. That is a mere 20 years after the Apostle John wrote Revelation (if we assume a late date for the writing of Revelation).

    Additionally, Pagel and others impose their bias on the facts. One common argument is that the patriarchal men during the 2nd century wanted to suppress women and therefore picked books that supported their views. While these suppressed gospels (thomas, barnabas, etc) taught a more egalitarian view. That is rubbish, because that last verse of the Gospel of Thomas states that if woman want to be saved they have to become men.

    So do we accept what Pagel has to say as gospel simply because she challenges the majority of Biblical scholarship and thus conveniently fits into a post-modern, “I hate the institutional church, because non-post-modern Christians are a bunch of lame, thoughtless morons” world view? I don’t know, but it sure seems that way to me.

    You know I’ve met Graig Blomberg. Pretty nice guy – why don’t you e-mail him and see what he has to say.

  4. I here what you’re saying in your disclaimer. But why not actually read the works of people who actually translated the Gospel of Thomas into English and whom is consider to be the preeminent authority on Canonization, etc. That being Bruce M. Metzger?

    People have question Pagel for her lack of objectivity. ALL historians come to the table with some bias – PERIOD. The question is this – when we examine the facts of history does what Pagel write about the canonization of the scripture square with the facts. Sadly the answer is no.

    Why? Simply put the “gnositic” gospels do not pre-date the the OT (which was the BIBLE of the disporia and first generation of Christian) nor do they pre-date the apostolic witness whether oral or written. Furthermore, the universal church already had recognized and began to formalized the letters of the NT as early as the mid 100’s. That is a mere 20 years after the Apostle John wrote Revelation (if we assume a late date for the writing of Revelation).

    Additionally, Pagel and others impose their bias on the facts. One common argument is that the patriarchal men during the 2nd century wanted to suppress women and therefore picked books that supported their views. While these suppressed gospels (thomas, barnabas, etc) taught a more egalitarian view. That is rubbish, because that last verse of the Gospel of Thomas states that if woman want to be saved they have to become men.

    So do we accept what Pagel has to say as gospel simply because she challenges the majority of Biblical scholarship and thus conveniently fits into a post-modern, “I hate the institutional church, because non-post-modern Christians are a bunch of lame, thoughtless morons” world view? I don’t know, but it sure seems that way to me.

    You know I’ve met Graig Blomberg. Pretty nice guy – why don’t you e-mail him and see what he has to say.

  5. Sadly, I expect to be dismissed because I fall into the modernity camp of thinkers – and I categorically reject Pagel and the like, no matter HOW educated they may be.

    But how cares, right! It is all relative – no point in fighting for the truth. Right? Isn’t truth relative – doesn’t matter what I believe?

    What we believe and our ideas have consequences. If we dismiss the trappings of TRUTH than we lead people to hell. Why? Because Jesus proclaimed himself to be the way the truth and the life.

    Keep thinking Donny, but balance that thinking with other scholars.

  6. Sadly, I expect to be dismissed because I fall into the modernity camp of thinkers – and I categorically reject Pagel and the like, no matter HOW educated they may be.

    But how cares, right! It is all relative – no point in fighting for the truth. Right? Isn’t truth relative – doesn’t matter what I believe?

    What we believe and our ideas have consequences. If we dismiss the trappings of TRUTH than we lead people to hell. Why? Because Jesus proclaimed himself to be the way the truth and the life.

    Keep thinking Donny, but balance that thinking with other scholars.

  7. Michael,

    As I said in that last line, “Feel free to join in the discussion.” That’s why comments are open. 🙂

    While I don’t have the time to read every book recommended to me, believe me I do read the opinions of those who hold to traditional Christian points of view. BUT that is not ALL I will read.

    It seems to me that many Christians are almost afraid of reading people like Pagels. I don’t understand that. As I said, if our faith can’t stand up to questions and challenges it’s simply not a faith worth believing.

    When debating those who don’t believe as we do, it helps to make an attempt to understand their perspective. That does not mean we must agree. It is my goal to at least make an attempt at understanding viewpoints outside the “Christian Norm”.

    Just as you challenge me to read the views of the authors you mentioned, so also do I challenge you to pick up the Pagels “Beyond Belief” book. Are you up to that?

    There are other authors I’ve read as well, but Pagels is probably the easiest to read.

  8. Michael,

    As I said in that last line, “Feel free to join in the discussion.” That’s why comments are open. 🙂

    While I don’t have the time to read every book recommended to me, believe me I do read the opinions of those who hold to traditional Christian points of view. BUT that is not ALL I will read.

