The “Lost Gospel” Hype

“One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century – a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus….Discovered by chance in the 1970s, a document that lay hidden for some 1,700 years, emerges today as The Gospel of Judas.” (The National Geographic Channel – from their web site announcing an encore presentation of a two hour documentary about The Gospel of Judas).

“With a plot twist worthy of The Da Vinci Code, the gospel – 13 papyrus sheets bound in leather and found in a cave in Egypt – purports to relate the last days of Jesus’ life, from the viewpoint of Judas, one of Jesus’ first followers. Christians teach that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but in this gospel, he is the hero, Jesus’ most senior and trusted disciple and the only one who knows Jesus’ true identity as the son of God” (“Long-lost gospel of Judas recasts ‘traitor'” – from USA Today 04/06/06).

These are just a few of the statements heard recently about this supposed “lost gospel.” There are many more, not to mention the best selling books. Books with titles like, “The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot” by Ehrman, “The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel” by Robinson, and just plain old, “The Gospel of Judas” also by Ehrman.

This kind of hype is nothing new when it comes to so-called lost books of the Bible. The 1999 movie “Stigmata” was inspired by The Gospel of Thomas. The story was of a woman that manifested the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) after being possessed by a priest that had been killed in covering up the existence of this ancient document. Although the movie was clearly presented as a fictional story there was a textual statement before the closing credits informing the audience that the Catholic Church holds many such ancient texts under lock and key to keep them secret. The clear implication being, “That Bible you think you can rely on, well its incomplete.”

Then there’s The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the story of coded messages centered on the artwork of Da Vinci. This hidden code leads to the discovery of information revealing that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a family. As astonishing as this discovery is, it gets even better when the characters learn that the family line is still alive and one of the main characters is a direct descendent of Christ himself. Wow! Again, clearly a work of fiction but taken as fact by many. Just take a look at some of the reviews and you’ll see how people are taking this fictional novel as a basis for their opinions of the Bible and Christianity. The premise of the novel, i.e. the astounding discovery that Jesus was married and had a family, is based on another so-called lost gospel, The Gospel of Philip.

So what about all of these supposedly biblical texts floating around out there? Should we be concerned about the completeness or the reliability of our Bibles? Well, if you’ve done as I have and read the ancient texts, from which all these wild ideas come, you would quickly see why they are not in the Bible. The reading of the three I’ve mentioned above is just a small sampling of very interesting reading – interesting to the study of Gnosticism anyway. But as for the study of Christianity they are absolutely worthless.

For example, in this so-called gospel account of Judas we find several statements of Gnostic doctrine. In one scene Judas is pictured as the only disciple who is able to stand before Jesus, at which point Judas says, “I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.” In Gnosticism Barbelo is one of the “emanations” or “aeons” of Bythos. The Gnostics had a pantheon of gods, not One True and Living God (Deut. 6:4). This pantheon consisted of digressing emanations from the perfect and holy Father. The further these emanations got from the origin the more corrupt they got, until they were so corrupt as to bring about the inherently evil material realm. The emanation referred to above, Barbelo, is pictured as the feminine counterpart to Bythos. She is variously referred to as Thought, Providence, Forethought, or Foreknowledge. In the Apocryphon of John, another Gnostic text, Barbelo is described as “The first power, the glory, Barbelo, the perfect glory in the aeons, the glory of the revelation.” It continues, “This is the first thought, his image; she became the womb of everything, for it is she who is prior to them all, the Mother-Father, the first man (Anthropos), the holy Spirit, the thrice-male, the thrice-powerful, the thrice-named androgynous one, and the eternal aeon among the invisible ones, and the first to come forth.” Pretty wild, huh. But far from biblical.

The National Geographic program on this “lost gospel” misquoted Judas in the above quotations, omitting the reference to “Barbelo.” As a matter of fact, while they did refer to Gnosticism in a general way, they did not discuss any of the Gnostic beliefs that so clearly show how contrary they were to biblical thought. In The Gospel of Judas there are many references to the secret knowledge, or gnosis, necessary for salvation. There are references to Sophia (the feminine half of the lowest aeons – i.e. Sophia and Christ). Jesus recounts to Judas the order of creation being through the aeons and luminous, “The multitude of those immortals is called the cosmos – that is, perdition – by the Father and the seventy-two luminaries who are with the Self-Generated and his seventy-two aeons. In him the first human appeared with his incorruptible powers.” How could we accept such a ridiculous account as a true gospel record? It goes on with the creation of man in this way, “Then Saklas said to his angels, ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image.’ They fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe.” The National Geographic program made reference to none of these pagan ideas contained in Gnosticism. Rather they presented it as just another way of viewing the relationship between Christ and Judas. But then we all know what a friend of the Bible the National Geographic Society is, right.

This is the document that has inspired television programs, numerous articles and at least three books. All of them wanting to present this clearly Gnostic text as a reason for us to doubt the accuracy of our Bibles.

What about the others that I’ve mentioned, The Gospel of Thomas, that inspired a movie, and The Gospel of Philip, that has been the subject of several best selling books and the basis for The Da Vinci Code. Is there any validity to those letters? We can say most confidently that they are, like The Gospel of Judas, absolutely not “missing books of the Bible.”

For example, how would you like to have this in your Bible, “Jesus said, ‘Where there are three gods they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.” Or how about this, “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall 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.” Such is The Gospel of Thomas. Does that sound like biblical text to you? No? But we are supposed to believe that without it our Bibles are incomplete.

Or what about The Gospel of Philip? Well if we had that one in our Bibles we would have such teachings as, “Some said, ‘Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit,’ They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?” Nice, huh. And where exactly would that fit into the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth? Maybe we should slip it in somewhere around Matthew 1:20, or maybe it would fit better somewhere around Luke 1:35. Oh, yea, did I mention that this is the basis for the best selling book The Da Vinci Code? They get the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene because in the Gnostic text Jesus is pictured as kissing her on the mouth and she is referred to as His companion. Well since we get it from such a reliable source –

If we learn anything from all the hype surrounding these ancient, but clearly not biblical, documents it should be a lesson on how skeptics will use any means to try and shake people’s faith in the Bible. If we believe the promises of God then we have no doubt that the Bible is complete (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) and that God will preserve His word forever (1 Pet. 1:25). He has said that in His word we have all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). He has revealed everything we need to know to be saved from our sins (Rom. 10:17; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:10; Acts 22:16; Rev. 2:10) and to live a godly life (1 Tim. 6:3; Titus 2:11-15). There is nothing missing from the knowledge of Jesus Christ that God has revealed by His Holy Spirit in the inspired word (2 Pet. 1:2-4). There is no secret knowledge that we need to complete our salvation, certainly not the “secret knowledge” of the Gnostics. What we need to do and be is all contained in the Bible. So next time you hear the hype about some new find of “great biblical importance,” some “lost gospel” that could “challenge what we believe,” you might read it for a chuckle, but when you want “the words of eternal life” open your Bible.

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