Please Support the Bible Translation Work of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
In the 20th century, a collection of pseudo gospels, epistles, and apocalypses were discovered in Egypt. These and other documents of this type have been widely dubbed Gnostic or Apocryphal writings. These writings, often containing questionable doctrines or teachings, have gained considerable popularity recently. They have inspired costly films and become bestsellers; Christian sects have even adopted them.
However, these Gnostic and Apocryphal writings fail to compare to the reliability of the Biblical Gospels. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection found in the New Testament and are considered the foundation of the Christian faith. Not only have the Gospels been a tremendous success, but they have also provided the inspiration for powerful and thought-provoking films. The Gospels have proven themselves time and time again as the most reliable and accurate accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
In light of the numerous false teachings and doctrines that have arisen throughout history, it is important to place our trust in the writings that have withstood the test of time and proven themselves to be accurate and reliable. The Biblical Gospels are a testament to God’s love and mercy and provide a solid foundation for our faith. We can trust in the Gospels because they are the Word of God and stand as the greatest testimony to the love and provision of God in our lives.
Was There a Conspiracy?
In an age of increasing cynicism towards traditional religious views, the Gnostic writings, also known as apocryphal writings, have gained much attention and following. These non-canonical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, appeal to those seeking spirituality but are skeptical of religious institutions. As one magazine put it, “The Gospel of Thomas and other apocryphal works speak to the hearts of many people who are eager for spirituality, but distrust organized religions. These non-canonical texts explore aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings that conventional Christianity often overlooks or dismisses.” There are at least 30 groups in Brazil, known for their unique spiritual practices, who are influenced by the Apocrypha.
The discovery of the Apocrypha has led to the theory that in the 4th century, the Christian Church intentionally suppressed knowledge about Jesus and the original teachings of Christianity while also altering the biblical gospels. Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion, has argued that “what we call Christianity today represents only a small selection of specific sources” chosen by the Church. Pagels suggests that Christian tradition is limited to a small selection of sources and that dozens of other sources, such as the Apocrypha, have been overlooked.
What Is the Synoptic Problem of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and What is the Hypothetical So-Called Q Document?
Some scholars, such as Elaine Pagels, believe that the Bible may not be the only source of Christian faith. Other sources, including the Apocryphal writings, can also be considered. A BBC program titled “The Real Mary Magdalene” highlights the Apocryphal writings’ portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a teacher and spiritual guide to the other disciples. Juan Arias of the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo adds that the early Christian movement, founded by Jesus, may have been “profoundly feminist,” with the first domestic churches being women’s houses where they officiated as priests and bishops. These alternative sources of faith may offer different perspectives and interpretations of Christian history and tradition.
Evidence From John’s Gospel
Many individuals find the Apocryphal sources to be more significant than Biblical sources, but this preference raises crucial questions. Are the Apocryphal writings a legitimate source of Christian faith? When there are discrepancies between the Apocrypha and the Bible, which source should be considered the accurate one? Did a conspiracy really occur in the fourth century to conceal and alter the four Gospels to exclude information about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and others? To address these concerns, the Gospel of John can be investigated. John’s account of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings is one of the four Gospels contained in the New Testament. The accuracy and veracity of the Bible can be confirmed by examining the historical references in the Gospels and cross-referencing them with other sources. The Apocrypha can be considered as historical documents that provide insights into the early Christian movement and the views of the followers of Jesus at the time. However, the final determination of faith and belief should be based on the principles found in the Bible, with John’s account serving as a fundamental pillar.
The Papyrus Rylands 457, also known as P52, is a preserved fragment of the Gospel of John that was discovered in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. This fragment is valuable because it contains John 18:31-33, 37, 38 and is the oldest known Greek New Testament manuscript fragment. It is estimated that P52 was written around 125-150 C.E., just 25-50 years or so after John’s death. One of the most significant aspects of this fragment is the fact that its text is nearly identical to that of later manuscripts. This supports the consensus that the record of John’s Gospel, as it appears in its current form, was indeed written in the first century C.E. by John himself. The book of John is therefore an eyewitness account. The discovery of P52 in Egypt, where it had circulated in such an early period, further supports this conclusion. These details attest to the accuracy and historicity of John’s Gospel, affirming that it is truly God’s Word, recorded by an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings.