    It seems to me that many Christians are almost afraid of reading people like Pagels. I don’t understand that. As I said, if our faith can’t stand up to questions and challenges it’s simply not a faith worth believing.

    When debating those who don’t believe as we do, it helps to make an attempt to understand their perspective. That does not mean we must agree. It is my goal to at least make an attempt at understanding viewpoints outside the “Christian Norm”.

    Just as you challenge me to read the views of the authors you mentioned, so also do I challenge you to pick up the Pagels “Beyond Belief” book. Are you up to that?

    There are other authors I’ve read as well, but Pagels is probably the easiest to read.

  9. I am more than open for it. While I haven’t read Pagel’s work fully I have read others from the Jesus Seminary to early 19th century higher criticism, etc..

    The thing that amazes me is why those pastors you contacted when you were antagonistic to Christianity couldn’t provided a well reasoned answer. That just boggles my mind!

    I agree that “some” Christians (not all) have become so comfortable with their pew, their Christian friends, their Christian life that they just have lost touch with the culture around them.

    I love to debate and I love debating these topics. So I appreciate the discussion. If I didn’t have a such a calling and passion to see people compulsively addicted to stuff set free, I swear I’d earn my degree in history / church. history.

  10. I am more than open for it. While I haven’t read Pagel’s work fully I have read others from the Jesus Seminary to early 19th century higher criticism, etc..

    The thing that amazes me is why those pastors you contacted when you were antagonistic to Christianity couldn’t provided a well reasoned answer. That just boggles my mind!

    I agree that “some” Christians (not all) have become so comfortable with their pew, their Christian friends, their Christian life that they just have lost touch with the culture around them.

    I love to debate and I love debating these topics. So I appreciate the discussion. If I didn’t have a such a calling and passion to see people compulsively addicted to stuff set free, I swear I’d earn my degree in history / church. history.

  11. P.S. I’ll make it a point to read that book

  12. P.S. I’ll make it a point to read that book

  13. you aren’t necessarily headed down some path of abandoning “traditional” Christianity, and pardon me if i do make that assumption. however, it is clear that you are flirting with heresy.

    just a thought– if you would trust that scripture is divinely inspired, then why wouldn’t you likewise trust that the canonization was likewise divinely inspired? why would God trick us by preparing a book that doesn’t give the complete truth?

    the gnostic gospels read as a piecework of fairy tales. whereas our four NT gospels read like innocent objective documentaries, not written by men who sat down to conspire something. the differences between them testify to their genuineness, and lack of conspiracy plotting.

    i worry that you lose the guidance of the Holy Spirit by trusting in your own studies and your own mental capacities. be like a child– just believe and trust God to guide you into all truth– He will!

    take your own path, and it will only lead to misery and failure. (i’ve been there.)

    all this being said, i’ve forced myself through the nag hammadi library (gag) and other things, like Catholic doctrine, and even islam, buddhism, and hindu. but i did not do things to find out what i believe and why. i already knew the answer to those questions. i simply did so out of curiosity, and so i could answer people with a bit of knowledge in my background.

    God bless,
    paul

  14. you aren’t necessarily headed down some path of abandoning “traditional” Christianity, and pardon me if i do make that assumption. however, it is clear that you are flirting with heresy.

    just a thought– if you would trust that scripture is divinely inspired, then why wouldn’t you likewise trust that the canonization was likewise divinely inspired? why would God trick us by preparing a book that doesn’t give the complete truth?

    the gnostic gospels read as a piecework of fairy tales. whereas our four NT gospels read like innocent objective documentaries, not written by men who sat down to conspire something. the differences between them testify to their genuineness, and lack of conspiracy plotting.

    i worry that you lose the guidance of the Holy Spirit by trusting in your own studies and your own mental capacities. be like a child– just believe and trust God to guide you into all truth– He will!

    take your own path, and it will only lead to misery and failure. (i’ve been there.)

    all this being said, i’ve forced myself through the nag hammadi library (gag) and other things, like Catholic doctrine, and even islam, buddhism, and hindu. but i did not do things to find out what i believe and why. i already knew the answer to those questions. i simply did so out of curiosity, and so i could answer people with a bit of knowledge in my background.

