The Gospels -- The Only Competitors for the Canon

When I was in College, I took a course in political science that focused on recognizing bias in newspaper and magazine news reporting. The professor stressed that to get a real feel for the story required reading deep into the article. Often, facts were buried deep in the bowels of the article that would give a different understanding to the news beyond what the headlines or the first few parpagraphs imply. As a result, whenever I read a news story on anything important, I make sure that even if I am rushed for time to scan through the story to the bottom to see what surprises lurk there.

Today, I came across a story entitled "Inner Awareness : Secrets Jesus reveals to Judas" from the INQ7 Network. The story begins:

"So why did the Bible depict Judas as a traitor?" asked Jun Aquiatan.

"Only the four gospels that are in the present Bible depicted Judas as a traitor. However, there are other writings aside from the four gospels that narrated (differently) and these are the documents that would be found later."

"But again, why depict Judas as a traitor, if he was not?" insisted Aquiatan.

"You must understand," explained Gabbey, "the selection of the gospels was based on similarity to avoid conflicts. That is why the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels or gospels with the same point of view. Since the gospel of John also portrayed Judas as a traitor, then it was also selected.

"However, there are many written gospels that are not in the present Bible. You see, the Church did not have a system or criteria in the selection of books to be included in the present Bible.

"The personal views of those charged with the task of putting up the Bible prevailed. Additionally, the present Bible underwent several changes. Most of those changes were made to suit the intentions of those in charge at that time."

I am certain that following the release of the text of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, there are people who -- more than ever -- believe this type of misinformation. Let's be clear about some things here:

1. The Gospel accounts were written earlier than the Gnostic Gospels and are more likely to contain true information about the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot than the later Gnostic-influenced stories about the life of Jesus.

2. The reason that the Synoptics and John were included in the canon of out Bible is not because they presented a view with which the church leaders agreed, but because they were universally acclaimed to be trustworthy from the earliest times in the church. There were no competing "Gospels" that were seriously considered to be included in the canon. In fact, in an audio lecture by Craig Blomberg (the link to which I have misplaced) on this very topic, he noted that in a review of every known list of books considered for inclusion into the canon, the following facts show how unlikely it was that any other "gospel" would be included in the canon:

A. The number of additional gospels included in any existing known proposal from the ancient world actually being supported by the author of the document for inclusion in the canon apart from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: zero. There were other epistles proposed for the canon, a handful, that writers put forward. But no other gospels were proposed for inclusion into the canon by any author whose writings survive. This includes any of the so-called Gnostic gospels -- no one ever makes the claim for treating them as inspired, etc. In other words, even if some early Christians may have treated them as inspired, the claim that they were actually inspired and deserving to be included in the canon are never explicitly made anywhere.

B. The number of additional Gospels mentioned but not commended, and ultimately rejected, in the comprehensive collection of known lists of New Testament books: two. These two books were:
The Gospel of the Hebrews -- never been found. A number of the orthodox early church fathers, referred to snippets of text from this document and most of the quotations look very similar to something from the Gospel of Matthew. Nothing unorthodox, but the wording is different enough to suggest another Gospel.
The Gospel of Thomas -- Somewhere between one-third and one-half of the stories seem to close enough to the wording of the saying of Jesus’ in the canonical Gospels, to give a similar appearance. Many are clearly Gnostic, but others are things that Jesus might have said.

In other words, it is easist to say that the four Gospels were included in the canon because virtually everyone recognized their inspiration and authority as being greater than competitors. To have not included them in the canon would have been like trying to pull together a list of the greatest classical music compositions without including something by Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig von Beethoven. Of course the works of Bach and Beethoven belong in any such collection because everyone with any understanding of classical music understands their greatness! So it was with the four Gospels found in the canon -- there was virtually no doubt (except in some extreme circles) that they were the four most authoritative and inspired of the writings about the life of Jesus and none of the other so-called Gospels were ever broadly considered for inclusion.

3. It is my recollection that one of the factors used in evaluating whether some of the epistles were included in the canon was whether these epistles were consistent with the four Gospels, but it wasn't the case that the Gospels themselves were judged on that basis. But since the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were already almost unanimously considered to inspired and authoritative, it only makes sense that the epistles which were in doubt should be at least partially evaluated on the basis of whether they are consistent with the known inspired works.

4. To my knowledge, the decision to include or exclude any Gospel or Epistle did not turn on the relationship of Jesus to Judas. From what I have read, it simply wasn't a topic of concern in the question of canonicity.

5. The history that I have read says that the early church fathers did use a "system or criteria in the selection of books to be included in the present Bible." This system included factors like whether the book or letter were written by an apostle or under that apostle's authority. (A source for seeing some of the other criteria can be found here.)

So, in short, there are lots of claims made in the dialogue about the creation of the canon that are either completely false or very misleading. But what does this have to do with reading down the page? Well, the article itself demonstrates the bizarre views of the people advocating for the view that Jesus and Judas had a much closer relationship than found in the New Testament. Check out what it says next:

After the resurrection of Jesus, according to Gabbey, he met Judas personally and gave him the task of preaching the gospel in Egypt.

Why Egypt? "Because both Judas and Jesus were from Egypt during a previous incarnation when they were brothers," explained Gabbey.

And later the UFOs landed . . . .


A Good World said…
I have to say, you guys often go after such easy pickings, it's like the proverbial fish in the barrel. I think that you are all ready for some bigger game...

I'm curious about the last bit. 'After the Resurrection...' I've read the Judas Gospel, and that account is nowhere in it. Most of the Judas Gospel is this amazing account of some of the more fun Gnostic Theologies, with Jesus spending half his time laughing at everyone and everything. So where did this Gabbey come up with this Egypt bit? Perhaps he is also confusing Judas Iscariot, with Judas, the son of Mary and Joseph (and therefore at least nominally Jesus' brother.)


BK said…

I go after some of these easier targets because I think it is important to constantly remind ourselves of some of the basics of apologetics -- and besides, its fun. :)

I have no idea where this person came up with the additional "Jesus and Judas were brothers in a prior life in Egypt" stuff. I expect that they got it from some "New Age" material since that stuff makes all kinds of claims about Jesus found nowhere in the Bible. Regardless of where they found it, I had to throw it in just for the fun of it.

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