(More Bible Studies Available At www.marktabata.com)
It is written:
1 Corinthians 14:37-If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
In our last study, we learned that the sensational claims made in the Da Vinci Code regarding the compilation of the New Testament by the Council Of Nicaea are false. Indeed, vast amounts of evidence were marshaled to demonstrate that the New Testament canon was compiled and recognized nearly two hundred years before the Council Of Nicaea!
Well, another claim made within the pages of the Da Vinci Code that is so often repeated in our day and age is that there were over eighty “gospels” that the Council Of Nicaea suppressed because they taught a radically different view of Jesus than the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Thankfully, the Da Vinci Code gives us a description of these books!
““Fortunately for historians,” Teabing said, “some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms. Of course, the Vatican, in keeping with their tradition of misinformation, tried very hard to suppress the release of these scrolls. And why wouldn’t they? The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda—to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.”” (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code: Featuring Robert Langdon, 254 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc.)
Let’s start with the claims made here about the Dead Sea Scrolls.
An ancient group of Jewish scribes, known as the Essenes, began to make copies of the Old Testament Scriptures (sometime around the year 197 B.C.). These copies of the Word of God were hidden by the Essenes in the caves along the Dead Sea, and began to be discovered in 1947.
Ken Johnson gives us an idea of the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls tell an amazing story. Approximately sixty percent of the scrolls are copies of the Old Testament. The other forty percent are a mixture of extra-biblical books containing prophecy, genealogy, and theology. Their theology is based on the writings of the patriarchs. These made up a kind of pre-Mosaic canon. The scrolls maintain that proper doctrine came by the Word of the Lord through the prophets. The teachings in the Dead Sea Scrolls are identical with early Christianity.” (Ken Johnson, The New Covenant of Damascus, 7 (Kindle Edition))
The Dead Sea Scrolls provide textual support for the early dating of the New Testament.
“The caves at Qumran are famous for the hoard of Old Testament and other manuscripts that have been found there. But the thing which receives the least publicity (if any publicity at all) is the fact that the caves have also yielded fragments of New Testament books. This absence of publicity – this blanket denial of their identity is not to be wondered at. The fact of the matter is this, that these manuscripts were deposited in the caves at Qumran by the year AD 68 at the very latest, when Qumran and the surrounding area was overrun by the Roman 10th Legion, and according to the critics, the New Testament – especially the Gospels – had not yet been written by that time…Cave 4 at Qumran is of some interest to us here. In that cave was discovered a particular fragment known today as 4QAlpha. Though not actually a fragment of Mark’s Gospel – it was originally thought to be a medical text it does reflect the healing miracle of the blind man recorded in Mark 8:22- 26, and moreover contains the New Testament names of Caiaphas, Peter (the first time that this name has been found in an Hebrew/Aramaic document), and Aquila…Fragments of various New Testament books were themselves found in the caves of Qumran, most notably in Cave 7. One that is of particular interest is called 7Q5, and carries nothing less than a passage from Mark 6:52- 53. 3…identifying other fragments from Cave 7 as parts of the New Testament, especially fragment 7Q4 which contains 1 Timothy 3:16- 4:3….The discoveries in Cave 7 at Qumran – and the commendable diligence of O’Callaghan who identified them – proves that what the critics have been teaching all these years is wrong, misinformed and mistaken on all levels. Archaeology has never spoken plainer than it speaks right now. Copies of the New Testament books of Mark, 1 Timothy, James, Acts, Romans and 2 Peter (at least) were all in circulation by AD 68 at the very latest, and clearly years before. But what is more, they were in circulation internationally and not just locally amongst Christian groups or churches….We spoke earlier of the lack of publicity which surrounds the discovery of New Testament books – or rather their fragments – at Qumran, and their omission is pointedly displayed by Emanuel Tov, who has issued a ‘complete’ list of all the Biblical texts discovered in the Qumran caves. 22 It is indeed a prodigious and comprehensive list, except that when it comes to Cave 7 he omits all reference to the New Testament fragments which were discovered there….As we have seen, represented amongst these ‘unclassified’ fragments are the New Testament books of 1 Timothy (7Q4); Mark’s Gospel (7Q5) (7Q6, 1) (7Q7) (7Q15); James (7Q8); Acts (7Q6); Romans (7Q9); and 2 Peter (7Q10). How these can all be omitted from a list which claims to be ‘complete’ is something to be wondered at. (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The New Testament: part One-The Gospels, 300-470 (Kindle Edition))
Speaking of some of the evidences of the early dating of the New Testament Scriptures, scholar Carsten Thiede informs us:
