Results From a Discovery

There is always taking place in archaeology. Sometimes the results are quick and sometimes they appear very slowly, Here is the news on one recent discovery {do we agree with their conclusions? Hard to say, we would need more information before coming to a conclusion}

DNA Discovery of Ancient Mummies Supports Biblical Narrative of Descendants of Ham, Son of Noah

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, both in Germany, found “unexpected results” when decoding the genome of ancient Egyptians.

Their work, published online in Nature Communications, concluded that preserved remains found in Abusir-el Meleq, Middle Egypt, were the closest genetic relatives of Neolithic and Bronze Age populations from the Near East, Anatolia and Eastern Mediterranean Europeans.

“We found the ancient Egyptian samples falling distinct from modern Egyptians, and closer towards Near Eastern and European samples,” the researchers noted. “In contrast, modern Egyptians are shifted towards sub-Saharan African populations.”

The research is based on 166 samples from 151 mummified individuals in Abusir el-Meleq dating back 1,300 years of Egyptian history, from about 1388 BCE to 426 CE.

Using DNA capture techniques, the researchers “successfully obtained complete human mitochondrial genomes from 90 samples and genome-wide SNP data from three male individuals passing quality control.”

Professor Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute explained that previous DNA analysis of mummies has been treated with skepticism.

“When you touch a bone, you probably leave more DNA on the bone than is inside [it],” Krause said. “Contamination is a big issue. … Only in the last five or six years has it become possible to actually study DNA from ancient humans, because we can now show whether DNA is ancient or not by [its] chemical properties.”

He added that he expects there “will be a ton of ancient Egyptian mummy genomes [mapped] in the next couple of years,” with the research just beginning.

We suggest that you click on the link and read the whole story

Travel Bans

We interrupt our project of moving files to this website to discuss these so-called travel bans. We are not going to talk about Trump’s idea as that is on a different level and for different reasons has been created. We are going to talk about the State sponsored travel bans that seem to be getting a foothold in society today.

It is obvious that both New York and California do not heed to scriptural guidance when they implemented their travel bans.  It is equally obvious that those states do not follow ‘Do unto others a you want to be treated’ (paraphrase). They would prefer that when they put into law actions other states deem to be racial, discriminatory or whatever, then they will be on the receiving end of travel bans.  New York and California both do not subscribe to ‘returning good for evil’ and so many other scriptural instructions that are meant to heal and unite not incite and divide.


We understand Trump’s travel ban and the reasoning behind it. The safety of the American people has to be considered when allowing people from another nation to visit the American nation.  That reasoning is substantial whereas the reasons behind the travel bans enacted by both New York and California do not hold such ideals. Instead, their reasoning is founded upon bullying other states into doing what both New York & California already do–call evil good and good evil. The reasoning behind the States’ travel bans are not legitimate for it denies individual States f their right to freely choose how people will behave within their borders. Both California and New York are telling those States that they must abide by the personal feelings they possess and are not allowed self-determination.

This is not right.  Nor is it being a good neighbor, which is another biblical instruction those two States ignore. They are to live peaceably with their neighbors but bullying the others tells us that neither New York nor California want to live peaceably but want to dictate to other States a course of action that the latter may not agree with.The travel bans also tell us that those two States did not pick the higher road but use the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism to intimidate other States who have taken the higher road.

To be considered progressive and inclusive does not mean that one allows evil and sinful practices to dominate the landscape.  The real definitions of those ideas means that all people and their views and rights are included in the discussion and not trampled over in the haste to appease a minute minority of people. There is nothing normal or right about homosexuality or transgender feelings and they should not be accepted by any facet of society. The idea that both New York and California get to act in a parental manner and are allowed to discipline other States for their failure to follow in the footsteps of both New York and California. Those two states are over-stepping their boundaries and interfering with the freedoms other States are supposed to enjoy. It seems that those two States want to be dictators instead of minding their own business, making sure that their rules and laws comply with biblical instructions

Then the idea that traveling to another State that has different laws or regulations you disagree with is supporting discrimination,etc., is just ridiculous. It is founded on nothing but personal bias and employs a reverse discrimination. Battling supposed discrimination by using discrimination never works. The rise of this misleading thinking is the result of the dismissal of sin and how God categorizes sin. Unbelieving humans think they know better than God and they abolish God’s standards and institute their own inferior standards. All this does is allow sin and corruption to taint, corrupt and ruin paradise and life. What those two States are trying to avoid is the exact thing they are implementing.

Travel bans do not work. ALl they do is make the State adopting them look foolish, like a bully and out of touch with reality.

The Nag Hammadi Library


As you will read, the Nag Hammadi library is a set of Gnostic books discovered in 1945 by an amateur who used it as fire wood at first. You will note that most of the significant archaeological discoveries are usually done by amateurs and not professional archaeologists. The Dead Sea Scrolls was such a discovery.

There is no biblical book found amongst this library and none of these works are ‘lost’ gospels or epistles. The books that comprise this library are the ancient equivalent to modern false teachings such as prosperity gospel works or Dianetics or even Jehovah Witness tracts and so on. There is nothing in these books that reveal anything about Jesus or Christianity.

What their existence does reveal is that the ancient world was filled with people who rejected the truth and altered it to fit what they want to believe—just like today.

Again, what follows are simply excerpts on this library and Gnosticism itself.

#1. Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (pp. 520–521). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Nag Hammadi Gospels. Some radical critics of the New Testament (see BIBLE CRITICISM) claim that the Gnostic gospels are equal to those in the New Testament, and that they do not support the resurrection of Christ (see MIRACLE; RESURRECTION, EVIDENCE FOR). The Jesus Seminar places The Gospel of Thomas in their otherwise severely truncated Bible. Both of these conclusions are a serious challenge to the historic Christian Faith.

The Gnostic gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, near Cairo in 1945 and translated into English in 1977. The Gospel of Thomas (140–170) has 114 secret sayings of Jesus.

Credibility of the Gnostic Gospels. The best way to evaluate the credibility of these gospels is by comparison to the New Testament Gospels, which the same critics have grave doubts about accepting (see NEW TESTAMENT, HISTORICITY OF; NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS). Against the canonical gospels, the Gnostic gospels come up seriously short.

Late Writings. The attested dates for the canonical Gospels are no later than 60–100 (see NEW TESTAMENT, DATING OF). Gnostic gospels appeared nearly a century later. O. C. Edwards asserts “As historical reconstructions there is no way that the two can claim equal credentials” (Edwards, 27).

Historical Worth. The earliest Christians meticulously preserved Jesus’ words and deeds. The Gospel writers were close to the eyewitnesses and pursued the facts (cf. Luke 1:1–4). There is evidence that the Gospel writers were honest reporters. They also present the same overall picture of Jesus.

Beyond the New Testament, canonical lists support the existence of a New Testament canon (see Geisler and Nix, 294). Indeed, all the Gospels and Paul’s basic Epistles are represented on these lists.

Even the heretical canon of Marcion (ca. 140) accepted the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s Epistles.

Support of Church Fathers. A common body of books was cited by Fathers in the second century. This includes the six books crucial to the historicity of Christ and his resurrection, the Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. Clement of Rome cited the Gospels in 95 (Corinthians, 13, 42, 46). Ignatius (ca. 110–115) quoted Luke 24:39 (Smyrnaeans 3). Polycarp (ca. 115) cites all Synoptic Gospels (Philippians 2, 7). The Didache (early second century) cites the Synoptic Gospels (1, 3, 8, 9, 15–16). The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 135) cites Matthew 22:14. Papias (Oracles, ca. 125–140) speaks of Matthew, Mark (chronicling Peter), and John (last) who wrote Gospels. He says three times that Mark made no errors. The Fathers considered the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles to be on par with the inspired Old Testament (cf. Clement’s Corinthians [47]; Ignatius’s Ephesians [10]; To Polycarp [1, 5]; and Polycarp’s Philippians [1, 3–4, 6, 12]).

The Fathers vouched for the accuracy of canonical Gospels in early second century. This is long before gnostic gospels were written in the late second century.

Gnostic Resurrection Accounts. There is no real evidence that the so-called “Q” (Quelle, source) document posited by the critics ever existed (see Linneman; see Q DOCUMENT). It is an imaginary reconstruction, so the allegation that it has nothing about the resurrection is pointless.

The Gospel of Thomas does exist, even though it is from the late second century. Nonetheless, contrary to the critics who support this composition, it acknowledges Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, it is the living, post-death (34:25–27; 45:1–16) Christ who allegedly speaks in it. True, it does not stress the resurrection, but this is to be expected because it is primarily a “sayings” source, rather than a historical narration. Further, the Gnostic theological bias against matter would downplay bodily resurrection.

Conclusion. The evidence for the authenticity of the Gnostic gospels does not compare with that for the New Testament. The New Testament is a first-century book. The Gospel of Thomas is a mid-second-century book. The New Testament is verified by numerous lines of evidence, including other references in the New Testament, early canonical lists, thousands of citations by the early Fathers, and the established earlier dates for the Gospels.

#2. Klippenstein, R. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Bible Background Literature. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

Nag Hammadi Codices and Related Codices

Thirteen papyrus codices found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt contain texts that mostly appear to be associated with Gnosticism (which was considered a heresy by the church fathers). Most surviving gnostic texts belong to this collection, but a few other gnostic codices are also known; these include some of the same texts found at Nag Hammadi and some other texts.

The Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of writings associated with the deity Hermes Trismegistos, provides an example of Hellenistic syncretistic religion, which combines elements from different cultures, including Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian elements. Some texts from the Corpus Hermeticum were found at Nag Hammadi alongside the gnostic texts found there

Catalog by Relation to Broader Viewpoints

The Nag Hammadi texts may also be categorized according to the broader viewpoints they reflect. These categories are broadly based on how the early church fathers described the various sects of Gnosticism (for further details about particulars of each group, see the articles on each text, cataloged above). Any cataloging of the Nag Hammadi texts is difficult, since the viewpoints of Gnosticism are so broad, and the categorization can often only be based on internal evidence within the texts. With these caveats in mind, the categorization of Nag Hammadi texts by influence (or belief set that seems to be represented) is as follows.

Primarily Sethian Gnosticism Influenced Texts

The Nag Hammadi texts influenced by Sethian Gnosticism are as follows:

• Apocryphon of John

• Gospel of the Egyptians

• Apocalypse of Adam

• Three Steles of Seth

• Zostrianos

• Thought of Norea

• Marsanes

• Allogenes

• Hypsiphrone

• Trimorphic Protennoia

Primarily Valentinian Gnosticism Influenced Texts

The Nag Hammadi texts influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism are as follows:

• Prayer of the Apostle Paul

• Gospel of Truth

• Treatise on the Resurrection

• Tripartite Tractate

• Gospel of Philip

• First Apocalypse of James

• Interpretation of Knowledge

• Valentinian Exposition and its Five Subtractates (Demonstrates divergent views among Valentinian Gnosticism)

Other Gnostic Texts

The other gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi, that do not distinctly fit into Valentinian or Sethian, categories are as follows. This is not to suggest that these texts could not have been used by Valentinian or Sethian gnostics or do not reflect some of their viewpoints; they just do not display the distinct characteristics of either of these groups:

• Apocryphon of James (possibly a more conservative strand of gnosticism)

• Hypostasis of the Archons

• On the Origin of the World

• Exegesis on the Soul

• Book of Thomas the Contender

• Sophia of Jesus Christ

• Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul

• Second Apocalypse of James

• Authoritative Teaching

• Concept of Our Great Power

• Second Treatise of the Great Seth

• Apocalypse of Peter (also Docetist in its viewpoint)

• Letter of Peter to Philip

Texts Not Distinctly (or Traditionally) Gnostic, but Related to Gnostic Ideas

Some of the Nag Hammadi texts show ideas related to Gnosticism, but either disagree with traditional Gnosticism in places or do not demonstrably show fully formed Gnosticism. This could be because these works do not share the entire viewpoint of Gnosticism, and thus only hold to Gnosticism in part, or because in original composition they predate fully formed Gnosticism and thus show a type of forming Gnosticism. The Nag Hammadi texts that are not distinctly or traditionally gnostic, but still related to gnostic ideas are as follows:

• Gospel of Thomas

• Eugnostos the Blessed

• Dialogue of the Savior

• Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles

• Melchizedek

• Testimony of Truth

Other Texts (Philosophical, Hermetic, or Uncategorized)

The remaining Nag Hammadi texts, not classified above, are primarily philosophical or Hermetic in nature, but some defy traditional classification altogether. The texts placed into this category generally do not show explicit gnostic influence, with the exception of the philosophical work Plato’s Republic; the Coptic fragment may have been altered to reflect gnostic thought. The remaining texts not classified above are as follows:

• Thunder: Perfect Mind (Uncategorizable)

• Coptic Plato’s Republic Fragment (Philosophical)

• Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

• Prayer of Thanksgiving (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

• Asclepius 21–29 (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

• Paraphrase of Shem (Uncategorizable)

• Teachings of Silvanus (Uncategorizable)

• Sentences of Sextus (Uncategorizable)

• Fragments from Codex XII (Uncategorizable)

Relationship of the Various Nag Hammadi Texts

As the various classifications of the Nag Hammadi texts shows, there is something odd about these texts being grouped together. This is especially the case when the viewpoints from various texts within one codex appear to be in disagreement (or from a different line of thought) than those within the same codex; these apparent contradictions also occur within the smaller collections of codices that Robinson specifies. Whether the Nag Hammadi texts represent simply a type of broader gnostic library (as they are sometimes called), or whether they actually represent texts used by one group of gnostics, remains a mystery. It is also a possiblity that these texts really were in separate graves (as Doresse suggests [Goodacre, “Nag Hammadi Discovery,” 315]), but even if this is the case, the disagreements between texts within the same codices must be explained. If one group were to use these texts (or even particular individual codices) not just academically, but religiously, then they would have dealt with inherit contradictions among their own writings, which may fit with what some church fathers note about Gnosticism in general: its diverse and at times contradictory due to its developing mythologies and so-called revelations (e.g., Irenaeus, Haer. 1.21).


Many essentially Gnostic notions received wide attention through the sagacious persona of the recently deceased Joseph Campbell in the television series and best-selling book, The Power of Myth. For example, in discussing the idea that “God was in Christ,” Campbell affirmed that “the basic Gnostic and Buddhist idea is that that is true of you and me as well.” Jesus is an enlightened example who “realized in himself that he and what he called the Father were one, and he lived out of that knowledge of the Christhood of his nature.” According to Campbell, anyone can likewise live out his or her Christ nature.1

Gnosticism has come to mean just about anything. Calling someone a Gnostic can make the person either blush, beam, or fume. Whether used as an epithet for heresy or spiritual snobbery, or as a compliment for spiritual knowledge and esotericism, Gnosticism remains a cornucopia of controversy.

In December 1945, while digging for soil to fertilize crops, an Arab peasant named Muhammad ‘Ali found a red earthenware jar near Nag Hammadi, a city in upper Egypt. His fear of uncorking an evil spirit or jin was shortly overcome by the hope of finding gold within. What was found has been for hundreds of scholars far more precious than gold. Inside the jar were thirteen leather-bound papyrus books (codices), dating from approximately A.D. 350. Although several of the texts were burned or thrown out, fifty-two texts were eventually recovered through many years of intrigue involving illegal sales, violence, smuggling, and academic rivalry.

Some of the texts were first published singly or in small collections, but the complete collection was not made available in a popular format in English until 1977. It was released as The Nag Hammadi Library and was reissued in revised form in 1988.

Although many of these documents had been referred to and denounced in the writings of early church theologians such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, most of the texts themselves had been thought to be extinct. Now many of them have come to light. As Elaine Pagels put it in her best-selling book, The Gnostic Gospels, “Now for the first time, we have the opportunity to find out about the earliest Christian heresy; for the first time, the heretics can speak for themselves.”8

nosticism in general and the Nag Hammadi texts in particular present a spectrum of beliefs, although a central philosophical core is roughly discernible, which Gnosticism scholar Kurt Rudolph calls “the central myth.”9 Gnosticism teaches that something is desperately wrong with the universe and then delineates the means to explain and rectify the situation.

