And so another round of “the story of Jesus in the Bible is bunk, there were all these Christians back then who believed wildly different things” has begun. It will go for a few months, then fade away, only to be replaced by some new book, film, movie, etc., next year or the year after. For young folks who don’t have enough perspective yet to start discerning the patterns, this may be a real big thing, so we cannot just roll our eyes and move on. But that does not mean that the modern day Gnostics have anything important or meaningful to say. They do not. But they sure insist upon repeating themselves. Repeatedly.
Here are some talking points for the conversations that may come up at work, school, even home:
1) “Funny how the media makes so much of tiny scraps from the fourth century but never tell anyone about the tiny scraps from the second century that substantiate the canonical, biblical testimony of Jesus, isn’t it? Makes you wonder where the true journalists are anymore, doesn’t it?”
2) “There are a small group of anti-Christian academics that the media just adores who do nothing but repeat the wild eyed fanciful theories that a small group of heretics dreamed up a hundred years and more after Jesus. They write books and make money recycling stuff the Christians wrote entire tomes debunking long, long ago. Do you ever hear the media pointing to the multi-volume refutations of these folks penned by men like Irenaeus as early as the end of the second century? Have you ever read those replies? In fact, have you ever read the Gnostic gospels yourself?”
3) “A fourth century Gnostic said Jesus was married? Shocking news…given that we have known all about such stories for hundreds of years! The stories the Gnostics made up starting in the second century only got wilder and wilder through the fourth century, when they started to die out. Just like our modern anti-Christian media to focus upon stories completely disconnected from the times of Jesus and based upon foundational beliefs directly contrary to those of the Jews of the first century, the people from whom Jesus came and amongst whom He ministered.”
The problem, of course, is that sound bites are not how these things should be handled in the first place. It takes time to establish the provenance of such papyri finds, their meaning, context, relationship to other literature, etc., and normally such things take place outside the observation of the general public. What is more, the background material needed to make sense of much of that is far beyond your average religion reporter today. The result is that the bias of the media is simply unfiltered: if it can be spun to be in opposition to “traditional Christian belief,” it will be hyped; if it is supportive of the same, it will not even get a mention.
All of this is all the more problematic because of the general acceptance—uncritical acceptance—of the “Bauer hypothesis,” popularized today by Bart Ehrman, that the early church was a mish-mash of equally valid, equally apostolic, but mutually contradictory views. Combine that idea with every little scrap of gnostic nonsense and you have today’s paradigm right in front of your eyes. [For one of the best currently published books debunking this viewpoint, you really need to click here.]
Finally, it is worthwhile to compare and contrast the response this story is getting with the worldwide Islamic rage against a vacuous, silly, absurd Internet video. Muslims are offended by its mockery of Muhammad. I am offended by the mainstream press propping up Gnostic absurdities and blasphemies about Jesus. We watch as Muslim Imams in Egypt tear up the Bible and then burn it in protest. We see death and burning and destruction as signs of an honor religion lashing out at a perceived denial of honor. And how do Christians respond to this attack upon our Savior? We seek to find ways to open dialogue so that we might speak the truth and dispel error. We consider the issues and point out deep and abiding world view issues and historical context errors. We respond with our minds, not with our fists. I truly doubt that Karen King has had to go into hiding due to the story about the papyri scrap. Christianity is not an honor religion. We leave judgment and vindication to the Last Day and we leave it in the hands of the Just Judge.
But one last word of irony: Muslims say they do not differentiate between one prophet and another. OK—so why are there no riots in Egypt about this papyri and its allegation that Jesus was married? The Qur’an does not say Jesus was married. The Qur’an says Jesus was virgin born, was a true man, etc. So why not be enraged about all the constant attacks upon Jesus? I have never heard about a single KFC being burned due to some denial of the virgin birth by a Western scholar, have you? But let someone draw a cartoon image of Muhammad, and the world erupts in flames. I am left once again asking, “Where’s the consistency?”