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Lost books of the Bible


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

What are these "lost books of the Bible" we keep hearing about? We read in The Da Vinci Code that there are earlier texts than the recognized gospels. Is this true? Helmut Koester of Harvard has argued that the Nag Hammadi Gnostic-Jesus texts were written very early, almost as early as the Biblical gospels themselves. And Elaine Pagels, who did a doctorate under Koester at Harvard, has popularized this view in The Gnostic Gospels and the more recent Beyond Belief:The Secret Gospel of Thomas.

Lost books of the Bible are not widely accepted by Scholars

But this is very much a minority view across the field of scholarship. N.T.Wright says, "It has long been the received wisdom among students of early Christianity that the Gospel of Thomas...found at Nag Hammadi...is a comparatively late stage in the development of Christianity." (New Testament and the People of God, p.436) The great majority of scholars believe the Gnostic-Jesus texts to have been written 100-200 years after the Biblical gospels, which all were written within the first 30-60 years after Jesus' death. Why this consensus? As N.T.Wright points out in The Resurrection of the Son of God, the early Christians were all Jews. Jews had a thoroughly different world-view than that of the Greeks or the gnostics. They believed firmly that this material world was made good (see Genesis!) and that despite sin God was going to renew it and resurrect our bodies (Daniel 12:1-2.) Jews had no hope (or concept) of disembodied souls living apart from the body. What does this mean? We know from the Pauline letters, some written only 13 years after Jesus' death, that all the early Christians claimed to have met Jesus and that he was still alive. But it would have been impossible for Jewish believers to claim "Jesus is alive" without also believing he was raised physically from the dead.

Lost Books of the Bible - not really better at all

Helmut Koester and others posit that the first Christians believed, as the gnostics, that Jesus was only 'spiritually risen' and decades later the idea of a bodily resurrection developed. But N.T.Wright shows that Christianity could never have arisen as a movement among Jews unless the original believers knew Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead. This means in turn that the attempt to create a Gnostic-Jesus must have been much later. The writings could not have represented an early but repressed true version of Jesus-faith. Wright asks: "Which Roman emperor would persecute anyone for reading the Gospel of Thomas [since it so closely reflected Greek thinking]?....It should be clear that the talk about a spiritual 'resurrection' in the sense used by [the gnostic writings] could not be anything other than a late, drastic modification of Christian language." (Resurrection, p.550.)

There is far, far more that could be said in criticism of the thesis that the Gnostic-Jesus is older than the Biblical Jesus. But simply realize that any claim of Gnostic gospels being better sources than the recognized gospels on the teachings and deeds of Jesus is simply unsupportable.



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


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