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According to the Gospel of Luke there were many gospels written. Luke 1:1-4 states, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to put together an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were from the beginning eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us, it seemed to me too, after researching everything for a long time, that I should write accurately and orderly for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you would realize the certainty of the matters about which you have been instructed."
What is the Gospel?
The word "Gospel" means "good news" in Greek. The gospel is best explained in I Corinthians 15:3-4 "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (NIV).
There were a number of gospels written in the second century AD. or later called the Apocryphal Gospels. There are 22, of which 10 are written in Greek and 12 in Latin. These can be divided into three categories: those relating to the history of Mary and Joseph, the infancy of Christ, and the history of Pilate. Most of these are based on the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Acts of Pilate. Collection of Apocryphal Gospels. See also The Complete Gospels ed. by Miller/Funk published by Harper Collins, 1992.
Some may refer to the Gospel of Thomas as the fifth gospel. This is a Gnostic writing, though some scholars may see some of the sayings of Jesus in this gospel as genuine. There are 114 sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. See The Gospel of Thomas. See also The Nag Hammadi Library.
"Thomas," of course, is not a proper name. Much the same way "Peter" was a nickname, "Thomas" is simply Aramaic for "twin." The Greek of John clarifies Thomas is also called "Didymus" (Didumoj,)) the name which appears in the incipit. Unfortunately, "Didymus" is Greek for "twin", so we have 'twin called the twin.' The incipit further clarifies that his real name was Judas, which is echoed by the Book of Thomas (NHC II,7) and the Acts of Thomas. Most importantly, Eusebius, in his commentary on the twelve apostles, also sites his true name as Judas" (Quote from Davies, see Didymus: History & Conspiracy). Some scholars think Thomas is James the brother of Jesus.
12 books were discovered in 1945 by 2 peasant brothers near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These books are called the Nag Hammadi Library. The books were hidden in a sealed jar. They were taken to Priests home for safety because of blood vengeance. Department of Antiquities took the books. They are now preserved in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt.
The Gospel of Thomas is written in Coptic. Coptic is late Egyptian language written in Greek letters. Early Christianity in Egypt wrote in Coptic. There are still Coptic Churches in Egypt that use Coptic today.
Originally written in Greek
The Coptic Gospel of Thomas was translated from the Greek. Fragments of this gospel in the original Greek version were found in the Oxyrhynchus, Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. Biblical texts were also found. Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1, 654 and 655, were identified as parts of The Gospel of Thomas only after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library. Greek papyri 1 contains sayings 26-30, 77, 31-33 in this order, and the other two the sayings 1-7 and 36-40, respectively.
Gnosticism is primarily a religion of salvation that came through secret knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge is "Gnosis." The Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic writing. The opening words are "These are the secret words which the Living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote" (p.3, Guillaumont, et al, 1959, Leiden: Brill).
The Colossian Heresy
Paul in the book of Colossians warned about heresy that may be the early roots of gnosticism. Paul warns about: secret knowledge (2:18; 2:2-3), asceticism (2:21) angel worship (2:18), Low view of Christ (1:15-20), and reliance on human wisdom & tradition (2:4,8), see NIV study notes.
I John Heresy
I John also warns of early gnosticism which was a major threat to Christianity in the first two centuries. Gnostics believed matter was evil. The spirit was good. Salvation was escape from our evil body through secret knowledge. Christ was not truly human. He just seemed to have a body (Docetism). There were extremes of asceticism and licentiousness.
Early Church Fathers
Origin in about 233 AD mentions the Gospel of Thomas on a list of heretical gospels in his homily on Luke. Eusebius sites the Gospel of Thomas among apocrypha "...which have been adduced under apostolic names by the heretics." Philip of Side round 430 AD, referring to Eusebius, states, "...most of the elders had completely rejected the so-called Gospel of Thomas ....saying that these were the work of heretics."
- "The author of Gospel of Thomas shows a decided dependence on the canonical Gospels, demonstrating a later date for its composition than the Gospels.
- In the Gospel of Thomas we see a tendency of the redactor to deliberately make clear traditions into 'hidden' or 'secret' sayings--in keeping with his theology stated at the beginning of his work."
- "The distinctives of the Coptic version parallels alterations of the Gospel tradition found in later 2nd- through 4th-century documents, including Coptic translations of the Gospels." [JUF:24]
- "Other distinctives parallel the development of the Diatessaron in the late 2nd century" [JUF:24]
- "The freedom of citation and interpretation fits the 2nd-century tendency to produce the Christian equivalent to Jewish targum and midrashim" (MJ:1.131) Quotes from Glenn Miller. For more details see What about the Gospel of Thomas?
