Monday, January 16, 2012

Why there are only four gospels

Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

So-Called Modern Discoveries of "Lost Gospels"
For the past 50 years, and most recently in the past ten years, we have been hearing news reports about the discovery of "Lost Gospels" allegedly written by Jesus' Apostles.  Titles such as "The Gospel of Thomas" and most recently "The Gospel of Judas" have been touted as lost works that should had been included in the New Testament.

The time period following the completion of the New Testament books saw an onslaught of forged writings produced under the assumed names of the Apostles.  Is it true that we have works that should had been included in the New Testament canon?  Or was it immediately recognized by Christians in the early church that the so-called "gospels" that we are hearing about today were nothing more than heretical forgeries? 

History's testimony
In the first 300 years of the church a movement arose that threatened to undermine the truth of God's Word.  That movement, called "Gnosticism" (nos-ti-sism) taught that salvation was not by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but rather through a special, mystical knowledge (a gnosis) that was attained through denial of the physical world.  Furthermore, these Gnostics emphasized communication with the angelic realm, denied the sufficiency and authority of scripture and denied that Jesus Christ physcially died on the cross. 

An early Christian leader by the name of Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote a book called "Against Heresies", wherein he describes the teachings of the Gnostics and their writings.  The fact that we have many of these "so-called" gospels in existence today enables us to examine the nature of their teachings. 

A quick survey of these "so-called" gospels
Below is a quick survey of the teachings and contents of a few of the Gnostic gospels.  Having read these works, I can tell you that they are not even in the same ball-park of authority or quality as our beloved four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)  As will be shown, they do not match with the information we find in the four biblical Gospels:

1. Gospel of Thomas - Written almost a century after the Apostles' deaths, Thomas teaches that salvation is through a mystical encounter with Jesus, rather than through faith and trust in His shed blood.  It is composed of 114 loose sayings supposedly made by Him.  There is not one mention of His crucifixion or His Lordship, teachings that are central to the four Gospels and the New Testament.

2. The Gospel of Peter - This work was written 100 years after the death of the Apostle Peter.  Not only was it not written by the Apostle Peter, but the work also suggests that Jesus did not Himself die on the cross, but rather made it appear that He did, and had Judas do it in his place!  The Gnostics denied Jesus' physical body, and thus no need for a cross.  Clearly this goes against the central teachings of the New Testament. 

We could mention other so-called gospels, however their teachings and short-comings clearly demonstrate why they were immediately rejected as scripture.  Irenaeus' work "Against Heresies" spells out in detail the work and beliefs of these Gnostics.  What makes this resource valuable is that Irenaeus was alive when all of this stuff was being written. 

So why only four Gospels, and no more?
By reading the Book of Acts and the early testimonies of Christian leaders following the days of the Apostles, we have a unified testimony of the composition and purpose behind the four Gospels.  Matthew was the first Gospel written to communicate to Jews living in Israel that Jesus Christ was their long awaited Messiah and Savior.  As you read in Acts 1-8, the church was predominately Jewish and centered in Jerusalem.

As Christianity spread, God called Saul to become Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.  From Acts 9-28 we see the Gospel mission becoming more and more focused on the Gentiles.  Paul had a close friend named Luke, who was both a medical doctor and historian.  History tells us that Luke took down the sermons of Paul and consulted eye-witness testimony of Jesus life in the composition of His Gospel (which he states in his opening in Luke 1:1-4). 

When Luke completed his Gospel, the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Peter to preach a series of messages about Jesus' life  from the Gospel of Matthew and the newly inspired Gospel of Luke.  Mark, his trusted friend, wrote them down under Divine inspiration and the Gospel of Mark was used to verify the details of Luke in comparison to Matthew. 

But now what about the emphasis upon the Deity and humanity of Christ?  The Apostle John, the same author who wrote Revelation and 1,2,3 John, wrote His Gospel in 95 A.D to supplement the material of the first three Gospels.  In John's Gospel we see details of Jesus' ministry in and around Jerusalem, as well as proofs of His deity and affirmations of His humanity. 

When taken together, these four Gospels provide a composite and complete picture of Jesus Christ.  Nothing more could be said or needed to be said.  Out of all the books of the Bible, the Four Gospels have one the strongest cases for being included in the list of inspired books.  All we can say is that when compared to the Gnostic Gospels, we discover that the Gnostic gospels are not really gospels at all, but false gospels.   

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