Lately, I’ve been wondering why we’re so quick to discount the Bible. What I mean by that is, so often, I hear people talk about things they believe were “cut out” of the Bible. People have a fascination with the Gnostic “gospels” and with other apocryphal stories and seem to treat these with greater reverence than the Bible itself.
For example, take Lilith. She is the mythological “first wife of Adam.” Some people believe that the Bible removed all references to her, as if there’s a grand conspiracy seeking to contort the Bible. Yet, Lilith doesn’t appear until at least the 8th century AD, long after the Old Testament was written, as well as after the coming of Christ. Lilith is a fairly recent invention, yet people seem to think that somehow she was removed from the Bible (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilith for a nice discussion about Lilith).
Similarly, some people talk about the so-called “gospels” of Thomas, Peter, and Mary as if they’re real Gospels that were excised from the Bible by a conspiracy of bishops in the fourth century. They’re more ready to believe these false gospels than they are the actual Gospels that were considered authoritative by centuries of Christians. The fact is that these false “gospels” were written in the second and third centuries AD and come from a completely different theology than the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. These false “gospels” were written by people who followed Gnosticism, which was the belief that the material world was evil and that salvation came through achieving “gnosis” or knowledge which freed one’s soul from one’s body. This Gnostic belief system still influences many people’s thinking today (how many times have you heard people talk about being spiritual or becoming angels when we die). It is also totally at odds with the theology of the Bible. The reason these books were rejected by Christians is not due to a conspiracy, but because of the fact that they taught something different than the apostles had taught (I talk more about the early New Testament Church in my previous post at http://lutheranchronicles.com/things-you-didnt-know-about-the-early-church-part-3-christian-witnesses/ ).
There is a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Genesis begins with God creating all things. His creation, this material world, is good, because He made it. Yet, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, with decay and death as tagalongs. But, God promised a savior who would restore His creation. The Old Testament contains God’s promise of salvation and the history of His people whom He called together around this promise. Then, the New Testament tells of the coming of the savior, Jesus Christ, and how he defeated sin, death, and the devil through his death and resurrection. Both Testaments also point us to the time when Christ will return for the final time for the resurrection. On that day we will be reunited with our bodies, resurrected, and brought into the restored creation. Thus, God’s plan of salvation encompasses not only us, but everything He made. Christ is restoring it all!
When we put God’s plan of salvation into this larger context, it helps show the meaninglessness of stories like Lilith and the Gnostic “gospels.” We are too quick to believe things outside the Bible, even though these outside things are at odds with the Bible, contrary to God’s plan of salvation, and inventions of people who sought to use the name of the apostles to give an air of authority to their writings. Thomas didn’t write the “gospel” attributed to him, neither did Peter or Mary. When we treat these writings as Scripture, then we are elevating writings that orthodox Christians have rejected since they were written.
So, back to my original question, “Why are we so quick to discount the Bible?” I think it’s because we love novelty and the thought of conspiracies. We love to think that there’s some secret knowledge hidden that someone in authority is trying to keep from us. Yet, all that we need to know about God He has already clearly revealed to us in the Scriptures, and He formed a people around His promise of the Christ. This people, called Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament, have safeguarded the Scriptures for subsequent generations. The Church also provides the framework for properly interpreting the Scriptures, pointing out to people that all the Scriptures are centered around Jesus Christ.
I think this is a clear case of “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” If we don’t understand the history of how and why the Bible came to be, then we will continually be refighting battles that the Church has already fought. If you’re interested in learning more, I treat this subject more fully in my book “On This Rock,” which can be found at:
On This Rock: What People Really Believed About Jesus Christ in the Early Church… and Why it Matters
(Image by Adrian Pingstone (User:Arpingstone) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons” href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIlluminated.bible.arp.jpg”)