    God bless,
    paul

  15. Donny, I think most all of the apocrypha and ‘lost books’ are on the internet now. Like your post 🙂

  16. Donny, I think most all of the apocrypha and ‘lost books’ are on the internet now. Like your post 🙂

  17. bravo.
    proud of you.

    life long learner,
    jas

  18. bravo.
    proud of you.

    life long learner,
    jas

  19. “just a thought– if you would trust that scripture is divinely inspired, then why wouldn’t you likewise trust that the canonization was likewise divinely inspired? why would God trick us by preparing a book that doesn’t give the complete truth?”

    The problem is that thinking like that leads christians and especially evangelical protestants to the kind of circular reasoning that no longer cuts when evangelizing to the real world to educated sceptics.
    Donny is in the right path. I’m giving christianity a second chance after years as a deist/pantheist and studying I century judaism, II century cristianity and how the Bible was put together is vital for me to believe again. I need to now if I can trust the Bible.
    That is what Bible believer do not understand, they take the Bible is true for granted.

  20. “just a thought– if you would trust that scripture is divinely inspired, then why wouldn’t you likewise trust that the canonization was likewise divinely inspired? why would God trick us by preparing a book that doesn’t give the complete truth?”

    The problem is that thinking like that leads christians and especially evangelical protestants to the kind of circular reasoning that no longer cuts when evangelizing to the real world to educated sceptics.
    Donny is in the right path. I’m giving christianity a second chance after years as a deist/pantheist and studying I century judaism, II century cristianity and how the Bible was put together is vital for me to believe again. I need to now if I can trust the Bible.
    That is what Bible believer do not understand, they take the Bible is true for granted.

  21. I can relate very much to the things you’ve said in your disclaimer. I wish more had the same wisdom Aristotle had, who said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

  22. I can relate very much to the things you’ve said in your disclaimer. I wish more had the same wisdom Aristotle had, who said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

  23. I’m not necessarily in the same boat, but I don’t think I’m rowing too far off from you. The whole canonization thing has been on my mind for a while now–it is probably the weakest link in my faith. Instead of reading everything I could on it, I analyzed the issue from the comfort of my couch.

    I don’t want to take 100% of everything said to me as being fact–it isn’t. The problem is weeding out what is right and what isn’t. If I have a problem with 1 Thess (or why the Gospel of Timothy wasn’t included), all I can do is read someone else’s translation of those books; someone else’s commentary; someone else’s study. I wasn’t there when the events happened, I wasn’t there when the conference convened. I have to trust others. So, if I have to trust others anyway, why not just trust them early on and use the time for other things? (not that I’m doing that either).

    There is something natural about divinely-inspired text. It’s like pulling a band-aid off a healed wound; sometimes it may hurt, but you just know that is the right course of action. Shoot, I’ve read works that were just right, as if they were inspired (and why shouldn’t they have been, even though they aren’t canonized Scripture?). A lot of C.S. Lewis’ work fits this category, as does Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (which is how I found your site btw). The truth is the truth, and can be spoken in broken bits and pieces by anyone. The problem is recognizing it, and acknowledging that sometimes we wouldn’t know it if we stepped in it.

    It sounds like you are reading in order to witness more effectively. If you are not being convicted by the Holy Spirit to step away (which I doubt is happening), then go for it! I know for me, I need to pray before I read (Bible or spiritual literature). Most religions (all?) I believe have at least a small component of the truth to them. A book that hit me early on was Don Richardson’s Peace Child. In it he says that every culture has a key that would help unlock the Gospel for them; their shadow of the truth.

    So hey, read away my friend. I pray your faith and knowledge increase; but more importantly that your walk with the Messiah becomes closer. I pray that the things you read become effective tools to help you love on other people.

    Sorry for the long post (made longer by this apology…)

  24. I’m not necessarily in the same boat, but I don’t think I’m rowing too far off from you. The whole canonization thing has been on my mind for a while now–it is probably the weakest link in my faith. Instead of reading everything I could on it, I analyzed the issue from the comfort of my couch.

    I don’t want to take 100% of everything said to me as being fact–it isn’t. The problem is weeding out what is right and what isn’t. If I have a problem with 1 Thess (or why the Gospel of Timothy wasn’t included), all I can do is read someone else’s translation of those books; someone else’s commentary; someone else’s study. I wasn’t there when the events happened, I wasn’t there when the conference convened. I have to trust others. So, if I have to trust others anyway, why not just trust them early on and use the time for other things? (not that I’m doing that either).