Gospels found among the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The gospels are not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grant Jeffrey claims that the New Testament is quoted in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He claims there is a fragment of Mark 6:52-53 and several other New Testament verses. He refers to an article in Bible Review (December 1995), but this article is refuting his view. The best scholars who have analyzed the texts do not see any New Testament quotes in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Jeffrey claims that Jesus is mentioned in the scrolls. This is not true. There are prophecies about the messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but no specific mention of Jesus. Most date before Christ was born. The "Pierced Messiah" text, 4Q285 is highly questionable (See BAR 18:4, 80-82). 4Q246 is a Messianic pseudo-Daniel fragment in Aramaic that mentions "son of God" who is extremely war-like (Eisenman & Wise 1992, 68-69). This is hardly a description of Jesus and his ministry.
The Lost Gospel-Ox840?
A fragment of a parchment leaf was discovered in Oxyrhynchos, Egypt in 1905. Some scholars claimed this fragment, Ox840 was part of a lost gospel. The fragment dates to the 4th-5th century, but the text is probably from the 2nd century. The fragment tells of a moral dispute between Jesus and the Jewish High Priest.
This fragment does not seem to be a real gospel of Jesus from the 1st century, but a Christian polemic against the Pharisees of the 2nd century. Here are the key problems with this fragment being a real gospel:
- In Ox840 the High Priest is a Pharisee, named Levi. In Jesus' time most priests were Sadducees.
- No High Priest is named Levi in Jesus' time.
- No source ever mentions a "pool of David."
- White clothes are put on after purification which is not found in Jewish Literature.
- There is the presence of pigs.
- There is a surprising contemplation of holy vessels.
- A rare word, "place of purification," is used.
Edgar J. Goodspeed concludes that the writer seems to be ignorant of the real conditions in Jerusalem at the time of Christ (JBL 119/4 p.708). Some think Ox840 is a fragment of the Gospel of the Hebrews, or the Gospel of the Egyptians, or the Gospel of the Nazarenes.
For more detailed information, and a translation of the fragment see "Fragment Oxyrhynchus 840, Fragment of a Lost Gospel, Witness of an Early Christian Controversy over Purity" (pdf) by Francois Bovon in JBL 119/4 (2000) pp.705-728.
Synoptic Gospels and "Q"
The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These gospels are very similar in content. Therefore, scholars hypothesize the "Q" document as the source of the synoptic gospels. "Q" comes from the German word quelle meaning "source" designating the stories common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. Some see Mark as the source of Matthew and Luke while others see the Gospel of Matthew as originally written in Aramaic and the source of the other gospels. See The Case Against Q.
At first it was thought that the Gospel of Thomas actually was the Q document, though the general consensus remains that it is not. The scholars think that Q is a written source, whereas Thomas is believed to be derived directly from oral tradition.
Early Church Fathers
Augustine states, "So these four evangelists are regarded to have written in this order: first Matthew, then Mark, third Luke, and last John."
Jerome writes, "Matthew who is also Levi, ex-publican apostle, composed the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words first in Judea, on account of those from the circumcision believed; who later translated it in Greek, is not quite certain. Further, the Hebrew itself is still kept today in the Caesarean library" (De Viris Illustribus 3).
It seems that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic then translated into Greek. Both Mark and Luke used Matthew. The similarities and differences are a result of the differences in translation of the Aramaic Matthew by Mark and Luke.
The Search for the Historical Jesus
First Quest for the historical Jesus is associated with the book Das Leben Jesu by David Strauss in mid-nineteenth century. He believed historical critical methods must be applied to the gospels to see the mythic elements. Are the Gospels historically reliable?
Second Quest was the result of Bultmann's students rejecting their teacher's pessimism about what could be known about Jesus. You discover Jesus through his preaching "the kerygma."
Third Quest is the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus of history is separate from the Christ of faith.
The Jesus Seminar
The Jesus Seminar was organized in 1985 in by Robert W. Funk to reform Christianity by setting Jesus free from creedal prisons. John Dominic Crossan is co-chairmen with Funk. Part of the Gospel of Thomas is consisted genuine saying of Jesus while most of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are rejected. See Jesus Seminar critique.