Archive for July, 2006

The Gospel Of Thomas

The apocryphon Gospel of Thomas is believed to have been written around 350 AD. Some date it earlier but content and style suggest this later date. Irenaeus, Origin, and Hippolytus writing around that time make reference to such non-canonical writing. Since the work does not contain historical data, that is, narrative insight, it is difficult to date it exactly. It contains statements attributed to Christ, Mary, Peter, Thomas, and Matthew.

There are three works alleged to have been written by Thomas: “The Gospel of Thomas,” “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” and “Book of Thomas the Contender.”

There is nothing Christian about the works. They are a collection of stories alleged to have occurred in the childhood of Jesus based on Hellinistic legend and pious thought. Interwoven is docetic and Gnostic philosophy. It furthers their teachings but detracts from the canonical gospels.

The author or authors of these works were not part of the Christian community. They showed no regard for mainstream Christian doctrine. They produced what Paul condemned as “another gospel.”

Irenaeus claimed in his classical Second century denunciation of Gnostic writers: “everyone of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability, for no one is deemed perfect, who does not develop …some mighty fiction.”

The word Gnostic is derived from the Greek word Gnosis meaning “knowledge” or “the act of knowing.” From this same root comes our word agnostic meaning “not knowing.”

The school of Gnosticism holds that salvation of the soul comes from a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and from the sacred formulae within that knowledge.

These works were virtually unknown until 1945 when a Coptic version (an Egyptian language derived from the Greek alphabet) was found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It does not contain narrative material but is simply a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Christ many of which are contrary to those of the New Testament. When the Coptic version was found it was realized three portions of it had been found in 1898 in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. These earlier Greek fragments vary in significant ways from the Coptic one.

The first line of the book refers to “didymos Judas thomas.” The word “didymos” is Greek for “twin.” The Aramaic work dor “twin” is “thomas.” This indicates the author’s name was Judas and he was called “the twin.” There is no mention of any such Judas in the New Testament. The Thomas of the New Testament is definitely not the author. The work does not bear his name in such a way as to indicate he was its author. It was originally ascribed to James. The preamble states these are “secret sayings,” this identifies the work as Gnostic intended to be esoteric in nature. The secret meaning being allegedly known only by gospel initiates.

Internal evidences indicate it was not the work of a First Century writer in that the author shows he had no concept of Jewish life in the time of Christ.

It teaches there were two creations recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. The first was perfect and the second flawed. The author contends the Kingdom of God exists now on earth but can only be seen in our surroundings by “the light within.” According to the author the Image of God still exists on earth today and persons should strive to assume that image and see the Kingdom of God here and now. Rather than wait for a future end-time Kingdom to come people are encouraged to return to the perfect Kingdom state here and now.

It depicts the challenge his parents had in rearing him as a strong willed petulant child with supernatural powers. He allegedly used these powers in devious ways like killing playmates, causing those angry with his father to go blind, and his teacher to faint. Only later in life did he begin to use his miraculous powers constructively.

In considering the creditability of the work as compared with ancient New Testament manuscripts a problem arises. Though there are fragments of the ancient Greek version of the text the Coptic version there is only one complete version. Compared with the numerous ancient New Testament texts it lacks verification.

James Robinson writing in the Nag Hammadi Library states:

“Neither the Coptic version nor the Greek fragments seem to have preserved this gospel in its oldest form. The comparison of the extant Coptic and Greek texts demonstrates that the text was subject to change in the process of translation.” Compared to the consistency of the ancient New Testament texts it is lacking in creditability. It is without redaction. The work was obviously under change by the Gnostics and the changes favor Gnostic teaching not Christ’s.

An example of the conflict between this fallacious gospel and New Testament teaching involves womanhood. In the Gospel of Thomas 114, Simon Peter is reputed to have said, ““Let Mary leave us for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

In Paul’s writings he tells us the wife of Peter was a believer (I Cor. 9:5). It is hard to conceive of him as a married man believing his wife wasn’t “worthy of life” simply because she was a woman. This is totally contradictory to the redemption mission of Christ. Under this concept salvation is a matter of maleness not the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Like so many passages this diminishes the role of Christ. The author sought to recreate Christ in his own image. Gnosticism in general does. It should be noted that present day proponents of “The Gospel of Thomas” have a similar purpose. Any document that presents an “emasculated Jesus” is welcomed by liberal thinkers.

