Apocryphal and Apocalyptic Literature
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Salvation according to the gnostics is a self-help program for those with inside knowledge. The gnostic gospels were never on any of the canon lists of the early church. The church recognized the canon, they didn’t form the canon. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith each day.
Apocryphal and Apocalyptic Literature
I. Apocryphal gospels
B. Gospel of Thomas
C. Other gnostic writings
D. Anti-Semitic tone
F. Salvation in the gnostic gospels
G. Gnostic thought considered as heresy by the church
II. Formation of the NT canon
III. Apocalyptic literature
A. Genre of apocalyptic prophecy uses figurative language
B. Tells us something about what's happening the supernatural realm and what's happening in the present and the future.
D. The purpose of Revelation
Course: New Testament Introduction
What we need to do now, having looked at the canonical gospels and some things to do with Acts, is we need to talk about the later apocryphal and pseudepigraphical gospels in relationship to the canonical ones. So that's what we want to do now.
One of the reasons, of course, for doing is, we may thank Dan Brown for this, and Elaine Pagels and Sharon King and all of those - Alan Meier - and all those wonderful advocates of agnostic gospels. So we need to talk about the differences between the canonical gospels and the later gnostic ones. There are some really big differences.
Lets talk about gnosticism. The first thing that you need to know is that there is not, properly speaking, a gnostic movement in Christianity in the first century A.D.
Gnosticism is something that arises in the second century as a sort of sectarian offshoot from the church. It's kind of like the development of Mormonism or Jehovah's Witness in our own era. It seems to be largely Gentile in origins and it tends to be quite Anti-Semitic in its character.
It's not happy about the Old Testament. It's not happy about the Old Testament God. And various forms of gnosticism are very ascetical. Matter is evil; spirit is good - all that sort of stuff.
So they're not much happy about a creator god. In the full-blown gnostic system you have a god called the Demiurge who is responsible for making material stuff because it's dirty and unclean. He's not actually the great god who is the spirit one. He's a lesser deity. It's complex.
Gnosticism is like driving through pea soup. [chuckling] It's esoteric. It's cloudy. The gnostic view of salvation is complex. It comes from this Greek word gnosis, which is simply the Greek word for knowledge. That's what gnosis means.
If I were to summarize the soteriology of gnosticism you're not saved by who you know. You're saved by what you know.
This is kind of salvation for eggheads, really. You know? It's elitist. If you don't have the intellectual wattage you can't be saved. Because it's what you know that saves you, not who you know.
The gnostic gospels as we have them, probably the earliest of these, is the Gospel of Thomas. This gospel probably did not originate until before the second century A.D., maybe even the latter part of the second century A.D. Most of the gnostic gospels are from the third and fourth centuries A.D.
This one may be from the late second century A.D., and there is actually a debate as to whether this one should be called a gnostic gospel. It's really kind of a grab bag of all kinds of strange ideas, and also a recitation of some of the early synoptic sayings of Jesus. I mean, in the Gospel of Thomas, you have some very weird sayings like Jesus at one point says, "Cleave the wood and I am there." "Hue the stone and you will find me." It's pantheism. There's a little bit of Jesus in everything; very strange.
Another famous of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas is the one where Peter complains to Jesus, "How can Mary Magdalene be saved since she's a woman?"
Jesus says, "Don't worry; be happy. We will make the female into male and she can be saved."
This is not the Jesus of the canonical gospels. But on the other hand, there are quite a lot of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that are nearly identical, or identical, with some of the synoptic sayings of Jesus as you find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. So it's kind of a grab bag.
There is a debate in the scholarly community as to whether you should simply call the Gospel of Thomas a gnostic gospel. But what you do have in the Gospel of Thomas, which sets the pattern for subsequent gnostic documents is basically Jesus the talking head.
What I mean by that is that what you have is a collection of Jesus's sayings. There is very little narrative tissue and there is absolutely no Passion narrative, whatsoever. There is no story about the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's Jesus's greatest hits, His best parables, or sayings, or aphorisms, or riddles, or whatever.
Precisely because of that, because there is little or no narrative tissue in these documents, I don't think they really should be called gospels, but they are called gospels and some of the later gnostic documents called themselves gospels when they are not.
Furthermore, there is another aspect to these documents, especially later gnostic like the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth. These later documents have a lot of philosophical speculation in them, which is certainly not what you find in the canonical gospels. You have a lot of Greek philosophical speculation in them.
If you've read Dan Brown or if you've seen the movies, if you know The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, you will know that in The DaVinci Code, especially, these gospels come to the fore. The Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip are set up as the "real" gospels, the inside trader knowledge about Jesus, as opposed to the canonical gospels which are the corrupted later Orthodoxgospels.
Historically, this is false. We don't have any gnostic gospels from the middle or later part of the first century A.D. They are later developments. In addition to which, they don't really comport with the picture of Jesus we get in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So I am apt too say Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - stick with them and you can't go wrong. Okay?
The later gospels don't really help us that much. They don't tell us anything new about Jesus that is historically credible, or about Mary Magdalene or Judas or any of these other disciples. And they were all written by non-eyewitnesses in the second through the fourth century A.D. that have a pseudonymous title. So, for example, the Gospel of Mary is not by Mary, the Gospel of Judas is not by Judas, the Gospel of Thomas is not by Thomas, the Gospel of Philip is not by Philip and the Gospel of Truth is not the truth.
For another thing, as I - I really want to stress this. These gnostic gospels are often profoundly anti-Semitic. They don't like the Jewishness of Jesus. They don't like the Jewish aspects of the earlier gospels. They are not at all big on a positive creation theology.
Now, see Dan Brown has a problem. Dan Brown's problem is he thinks he understands these matters when he doesn't; when he's out of his depth. One of the problems with the The DaVinci Code and Dan Brown, is that he seems to think that the gnostic gospels are likely to have suggested that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
Now if you know anything about the gnostic themselves, these are ascetics. That is, having anything to do with women - not good and unspiritual. Okay? So the gnostics actually would have been the last persons to suggest that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, not the first. They would have been the last to suggest this. In fact, they don't.
