Is the Christian Bible a complete and accurate representation of Jesus’ teachings?
The New Testament of the Christian Bible is composed of 27 books. Of those, 4 are gospels meaning “good news,” and each tells the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The remaining books are comprised of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the Apostles after Jesus, and the Epistles or letters were written by the apostles and disciples of Christ to congregations or individuals. However, these 27 books were not the only texts written by the Early Christians.
The Bible, as we know it today, was not established until centuries after Jesus’ life. As a result, Christianity spread for over 300 years with no official holy book in place. All historical sources that we have, tell us that Christianity started as a very diverse movement. At the time, there was no fixed formulation of what Christian beliefs should be; what Christian rituals should be; what they should think about Jesus or what they should teach about Jesus.
It was not until the 4th century when Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion that the New Testament took shape and Christianity started to resemble its present form. Constantine commissioned several councils, at which church officials selected which books would become part of the New Testament canon and rejected those, which would be taken out. The gospels that they preferred (the canonical gospels) were accepted as authoritative while the others were suppressed.
To understand why certain books were selected or rejected, the historical context, in which the Bible was compiled must be examined.
In the 4th century AD, the Roman Emperor, Constantine I sought to unify the fragmented Roman empire upon the religion of Christianity and, in doing so, consolidate his power. However, as we have established, the religion had a wide variety of beliefs. One of the central points of contention was the nature of Jesus’ divinity.
Today, nearly all sects of Christianity teach that Jesus was God. But 4th century Christians were divided on this belief. At the centre of the debate was a Cyrenaic priest by the name of Arius, who taught that Jesus was not the absolute, almighty God. Hoping to settle the matter, the Emperor called for a series of councils, including the famous Council of Nicea in 325. Consider the entanglement of religion and politics at this point in history. To consolidate its power, the church needed to organise and take an official stance on these matters.
The Council of Nicea ruled, at Constantine’s behest, that Jesus was part of a Holy Trinity, comprised of God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit. This ruling equated Jesus with God the Father.
It is notable that after the Council of Nicea, Constantine decreed the destruction of Arius’ writings:
“I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death.”
— Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians
After the Council of Nicea, subsequent ecumenical councils were held to decide which gospels and scriptures would become the Christian holy book.
The books that were selected went along with the trinity doctrine, which was agreed upon at the Council of Nicea. Essentially, the Bible which is taught today was heavily influenced by the politics of the Roman Empire, nearly 300 years after Jesus’ ministry.
According to scholars, one of the main criteria for a book to be included in the New Testament was an apostolic connection, meaning the text had to be written by one of Jesus’ apostles or a student of one of Jesus’ apostles. However, one important question must be asked: what qualifies a person as an apostle? As many as 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament have been attributed to one “apostle” who never even met Jesus-the so-called apostle Paul.
Is Paul a credible source? Paul was, in fact, an enemy of the early Christians, who used to persecute the believers. Paul is only an “apostle” of Jesus based on his testimony. But the most concerning aspect of Paul’s epistles is that his teachings often contradict the teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels.
It begs the question: why is Paul such a dominant voice in the New Testament of the Bible? And why were other gospels excluded, despite being attributed to Jesus’ disciples like the gospels of Thomas, James, and Phillip? It was all a part of the Roman agenda to distort the religion of Jesus for Political gain.
Another argument used to denounce the gnostic gospels is the idea that they were written later and are therefore less reliable than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. However, this point is debatable.
The gnostic Gospel of Thomas, for example, is dated circa the year 140, whereas the Biblical gospel of John is dated circa the year 110. Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has stated that the gospel contains some traditions that could be dated even earlier than the New Testament gospels, “possibly as early as the second half of the first century” (50-100)–as early as, or earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.”
Considering all of this, it is clear that neither date nor authorship is the true reason the church excluded these texts from the Bible. In fact, not only did the church exclude these controversial texts, they attempted to wipe them out of existence.
It became a crime to possess books which had been denounced as heretical. According to Elaine Pagels, author of the book The Gnostic Gospels:
“Copies of such books were burned and destroyed. But in Upper Egypt, someone; possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St. Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction–in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years.”
