Introduction: The History Channel series: “Bible Secrets Revealed” – History not being revisited, but revised
The History Channel has been airing a series of programs claiming to reveal supposed mysteries surrounding the origins and development of the Bible. The aim of these particular blogs is to equip Bible believing Christians and to respond to the errors and revisionist history being promoted by the History Channel. Revisionism is a particular approach to history that attempts to rewrite one’s understanding of history in light of current theory and practice. Some of the tell-tale signs of revisionist approaches can include such traits as lack of mention of first hand sources, novel interpretations of historical events in favor of tried and tested understandings, switching roles of villains and heroes and denial of the ability to discern history correctly through available evidence.
In the first episode the subject centered on the reliability of the Biblical text itself, with the second episode concerned with questions concerning who has claims to the promised-land. The entire series has featured insights from a panel of radical critical scholars, the vast majority having published books and literature in both the academic community and popular culture. As each episode is aired, the aim is clear: to undermine historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity. The bias of the show against historic, Biblical Christianity is persistent and thus the reason for this current series of blogs, as well as previous blogs critiquing that first two episodes that can be found on this blogsite.
How this series of blogs aims to respond to the History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed”, Episode 3 In watching the episode, I could not help think about how we have heard such claims before, telling the same story of conspiracies and church history’s villains being the orthodox church fathers. It was not even hardly seven years ago that Dan Brown’s novel “The Davinci Code” had become a blockbuster film and featured a near identical story line and re-telling of history like the one being told in the current History Channel series. In the third episode that aired on November 27, the topic of discussion centered around the canon of scripture. The question being repeatedly raised was: why some books made it into our Bibles, and why others did not? As already stated, we find throughout the History Channel series an incredibly detailed and methodical attack against the foundations of the historic Christian faith, the origins of Christianity and the development of the Biblical Canon. In today’s post, and the next couple of posts, we will focus our attention on answering the claims made by the series: “Bible Mysteries Unrevealed”. To do this we will evaluate the third episode in particular along three lines: 1. What story are they telling? 2. What story does history tell about the development of the Biblical Canon 3. Have they told the story right?
I. What story does “Bible Secrets Revealed” tell about the Biblical Canon?
How “Bible Secrets Revealed” retells the story of the New Testament Canon We can summarize the third episode of History Channel series’ version of the historical development of the New Testament Canon in two basic points:
1. According to the panel of “experts” in the History Channel series, the years spanning from 100-300 A.D witnessed many gospels come from the apostles or claiming to be written by the Apostles. These so-called “lost Gospels” had been preserved by the Gnostics but were the expunged as the result of an alleged political agenda operating within the early church of the first few centuries.
2. Gnostic gospels are deemed non-inspired by the church heirarchy and due to political reasons are banned from the Bible. This was a process that the “Bible Secrets Revealed” panel suggests took place in the years following 100 A.D to right after 300 A.D.
This scenario presented by the History Channel series raises two very important questions: Have we seen this story before? And is this account valid or is it recent development?
Have we seen this story before? Yes we have
The panel of tenured professors and writers interviewed in the series are clearly intrigued with the Gnostic gospels and questions regarding their relationship (or lack thereof) in the development of the New Testament Canon. When we speak of the term “canon”, we are referring to a Greek word that refers to a standard of measurement or fixed unit of measurement. The 27 books that we have in our New Testament today are in the eyes of the radical scholarly elite a sly attempt by the early Christian church to “stamp out” the truth. Throughout the episode the overall message is that it is the Gnostic gospels, not the canonical, inspired four Gospels of the New Testament, that may be communicating the real words and life of Jesus.
Who were the Gnostics and how do they factor into the “Bible Secrets Revealed” story
Dr. Elaine Pagels, one of the scholars who has frequently spoken through the “Bible Secrets Revealed Series”, has written many books on Gnosticism and has exhibited great suspicion and opposition to historic Christianity. An example of Dr. Pagels view and work can be seen in what she says about Gnositicsm being a possible origin of Christianity. Dr. Pagels defines the Gnostic movement: “Gnosticism involves mystical speculation and practice. . . its writings derived from mystical experience.”1 A quick survey of the Gnostic movement is in order to understand what exactly is being promoted in the History Channel’s third episode of “Bible Mysteries Revealed”.
To begin, whenever one researches the origins of Gnosticism, it is clear that the movement was not unified, not Christian and not as organized as the revisionist historians of “Bible Mysteries Revealed” would have us believe. Gnosticism was a collection of varying philosophical and pagan beliefs that had its origins in Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian mysticism. Among other things Gnostics believed the material world to be evil, the immaterial world to be superior, affirmed belief in a whole host of deities and sub-deities and believed one came to individual understanding of these things through a mystical process called “gnosis”. The movement came to roost in the regions surrounding Galilee and Jerusalem in the first century and was embodied in such men as Simon the Magician (see below).
Not necessarily being a unified movement, Gnosticism describes more of an attitude that was prevalent in the days of Christ and the apostles – an attitude that had the mind craving experience and speculation as being the essence of truth. By having a special type of mystical knowledge called “gnosis” (from whence Gnosticism derives its name), Gnostics claimed to know things that otherwise could not be gained by any other method.
By placing emphasis on the individual’s ability to acquire such secret knowledge or “gnosis”, the idea of needing pastors or spiritual leaders was deemed beneath the gnostics, who though having teachers of their won, nonetheless denounced authority in favor of autonomy and pride in favor of humility. As we will see in tomorrow’s post, the early Gnostic literature discovered at Nag Hammadi (prominently mentioned in “Bible Secrets Revealed”, overwhelmingly favored a philosophical Jesus in favor of the Biblically crucified and bodily resurrected Lord and Savior.
How the seeds of Gnosticism moved into the early first century church and mushroomed into the succeeding centuries
A man by the name of Simon Magnus in Acts 8:9-25 took up an early version of Gnosticism and combined it with Christianity.2 As one reads Acts 8, it is very clear that Peter and the apostles were not receptive of his teachings (and for good reason!). Simon believed that the gift of the Holy Spirit could be purchased and power-brokered to achieve access to hidden power that he claimed to already have. From this event we can trace the Christian version of Gnosticism that comes to its maturing form 100 years later in the second century. This joining of Gnostic thinking to various heretical groups within early church history was what produced all of the literature containing the Gnostic Gospels and documents (called the Pseudepigrapha). In other words, it is during that period that the very books that the History Channel series are focused upon have their start.3
In tomorrow’s post we will continue with our evaluation and critique of the story being told by episode three of the History Channel series: “Bible Secrets Revealed”. We will focus our attention specifically on the scholarship being used to tell the story of the development of the Biblical Canon.
(1) Pagels, Elaine, Ph.D. The Gnostic Gospels.
(2) Eusebius Church History.
(3) The various Gnostic movements and heretics are catelogued in detail and critiqued by the early church father Iranaeus of Lyons’s work: “Against Heresies”. Irenaeus lived and wrote in and around 180 A.D.
- P1 – A 12 point critique of History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed” (biblicalexegete.wordpress.com)
- P2 – A 12 point critique of the History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed” (biblicalexegete.wordpress.com)
- The Muratorian Canon – an early witness in church history of the N.T Canon (biblicalexegete.wordpress.com)