There is the famous passage from the Gospel of Philip which says this. It says: "And Mary Magdalene who was" - dot, dot, dot - because the manuscript has literally got holes in it like Dan Brown's theories. Okay? And Mary Magdalene, who was - dot, dot, dot - close to Jesus - dot, dot, dot - He kissed - dot, dot, dot - her - dot, dot, dot - on her - dot, dot, dot.
Now, here's the thing about the gnostics. The gnostics had a belief that you could transfer this esoteric spiritual knowledge by holy kissing. It's not talking about romance. It's not talking about Jesus and Mary sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. It's talking about the transfer of data download. It's talking about the spiritual knowledge of Jesus being conveyed to other disciples, like Mary Magdalene, by a holy kiss on the cheek, by the way.
I've got students who are praying fervently tonight that they can learn Greek simply by kissing their wire more fervently, before they go to bed, but it's not happening. [chuckling] You know?
But the gnostics believed that you could transfer esoteric knowledge by a holy kiss. Okay? This is just something they believed. It was strange, but they believed it. Right?
This passage in the Gospel of Philip is about Mary Magdalene becoming more enlightened, not more loved by Jesus, but more enlightened, in any case. And it's not about Mary Magdalene being Jesus's wife.
What Mary Magdalene is called in the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary is His companion. Now, this word is koinonas. It's not the word for wife. Mary Magdalene is called Jesus's koinonas, but others are called this as well. It's the word that's related to the word koinonia. You've all heard the word koinonia before, which means participating in something in common, or sharing something in common. Sometimes loosely translated in fellowship, but that's not what it means.
Koinonia is the activity sharing in common which results in fellowship. Koinonia is the participating with someone in something that they're sharing together which results in fellowship, but it's not fellowship.
Koinonas simply means a companion, somebody that you share something with, and it certainly doesn't mean spouse. But Mary Magdalene is called this in the Gospel of Philip.
If I were to summarize the character of the gnostic gospels they are syncretistic. They are very syncretistic. What do I mean by that? They're an amalgam of Hellenistic philosophy, asceticism, anti-Judaism, anti-feminist attitudes mixed together with some gospel material.
I've shared the Gospel of Thomas's famous saying, "Cleave the wood and I am there." Now that's something that a monotheistic Jew would never say. Jews are not pantheists. They don't believe there is a little bit of God in everything. They believe here is the Creator and here is the creation. There is a distinction called the Creator/creation distinction and you should not ever violate that distinction between the Creator - being God, and the creation - being not God. Okay?
That's a fundamental Jewish distinction and it's a distinction that's not maintained in the gnostic literature or in pantheism in general, not stoicism. A belief that there's a little bit of God in everything.
Now here's the difference between omnipresent and pantheism. A monotheist believes that God is everywhere at once. The reason is, that he believes God is so enormous that everything, all of material creation, is smaller than God and it's all present to God at once. [musically] 'He's the whole world, in His hands, He's got the big ol' universe, in His hands."
The idea of God being omnipresent is not the idea that there's a little bit of God in everything. It's that everything is small enough that it can be present to God at once. Consider, for example, Psalm 8. "When I consider the sun, the moon and the stars, the works of your fingers", I say about myself, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou shouldst care, and yet you have made us but a little lower than the angels."
You know this wonderful Psalm, "Oh, God, our God." Powerful psalm. Creation psalm. What it's saying is that the stars, the planets, are like Play Dough, that God threw into creation when he made them, because God is so enormous.
See, our problem is not that God is too - our God is too small. Our problem is, we have a huge God that we have too little faith in. So omnipresence is one thing; pantheism is another. The idea that there is a little bit of God in everything.
There is no God in this table. There is no God in this remote. There is not a little bit of God in this. It's all present to God at once, because He's omnipresent, but there's not a little bit of God - a little dab'll do you - in everything. That's pantheism.
Well, in gnosticicism you do have pantheism, and the Gospel of Thomas bears witness to it. And as I was already suggesting to you, in gnosticism salvation looks very different from salvation in the earliest gospels.
In some ways gnosticism is one of the first human self-help programs. "You can save yourself by getting this insider trader knowledge." That's gnosticism. You're not saved by who you know but by what you know, and here's the problem. If you don't have the wattage to understand the esoteric system of gnosticism you can't be saved.
I mean, if your brain is just not that great, if you don't have a strong enough cerebral cortex, you can't save yourself, because you don't understand it, and if you don't understand it, you can't be saved. That's gnosticism.
It's salvation for eggheads; salvation for intellectually effete and elite people. It's what it is.
In the canonical gospels salvation is a matter of being saved from our sins by the atoning death of Jesus and his bodily resurrection. In the gnostic gospel, salvation becomes a self-help program for those in the know. You want to know the gnosis, the inside knowledge, the secrets of the universe. Right?
Male 1: Do you know if Scientology has any similarities or - It seems like the little I do know about it [cross talk] - similarities between that.
Yes, there some similarities, but Scientology actually is more of a spin-off from Christian Science, and Christian Science, in fact, is indebted to gnosticism so that the religious tree goes a little further back. But, yes, there is a connection in there. You're right about that.
Just a reminder, Christian Science is really a mind over matter religion. That is, disease is just a cognitive distortion and the way you get rid of disease is just out-thinking it, in essence. Right? That's Christian Science. It's a mind over matter. You know, if you've got a mind, it doesn't matter any more. You know? That kind of thing.
The earliest gospels, Mark, then Matthew, then Luke, then John, are all strongly emphasizing the last week of Jesus's life; over a third of each of these gospels on the last week of Jesus's life, and guess how much the gnostic gospels emphasize the last week of Jesus's life? Almost zero percent.
Not important to their system because salvation is not about what Jesus did for me on the cross. Salvation is about what you know. And Jesus knew it first, and He's the great guru who conveys the knowledge.
I mean, this is very much - I mean, can you see how this appeals to America? We like self-help gurus. We like the Zig Ziglers of this world. We like these guys who give us the insider trader knowledge so we can improve ourselves. That's gnosticism. That's absolutely gnosticism.
