The term gnostic gospels (pronunciation: naws-tik) refers to gnostic collections of writings about the teachings of Jesus, written around the 2nd century AD.[1] These gospels are not accepted by the Church as part of the standard Biblical canon. Rather, they are part of what is called the New Testament apocrypha. However, public interest has been spurred by recent novels and films which refer to them.[2][3]



The gnostic gospels were named after the Greek word gnosis which means "knowledge" and is often used in Greek philosophy in a manner more consistent with

 the English Enlightenment. Gnostic philosophy and religious movements began in pre-Christian times. During this time, ideas from Greek Gnosticism intermingled with Early Christianity. The name "Christian gnostics" came to represent a segment of the Early Christian community who believed that salvation lay not in merely worshipping Christ, but in psychic or pneumatic souls learning to free themselves from the material world via the revelation.[4] According to this tradition, the answers to spiritual questions are to be found within not without.[2] Furthermore, the gnostic path does not require the intermediation of a church for salvation. Some scholars, such as Edward Conze and Elaine Pagels, have suggested that gnosticism blends teachings like those attributed to Jesus Christ with teachings found in Eastern traditions.[1]


See also Gnosticism

The documents which comprise the collection of gnostic gospels were not discovered at a single time, but rather as a series of finds. The Nag Hammadi Library was discovered accidentally by two farmers in December of 1945 and was named for the area in Egypt where it had been hidden for centuries.[5] Other documents included in what are now known as the gnostic gospels were found at different times and locations, such as the Gospel of Mary, which was recovered in 1896 as part of the Akhmim Codex and published in 1955. Some documents were duplicated in different finds, and for others, such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, only one copy is currently known to exist.

There are differing schools of thought on the dating of the original versions of these gospels. Scholars with a focus on Christianity tend to date the gospels mentioned by Irenaeus to the 2nd century, and the gospels mentioned solely by Jerome to the 4th century. The traditional dating of the gospels derives primarily from this division. Other scholars with a deeper focus on pagan and Jewish literature of the period tend to date primarily based on the type of the work:

  1. Scholars like George Albert Wells would argue that there is a substantial body of literature about the teachings of the savior which were originally part of the Jewish wisdom movement. Gnostic gospels (like the Odes of Solomon) could then date as early as from 200-100 BCE. Dates this early would be rejected by most scholars if the text specifically mentions Jesus (rather than The Savior) since they are incarnationist (or at least not mythicist) and believe that there were some teachings at the base.
  2. The Gospel of the Lord can be unquestionably dated to at or before Marcion and thus no later than the early 2nd century. G.R.S. Mead and others have argued that Marcion's gospel predates the canonical Luke and was in use in Pauline churches. [6]
  3. The Gospel of Truth[7] and Pistis Sophia can be unquestionably dated to the early 2nd century as they were part of the original Valentinian school.[citation needed]
  4. Documents with a Sethian influence (like the Gospel of Judas, or outright Sethian like Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians can be dated substantially later than 40 and substantially earlier than 250; most scholars giving them a 2nd century date.[8] More conservative scholars using the traditional dating method would argue in these cases for the early 3rd century.
  5. Some gnostic gospels (for example Trimorphic Protennoia) make use of fully developed Neoplatonism and thus need to be dated after Plotinus in the 3rd century.[citation needed]

   Selected gospels

Though there are many documents that could be included among the gnostic gospels, the term most commonly refers to the following:

   References in popular culture

The gnostic gospels received widespread attention after they were referred to in the 2003 best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code,[13] which uses them as part of its back story.[14] The novel's use of artistic license in describing the gospels stirred up considerable debate over the accuracy of its depiction. As a result of public interest triggered by the novel and film, numerous books and video documentaries about the gospels themselves were produced which resulted in the gnostic gospels becoming well-known in popular culture.

   See also


  1. ^ a b Elaine Pagels. Extract from The Gnostic Gospels. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  2. ^ a b Elaine Pagels and Michael Licona. Gospel of Thomas debate. Pax TV. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  3. ^ Lance S. Owens. An Introduction to Gnosticism and The Nag Hammadi Library. The Gnostic Society. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  4. ^ Stephan A. Hoeller. The Gnostic World View: A Brief Summary of Gnosticism. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  5. ^ The Nag Hammadi Library. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  6. ^ His Gospel was presumably the collection of sayings in use among the Pauline churches of his day. Of course the patristic writers say that Marcion mutilated Luke's version; but it is almost impossible to believe that, if he did this, so keen a critic as Marcion should have retained certain verses which made against his strong anti-Judaistic views. G.R.S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten [1]
  7. ^ But the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses (3.11.9)[2]
  8. ^ Gnosticism and Platonism: The Platonizing Sethian texts from Nag Hammadi in their Relation to Later Platonic Literature, John D Turner, ISBN 0-7914-1338-1.
  9. ^ Karen L. King. Excerpts from Gospel of Mary of Magdala. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  10. ^ Elaine Pagels (June 4, 2003). The Secret Gospel of Thomas. NPR.
  11. ^ Stefan Lovgren (April 6, 2006). Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him. National Geographic News. Retrieved on 2007-04-22.
  12. ^ Elaine Pagels and Karen King (March 14, 2007). The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. NPR.
  13. ^ Elaine Pagels (May 22, 2006). The Truth at the Heart of 'The Da Vinci Code'. NPR. Retrieved on 2007-04-19.
  14. ^ Richard Abanes, The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, 2004. ISBN 0-7369-1439-0

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