“Some readers of this book may remember the excitement in 1976 when John A.T. Robinson published his mould-breaking Redating the New Testament. Here was an arch-liberal theologian, labelled by some as the heretic Bishop of Woolwich, allegedly a proponent of the fashionable ‘God is dead’ tendency, who was suddenly stating, in a well-documented monograph, that every single New Testament text was written before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Overnight, he became a traitor to the ‘liberal’ cause and the new hero of the ‘conservatives’. And yet he was and remained the same John A.T. Robinson. He had merely discovered that sober textual scholarship must not be hidden under the bushel of ideological preconception. Take also the prototype of German liberal theology at the turn of the twentieth century, Adolf von Harnack. As a textual historian, he remained a classical scholar to the bone. When he realized that he and his colleagues had placed the Acts of the Apostles much too late in the first century, he corrected his error publicly and stated, in a carefully argued study, that Acts was obviously written before the deaths of James, Peter and Paul–in other words, before AD 62/ 64. This meant that Luke’s Gospel was written earlier still, perhaps as early as the late fifties, and that for those who propose the chronological sequence Mark-Matthew-Luke-Acts, Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels must have been written in the fifties of the first century, if not earlier. This was (and is) sensational or provocative only to those who refused to envisage an early Christian community that did the obvious thing and wrote about Jesus, spreading the written message as well as preaching it by word of mouth. In fact, many professional historians have now begun to turn the tables. For many of them, dating the Gospels in the fifties or sixties of the first century is not early at all but still too late. One would have to explain why it took the first Christians twenty, thirty or even up to forty years to produce the earliest written record about Jesus. In other words, dates around the fifties of the first century are the latest conceivable ‘middle ground’. John’s Gospel, often presented as the odd one out and at best seen as a latecomer, has also been rescued from the dumping ground of second and third-generation datings. Again, it was John A.T. Robinson who set the tone when he advocated a publication date in the late sixties and argued his case persuasively in The Priority of John in 1986. Continental scholars like Klaus Berger of Heidelberg University have taken up his baton…Paul’s letters in particular are meant to correct errors and to put local communities back on the right track. In one of his letters, Paul explicitly asks for his teaching to be passed on to others and to make sure that they read what he had written elsewhere (Colossians 4: 15–16). Written records were needed, and there are scholars today who are convinced that at least one Gospel, Mark’s, existed when Paul wrote his letters, and that another one, Luke’s, may have been known to him in his later years. Indeed, it looks as though Paul assumes his readers knew the Gospel accounts, so that he did not have to refer to the life, public sermons and miracles of Jesus to any great extent. In one instance, it looks as though his preaching was even checked against written records. In Berea, the Jewish community listened to him and ‘examined the scriptures every day to see if these things were so’ (Acts 17: 11)….And if we abandon the implausibly late dates commonly suggested for the publication of the Gospels and accept the date of AD 40 suggested for Mark’s Gospel by the Jewish classical philologist Guenther Zuntz, or the mid to late forties preferred by other philologists and historians, we can see how soon this Jewish messianic document could have reached synagogal libraries throughout the Roman empire. It looks as though it even reached the library of the orthodox messianic movement of the Essenes at Qumran, where, according to a group of Jewish and non-Jewish scholars, a fragment of Mark’s Gospel was found in Cave Seven. The people who collected these writings did it for a purpose. They wanted to read, study, compare and make up their own minds about the ways of God and his Messiah with his people.” (Carsten Peter Thiede, Jesus? Man Or Myth? 85-105, 378-408 (Kindle Edition); Oxford, England; Lion Books)
So, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not have the case of the Da Vinci Code. In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide another evidence that the claims of Dan Brown’s book are-as previously noted-nothing more than interesting fiction!
Well, what about the books discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt? These books were written by a religious group known as the Gnostics. These people attempted to combine pagan Greek religious belief with Christianity. Their religious books were unearthed, and are very interesting indeed.
Let’s notice some basic facts about these books as we investigate further.
“The Nag Hammadi Scriptures is a collection of thirteen papyrus codices—bound books, not scrolls—that were buried near the city of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt most likely in the second half of the fourth century CE. They had been brought together earlier in that century and then buried in a jar for safekeeping at the foot of the Jabal al-Tarif, a cliff close to the hamlet Hamra Dum. In all, there are some fifty-two tractates in the collection of Nag Hammadi codices, and since six are duplicates, there are forty-six different texts. Of these, forty-one are texts that were not previously extant, but ten are very fragmentary, so that one may say that the discovery has added about thirty-one new texts to our knowledge of religion and philosophy in antiquity. This is indeed a dramatic escalation of source material on early Christian, Neoplatonic, Hermetic, Sethian, and Valentinian thought. The precise dates of the composition of these texts are uncertain, but most are from the second and third centuries CE. All were originally written in Greek and translated into Coptic.” (Marvin W. Meyer & James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, 164-170 (Kindle Edition); HarperOne)
What is especially noteworthy about these documents is their dating.