The earliest gospels do not think you're saved by knowing this or that parable or teaching of Jesus. The earliest gospels think you're saved by the Son of Man dying on the cross for your sins.
In other words, the only gospels that provide us with reliable knowledge about the historical Jesus and His teaching and His followers are the earliest ones and they earliest ones are only the canonical ones.
Why are the canonical gospels true? They are in touch with the eyewitnesses who, by the way, were originally all Jews. Who affirmed the goodness of God's creation; the goodness of marriage; the goodness of reproduction; the goodness of having children. They were Jews. Their theology of creation was Jewish. It was not later gnostic asceticism.
Now I have to tell you - You know the church has done a really lousy job in dealing with the goodness of human creation and the goodness of our sexuality. I remember growing up in a youth group in the Methodist church, and the messages were tremendously mixed messages. I mean, here was the talk that we got as junior highs.
"Sex is dirty. Save it for the one you really love."
Now, that's what you call a mixed message, right? This is a mixed message. [chuckling] Okay? You're kind of going, on the one hand it's a no-no and it's not so good, and pollution, and on the other hand you're thinking, "Whoo-hoo!" You know? And so, it's confusing. It's confusing. The church has had an inadequate theology of the goodness of creation and the goodness of human relating, and the goodness of sexual relationships, and all of that.
I mean, we're still recovering from the medieval age of the church. Yes?
Male 2: Do you think part of that has to do with some of this gnostic teaching that has kind of been in the church to some extent with the separation between spiritual and what's good, and matter, which is the body?
Yes. Oh, sure. And see, I think that what - The further we get into post-modernity where you're going to separate the spiritual and material, the more prone post-modernity is to gnosticism and the way it infects and affects the church is that we begin to doubt the goodness of our Biblical creation theology in various different ways. You know?
I mean, let me give you a good example of this. One of the ways that gnosticism happens in conservative Christianity is they give up on Biblical ecology. They stop caring about the world. They stop caring about pollution. They stop caring about the environment. They stop caring about having clean water.
Who cares? This world is going to Hates in a hand basket. Beam me up, Scotty - I'm good. Now this is just gnosticism. It's, you know, they've become too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. It is a form of gnosticism. That's correct. And it is not Biblical religion. It's not what the Bible says.
Now, what I can tell you about the gnostics, whether we're talking about the gnosticism of Valentinus, not to be confused with Valentine - Valentinium gnosticism, is that these strong, heretical movements generated in the second century A.D. really got up heads of steam towards the end of the second century A.D., so you have church fathers like Irenaeus who are busy swatting gnostics like flies and constantly combating gnostic heresy.
The important point is, that the mainstream church, the OrthodoxChurch, all recognized this as heresy. This was known as heresy in the second century A.D., long before we had a New Testament canon. I mean, the canon of the New Testament is not really closed until the fourth century.
Already in the second century A.D., Orthodox Christians were saying, "You know, this gnostic stuff is radical. This is not according to the earliest and best sources. It's not according to apostolic religion.
So what we would say about the gnostic movement is we're dealing with a split off from Orthodox Christianity involving lots of philosophical speculations that thrive in the middle second through the fourth century.
You know, it's a credit to the church. The church listened to this teaching. They read the gnostic documents. They were even read in the monasteries. And finally, in the fourth century the church said, "You know, on further review, this is crap. We don't believe this. It's not in accord with apostolic teaching. We've listened to it. We've been patient. We've dialogued with you guys, and we're done. That's it."
So in 368 a.m. Bishop Athanasius said, "I've had enough of this and I can't take it no mo'!" And he said, "You know, what I want right now, is all of my monasteries in Egypt, I want you to take the gnostic books out of the monastery and go bury them or burn them. We're done with this. It's heresy."
And so what happened was, that at Saint Pachomius's monastery there were quite a few copies of gnostic documents that were hastily taken out of the monastery and went and buried under a cliff. And this is the Nag Hammadi scrolls. That's exactly what that remarkable archeological discovery in the deserts in Egypt were in 1948. They found the cast away books from a monastery in Egypt that were almost entirely gnostic documents.
And why? Because Bishop Athanasius said, "We've had enough of this. Thank you, but no thank you."
And this happened not only in the church in the East, in Egypt, it happened in the church in the West. I mean, the interesting thing about the church was, that even though it was not united, even though it was not united, at the end of the fourth century the church in the West, the church in North Africa, the church in the East all said, "These 27 books and no others - These four gospels, only and no others. We are done with this other stuff."
And that was the end of the fourth century in church history. Now, it's not accidental that that happened right after Christianity became named as a legal religion in the Roman Empire. So, in fact, the church got the endorsement of the emperor, beginning with Constantine and subsequently.
Now what did not happen, which Dan Brown is all screwed up about, is that Constantine did not banish paganism by establishing that Christianity was a legitimate religion. Constantine was a pluralist. Constantine simply said that this is one more item on the smorgasbord that's okay. That's all he did. He just took it off the band list. Right?
I mean, to the end of his day, Constantine was sending money to pagan temples to build more pagan temples. The idea that Constantine was like a Born Again Christian is a myth. The idea that he would be party to some kind of Orthodox purge of paganism in the empire is a double myth. It didn't happen historically. It's not true.
What did happen is that Christianity [coughing] could no longer be legally persecuted simply because you're a Christian. That's what happened. That much is true.
Constantine was a smart man. He knew which horse to back. The religion that was on the rise and gaining converts rapidly in the fourth century A.D. was not Judaism and it was not paganism, it was Christianity. So he was a smart enough politician to back the right horse. That's what it boils down to.
Male 2: Did he have anything to do with Christians worshipping on Sunday? Because that was the day they worshipped the sun god.
Male 2: [inaudible 0:26:34)
No, Easter has to do with that. Here's what happened to the church the less Jewish it became. And that's a gradual process, beginning towards the end of the first century A.D., continuing into the second century, into the third, into the fourth.
There are still Jewish Christians in the fourth and fifth and sixth century. But they have become a distinct minority. Okay?
Here's what happened. When you get to the early Middle Ages, an Old Testament hermeneutic has taken over the way of the church, in both the East and the West, is reading the New Testament.
