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Gospels versus Gnosticism

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Gospel of Judas, I’m adding another resource for putting writings like Judas in context. Mark D. Roberts (pastor, author and adjunct prof at Fuller Theological Seminary) operates a web site, part of which includes resources for understanding the issues at stake in The Da Vinci Code debate. A significant chunk of that focuses on Gnosticism: what it is, why it’s popular and the reliability of the New Testament versus the Gnostic Gospels. I highly recommend you check it out.

For a taste of what you'll find, check out Roberts' recent post on Da Vinci Dialogue. In
“Was Jesus Really Human?" Roberts gives us a timely piece on the Jesus of the Gospels versus the Jesus of Gnosticism. He opens with:
I'm convinced that part of what has motivated such widespread interest in The Da Vinci Code is the vision of a human Jesus. This Jesus, so we are told by Dan Brown's spokesman, Sir Leigh Teabing, can be found in the Gnostic gospels, which chronicle Jesus's life "as a mortal man" and "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (p. 234). Teabing's claim suggests two fundamental questions: Was Jesus human? And can the human Jesus be found in the Gnostic gospels from Nag Hammadi more than in the orthodox gospels of the New Testament?
He answers those questions early on:
It is in the biblical gospels, not the Gnostic ones, that Jesus is truly born of a woman and truly killed on a Roman cross. In between these archetypal human experiences, the biblical Jesus is tempted and gets angry. He enjoys the warmth of friendship and suffers the bitter slap of betrayal. The Jesus of the New Testament gospels truly suffers, unlike the Gnostic Jesus who is "glad and laughing" while a fleshly substitute is crucified (Apocalypse of Peter, 81.3-25)
He goes on:

No doubt it's more complicated to confess Jesus as both divine and human than to prefer one or the other, but Christian orthodoxy has never taken the easy road of choosing either deity or humanity. Rather, from the very earliest days of Christian reflection on the nature of Christ, He's been understood as both human and, in the mystery of God, divine.
When you lay the facts out, Roberts says it's a pretty cut and dry case:

According to The Da Vinci Code, the Gnostic gospels "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms." If you've ever read any of the Gnostic gospels, you know that this is one of Dan Brown's most creative fictions….

And I can assure you that you're not going to find a human Jesus there. If you don't believe me, find a copy of the Nag Hammadi Library and spend a hour browsing through its pages. (Or do it online here.) Then, after your quick tour of Gnosticism, read a few passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When you've finished, you'll realize how ridiculous it is to claim that the Gnostic gospels present a more human Jesus than the biblical gospels. If you want a human Jesus, you'd better stick with the Bible. If you want an otherworldly redeemer, whose earthly life didn't matter, and who didn't even suffer death, then the Gnostic gospels are just the ticket.
You go, boy. For Roberts, any popularity gained by the debate is a homerun for the Christian faith:

If, as I've theorized, the desire for a truly human Jesus is one reason for the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, then this is great news for orthodox Christians. It means that the Jesus revealed in Scripture and affirmed by the classic creeds is the One for whom people are yearning. Although Dan Brown doesn't quite get the facts straight in his fictive world, he has opened the door for a valuable conversation about the true nature of Jesus. For this reason, I've named my website series on this material, The Da Vinci Opportunity. Both the novel and the forthcoming movie give Christians the chance to say with confidence: Yes, Jesus was really human. And you can encounter this Jesus in the New Testament gospels. Come and read!

(Image: BiblePictureGallery)