    There is something natural about divinely-inspired text. It’s like pulling a band-aid off a healed wound; sometimes it may hurt, but you just know that is the right course of action. Shoot, I’ve read works that were just right, as if they were inspired (and why shouldn’t they have been, even though they aren’t canonized Scripture?). A lot of C.S. Lewis’ work fits this category, as does Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (which is how I found your site btw). The truth is the truth, and can be spoken in broken bits and pieces by anyone. The problem is recognizing it, and acknowledging that sometimes we wouldn’t know it if we stepped in it.

    It sounds like you are reading in order to witness more effectively. If you are not being convicted by the Holy Spirit to step away (which I doubt is happening), then go for it! I know for me, I need to pray before I read (Bible or spiritual literature). Most religions (all?) I believe have at least a small component of the truth to them. A book that hit me early on was Don Richardson’s Peace Child. In it he says that every culture has a key that would help unlock the Gospel for them; their shadow of the truth.

    So hey, read away my friend. I pray your faith and knowledge increase; but more importantly that your walk with the Messiah becomes closer. I pray that the things you read become effective tools to help you love on other people.

    Sorry for the long post (made longer by this apology…)

  25. Donny,

    I investigated the veracity of the Gospels and NT books and also the gnostic writings earlier in my Christian life and revisited the subject recently. I think the Christian Research Institute has posted a couple of great articles and there is some stuff at Apologetics Press as well. I concluded that the gnostic gospels were written long after the accepted NT books and that they are not well-written, nor do they fit in with Biblical teachings.

    Back during the time of the rise of Darwinism and Marxism there was also the rise of “Higher Textual Criticism”, a veiled attempt to destroy Christianity by attacking the accepted Word of God. I enjoyed reading about this subject in part because I think God is unafraid of challenges and it has enchanced my love of God and His Word.

    I therefore conclude that your research into such subjects is good spiritual exercise. However, while I agree with Rob Bell and know that we are to worship God and not a book, it is also true that the Word of God is not merely the book itself. Paper is material, ink is material, but the information within the Word of God is, in my opinion, “more powerful than a two-edged sword” and I respect the power of the Spirit to change me and mold me in His image through that information. It is human nature to want to learn more and new and better things. I believe the so-called gnostic gospels are just an attempt to water down or change the information God has given us to live by, be changed by and help us understand Him better with…grins!

  26. Donny,

    I investigated the veracity of the Gospels and NT books and also the gnostic writings earlier in my Christian life and revisited the subject recently. I think the Christian Research Institute has posted a couple of great articles and there is some stuff at Apologetics Press as well. I concluded that the gnostic gospels were written long after the accepted NT books and that they are not well-written, nor do they fit in with Biblical teachings.

    Back during the time of the rise of Darwinism and Marxism there was also the rise of “Higher Textual Criticism”, a veiled attempt to destroy Christianity by attacking the accepted Word of God. I enjoyed reading about this subject in part because I think God is unafraid of challenges and it has enchanced my love of God and His Word.

    I therefore conclude that your research into such subjects is good spiritual exercise. However, while I agree with Rob Bell and know that we are to worship God and not a book, it is also true that the Word of God is not merely the book itself. Paper is material, ink is material, but the information within the Word of God is, in my opinion, “more powerful than a two-edged sword” and I respect the power of the Spirit to change me and mold me in His image through that information. It is human nature to want to learn more and new and better things. I believe the so-called gnostic gospels are just an attempt to water down or change the information God has given us to live by, be changed by and help us understand Him better with…grins!

  27. Donny,
    Pagels is a terrific writer of history. When I read her Lost Gospels book, it frankly stalled my faith for awhile. She clearly doesn’t buy into the authenticity of the New Testament or the Church for that matter. Over time and with further study, I believe her weakness is a proclivity to conjecture. She leaps to conclusions that the evidence may not actually suggest.
    I strongly recommend Bishop N.T. Wright. Much of his work is on the internet. And one book in particular “The Real Jesus” by Luke Timothy Johnson. OUTSTANDING book! He’s a top scholar and is a frequent debater of the Jesus Seminar writers.
    Keep reading. Trust God all the way.

  28. Donny,
    Pagels is a terrific writer of history. When I read her Lost Gospels book, it frankly stalled my faith for awhile. She clearly doesn’t buy into the authenticity of the New Testament or the Church for that matter. Over time and with further study, I believe her weakness is a proclivity to conjecture. She leaps to conclusions that the evidence may not actually suggest.
    I strongly recommend Bishop N.T. Wright. Much of his work is on the internet. And one book in particular “The Real Jesus” by Luke Timothy Johnson. OUTSTANDING book! He’s a top scholar and is a frequent debater of the Jesus Seminar writers.
    Keep reading. Trust God all the way.

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