The universe, as presently constituted, is not good, nor was it created by an all-good God. Rather, a lesser god, or demiurge (as he is sometimes called), fashioned the world in ignorance. The Gospel of Philip says that “the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.”10 The origin of the demiurge or offending creator is variously explained, but the upshot is that some precosmic disruption in the chain of beings emanating from the unknowable Father-God resulted in the “fall out” of a substandard deity with less than impeccable credentials. The result was a material cosmos soaked with ignorance, pain, decay, and death — a botched job, to be sure. This deity, nevertheless, despotically demands worship and even pretentiously proclaims his supremacy as the one true God.

This creator-god is not the ultimate reality, but rather a degeneration of the unknown and unknowable fullness of Being (or pleroma). Yet, human beings — or at least some of them — are in the position potentially to transcend their imposed limitations, even if the cosmic deck is stacked against them. Locked within the material shell of the human race is the spark of this highest spiritual reality which (as one Gnostic theory held) the inept creator accidently infused into humanity at the creation — on the order of a drunken jeweler who accidently mixes gold dust into junk metal. Simply put, spirit is good and desirable; matter is evil and detestable.

By inspecting a few of the Nag Hammadi texts, we encounter Gnosticism in Christian guise: Jesus dispenses gnosis to awaken those trapped in ignorance; the body is a prison, and the spirit alone is good; and salvation comes by discovering the “kingdom of God” within the self.

One of the first Nag Hammadi texts to be extricated out of Egypt and translated into Western tongues was the Gospel of Thomas, comprised of one hundred and fourteen alleged sayings of Jesus. Although scholars do not believe it was actually written by the apostle Thomas, it has received the lion’s share of scholarly attention. The sayings of Jesus are given minimal narrative setting, are not thematically arranged, and have a cryptic, epigrammatic bite to them. Although Thomas does not articulate every aspect of a full-blown Gnostic system, some of the teachings attributed to Jesus fit the Gnostic pattern. (Other sayings closely parallel or duplicate material found in the synoptic Gospels.)

The text begins: “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, ‘Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.'”11 Already we find the emphasis on secret knowledge (gnosis) as redemptive.

#4. Strange Fire: The Rise of Gnosticism in the Church by Travers and Jewel van der Merwe

It is frightening to realise that beliefs can be created merely by passively accepting information without attempting to analyse if what is preached or taught is truth! Unfortunately today much depends on the personality delivering the message. If it is a charismatic figure with a certain appeal, he/she can say anything they want and get away with it! The only criteria for truth seems to be if a book has been published and sold many copies, the author must be right.

This is why the knowledge of the Word of God is so important. It is not enough to parrot off someone else’s teaching and sound like a great name in miniature. Any man can lead you astray – no matter how nice or how spiritual he sounds. You have to stand before God yourself! The Word of God says explicitly, Study to show thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. (1 Tim.2:15). Listening to hours and hours of tapes or watching “Christian TV” is not a substitute for honest and earnest study of the Word of God. Be like the Bereans who checked out everything they heard to see if those things were so. (Acts 17:10-11). They were commended for doing so – not told they were divisive, critics, fault-finders and “heresy hunters”.

An astonishing event was an outburst by Paul Crouch on the world’s largest Christian TV network as he denounced anyone who would speak out for sound doctrine and against the “gnostic” trends in the church today.

Gnosticism was an esoteric religious movement that flourished during the second and third century A.D. and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostic sects professed Christianity but their beliefs sharply diverged from those of Christianity in the early Church. To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from this transcendent realm into the material universe, which is wholly evil, and were imprisoned in human bodies. Re-awakened by knowledge, the divine element in humanity can return to its proper home in the transcendental spiritual realm. [Gnosticism, Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, Vol.12, p.10]

The definition of Gnosticism is “a system of religion mixed with Greek and Oriental philosophy (1st-6th century A.D.), intermediate between Christianity and paganism, which taught that knowledge, rather than faith, was the greatest good, and that through knowledge alone could salvation be attained.” [Webster’s Encyclopedia of Dictionaries; Baltimore, Maryland, Ottenheimer, 1978]. Basically what is being said here implies that man’s redemption and justification is not by faith in God according to the Scriptures, but rather in “mystical knowledge” acquired by a personal experience. This is the theme that is intrinsically intertwined in all the doctrines of the cults and occults.

The issues at stake are serious. It is not merely a “cosmetic” problem. The “roots” are not only being threatened, they are being “chopped off”. As this dreadful surgery is being carried out, the life is slowly sapped and in its place is another gospel. This is a gospel that puts man on the throne. A gospel that does not need the cross, the blood or even acknowledge the deity of Jesus Christ.


Based on: God’s Word.

Acknowledges: Deith of Jesus Christ.

Believes: Man is basically sinful, and only GOD can correct the evil in him.

Gives glory to: GOD

God: Believe in a PERSONAL GOD who is all good.

Salvation: Spiritual rebirth that takes place when an individual chooses to believe by faith the DEITY of JESUS CHRIST, recognises the SIN in his life and chooses to follow Christ and turn from his sin according to the Scriptures.

Faith based on: The Word of God.

The Answer: Jesus Christ – according to the Scriptures.

Christ: Jesus Christ, the one and only fully God and fully man.

The Bible: NOTHING should be added and NOTHING should be taken away from the Bible. It is the COMPLETE WORD OF GOD. Interpreted literally and the literal meaning received.

Commitment: To the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.


Based on: Man’s word.

Acknowledges: Deith of man.

Believes: Man is good and getting better.

Gives glory to: Self

God: Belief in God or a great force or energy or One Mind. An impersonal God with both good and bad.

Salvation: Spiritual awakening that comes when an individual experiences “his own divinity”.

Faith based on: Experience.

The Answer: Finding the “self” or “god” within and striving with “works”.

Christ: A position of status held by all deserving members. Arrived at by “self”, “experience” and “works”.

The Bible: They pick and choose Scriptures to suit their purposes. They say the Scriptures can be “interpreted” in many different ways. Spiritualised to say whatever they want.

Commitment: To self – or God through a passive or emotional experiential form of religion.

“Mysticism is the idea that direct knowledge of God or ultimate reality is achieved through personal, subjective intuition or experience apart from, or even contrary to, historyical fact or objective divine revelation.” Arthur Johnson, a professor at West Texas State University, elaborates:

When we speak of a mystical experience we refer to an event that is completely within the person. It is totally subjective . . . Although the mystic may experience it as having been triggered by occurrences or objects outside himself (like a sunset, a piece of music, a religious ceremony, or even a sex act), the mystical experience is a totally inner event. It contains no essential aspects that exist externally to him in the physical world . . . A mystical experience is primarily an emotive event, rather than a cognitive one . . . Its predominant qualities have more to do with emotional intensity, or ‘feeling tone’ than with facts evaluated and understood rationally. Although this is true, it alone is a woefully inadequate way of describing the mystical experience. The force of the experience is often so overwhelming that the person having it finds his entire life changed by it. Mere emotions cannot effect such transformations.

Furthermore, it is from this emotional quality that another characteristic results, namely, its ‘self-authenticating’ nature. The mystic rarely questions the goodness and value of his experience. Consequently, if he describes it as giving him information, he rarely questions the truth of his newly gained “knowledge”. It is this claim that mystical experiences are “ways of knowing” truth that is vital to understanding many religious movements we see today. [Our Sufficiency in Christ, John MacArthur, Jr., Word Publishing, 1991]

The concept of Gnosticism is at the heart of Rosicrucianism, New Age thought and Manifest Sons of God teachings. By Christian orthodox definition the core of these thoughts (inner mystic knowledge) and beliefs are occultic. In varying degrees this thinking has and is infiltrating the church at an alarming rate. The Pentecostals and Charismatics are not exempt. The most common characteristic is an “elitise” mentality.

The Gnostic believes it is wrong to use only the Bible to interpret the Bible. Besides the Bible they believe there are additional inspired manuscripts and books on a par with the Bible and hearing the Voice of God apart from the Scriptures. A Rosicrucian writer neatly puts it:

In order to obtain a satisfactory comprehension of Bible teachings, it is essential to give careful consideration to its symbolic, allegorical and mystic elements. The student and interpreter must learn to consult the vast library of Legend, symbol and myth as faithfully and as accurately as he would resort to a Lexicon of Hebrew and Greek terms and radicals. These elements – symbolic, allegorical and mystic . . . are skillful devices for concealing yet half-revealing the deepest truth. [The Sons of God: A Foreshadowing of the Coming World of the Messenger of the New Age, R. Swinburne Clymer. The Philosophical Pub.Co., Quakerstown, PA, 1923]

Preaching today is filled with allegory. Symbolism has replaced substance and in the modern day “prophetic” movement it is revelation apart from the Scriptures

#5. 1979). Biblical Archaeologist, 42.

Getting the Nag Hammadi Library into English by James M. Robinson

Robinson traces the historical sequence of the Nag Hammadi codices as they passed through various international committees before they were finally translated into English and published.

During the first years after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 French scholarship took the lead in efforts to publish it. This was under the patronage of étienne Drioton, the French Director of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, and his former pupil from Paris days, the Copt Togo Mina, who had become the Director of the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. Yet in the first decade none of the texts actually were published. Indeed, in 1960 Gerard Garitte of Louvain wrote in Le Muséon:

So fifteen years after the discovery only forty-eight of the some thousand pages that the manuscripts of Chenoboskion contain have been published in the original language: twenty-seven of the so-called Gospel of Truth … , twenty of the Gospel of Thomas, one of the tractate on the origin of the world.… At this tempo, it would take three centuries for all the texts to be edited.

The second decade saw a shift in favor of German scholarship. This was due to a number of factors. Togo Mina died in 1949 and was succeeded by Pahor Labib, who held a degree from Berlin. After the Egyptian revolution of 1952 the Department of Antiquities was reorganized under local Egyptian leadership. Finally, the Suez crisis of 1956 led to a breaking of diplomatic ties with France and the closing of the French Institute in Cairo for a number of years. By 1970 34% of the library had been published in German or French, but only 21% in English. Though the tempo was improving, the fact that within the first quarter of a century since the discovery only a third had been published at all—only a fifth in English—left much to be desired. The present essay traces the steps taken through the intermediary of UNESCO leading to the availability of all the texts in the first ten volumes of The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices and a complete one-volume English translation in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, both presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in December 1977 at San Francisco.

An International Committee had been convened at the Coptic Museum in Cairo in 1956 but did not produce effective publication plans and was not reconvened after the Suez crisis. Hence UNESCO intervened to overcome the impasse. In 1961 René Maheu, General Director of UNESCO, and Saroit Okacha, Minister of Culture and National Guidance of the United Arab Republic, launched a plan to name a “committee of translation and publication of the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi.” On 28 April 1961 N. Bammate, Chief of the Section of Human Sciences at UNESCO, invited Walter Till and another specialist yet to be designated to join with the Director of the Coptic Museum, Pahor Labib, on a month-long “technical mission” to make an inventory of the library, preferably in September 1961, in view of a meeting of the committee planned for November 1961 and the launching of the project “at the beginning of 1962.” Unfortunately, Till’s deteriorating health made such a trip impossible. But this Preliminary Committee, consisting of Pahor Labib as Chairman with Martin Krause and Michel Malinine, met in Cairo 9–30 October 1961. They submitted the first part of their report on 4 November 1961. Meanwhile an International Committee, to be created by a decree of the government of the United Arab Republic, was being nominated by UNESCO. By 20 October 1961 Gerard Garitte, Antoine Guillaumont, Martin Krause, Gilles Quispel, and Torgny Säve-Söderbergh had accepted, while the acceptance of Richard A. Parker was awaited. Henri-Charles Pucch and Walter Till had been proposed as Consultants for the Committee. The first meeting, of a week’s duration, was scheduled for the end of November or December 1961. By 22 November the date was deferred to “the first months of 1962.

#6. Barry, J. D., & Krause, M. S. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Nag Hammadi Codices. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Codices and Their Content

The titles of the Nag Hammadi texts are not consistent across various editions and translations, but most scholars recognize the titles used by Robinson in The Nag Hammadi Library. The list below presents the content of the 13 codices according to Robinson’s titles; it also gives each text’s numerical designation (e.g., “I,2,” indicating the second tractate of the first codex) and common abbreviation (e.g., “Ap. Jas.”). For additional study, see Craig Evans’ list of texts, translations, and commentaries on the Nag Hammadi texts (Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, 280–84).

Codex 1

Codex 1 is also known as the Jung Codex and includes five texts, which are as follows.

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul (I,1; Pr. Paul). This short pseudonymous prayer is written on the flyleaf of Codex 1. It has gnostic language, such as references to the “archon ear” and the “Psychic God.” This work is classified as an example of Valentinian Gnosticism.

The Apocryphon of James (I,2; Ap. Jas.). A supposed “secret message” (apocryphon) given to James and Peter by Jesus 550 days after the resurrection; presented as a pseudonymous letter written by James that claims to have been originally in Hebrew. This work may have belonged to a more conservative strand of Gnosticism.

The Gospel of Truth (I,3; Gos. Truth). This text is also found in Codex 12 (XII.2). This is not a “gospel” like the narratives of the New Testament, but rather a self-identified “Gospel of Truth”—an exposition of gnostic teaching and viewpoints on Jesus. This work seems to be a gnostic sermon with Valentinian influence, which fits with church father Irenaeus’ remark that either a disciple of Valentinus or Valentinus himself wrote the work. Irenaeus’ mention of Gospel of Truth in his work against heresies indicates that he viewed it as heretical (see Haer. 3.11.9).

The Treatise on the Resurrection (I,4; Treat. Res.). This work is a discussion on the nature of the resurrection according to a gnostic viewpoint; it departs from the New Testament’s view of resurrection, and interprets resurrection in light of its own mythological, gnostic viewpoint. It claims to be teaching received from Jesus. This work is influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism, but departs from Valentinian thought at several points, showing the viewpoint of some other form of Gnosticism that is difficult to classify.

The Tripartite Tractate (I,5; Tri. Trac.). The longest of the Nag Hammadi texts, this is an exposition of gnostic theology/philosophy in three parts: the origin of all things as emanations from God; an interpretation of Genesis 1–3 based on this explanation; and an interpretation of salvation through Christ according to this way of thinking. This work is classified as an example of Valentinian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Prayer of the Apostle Paul; Apocryphon of James; Gospel of Truth; Treatise on the Resurrection; Tripartite Tractate.

Codex 2

Codex 2 is made up of seven texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (II,1; Ap. John). This work is also found in Codex 3 (III,1), Codex 4 (IV,1), and the Berlin Codex. The Codex 2 and Codex 4 copies are known as the longer form version. Apocryphon of John describes a pseudonymous, “secret message” from the risen Christ to the Apostle John; this message is a gnostic exposition of the creation, fall, and salvation of humanity. It is particularly concerned with the question of theodicy. The Apocryphon of John is an example of Sethian Gnosticism. Premises of the Apocryphon of John were used by church father Irenaeus to oppose Gnosticism; if he knew of the work, Irenaeus viewed it as heretical (Haer. 1.29).

The Gospel of Thomas (II,2; Gos. Thom.). This is the most famous of the Nag Hammadi texts, having received thousands of pages of analysis and comparison to the canonical Gospels. Three Greek fragments of Gospel of Thomas (POxy 1, 654, and 655) were also discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, prior to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices; only after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas were the Greek fragments identified as being from the Gospel of Thomas.

The pseudonymous Gospel of Thomas is presented as “secret sayings” of Jesus preserved by the Apostle Thomas the Twin (Didymos). The sayings could contain some authentic Jesus-material not preserved in the New Testament, but there is at times a gnostic orientation to the sayings—a cryptic flavor pointing to supposed superior wisdom and understanding as the key to Jesus’ teachings. The tractate ends with a brief narrative involving a question of Peter about Mary Magdalene that seems to elevate her status to one of the favored disciples of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas was deemed heretical, unapproved, or false by early church fathers (Hippolytus of Rome, Haer., 5.2; Origen, Hom. Luc., 1; Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.25.6).

The Gospel of Philip (II,3; Gos. Phil.). Primarily a collection of sayings of Jesus, this tractate has some narrative material, although it is not presented as a coherent whole. The pseudonymous Gospel of Philip portrays Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ “companion” (which could mean a range of things, from business partner to romantic interest). The text also purports that Jesus “used to often kiss her,” but where he kissed Mary (e.g., mouth, cheek, head) is not described due to the damaged nature of the manuscript at this point; the kiss could be interpreted as a kiss of greeting. The Gospel of Philip reflects the viewpoints of Valentinian Gnosticism.

