Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Gnostic Gospels, Part 3

So, with all of that background, the big question becomes this. Were they right? Scholars claim that at least some branches of Gnosticism weren't a separate religion, but a separate belief within the confines of the early Christian church. What we consider to be Orthodox Christianity is really a matter of what was chosen at the church counsels, while everything else was forcibly supressed.
There are a few problems with this argument. One of the biggest and most glaring problems is that the earliest of the Gnostic gospels didn't appear until the mid-to-late second century. Most of them showed up in the 3rd and 4th. This is as opposed to cannonical Christian writings, which even most secular scholars date back to the first century. By the time of the Gnostic writings, the Christian church had already accepted the four Gospels and the Pauline epistles as cannonical in practice. The catholic epistles took a little longer, and weren't fully settled until the ecumenical councils, but the Pauline epistles were in common usage and fully accepted by about the year AD 100, while the Gospels achieved this status by AD 150 or so. That means that by the time the first Gnostic books were written, the cannonical gospels had already been in circulation long enough to gain universal acceptance.
In fact, when you read people like Elaine Pagels, you'll find that the NEVER mention the Pauline epistles. They just kind of conviniently ignore them, because the Pauline epistles are the earliest Christian documents, the easiest to date, and some of the clearest indications that Jesus was accepted as divine right from the start of Christianity.
Another reason not to accept the claim that the Gnostics were just another form of early Christianity is the fact that they are totally segregated from each other. If all of these writings were floating around, each with as much legitimacy as the next, we would expect to see them intermingled, right? And yet we NEVER DO. Codexes and scrolls (a codex is a fancy word for "book") would contain multiple documents on one scroll/codex. For instance, we always find the Pauline letters together on a single codex, and almost always find the four gospels printed together on a single codex (sometime John gets it's own, and sometimes we only have part of what we know was once a larger codex, so one or more of the books is missing). But what we NEVER find is a scroll containing Gnostic writings AND cannonical Christian writings. They were never printed together, which means they weren't being printed by the same people.
So, to sum up, we have a totally distinct group of people, writing hundreds of years after the events of Jesus' life, claiming that they and only they, know the real truth about what he taught. These people are wholly separate from the mainstream of Christianity, and all of the earlier writings directly contradict them. This doesn't make all that convincing a case does it?

Here are a few good online resources for futher study.

http://www.answeringinfidels.com/ An apologetics site.
http://blog.bible.org/bock/ The blog of Dr. Darrell Bock, author of such books as The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (which is on my Amazon wishlist, should anyone want to buy it for me...)
http://www.carm.org/lostbooks.htm Another apologetics site.