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Gnostic Gospels

by Timothy Keller , Adjunct Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City

Gnostic gospels - what are these teachings that the Christian church supposedly repressed for nearly 1700 years? In 1945 a red earthenware jar was found buried near Nag Hammadi, a town in upper Egypt. Within thirteen papyrus books dating from A.D.350 were discovered. The writings were those of believers in the philosophy/religion of gnosticism.

Gnostic gospels held some different beliefs

Gnosticism is heavily influenced by the Hellenistic understanding that the material world is evil and the spirit is good. Gnostics believed that the ultimate supreme God did not create the world, but rather a lesser god, a 'demiurge,' created the world poorly and imperfectly. The result was a material world filled with decay, weakness, and death. But gnostics believed that human beings, though locked in this material body, have a spark of the higher spiritual reality within. This spark, if fanned into a flame, can liberate us and help us evolve back into spiritual perfection. This happens through a process of self-discovery, in which you discover your divine identity, you separate from the world by 'stripping off ' the consciousness of the physical body, and you finally experience the kingdom of light, peace, and life.

The writings of gnosticism were much wider than the Nag Hammadi texts, but what makes the NH texts different is that, as Craig Blomberg writes, they use the purported conversations of Jesus with his disciples as "little more than an artificial framework for imparting Gnostic doctrine." (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.208) The most well known of these Gnostic-Jesus texts include "The Gospel of Thomas," the "Apocryphon of James,""The Gospel of Phillip" and "The Gospel of Truth."

Gnostic gospels give a contradictory view of Jesus

The teachings of the gnostics' Jesus flatly contradicts the Jesus of the Bible. The Gnostic-Jesus says, "When you come to know yourselves... you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty." (Thomas-3)This reflects the gnostic concept that self-consciousness of one's own divinity (rather than a new awareness of sinfulness and need) is the first step to salvation. The Gnostic- Jesus also says, "When you disrobe yourselves and are not ashamed, and take your garments and lay them beneath your feet like little children, and tread upon them, then [shall ye see] the Son of the living One, and ye shall not fear." (Thomas-37) This and the other 'undressing' saying (Thomas-21) urges us to 'disrobe,' to trample underfoot and despise the physical nature.

The most interesting statement of all is Thomas-71 where the Gnostic-Jesus says: "I will destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it." This is a clear contradiction of Jesus' saying in John 2 that though others would destroy his body, he would be resurrected. This reflects the gnostic disdain for the very idea of the resurrection. Since, in their view, the material world is an evil thing we must be freed from, the bodily resurrection is completely rejected. According to the Gnostic gospels, Jesus was not raised bodily, and neither will we be.

Excerpted from:
Keller, Timothy "The Gnostics and Jesus" Redeemer Report
© 2004 Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY pp.1-3

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