Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Atheist Delusion
Many contemporary popular writers reject the first century a.d. portrait of Jesus as God, Savior, and Messiah. Instead, they proclaim Jesus as somewhat of a guru who imparted secret knowledge to His followers. This was the false Jesus of the Gnostic writings.
The Gnostic writings were rejected by the early church for numerous reasons. First, the Gnostic writings (i.e., the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, etc.) were written much too late. The earliest possible date given to some of these books is about 140 ad, over one-hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hence, they lacked apostolic authority and did not come from eyewitnesses or anyone who personally knew the eyewitnesses. Hence, the information was written far too late to contain reliable information about Jesus and His teachings.
Second, these writings were deceptive. They are often classified as pseudepigrapha because they were forgeries. The unknown authors were not the persons they claimed to be. No New Testament critic, not even the liberal critics of the Jesus Seminar, believes that these books were actually written by Judas, Thomas, Philip, or Mary Magdalene. The authors were lying; they claimed to be someone they were not.
Third, the Gnostic writings were considered heretical by the early church, and therefore could not be added to the canon. The Gnostics rejected salvation through faith in Jesus and instead taught salvation through secret knowledge. (The word “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means knowledge.) The ancient Gnostics rejected the Old Testament as an evil book written by an evil god. They taught that matter is totally evil and the spiritual realm is totally good. Since the Old Testament God created the material universe, the Gnostics deemed Him to be an evil god. Whereas biblical Christianity has always considered itself to be the completion or fulfillment of the Jewish Faith (i.e., the Old Testament), the Gnostics were opposed to the teachings of the Old Testament and the God of the Jewish Faith. Hence, the early church rejected the Gnostic writings as being heretical; these writings were not in agreement with previous revelation. Hence, as heretical works, the early church believed the Gnostic texts were not edifying for true believers. Since God inspired or guided the early church to write His Word, He also guided the early church to recognize which books belonged in the canon (i.e., the list of books which belonged in the Bible). The Gnostic writings were written too late to be authoritative records of Jesus’ ministry and life. They were heretical, and they were forgeries. There was and is no reason to include the Gnostic writings in the New Testament. The Jesus of the Gnostic writings is a false Jesus. The Gnostic Jesus is not the true Jesus of history.