– The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Published by Vintage Books. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
In 1945, in the town of Nag Hammadi, a local farmer and his brother came across an ancient sealed jar. Inside they found 12 leather-bound books. Among the texts were gospels, bearing the names of some of the disciples. These were lost gospels, excluded from the Bible by the Catholic Church. And, had it not been for these surviving copies, stashed away in Egypt, the contents of these gospels would have been lost forever.
Only recently translated, these books, which are also known as the “gnostic gospels,” have revolutionised what we know about the different teachings of the early Christians.
The gnostic gospels contain deeper and more controversial knowledge than the canonical gospels.
The Nag Hammadi Library contains teachings about reincarnation.
For example, The Gospel of Thomas records Jesus saying:
“When you see your likeness, you are happy. But when you see your images that came into being before you and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will have to bear!”
– Gospel of Thomas, Saying 84
“The messengers and the prophets will come to you and give you what belongs to you. You, in turn, give them what you have, and say to yourselves, ‘When will they come and take what belongs to them?’”
– Gospel of Thomas, Saying 88
The Truth About Mary Magdalene
The canonical gospels give little information about Mary Magdalene. The gnostic gospels, however, portray her as closer to Jesus than his male disciples. The Gospel of Phillip called Mary Magdalene Jesus’ companion, who he loved “more than all his students” (Gospel of Phillip). The gnostic gospels consistently portray Mary Magdalene as a leader in her own right.
In contrast, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:
“Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
– Holy Bible: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35
He also wrote:
“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
– Holy Bible: 1 Timothy 2:12
The gnostic gospels also shed light on the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. Most Christians today believe that Jesus was single and celibate, however, it is never stated in the Bible that he was not married.
The Gospel of Phillip records Jesus as saying:
“Great is the mystery of marriage! Without it, the world would not be. The existence of the world depends on marriage. Think of pure sex. It possesses deep powers, though its image is defiled.”
– The Gospel of Phillip
It certainly indicates that Jesus would have partaken in marriage. The Gospel of Phillip also says Mary Magdalene was the woman Jesus loved the most.
“whom the Savior loved more than all the other disciples and [whom] he kissed often on the mouth.”
– The Gospel of Philip
The Truth About The Crucifixion
Today, the Christian church teaches that Jesus died on the cross but not all the early Christians believed this to be true. In the Biblical gospels, Jesus (pbuh) prays that the cup or the act of the crucifixion would be lifted from him (See Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42). The gnostic gospels indicate that God granted Jesus’ prayer.
Several of these texts clearly state that Jesus did not die on the cross, it simply appeared that he did.
The Gospel of Judas teaches that a substitute would replace Jesus on the cross.
“Tomorrow they’ll torture the one who bears me. Truly I [say] to you, no hand of a mortal human [will fall] upon me…”
– The Gospel of Judas
In the book, the Second Treatise of Great Seth, Jesus says:
“I was not afflicted at all, yet I did not die in solid reality but in what appears, in order that I not be put to shame by them…Another, their father, was the one who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. Another was the one who lifted up the cross on his shoulder, who was Simon. Another was the one on whom they put the crown of thorns.”
-The Second Treatise of Great Seth
And the Apocalypse of Peter states:
“I saw (Jesus) seemingly being seized by them. And I said ‘What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?’ The Savior said to me, ‘He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.’ But I, when I had looked, said ‘Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.’ But he said to me, ‘I have told you, ‘Leave the blind alone!’ And you, see how they do not know what they are saying.”
– The Apocalypse of Peter
The same is stated in the Acts of John:
“Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer.”
Islamic tradition teaches the same. The Quran says very little about the end of Jesus’ life, but it does reveal:
“That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of Allah’ – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not – Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise,”
– Quran, An-Nisa verse 157-158
Despite the censorship, which occurred with the compilation of the New Testament, God preserved the truth. Books that were lost for centuries and almost forgotten have been revealed in this day and age to affirm the knowledge of the Qa’im.