Sunday, 30 November 2014
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I was listening to a sermon on the radio this morning where a Pastor mentioned the Apocryphal gospels. His comment was to point out that these gospels (specifically he mentioned the book of Judas and Mary Magdalene) did not "come on the scene" until around 300 AD; whereas the true books of the Bible have historical records that date back to at least 64 AD (citing Paul who wrote a letter while imprisoned in Rome). The Pastor's point was that the true Books of the Bible are at the base of God's message, have been present from the beginning, and have stood the test of time. Whereas these "heretical" books were inserted by "the gnostic people of the time who had a specific agenda."

I am interested to know how to respond intelligently to this statement. What is the history of the gospels that gnosis seems to heavily cite. And if the Pastor's historical summary is true, why is there such a gap in time before the gospels appear?
7 years ago
·
#8222
Accepted Answer
New Testament textual criticism is a whole field of scholarship, and people have devoted their whole careers to studying this topic, so suffice it to say that the situation regarding the texts that make up the New Testament is complicated.

Many modern scholars have evidence that even many of the letters of Paul are outright forgeries in his name.

Among the gospels, even the earliest of them were not written until centuries after the Resurrection. That's equivalent to asking someone born in the Twentieth Century to tell you the details about the life of a specific person who lived during the American Revolutionary War (late 1700's). That's hardly the kind of testimony one would consider to be "on the scene."

And among the books of the New Testament that we actually utilize in our modern canon, there is substantial evidence that they were heavily edited for political or religious reasons, in order to make the texts say what the dominant (i.e. Roman) sect wanted them to say in order to make people believe their ideologies.

We have many different versions of the texts that form the basis of the New Testament, since these were copied by hand and passed around the various Christian communities during that time. And there are so many discrepancies across different versions of the same texts that they cannot be counted, even with the help of computers. Many of these are obviously just innocent errors by the scribes, but it's quite clear that a large number of them were deliberate adulterations of the text in order to modify them to fit certain agendas. And the New Testament that we use today is typically composed of the modified versions, since the texts that were preserved and propagated were those that fit the agenda of the dominant sect.

Furthermore, even the selection of texts that made it into the New Testament was not something that fell out of the sky. The canon emerged over centuries of debate, and its choice was heavily influenced (obviously) by those who wielded political and economic power--who are not necessarily the same people as those who are closest to God. Even today in the age of the Internet, when information is more readily available than any other time in history, observe how much of what becomes "standard knowledge" (in the media, as well as what is taught in schools) is determined by those in positions of power in the world. Imagine how much worse that problem would have been in a world in which access to knowledge was hardly a fraction of what it is today, and most people weren't even literate.

To argue that the versions of the New Testament books that have been passed down to us today have been chosen by God is at best naive. We have records from that time, and the formation of the New Testament canon has been amply studied by scholars, and it's quite obvious that the New Testament we have is the result of very human decisions based on very human motives.

All this is not to say that it should be ignored or disregarded. There's still a vast wealth of spiritual knowledge contained in those books. However, to study them alone, or just take them at face value as "God's message" means ignoring the vast amounts of evidence that we have about the very, very messy and complicated formation of the canon.
7 years ago
·
#8222
Accepted Answer
New Testament textual criticism is a whole field of scholarship, and people have devoted their whole careers to studying this topic, so suffice it to say that the situation regarding the texts that make up the New Testament is complicated.

Many modern scholars have evidence that even many of the letters of Paul are outright forgeries in his name.

Among the gospels, even the earliest of them were not written until centuries after the Resurrection. That's equivalent to asking someone born in the Twentieth Century to tell you the details about the life of a specific person who lived during the American Revolutionary War (late 1700's). That's hardly the kind of testimony one would consider to be "on the scene."

And among the books of the New Testament that we actually utilize in our modern canon, there is substantial evidence that they were heavily edited for political or religious reasons, in order to make the texts say what the dominant (i.e. Roman) sect wanted them to say in order to make people believe their ideologies.

We have many different versions of the texts that form the basis of the New Testament, since these were copied by hand and passed around the various Christian communities during that time. And there are so many discrepancies across different versions of the same texts that they cannot be counted, even with the help of computers. Many of these are obviously just innocent errors by the scribes, but it's quite clear that a large number of them were deliberate adulterations of the text in order to modify them to fit certain agendas. And the New Testament that we use today is typically composed of the modified versions, since the texts that were preserved and propagated were those that fit the agenda of the dominant sect.

Furthermore, even the selection of texts that made it into the New Testament was not something that fell out of the sky. The canon emerged over centuries of debate, and its choice was heavily influenced (obviously) by those who wielded political and economic power--who are not necessarily the same people as those who are closest to God. Even today in the age of the Internet, when information is more readily available than any other time in history, observe how much of what becomes "standard knowledge" (in the media, as well as what is taught in schools) is determined by those in positions of power in the world. Imagine how much worse that problem would have been in a world in which access to knowledge was hardly a fraction of what it is today, and most people weren't even literate.

To argue that the versions of the New Testament books that have been passed down to us today have been chosen by God is at best naive. We have records from that time, and the formation of the New Testament canon has been amply studied by scholars, and it's quite obvious that the New Testament we have is the result of very human decisions based on very human motives.

All this is not to say that it should be ignored or disregarded. There's still a vast wealth of spiritual knowledge contained in those books. However, to study them alone, or just take them at face value as "God's message" means ignoring the vast amounts of evidence that we have about the very, very messy and complicated formation of the canon.
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