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« Kim Davis’s Request: An Important Clarification | Main | Should Christians Defend Themselves against Persecution or Take What's Coming? »

September 08, 2015


The answer to this one is that it is complete nonsense. The bishops did not choose the canon based upon politics. They chose them based upon specific criteria. The canon was composed as an answer to heretical groups during the time, as well.

None of the other gospels, that are extremely distinct from the canonicals, were even written in the first century. They were discarded because the council did not know who the authors were, and the canonical gospels were written far earlier. The gospels are not Roman and have heavy jewishness to them, and they most certainly are not kind to the Romans, so this goes out the window.

Also, there was already an unofficial canon in place in the first century. There were just a small number of books that most churches used that didn't make it in, such as the didache. The gospels were selected based upon their contents and authorship.

Of course, this process had some sort of political element to it, because religion and politics were combined in the time period. That doesn't really mean much though. The emperor Constantine was not really involved in this process much at all and had virtually no sway over what went on.

A challenge based on blind acceptance of some Brownesque piece of fiction. Canon was never up for consideration at Nicaea. This question was resolved at the Councils of Rome (A.D. 382) and Carthage (A.D. 397)a full seventy years after Constantine's reign.

A good summation of what happened at Nicaea can be seen here:

A canon of what made up the New Testament was beginning to be established by the late second century. The Muratorian Canon (ca. 180) contained the vast share of the present canon, only questioning the apostolic nature of Hebrews and James, along with the short letters of John and 2 Peter. The Apostolic fathers (Clement through Justin Martyr (100-180) quoted a large share from the books of the NT. From Polycarp alone we have citations from all the Gospels, Acts, all Paul's letters (except Philemon), 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John. This was in reaction to Marcion, who heavily restricted the NT to Pauline works and Luke. The canonical collections of Origen and Eusebius only argued on the authority of Revelation as well other early works as the Sheperd of Hermas and the Didache, both rejected due to lack of apostolic authorship.

Note that the rise of the canon came with the impetus of the rise of pseudepigraphical works of the Gnostic movement that appeared in the later second century. Canonical lists developed to distinguish the true works of the Apostles over against the frauds. There was an understanding of this apostolic stamp of authority from the beginning. Only short works as Jude, and the peculiarly different style of 2 Peter (Peter dictating his letters to two different penmen could be the cause) held the fourth century church from total agreement until each case was resolved.

But to pin all this to political maneuverings at the time of Nicaea is plain unhistorical.

It's certainly fair to ask if they have any evidence over 50 years old this true. Dan Brown is not a reliable source.

Beyond that, press for details. How many churches used the other gospels that were "in use?" If 90% of churches used the big 4 and 10% used the other 56, that would tell us something. But the truth is, they don't know. No one can answer that question without going to the traditional sources (they disbelieve) that tell us why these 4 were selected.

I'd also ask if they've read any of those other gospels. To say the 4 "whitewash" Rome is to suggest that the other somehow indict Rome. The ones we have don't. The ones we don't have ... well, they don't know what's in them, either.

In addition to the other points being made, regarding the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Judas in particular: these so-called "gospels" weren't kept from the canon because they disagreed with the rest of the Bible or Christianity, but because they weren't TRUE and had no basis in fact.

DGFisher disassembles the glaring historical inaccuracy of the challenge.

But the challenger assumes his conclusion. He merely asserts, with no evidence or argument, that the selection of the gospels was politically motivated.

Of the other "56 gospels", many of them are NOT even technically gospels (accounts of Jesus' life and teachings) they are often epistles which include scenes in which Jesus spouts sayings that look a lot more like something a Greek mystic/stoic would say than a Jewish Rabbi. And several may not even have been written by 326 AD. The ones that had been written didn't even need to be dismissed at the councils which actually recognized the canon. They were largely rejected by the church shortly after their appearance. Their authors and origins were usually known and that is the primary reason these "gospels" were rejected.

We've seen similar things happen in our own time. Remember three or four years ago when, after a plug on Oprah, The Secret became this huge thing. Christian bloggers and writers quickly cranked out refutations of the Gnostic notions in the book. And the fad vanished. (I can't even recall the spirituality fad that replaced it). A few of these Gnostic fads persist (Christian Science being one with unusual longevity.) But, generally, it's pretty obvious that these "new" renditions of the gospel message aren't the Gospel at all (or even very new), and they end up in book boxes at yard sales. No official councils or committees are required to insure they're kept out of the canon.

So it was with most of the 50-odd other "gospels". They were fads that had played out and weren't even on the table. The councils which expended time considering the canon didn't even need to reject these books, they were already in the dustbin of history.

The challenger merely asserts the church "undoubtedly preferentially select(ed) the gospels favoring the Romans". There is no proof, no evidence, no citations from either the "pro-Roman" gospels to establish their pro-Roman-ness, or citations from the "anti-Roman" Gnostic gospels to demonstrate their subversiveness. Really there's not an argument here just the word "undoubtedly". "Undoubtedly" is an odd word for a "questioning believer" (or skeptic in general).

Has the claimant read the other 56 gospels? I have not read all of them though I have studied a few. The Gospel of Thomas and Judas are actually a lot more Roman, culturally and religiously, than the gospels. They are syncretistic, patriarchal to the point of chauvinism (exactly the opposite of what is often claimed), far more mystical, and fit in with the stoic philosophy dominant in the Roman world. And neither of them really address loyalty or encourage civil disobedience. They're more interested in the Church's leadership and attacking orthodox theology.

Favorable to the Romans? Is the author living in a state that has legalized weed? Or did he rent out his brain on uber?

Sorry. I need to be kind in my responses.

The author also thinks that the Church made up the stories of Roman persecution of Christians. (That's reason two-hundred-and-some-odd by his most recent numbering.)

So somehow, the Church is both the purveyor of pro-Roman and anti-Roman propaganda.

It might not be either of those, but it seems very unlikely that it would be both.

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