For nearly 2,000 years, Christians all over the world have been made to believe that there are only four Gospels about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, namely: those written by the evangelists Luke, Mark, Matthew and John.
This is not true. It is now known by non-sectarian Bible scholars that there were probably as many as 60 gospels written by various disciples and followers of Jesus after his death. This is not surprising, because if any person has encountered such an awesome and extraordinary individual as Jesus, who had performed incredible miracles, he or she would surely record such encounters.
The choice of only four authentic gospels was decided by the early Church fathers of the emerging Christian religion in a series of high-level conventions, beginning at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, and culminating in the Council of Trent in 1545. All other gospels circulating at the time were considered inauthentic and heretical.
These so-called Gnostic gospels were tirelessly and vigorously denounced by Ireneus, the bishop of Lyons, France, as heresies in a five-volume opus he called “Against Heresies” around 175-185 A.D.
Catholic theologian Tertullian also joined the tirade against Gnosticism.
But it must be pointed out that calling a teaching or belief heretical does not necessarily mean it is wrong or false. It only means that the belief is contrary to, or is a deviation from, the official or authorized belief.
The great Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, was arrested and convicted in 1633 by the Holy Inquisition for holding the belief that “the Earth revolved around the Sun,” which was considered heretical and contrary to the Holy Scriptures of the Catholic Church.
It was Church doctrine at the time that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all other heavenly bodies revolved around it. It took more than 300 years for the Church to admit its error and exonerate Galileo.
The existence of other Gospels of Jesus, aside from those found in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, Matthew and John, came to light in December 1945 when an Arab peasant named Muhammad Ali al-Samman made an accidental discovery of a hidden jar inside a cave near Nag Hammadi Upper Egypt.
The jar, which he thought contained some treasure, turned out to be only 13 papyrus books bound in leather. Nevertheless, he brought the papyrus texts home in the hope that they might be of some value. Some of these ancient texts found their way to antiquities dealers, and eventually, biblical scholars, who considered their discovery to be of immense archaeological and historical value.
What Muhammad Ali discovered were the Lost or Secret teachings of Jesus, long banned by the Christian Church for being nothing more than heresies.
Scholars believed that these lost Gospels were written by members of an influential religious sect called Gnostic Christians. Gnosis is a Greek word for “knowledge.” The Gnostics believed that salvation can come only through “self-knowledge,” which leads to knowledge of God.
One does not have to go through priests and bishops advocated by the growing orthodox Christian Church, which became powerful after the Pagan Emperor, Constantine (274-337 AD), made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 381 AD.
The Gnostics claimed they were in possession of secret teachings of Jesus which the orthodox Christians have ignored, if not condemned or misinterpreted. The opening line of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, for example, states in no uncertain terms: “These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.”
This and many other passages in the Gnostic gospels raised questions: Did Jesus have a twin brother? Could these texts be authentic records of Jesus’ teachings which were not revealed to all, but only to a chosen few?
According to religious historian Dr. Elaine Pagels of Harvard, in her fascinating book, “The Gnostic Gospels contained many sayings known from the New Testaments, but other passages differed entirely from any known Christian tradition.”
For example: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you, if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” (From the Gospel of Thomas.)
Another Gospel found in the Nag Hammadi cave, the Gospel of Philip, reveals the intimate relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. Philip says they were often together and were even kissing each other in public.
The existence of secret teachings of Jesus, which were given only to a few, is not really surprising considering that even in the Church-approved canonical Gospels, Jesus said that to the few are revealed the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to the public he spoke in parables because “they have eyes, but cannot see and have ears, but cannot hear; neither do they understand.”
When the Gnostic gospels discovered in Nag Hammadi were made public, the Catholic Church’s modern Apologists and Defenders of the Faith lost no time in vehemently renouncing then as “forgeries,” without offering an iota of proof or evidence. And so, the controversy over these secret gnostic gospels goes on until today.