The Hypostasis of the Archons (II,4; Hyp. Arch.). Presented as a revelation from the supposed angel Eleleth, this is a gnostic version of the events of Genesis 1–6. It shows familiarity with Jewish traditions and the writings of Paul, but its interpretation on these matters is also decidedly gnostic. This work parallels viewpoints present in On the Origin of the World.

On the Origin of the World (II,5; Orig. World). This work is also found in Codex 13 (XIII,2) and contained in a fragment from the British Museum (labelled Or 4926 [1]). On the Origin of the World is a presentation of gnostic cosmogony, including the creation of humankind by “archons” and the ordering of heaven. It includes teaching on the end times, using apocalyptic language in some places. The key figure in the account is the gnostic character Pistis Sophia. On the Origin of the World represents the traditional gnostic creation myth.

The Exegesis on the Soul (II,6; Exeg. Soul). A likely gnostic treatise that claims to explain the descent of the “soul” from heaven. The soul is presented as a female character (having a “womb”) who undergoes many indignities on Earth before being purified and married to her fiancée. The text also describes what the author views as essential for the soul to ascend again to heaven.

The Book of Thomas the Contender (II,7; Thom. Cont.). This likely gnostic work is presented as a secret conversation between the Apostle Thomas and the risen Jesus shortly before the ascension. The text pseudonymously claims this conversation was recorded by “Mathaias,” but it is not clear whether this is Matthew, the Matthias of Acts 1, or another Mathaias. In the work, Thomas is identified as Jesus’ brother and twin. The work exhorts the reader to an ascetic life, warning Thomas not to be “polluted” by intercourse with women.

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of Thomas; Gospel of Thomas, Critical Issues; Gospel of Philip; Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; Exegesis on the Soul; Thomas the Contender, Book of.

Codex 3

Codex 3 includes five texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (III,1; Ap. John). This version of the pseudonymous Apocryphon of John is known as the shorter form; a copy of this shorter version is also contained in Coptic Berlin Papyrus 8502. The shorter version does not contain the longer citation from the Book of Zoroaster or the final monologue, both of which are contained in the longer form version in Nag Hammadi Codex 2 and Codex 4 copies.

The Gospel of the Egyptians (III,2; Gos. Eg.). This work is also found in Codex 4 (IV,2). This is a mysterious, almost liturgical presentation of gnostic understandings of the origin of the “elect” gnostic people. The work claims three powers came from the “aeon of the aeons”: Father, Mother, and Son. Much of the work is a presentation of the origin of Seth, son of Adam, who is seen as a savior for humankind. The author (Gongessos) makes the pseudonymous claim that the text was originally written by Seth and hidden in the high mountains. This work fits into the category of Sethian Gnosticism. (This gnostic Gospel of the Egyptians is not to be confused with a different work bearing the same name.)

Eugnostos the Blessed (III,3; Eugnostos). This philosophical work is also found in Codex 5 (V,1). Eugnostos is the name of the teacher and supposed author of this tractate, which seeks to explain various aspects of the cosmology of the hidden world. This tractate does not seem to bear Christian influence and may belong to the era when Gnosticism was emerging; Eugnostos is textually related to the tractate which follows it in Codex 3, the Sophia of Jesus Christ.

The Sophia of Jesus Christ (III,4; Soph. Jes. Chr.). This gnostic work is also found in the Berlin Codex 8502 and a small fragment (POxy 1081). Sophia may be based on Eugnostos: it seems to use its cosmology and themes. It also purports to present the risen Christ appearing in a spiritual way to enlighten select disciples. Those named are Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, Philip, and Mary, who seem to receive these secret teachings (not Peter, John, or James).

The Dialogue of the Savior (III,5; Dial. Sav.). This tractate has many lacunae, so that much of its translation involves speculation or interpolation. It purports to contain a dialogue containing secret teachings between the “Savior” (never named as Jesus) and his chosen disciples: Judas, Matthew, and Mary. The text contains some gnostic elements, but unlike traditional Gnosticism, “the Father,” not a demiurge, creates the world.

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of the Egyptians, Gnostic; Eugnostos; Sophia of Jesus Christ; Dialogue of the Savior.

Codex 4

Codex 4 contains two texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (IV,1; Ap. John). This longer version of the Apocryphon of John is also included in Codex 2 (see above).

The Gospel of the Egyptians (IV,2; Gos. Eg.). This work is also included in Codex 3 (see above).

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of the Egyptians, Gnostic.

Codex 5

Codex 5 contains five texts, which are as follows.

Eugnostos the Blessed (V,1; Eugnostos). This work is also contained in Codex 3 (see above).

The Apocalypse of Paul (V,2; Apoc. Paul). One of the Nag Hammadi texts that references Paul, this gnostic work, pseudonymously bearing Paul’s name, purports to be an account of Paul’s ascension into the highest heavens, guided by a spirit child (angel) he meets on a road. Although brief, the narrative has Paul passing through various heavens, encountering the 12 apostles in the 7th heaven, and finally arriving in the 10th heaven. Church fathers Irenaeus and Hippolytus seem aware of groups that interpret Paul’s “third heaven” language from 2 Cor 12:2–4 in a gnostic fashion, and opposed this overall teaching (Irenaeus, Haer. 2.30.7; Hippolytus, Haer. 5.8). (The gnostic Apocalypse of Paul is not to be confused with a different work bearing the same name.)

The (First) Apocalypse of James (V,3; 1 Apoc. Jas.). This pseudonymous work purports to be a revelatory dialogue between the risen Jesus and his brother James, identified as James the Just. This likely gnostic text ends with James rebuking the other apostles for not understanding the “way of knowledge” and refers to James’ subsequent death. This work may fall into the category of Valentinian Gnosticism. (A copy of the [First] Apocalypse of James is also contained in Codex Tchacos.)

The (Second) Apocalypse of James (V,4; 2 Apoc. Jas.). This pseudonymous text, which in Codex 5 is also titled Apocalypse of James (the “Second” is added by modern scholarship) also purports to be a revelatory dialogue between Jesus and James the Just. But here in Second Apocalypse, James is identified as the son of Theuda rather than Joseph. The text claims that its revelation was first spoken to Mareim (described as a priest and relative of Theuda), with Mareim writing it down and then speaking it to Theuda. This text claims to reveal things that even the “archons” do not know. It ends with a supposed account of the stoning of James after he is buried up to his waist. The text displays some gnostic themes, but does not contain some later gnostic elements, such as a strict dualism.

The Apocalypse of Adam (V,5; Apoc. Adam). A gnostic interpretation of the fall, which is presented as Adam’s loss of secret knowledge. This work is pseudonymously written from the perspective of Adam, presenting his supposed saving knowledge to his son Seth and his descendants. This text does not contain explicitly Christian influence, like the Apocryphon of John or the gnostic Gospel of the Egyptians, but it still falls into the broader category of Sethian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Eugnostos; Apocalypse of Paul, Gnostic; Apocalypse of James, First; Apocalypse of James, Second; Apocalypse of Adam.

Codex 6

Codex 6 contains eight texts and one scribal note, which are as follows.

The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles (VI,1; Acts Pet. 12 Apost.). An allegory in which a pseudonymous Peter narrates an encounter he and the other disciples have with a healer named Lithargoel in the city of Habitation, where Lithargoel is offering the impoverished of the city a pearl, if they come to his city Nine Gates. The disciples then take a treacherous journey to Nine Gates; at Nine Gates, they find out Lithargoel is Jesus, who commissions them to return to Habitation and offer the people healing (using medicine). The text then offers an interpretation of this allegory, based in gnostic thought.

Thunder: Perfect Mind (VI,2; Thund.). This short, first-person address is ascribed to a female deity, who describes herself in various paradoxical statements, such as: “I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin” (VI,2, 13:16–21). This is a unique tractate among the Nag Hammadi texts, and it is difficult to characterize its religious or philosophical affinity; it contains no distinctly gnostic characteristics.

Authoritative Teaching (VI,3; Auth. Teach.). As a supposed description of the origin and destiny of the “invisible soul of righteousness,” this treatise presents a dualistic understanding of the evil nature of the material world. This work does not contain gnostic mythology about the origin of the world, but its dualism between the good soul and evil material world, and other aspects, aligns it with Gnosticism.

The Concept of Our Great Power (VI,4; Great Pow.). This work is a gnostic, apocalyptic presentation of human history, claiming that human salvation is dependent upon the knowledge of the Great Power (and “everyone in whom [the Great Power’s] form will appear will be saved” [VI,4, 36:3]). It also includes additional gnostic mythology (such as the mention of aeons and the role of archons) and ends with a judgment of souls.

Plato, Republic 588a–589b (VI,5; Plato Rep.). A brief selection from the ninth book of Plato’s Republic that deviates considerably from any Greek version. It is a parable that discusses the supposed triple nature of a person: beast (base passions), lion (courage), and man (reason). In the Coptic fragment, unlike the Greek, “the wild beasts keep [the produce of the farmer, the man] from growing” (VI,5, 51:20). This lack of faith in reason and other elements may show that the textual differences from the Greek version are due to gnostic alterations.

The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (VI,6; Disc. 8–9). This work purports to describe the process of a religious initiate and his mystagogue ascending to the eighth and ninth planetary spheres. It is presented as a dialogue between the author and a mysterious teacher. This tractate is Hermetic in its perspective, as it is related to the Corpus Hermeticum literature.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving (VI,7; Pr. Thanks.). This very brief liturgical prayer that seems to serve in the Codex as a conclusion to the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth. The prayer shows cultic practices of prayer, greeting, and sharing a meal. Like Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, this work can also be classified as Hermetic, although it has some parallels with gnostic thought. (In addition to the Nag Hammadi copy, a Greek version of this work is embedded in Papyrus Mimaut, which is a magical text, and in a Latin version is appended to a copy of Asclepius.)

Scribal Note (VI,7a). This short note by the scribe indicates that he is the one responsible for including the prayer (VI,7) after the preceding Discourse (VI,6).

Asclepius 21–29 (VI,8; Asclepius). A selection from the Hermetic writing Asclepius, this text claims to discuss various mysteries, such as the nature of sexual intercourse (which may be a metaphor for a mystery religion experience), the difference between the pious and impious (the pious have knowledge), and men creating gods and being gods themselves. It also includes some apocalyptic woes and a discussion of what must happen to each person and the universe. It is framed as a dialogue between demigod Asclepius and the god Hermes Trismegistos.

For further details, see these articles: Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; Thunder, Perfect Mind; Authoritative Teaching, Text; Concept of Our Great Power; Plato’s Republic, Coptic Version; Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; Prayer of Thanksgiving, Text; Asclepius, Text.

Codex 7

Codex 7 contains five texts, which are as follows.

The Paraphrase of Shem (VII,1; Paraph. Shem). This pseudonymous text claims to record a revelation given to Shem (the son of Noah) from Derdekeas, who is depicted as a divine redeemer. From Derdekeas, Shem learns about the supposed various powers, eschatology, and salvation; in the process, portions of Genesis (including the flood and the destruction of Sodom) are reinterpreted as the power Darkness trying to destroy Shem’s descendants and the members who will learn of his knowledge. This text may show gnostic influence (or even Manichaean influence), but it is difficult to categorize, and as such, its categorization is highly debated.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (VII,2; Treat. Seth). Despite the title of the work, which is only included at the end, this work does not mention Seth and the work does not align with traditional Sethian Gnosticism. The work actually claims to present supposed secret teachings of Jesus to a select audience of enlightened disciples. It includes gnostic mythical references to things like archons and Yaldabaoth. (If there is a corresponding First Treatise of the Great Seth, it is never mentioned in ancient literature and no copies of it are currently extant.)

Apocalypse of Peter (VII,3; Apoc. Pet). A pseudonymous text that purports to include two visions of Peter, which are explained by Jesus. The first vision is about those who claim to accept Christianity but are supposedly really against the truth by worshiping the crucified Christ. The second vision purports that the spiritual Jesus stood beside the cross laughing while the body of Jesus died on the cross. Peter is then commissioned to tell of this to “those of another race who not of this age.” This gnostic (and docetist in viewpoint) work is arguing against orthodox Christians and likely any other non-gnostics.

The Teachings of Silvanus (VII,4; Teach. Silv.). This text includes various pseudonymous teachings by Silvanus (likely a reference to Paul’s traveling companion) concerning behavior before God and other warnings. The various viewpoints represented in the work make it difficult to categorize, as it represents a wide range and blending of beliefs and ideas.

The Three Steles of Seth (VII,5; Steles Seth). This liturgical text involves Dositheos (the supposed Samaritan founder of Gnosticism) seeing and presenting the content of three supposed ancient steles inscribed by Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve (see the Apocalypse of Adam, V,5). The three steles are hymns, each affirming Sethian gnostic beliefs about the supposed triadic “Father Geradama(s).” The text ends with a scribal note, which may refer to the Three Steles of Seth or the entire codex, claiming that the book belongs to the “fatherhood” and the “son” wrote it.

For further details, see these articles: Paraphrase of Shem; Second Treatise of the Great Seth; Apocalypse of Peter, Gnostic; Teachings of Silvanus; Three Steles of Seth.

Codex 8

Codex 8 contains two texts, which are as follows.

Zostrianos (VIII,1; Zost.). Zostrianos is one of the longer Nag Hammadi texts, but the manuscript is considerably damaged. It purports to be an account of a heavenly voyage by Zostrianos, who leaves his body for the journey. The Zostrianos of the text may be a pseudonymous representation of the Persian Zoroaster. The journey has different levels, with knowledge given in each stage. The account fits with the general beliefs of Sethian Gnosticism. Philosopher Porphyry (ca. AD 234–305) may refer to this text, along with Allogenes, as works produced by a group of people that philosopher Plontinus opposed (Vit. Plot. 16).

The Letter of Peter to Philip (VIII,2; Ep. Pet. Phil.). This text opens with a short pseudonymous letter from Peter to Philip, before turning to a narrative. The narrative portion of the text purports to recall four divine encounters of the apostles: the first with Christ, the second with a voice (presumably Christ), the third with the Holy Spirit, and the fourth with Christ. The questions and answers in the disciples’ first dialogue with Christ, as well as other lines elsewhere in the text, seem to presume gnostic mythology and theology. (A copy of the Letter of Peter to Philip is also contained in Codex Tchacos.)

For further details, see these articles: Zostrianos; Letter of Peter to Philip.

Codex 9

Codex 9 contains three texts, which are as follows.

Melchizedek (IX,1; Melch.). Very poorly preserved and missing many words, this text presents Melchizedek as an eschatological high priest and warrior angel, and may identify him with Jesus (this cannot be certain because of the damaged state of the text). This text has some gnostic tendencies, and includes a reference to Seth; it also has an anti-docetic emphasis, affirming the real humanity of Jesus. However, the text’s damaged state, combined with these various viewpoints being represented (and its possible redaction by a gnostic) makes it difficult to categorize its religious perspective; nonetheless, it certainly seems gnostic in tone.

The Thought of Norea (IX,2; Norea). This text is a brief hymn or ode to the triadic “Father of All.” It also presents the character of Norea, in parallel with Hypostasis of the Archons. In gnostic literature, Norea is the daughter of Eve and sister-wife of Seth (but Norea here could also be understood as Noah’s wife or Shem’s wife). This text of Sethian Gnosticism claims that its proclamation of the triadic “Father” is from Norea and it then makes other statements about Norea, her heavenly position, and the “elect.”

The Testimony of Truth (IX,3; Testim. Truth). This very poorly preserved text is a polemical writing containing what appears to be a homily of a gnostic teacher, followed by additional material and arguments, including an interpretation of Genesis 3. The arguments in the work appear to be both against orthodox Christians and other gnostic groups, even though the author holds many gnostic viewpoints. The opposed teachers include the gnostics Valentinus, Basillidea, and Isidore. Water baptism is particularly opposed by the work. This work is very difficult to categorize in terms of its religious perspective.

For further details, see these articles: Melchizedek, Nag Hammadi Text; Thought of Norea; Testimony of Truth.

Codex 10

Codex 10 contains one text, which are as follows.

Marsanes (X; Marsanes). This is the only surviving text from Codex 10 and it is in poor condition. It is presented as a revelatory experience of Marsanes, who supposedly moves through 13 levels of ascent, metaphorically viewed as “seals,” and ascends to a triadic “supreme Father.” This text is categorized as fitting with Sethian Gnosticism, based upon its viewpoints, even though Seth is not directly mentioned.

For further details, see this article: Marsanes.

