ALTERNATIVE GOSPELS The Deliberate Undermining of Christianity?
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The recent furor surrounding The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown, Doubleday 2003) has resurrected the religion of Gnosticism. The book that spent more than a year as the #1 bestseller on everybody's list, is a fiction work based on a compilation of ancient theories of so called Christianity. Unfortunately, these "alternative gospels" are actually convincing many readers, unfamiliar with or novices in Christ, to question the basic tenants of Christian faith: Jesus' virgin birth, Jesus as Savior, Jesus as without sin and Jesus' death and resurrection. Perhaps this should be expected. Jesus himself said that many false prophets would arise and deceive many. These theories and religions probably originated some time before Christ. They largely remained hidden to the general public until the last 50 or 60 years. A myriad of recent books, many of which formed the basis of the “The DaVinci Code” have resurrected these false doctrines now made popular by Brown's work.
In the first through third centuries, as the New Testament church was spreading the true Gospel, false doctrine was being introduced into the true Church. Several of the epistles of Paul were written to repudiate these false teachings that were leading the churches away from Paul’s teaching (see Galatians, Romans Ch. 14, 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Today it seems as if they have returned to again oppose true Christianity. Well qualified historians and theologians lend credibility to these ancient writings and stories, which presents an open door for Christians, and other religions in opposition to Christianity, to feel comfortable in adopting them for themselves. They are mystical and but not new. Paul warned against them 2000 years ago: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-40.
The Gnostics were perhaps the most powerful of the false religions operative at that time. Gnosticism is defined as:
"The doctrines of certain pre-Christian pagan, Jewish, and early Christian sects that valued the revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in humans and that distinguished the Demiurge [bad god] from the unknowable Divine Being"( American Heritage Dictionary 2004). Gnostics further equate spirituality with self-knowledge of a "higher self". They acknowledge creation as a gigantic "mistake" and blame the "lesser God" of Genesis, a demiurge, who is responsible for the evil in the world (Gnosticism: New Light, Stephan A. Hoeller, Ph.D., former Chair of Comparative Religions at College of Oriental Studies, Los Angeles).
Many of these alternative theories center around the denial of Jesus' divinity, and portraying Jesus as a mere human, generally making Him appear more relatable to an ultra-materialistic age. It seems to be much easier to see Him, not as a savior of all mankind, but as a great man, a great prophet and a wise sage whose wisdom and cryptic sayings we should follow, but who, of course, is not the Savior of the world. It seems much easier to believe that he escaped the cross, even staged his own death some sources say, so that he could live on with Mary Magdalene and procreate.
The book Mary Magdalene, Myth and Metaphor, Susan Haskins, 1993) says:
"Following a staged crucifixion, in which Jesus is either taken down from the cross or replaced by Simon of Cyrene and his ‘family” flees to France to escape from those, headed by St. Peter, who were not part of the plot and who are bent on preserving the reputation of Christ as the Messiah".
Many of these theories involve the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Allegedly, Mary M. is the so-called "Holy Grail", the "sacred feminine". Mary Magdalene is, of course, prominently portrayed in the Gospels of the canonized Bible as a devoted follower of Jesus, a disciple, one of the women (along with Mary the Mother of Jesus) who witnessed the crucifixion and the one to whom Jesus first appeared in His resurrected form. However, the alternative gospels want to portray her as a female Goddess, as the single most important disciple, and as one with whom Jesus had sexual relations, and begot a child (children) to carry on His natural bloodline.
Also, there is the proposition that the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar or some other “secret society” suppressed this so called “truth” in order to protect those in Christ’s so called bloodline. The Gnostics go so far as to point to a jealous conflict between the male disciples, mainly Peter, and Mary Magdalene as to who was the closest to Jesus. In the Gnostic gospels, Peter supposedly espoused his conviction that women didn’t belong in the Christian movement.
The Gnostics have their own Gospels that form the basis of their Secret beliefs. From the early centuries, all we knew about the Gnostic beliefs were found in the alternative Gospels of The Pistis Sophia, and bits and pieces of other writings. Much later, in 1945, a library of bound codices were discovered in Egypt, which was named the Nag Hammadi Library, which added over 60 new manuscripts to the Gnostic collection. Some of these were the Gospel of Mary [Magdalene], the Greek translation of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, alchemical writings and other ancient texts of dubious authenticity (see the Gnostic Society Library, www.gnosis.org/library.html). For instance, one contention popular to the Gnostics is that Jesus actually founded his church on Mary Magdalene, not Peter, and that the Church knew this, and their subsequent recognition of St. Peter was a great conspiratorial cover-up.