And here is the reason why. Remember that whole period up to about 368 A.D., the New Testament canon was just forming. It didn't exist as a corpus of literature yet. There was still debate about various of the books. The sacred text that everybody already agreed on were what? The Old Testament. So this was the primary sacred text at the time. Right?
So, here's what happened. The church, in the early Middle Ages starts reading all of this New Testament discussion about church and leadership and all of that in light of the Old Testament. And here's what happens.
The Lord's day becomes the Sabbath. The Lord's Supper becomes a sacrifice. Ministers become priests. It keeps going like that. In other words, the church begins to look more and more like pagan religion. It begins to look more and more like temples, priests and sacrifices.
The essence of ancient religion was temples, priests and sacrifices. When Christianity becomes a legitimate religion, because they began to read their theology through the eyes of the Old Testament, they began to see Sunday as the Sabbath and the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice, and ministers as priests and then you begin to have church buildings, which are even called temples. Okay?
Now the problem here is the hermeneutic. The problem is not so much heresy as trying to read all the New Testament institutions through the Old Testament grid of priests, temple and sacrifice.
And that's still a problem today. It's still a problem in the Roman Catholic Church, it's still a problem in the Orthodox Church. It's a problem. It's not a result of first century Christianity, or second century Christianity. It's a result of early medieval Christianity and we're still living with the consequences of that. And it's unfortunate. One of the unfortunate by-products, of course, is that if ministers have to be priests they certainly can't be women -in the Old Testament mold. That's part of the problem here, you see.
Well, if the Lord's Supper is the sacrifice which requires a priest to maintain it, then women can't have anything to do with that. You see? And it just goes downhill from there.
So, it has to do with the Old Testament hermeneutic. It doesn't have so much to do with reaction to gnosticism. It has to do with an Old Testament hermeneutic that just sort of took over the church. And we're still dealing with the fallout of that. It's still a problem today.
When we study the issue of how we got the canon there were certain criteria of what could be included. Okay? And the basic most important criteria is we want the eyewitness stuff, we want the apostolic stuff. Right? So, if we can't just go with eyewitness we want to go with those who were in contact with the eyewitnesses.
So the reason a gospel like Luke would be accepted is, he could consult the eyewitnesses. He was in touch, ad fontes, with the origins of the movement. He was in touch with the original apostles and eyewitnesses.
The ultimate criteria to decide what was to be in the New Testament and not, was it had to be all written by either eyewitnesses or apostles or the co-workers thereof. That's it.
Now that means, that there is an inherent canonization in that principle. That is, after the first century A.D. nobody could write any New Testament documents. Why not? All the apostles and their co-workers were dead. This is why not. There is an inherent chronological time limitation on this process.
If you're going to say, "They have to be the original apostolic documents" you have already put a time limit on what can be included in this corpus of literature. It took the church three centuries to figure this out.
Here's the other part of this, which is important to understand. There was a lot of debate along the way and they wanted to be very careful. In the second century A.D. everybody agreed there is a collection of four gospels that are good - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - and there is a collection of Paul's letters that are good. There is a lot of debate about Jude. There is a lot of debate about James. There is a lot of debate about the Johanan, Second John and third John. Everybody liked First John.
There is enormous debate about Revelation. It's the trunk end of the canon about which there is debate. There is little debate about First Peter; a lot of debate about Second Peter, because it's so different from First Peter in terms of grammar and style and syntax and all that sort of stuff.
So, you see, the church went through a careful, critical sifting process to get to the New Testament. And here's something else that needs to be said. We never were at a point in church history anywhere in the church, so far as we can see, that some church included gnostic documents in their canon list and then later lopped them off.
There was never a point at which the church said, "Yeh, these are Orthodox documents and we're good with this." That never happened. They were never on anybody's canon list.
The extra books that were sometimes on the canon list were books like The Shepherd of Hermas, or The Didache, or even an Old Tes - you know, an early Jewish book like The Wisdom of Solomon.
No gnostic documents ever made any canon list in the second, third or fourth century A.D. Not a single one. They were never even considered for inclusion in a New Testament canon. It just never happened. So this whole myth of Dan Brown about "Oh, those mean old gnarly Orthodox Christians, these gospels were originally the original gospels and they were included in everybody's fave raves, and then later they were banned."
This is completely historical hooey. It's false. It did not happen. What did happen is that over the course of the second, third and fourth century certain documents were recognized to be Orthodox and apostolic. That's what happened. And when that happened, the church said, "Hail, well done good and faithful servant. This is good for us. This works for us." Mm-hmm.
Female 1: I grew up Catholic and so I have Catholic Bibles and I have some Bibles. Can you speak to the apocrypha?
Sure. And you're talking about the Old Testament apocrypha, not any New Testament pseudepigrapha apocrypha.
She's talking about books like First and Second Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, those kinds of things. And of course, the Catholic Church calls them Deutero canonical. That is, they don't have the same canonical status as the Old and New Testament. They have a sort of secondary sacred text status.
I think they are tremendously [coughing] valuable books, but as a good Protestant, I agree with the Jews about this. These are Jewish books. They are not Christian books. They were not written by Christians.
What did the Jews say about these books? Do they say this is part of Tanakh? Is this part of Torah? No. These books are helpful, intertestamental Jewish books. That's what they are. That's what they are to me. I don't think they have any particular authority for the church and I don't think they should be viewed that way.
Female 1: Someone told me once that the Catholic Church has them because it supports their beliefs and traditions and their catechisms.
Yes. I don't think it's so much that as that these books have been found to be - I tell you, though, they are problematic. I mean, the wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira. There is a lot of good stuff in there. There is also some misogynist stuff in there.
Some stuff that is not really critical of women but would suggest that women are an inferior grade of human beings. I'm really glad it's not in my Bible, to be honest with you. I'm thankful that Sirach is not in my canon. There would be a lot of explaining to do.
I think they're valuable sources about intertestamental Judaism and there is some wonderful stuff in there. And there is no question that two of those books, The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach influenced various of the New Testament writers.