Codex 11

Codex 11 contains four texts, one of which also has five subtractates. These works are as follows.

The Interpretation of Knowledge (XI,1; Interp. Know.). This work is a gnostic interpretations of specific passages from Matthew’s Gospel and the writings of Paul. The author seems to be addressing a controversy in a community over spiritual gifts, and includes allusions to Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12. The interpretation of the author is offered according to gnostic theology, such as the equation of the jealousy of the community with the evil god (demiurge) who supposedly created the world. Based on its theology, and the work that follows it in the Codex, it may specifically represent Valentinian Gnosticism.

A Valentinian Exposition (XI,2; Val. Exp.). This text begins by saying it is revealing a “mystery” and proceeds to relate the gnostic mythology about the character “Sophia,” but this work also purports that Christ descended and became united with Sophia, after her repentance (which seems to contrast with other gnostic texts). This text is categorized as a primary source for the teachings of second-century Valentinian Gnosticism, but seems to represent some opinions that diverge from other Valentinian viewpoints.

The Valentinian Exposition, also contains five subtractates that follow it in codex; when the exposition and five subtrates are combined, the work seems catechetical in form. The five subtractrates are as follows:

• On the Anointing (XI,2a, On Anoint.)

• On Baptism A (XI,2b, On Bap. A)

• On Baptism B (XI,2c, On Bap. B)

• On the Eucharist A (XI,2d, On Euch. A)

• On the Eucharist B (XI,2e, On Euch. B)

These gnostic-in-viewpoint subtractates contain fragments of texts likely used among Valentinian gnostics religiously for anointing, baptism, and the eucharist.

Allogenes (XI,3; Allogenes). This text purports to present secret revelations given to Allogenes and dictated for his “son” Messos (perhaps a reference to Messos being his disciple). The text purports to address a female angel’s visit to Allogenes, followed by Allogenes’ ascent to the supernatural realm. This text is categorized as belonging to Sethian Gnosticism. This work is related to a work with a similar name, A Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos. The two Allogenes’ texts are also closely related to Zostrianos from Codex VIII, and both may be mentioned by philosopher Porphyry as created by a group of people philosopher Plotinus opposed (Vit. Plot. 16).

Hypsiphrone (XI,4; Hypsiph.). This text is very fragmentary and purports to record Hypsiphrone’s journey from “the place of my virginity” down to what is likely the material world, where she meets the being Phainops, who may be creating the first person (it is difficult to know based on the fragmentary nature of the text). Although not conclusive, this work seems to share a Sethian Gnosticism perspective; it does not mention Seth but shares much in common with what is known of the mythology of Sethian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Interpretation of Knowledge; Valentinian Exposition; Allogenes, Nag Hammadi Text; Hypsiphrone.

Codex 12

Codex 12 contains three texts, which are as follows.

The Sentences of Sextus (XII,1; Sent. Sextus). This is a Coptic version of a previously known set of ethical sayings (or maxims). The church fathers seem to have disagreed about the work’s authorship and religious perspective. The work is essentially impossible to categorize religiously as it shows a wide range of viewpoints. (Although this work is also available in Greek, Latin, and other languages, the Coptic version is the earliest manuscript, although the extant Coptic version it is not complete.)

The Gospel of Truth (XII,2; Gos. Truth). This copy of Gospel of Truth is very fragmentary. This work is also included in Codex 1 (see above).

Fragments (XII,3; Frm.). These fragments (labeled as fragments 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B) are so damaged that their translation is uncertain. It is also uncertain whether the fragments labeled “1” and those labeled “2” are from the same work or different works. (If these fragments are from two different works, then that takes the count of unique works in the Nag Hammadi Library from 46 to 47, and the overall count of texts from 52 to 53.)

Fragment 1A seems to mention ethical instruction of some sort: a description of good and evil works, and those who practice good and evil, and perhaps those that practice both. Fragment 1B mentions “god” and “my father who is … not to them a father.” Also mentioned are the words “the ignorance,” “righteousness,” “these were worthy,” and “forgive,” but any interpretation of this is highly speculative.

Fragment 2A mentions a “philosopher” and something about “they are not able to,” the “philosopher” again, and then the “world.” Fragment 2B includes the words “her,” “begot,” “him,” and “think.” Again, any interpretation is speculative, as is even the translation proposed herein.

Due to the fragmentary nature of these texts, they are generally uncategorizable in terms of religious perspective.

For further details, see these articles: Sentences of Sextus; Gospel of Truth.

Codex 13

Codex 13 is eight loose leaves bearing two texts, which are as follows.

Trimorphic Protennoia (XIII,1; Trim. Prot.). This text purports to include self-explanatory words from the “Protennoia” (“first thought”), along with narrative, describing her three descents to earth. The text claims that Protennoia creates light as the Voice and Father first, then on the second descent comes as Mother, and on the third as Son, in the form of Christ (whom the work seems to depict in a polemical, rather than positive, way). This text describes the triadic god mentioned in works of Sethian Gnosticism, but these appear to be influences on this likely redacted work; it is not distinctly Sethian gnostic. (This particular work was originally found inside the cover of Codex VI.)

On the Origin of the World (XIII,2; Orig. World.). This work is also included in Codex 2 (see above).

#7. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1984). BAR 10:01 (Jan/Feb 1984).

The story behind the discovery and eventual publication of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts has all the ingredients of a spy thriller. The discoverers, Mohammed Ali and his brother Khalifah, lived in a village named el-Kasr in Upper Egypt. While digging for mineral-rich soil called sebakh at the base of the cliffs along the Nile near the village of Homra Dom, they discovered a large sealed pottery jar. Hoping for buried treasure, they broke open the jar only to find a collection of old books written in a language they could not read. They carried the books back to their home, where their mother reportedly used some of the pages to light the fire in her oven.

Not long after the discovery of the manuscripts, it was rumored that Mohammed Ali and his brothers murdered the son of the sheriff of Homra Dom in reprisal for the death of their father some six months earlier. One result of this feud was that Mohammed Ali was afraid to return to the site of the discovery. Fearing that the books would be found by the police, Mohammed Ali placed them in the care of a Coptic priest. The priest gave one to a relative, who brought it to Cairo. The rest of the books were gradually sold to other residents of the village for small sums of money, and they in turn sold the manuscripts to antiquities dealers in Cairo.

One of these books was sold to the Coptic Museum; another made its way out of the country and was sold to friends of the psychologist C. G. Jung. They gave it to him as a birthday present, and it became known as the Jung Codex.* Ultimately, however, the bulk of the material was confiscated by the Egyptian government after having been photographed by a young French scholar, Jean Doresse. Just as Doresse’s reports were alerting the scholarly world to the existence of an important new manuscript discovery, the Suez crisis 1956 made international cooperation even more difficult than usual. As a result, most of the Nag Hammadi Codices remained inaccessible to scholars. After the codices were declared government property and deposited in the Coptic Museum, an international committee of scholars working under the auspices of UNESCO was appointed, but the committee made little progress toward publishing the documents.

Not until the American Biblical scholar James M. Robinson of Claremont Graduate School entered the picture in 1965 and succeeded in gaining the support of other scholars in reorganizing the UNESCO committee did the Nag Hammadi story gradually emerge. Robinson concentrated his considerable scholarly influence, his organizational skill, and his seemingly limitless energy on the prompt translation and publication of the Nag Hammadi documents. As the secretary of the UNESCO committee, Robinson headed an international team that photographed the manuscripts and conserved them as adequately as possible in their present repository, the Coptic Museum in Cairo. As the director of the Nag Hammadi Library project at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, he organized a team of translators, many of them young American scholars, who learned the Coptic language as they worked with the new finds. And as organizer of the Nag Hammadi excavations, he delved into the early history of Christianity in Egypt.

Many other scholars subsequently have joined a growing movement to understand the complicated historical background of early Christianity assumed by the Nag Hammadi documents. Fortunately, the papers used to stiffen the covers of the Coptic codices were legal documents that referred to specific dates; therefore the manuscripts are solidly dated to the mid-fourth century. However, the codices are Coptic translations of documents that were written much earlier. Just how these translations fit into the complex picture of early Christianity and Judaism during the first two centuries of this era is a question that is currently a matter of considerable scholarly debate.

The Nag Hammadi Codices surely help us understand the tendency toward a mystical piety based on revelation or ecstatic experience as one of the varieties of religious experience in the Greco-Roman world of late antiquity. These writings also provide new material for understanding the many types of ancient Gnosticism. How Greek philosophical thought interacted with early Christianity in both its Gnostic and emerging orthodox forms can also be illumined by these new writings.

Attempts to uncover the circumstances that led to the burial of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts have not been as successful as the archaeological excavations that were so helpful in shedding light on another major manuscript discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls. An excavation carried out by the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California, under the leadership of Robinson and Dr. Bastiaan Van Elderen, has uncovered significant remains of early Christian monastic communities near the discovery site. Direct links with the Nag Hammadi Codices themselves have not been found, however, and even the precise location of the find is not known for certain. The broader questions of how a collection of mostly Gnostic literature came to be buried near the center of early Christian monasteries considered to be bastions of orthodoxy are yet to be answered conclusively by scholars. How Gnostic and orthodox leaders interacted in the development of Christianity in Egypt and other centers of Christianity such as Alexandria and Rome is one of the concerns of a new project being undertaken by Dr. Birger Pearson and several associates under the auspices of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity.




We will not repeat what we have stated in our introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis page except to say that the supposed source document Q is a ridiculous idea wrought upon the biblical world by unbelieving scholars who refused to search for the truth and sought their own answers to supposed biblical problems.

Q was not a source document for any of the Gospel or NT authors. Something that never existed cannot be used to write biblical truths. Something that is not of God cannot be used to write Biblical truths. Q is not of God but a product of secular scholars who have rejected biblical truths.

#1. Sloan, D. B. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Q Source, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Relationship between Q and Mark

It has long been assumed that Mark’s gospel and Q are independent of one another. A number of scholars have challenged this view, but the majority have not found their arguments convincing.

Mack argues that Mark got a number of his themes from Q and that Mark used ideas in Q as building blocks for his Gospel (Mack, Lost Gospel, 177–180). Catchpole argues that Mark’s introduction is a development of the introduction to Q and that Mark was influenced by Q at other points in writing his Gospel (Catchpole, Quest, 60–78). The most extensive argument for Mark’s use of Q is the book-length study by Fleddermann that examines the 28 Markan passages that overlap Q (Fleddermann, Mark and Q). Fleddermann argues that Q is consistently more original in these passages and that in a number of them Mark displays knowledge not only of the same tradition but also of Q’s redaction of that tradition.

If Mark could be shown to be dependent on Q, there would be a number of implications. The two-document solution to the Synoptic Problem would look significantly different, with Q being a source for all three Synoptic Gospels. The extent of Q would need to be reexamined, as every triple-tradition passage would be potentially from Q (Tuckett, “Mark and Q,” 25). Mark’s omission of many of the sayings in Q would need to be explained. And for those who date Q late, such as Fleddermann himself, Mark would need to be dated even later. So far the majority has not been convinced by Fleddermann and others, and the debate continues.

Q and Christian Origins

Perhaps the largest divide within current Q scholarship is over the implications of Q research for Christian origins. To some scholars, Q’s depiction of Jesus’ death and vindication suggests that Q comes from a tradition that assigns no salvific significance to Jesus’ death and that sees Jesus as assumed into heaven rather than resurrected. Many, however, think this assessment of Q exaggerates the differences between Q and the gospels that made use of it.

Almost all Q scholars agree that the writing lacks a passion narrative. Streeter explains this in two ways: (1) Q, like the Didache, is written to give ethical instruction to those who have already been taught about the passion and its redemptive significance; (2) while Paul focused on the cross, the other apostles focused on the parousia as the center of the gospel and saw the cross as a potential hindrance to accepting the true hope of the gospel (Streeter, Four Gospels, 292). The assumption that Q was intended as a supplement to the passion kerygma remained unquestioned until Tödt wrote his doctoral dissertation in 1956, arguing that Q is not catechetical but is a proclamation of the kingdom that nowhere alludes to the Easter kerygma (Tödt, Son of Man). This led to a number of scholars arguing that Q views Jesus’ death and vindication differently from Mark and Paul.

Jacobson argues that “Mark adapted the tradition[s about the man Jesus] to his Christology and to the passion kerygma,” while Q explained the same traditions within a Deuteronomistic framework that viewed Jesus’ death “not as a salvific act but as evidence of Israel’s continuing impenitence” (Jacobson, “Literary Unity,” 383, 386). Kloppenborg adds that what the resurrection did for Mark and Paul in vindicating Jesus, Jesus’ teachings did for the author of Q; thus, Q had no need for an Easter faith (Kloppenborg, “Easter Faith”).

In each of these studies, it is not only the absence of a passion narrative that suggests that Q views the death of Jesus differently from proto-orthodox Christianity, but the way Jesus’ death and disappearance are spoken of within Q itself. Kloppenborg concludes that “at the numerous points where Q might have borrowed from … the passion kerygma’s salvific construal of Jesus’ death, it consistently fails to do so. It would be hard to imagine that this silence is a matter of Q consciously rejecting such construals of Jesus’ death. Rather, the only plausible solution is that Q simply does not know them” (Kloppenborg, Excavating Q, 374). It is observations such as these that lead Mack and others to conclude that for Q, as for Thomas, Jesus was not a dying and rising savior, but merely a teacher of wisdom. After all, according to the most popular stratification of Q, the document began as a wisdom document and only later was apocalypticized (Mack, “Lord of the Logia,” 9).

There are many components to these arguments, and not all of the scholars surveyed would agree with all of them, but the idea that Q represents a different kerygma than the passion kerygma has failed to convince many for a number of reasons. First, the entire New Testament attests to a diversity of views of Jesus’ death and vindication, even within Paul’s letters, so diversity itself is not problematic (Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 235–239). Matthew and Luke apparently saw no contradiction between Mark’s kerygma and Q’s, as they have included both in their Gospels. The Deuteronomistic understanding of Jesus’ death that is expressed in Q is also the central understanding of His death given in Mark’s parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1–12). And assumption language is used in Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ ascension (Zwiep, Ascension), even though Luke clearly viewed Jesus as resurrected.

Second, there are reasons that we would not expect Q to explain Jesus’ death. According to Mark, this is something Jesus taught only to the Twelve and only on His way to Jerusalem at the end of His life. If Q focuses on Jesus’ public teaching, it would naturally not include discussions of Jesus’ death and vindication (Meadors, Jesus, 313–314; compare Dunn, New Perspective on Jesus, 27). The few passages that hint at Jesus’ death (Q 11:49–51; 13:34–35; 14:27) come in contexts that teach about judgment or discipleship, where there is no need to discuss the significance of Jesus’ death (Meadors, Jesus, 296–302). In fact, even within the Synoptic Gospels, references to the salvific nature of Jesus’ death are rare (Matt 20:28; 26; 28; Mark 10:45; 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20).

Third, it is unlikely that Q could have viewed Jesus’ death as no more than that of a martyr and His vindication as no more than an assumption. Meadors notes that the martyr image appears in Q in contexts with great christological implications, suggesting that the death of Jesus is more significant than the death of other prophets and sages (Meadors, Jesus, 303). And though Q 13:34–35 echoes the assumption language in 2 Kings 2, there is a key difference between the Elijah of Kings and the Jesus of Q. The former was still alive when he was assumed; the latter had died. How would the “Q community” address this difference? Is there any reason to think they would not have concluded that Jesus was resurrected?

Fourth, we do not know what Q says about Jesus’ death that did not make it into Matthew or Luke, especially if Q is significantly more extensive than the double tradition. Arguments have even been made for a passion narrative in Q (Bundy, Jesus and the First Three Gospels, 48; Franklin, “Passion Narrative”; Sloan, “Passion Narrative”; see also Hultgren, Narrative Elements, 256–309), though they have not convinced many. Even if Q did not have a passion narrative, it is quite possible that there are other brief sayings about Jesus’ death and vindication that either Matthew or Luke dropped, just as Luke dropped Mark’s ransom saying in Mark 10:45 (Goodacre, “Response to Daniel A. Smith”).