What are the churchgoers, the Bible college students, and seminary students to do when one Bible scholar says one thing and another Bible scholar says something quite different, or worse still, as is the case with P52, several Bible scholars are saying different dates for the time when the Greek New Testament fragment P52 was written? P = Papyrus (a plant in Egypt), the material that was used to make sheets of papyrus paper that were written on by scribes to make copies of Bible books. 52 = the number assigned to that discovered manuscript. What makes it even more unnerving is when one is not an expert in the field of study, only having basic knowledge. How can they possibly know who is correct? Worse still, the Christian is put in the embarrassing position on social media of telling an atheist that P52 is dated to 100-150 C.E., and then the atheist responds to the Christian with, ‘no your evidence from 1935 is outdated, as recent research points to a date of 200 C.E. or later.’ What is the Christian to do? What will be accomplished here in THE P52 PROJECT can be used at other times when the Christian is faced with two scholars or more offering conflicting conclusions. We are going to use the common sense that God gave us and weigh the evidence from both sides. We are going to treat THE P52 PROJECT like a criminal trial with P52 being on trial.
The Apocryphal writings, which date from the second century onward, are significantly younger than the events they describe. No concrete evidence supports the notion that the Apocryphal writings are based on earlier sources, rendering their reliability questionable. Therefore, the question arises: whose testimony should be placed greater credence, that of those who witnessed the events or those who lived a hundred years later? Evidently, the answer is to consider the eyewitnesses’ accounts, such as those present in the Gospel of John, that were recorded shortly after the events occurred. In contrast, the Apocryphal writings are limited to a few fragments, differing among themselves, which also raises doubts about their accuracy.
The claim that the Biblical Gospels were altered to suppress certain accounts of Jesus’ life has been made with little or no substantial evidence. To settle this debate, we must consider the fact that Vatican 1209, a Fourth-Century manuscript (300-330 C.E.), is a key source of the modern Bible. Any changes made in the fourth century should be reflected in this manuscript, which serves as a reliable source. Additionally, another manuscript, Bodmer 14, 15 (P75), dated between 175 C.E. and 225 C.E., also contains most of Luke and John and is considered a close textual match to Vatican 1209, according to experts. Therefore, this provides strong evidence that no significant changes were made to the Biblical Gospels and further strengthens the accuracy and validity of John’s Gospel, which is considered one of the most reliable witness’s accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings.
In reviewing the evidence, there is no tangible or empirical evidence to support the claim that John’s Gospel, or any other Biblical Gospels, were altered during the fourth century. Dr. Peter M. Head of Cambridge University, following a meticulous examination of a collection of manuscript fragments discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, concludes that these manuscripts largely affirm the contents and transmission of the New Testament text as we know it today. These findings do not challenge the established text and offer no basis for radically reevaluating our understanding of the early history of the NT. Thus, the authenticity of John’s Gospel is firmly established, making it a reliable source of information about the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus.
What Conclusion Can We Draw?
From the available evidence, we can conclude that the four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were universally accepted by Christians as early as the mid-second century, with no other competing gospels, such as the Gnostic “gospels,” being recognized. The Diatessaron, compiled between 160 and 175 C.E., served as a Greek summary of the four gospels and provided further evidence of their widespread acceptance among believers. Furthermore, Irenaeus of the late second century C.E. emphasized the importance of the four gospels, reflecting the idea that there were only four canonical gospels at the time. His comparison to the four quarters of the globe and the four cardinal winds may be questionable, but it reinforces the significance of the four gospels. Thus, we can safely say that the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were widely accepted and regarded as the authoritative record of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry.