They were influenced by these books. Jesus, Himself, was influenced by these books. I'll give you just one example. The famous, "Take my yoke upon you before my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
It's almost a direct quote from Sirach, only in Sirach, it's referring to Torah. The Torah is speaking, saying, "Take my yoke upon you" in a personification. Isn't that interesting. [murmuring]
Now Jesus is saying it instead. Early Jews would have heard this and gone, "Oh! This must be a different yoke."
The word yoke was a normal term for taking on the obligation to obey the commandments of Torah. Jesus is offering a different yoke; a different law; a different set of commands. It's powerful.
So, I think the church got it right. I like what Bruce Metzger says. If you want to read a good book, or two good books, maybe, on how we got the canon of our scripture, either read Bruce Metzger's book on the canon of holy scripture, or read Fred Bruce's book on the canon of scripture. These are both good and they're useful summaries about the history of how we got the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. They will not do the Dan Brown historical falsehood treatment of things.
One other thing that I really want to stress about this as we get clear about this - the church recognized the canon. It did not form the canon. That is, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and after careful reflection and discussion over the period of two centuries, the church came to the conclusion that these books should be recognized and no others as our Christian documents. Okay?
Now do you see the difference between saying the church recognizes the canon and the church forms the canon? If the church forms the canon, who has the final authority? It's the church. That would be the Catholic position. That would be the Orthodox position, as well.
Now I'm saying, that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the church came to the conclusion, being convicted by the Holy Spirit, if these 27 books and no others, so the church came to recognize the canon. So the final authority does not lie in the church. The final authority lies in these apostolic documents.
Now, that's what you might expect a good Protestant to say. You know, sola scriptura, the B-I-B-L-E, yes, that's the book for me. Right?
But I think historically that's right. You see, the church didn't give authority to these books. The church recognized the inspiration and authority of these books. There's such a difference.
I recognize the inspiration and authority of these books, but I can't give them one ounce of authority just because I recognize them. You know? It's not happening. No matter what my opinion is about a book, it doesn't change the truth claims of the book.
To reemphasize, no gnostic document was excluded from any canon list. They were never even considered possible books to be debated for inclusion.
Now, there is a canon list from the second century A.D. that is very interesting. It's called the Muratorian canon list. It's the first Orthodox canon list. It comes from the end of the second century A.D. and it includes no gnostic documents at all. Zero.
Even the heretic Marcion who began this process of thinking about canon lists, in the early second century A.D. said, "The only authentic gospel is the Gospel of Luke, and the only authentic other part of the Bible is some letters of Paul."
Now that's what I call a really short canon. Okay? But notice what he's not saying. Instead of the apostolic documents, give me some of these gnostic documents. Even a heretic like Marcion knew that the gnostic gospels were not early. They weren't.
In the fourth century the Council of Carthage, Pope Innocent and Athanasius in North Africa, in the church in the East, the church in the West with Pope Innocent - all agreed these 27 books and no others. And they all came to this conclusion independently.
Now if you've ever been to church councils where you're trying to hammer out faith statements, the idea that before the Internet age three different churches, largely independent of each other, would all come to exactly the same conclusion on which books were our New Testament and which weren't is a miracle. There is no collusion here. They all agreed these 27 and no others. It's really amazing that that happened because it was not a unified single church. It absolutely wasn't.
There were church centers in various places. There were popes in Egypt who didn't recognize the popes in Rome. And there still are. There is Pope Shenouda XXIII, who is the pope of the Ethiopic Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt and Ethiopa. He has nothing to do with the pope in Rome.
These churches were not unified; not under one ecclesiastical structure, and yet they all agreed to these 27 books. I'd call that a miracle.
I've given you this before, so we won't need to rehearse this, but the reason that the four gospels we have were received is, of course, because they were either written by eyewitnesses, or apostles or their co-workers. In other words, the principle of the formation of the canon was a historical principle.
We need the earliest, we need the most authentic, we need the most apostolic documents. That's it. Okay.
Now what we want to do is, we want to move on to a different portion of the New Testament. Before I do that, any questions about canonization, gnostic gospels, those kinds of things. What kind of questions do you have about that stuff?
Female 2: This goes back a little bit to what you talked about this morning.
Female 2: You were talking about the King James Version and how -
Female 2: Now -
Female 2: We have better ability to know what it meant. Why is that? Is that psychology, or more -
No, there are a lot of reasons. And you can get this in detail in the Living Word of God. Towards the end. I deal with why this translation over that translation. That sort of stuff, okay?
But the short answer is this. The King James Version was based on inferior manuscripts. Your translation is only as good as the source document from which you are translating, okay?
So the King James Version was based on an inferior knowledge of what the original text said. That's point number two.
Then you have the New King James which is the King James in more modern English so we've improved the English side of the equation, but have we improved the text criticism? Not so much.
We've not done the right job in regard to coming to the right conclusion about what was the original Greek text and what did it look like of the New Testament. We've not done the homework that way because we don't want to give up on the King James.
Now maybe you've not run into these folks, but I sure have. The KJV only people who think that the KJV is an inerrant translation. Never mind the original documents are in there, this is an inerrant translation, and that even the new King James is a slippage issue.
Oh, yes. These folks are out there. I get them attacking me all the time. Don't confuse me with the facts about the original Greek New Testament. I knows what I knows. This is an inerrant translation.
And you know their theology is not any different from Joseph Smith's ridiculous mythological claims that he had found gold tablets dropped from the sky, which is the basis of the Book of Mormon. Which, by the way, is the same kind of claim made about the Quran. The reason they know they have the original words of God is because, you know, tablets were dropped from the sky. You know?
That's not how our New Testament came into being. The King James was a marvelous translation for its day, written in beautiful Shakespearean English. I'm not knocking what it is. They did the best they could with what they had.
Most people don't know that it's largely plagiarism. It's largely a copy of William Tyndale's translation. About 80 percent of William Tyndale's translation of the New Testament was taken over and just borrowed for the King James Version.
Most KJV only people don't have any clue about this. You know? They don't know the history.