Fifth, some have seen in Q 11:22 an allusion to Isa 53:12, “the only verse in the Servant Songs which directly identifies the vicarious suffering and death of the servant” (Meadors, Jesus, 310). So Barnabas Lindars says, “A saying of Jesus has been given messianic application and linked to the ‘plot’ of Isaiah 53. The Passion is not mentioned, but is assumed in the struggle with the strong man” (Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, 85). But even if this allusion is uncertain, Q clearly envisions Jesus as the figure in Isa 61:1 (Q 6:20–21; 7:22), whom readers of Isaiah are likely to view as the same individual as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (Meadors, Jesus, 312).

Finally, Q’s use of resurrection language in Q 7:22; 11:31–32 shows that Q expects a resurrection of the dead. The fact that Q 7:22 makes the dead being raised the “culminating eschatological sign” of the kingdom’s presence in Jesus suggests that, if Jesus Himself has overcome death, then He has done so by resurrection (Fleddermann, “Plot of Q,” 48). Furthermore, Fleddermann argues that the second temptation is written as a “flashforward” of Jesus’ death and resurrection, when God does command His angels concerning Jesus (52–57). Fleddermann argues that the author of Q can do this “because Jesus’ story is so well known” (Fledermann, “Plot of Q,” 52). Finally, Hurtado argues that there was too much interaction between different Christian groups for the doctrine of the resurrection to be unknown to the Q community (Hurtado, “Interactive Diversity”).

#2. Sloan, D. B. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Q Source, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Q SOURCE, CRITICAL ISSUES Q Source. Scholarship on various issues related to Q, a hypothetical source that Matthew and Luke are postulated to have used in the composition of their Gospel accounts.


Scholarship has produced more works on Q in the last 15 years than in the entire 20th century. While some of these works have questioned the existence of Q altogether (see especially Goodacre, Case Against Q; Goodacre and Perrin, Questioning Q; Powell, Myth; and Watson, Gospel Writing), the two-document hypothesis is still the majority view among scholarship (for responses to Goodacre, see Kloppenborg, “On Dispensing with Q”; Foster, “Is It Possible”; Mealand, “Is There Stylometric Evidence?”; for a fresh analysis of the Synoptic Problem from 20 different angles, see Foster et al., New Studies). This article will not summarize that debate but will discuss critical issues that are raised by those who argue for the existence of Q. Not every issue will be addressed, but we will focus on five select issues: the extent of Q, the genre of Q, the date of Q, the relationship between Q and Mark, and the implications of Q research for Christian origins…

The Date of Q

While most Q scholars are reluctant to assign a date to Q, those who do are widely divided on whether Q is to be dated to the AD 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, or 70s. All that can be said with certainty is that Q was completed by the time Matthew and Luke took it up in their Gospels.

Early Dates

Schnelle tentatively suggests a date in the 40s because: (1) the emphasis on wandering preachers reflects the earliest congregational structures in the Jesus movement; (2) the Palestinian persecution reflected in Q 6:22–23; 11:49–51; 12:4–5, 11–12 reflects the kind referred to in Acts 12:2 (ca. AD 44) and 1 Thess 2:14–16 (ca. AD 50); and (3) the positive references to Gentiles (Q 6:34; 7:1–10; 10:13–15; 11:29–31; 14:16–23) “indicate that the Gentile mission had begun, which is probably to be located in the period between 40 and 50 CE” (Schnelle, History and Theology, 186).

Likewise Theissen dates Q “between 40 and 55 AD” because: (1) the temptation narrative is modeled after an event in AD 41 in which the emperor Gaius Caligula sought to be worshiped; (2) the expectation of peace before Jesus’ return in Q 17:27–28, 34–35 reflects the mood of 1 Thess 5:3 (ca. AD 52) rather than the mood we see during and after the Jewish War; (3) Q’s attitude toward Israel reflects a time when the 12 apostles were focused on a mission to Israel, and Q may even be reflected in Romans 11; (4) Q is ambivalent toward Gentiles; and (5) Q’s animosity toward the Pharisees reflects the strained relationship between Palestinian Christians and Pharisees in the 40s and early 50s (this relationship improved by the end of the 50s; Theissen, Gospels in Context, 203–34).

Even some who argue for a stratified compositional history have dated Q early. Arnal argues for a “lapse of several years” between Q1 and Q2 and between Q2 and Q3 (Arnal, Jesus and the Village Scribes, 166). He argues (1) that none of the layers reflect the Jewish War; (2) that Q2 shares a number of features with 1 Thessalonians, including a Deuteronomistic condemnation of Israel that is not seen in Paul’s later letters; (3) that the portrayal of John the Baptist in Q2 suggests an early date; and (4) that Q1 portrays Jesus more as a sage than as a significant person of the past. While Arnal does not assign actual dates, it appears that he wants to place Q1 near the time of Jesus’ death, Q2 in the 40s, and Q3 before the Jewish War. Allison likewise argues for three stages in Q’s development and places Q1 in the 30s, Q3 in the 40s or 50s, and Q2 somewhere between them (Allison, Jesus Tradition, 49–54).

#3. Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 618). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Q Document. The Gospel of Q or Q Document is a hypothetical collection of Jesus’ sayings that supposedly antedates the four Gospels. The Q hypothesis comes from the German word Quelle, meaning “sources.” Q was used heavily by the Jesus Seminar to arrive at their radical conclusions. Since Q allegedly contains sayings, not works or miracles of Jesus, it is used as a basis for denying the resurrection. Since the earliest Q contained no references to Jesus’ deity, this too is held to be a later mythological invention. If true, this would undermine the historic apologetic for Christianity (see APOLOGETICS, HISTORICAL; NEW TESTAMENT, HISTORICITY OF).

Supposed States and Dates of Q. According to Q proponent Burton Mack, there were really four successive states of Q: proto-Q1, Q1, proto-Q2, and Q2. The gospel(s) of Q supposedly developed between 30 and 65, before any canonical Gospels appeared. Thus, Q is supposed to provide, along with the Gospel of Thomas (see NAG HAMMADI GOSPELS), the earliest view of Jesus’ followers.

Some scholars distinguish between Q1 (ca. 50), consisting of short sayings of Jesus, and Q2 (50–60), which may have been against the original Jesus group as evidenced by the judgmental tone of Q2. This includes apocalyptic pronouncements of doom on those who refused their kingdom program. After the Jewish War (70), they upgraded their mythology (Q3) to include statements about Jesus being divine (Mack, 53). On this breakdown, Q1 presents Jesus as a sage, a wise teacher; Q2 portrays him as prophetic and apocalyptic; and Q3 as superhuman, embodying the wisdom of God and divine authority (Boyd, 121).

History of the Q Hypothesis. Judging from its widespread acceptance today, one would expect that the Q hypothesis had been around since the early church. The truth is that Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the father of modern liberalism, gave impetus to the idea when he reinterpreted a statement by Papias (ca. 110) about Matthew compiling “the oracles” of Jesus (Gk. ta logia). This, Schleiermacher decided, was a document consisting only of Jesus’ “sayings,” rather than both “what the Lord said or did” (see Linnemann, Is There a Synoptic Problem? 20). Later, Christian Hermann Weisse (1801–1866) claimed that this saying-source was used by Luke in compiling his Gospel, thus giving rise to the concept of Q. Others added that Mark was used by both Matthew and Luke. Thus, Q is posited to account for the material used by Matthew and Luke that is not found in Mark, their common source.

However, in spite of its popularity, Q has been rejected by many biblical scholars from the time it was first proposed. B. F. Westcott (1825–1901), Theodore Zahn (1838–1933), and Adolf Schlatter (1852–1938) are examples of older scholars. Eta Linnemann, John Wenham, and William Farmer are examples of contemporary scholars.

Alleged Basis of Q. According to proponents, “the Q hypothesis, together with Marcan priority, is the most efficient way of accounting for the myriad details in the relationship of these three texts to one another.” For “Matthew and Luke agree in their sequence of events in the life of Jesus only when they also agree with Mark.” And “this peculiar pattern has led almost all scholars of the New Testament to the conclusion that Matthew and Luke must have made use of Mark as a kind of outline for their respective works, but quite independently of one another.”This Marcan priority, however, doesn’t account for a good deal of material shared by Matthew and Luke. “How could Matthew and Luke have included these several sayings, parables, and occasional stories—sometimes offering versions that are very close in wording—independently of one another?” In view of this, “the Q hypothesis arose as a way of accounting for the material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark” (Patterson, 39–40). This similarity in content and order of events is used to show literary dependence of the latter documents on the former, that is, of Matthew and Luke upon Mark and Q.

#4. Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (pp. 620–621). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

The Q Assumptions. Obviously, though most Q advocates would be reluctant to admit it, there is an antisupernatural bias behind their view. Following the naturalistic approach to the Gospels that began with David Strauss in 1835–1836) they assume the miraculous does not occur. Thus, all records of miraculous events are categorized as later results of mythmaking (see MYTHOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT). The haste at which they jump to this conclusion when, even granting an early “sayings” source, betrays a desire to eliminate the supernatural. The confidence with which critics come to an antisupernatural conclusion on such speculative and hypothetical grounds supports the thesis that they really begin with a naturalistic presupposition. Compare the words of one Q advocate: “The narrative canonical gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith.” Instead, “the gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking” (Patterson, “The Lost Gospel,” 40).

Beginning with a disbelief in miracles, it comes as no surprise that their imaginary reconstruction of Q in the early time period is devoid of miracle stories, including the resurrection.

The Q hypothesis is based on an incredible number of assumptions (see Boyd, 122–24):

1.      Mark was the earliest Gospel and Matthew and Luke followed its form and content. The same data can be explained by positing an oral tradition or putting Matthew first.

2.      Q existed as a written document. There is no proof for this.

3.      A Q can be reconstructed from what Matthew and Luke have in common that is not found in Mark. But if Q existed there is no objective way to know how much of it was used.

4.      Q was composed to express everything early Christians believed about Jesus. Why could it not have been simply a collection of sayings?

5.      It is also assumed that a community of people created Q. There is no proof of this. One person could just as easily have collected Jesus’ sayings.

6.      Q can be accurately understood by discerning its various literary stages. No objective criteria are offered by which this can be done.

7.      These alleged states reflect various stages of the thinking of Jesus’ followers. The various views could as easily have been concurrent.

8.      The views of Christ are incompatible with one another. Jesus could have been teacher, prophet, and divine authority. If these elements are together at the end, why could they not have all been there at the beginning?

Boyd summarizes: “We see, then, that the liberal revision of the picture of Jesus and of early church history on the basis of Q amounts to nothing more than a pile of arbitrary assumptions built on other arbitrary assumptions” (Boyd, 24).

Conclusion. The argument for the Q hypothesis, particularly in its naturalistic form, are without historical, documentary, or literary foundations. As Boyd noted, “among other things, the entire scheme is completely conjectural. These scholars ask us to trade the reliable Gospel portrait of Christ for a hypothetical reconstruction of history based on a hypothetical reconstruction of a hypothetical document” (Boyd, 121–22). There is nothing in the canonical Gospels that cannot be accounted for by positing that the authors were eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries of the events and that they provided an accurate account of what they reported just as Luke claims (Luke 1:1–4).

In the words of one former Q disciple, “The Gospels report the words and deeds of Jesus. They do this partly through direct eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and partly through those who were informed by eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke). The similarities as well as the differences in the Gospel accounts are just what one expects from eyewitness reminiscence” (ibid.).

#5. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 11:05.

Eta Linnemann’s article on the Q hypothesis* takes Burton Mack and me to task not only for our scholarship, but also for what she takes to be our attack on traditional Christian beliefs. It’s a clever exercise in apologetics. However, this attempt to undergird her own very conservative understanding of Christian faith by discrediting the Q hypothesis (and anyone who dares discuss it) is misleading, misinformed and misguided.

Her case against Q is misleading. Take, for example, the point that since Paul does not mention Q, we should assume that it did not exist in his day. Aside from the obvious problem that we do not know what Q was called by early Christians (hence, the modern designation “Q”), Paul never refers to his sources by name. This is understandable. Many ancient documents carry no title; if they were referred to at all, it was by recalling the first few words in the document. In short, we do not know whether Paul ever refers to Q.

More egregious, however, is Linnemann’s assertion that since Paul had no conflict with James and Peter, ostensible Q folk, we cannot assume that there were different understandings of the significance of Jesus’ life and death among early Christians. But there were decisive differences in the way early Christians understood Jesus, precisely between Paul, on the one hand, and Peter and James, on the other. The basic split between Petrine and Pauline Christianity belongs to the very rudiments of New Testament scholarship. The dimensions of this difference occupy tomes of research, well known to Linnemann, who, prior to her conversion to Christian fundamentalism a decade ago, was well versed in the history of New Testament scholarship.

Some of that knowledge emerges in her discussion of the history of the Q hypothesis. Here again, however, her remarks are misleading. She must surely know that the case for the existence of Q is not grounded on verbal agreements between Matthew and Luke, nor on residual cases of common order in these gospels. Rather, the Q hypothesis arose as a necessary corollary to another, widely accepted hypothesis used to explain the peculiar relationship of Matthew and Luke to Mark (an issue mentioned only in passing by Linnemann). Hermann Christian Weisse and others noticed that Matthew and Luke agree in their sequence of events in the life of Jesus only when they also agree with Mark. This peculiar pattern has led almost all scholars of the New Testament to the conclusion that Matthew and Luke must have made use of Mark as a kind of outline for their respective works, but quite independently of one another.

This hypothesis of “Marcan priority,” however, leaves a good deal of material shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark, unaccounted for. How could Matthew and Luke have included these several sayings, parables and occasional stories—sometimes offering versions that are very close in wording—independently of one another? The Q hypothesis arose as a way of accounting for the material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark.

As with most complicated historical problems, the persuasiveness of the hypothesis lies in the way it can account for the details. The Q hypothesis, together with Marcan priority, is the most efficient way of accounting for the myriad details in the relationship of these three texts to one another. Over the years, various solutions to this problem have had their champions: Matthean priority, Lukan priority, proto-Marcan hypotheses, proto-Lukan hypotheses, and the list goes on. But, in the judgment of most New Testament scholars, none can account for the details as well as the hypothesis of Marcan priority together with the Q hypothesis. But the reader should not accept this appeal to authority as the final word. He or she should find a synopsis of the first three gospels and make a comparison of these texts for him or herself.

Linnemann also dismisses the Gospel of Thomas as irrelevant to the discussion of Q and Christian origins. On this matter she is misinformed and out-of-date. Her assertion rests on the grounds that “recent scholarship dates its earliest possible composition to about A.D. 140.” This, presumably, is a reference to the work of Bernard Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt (LOGIA IHSOY: Sayings of Our Lord [Egypt Exploration Fund, 1897]), who based their dating on a fragment of the Gospel of Thomas known as Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and proposed A.D. 140 as a terminus ad quem (the latest possible date) for the Gospel of Thomas. Linnemann mistakes this assessment for a terminus a quo (the earliest possible date). The more recent discussion of this point includes dating Thomas to around A.D. 50, though I think this is too early. My own proposal is to date it near the end of the first century, roughly contemporaneous with Matthew and Luke. This would indeed make it relevant to the discussion of Q, not as Q’s precursor, but as a document analogous to Q in form. It shows merely that early Christians could create a document like Q and think it a meaningful way of discussing the significance of Jesus.

#6. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 11:04.

Try to imagine flying to a non-existent island on an airplane that has not yet been invented. Even if this impossible trip were to take place during the thirteenth month of the year, it would not be as fantastic as the tale, recently christened as scientific certainty by some New Testament scholars, concerning the “Lost Gospel” of Q.

The story of Q (short for the German Quelle, meaning “source”) is not exactly hot off the press. It began over a century and a half ago. At that time it was part of the two-source theory of gospel origins. In the wake of Enlightenment allegations that the Gospels were historically unreliable, some suggested that their origins were primarily literary. Matthew and Luke, the theory went, composed their Gospels not based on historical recollection but by using Mark and a hypothetical document called Q as dual sources.

The theory was not without its difficulties, and it is no wonder that many Anglo-Saxon scholars—B.F. Westcott (1825–1901) would be a good example1—as well as formidable German-speaking authorities like Theodor Zahn (1838–1933) and Adolf Schlatter (1852–1938) declined to embrace it. But it gained ascendancy in Germany, and to this day enjoys a virtual monopoly there and widespread support in many other countries.

