CH101 - The Second Century

The Persecuted Church, 90 - 202 AD
The New Testament Canon, Part 4

Key People:
Clement of Rome
Ignatius of Antioch
Justin Martyr
Irenaeus of Lyons
Clement of Alexandria

The New Testament Canon, Part 4
As we stated at the end of our last section, Gnosticism reached its zenith in the second century, particularly in Egypt. The development of the New Testament in the second century necessitates some discussion of Gnostic texts. The proliferation of Gnostic texts forced church leaders to address these texts and explain why the church had to reject them. We do not have the space to look at Gnosticism to any great degree - I am not an expert in the subject - this section will focus on the bizarre nature of the Gnostic texts.
For more on Gnosticism, see the discussion on The Initial Heresies and Heretics.
You can also read An Introduction to Gnostic Texts.

It is important to understand that many ancient texts have some bizarre passages - the NT has some strange passages as well, and one must be ready to admit this before launching an attack against strange gnostic texts. For example,

"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."
"Where, Lord?" they asked. He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."   Luke 17:34-37

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.  Matthew 21:18-19

I know there are many who have given explanation for these passages - I have just read 2-3 explanations for both of these, and none satisfy me 100% - my point is simply to say that we must admit that there are some strange passages in our NT documents that cannot be easily explained. I could list many more. And if you read the early fathers you will find many strange passages as well. One can give some explanation for the strange gnostic passages, but even with the proper historical context bizarre is...well, bizarre. The gospel contained in the New Testament is powerful because it is profound - taking the complicated and making it exceedingly simple to understand. These gnostic texts are just not easy to grasp.

Gospel of Thomas
Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which the man shall eat, and the lion become man; and cursed is the man whom the lion shall eat, and the lion become man."   Gospel of Thomas 7

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper side as the lower; and when you make the male and the female into a single one, that the male be not male and the female female; when you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then shall you enter [the kingdom]."   Gospel of Thomas 22

For those who attack Christianity for being male dominated and somehow think the gnostics were more favorable to women:

Simon Peter said to them: "Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life." Jesus said: "Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."   Gospel of Thomas 114

These two sayings clearly illustrate why Thomas is not accepted in the early church. This gospel has many Gnostic-like sayings. Many scholars who attack the integrity of the New Testament find it easy to criticize the male-orientation and domination of the early church. These scholars use various passages from Thomas, yet typically they will avoid Saying 114!

The point here is that Gnostic writings contain many bizarre passages. The ratio of "normal" to "bizarre" is far different from the orthodox New Testament writings. In addition, the degree of bizarre is far more acute in these Gnostic writings.

Read An Introduction to Gnostic Texts.
Download the paper, How the New Testament Canon was Formed

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Questions, Comments or Criticisms:
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