Gnostic writers often used sexual symbols to communicate their concept of God. They envisioned Him as a dyad or duality, that is, He had both male and female natures.

One of their prayers revealed this: “From thee Father, and through thee Mother, the two immortal names….”

Their work represents Jesus more as a wisdom sage after the order of a Greek Cynic philosopher than a Jewish rabbi. He is not acknowledged as divine but as a worthy role model. He is represented as teaching the God of the Old Testament was evil.

There are some passages that parallel the Bible teachings of Christ. Some use this to argue for the reliability of the work. It is not an endorsement of Thomas. Rather when it does agree with the Bible it adds creditability to Scripture as another source showing the consistency of ancient New Testament texts.

Writing in the Fourth Century Cyril of Jerusalem mentioned “The Gospel of Thomas” in his “Cathechesis V.” “Let none read the gospel of Thomas, for it is the work, not of one of the apostles, but of one of Mani’s three wicked disciples.”

Any disciple of Mani was no follower of Christ. Mani (210-276 AD) was a Persian who believed salvation could be attained through education, self-denial, vegetarianism, fasting, and chastity. He later proclaimed himself the Paraclete spoken of by Christ. Our English word “manicheism” comes from his name and means “two opposing thoughts.” Indeed this work and the New Testament gospels form a manicheism.

A current reading of these meretricious works attributed to Thomas will do nothing to enhance ones Christian experience. It has long been dismissed as an unreliable bogus work by an unknown author.

Authors Grand and Freedman, no friends of conservative Christianity, wrote: “The Gospel of Thomas” is “probably our earliest significant witness to the perversion of Christianity by those who wanted to create Jesus in their own image….Ultimately (“The Gospel of Thomas”) testifies not to what Jesus said but to what men wished he had said.”

It is accepted that the Thomas of the New Testament upon leaving the land of the Bible went to India as an evangelist sharing the good news of Christ as revealed in the New Testament gospels. There are still Christian groups in India who trace their origins to Thomas. They relate only to the Thomas of the New Testament.

The Resurrection — Easter

As Christianity moved out of its base region it entered a pagan culture which included worship of the sun goddess Estera. The sun rose on the same horizon each day so the direction from which it emerged was called East in her honor. Each spring a grand festival involving celebrating the goddess was held.

The Christians traditionally celebrated the rising of the Son of God about the same time of year. With the rapid expansion of Christianity resulting in many former worshipers of Estera turning to Christ the Christian community decided to merge the two celebrations in worship of Christ resurrection. It gave occasion for the former worshipers of Estera to have a new celebration to replace their old one. They called the celebration of the resurrection of Christ Easter.

An event as phenomenal as a decidedly dead man coming back to life is as rare occurrence as would be the rising of the sun in the west. In every generation there have been those who have assiduously tried to dispute the reality of the resurrection. They must contend with a massive mountain of evidence in support of the miracle.

The belief in the bodily resurrection did not develop over time as a result of memory fading and myth emerging. Nor was it the figment of the imagination of unlettered tribesmen. It was the central propellant that caused an explosion of faith into other cultures. It was foundational from the day of it being reported.

The Sanhedrin that condemned Christ to death appointed a special prosecutor to investigate and expose the rumored resurrection. He was one of the most learned advocates of the era. He was chosen because he was the apple of the eye of the distinguished jurist of the Jewish Supreme Court. They empowered him to apprehend, threaten, and even kill anyone who professed to believe in such a radical concept. His role was to invalidate the report. He investigated the incident more than any person of the time. Instead of refuting the resurrection he was converted to belief in the one resurrected. His name was Paul who at the risk of his own life became an apostle of Christ.

