(RNS) Is the New Testament missing a few books? In a move that may seem heretical to some Christians, a group of scholars and religious leaders has added 10 new texts to the Christian canon.

The work, “A New New Testament,” was released nationwide in March in an attempt to add a different historical and spiritual context to the Christian scripture.

four evangelists

‘The Four Evangelists’ by Jordaens Louvre circa 1630. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1717Xsg)


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Some of the 10 additional texts — which have come to light over the past century — date back to the earliest days of Christianity and include some works that were rejected by the early church.

The 19-member council that compiled the texts consisted of biblical scholars, leaders in several Christian denominations — Episcopal, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Lutheran — two rabbis and an expert in Eastern religions and yoga.

  • EXCERPT: “Jesus said, ‘Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.” — The Gospel of Thomas (c. 60-175 A.D.)

“(The texts seem) so nurturing and inspiring to people’s spiritual journeys. It’s also important for the public to see a broader picture of early Christianity,” said Hal Taussig, a biblical scholar and pastor who chaired the council.

Taussig is a visiting professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, professor of early Christianity at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and co-pastor at Chestnut Hill United Church in Philadelphia.

Taussig, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, which sought to piece together an accurate historical account of Jesus’ life that downplayed his divinity, said he hopes the project gives the ancient texts new life beyond the rarefied world of biblical scholarship.

Even though he’s not suggesting that people see the texts as authoritative theology, perhaps not surprisingly not everyone admires the project.

Timothy Paul Jones, a professor of leadership at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the texts Taussig used in “A New New Testament” don’t add real context to the original New Testament.

“Treating these 10 texts as historical context for the New Testament would be like studying ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ to understand the historical context of the 13th Amendment,” Jones said.

“These texts that Taussig adds come from a different time period than any New Testament document, and they represent a fundamentally different worldview.”

  • EXCERPT: “Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, ‘Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.’” – The Gospel of Mary (c.80-180 A.D.)

New Testament scholars are divided on their understanding of early Christian texts in relation to what actually made it into the New Testament. Many disagree on the dates of different texts, the validity of such sources and the relevancy of noncanonical texts to biblical materials.

While Taussig said he doesn’t believe the New Testament is incomplete, he thinks that the new material “elucidates it and expands it.”

In the book’s preface, Taussig wrote that parts of the New Testament are “offensive and outmoded,” citing verses that tell slaves to obey their owners (1 Peter 2:18) or wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), or passages that refer negatively to Jews (John 8:44).

Jones said that although several of Taussig’s chosen texts bear the names of apostles, “none of them was widely thought to be an authentic text from any first century apostle.”

  • EXCERPT: “He said to me, ‘John, John, why do you doubt, or why are you afraid? You are not unfamiliar with this image, are you? — that is, do not be timid! — I am the one who is with you always. I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son. I am the undefiled and incorruptible one. Now I have come to teach you what is and what was and what will come to pass. …’” — The Secret Revelation of John (c. 110-175 A.D.)

Texts included in “A New New Testament” are the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Acts of Paul and Thecla and others, along with pieces of poetry and prayers.

“I trust those writers who were closer to the events in Jesus’ life — that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — to provide us with a more accurate look at what his life, death and resurrection were like,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author.

“If you read those other texts against the four Gospels, you can see pretty clearly why the church chose those four,” he said.

  • EXCERPT: “When Thecla came to the cave, she found Paul upon his knees praying and saying, ‘O holy Father, O Lord Jesus Christ, grant that the fire may not touch Thecla; but be her helper, for she is thy servant.’ Thecla then standing behind him, cried out in the following words: ‘O sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the Father of thy beloved and holy Son, I praise thee that thou hast preserved me from the fire, to see Paul again.'” – The Acts of Paul and Thecla (c. 85-160 A.D.)

Martin, however, said that there may be valuable information in the additional texts even if they never gained the church’s official stamp of approval.

Despite disagreement surrounding the early documents, there is interest in texts that lie outside of biblical canon.

“I see a lot of curiosity among people about documents that didn’t make it into the New Testament,” said Greg Carey, a New Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

The revised New Testament “could serve people a way into exploring the texts,” he said.

Karen King, a respected scholar of early Christianity at Harvard University who worked with Taussig on the panel, said she thinks the new texts add historical depth to the New Testament.

“I think that this book will help people understand the rich diversity of early Christianity more than they have in the past,” she said. “You can see more of the richness of the debates by looking at more literature from that time.”

The council behind “A New New Testament:”

Margaret Aymer — Associate professor of New Testament and area chair of biblical studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga., and a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Geoffrey Black — General minister and president of United Church of Christ.

Sister Margaret Brennan — Member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Lisa Bridge — Program manager for children and youth ministries at Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church in New York City and an expert in yogic and Buddhist traditions.

John Dominic Crossan — Professor emeritus in religious studies at DePaul University and former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar.

