After reading the Nag Hammadi works, as well as non-scriptural works in the Bible like the Apocrypha, you might be thinking to yourself that it is quite a bit of a miracle why we even have the modern Bible. You would be absolutely correct because there was never a shortage of “spiritual” Christian texts. In fact, as early as a decade or two after Jesus Christ’s death, there have been already all sorts of stories involving Jesus in one matter or another.
In one shape or form, people would have been talking about Jesus since he walked the Earth, but that’s not the issue. Many of these materials were written down, but that’s also not the issue. The issue is how do you make heads or tails of all these competing texts?
This really gets to the heart of the question: What is that the root of the Bible’s Canon? It all boils down to finding the time and the energy to actually read the Bible because if you do, you would be able to see that it’s actually written differently compared to the other competing texts.
The fact is they’re not even in the same ballpark. The typical Gnostic text is sorely lacking in consistency. It’s talking about all sorts of sources of divinity, forms of relationship with God, or in many cases, that the God of Gnosticism is the self. In other words, it’s your relationship to yourself, or how honest you are with yourself.
If this all sounds familiar, it should be because it sounds like the typical new age or quasi-atheist philosophy. Believe it or not, a lot of these stuff trace all the way back to the early stage of the church. This is what happened. As seemingly convenient and comforting as a lot of these Gnostic literature may appear to our modern ears and eyes, they didn’t offer much comfort to the people who actually believe them.
Once the Roman persecution of Christians began in the reign of the Emperor Nero, where Christians were fed to the lions, crucified, skinned alive, boiled and publicly executed, all of Gnosticism’s reassuring theology involving the self didn’t offer much comfort. People abandoned these Gnostic writings as quickly as they renounced Jesus Christ.
It’s important to note that Gnosticism as a theological movement pretty much died out with the persecution of Christians, while, paradoxically, Christianity strengthened in turn. The more Christians they threw to the lions, or the more Christians crucified in public, the stronger the faith became.
This was the filtering process that operates at the root of the Bible’s Canon. That root is faith, and with faith comes consistency embedded in the Holy Spirit. This might seem pretty straighforward to us now but this is actually a tall order. Maintaining consistency or finding thematic unity in the first place was actually quite difficult considering the huge amount of competing texts-and the competing agendas behind such texts-that flooded the attention of early day Bible scholars.
The fact that we have such an internally consistent document today is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit working through fallible and otherwise easily confused people.