The Gospel of Mary M. contains references as to why Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples. The Gospel of Phillip describes Mary M. as a close "companion" of Jesus and that Jesus often "kissed her on the mouth".
Further, the Gospel of Phillip states:
"Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary [Magdalene] leave us, for women are not worthy of life". Jesus [then] said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too can become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who shall make herself male will enter the kingdom of God".
Another (just one) example of what these early Gnostics recognized as enlightenment is set out below.
"But it happened that after Jesus had risen from the dead he spent eleven years speaking with his disciples. And he taught them only as far as the places of the first ordinance and as far as the places of the First Mystery, which is within the veil which is within the first ordinance, which is the 24th mystery outside and below, these which are in the second space of the First Mystery, which is before all mysteries the Father in the form of a dove. And Jesus said to his disciples: "I have come forth from that First Mystery which is the last mystery, namely the 24th".
Sound doctrine? Or the most confusing "scripture" you have ever encountered! Many well-educated theologians and historians subscribe to these "Gospels", although others dismiss them for what they are: a direct attack against true Christianity by the forces of evil currently on the earth (Satan).
Many books have been written recently addressing Mary Magdalene's role as Mother of the Church, as the "Sacred Female" and the "Holy Grail" (as carrying the seed of Jesus, his bloodline). They argue that as the woman's role in the Church was gradually suppressed throughout the Dark Ages by the male dominated Catholic Church (probably true), and that Mary M. represents a rallying point for the woman to regain her lost "status". While this may be an admirable goal, the truth is that such assertions bear a decidedly feminist bent. As "evidence" for the preeminence of the woman in ancient times, Gnostic writings refer to ancient examples of exalted feminism such as Ishtar and Tamuz of ancient Babylon, as well as Isis and Osiris. Isis was known as God of Earth, Goddess of the Sky and even the Mother of the Tarot. Her twin brother Osiris died and was supposedly resurrected, allegedly a type of Christ (many scholars disbelieve the orthodox gospel on the grounds that it is just a repetition of what had already occurred before Christ with earlier saviors and women). Mary M. herself is said to have inherited several of Isis' titles such as Seat of wisdom, Star of the Sea and Queen of Heaven.
These female Goddesses went ancient sex rituals still practiced today such as the Hieros gamos, a ritual where sex is performed while others look on and chant. Supposedly, the man having sex is to "catch a glimpse of God" at orgasm. The proponents of these theories attempt to grab legitimacy by alleging that the Jews practiced many of these rites and goddess worship. As apostates God often judged them, especially Israel.
It doesn't take a spiritual genius to conclude from where these various theories originated. John put it very simply:
"Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (I John 2: 18, 20, 22).
One only has to read the Old Testament from the Book of Judges on to know how God judged his own people when they began to worship idols, such as exalting the female form above Him. It's no secret that the nations surrounding Israel in Old Testament times did not know God, and so resorted to all forms of idol worship including female worship (Ashteroth, Diana of the Greeks) and these practices were oft adopted by Israel during times of apostasy. After being judged over and over for these practices, which amount to idolatry and Satan worship, Israel was finally taken totally into exile by Babylon.
Although the DaVinci Code was an enjoyable fiction work to some others actually believe the alternative theories raised. All the follow-up research materials are listed on Brown's website, and there is a wealth of information available on the Internet. Perhaps this willingness to believe a lie is a result of the general dissatisfaction with organized religion. But we should be concerned for the new Christian, who is still vulnerable to having the sun scorch the seed that the sower planted, or to having the weeds come and choke out the Word. Paul said that he did not come with enticing words of human wisdom, to titillate the ears, but with the Spirit and with power. People love a conspiracy and they love to have their ears tickled. "Ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth" as Paul put it (2 Timothy 3:7).
Paul admonished Timothy to teach "sound doctrine" not engaging in various theories that were present, even in the first century. And as to the feminism aspect, Paul did council the women to be silent in Church, but he had lavish praise for so many women in the New Testament including Prisca, Aquila, Nympha, Lois (Timothy's mother) to name a few. The early church often met in the homes of these women, and there is evidence that women of means supported the ministries of both Jesus and Paul.
Mary Magdalene was obviously a great woman of the Lord, very close to Jesus and probably a disciple. She may have been the Mary who broke the alabaster jar over Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. She may have been the prostitute who was delivered by Jesus. But we know that, in the end, she was at the cross, when the other disciples cowered for fear of arrest (except John the Beloved). And the risen Lord spoke to her first upon his resurrection. But to exalt her as a Goddess, to deny Jesus' divinity by attributing possible sin to he and Mary, to make Mary an idol on the same level as the mythic Isis, is at the least a disservice to her and at most an outright rejection of the Savior as Savior.
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