The recent discovery of part of the Gospel of Judas has sparked a renewed debate concerning the so-called Gnostic Gospels. Many are confused when reading of the existence of a Gospel from Judas; is this an authentic Gospel written by the disciple of Jesus? What about other Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas? Can we trust the Gospels in the Bible?
N.T. Wright, a respected authority in the New Testament, has distinguished four main differences between the biblical or canonical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels. Wright listed and explained these four differences in his little book “Judas and the gospel of Jesus” (2006, pp.68-83):
- The biblical Gospels affirm Jesus as the continuation and climax of God’s redemptive history with Israel. The biblical Gospels recount how the long history of God’s work through Israel came to its climax with the person of Jesus. Contrarily, the Gnostic Gospels completely detached Jesus from Israel and the history of Israel with God. The Gnostic Gospels described the God of the Old Testament as evil and Judaism as totally lost. The Gnostics Gospels saw no connection between Jesus and the nation of Israel and the acts of God in the Old Testament.
- The biblical Gospels told the story of Jesus in connection with the life of the early followers of Jesus to show all Christians a plan to follow as they followed Jesus. In a very different way, the Gnostic Gospels put Jesus in the position of giving a secret knowledge (a “gnosis”) to some of his original disciples (the “Gnostic disciples”) to pass it along to others in a secret way. The belief in a secret message by the Gnostic Christians was implicitly a rejection of the “mainstream” Christian church and Christians and their open message to the world.
- The biblical or canonical Gospels, in presenting the story of Jesus, proclaimed that in Jesus God had manifested and launched his kingdom on Earth (as it was in heaven). In a contrary way, the Gnostic Gospels rejected this idea of the kingdom of God at work on Earth in Jesus. The Jesus of the Gnostic Gospels was not interested in this world; he was mostly interested in fleeing from his earthly body and returning to the spirit world.
- The Gospels of the Bible were written in the first century (around AD 70-90). On the other hand, the Gnostic Gospels were written in the second century AD: “The canonical gospels were being read and quoted as carrying authority in the early and middle second century, whereas we do not even hear of the non-canonical ones until the middle or end of that century” (Wright, 2006, p.77).
These four essential differences between the canonical or biblical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels are a clear indication that the Gnostic Gospels are not authentically apostolic in their authorship, message and frame of time. The Gnostic Gospels are not reliable sources for the life and teachings of Jesus.
Wright, N. T. (2006) Judas and the gospel of Jesus: Have we missed the truth about Christianity? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.