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Review of Bible Secrets Revealed, Episode 3: “The Forbidden Scriptures”

  • by Admin
  • July 22, 2014
Click here to read other articles in this series. ×

The episode “The Forbidden Scriptures” from the History Channel’s series Bible Secrets Revealed focuses on texts not included in the New Testament and provides possible explanations for their exclusion. Many of these texts, known as the Gnostic gospels or what the episode calls “Lost Gospels,” were discovered in 1945 and comprise a collection known as the Nag Hammadi library. One claim made in the episode is that the four New Testament Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were partly chosen because they helped to establish a male-dominated hierarchy within the church. Kathleen McGowan states that the selection process was not driven by their spiritual message but rather for economic and political interests. Another one of the interviewees, Bart Ehrman, states:

Many people have thought that the later church leaders—say 20, 30 years after Jesus’ life—wanted to deemphasize the role that women played in the life of Jesus and the early church. And one way to do that is to elevate the importance of the disciples, the male disciples: Peter, James and John, and the others. And so there may have been battles in early Christianity between those who wanted to elevate the men and those who wanted to celebrate the women, and we know which side ended up winning out.

In addition, the narrator states: “Could this be why the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the other so called ‘Lost Gospels’ were kept out of the New Testament—because the early church had a pro-male and anti-female agenda?”

Does this represent a fair depiction for how the New Testament Gospels were chosen? Before this can be answered, it would be helpful to establish whether or not an androcentric ideology is portrayed in these books.

It can be argued that the New Testament Gospels diminish the role of men and elevate the status of women.”

Before looking at some examples in the four Gospels, the view of women in one of the Gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, provides a rather disparaging view of women. In it is the following dialogue between Peter and Jesus:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven’” (Gospel of Thomas, 114).

This quote was not mentioned at any time in the episode. Had any of the New Testament Gospels included a statement this bizarre and offensive toward women, there is no doubt it would have received much attention. Rather, it can be argued that the New Testament Gospels diminish the role of men and elevate the status of women.

The NT Gospels on many occasions spotlight the weaknesses of the twelve male disciples. Ehrman stated that church leaders “elevated the importance of the male disciples;” however, it is difficult to see such an elevation in the NT Gospel accounts. For instance, during the life of Christ, Jesus often criticizes the disciples for their lack of faith. It is Judas, a beloved male disciple, who betrays him and whose life tragically ends by suicide. After Judas betrays him, most of the disciples flee and Peter’s inept ability to use a sword results in Jesus healing a man’s ear. Furthermore, Peter, after swearing allegiance to Jesus, is found bitterly denying him three times. Then, while Jesus is suffering on the cross, John is the only male disciple present. After the resurrection of Christ, Thomas refuses to believe in the event unless he physically touches the body of Jesus. There are many other instances that portray the ignorance, frailty, and faithlessness of the male disciples. In fact, their examples of ignorance have led some to refer to them as the “duh-sciples.” Such characteristics are not those you would expect to find in any book on leadership. Had these men been models for leadership in the church, it is unlikely anyone could establish power.

Simon Peter says to them: ‘Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!’ Jesus says: ‘See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.’”
—Gospel of Thomas, saying 114

The irony of the argument being made in the episode is that the NT Gospels often elevate women. Though they are not referred to specifically as disciples, there are women who function as such in the narratives.[1] In two pivotal moments in the NT Gospels, the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is women who are highlighted as being present. While Jesus was on the cross, the Gospels state that those present were the mother of Jesus, Mary, his aunt Mary and Mary Magdalene and one male disciple, John. In addition, though the Gospel accounts vary on the women who are the first to discover the empty tomb and the first to whom Jesus appears, Mary Magdalene is highlighted as one included. A female being heralded as a hero over the disciples does not lend support to a pro-male agenda. Furthermore, besides the variation on which women were present, it is noteworthy that the NT Gospels include the women close to Jesus, not any of the male disciples, as being those to first witness his resurrection. Paul highlights the resurrection of Christ as a critical event of the Christian faith when he states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17 ESV). In light of the statement made in the Gospel of Thomas, it is astonishing how one can claim that it was excluded because of its high view concerning women.

In addition to the portrayal of the seemingly incompetent male disciples, the Gospels further deprecates the role of male leadership when it mentions the actions of king Herod, Herod Antipas, Pilate, and the Pharisees. In addition, women are portrayed as better followers of Christ than any of the twelve male disciples. Therefore, for the episode to emphasize that the NT Gospels were included and other writings were excluded to establish a male-led Christian church is not a fair claim. The only male who stands out as the model for leadership among all others in the NT gospels is Jesus. If the NT Gospels are not androcentric, then how is it possible that they were included to support a pro-male agenda? The fact that the Roman Catholic Church (which the episode seems to highlight) has been predominantly led by males is a different issue.

[1] See John P. Meier, “The Disciples of Jesus: What About the Women?”Mid-Stream38, no. 1–2 (1999): 137–44.


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Tags: Bible Secrets Revealed canonicity gnostic Gospels Nag Hammadi

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  1. Gerrie Malan says:
    July 28, 2014 at 8:23 am

    I have seen many vulgar comments the past few months by self-proclaimed atheists who grew up in Christian homes. One of them was also a pastor in a very legalistic group. My conclusion has been that the church at large is paying the price today for so many decades/centuries of reading into the Scriptures what it does not say within the original context. The History Channel does the same.

    Having noted that, CSNTM stands out in providing those who really the truth, with sources of great value.

  2. Dina habib-agahi says:
    May 30, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    In God we should trust and have faith.