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer — Editor of a forthcoming collection of spiritual essays by female Jewish scholars.

Bishop Susan Wolfe Hassinger — Retired bishop of the United Methodist Church and the bishop-in-residence and a lecturer at Boston University School of Theology.

Bishop Alfred Johnson — Retired bishop in the United Methodist Church and pastor of (United Methodist) Church of the Village in New York City.

Chebon Kernell — Pastor of First American United Methodist Church in Norman, Okla.

Karen L. King — Professor of divinity at Harvard University.

Celene Lillie — Doctoral candidate in New Testament studies at Union Theological Seminary.

Stephen D. Moore — Professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School.

J. Paul Rajashekar — Professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

Bruce Reyes-Chow — Social media consultant and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Mark Singleton — Professor at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M., and an expect on yoga.

Sister Nancy Sylvester — Member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Barbara Brown Taylor — A professor of religion at Piedmont College, author and Episcopal priest.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow — Director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and a leader in Jewish renewal and peace movements.

KRE/AMB END BELL

26 Comments

  1. I tend to agree with Fr. Martin that the four gospels were chosen for the reason he gave, but these sources will provide insight into the diversity of early Christianity. I look forward to reading them.

  2. The publicity machine of the Jesus Seminar strikes again. Once again for the record folks, whatever your theological views, you need to know that the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars reject the Seminar’s dating of canonical and non-canonical materials. As usual the Seminar releases its findings during Holy Week for maximum effect within the ill-informed mass media.

    • Larry Ricciardelli

      And so the established “majority of biblical scholars” responds with its usual tired defence of the canon. “What was good for the church of Constantine and the folks living on the edges of a coming dark, is good for all time.” There can be no new revelation of truth regardless of modern discoveries because the truth was codified into the accepted canon by men (I don’t think any women were involved in the 4th century debates) who had lots to gain by preaching a gospel of obey the rules, keep your nose clean and we give you a ticket to heaven, signed by the Emperor himself.

  3. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor of leadership at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the texts Taussig used in “A New New Testament” don’t add real context to the original New Testament.

    “Treating these 10 texts as historical context for the New Testament would be like studying ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ to understand the historical context of the 13th Amendment,” Jones said.

    ^^ THIS

  4. Everyone is a scholar these days. Hahaha. And just because they call themselves scholars, they assume that this gives them credibility to influence what is reality and what isn’t. A self-proclaimed scholar among your own following has no authority on any particular subject of the whole. In this case, the Canon of Scripture, nor asserting these additions will add context. Baloney!

  5. Andrew put his finger on it,and thanks for that,bro! A wise theologian once told to that…”Just because you have a string of alphabets trailing your name doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. Sometimes you’re simply an educated fool”… Amen to that!! As far as my own point of view is concerned,even if these”new”documents added anything relevant to who our Savior is(they don’t),adding John Dominic Crossan’s name to this”project makes it not worth the paper it’s written on. Every since he made the vilely blasphemous claim that Jesus’body was eaten by dogs,I will never,EVER read anything with his name attached to it. EVER. The only thing that would make this exercise in pseudo-theological”scholarship”worse is involving John Shelby Spong in it!! As far as I’m concerned they’re both rank heretics and there is nothing,NOTHING they can say to me about the Word of God. NOTHING.So…That’s my two cents. Jesus As IS is ALL I’ll ever need as my Lord and Savior,and I’m more than happy to trust Holy Writ as IT IS WRITTEN.

  6. The Gospel of Thomas is the most touted non-caconical gospel for inclusion by liberal scholars a’ la The Jesus Seminar, and this is what we have: Gospel of Thomas 114 Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us because women are not worthy of life.”
    Jesus said, “I myself will lead her so as to make her mael, so that she may become a living spirit resembling you males. Every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingom of heaven.”
    The Gospel According to Thomas.

    So, context: beyond the caconical gospels we have an other-worldly messiah spouting nonsense about women, and everything else.
    Having read the 31 non-caconical gospels that survive, I’ve come to conclusion that I’ll stick to the historically factual and accurate caconical gospels.
    If anything, the non-sensical content of the extra-biblical texts would have marked them for exclusion, never mind the late dating and general LACK of historical content found in these texts.

    Ok, one more, even if it’s not included the publication: Gospel of the Egyptians [44] he whose name is an invisible symbol. A hidden, invisible mystery came forth: iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, oooooooooooooooooooooo, uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. And so the three powers praised the great, invisible, unnamable, virginal, uninvokable Spirit, and his masculine female virgin.

    Yes, that’s going to help me. That comforts me in times of stress, and moments of heartache. That’s going to help me be a better father and husband, a better person.

    Puh-lease – I’ll let John 3:16 saturate me: For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.