The much-publicized Jesus Seminar has pushed Q into popular headlines of late.* But behind the Jesus Seminar’s exalted claims for Q lies an interesting history. Key players in the Q revival include Siegfried Schulz, with his 1972 study, The Sayings Source of the Evangelists.2 Schulz speaks of a Q-church in Syria that hammered out Q’s final form in the A.D. 30–65 era.3 The “gospel” they produced, later absorbed into the canonical Matthew and Luke, lacked Christ’s passion, atoning death and resurrection. Q, it was alleged, contained only a series of sayings. The upshot of Schulz’s work: A primitive “Christian” community produced a “gospel” lacking the central foci of the four canonical versions, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Q was suddenly no longer an amorphous source, but a discrete witness vying for recognition with its canonical counterparts.

In some ways Schulz had been scooped by the slightly earlier study of James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester.4 But it is only recently that a phalanx of studies by Robinson, Koester, John Kloppenborg, Arland Jacobsen and Burton Mack have in effect expanded on Schulz’s work.5 Mack breaks Q down into four stages: proto-Q1, Q1, proto-Q2 and Q2—asserted in detail without the slightest attempt to furnish proof. To save this house of cards from collapse, the so-called Gospel of Thomas is being pressed into service today to give Q ostensible support.

The cumulative weight of these studies is captured in Stephen J. Patterson’s statement in BR that “the importance of Q for understanding Christian beginnings should not be underestimated. Mack is surely right in asserting that a better understanding of Q will require a major rethinking of how Christianity came to be. Together with the Gospel of Thomas, Q tells us that not all Christians chose Jesus’ death and resurrection as the focal point of their theological reflection. They also show that not all early Christians thought apocalyptically.”6

Patterson is enamored enough of Mack to quote him favorably on a further point that Patterson (wrongly7) claims most New Testament scholars share: “‘Q demonstrates that factors other than the belief that Jesus was divine played a role in the generation of early Jesus and Christ movements…[As a result] the narrative canonical gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking. Q forces the issue, for it documents an earlier history that does not agree with the narrative gospel accounts.’”8

Now we discover the truth: Q, the hypothetical sayings gospel, is the lever needed to pry the Christian faith out of its biblical moorings. Not the Gospels but Q must be faith’s new anchor, inasmuch as Q is earlier than the Gospels and does not agree with them. Q settles the matter.

Poor Christianity. Are sackcloth and ashes in order because we have followed the wrong gospels, overlooking the real sole authority—Q? Or is it rather time to bar the enthronement of a false gospel, following Paul’s counsel and God’s Word: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9)?

Just what is Q, anyway?

The rhetoric used by Patterson and Mack is telling: “Q originally played a critical role”; “Q demonstrates”; “Q forces the issue”; “Q calls into question”; “Q tells us.”9 Assuming Q ever existed in the first place, isn’t it just a hypothetical source, a lost piece of papyrus, an inanimate object? But Patterson and Mack’s language make a dead thing into a commanding personal authority. This is the stuff of fairy tales.

The practitioners of this New Testament “science”—despising God’s Word in the Gospels as “the result of early Christian mythmaking”—have created a new myth, not only the enchanted figure of Q but also Q’s storied people: “‘The remarkable thing about the people of Q is that they were not Christians. They did not think of Jesus as a messiah or the Christ. They did not take his teachings as an indictment of Judaism. They did not regard his death as a divine, tragic or saving event. And they did not imagine that he had been raised from the dead to rule over a transformed world. Instead, they thought of him as a teacher whose teaching made it possible to live with verve in troubled times. Thus they did not gather to worship in his name, honor him as a god, or cultivate his memory through hymns, prayers and rituals. They did not form a cult of the Christ such as the one that emerged among the Christian communities familiar to readers of the letters of Paul. The people of Q were Jesus people, not Christians.’”10


#7. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 11:04.

What can we know for sure about Q?

Ancient sources give no hint that such a source ever existed. Among the early Church fathers, there is not even a rumor of some lost gospel. Far less is there a hint that any of the gospels were produced by the use of written sources. And there is not the slightest textual evidence that some lost sayings gospel Q ever existed, although it is claimed today that Q was so widespread that Matthew and Luke (and maybe even Mark) each had copies of it independently.

Paul never mentions Q. Yet, if it existed, he could hardly have been ignorant of such a virulent influence, so contrary to the faith he championed. Paul would not have known the four Gospels (they had not yet appeared), but there is no reason why he should not have known Q if it really existed in the decades before the appearance of the Gospels.

Q allegedly developed between the years 30 and 65 and still existed when Matthew and Luke wrote, commonly regarded as the last quarter of the first century, else it could not be copied by them. Three decades would have given Paul ample time to encounter Q. If the Q-people were the earliest “Jesus movement,” they must have founded a church in Jerusalem. Peter and Barnabas, coming from there, would have known Q and would have introduced Paul to it in Antioch in the early 40s. Paul would have encountered it and the “Jesus people” of Q at the latest around A.D. 49 at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Are we to believe that this Council was content to quibble over the interpretation of Jewish law, as Luke reports, when Paul was “mythologizing” the gospel, claiming Jesus to be God’s son, while the Q people held him to be no more than a sage?

If “the people of Q were Jesus people, not Christians,” conflicts would have been inevitable. How could these conflicts have left no trace in Acts or in any of Paul’s letters? How could Paul have written to the Corinthians that he delivered to them what he had received—that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3)—if the atonement at the cross was only a brand-new, mythological idea, not accepted by the earlier followers of Jesus, who “did not regard his death as a divine, tragic or saving event”?11

Either Paul, “called as an apostle by Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1), is a liar or the current crop of Q theorists is spinning yarns. We have to choose.

In fact, Q’s existence cannot be corroborated from manuscript evidence, Paul’s letters or the known history of the early church. Q and the Q people are a historical fiction, no more real than the man in the moon. It would be intellectually irresponsible to rethink Christian faith based on such a tale.

Q was unheard of until the 19th century. It has never been anything but a hypothesis, a supposition that Matthew and Luke might have taken their common material from a single written source.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) got the modern ball rolling by twisting a statement of Papias (c. A.D. 110), in which the church father says that Matthew compiled t ὰ λόγια, “the oracles.” Schleiermacher wrongly took Papias to be claiming that Matthew wrote a document consisting of Jesus-sayings, and that later someone else composed a gospel that incorporated this sayings document.12 Unfortunately for Schleiermacher, here t ὰ λόγια means “what the Lord said or did,” not just “sayings.”13

Schleiermacher proposed that Matthew wrote only the sayings, not the gospel itself, a view lacking support in both ancient church tradition and in Matthew’s Gospel. If one were to sort out all “sayings” from Matthew, the result does not resemble what is called Q today. Q, as proposed by the Q-theorists, does not contain all the “sayings” found in Matthew’s Gospel, nor does the Gospel consist merely of “sayings.”

Christian Hermann Weisse (1801–1866), wanting to account for the sayings in Luke, built on Schleiermacher’s error.14 Weisse claimed that this sayings-source was used as a source by Luke too. This misused Schleiermacher’s theory for Weisse’s own purposes.15 And so the infamous Q made its debut in the theological world.

We likewise have Weisse to thank for the invention of the Lachmann fallacy,16 which wrongly asserts that Karl Lachmann proved that Mark was also used as a source by Matthew and Luke; in fact Lachmann argued just the opposite—that Mark was not the source for Matthew and Luke.

The world-renowned two-source theory—the notion that Matthew and Luke were based on Mark and Q, the basis for perhaps 40% of so-called New Testament science today—was therefore founded on both (Schleiermacher’s) error and (Weisse’s) lie.

Let us look closely at the alleged Q to see if we can find its presence in Matthew and Luke.17

We concede the obvious at the outset that, besides the pericopes that Matthew and Luke have in common with Mark, there is a good deal of material that Matthew and Luke share. Siegfried Schulz lists 65 pairs of passages that are parallel in Matthew and Luke. But similarity in content is in itself no proof of literary dependence. It could also be caused by the same event: a saying of Jesus, for instance, reported independently by several different persons who heard it. In other words, similarities might have been historically, and not exclusively literarily, transmitted.

Nor can the existence of Q be inferred from literary sequence. The differences in the order of the alleged Q-material in Matthew and Luke are enormous. Only 24 of Schulz’s 65 pairs of parallels, or 36.9%, occur within a distance of no more than one chapter of each other. Only five of them (7.69%) occur in the same point of the narrative flow in Matthew as in Luke (or vice versa). It takes a robust imagination to suppose that, despite such differences, the pericopes claimed for Q based on similarities in literary sequence owe their origin to a common source. But imagination is no substitute for evidence, and guesses as to whether Matthew here or Luke there diverged from Q’s sequence do not prove that Q existed.

The main test for the existence of Q, and “the only safe test for literary dependence,”18 is identity in actual wording. In Q’s 65 pairs of parallels between Matthew and Luke, the number of words in Q’s Matthean form amount to 4319, in Luke’s 4253. The number of identical words in these parallel verses is 1792, or 41% of Matthew’s Q portion and 42% of Luke’s. This parallel material consists mainly of sayings of Jesus, which in the Synoptic Gospels do not vary much. For example, sayings of Jesus found in two of the three Synoptic Gospels have about 80% identical words. Based on my earlier research, this led me to expect that the percentage of identical words in the alleged Q material in Matthew and Luke might be 80% as well. But (as shown in the chart) the percentage of identical words turns out to be only about 42%.

In 17 of the 65 parallel pairs alleged to have come from Q—fully one quarter of Q—the number of identical words in parallel passages is less than 25%.19

In 26* of the 65 parallel passages—41% of Q—the number of identical words in parallel passages is between 25% and 49.9%.

In 15 passages of the 65—or 22% of Q—the number of identical words in parallel passages is between 50% and 74.9%. In 7 passages of the 65—or 11% of Q—the number of identical words in parallel verses is between 75% and 100%.

Of the 65 parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, one half (53%) contain fewer than 50 words. For comparison, the easily memorized Psalm 143 has 43 words.19 About 30% of Q’s passages contain 50–99 words; Psalm 23, also easily memorized, has 115 words. That is to say, 82% of Q consists of blocks of fewer than 100 words in length.

Is it preposterous to suggest that Jesus’ disciples, who sat at his feet and were sent out in his name for three years’ time, could have preserved such reminiscences, which assumed varied shapes in the telling, by memory? Is a hypothetical written document needed, or even reasonable, to account for the overlap in Matthew and Luke in these sayings passages?

I have counted all the rest of the Q passages, too. Five contain 100–149 words, and six contain 150–199 words. Just one contains 250–300 words.

If Q were a written source relied on by Matthew and Luke, then we would expect little variation between pairs of long sayings and pairs of short sayings. But if the saying was passed along orally, based on memory, we would expect that the longer passages would differ more than the shorter passages. What does the evidence show?

In the longest alleged Q passage, the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30), only 20% of its words (60 out of 291) are identical with the Lucan parallel (Luke 19:11–27). Out of these 60 identical words, nine are the word “and,” seven are articles and six are pronouns scattered throughout the pericope. This leaves only 38 words out of 291 that Q-theorists must rely on to establish literary dependence. Most of the identical words (47 of 60, or 78%) occur in direct speech.

The differences between Matthew and Luke in this passage far outnumber the 60 identical words. In fact these differences total 310, which is 107% of Matthew’s 291 words!

The one passage in which all of Matthew’s words are also in Luke (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13), consists of only 27 words. This is the same as the tiny Psalm 117 and not even half as much as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18b–20, which many know by heart. Thus the similarity is easily accounted for by a historically reliable memory that reached both Matthew and Luke.

The longest passage in the 75%–100% agreement category contains just 78% identical words. The whole passage is about the length of Psalm 1, again a text that many know by heart. It is not difficult to imagine accounts of this length being committed to memory in the oral culture of Jesus’ day.20

What can we conclude from these statistics? Simply that there is no convincing evidence for the alleged Q in Matthew and Luke. There is not even any persuasive evidence in favor of such a hypothesis. Rather, the difficulties of the hypothesis are legion. The differences in order, and the percentages of identical wording, argue against literary dependence, since the differences are much higher than the similarities. The Q-hypothesis does not solve a problem but rather creates problems—which then require additional hypotheses to remedy.

The Gospels do not entail a problem if we are willing to abide by what the texts themselves and the documents of the early church tell us: The Gospels report the words and deeds of Jesus. They do this partly through direct eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and partly through those who were informed by eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke).21 The similarities as well as the differences in the Gospel accounts are just what one expects from eyewitness reminiscence.

#8. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 11:04.

But what about Thomas?

The Gospel of Thomas plays a large role in the new debate about Q. Patterson writes: “Scholars took a long time deciding just what Q was. The sheer fact of its nonexistence was no small problem—and an obvious opening for Q skeptics. In recent years, however, resistance to the idea of Q has largely disappeared as the result of another amazing discovery: a nearly complete copy of the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas.”22 “The gospel of Thomas is a recollection of sayings of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas shows that a gospel without a passion narrative is quite possible. A theology grounded on Jesus’ words, without any particular interest in his death, is no longer unthinkable. The Gospel of Thomas, which also has little interest in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in effect forced this reevaluation.”23 “Together with the Gospel of Thomas, Q tells that not all Christians chose Jesus’ death and resurrection as the focal point of their theological reflection.”24

Does the Gospel of Thomas indeed prove how the oldest gospel, the alleged Q, was shaped—consisting mainly of sayings, with no passion or Easter reports? That would be like saying that a young man who leads a rock-and-roll band must have had someone in his grandfather’s generation who played rock music as well.

The Gospel of Thomas is mentioned or quoted by some Church fathers in the first decades of the third century. Recent scholarship dates its earliest possible composition to about A.D. 140 (though the only complete manuscript is a Coptic translation dating to around A.D. 400). Even if this hypothetical dating is correct, that is more than 70 years after our canonical Gospels. By that time the true Gospels and the very expression evangelion (gospel) were well established; understandably a new creation like Thomas would try to traffic in this good name by claiming the Gospel title. But nothing here supports the theory that Thomas was a model for Q in the A.D. 35–65 time span. The Gospel of Thomas is not just “noncanonical.” Every Church father who ever mentioned it called it heretical or gnostic. From a gnostic document we cannot expect interest in Jesus’ death and resurrection, since gnosticism repudiates both as the early church understood them. So how can a heretical writing rightly be taken as the prototype for constructing canonical ones?

It is important to recall here that an actual “Q gospel” sans passion and Easter narratives does not exist. It is rather extracted from Matthew and Luke—which in every form known to us do contain the passion and Easter material.

William R. Farmer has recently suggested why the heretical Gospel of Thomas is being pushed to play so large a role in reconstructing early Christianity: “Because Thomas is a late-second to fourth-century document, by itself it could never be successfully used to lever the significance of Jesus off its New Testament foundation. Similarly, the sayings source Q, allegedly used by Matthew and Luke, by itself could never be successfully used to achieve this result. But used together, as they are by a significant number of scholars, Thomas and Q appear to reinforce one another.”25

You cannot erect a house of cards with a single card. You might lean two cards together as long as no wind blows. But can you live in such a house of cards?

Let us return to our original question: Is the Lost Gospel of Q fact or fantasy? The answer is now clear.

As a modest hypothesis undergirding the two-source theory, Q turns out to be based on an error. It has been promoted without thorough examination. Put to the test, it proves untenable.

As co-conspirator with the Gospel of Thomas to undermine the whole of Christian faith, Q is nothing but fantasy. The same goes for the literary shuffling used to discern various layers in it. So why are earnest scholars willing to indulge in such fantasies?

“At issue today is whether the death of Jesus should be regarded as an unnecessary or an essential part of the Christian message. The trend among New Testament scholars who follow the Thomas-Q line is to represent Jesus as one whose disciples had no interest in any redemptive consequence of his death and no interest in his resurrection.”26

This critical assessment is borne out in Stephen J. Patterson’s essay in BR, particularly in its closing sentences: “Together with the Gospel of Thomas, Q tells us that not all Christians chose Jesus’ death and resurrection as a focal point of their theological reflection…The followers of Jesus were very diverse and drew on a plethora of traditions to interpret and explain what they were doing. With the discovery of the Lost Gospel, perhaps some of the diversity will again thrive, as we rediscover that theological diversity is not a weakness, but a strength.”27

The motive is clear. Q (with Thomas’ aid) gives a biblical basis for those who do not accept Jesus as the Son of God, reject his atoning death on the cross and deny his resurrection. Then, these same scholars combine their newly minted biblical basis with early Church diversity to justify calling themselves “Christians” despite their aberrant convictions.

