The “Secret” Sayings Of Jesus

Overview

Now that we have looked at the four gospels of the New Testament, we will now turn to a few of the gospels that were not included in the New Testament.  These extra-canonical (outside the canon or Bible) texts are frequently referred to as “gnostic” (from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge” – but referring to esoteric or mystical knowledge).  In mystical wisdom traditions, this particular type of knowledge is commonly kept a secret until students or followers have the proper capacity to understand these kinds of teachings.  In all three synoptic gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – Jesus specifically says that he teaches in parables to the crowds, but to his inner circle he gives the secrets of the kingdom of God. 

In this section, you will learn some of the identifying features of how Jesus is portrayed in these secret gospels, as well as some of the unique characteristics of these teachings.  As you will see, the teachings are not always easy to understand! 

Note:  Please don’t worry too much about trying to understand the details of these teachings.  I just want you to read through them so that you get a feel for the style and the kinds of things they are saying.

Objectives for this section

  • In this section, you will gain a better understanding of a few of the gnostic gospels including the following information:
    • Origins of the gospels:  where and when written, original language, etc. 
    • Who were these gospels written for?  What was their purpose?
    • The distinct character of gnostic gospels so that you can see the difference between gnostic gospels and canonical gospels.  
    • The way in which Jesus is portrayed in these gospels.

Steps for achieving the objectives

Read the following instructional content:

  1. Frontline: The Gnostic Gospels (Early documents suggest the first Christian communities had radically different interpretations of the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings.)
  2. Frontline:  The Gospel of Thomas  (Thomas does not tell the story of the life and death of Jesus, but instead offers the reader his “secret teachings” about discovering the Kingdom of God within ourselves).
  3. The Lost Gospel of Thomas:  Unknown Teachings of Yeshua  (Author Ted Nottingham provides interpretation of key passages from the Gospel of Thomas, a text that most scholars consider to be as old or older than some of the New Testament Gospels and possible source material for some of them.  Note:  I know his voice is a little dramatic, but his interpretations are consistent with how scholars are interpreting these texts and I thought it might be nice for you to have a video rather than more reading.)
  4. Read The Gospel of Thomas” (pg. 279 – 303).
  5. Read The Gospel of Judas (pg. 343 – 357).

Writing prompt: 

Please summarize your understanding and your feelings about the interpretations contained in the video called “The Lost Gospel of Thomas: Unknown Teachings of Yeshua” (listed as #3 on our list of resources for this section).  The teachings in the “secret” gospels can be very difficult to understand (as you will see when you read through them in your textbook), but this video explains a bit more clearly what these teachings might be saying.  (Hint:  It will greatly improve your ability to understand the video and your overall understanding of these kinds of teachings if you go through the other resources before watching the video.)

NOTE:  It will not help your grade in the slightest if you simply reject the gospels not contained in the Bible based on your beliefs.  If you wish to reject them, that is absolutely fine, but you must do it based on information found in the scholarly resources.  Remember that Jesus said in all four New Testament Gospelsthat he gave secret teachings to his followers, and these gnostic gospels have been authenticated to the time and place of his early followers.  While the orthodox church did not approve of these texts – based on the church’s own understanding and agenda – many of Jesus’ followers found them to be very meaningful and closer to their own understanding of his teachings.  

As always, please include direct quotes and/or references to the video if you wish to receive a higher grade.  And if you are struggling with any of this, PLEASE let me know so I can help you!  🙂

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