  7. The new texts enhance our undertanding of the early christian debates about Jesus and his message.The Quran, which Muslims believe a revelation from God like Torah and Psalms, also describes Jesus and his times in quite detail that could be an intersting read. Here is the wiki link
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam

  8. Polemic, however witty, is no substitute for informed, rational debate. People who are fearful that new ideas threaten their entrenched understanding of what is biblical truth often resort to diatribe without self-examination. I wait for the publication as a biblical scholar with much interest.

  9. Oh, I must have misread the news that these 19 self-appointed “popes” had been chosen by God to decide which books belong to the canon of scripture.

    These 19 tossers haven’t added anything. These books (mostly forgeries written many centuries after the events they supposedly report) have been well known for a long time and add little or nothing to our understanding of Christ, His Church, His teaching and the salvation He offers to those who faithfully follow Him to the end.

  10. The truth of the New Books is obvious in relation to the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
    The New Books do indeed sound like Jesus’s words if read and understood in the dialect and time he spoke them. The context would be identical to the type of person Jesus was speaking too…a sinner….a believer….a child or an adult. There fore, these additional words are more truthful and touching to those of us who already believe in God’s word. Amen…Amen.

  11. Brent, how is Jesus telling Mary she must become a man more touching to you, “being in touch with God”?
    Jesus doesn’t rebuke Peter for saying that women are not worthy of life.

    This is a far cry from the truthful portrayal of Jesus in Luke and the other caconical Gospels, where he resotred women’s dignity and spoke tenderly with the woman at the well etc etc.

  12. sylvester ndlovu

    The bible, the word of God is inspired! Anyone who adds to
    It, adds wrath unto his soul, who are to add on what God has inspired, to hell with additions!

  13. “Treating these 10 texts as historical context for the New Testament would be like studying ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ to understand the historical context of the 13th Amendment,”

    and yet, ironically, studying the gospels themselves is rather like studying Vampire Hunter rather than lincoln’s historical reality. the gospels are fan fiction created well after the event by religious communities to reinforce whatever religious narrative they had managed to generate. of course, scrub that last comment if you are unaware of religious groups manufacturing unreliable doctrine over very short time frames. unlike the case of jesus, we have an abundance of contemporary material about lincoln. the detractors of this new work are essentially arguing that unreliable fan fiction is of a fundamentally different category than even less reliable fan fiction – which is probably not even the case with regard to the gospel of thomas. the real issue here is that your church pastor has decided on your behalf that you don’t need to hear about the unreliability of the new testament, which he himself learned in the seminary; and the religious figures who complain about disseminating alternative texts are fighting a losing battle against this information becoming more widely known

    • Eenok, have you ever read the “gnostic gospels”? Make a comparison between them and the caconical texts, and there’s no way you could consider them on par with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the Epistels of the New Testament.

      And calling the caconical Gospels “fan fiction” is a category mistake. They are history – if you want to make educated comments, at the very least read The Gospels as Histories on this link http://richardbauckham.co.uk/index.php?page=unpublished-lectures – if you’re really open to reading sound scholarship, check out The Authenticity of the Apostolic Witness, and Canonicity of the Four Gospels.
      I find that guys with your stance have to overlook much to reach that conclusion.
      Blessings

  14. “These texts that Taussig adds come from a different time period than any New Testament document, and they represent a fundamentally different worldview.”
    We live in the 21st century which has a vastly different worldview than that of the first or second centuries. If one believes that the Holy Spirit is continually working in the world, then why must our sacred texts be calcified? Our worldview permits us to include the rich diversity of voices of early Christianity in our canon. Do we outright dismiss and discard those later Christian voices?
    Jones said that although several of Taussig’s chosen texts bear the names of apostles, “none of them was widely thought to be an authentic text from any first century apostle.” Can Jones prove that the Gospels attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were indeed written by apostles with those names?
    “I trust those writers who were closer to the events in Jesus’ life — that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — to provide us with a more accurate look at what his life, death and resurrection were like,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author.
    The Gospel of John paints a different picture of Jesus than from those of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. In John’s Gospel Jesus is the self-revealing revealer. Which picture is the most “accurate”? When I was a student at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA in 2005, I wrote a paper in which I noted the similarities between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas, and suggested that John’s Gospel like Thomas’ Gospel has Gnostic undertones. Hence, I think the Gospel of Thomas should be included in a modern-day canon.
    The brief excerpt from the Secret Revelation of John that is reproduced in this article is similar to what one might find in the Gospel of John. Given such similarities, I again ask, which is the more accurate picture of Jesus, the one in John’s Gospel or the one in the Secrete Revelation of John? They are equally valid portraits, and as such, the Secret Revelation of John should be included in a modern-day canon.

  15. Have you considered the reason the gnostic texts were rejected? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to presume small passages would have a similar flow and nuance to Canonized scripture, but it did not meet the criteria for acceptance.

  16. They were rejected because they tend to promote the notion that a person can be in touch with God directly rather than only through the mediation of the church and it’s priests. They were therefore feared by church leaders as threatening their authority.

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