The Gnostics thought they had secret, special knowledge hidden from ordinary people. Their name comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” As Christianity spread, the Gnostics mixed some doctrines and elements of Christianity into their beliefs, morphing Gnosticism into a counterfeit Christianity. Perhaps they did it to keep recruitment numbers up and make Jesus a poster child for their cause. However, for their system of thought to fit with Christianity, Jesus needed to be reinvented, stripped of both his humanity and his absolute deity.
In The Oxford History of Christianity, John McManners wrote of the Gnostics’ mixture of Christian and mythical beliefs.
Gnosticism was (and still is) a theosophy with many ingredients. Occultism and oriental mysticism became fused with astrology, magic. … They collected sayings of Jesus shaped to fit their own interpretation (as in the Gospel of Thomas), and offered their adherents an alternative or rival form of Christianity.
A mild strain of Gnostic philosophy was already growing in the first century just decades after the death of Jesus. The apostles, in their teaching and writings, went to great lengths to condemn these beliefs as being opposed to the truth of Jesus, to whom they were eyewitnesses.
When it comes to the Gnostic gospels, just about every book carries the name of a New Testament character: the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, and so on. But were they even written by their purported authors? Let’s take a look.
The Gnostic gospels are dated about 110 to 300 years after Christ, and no credible scholar believes any of them could have been written by their namesakes. In James M. Robinson’s comprehensive The Nag Hammadi Library, we learn that the Gnostic gospels were written by “largely unrelated and anonymous authors.”
New Testament scholar Norman Geisler writes, “The Gnostic writings were not written by the apostles, but by men in the second century (and later) pretending to use apostolic authority to advance their own teachings. Today we call this fraud and forgery.”
The Gnostic gospels are not historical accounts of Jesus’ life but instead are largely esoteric sayings, shrouded in mystery, leaving out historical details such as names, places, and events. This is in striking contrast to the New Testament Gospels, which contain innumerable historical facts about Jesus’ life, ministry, and words.
And most scholars concur with the early church’s view that the New Testament is the authentic history of Jesus. New Testament scholar Raymond Brown has said of the Gnostic gospels, “We learn not a single verifiable new fact about the historical Jesus’ ministry, and only a few new sayings that might possibly have been his.”
Thus, even though the Gnostic writings have impressed some scholars, their late dating and questionable authorship can’t compare with the New Testament. Such contrast between the New Testament and the Gnostic writings is devastating to those pushing conspiracy theories. New Testament historian F. F. Bruce wrote, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.”
The above post is excerpted from the Y-Jesus article, “The Gnostic Gospels: Are They the Real History of Jesus?”