This is a big problem, especially in Protestantism. We don't know church history. And when you don't know church history, you don't know any of this stuff. You know, you're just like ignorant about all of this and it's problematic.
The big text critical problem with the KJV only people is that they are violating one of the most fundamental principles of text criticisms, which is, that if you go with a majority text based on inferior originals, you may have the majority of your manuscripts on your side, but you don't have the earliest and best reading of the text. That's what I'm getting at.
And more to the point, the earlier fragments that we have found, like P 52 of the Gospel of John make very clear to us that the judgments that the text critical scholars have made about the original form of the Gospel of John are right, and that the western text, which is the basis of the Vulgate, which is the basis of the King James Version, are wrong about what was in the original text of the Greek New Testaments.
So, it's bad text criticism; it's bad translation principles; and it results in a Bible that is not the earliest and best we can do, which is the goal of this whole process. Get back to the original. Ad fontes. That's the goal. So, I mean - that's kind of the short story.
Now, sometimes you have to break this to people carefully. [chuckling] There is a grandmama I used to love to go visit. She liked to cross stitch and she would make little pillows that would say things like, "My hearing aids working, my teeth fit fine, but Lord, oh Lord, how I miss my mind." You know? [chuckling]
The King James is it. Right? You know, this is the Bible. Period. Exclamation point. Don't confuse me with the facts.
Well, as Kenny Rogers said, "You gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." This is a sincere Christian person who loves the Lord and you know, at this point, she's not going to change her views about this. So, you need to learn how to be compassionate with folks like that. And unless they are influencing other people deleteriously, leading them down a wrong garden path, you just let sleeping dogs lie with those kinds of issues, you know?
I remember one Pentecostal woman who said, when I said, "Look, the King James Version was translated by a team of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge" and she fired right back, "No it wasn't! Says on the front page of my Bible, translation by King James. My Bible does not lie." [slapping on table]
Okay, honey. I'm letting that one go. [chuckling] You know? My life is interesting. [laughing] You would not believe the hundreds and thousands of letters I get. You know, I get 50 emails a day or more. Some of the letters are just unbelievable. [chuckling]
And let me tell you about a letter I got. [chuckling]
We're going to move on to the apocalypse since we're talking about Johanan literature last, we're going to move on to the Apocalypse, because I figure the Apocalypse will keep you awake for the rest of the afternoon. [chuckling] We're going to deal with the literature called the Apocalypse.
Here is the letter. You know how Time Magazine sends renewal letters every now and again. Well, they left it to the computer to write this letter, and you know how they try to insert your name periodically to make it look "personal"? Right. Well, they left it to the computer. Time Warner is a big company, right?
So the letter read, I kid you not:
"Dear Doctor Third. [laughing] We know you're one of the most important persons in your neighborhood, yes, Dr. Third, we're making this personal appeal. Surely you wish to keep abreast of domestic and foreign events, and if you'll just sign your name at the bottom, Dr. Third, we'll continue to send you our great American news weekly. Surely, Dr. Third, through this personal appeal we can convince you to renew your subscription. Yours sincerely, Time, Incorporated"
You know, I was tempted to write them back, "Dear Inc." [chuckling] See, when the world tries to be personal it treats people like numbers and things. When God is personal he calls you by name.
I love that in the Gospel of John. You know? In John 10 Jesus says "The shepherd knows his sheep and he calls them by name." At what juncture does Mary Magdalene realize He's really Jesus? It's when He says, "Miriam."
Not when he began talking to her. It's when he says, "Miriam" and she says, "Rabboni." There is a personal interchange.
Alright. What we're going to do now, is we're going to move on to deal with the genre of Apocalyptic literature.
We're talking about the Book of Revelation. We have a single book of prophecy in the New Testament. We have some prophecy sprinkled in to other New Testament books, like the gospels, but we only have one book that qualifies as a book of prophecy in the New Testament. I think there is a reason for that. The reason for that is, that we are now living in the age of fulfillment and we don't so much need a bunch of new prophecies. All we need is the old ones fulfilled.
And the New Testament writers realized this. The New Testament writers were all about the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus did this in order that this prophecy might be fulfilled. The spirit fell on the church in order that the prophecy of Joel might be fulfilled. The earliest Christians all believed they lived in the end times.
You know, this is one of the things I love to talk to people about. Some people come to me and say, "When will the end times begin?" And my answer is, "They began 2000 years ago. Jesus brought in the end times. The eschatological age began with Jesus.
That's what the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand now. This is an eschatological statement. We are in the end times, and if you're asking me when are the end of the end times? No one knows. [murmuring] So no more theological weather forecasting, thank you very much.
No one knows. Even Jesus said - wait for it - "Of that bad day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the sun knows. Only the Father knows." Mark 13:32.
So enough with the theological weather forecasting. Right? here's what I say about all that stuff. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don't have to live by faith every single day. If He were to give us a blueprint for what's going to happen in the next 15 years and exactly when He was coming back, well then, you know what would happen? We'd be running around sinning with impunity and saying, "I've got three more days of sin to go and then I'm good." [chuckling]
You know? I know human nature. We'll take the path of least resistance. He is so not going to do that! That is not happening. He is not going to reveal that much about the future to us because it wouldn't be good for us, to say the least.
When we get to the Book of Revelation, it's a specific kind of literature. When we're talking about the genre of this literature, we are dealing with Apocalyptic prophecy, not just any kind of prophecy. We are dealing with Apocalyptic prophecy. And it's powerful stuff.
Now, what do I mean? Well, here is the definition that the Society of Biblical Literature has come up with: "It is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an other worldly being to a human recipient."
That's a mouthful. We need to unpack that. That's just big.
Short answer: It's visionary literature. Okay? Short answer: It's visionary literature. Right? It's what seers see. Now visions - visionary revelation is different from purely auditory revelation. There are plenty of oracular prophets in the Old Testament, like Amos, who heard something said and simply repeated it verbatim. That's oracular prophecy. Right? You hear it; you say it.
Easy peasy. Not so easy with visionary literature, because you see, when you see something you have to describe it and there are a million different ways you could describe it. So what happens with visionary literature is it analogical.
