Are the Gnostic Gospels useful?
Since The Gospel of Thomas, and by extension the other Gnostic gospels, is clearly not canonical, the conscientious Christian might next wonder what sort of status the Gnostic gospels should be afforded by the church body. Are they, like apocryphal books such as the Shepherd of Hermas, useful for ethical and devotional purposes? In light of the obvious conflict seen in any substantive comparison between the scattered sayings found in the Gnostic gospels and the consistent themes of the Jesus' teaching in the New Testament gospels, it is doubtful that much use can be found in the former. Two examples should suffice to illustrate the nature of these conflicts. First, the final saying in The Gospel of Thomas is decidedly misogynistic:
Simon Peter said to them, "Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life."
Jesus said, "Look, I shall guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter heaven's kingdom."
Compare this with Jesus' frequent and respectful interactions with women of his time, such as the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:6-26), and it is clear that this is an irreconcilable different in teaching. Similarly bizarre teachings are found in The Gospel of Philip, in which Jesus is said to have "[loved] her more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]."17 This Gnostic gospel dates to a time much later than even the latest estimates for the canonical gospels, and simply does not match up with the picture of Jesus found in the latter-ample reason to reject Philip as spurious.18
Gnostic Gospels - The Conclusion
Even such a brief examination of popular scholarly opinion regarding both the Gnostic gospels and the New Testament gospels reveals somewhat of a double standard. It appears that in the case of canonical gospels, especially that of John, authorship and integrity are granted grudgingly if at all. Variation in literary style or selectivity in historical information is assumed to preclude any possibility of reliability. On the other hand, gospels such as those discovered at Nag Hammadi-more recent, less well-attested, less internally consistent Gnostic gospels-are treated with the utmost charity. Pseudepigraphal attributions do no damage to credibility, and any conflict with canonical literature is understood to reveal an earlier, more authentic source. A fair treatment of these issues has hopefully provided readers with every reason to believe that the Scriptures they hold in their hands completely constitute God's special revelation.
17 Ibid., xv, quoting Robinson, 148.
18 Isenberg, 141.
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