Some radical critics of the
New Testament claim that the Gnostic gospels are equal to those in the
New Testament, and that they do not support the resurrection of
Christ. The Jesus Seminar places The Gospel of Thomas in their
otherwise severely truncated Bible. Both of these conclusions are a
serious challenge to the historic Christian Faith.
The Gnostic gospels were
discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, near Cairo in 1945 and translated
into English in 1977. The Gospel of Thomas (140-170) has 114 secret
sayings of Jesus.
Credibility of the Gnostic
The best way to evaluate
the credibility of these gospels is by comparison to the New Testament
Gospels, which the same critics have grave doubts about accepting.
Against the canonical gospels, the Gnostic gospels come up seriously
The attested dates for the
canonical Gospels are no later than 60-100. Gnostic gospels appeared
nearly a century later. O. C. Edwards asserts "As historical
reconstructions there is no way that the two can claim equal
The earliest Christians
meticulously preserved Jesusí words and deeds. The Gospel writers were
close to the eyewitnesses and pursued the facts (cf. Luke 1:1-4).
There is evidence that the Gospel writers were honest reporters. They
also present the same overall picture of Jesus.
New Testament Canon
Contrary to the critics,
the New Testament canon with Gospels and most of Paulís Epistles was
formed by the end of the first century. The only books in dispute, the
Antelegomena, have no apologetic effect on the argument for the
reliability of the historical material used to establish the deity of
The New Testament itself
reveals a collection of books in the first century. Peter speaks of
having Paulís Epistles (2 Peter 3:15-16), equating them with Old
Testament Scripture. Paul had access to Lukeís Gospel, quoting it
(10:7) in 1 Timothy 5:18.
Beyond the New Testament,
canonical lists support the existence of a New Testament canon.2
Indeed, all the Gospels and Paulís basic Epistles are represented on
Even the heretical canon of
Marcion (ca. 140) accepted the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paulís
Support of Church Fathers
A common body of books was
cited by Fathers in the second century. This includes the six books
crucial to the historicity of Christ and his resurrection, the
Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. Clement of Rome cited the Gospels in
95 (Corinthians, 13, 42, 46). Ignatius (ca. 110-115) quoted
Luke 24:39 (Smymaeans 3). Polycarp (ca. 115) cites all Synoptic
Gospels (Philippians 2, 7). The Didache (early second
century) cites the Synoptic Gospels (1, 3, 8, 9, 15-16). The
Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 135) cites Matthew 22:14. Papias (Oracles,
ca. 125-140) speaks of Matthew, Mark (chronicling Peter), and John
(last) who wrote Gospels. He says three times that Mark made no
errors. The Fathers considered the Gospels and Paulís Epistles to be
on par with the inspired Old Testament (cf. Clementís Corinthians
; Ignatiusís Ephesians ; To Polycarp [1, 5]; and
Polycarpís Philippians [1, 3-4, 6, 12]).
The Fathers vouched for the
accuracy of canonical Gospels in early second century. This is long
before gnostic gospels were written in the late second century.
There is no real evidence
that the so-called "Q" (Quelle, source) document posited by the
critics ever existed. It is an imaginary reconstruction, so the
allegation that it has nothing about the resurrection is pointless.
The Gospel of Thomas
does exist, even though it is from the late second century.
Nonetheless, contrary to the critics who support this composition, it
acknowledges Jesusí resurrection. In fact, it is the living,
post-death (34:25-27; 45:1-16) Christ who allegedly speaks in it.
True, it does not stress the resurrection, but this is to be expected
because it is primarily a "sayings" source, rather than a historical
narration. Further, the Gnostic theological bias against matter would
downplay bodily resurrection.
Earliest Christian Creeds
Since the critics
acknowledge the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 15, which is dated ca.
55-56 a.d., it is impossible to deny the historicity of the
resurrection. This is only twenty-two or twenty-three years after
Jesus died (1 Cor. 15:6). What is more, 1 Corinthians 15:1 alludes to
a possible creed confessing the death and resurrection of Christ that
would be even earlier. Even on the minimal assumption that the creed
was ten or twelve years old, that would place it within ten or twelve
years of the events themselves. Few ancient events have this
immediate, contemporary verification.
The evidence for the
authenticity of the Gnostic gospels does not compare with that for the
New Testament. The New Testament is a first-century book. The
Gospel of Thomas is a mid-second-century book. The New Testament
is verified by numerous lines of evidence, including other references
in the New Testament, early canonical lists, thousands of citations by
the early Fathers, and the established earlier dates for the Gospels.
1 O. C. Edwards, New
Review of Book and Religion, May, 1980, p. 27.
2 See Geisler and Nix,
General Introduction to the Bible, p. 294.
O. C. Edwards, New
Review of Book and Religion (May 1980)
C. A. Evans, Nag
Hammadi Texts and the Bible
J. Fitzmyer, America
(16 February 1980)
A. Frederick, et al..
The Gnostic Gospels
N. L. Geisler and W. Nix,
General Introduction to the Bible
R. M. Grant,
Gnosticism and Early Christianity
E. Linneman, Is There
a Synoptic Problem?
J. P. Moreland, ed.,
Jesus under Fire
J. M. Robinson, The
Nag Hammadi Library in English
F. Seigert, et al.,
C. M. Tuckett, Nag
Hammadi and the Gospel Tradition