“The earliest likely date for the Nag Hammadi scrolls is around A.D. 150 and later, when Gnosticism as a system began to flourish. This date is accepted for the Gospels of Philip and Mary.” (James L. Garlow and Peter Jones, Cracking DaVinci’s Code: You’ve Read The Fiction, Now Read The Facts, 691-695 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, CO; David C. Cook Distribution)
Please remember how the Da Vinci Code made the unfounded claim that the Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi Egypt contained the earliest Christian records. This is a flat out and easily demonstrable lie. Our earlier studied provided conclusive proof that the New Testament Scriptures predated the Council Of Nicaea, and that the New Testament canon of Scripture in our present day Bibles was known and accepted by the early church. In the same way, the reason why the Gnostic books were rejected is due primarily to their dating.
However, there is more that needs to be considered here. The Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic books shows us that the Gnostics were familiar with and accepted the New Testament canon!
Allow me to explain.
Approximately two years ago, while engaged in an intense Bible study with a friend of pagan religious persuasion, I performed an intestine study of the Gnostic books discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. I was amazed to find that the Gnostic books refer continually to the New Testament Scriptures!
Here are some examples of references I found in the Nag Hammadi library to the New Testament:
Prayer Of The Apostle Paul: 7
Secret book of James: 80
Gospel Of Truth: 46
Treatise On The Resurrection: 20
Tripartite Tractate: 38
Secret Book Of John: 8
The Gospel Of Thomas With The Greek Gospel Of Thomas: 232
The Gospel Of Philip: 45
The Nature Of The Rulers: 5
The Origin Of The World: 34
Exegesis On The Soul: 20
The Holy Book Of The Great Invisible Spirit: 5
Eugnostos The Blessed: 4
The Wisdom Of Jesus Christ: 28
The Dialogue Of The Savior: 10
The Revelation Of Paul: 4
The First Revelation Of James: 11
The Second Revelation Of James: 1
The Acts Of Peter And The Twelve Apostles: 42
Authoritative Discourse: 4
The Concept Of Our Great Power: 10
The Discourse On The Eighth And Ninth: 3
Excerpt From The Perfect Discourse: 2
The Paraphrase Of Shem: 7
The Second Discourse Of The Great Seth: 34
The Revelation Of Peter: 39
The Teachings Of Silvanius: 41
The Letter Of Peter To Philip: 32
The Testimony Of Truth: 61
The Interpretation Of Knowledge: 23
Three Forms Of First Thought: 3
The Gospel Of Mary With The Greek Gospel Of Mary: 36
The Acts Of Peter: 2
The Gospel Of Judas: 12
The Book Of Allogenes: 3
Total quotations of the New Testament from the Nag Hammadi Library: 978
Writing of how one Gnostic book (the Gospel Of Thomas) depends on the New Testament, Craig Evans notes:
“Yet Thomas parallels allels the later traditions often, as we see in the following lists: PARALLELS BETWEEN “M” AND THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS Matthew 5:10-Gospel of Thomas 69a Matthew 5:14-Gospel of Thomas 32 (= POxy. 1.7) Matthew 6:2-4-Gospel of Thomas 6, 14 (= POxy 654.6) Matthew 6:3-Gospel of Thomas 62 Matthew 7:6-Gospel of Thomas 93 Matthew 10:16-Gospel of Thomas 39 Matthew 11:30-Gospel of Thomas 90 Matthew 13:24-30-Gospel of Thomas 57 Matthew 13:44-Gospel of Thomas 109 Matthew 13:45-46-Gospel of Thomas 76 Matthew 13:47-50-Gospel of Thomas 8 Matthew 15:13-Gospel of Thomas 40 Matthew 18:20-Gospel of Thomas 30 (= POxy 1.5) Matthew 23:13-Gospel of Thomas 39, 102 (= POxy. 655.2) PARALLELS BETWEEN “L” AND THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS Luke 11:27-28 + 23:29-Gospel of Thomas 79 Luke 12:13-14-Gospel of Thomas 72 Luke 12:16-21-Gospel of Thomas 63 Luke 12:49-Gospel of Thomas 10 Luke 17:20-21-Gospel of Thomas 3 (= POxy 654.3), 113 PARALLELS BETWEEN JOHN AND THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS John 1:9-Gospel of Thomas 24 (= POxy. 655.24) John 1:14-Gospel of Thomas 28 (= POxy 1.28) John 4:13-15-Gospel of Thomas 13 John 7:32-36-Gospel of Thomas 38 (= POxy 655.38) John 8:12; 9:5-Gospel of Thomas 77 If the Gospel of Thomas really does represent an early, independent collection of material, as its advocates argue, then how do we explain the presence of so much M, L and Johannine material? The presence of this material suggests gests that Thomas has been influenced by the New Testament Gospels, not early Jesus tradition that is earlier than the New Testament Gospels.” (Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, 68-70 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; IVP Books)
All of this goes to show us that the Gnostics were familiar with the New Testament canon, and depended on it!