In visionary literature the author has to keep saying, "It was like. It was like. It was like. It was like." Listen to Ezekiel, Chapter 1. I've always liked Ezekiel, Chapter 1 and one of the reasons is it has the word "like" a lot in it. [chuckling]
Listen to this vision of Ezekiel. Just listen to this first chapter. We're talking about the Throne-Chariot vision. Starting with verse 4.
This is the earliest piece of Apocalyptic vision that we have in the Bible. In the Old Testament we have three such pieces of literature. Portions of Ezekiel, portions of Daniel, portions of Zechariah. That's Apocalyptic prophecy in the Old Testament, okay? This is the kind of prophecy that did not exist before the exile.
"As I looked a stormy wind came out of the north. A great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire something like I gleaming amber."
I want somebody to volunteer to count how many "likes" we get in this passage. Alright? Sam's going to do it for us. We just had one.
"In the middle of it was something "like" for living creatures. This was their appearance. They were like human form. Each had four faces. Each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight and the soles of their feet were like the soles of the calf's foot.
”And they sparkled like burnished bronze. And under the wings on their foreside they had human hands and the four had their faces and their wings, thus: Their wings touched one another and each of them moved straight ahead without turning as they moved.
"And as for the appearance of their faces, the four have the face of a human being, the face of a lion, and on the right side the face of an ox, on the left side the face of an eagle. Such were their faces.
"Their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wings of the other while two covered their bodies. Each moved straight ahead wherever the spirit would go, they went without turning as they went.
"And in the middle of the living creatures, there was something that looked like burning coals of fire. Like - like torches moving to and fro amongst the living creatures. The fire was bright and lightning issued from the fire. And the living creatures darted to and fro like a flash of lightning.
"As I looked at the living creatures I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. And as for the appearance of the wheels and their construction, their appearance was like that of gleaming burl and the four had the same form.
"And their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. And when they moved, they moved in any of four directions without veering as they moved and their rims were tall and awesome for the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.
"And when the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them, and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose, and wherever the spirits would go, they went. The wheels rose along with them for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
"And when they moved, the others moved and when they stopped the others stopped. And when they rose from the earth the wheels rose along with them where the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
"And over the head of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. And under the dome their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another, and each of the creatures had two wings covering his body.
"And when they moved, I heard the sound of their wings which was like the sound of mighty waters and like the thunder of the Almighty. The sound of tumult like the sound of an army.
"And when they stopped they let down their wings and there came a voice from above the dome over their heads, and when the stopped they let down their wings. And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne.
"An appearance like sapphire. And then seated above the likeness of the throne, there was something that seemed like a human form. And upward from what appeared like the loins of that person, I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around.
"And downward from what looked like the loins, I saw something that looked like fire. And there was a splendor all around like the bow in the cloud on a rainy day. Such was the appearance of the splendor all around.
"This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord, and when I saw this, I fell on my face and shut up." [muttering]
How many likes did we end up? [muttering] Twenty-six uses of the language of analogy. It was like. It was like. It was like. It was like. And why?
When you encounter the mysterium trimendum there are not words big enough to describe it. Our vocabulary is inadequate. And so the reason that Apocalyptic prophecy is inherently metaphorical is because of the greatness of God and the smallness of our vocabulary. Even when it's a revelation of God, it's a revelation mediated to us with our finite minds and finite language in a way that we can kind of understand, like you know what I mean? Okay? You get the picture?
Well, this is the nature of Apocalyptic prophecy. It is analogical, it's metaphorical, and here's the important point.
You know, when the old battle between the literal and the figurative, right? Conservative Christians tend to go, "Give me the literal." You know?
Well, here's the problem with that. If you're dealing with the genre of literature that is deliberately figurative, the way to honor that is to interpret it figuratively. Interpret the stuff that was intended to be literal, literally; interpret the metaphors as metaphors. So when does Psalmus say, "I saw the hills skip like rams." We should not hear Julie Andrews singing, [musically] "The hills are alive and it's very frightening."
You know, you're not thinking earthquake here. Right? It's a metaphor for joy. Joy of the creation welcoming the Creator as He comes down. Okay?
This language is analogical; it's metaphorical; but it's referential. Now here's one of the problems. In the old literal versus figurative debate, some people think, "Well, if you say something is fiction, or if you say something is figurative, it must not be real. You must be saying it's a myth."
No! I'm saying it's referential. It's just that the description is not literal. Ezekiel is not reflecting on having had too much pizza one night and conjuring up a nightmare. [chuckling] He had a close encounter with God. Okay? But he describes it in deliberately metaphorical terms because the words aren't big enough.
So it's okay if it's analogical. It's okay if it's figurative. It's okay if it's metaphorical. In fact, it's better if it is because I frankly don't want a description of the loins of God. Thank you very much. [chuckling]
God doesn't really actually have any. Okay? So, are you getting the picture here? It's metaphorical language. It's figurative language. It's analogical language, and this is just as true with the Book of Revelation as it is the Throne-Chariot Vision in Ezekiel I. All of this literature is that way, so that's kind of point one.
Now, here's the other half of the definition. It discloses a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions the eschatological future of salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world.
Now, what this part of the definition is telling us is, that it's going to tell us something about the heavenly realm and what's going on in Heaven or Hell, or wherever. The supernatural realm, right?
But it's also going to tell us something about the present and the future, so it's not just horizontal prophecy dealing with human history, but it does. And it's not just vertical prophecy giving us a vision of Heaven. It's both/and. What do we have in the Book of Revelation? Do we have both/and? Yes, we do.
We have a visionary description of Heaven and we have a visionary description of the future. We have both. This is typical of Apocalyptic literature. We tend to have both. Alright?
Now, you may have noticed in that description/definition genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an other worldly being. Absolutely.
Listen to Revelation, Chapter 1. Yes, it involves God's FedEx boys, the angels. Listen to the beginning of the Book of Revelation.
"The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him" - the "Him" is Jesus, alright? So who gave the revelation to Jesus? God gave the revelation to Jesus, then He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John.