In one of his writings (I Corinthians 15) he listed persons who had encountered the resurrected Christ and urged skeptics to talk to these eyewitnesses. More than 515 first person witnesses are listed. That is a creditable cadre of witnesses various ones of which are said to have talked with Him, dined with Him, walked with Him, and touched Him. This was no aberration nor was it a hallucination. There never has been a group hallucination.

After Paul’s conversion pressure was intensified on the Christian community. If friends had stolen the body they could have spared themselves suffering and death by producing the corpse. If enemies had stolen it they could have ended the movement by producing the lifeless form.

If neither friends nor enemies had reason to conceal a stolen corpse the resurrection is seen to be more plausible. That fact brings joy to hearts in which the first Easter message still reverberates: “He is risen.”

Bible Ignorance

For some time an effort has been under way to marginalize Christianity and minimize Bible knowledge. An unexpected accomplice in this have been churches.

Consider some realities in evaluating how successful this effort has been.

The Baran Research Group along with researchers George Gallup and Jim Castilleia have engaged in surveys that give concern.

One survey revealed 82% of the respondents thought, “God helps those who help themselves,” is in the Bible. Not!

Baran found 12% believed Joan of Arc was the wife of Noah. Among graduating high school seniors 50% thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.

A large number of one group polled indicated the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

Fewer than half of adults polled could name the four gospels and 60% could not name five of the Ten Commandments.

Sounds like the afore mentioned effort is progressing well doesn’t.

A Bible bereft public arena has helped produce a generation of persons not versed on Scripture.

A bigger contributor to this appalling ignorance is many churches.

Many youth ministers offer a Pablum strength ministry more committed to activities and entertainment than Bible study. Churches offering engaging contextual Bible study are attracting young people. They are facing issues that deserve answers. Activities, entertainment, and social opportunities are a must but should provide a forum for Bible application. Where that environment exists youth congregate.

Many pastors are too busy to study the Word and make application of it so that people can relate. Twenty years ago the pastor of an urban church had five major responsibilities. Today that number has climbed to twenty-four tasks. That is no excuse for entering the pulpit unprepared intellectually and spiritually. No task is more important to ministry.

A third contributing factor is the homes of America. Studies show that a great majority of youth still look up to their parents. The primary way of teaching is modeling as a paramount part of mentoring. That makes relating to Scripture seem palatable.

There are simple ways for families to get involved in teaching spiritual values. Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist families do a better job of it that Christians. Much of their teaching is related to their traditions which provide tutoring opportunities.

There are many superb programs designed to help families engage in enjoyable Bible reading, memorization, and learning. Check with a Bible book store.

Do you suppose there is any connection between Bible ignorance in our land and the moral decay, sexual decadence, political corruption, and unraveling of our social structure?

The Gospel Of Judas: Part II

“The Gospel of Judas” was given major national exposure by the “National Geographical Society” the week before Easter. It was given major national exposure in a TV special, two books, features in major magazines, an exhibit, and a special web site. The Society paid $1,000,000 for the right to publish it and made great profit.

The Gospel of Judas portrays him as a noble individual seeking to help Christ. Gnostic writing popped up everywhere between the second and fourth centuries. This aberrant “Christian” group believed an evil god created the world of the flesh. They held that secret knowledge could allow a person to escape the evil prison of the body and enjoy an elevated spiritual state. This heretical writing contends Judas was doing Christ’s bidding in betraying Him to the authorities to be put to death in order that He might enjoy this heightened state. Judas is represented as the “thirteenth spirit” appointed by God to free Jesus from His mortal body imposed on Him by His incarnation.

What do scholars say of this and other Gnostic writing found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt?

Dr. James Robinson, the distinguished editor of the Nag Hammadi codices that include several Gnostic gospels calls it a “dud.”
The scholarly “Biblical Archaeological Review” magazine concluded: “The fact is that it will be a rare scholar who will argue that this Gnostic gospel is historically trustworthy in its description of Judas’s motivation in betraying Jesus.”