In the earliest stages of Christianity, critics raised objections against the authenticity and reliability of the four canonical gospels, asserting that they often contradicted one another and thus could not be trusted. However, the Syrian writer Tatian proved to be a staunch defender of the gospels, as he believed that any inconsistencies could be reconciled and blended into a single, harmonious narrative. Tatian’s objective in blending the four accounts was to produce a more coherent and comprehensive description of the events that occurred during Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings. His efforts resulted in the creation of the Diatessaron, a Greek rendition of the four gospels that is now recognized as a significant contribution to early Christian literature.
The Diatessaron is a significant non-inspired composition in early Christian history because it represents the earliest known blend of the four canonical gospels. Unlike current Bibles that contain the original texts of each gospel, the Diatessaron is a Greek summary of all four gospels combined into one flowing narrative. As such, it offers a unique perspective on the life and teachings of Christ that may be helpful to some who are studying the Gospels. Additionally, the Diatessaron highlights the efforts of Tatian, a Syrian writer from the second century, who sought to reconcile any perceived inconsistencies in the four canonical Gospels and provide a more cohesive account of the events that took place during the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the 1800s, there was much skepticism about the historical accuracy of the four Gospels. Critics argued that they were not written until the middle of the second century C.E., which meant that they lacked reliability as historical documents. Despite these criticisms, the discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Diatessaron, a blending of the four canonical Gospels, provided indisputable evidence that by the middle of the second century C.E., the four Gospels were already known and accepted as a collection. The manuscripts and commentaries on them, written in Arabic, Armenian, Greek, and Latin, were additional proof of the exclusive authority of the four Gospels. These findings were crucial in establishing the four Gospels as the authoritative accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry. Sir Frederic Kenyon, a prominent scholar of the Bible, emphasized the significance of these discoveries by asserting that they put to rest any doubts about the preeminence of the four Gospels as the definitive story of Christ’s life on Earth. It was firmly established by 170 C.E. that the four gospels were of unquestioned primacy, surpassing any other narrative about Jesus.
These facts demonstrate that the Greek New Testament, including the four Gospels, has remained relatively stable since the second century C.E. There is little reason to believe that a conspiracy to alter or suppress parts of the divinely inspired Scriptures took place in the fourth century. Instead, scholars such as Bruce Metzger observed a high level of agreement among diverse congregations of believers scattered throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond by the end of the second century. This consensus affirms that the Bible we have today largely matches the original writings and does not show any signs of significant tampering or manipulation in the centuries since their creation.
The two apostles, Paul and Peter, were staunch advocates for the truth of God’s Word. Both of them warned fellow believers against accepting or believing in false teachings or knowledge. In his letter to Timothy, Paul said, “Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid hollow and empty talk that leads to division. Instead, be filled with the spirit. Keep your mind on what is pure, righteous, and true.” And in his own letter, Peter wrote, “We did not bring you a complicated story or some imaginative ideas. We simply told you what we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears. We want you to know about the power and glory of the Master Jesus. We want you to be sure that his sacrifice on the cross saved you from your sins. And we want you to be absolutely certain that there is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved.” It is clear that the apostles Paul and Peter believed firmly in the authority and correctness of the Greek New Testament.
Centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah was inspired to say: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We can have the same confidence that the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures also preserved them through the ages so that “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4.) There are three stages of the New Testament history: (1) the transmission stage, where the New Testament authors were inspired by God and moved along by the Holy Spirit. (2) The corruption stage where scribes/copyists were professional, semi-professional, trained in writing, and unskilled try to make copies. The vast majority of these 400,000+ textual variants that entered the text (5.898 Greek NT MSS) were insignificant and have since been corrected in our critical texts. The handful that are significant, we know what the original readings are and our current critical texts WH NU (1881 Westcott and Hort Greek NT, 2012 28th edition of the Nestle Aland Greek NT, and the 2014 5th edition of the United Bible Society Greek NT), which is now a 99.99% reflection of the original words of the originals. (3) This came about by the restoration stage, where many dozens of world-renowned scholars restored the text over a 500-year period as more and more evidence came to light.