As McGarvey says of the Gnostic teacher named Marcion:
“His teaching demonstrates the previous general recognition of this Gospel and these ten Epistles, while his antagonism to the other Gospels and the writings in general of the other Apostles, demonstrates the existence of those. Moreover, the ground on which he rejected the latter was not their want of genuineness, but, admitting their genuineness, he denies the apostolic authority of their authors.” (J.W. McGarvey, Evidences Of Christianity, 75 (emphasis added); Indianapolis, IN: Faith And Facts Publishers)
What is more, several of the scholars who have helped to translate the Nag Hammadi scriptures have noted how the Nag Hammadi books rely on the New Testament canon (showing that the New Testament is older then the Nag Hammadi books, and was well-known and authoritative).
“This impressive composition, which adroitly chains together and inventively elaborates a series of striking images in a discourse interwoven with subtle allusions to New Testament texts, is no doubt the work of an important figure.” (Einar Thomassen & Marvin Meyer, Introduction To Gospel Of Truth, Marvin W. Meyer & James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, 33 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books)
“As Michel Tardieu suggests, the author of the tractate has utilized his source, Eugnostos, within an artificial framework borrowed from the New Testament and apocryphal literature emphasizing the revelation of Christ to his disciples after the resurrection.” (Madeleine Scpello, Introduction To The Wisdom Of Jesus Christ, inMarvin Meyer & James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, 285 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books)
“The vocabulary of the Gospel of Philip includes expressions drawn from both the New Testament and the Jewish scriptures.” (Madeline Scopello & Marvin Meyer, Introduction To Gospel Of Philip, Marvin Meyer & James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, 159 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books)
“As Michel Tardieu suggests, the author of the tractate has utilized his source, Eugnostos, within an artificial framework borrowed from the New Testament and apocryphal literature emphasizing the revelation of Christ to his disciples after the resurrection.” (Madeline Scopello & Marvin Meyer, Introduction To The Wisdom Of Jesus Christ, Marvin Meyer & James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, 285 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books)
“It is interesting that most of these reinterpretations of the Christology of the apostolic church in Three Forms of First Thought seem to depend on key passages from the Gospel of John to score their point in any acute fashion.” (John D. Turner, Introduction To Three Forms Of First Thought, in Marvin W. Meyer & James M. Robinson,The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume by Marvin W. Meyer, James M. Robinson, 713 (Kindle Edition); HarperOne)
Let’s sum up what we have learned.
First, the assertions made in the Da Vinci Code regarding textual support of the Gnostic religious texts from the Dead Seas Scrolls is false. The fact is, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide further evidence of the New Testament canon in our present day Bibles, while providing no support for the Gnostic books!
Second,, the claims that the Council Of Nicaea suppressed eighty or more “gospels” from Nag Hammadi, Egypt, are false. These books were known to the early Christians long before Nicaea and were rejected because they were written long after the New Testament Scriptures.
Third, the Gnostic books demonstrate that the Gnostics themselves were familiar with the New Testament Scriptures. They constantly referred to these books, and acknowledged that they were written by the Apostles of Jesus and their companions. This provides another evidence that the New Testament canon was well-known and seen as authoritative at least as early as the late first century A.D., and this was nearly two centuries before the Council Of Nicaea!
Fourth, it is worth mentioning again that the scholars who translated the Gnostic library from Nag Hammadi, Egypt pointed out the many ways that the Gnostic books were dependent upon the preexisting New Testament Scriptures.
The conspiracy theories regarding the Council Of Nicaea are, again, shown to be false.
In our next study of this topic, we will investigate whether or not the Council Of Nicaea invented the idea of the Deity (Godhood) of Jesus Christ.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.