By trumpeting the claim that today’s new Q-Christians are in sync with earliest historical origins while traditional Bible believers hallow “the result of early Christian mythmaking,” they lay down an effective smoke screen that enables them to keep their posts as ostensible professors of Christian origins and leaders of the church.

But we are not obliged to follow “cleverly devised tales” (2 Peter 1:16). The canonical Gospels exist. Q does not. The heretical, second-century Gospel of Thomas is not binding except on gnostics! On both historical and theological grounds, there is no reason to give up the canonical Gospels as the original and divinely inspired foundation for our faith.

Documentary Hypothesis


The idea of the documentary hypothesis has been around for a long time, so what is placed here should not be news to anyone. What should be news, and we will include ‘Q’ and any other letter scholars have come up with over the years, is that none of these letters or authors is attested to by any ancient writer.

What this means of course is that the idea that there was a J priestly writer, D, E & P one or even a source book called ‘Q’ is all made up figment of some very fertile scholarly imaginations. The problem is not that some people can see this fact but that scholars ignore it when it is pointed out to them and they keep teaching the idea like it is a proven fact.

As an example, some scholars have spent years reconstructing the document ‘Q’ but how can you reconstruct something that has never existed? Verification of the content is impossible because there is no ancient source holding any quoted words from the supposed source ‘Q’.

The idea that scholars waste theirs and their students’ time with such fruitless work is irritating and annoying to this organization. The idea that some Christians have adopted this hypothesis and pass it on like it is gospel truth is even more upsetting. Christians are to go for the truth, not participate in meaningless academic games.

What follows are some excerpts from different writings to give you an idea of what the Documentary Hypothesis is all about. We encourage our readers to dig further than what is presented here in order for them to obtain the complete picture of the issue.

#1. (1993). Bible and Spade (1993), 6, 34.

The History and Salient Points of the Documentary Hypothesis

The Documentary Hypothesis began when Jean Astruc (1684–1766) came to believe that he could uncover the sources of the Pentateuch by using the divine names Yahweh and Elohim as a guide. He placed passages that use the name Elohim in one column (A), those that use Yahweh in another (B), and passages with “repetitions” (C) and interpolations (D) in a third and a fourth column. From this simple, if not facile, beginning originated the road to the Documentary Hypothesis. Along the way came a “fragmentary hypothesis” (which asserts that the Pentateuch was compiled from a mass of fragmentary sources) and a “supplemental hypothesis” (which asserts that a single, unified document lies at the core of the Pentateuch, but that many fragmentary sources have been added to it). But the triumphant theory of Pentateuchal origins was the Documentary Hypothesis, often called the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis after the   two men, K.H. Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who gave it its classic expression.

The theory, in its most basic form, is easy enough to grasp: Behind the Pentateuch are four source documents, called J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomist), and P (Priestly Code).

J, the oldest, begins at Genesis 2:4b and includes large portions of Genesis as well as portions of Exodus and Numbers and a few short texts in Deuteronomy. It may be dated to the early monarchy (Solomonic?) period. In Genesis, J refers to God as Yahweh, for, according to the hypothesis, people began using the name Yahweh early in the antediluvian period (Gn 4:26, a J text). As a theological statement, J is often regarded as the work of a great, original thinker who gave shape to the Old Testament idea of the history of salvation.

E is somewhat later than J but follows the same basic story line. Genesis 15 is the earliest extant E text. E’s provenance is the northern kingdom. In Genesis, E refers to God as Elohim rather than Yahweh, for, according to E, the name Yahweh was not revealed until the exodus period (Ex 3:15, an E text). E is more sensitive to moral issues than J, but it views God as somewhat more distant from man. J and E were subsequently redacted (edited) into a single document by RJE (R=redactor). In the course of redaction, much of the E material was edited out and thus lost to posterity.

D was produced at the time of the Josianic reformation (2 Kgs 22) and is essentially the Book of Deuteronomy. D does not have a characteristic divine name since it has little if any representation in Genesis. RD subsequently combined the texts JE and D.

P was produced last, in the exilic period. It begins at Genesis 1:1 and includes large portions of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers and all of Leviticus. In Genesis, P refers to God as Elohim since, like E, it assumes that the divine name Yahweh was first revealed at the exodus (Ex 6:3, a P text). It is dominated by genealogies, priestly regulations, and a highly stylized manner of narration. P was soon redacted into JED by RP. The Pentateuch was thus formed.

  A few fragments not related to any of the four source documents (e.g., Gn 14) are also to be found in the Pentateuch.

#2. (1993). Bible and Spade (1993), 6, 37.

The central arguments for the hypothesis are as follows:

1. Some texts in Genesis refer to God as Yahweh, whereas others call him Elohim. Those texts that call him Yahweh may be assigned to J, who thought the name Yahweh was revealed to humanity well before the patriarchal age began. Those texts that refer to God as Elohim may be assigned to E or P. both of whom thought the name Yahweh was not revealed until the Exodus.

2. Genesis contains some duplicate stories and repetitions. This is because each of the two source documents contained its own version of a single tradition. Thus 12:10–20 (J) and 20:1–18 (E) are variants of a single tradition. Sometimes the two variant versions were redacted into a single narrative, yet the documents behind the single redaction are still apparent. J and P each had a version of the Flood story, for example, but these have been combined in the present text.

3. Contradictions within Genesis indicate the existence of the separate documents. The implication is that one document had one tradition, but a second had another.

4. The language and style of the documents vary. J is said to have been a masterful storyteller, but P is prosaic and wordy. Each document also has its own preferred vocabulary. For the English “begot.” J prefers the G stem yld, but P uses the H stem hôîid.

5. Each document, when extracted from the present text of Genesis, shows itself to have been a continuous, meaningful piece of literature. In particular, it is possible to see a specific literary and theological purpose behind each. This validates the method.

6. Even on a superficial reading, some texts obviously involve more than one source. The best example is Genesis 1–2, which can hardly come from a single source. Instead, Genesis 1:1–2:3 and Genesis 2:4ff. must be regarded as separate works. The presence of obvious examples of separate sources in a text validates the principles of the Documentary Hypothesis, which may then be applied to texts where the source division is not obvious.

  7. The confused history of the Israelite priesthood found in the Pentateuch is best explained by the Documentary Hypothesis. In some texts (e.g. Deuteronomy), all Levites are priests. In other texts, (the P portions of Exodus and Leviticus), only the Aaronites are priests and the rest of the Levites are mere hierodules-workers in the temple without priestly privileges. The Pentateuch, therefore, cannot be a unified work from a single hand. Rather, documents D and P come from different perspectives and different ages.

#3. Bennett, S. J. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Exodus, Book of, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

The documentary hypothesis identifies four documents, which are known by the abbreviations J, E, D, and P. D represents most of Deuteronomy and is not represented in Exodus at all. The other three were considered to be intertwined in the other books of the Pentateuch. The documentary hypothesis was a sophisticated development of earlier theories that sought to explain literary characteristics in terms of multiple sources (such as the fragmentary and supplementary hypotheses).

Samuel Driver followed the documentary hypothesis in his 1891 introduction to the Old Testament. In his analysis of Exodus, the first half of the book alternates between P and the J and E sources every few verses. For example, Exodus 1–2 are analyzed as follows: Exod 1:1–5 (P); 1:6 (J); 1:7 (P); 1:8–12 (J) 1:13–14 (P); 1:15–2:14 (E); 2:15–23a (J); 2:23b–25 (P). His analysis of the second half of the book assigns larger units to the sources. For example, the construction of the tabernacle in Exod 35–40 is all attributed to P (Driver, Introduction, 22, 32).

Martin Noth defended the documentary hypothesis in his 1962 commentary on Exodus (1959 in German). He identifies the sources by means of italic and Roman type in his translation. Noth finds the J source in the narrative material of Exodus. For example, the making of the covenant in Exod 34:1–28 is designated as J because it has no cultic element and resembles the J composition of Gen 12:1–3 (Noth, Exodus, 15). E material is also narrative, but Noth finds a greater cultic interest in this source as, for example, in the making of the covenant in Exod 24:9–11. P material is less interested in narrative and more interested in ritual, especially divine ordinances and instructions (such as those for building the tabernacle; Noth, Exodus, 16).

The choice of divine names is an important factor in the documentary hypothesis. The use of Yahweh is considered typical of the J source, while Elohim is preferred by the E and P sources. This is relevant for the first few chapters of Exodus, where the divine name is revealed in Exod 3:15. U. Cassuto challenged this criterion in 1961 and suggested instead that the choice of divine name was determined by the different nuances of the different names. He argued that Elohim is used in matters of international concern or application, while Yahweh is used in matters that concern Israel alone (Cassuto, Documentary Hypothesis, 23; see Whybray, Making of the Pentateuch, 55).

Nicholson is not convinced by this reasoning, especially because the use of Yahweh increases after the revelations of Exod 3:15 and 6:3, while the use of Elohim decreases (Nicholson, “The Pentateuch,” 13). Cassuto would argue that the later part of Exodus is more focused on national concerns (hence the use of Yahweh), while earlier in the book the Egyptians are involved, making a more international focus (hence the use of Elohim).

Of particular importance for Exodus is the statement in Exod 6:3, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.” In support of the documentary hypothesis, Claus Westermann argued that this statement could not have come from the same author who wrote Gen 4:26, “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord [that is, Yahweh]” (ESV) (Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 579).

Various explanations other than the documentary hypothesis have been offered to account for Exod 6:3 and the earlier use of Yahweh. Westermann refers to M.H. Segal’s suggestion that Exod 6:3 is concerned only with the meaning of Yahweh, not with the first instance of its revelation (Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 579). H.H. Rowley takes the reference to the patriarchs in Exod 6:3 exclusively. If the name Yahweh was not revealed to the patriarchs, that does not mean that it was not revealed to anyone else before Moses. This possibility is supported by the explicit statement in Gen 4:26 (Rowley, Unity, 25f). Rowley’s view is weakened, however, by references to the patriarchs calling on the name of Yahweh (e.g., Gen 12:8). It would also be surprising if the patriarchs were ignorant of a name that was common knowledge to others.

Source Criticism and the Old Testament

While the Pentateuch is traditionally attributed to Moses, the early church recognized that at least some portions of the Pentateuch were the work of someone other than Moses; for example, Moses could not have recorded the events of his own death (Deut 34). The author of the Homilies of Pseudo-Clement states that Peter said, “For in the law itself it is written, ‘And Moses died; and they buried him near the house of Phogor, and no one knows his sepulchre till this day.’ But how could Moses write that Moses died?” (Pseudo-Clement, Homilies III, 247). Jerome also suggests, in his Prolegomena book 5, that the Pentateuch may have been edited by Ezra (see also Jerome, Adv. Helv. 7). Deuteronomy 34 indicates that Moses’ burial spot remains a secret “until this day,” indicating that this portion of Deuteronomy was written well after Moses’ death.

In 1753 Astruc, father of the Documentary Hypothesis, challenged Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in his work Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paroit que Moyse s’est servi, pour composer le Livre de la Genese. He argued that the Pentateuch was a compilation of various documents. Astruc questioned Mosaic authorship based on three criteria:

1.      repetition

2.      doublets

3.      the alternating names for God in the Pentateuch

Later, Wellhausen, building on the work of Graf, developed a four-source version of the hypothesis in his work, Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Wellhausen believed that by finding and dating the literary sources behind the Pentateuch, he could present a better understanding of the development of Judaism. He developed his hypothesis on the basis of the following factors:

•      time and dating issues (e.g., the chronological issues of Hagar and Ishmael in Gen 16:16; 17:1, 21)

•      various doublets (e.g., the two creation accounts in Gen 1–2)

•      stylistic variations in the Pentateuch (e.g., the different names for God in Genesis)

Wellhausen’s four sources went by the initials JEDP:

•      J—The Yahwist. Wellhausen believed that the passages that use the Hebrew name “Yahweh” (“Jahweh” in German) for God are the work of one writer (950 BC).

•      E—The Elohist. Passages that use the name “Elohim” for God are the work of another writer (750 BC).

•      D—The Deuteronomist. Passages that are the work of a Deuteronomistic writer (650 BC).

•      P—The Priestly source. Refers to the priestly writings (587 BC).

The compilation of these four sources is supposed to have taken place around 400 BC.

There are ongoing efforts to refine Wellhausen’s work, with little consensus. For example, Van Seters argues that the J source was written much later in the exilic period rather than during the monarchy. The hypothesis has also been criticized, and newer hypotheses have been advanced and developed within historical-critical school. Form and redaction criticism developed out of the inability to discover the actual sources behind the text. Gunkel (the father of form criticism) challenged the Graf-Wellhausen source-critical methods on this basis; his challenge did not deny the use of sources, just the ability to recover them.

The hypothesis is not universally accepted. Brevard Childs broke radically from his historical-critical counterparts in his monograph Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. He argued for the need to forget about sources and forms and study the Bible as it is received canonically. Closson notes that some scholars hold “to Mosaic authorship and treat the books as a literary unit. This does not mean that Moses didn’t use other documents to write his books. He obviously did. But since other Old Testament authors affirm Mosaic authorship, as do numerous New Testament writers and the early church fathers, the veracity of the Bible as a whole begins to crumble if Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch” (Closson, “Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?” 1). These scholars are concerned that acceptance of sources cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. However, Closson affirms that Moses drew from sources in the composition of the Pentateuch. As Moses was not present for the creation account or with the patriarchs, he must have received this information from someone.

Others object to the methodology of source criticism. Closson criticizes the assumptions that source-critical scholars bring to their work: “Modern scholars assume that Hebrew writers never used the repetition of ideas or occurrences even though authors in other ancient Semitic languages did so. They also assume that they can scientifically date the texts, even though they have no other ancient Hebrew writings to compare them with. Documentary scholars have felt free to amend the text by substituting more common words for rare or unusual words that they do not understand or do not expect to see in a given context” (Closson, “Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?” 2).

Source Criticism and the New Testament

Source-critical analysis continues to influence New Testament studies, particularly in relationship to the Synoptic Gospels. Until the 19th century, Matthew’s Gospel was believed to be the first Gospel written. Augustine was one of the first to record an argument for Matthean priority. Johann Jakob Griesbach argued that Matthew’s Gospel predated Mark’s, and that Mark used both Matthew and Luke (see Orchard and Longstaff, J.J. Griesbach). With the advent of source criticism, scholars began to search for the interconnectivity within the synoptic traditions as well as for the prior oral or written sources used in the development of the Synoptic Gospels. The beginning of Luke’s Gospel seems to indicate such a dependence on sources: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first” (Luke 1:1–3a NRSV). Scholars began evaluating patterns of agreement and disagreement within our current forms of the Synoptic Gospels in their attempt to understand this developmental process that led to our current Gospels. Out of this research came two main hypotheses.

#4. Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 87). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Form Criticism. Form criticism studies literary forms, such as essays, poems, and myths, since different writings have different forms. Often the form of a piece of literature can tell a great deal about the nature of a literary piece, its writer, and its social context. Technically this is termed its “life setting” (Sitz im Leben). The classic liberal position is the documentary or J-E-P-D Pentateuchal source analysis theory established by Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) and his followers (see PENTATEUCH, MOSAIC AUTHORSHIP OF). They actually attempted to mediate between traditionalism and skepticism, dating Old Testament books in a less supernaturalistic manner by applying the “documentary theory.” These documents are identified as the “Jahwist” or Jehovistic (J), dated in the ninth century B.C., the Elohistic (E), eighth century, the Deuteronomic (D), from about the time of Josiah (640–609), and the Priestly (P), from perhaps the fifth century B.C. So attractive was the evolutionary concept in literary criticism that the source theory of Pentateuchal origins began to prevail over all opposition. A mediating position of some aspects of the theory was expressed by C. F. A. Dillman (1823–1894), Rudolph Kittle (1853–1929), and others. Opposition to the documentary theory was expressed by Franz Delitzsch (1813–1890), who rejected the hypothesis outright in his commentary on Genesis, William Henry Green (1825–1900), James Orr (1844–1913), A. H. Sayce (1845–1933), Wilhelm Möller, Eduard Naville, Robert Dick Wilson (1856–1930), and others (see Harrison, 239–41; Archer; Pfeiffer). Sometimes form-critical studies are marred by doctrinaire assumptions, including that early forms must be short and later forms longer, but, in general, form criticism has been of benefit to biblical interpretation. Form criticism has been most profitably used in the study of the Psalms (Wenham, “History and the Old Testament,” 40).

