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Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas

At Between Two Worlds, Andy Naselli interviews Simon Gathercole on the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas. Gathercole is a New Testament lecturer at the University of Cambridge and is currently writing a commentary on the Gospel of Thomas:

1. What exactly are the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas? How do they compare to the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

To start with, the Gospels of Judas and Thomas are quite different from each other. One is a hard-line Gnostic Gospel: the Gospel of Judas has the standard characteristics which people in antiquity associated with the Gnostics—a view of the creator and his creation as both evil (and both a long way further down in the cosmic hierarchy from the Great Divine Spirit). Thomas is more of an ascetical work, though it also has some pretty unorthodox elements such as finding salvation through self-knowledge in conjunction with Jesus.

On a historical level, too, Thomas and Judas show that they’re a long way removed from the both the culture and theology of Jesus’ real setting: they both reflect a heavily gentile context, in which, for example, the OT is not considered authoritative. In this respect they’re a long way apart from the four canonical Gospels. Most importantly, the central factor in the NT Gospels, the cross and resurrection of Jesus as the saving act of God, is also missing from Thomas and Judas: in these apocryphal texts, “knowledge” is the way to salvation.

2. When were the Gospel of Judas and Gospel of Thomas each discovered? When were they written? And why are they an issue in our popular culture?

They were discovered at different times and are parts of different collections. The Gospel of Thomas was found first, in the codices (bound papyrus books) found near Nag Hammadi in 1945–46: this is a big collection of Gnostic and other literature. The Gospel of Judas was discovered much more recently—probably in the 1970s—but it wasn’t actually published until 2006.

They were probably originally composed at roughly the same time. We can be pretty sure that the Gospel of Judas was written around AD 150 because Irenaeus (writing about AD 180) refers to a Gospel of Judas in his Against the Heresies. Again, we can be fairly certain that the Gospel of Thomas was written in the second century. There are three Greek papyrus fragments of it (only small bits—the whole text survives only in Coptic) from around AD 200–300, and the church Father Hippolytus refers to it around AD 225. But we can also see quite clearly that they don’t pre-date the canonical Gospels: Thomas is influenced in a number of places by Luke’s Gospel and refers to the disciple Matthew (probably a reference to the Gospel of Matthew), and Judas is influenced in a number of places by Matthew’s Gospel.

I think they are an issue in our world because there is a certain fascination with conspiracy-theories generally, whether it’s to do with the assassination of JFK or (especially) when it has to do with church cover-ups. People are all too willing to believe that the church has concealed the truth. It’s partly a cultural thing and partly is fed by the fact that the church sometimes does cover things up, but it’s also a result of sin: people don’t want to believe the truth and so cast around for other explanations instead.

Read the whole interview to learn about Gathercole’s previous books and his current writing project.

Have we got it right? New DVD on Jesus, history and the NT

Earlier this year, the Tyndale House sponsored a conference at the Westminister Chapel, in London, to both address contemporary objections to the historicity of the New Testament and show why the Bible can be trusted. With the goal in training Christians to be able to share their faith with confidence, the conference brought together some of the foremost evangelical scholars around today. The DVD of the sessions has now become available. You can purchase it online here.

Information about the three lectures included on the DVD, from the Bible and Church website:

Have we got the history right? Dr. Peter J. Williams

A widely held idea is that Christian beliefs arose over a long period of time through a mixture of gullibility and conspiracy. Early Christian records are held to be legend, myth or fabrication.

However, when we consider the earliest accounts of Christianity by non-Christian writers we see that Christians were never in a position to fabricate the accounts of Jesus, and that the core Christian beliefs must have been held very early

Dr Peter (P.J.) Williams is the Warden of Tyndale House. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible.

Have we got the text right? Dr. Dirk Jongkind

Another popular idea is that the Bible has been corrupted, either by deliberate falsification or simply lost through passage of time. Such ideas are promoted in the British media.
This session will explain what New Testament manuscripts are and compare the manuscripts we have of the New Testament with what we have for other ancient writings.

It will also show how little evidence there is for deliberate change within New Testament manuscripts. The scribes of the New Testament manuscripts would not have been good conspirators because they were interested in copying not in changing.

Dr Dirk Jongkind is a Dutch biblical scholar who finished his PhD at Cambridge University on Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Have we got Jesus right? Dr Simon J. Gathercole

Probably the most popular idea in relation to the Bible is that books have been missed out or put in due to political pressure and various media have been full of talk about ‘other gospels’.

Here some of the most famous ‘other gospels’ are considered: the gospels of Thomas, Judas and Mary. But first it is important to establish two facts about the very earliest Christians and their beliefs:

* they believed that Jesus had died as a ransom for our sins.
* they believed that Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament.

It is found that while Matthew, Mark, Luke and John agree with these two Christian beliefs, the apocryphal gospels generally do not. They do not fit the pattern of earliest Christian belief precisely because they were written later.

They are less reliable than the canonical gospels both in their picture of history and in their picture of Jesus’ message. For real pictures of Jesus, based on eyewitness testimony, you need to read the New Testament.

Dr Simon Gathercole is Editor of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Having studied Classics and Theology at Cambridge University.

(Source: Justin Taylor)