So we have God to Jesus to the angel to John. The angel [coughing] is the FedEx boy who gets it to the door front. He's the one who brings the revelation to John in person. [muttering] Apocalyptic literature has intermediaries who deliver the messages.
Now, think about the beginning of the gospels again. How did Mary get the word that she was "preggers", as the Australians would say?
Male 3: Angels.
An angel. That's right. That's exactly right. In some sense, all of the New Testament reflects an Apocalyptic world view. In order to understand something God has said, we need an intermediary to tell us. We need an angel or Jesus, or somebody, to tell us because otherwise we're pretty much in the dark.
And you see, this is something that Jews in Jesus's day believed. The reason John the Baptist was such a surprise is that there were many early Jews who thought the Age of Prophecy was over. Where are the prophets nowadays? And then John the Baptist shows up and this is a shock.
And then all of a sudden angels start showing up and indicating the new work of God is beginning. One of the things I can tell you about Biblical history and church history is that whenever a new work of God happens there usually new Revelation to kick it off.
The angels get into the process. The miracles start happening and you're off and running again. That's pretty typical. As I've stressed, it's referential.
Now the word " apokalupsis ". Lets deal with the Greek word, if we can, the word apokalupsis. [muttering] [writing on board] Here is your word. It's the word from which we get Apocalyptica, Apocalypse. What it means is the unveiling of secrets.
What it means is the revelation of something you wouldn't have otherwise known, whether it's information about the past, or present or future. It's information you wouldn't otherwise have know. An Apocalypse is a revelation that you would not have gotten any other way.
And you know what? Jesus Himself was an Apocalyptic seer. At one point he says, "I thank you, Father, that You have revealed this unto me. No one knows the Father except the Son and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except those to whom I reveal Him." Says Jesus. That's Apocalyptic thinking.
You wouldn't have known Him without a special revelation. This is information you wouldn't have guessed just off the top of your head. You would have never guessed Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God without help from Revelation. Now that's part of the world view out of which this literature comes.
Now, no one Apocalyptic document has all the same features. There are a constellation of features that regularly occur. Okay?
Now, here's something that's so important, that's so different between late Western Christians and the original recipients of this document. This document was intended to comfort the afflicted. This document was intended to comfort the persecuted. Are you with me now?
It was not intended for armchair scholars sitting in their easy chairs who are not under persecution at all to sit back and just speculate endlessly about. The document was intended to comfort persecuted Christians who were being pressured and persecuted and in some cases, executed.
Did you hear about Anthropus? Executed as a martyr for Christian faith. Are you with me now? You get the picture?
This is minority literature written in coded language and if you don't understand the Apocalyptic code, or how to read Apocalyptic symbols, guess what. You're going to misunderstand this, or just not get it at all.
This is one of the problems with Christians reading Apocalyptic literature today. They've never studied it in the context of other Apocalyptic literature, and they have no clue. They don't know what the symbols stand for.
Let me stress to you the following principle. What it meant when the original inspired author wrote it is still what it means today. The meaning has not changed. It has not morphed into something it wasn't in the first century A.D. What it meant is still what it means.
Now, imagine if John of Patmos had written to the church in Ephesus as follows: "And in the year 2001 we will prepare for war and Americans will roll into Iraq with tanks."
How would the Christians in Ephesus in 95 A.D. received this news? [muttering] First of all, it would have made no sense because there was no America and there was no Iraq. Secondly, it would have made no sense because there were no tanks. I could keep going. [chuckling]
This Word of God was not in the first place, a revelation for late Western Christians who think it's all about them. [chuckling] It was a revelation in the first place for the first century Christians, and then the second century Christians, and it's been a revelation to every generation of Christian history.
And it is the height of arrogance and stupidity to suggest that those poor slobs couldn't have understood it. But I can now because it's all about me. [chuckling] Wrong.
It's all about having a Biblical world view about history in general and how God's going to wrap it up. And here's the big message. Though it looks bad for the Christians, it may look like Lions - 10, Christians - 0 right now. You may be suffering discomfort or persecution or pressure or prosecution or execution. Be of good cheer. The lamb is still on his throne. God is still in His Heaven and in the end, all things will be right with this world.
That's the promise of Revelation. The promise is, that the sovereignty of God will be exercised and however bad things may be now, eventually the truth will be out and salvation will appear and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
It is a reassurance kind of literature. And it's not only that. It's the most anti-militaristic literature imaginable, because the advice of John of Patmos to his seven churches is, do not take up arms. Do not start fighting your persecutors and prosecutors and executors.
Be prepared for martyrdom. The message that is continually given in this literature to God's people is, "Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord. "I will repay."
Now the light's going to come on. Get ready for this. Who is the only person who was worthy to unseal the can of whoop-ass on the world? According to the Book of Revelation that would be the lamb sitting on his throne. He's the only one who has the authority, the power, the knowledge and the compassion to judge and redeem the world in a way that is appropriate. And we don't have that knowledge.
The Book of Revelation is not ramping up the rhetoric to encourage military adventures. It's telling Christians to be prepared for martyrdom and if you're worried about the outcome, the lamb has got it covered. He will judge the world. It's not your job to do it.
That's the message of Revelation. That's the message of Revelation. Over and over and over again. and even when you get to what is called Armageddon, after the millennium in Revelation, Chapter 20, guess what - there is no battle.
The armies of the world assemble. Jesus simply says, "You're toast." Fire falls from Heaven. We're done! There is no battle of Armageddon. There is simply a friar roasting. There is simply a fire, and then the new heaven and then earth.
And why? Because judgment is in the hands of the Lord, and thank goodness it is. It's not up to us to be the avenging angels of God. It's a powerful message.
Lets deal with one of the most important words in this book, just for a minute. That word is "martus". [writing on board]
This is the Greek word for witness. It is the word from which we get the word "martyr". Martus means witness. And what John is calling his fellow Christians is, to martus. Bear witness even unto death if necessary. Remain faithful to the witness. Be a good witness. Even unto death if necessary, like our fellow brother, Anthropus, who died for the cause.
These documents are written to persecuted, pressured, prosecuted and occasionally executed minorities. [music begins] Meant to reassure the audience that justice will indeed be done.