Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ooh... MORE "Christian Gospels"?

National Geographic reports that Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World. It's funny enough to read the august publication referring to "fragments showing third- and fourth-century versions of the Book of Revelations" -- which any half-awake Sunday School student would politely correct to "Revelation." But the larger contents are more interesting.

It is about new readings from the Oxyrhynchus papyri being brought to light by the use of multi-spectral imaging. Researchers have found parts of a lost tragedy by 5th-century BC writer Sophocles, sections of a novel by Lucian, the second-century Greek writer, and a poem about pre-Trojan War happenings, by Archilochos.

Of interest to me is this: "Researchers hope to rediscover examples of lost Christian gospels which didn't make it into the New Testament...." They also "valuable new material to emerge as some gospels that weren't included in the New Testament didn't survive. 'The texts that are in the Bible were selected out of a much larger body of work that once circulated,' [research director Dirk] Obbink said. 'We have samples of that material here.'"

There has been this swell of excitement about Gnostic "gospels," to the point where some of the fringe extremists who dominate "the Jesus Seminar" use them in trying to make their very own Jesus. It's this "Jesus" that Jane Fonda seems to like so much (see below) — certainly not the Jesus who affirms the absolute divine authority of the OT retrospectively, and of the NT prospectively. Not the Jesus, specifically, who affirms wifely submission, or the inviolable value of unborn human life. Not the Jesus whose actual Lordship threatens and cancels out our imagined lordship. Not the Jesus who saves.

In other words, not the actual, historical Jesus.

Of course, this notion of previously-unknown "Christian gospels" that will change everything is a tinfoil-hat myth. There are no such gospels. Christianity has already been defined.

God moved Christ's apostles and their attendants to record and to finish His word (John 16:12-13; 1 Corinthians 13:8-10; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:1-4). The church very carefully and deliberately received and acknowledged that Word. The objective basis of the religion centered on the real Jesus is now an established fact, not a work in progress.

If the apostles didn't author or sponsor a document, and the church didn't acknowledge it, at best it may be a peripheral and helpful writing such as Augustine's Confessions, or Calvin's Institutes. But it isn't a "Christian gospel" -- as if it's fundamentally going to change the image of Jesus we have from the existing, abundantly-attested records.

I suspect that more and other than historical interest is at work here. Many of these folks have not dealt with the Jesus we already have, the real Jesus. He's too big. He's too intrusive. He acts like He thinks He's God, or something. We don't like that, because we prefer -- not usually in so many words, but functionally -- to be our own. "You shall be as gods" was the sales line, and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.

And so no doubt folks will continue to prefer scraps found in an old Egyptian trash dump to the meticulously analyzed and verified histories in the four Gospels. But it won't be scholarship that drives this preference.

It will be sinnership.

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