The early Christian church denounced the bogus gospel as heretical for one reason, the same reason it is dismissed toady, it simply was heretical. It was not and is not considered authentic and authoritative. It was written hundreds of years after the death of Judas yet bears his name as author. That alone discredits it. Most Gnostic writing scholars agree were originally written in Greek and later translated into Coptic. It is the Coptic version that exists.

Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, writing around 180 AD called the work heretical. Indeed it is in that it not only omits reference to Christ’s redemptive work spoken of in the New Testament gospels. Instead it emphasizes a distortion of the spiritual world.

Why then did The National Geographical Society engage in such disreputable sensationalism? Even they noted, “Scholars disagreed on whether the gospel shed and new light on the historical Jesus and Judas Iscariot.” Be real!

Perhaps it was not their intent but it is yet another attempt at discrediting the Bible and diminishing the deity of Christ.

There are current movements within churches as alien to Christianity as were the Gnostic writings. Hopefully this generation will be as vigilant as the church of the era that produced such writings. Discernment has never been more needed.

New Orleans Katrina Response Part II

We just returned from our first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. What we saw proves there is no such thing as real estate. In that area it is in an unreal state.

We visited the three breaches in levies. When they burst a mountain of water rushed across the area. The Lower Ninth Ward was devastated. Here most houses were wooden and did not withstand the onrush. Most were leveled and washed away some distance. A few some distance from the breaches were left leaning. The height of the water was indicated by some refrigerators being on roofs. As reported this area was occupied mostly by “poor blacks.”

Minister Faricon said the levies were blown in order to force poor blacks out of New Orleans. Our visit to the other levy breaks dispute this. We drove through are area as vast as East Cobb where there were houses valued at from $250,000 to two million dollars. Doors were open, windows out, interiors stripped, possessions gone, and dry mud two to three feet deep. The occupants of this vast area were middle to upper income people. Yachts and other large vessels are piled on each other. The Metairie Country Club and the Yacht Club are destroyed. Were levies blown to drive these people out of town? No!

It is going to take years to rebuild New Orleans. The Gulf Coast will respond more rapidly in that they have better leadership and the area was basically swept clean. There is a support system a mile inland at most places.

Leadership in New Orleans is minimal. One of the candidates for mayor is a clerk of court who oversees elections. She wasn’t at a forum last week involving all candidates. She was in jail. Persons whose houses are repairable are reluctant to act not knowing if the city will condemn their entire area and tear down their houses.

FEMA has such a negative reputation their employees don’t wear their uniforms. We saw vast lots of unused trailers. Tax payers are paying $3,000 a month storage per trailer. Many assigned trailers were on individual homeowners lots and had been for weeks but are still not hooked up and are unusable.

Finding an open grocery, pharmacy, or gas station may require a drive of ten miles or more. The few stores that are open close at 5:00 PM because of a shortage of employees. A random fast food place might be found open. They pay $11.00 an hour and a $5,000 to $10,000 bonus at year’s end.

Many people will not return to these devastated areas. It will not be financial or physical uncertainty that prevents their return. It is emotional. There is a heaviness, an overall depressive environment that prevails. Many experienced so much they are in effect “shell shocked.” Just being there a few days enables one to understand this.

Ironically the very thing that was built to save New Orleans led to its destruction. Years ago drainage canals were dug to connect the Mississippi River with Lake Pontchartrain in order to divert flood waters from the river to the lake and spare the city in the event of upland flooding. The winds caused an extraordinary rise in the lake level that backed water up these canals and stressed the levies to the breaking point.

The “sliver on the river,” the beautiful older section of uptown New Orleans, was high enough that it experienced minimal damage. This coupled with the French Quarter will be the hub for a new smaller New Orleans.

Over 100 churches are no longer existent. One pastor whose flock is scattered rotates each month going to Houston, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, and Atlanta to meet with remnants of his congregation in worship. Church groups from across America have been major disaster recovery groups to aid the city. Little publicity has been given this but the citizens readily acknowledge it. If you are part of a church that is sending a team —- go.