These techniques were introduced into New Testament study of the Gospels as Formgeschichte (“form history”) or form criticism. Following in the tradition of Heinrich Paulus and Wilhelm De Wette (1780–1849), among others, scholars at Tübingen built on the foundation of source criticism theory. They advocated the priority of Mark as the earliest Gospel and multiple written sources. William Wrede (1859–1906) and other form critics sought to eliminate the chronological-geographical framework of the Synoptic Gospels and to investigate the twenty-year period of oral traditions between the close of New Testament events and the earliest written accounts of those events. They attempted to classify this material into “forms” of oral tradition and to discover the historical situation (Sitz im Leben) within the early church that gave rise to these forms. These units of tradition are usually assumed to reflect more of the life and teaching of the early church than the life and teaching of the historical Jesus. Forms in which the units are cast are clues to their relative historical value.

The fundamental assumption of form criticism is typified by Martin Dibelius (1883–1947) and Bultmann. By creating new words and deeds of Jesus as the situation demanded, the evangelists arranged the units or oral tradition and created artificial contexts to serve their own purposes. In challenging the authorship, date, structure, and style of other New Testament books, destructive critics arrived at similar conclusions. To derive a fragmented New Testament theology, they rejected Pauline authorship for all Epistles traditionally ascribed to him except Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Galatians (Hodges, 339–48).

Thoroughgoing form critics hold two basic assumptions: (1) The early Christian community had little or no genuine biographical interest or integrity, so it created and transformed oral tradition to meet its own needs. (2) The evangelists were compiler-editors of individual, isolated units of tradition that they arranged and rearranged without regard for historical reality (see Thomas and Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels [281–82], who identify Dibelius, Bultmann, Burton S. Easton, R. H. Lightfoot, Vincent Taylor, and D. E. Nineham as preeminent New Testament form critics).

#5. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 14:01.

Early in his career Julius Wellhausen—the German Bible scholar best known for the development of the so-called documentary hypothesis, which divides the Pentateuch into four major authorial strands* —asked to be transferred from the University of Greifswald’s Theological Faculty to the Philosophical Faculty. He explained: “I became a theologian because of my interest in the scientific study of the Bible. Gradually I realized that a professor of theology has at the same time the practical task of preparing the students for their ministry in the Protestant church. But I do not succeed in this practical task; notwithstanding all my restraint, I render the students incapable of their ministry. Thus my theological professorship weighs heavily upon my conscience.”

Wellhausen obviously understood the discrepancy between his scientific approach to the Bible and the needs of the religious community. I regard myself as one of Wellhausen’s intellectual heirs; like him, I only came to realize this discrepancy gradually.

The Wellhausen letter from which I quoted was written in 1872 but was only published much later, by Alfred Jepsen, who also taught at Greifswald. In his publication of the letter, Jepsen asked, “How could Wellhausen come to the conviction that teaching an acknowledged truth would contradict the preaching of the gospel and therefore make people incapable for their ministry in the church?” In other words, if the historical-critical method really reveals “the truth,” how can it contradict the ministry in a religious community?

I do not deny a certain plausibility to the results of modern scientific study of the Hebrew Bible. But I have two main objections to the way these results are often used. One is the conviction, not to say the complacency, with which the results of the historical-critical method are asserted. This has been true even as the results themselves have changed dramatically. An example: Wellhausen dated the Yahwist strand of the Pentateuch to early in the Israelite and Judahite kingdom, perhaps as early as the tenth or ninth century B.C. The Yahwist narrative was therefore of great importance as a source for Israelite history during this period. Recently, a growing number of scholars has come to doubt this dating. Many of them date the Yahwist to the time of the Babylonian Exile (sixth century B.C.). One would have expected an outcry about this shocking crumbling of one of the pillars of source-critical research. But that has not been the case; there has been no objection. Why not? Because the method itself is regarded as valid, and therefore its results have to be accepted as true, even when they change fundamentally. What kind of “truth” is that?

My second objection is related to the first. Why should the documentary hypothesis, for example, be the only way to apply the historical-critical method to the Pentateuch? Why not use new approaches? Take the Book of Isaiah: Many Old Testament scholars simply accept that the book comes from two, or even three, authors—First Isaiah (chapters 1–39), Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40–55) and even Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56–66). Recently, some of us have been asking, What about the book Isaiah? Should we not ask what the final author (or authors) of the book wanted to tell the reader?

Modern scholars often reflect what I call the hubris of the 19th century. They see everything more clearly than those who came before, in particular those who came before the Enlightenment. The so-called redactors, or final editors, of the biblical books, and similar scribes are, it is assumed, much less intelligent and informed than the modern professor. The Hebrew of these ancient editors, it is sometimes said, is bad. They did not know the historical context of the texts they were reworking. Sometimes they did not even understand the “original” meaning of the text and therefore changed it for the worse, requiring the modern professor to put things in order and so make the text comprehensible.

Unfortunately, this is not simply a caricature; it is very close to reality. I do not mean to exclude myself from this tradition: As a young academic, I was sometimes very harsh with students who did not believe in the documentary hypothesis. But gradually, I began to understand the limits of such hypotheses. In addition to dissecting the text, we must try to read and understand the texts as they have come down to us. This is what Brevard Childs, in his important Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, calls “canonical interpretation.”1

As Childs emphasizes, the Bible was the sacred scripture of Israel. “Israel,” in this context, refers to a community of faith. Therefore, to read the Hebrew Bible “as Scripture” means, first of all, to read it as a religious document that served a religious community.

From this viewpoint, the main question is no longer “How did this text emerge and develop?” but “What is the message of the text in its final form?” Only in this form did it serve as sacred scripture for a religious community.

At this point a certain tension emerges between the scientific and the religious dimensions of exegesis. The traditional interest of historical-critical scholarship is in the assumed earlier stages of the text. We are now witnessing a certain change in the line of sight, however. More and more scholars are focusing on the final form of the text. I should stress that this does not involve a departure from the historical-critical method, only a change in the focus.

Nevertheless, there is a certain tension between the two approaches. Let me explain with an example:

It is obvious that the Book of Genesis was not written by a single author. The two main elements, traditionally known as the Yahwist strand and the Priestly Code, are clearly distinguishable. The question is how to handle those insights. Clearly, chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Genesis were written by different authors and are two different stories of creation. (Genesis 1:1–2:3 is generally attributed to the Priestly Code; the balance of Genesis 2, to the Yahwist.) My suggested “canonical exegesis” will acknowledge this difference, but it will not stop there. Indeed, only then does the real exegetical task begin—to try to understand the message of the text as a whole. What does it mean to “Fill the earth and master it” (Genesis 1:28)? This is explained in the second account of creation, in chapter 2: God put the man in the garden “to till it” and “keep it,” or “tend it,” or better yet “guard it” (Genesis 2:15). Thus we learn that “master” in Genesis 1:28 does not mean “subdue,” as it is often rendered in English translations, or to rule, but to work carefully and guard. It seems obvious that the author of the text as it has come down to us understood the relation between the two chapters in this way. They are not in contrast to each other, but related to each other.

#6. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 10:04.

The Catholic Church and Bible Interpretation

Major Catholic report endorses modern critical scholarship, condemns fundamentalist biblical interpretation

The historical-critical method of Bible interpretation is “indispensable”, declares a remarkable new report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission of the Roman Catholic Church.1 “Proper understanding [of the Bible] not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it.” Holy Scripture is the “word of God in human language”; in short, the Bible “has been composed by human authors in all its various parts,” states the report issued late last year by a 20-person committee, all men and all leading Roman Catholic scholars.

One of the most valuable aspects of the Commission’s report is its careful, yet succinct descriptions of the wide variety of methods of biblical interpretation, noting both the strengths and limitations of each method.

The Commission’s report discusses both the “documentary hypothesis” regarding the editing of the Pentateuch and the “two-source hypothesis” regarding the relationship of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to one another.

The report describes the “documentary hypothesis” as “an explanation of the editing of the Pentateuch. According to this hypothesis, four documents, to some extent parallel with each other, had been woven together: that of the Yahwist (J), that of the Elohist (E), that of the Deuteronomist (D) and that of the priestly author (P); the final editor made use of this latter (priestly) document to provide a structure for the whole.”

As for the “two-source hypothesis”:

“In similar fashion, to explain both the agreements and disagreements between the three synoptic Gospels, scholars had recourse to the ‘two-source’ hypothesis. According to this, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were composed out of two principal sources: on the one hand, the Gospel of Mark and, on the other, a collection of the sayings of Jesus (called Q, from the German word quelle, meaning “source”). In their essential features, these two hypotheses retain their prominence in scientific exegesis today—though they are also under challenge.”

The report goes on to describe not only source criticism as reflected in the methods described above, but also form criticism, tradition criticism, redaction criticism and other tools of the historical-critical approach, which, the report concludes, have provided “fresh access to the Bible.”

The report specifically rejects the literalist stance of fundamentalist interpretation. The report describes the fundamentalist approach as “dangerous,” inviting people to “a kind of intellectual suicide.” This approach “unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.” The report’s discussion of fundamentalist interpretation is printed in its entirety in the sidebar to this article.

While noting the limitations of feminist exegesis, the report gives generally high marks to it:

“Feminist exegesis has brought many benefits. Women have played a more active part in exegetical research. They have succeeded, often better than men, in detecting the presence, the significance and the role of women in the Bible, in Christian origins and in the church. The worldview of today, because of its greater attention to the dignity of women and to their role in society and in the church, ensures that new questions are put to the biblical text, which in turn occasions new discoveries. Feminine sensitivity helps to unmask and correct certain commonly accepted interpretations which were tendentious and sought to justify the male domination of women.”

The report gives a more qualified endorsement to liberation theology. Liberation theology seeks a reading of the Bible “drawn from the situation of people as it is lived here and now. If a people lives in circumstances of oppression, one must go to the Bible to find there nourishment capable of sustaining the people in its struggles and its hopes.”…

Fundamentalist Interpretation is “Naively Literalist”—An Excerpt from the Catholic Report on the Bible

“Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details. But by ‘literal interpretation’ it understands a naively literalist interpretation, one, that is to say, which excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development. It is opposed, therefore, to the use of the historical-critical method, as indeed to the use of any other scientific method for the interpretation of Scripture.

The fundamentalist interpretation had its origin at the time of the Reformation, arising out of a concern for fidelity to the literal meaning of Scripture. After the century of the Enlightenment it emerged in Protestantism as a bulwark against liberal exegesis.

The actual term fundamentalist is connected directly with the American Biblical Congress held at Niagara, N.Y., in 1895. At this meeting, conservative Protestant exegetes defined ‘five points of fundamentalism’: the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, his virginal birth, the doctrine of vicarious expiation and the bodily resurrection at the time of the second coming of Christ. As the fundamentalist way of reading the Bible spread to other parts of the world, it gave rise to other ways of interpretation, equally ‘literalist,’ in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. As the 20th century comes to an end, this kind of interpretation is winning more and more adherents, in religious groups and sects, as also among Catholics.

Fundamentalism is right to insist on the divine inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the word of God and other biblical truths included in its five fundamental points. But its way of presenting these truths is rooted in an ideology which is not biblical, whatever the proponents of this approach might say. For it demands an unshakable adherence to rigid doctrinal points of view and imposes, as the only source of teaching for Christian life and salvation, a reading of the Bible which rejects all questioning and any kind of critical research.

The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language and that this word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods. It pays no attention to the literary forms and to the human ways of thinking to be found in the biblical texts, many of which are the result of a process extending over long periods of time and bearing the mark very diverse historical situations.

Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.

Fundamentalism often shows a tendency to ignore or to deny the problems presented by the biblical text in its original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek form. It is often narrowly bound to one fixed translation, whether old or present-day. By the same token it fails to take account of the ‘rereadings’ (relectures) of certain texts which are found within the Bible itself.

In what concerns the Gospels, fundamentalism does not take into account the development of the Gospel tradition, but naively confuses the final stage of this tradition (what the evangelists have written) with the initial (the words and deeds of the historical Jesus). At the same time fundamentalism neglects an important fact: the way in which the first Christian communities themselves understood the impact produced by Jesus of Nazareth and his message. But it is precisely there that we find a witness to the apostolic origin of the Christian faith and its direct expression. Fundamentalism thus misrepresents the call voiced by the Gospel itself.

Fundamentalism likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith. Its relying upon a non-critical reading of certain texts of the Bible serves to reinforce political ideas and social attitudes that are marked by prejudices—racism, for example—quite contrary to the Christian Gospel.

Finally, in its attachment to the principle ‘Scripture alone,’ fundamentalism separates the interpretation of the Bible from the tradition, which, guided by the Spirit, has authentically developed in union with Scripture in the heart of the community of faith. It fails to realize that the New Testament took form within the Christian church and that is the Holy Scripture of this church, the existence of which preceded the composition of the texts. Because of this, fundamentalism is often anti-church; it considers of little importance the creeds, the doctrines and liturgical practices which have become part of church tradition, as well as the teaching function of the church itself. It presents itself as a form of private interpretation which does not acknowledge that the church is founded on the Bible and draws its life and inspiration from Scripture.

The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects in to life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.”

#7. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 17:06.

Today, when scholars discuss the multiple authors whose work has been woven together in the Bible, they often credit the groundbreaking research in the mid- to late 19th century of Julius Wellhausen and Karl Graf, whose documentary hypothesis identified four source texts (the Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomic and Priestly sources) woven together in the Pentateuch.* But in truth, some of the credit should go instead to the German Rationalists and Neologists working decades before Wellhausen.

In 1780 Johann Gottfried Eichhorn posited two sources for Genesis 1–11—an Elohim source and a Jehovah source (Jehovah being a misvocalization for the sacred name YHWH made common in Reformation-era Bible translations)—based on the two names used for God throughout these chapters.2 Eichhorn also separated the history found in Samuel and Kings from that in Chronicles and dated the latter to the post-Exilic period (post 539 B.C.E.) based on the late linguistic forms found in the text and the book’s elaborate demonology and angelology, in which he detected Persian influence.

Literary differences in prophetic literature were also identified as the work of different writers brought together by later editors. In 1780, Johann Benjamin Koppe claimed that Isaiah 40–66 was written during the Babylonian Exile, a position widely espoused by late Victorian and 20th-century scholarship (although today this dating is increasingly challenged).3

In the early 19th century, Wilhelm M.L. de Wette argued that much of the material in Genesis-Numbers was unhistorical (anachronistic). The comprehensive legal system, sacrificial cult and priesthood associated with Moses were actually products of the Exilic period that had been retrojected into the Mosaic era. He found that Chronicles was too late to include reliable information about Israelite religion during the time of the monarchy. De Wette, like the church father Jerome centuries earlier, identified Deuteronomy as the book discovered when the late-seventh-century king Josiah was making repairs to the Temple (according to 2 Kings 22). Thus de Wette concluded that Deuteronomy, which institutes the written law and establishes a central sanctuary in Jerusalem, reflected events and cultic regulations from the late monarchic period.4

Deuteronomy was further identified as the beginning of a literary process that was to conclude with the formal priestly religion enshrined in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Thus, Wellhausen’s Deuteronomic and Priestly sources were foreshadowed, in chronological order, without being named as such. By the early 19th century, adherents of the German higher critical approaches believed that writings that had once been attributed to Moses were actually the work of several authors and editors dating no earlier than the Israelite monarchy.

Word of this radical German biblical criticism reached England in the late 18th century. But it did not receive a prominent airing until the 1820s, when the Anglican divine Edward B. Pusey excoriated the German scholar Michaelis (as well as Eichhorn and de Wette) for his “perverted applications of mere civil, often of modern, principles, unfounded theories and low views.”5

British shock over this treatment of Holy Writ had far less to do with the redating of biblical texts, however, than with the willingness to question and reject traditional dogmas of church belief. If the world we inhabit is devoid of miracles, a credo of the Enlightenment, then Moses did not part the Red Sea by supernatural intervention. Once skepticism in the literal historical reading of the Bible took root in the academy, the training ground for tomorrow’s clergy, where would it end?6

Moderate British churchmen struggled to promote a counter-educational program that appealed to reason without offending conventional piety. Popular commentaries were generated for lay consumption, and the young were taught in Sunday schools to resist the allure of skepticism.

Nevertheless, German higher criticism continued to gain ground, and the offended British intelligentsia cast about for ways to protect the traditional dogmas of inspiration and scriptural infallibility.