Sunday, October 15, 2006


On Friday night, we had the privilege and pleasure of going to hear Elaine Pagels speak on the Gospel of Judas. I have enjoyed her writing, and have learned from her insights in several Sunday school classes that I've either led or attended. If I understand her correctly, she theorizes that the author of the Gospel of Judas was writing in opposition/reaction to the intense emphasis on, or even push toward, martyrdom that was prevalent in the early church. I can imagine this author thinking, "Are these people insane? How will we spread the Gospel when we're all dead?"

We've spent some time at church this year looking at the Gnostic gospels (although Pagels no longer uses the term Gnostic to refer to them), in connection with the whole Da Vinci Code thing. That was a lot of fun, and reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading them when I was in school. When I led a session on the Gospel of Mary a few years ago, one of our friends asked, "Why are we wasting time studying about these heresies?" Uh, well, because they are fascinating (at least to me, and I'm the teacher), especially from a church history standpoint. How many different viewpoints there were in those first 200 years, among those who all called themselves followers of Jesus.

Pagels said that our word heresy is taken from the Greek word that means "choice". I'm still mulling over the implications of that, but I think that it has a lot to do with honest belief and people following what insight they have. Most people aren't deliberately contrarian in matters of faith, unless they are trying to provoke others to serious consideration of why they believe what they do--and to me that's a healthy sort of provocation. Of couse there are a few grandstanders who get a kick out of letting everyone see they are swimming against the mainstream, but that's not what I'm talking about.

As a firm believer in Providence, I believe that the way our "orthodox" beliefs about the person and work of Christ "jelled" over those early centuries was as the Holy Spirit intended. But I also believe that none of us has any right to claim that we know the whole truth about God, and once we get to heaven we will all see how wrong (heretical?) we were in many ways. Who God really is, is so much greater than any of our little concepts of God.


don't eat alone said...

Pagel's book Beyond Belief has been very important to me. I loved learning that there has been a diversity in Christian thought and theology since the very beginning. Once the church became a state institution, uniformity and control became primary values; listening fell by the wayside.

We need to learn to listen again.


Quotidian Grace said...

Wish I could have gone with you. Thanks for reporting on the lecture! I hadn't thought about the Gospel of Judas being a reaction to the cult of matryrdom, but that makes some sense, too.

What does Pagels call the Gnostic writings now?

zorra said...

QG, I don't recall that she had a specific designation for them as a whole, but she does not think that "gnostic" is an accurate description for that whole group of writings. I wish you could have come, too.

Questing Parson said...

I regret I'm old enough I won't be around long enough to see the results of the scholarship of Pagels, the interplay of the various belief groups as a result of the flattening of the earth, effect our understanding (and dare I say it, our redefining) of God.