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CNN’s “Finding Jesus” Asks the Right Questions


John Burger - published on 03/03/15

I don’t know if it will make the film—is that it’s not clear that it’s Mary or Mary Magdalene. A lot of people make that assumption, but it could be the Blessed Mother that’s being referred to by the Gnostics. It’s a lot less historically reliable than the historical gospels.

The Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene have been popular in the secular media as sources on early Christianity, but they’re of very small and relative value. They say a lot more gnosticism than they do about the Jesus Movement of the First Century.

I think I heard someone once say that the reason certain gospels were not included in the canon was that they didn’t speak of the resurrection.

From a historical perspective, I think that’s true in terms of some of the theological content, the distinction between them. But the larger, earlier sources of why they’re not is that there’s already a tradition going into the second century of reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the liturgy, in the Christian gatherings. It had already become a custom, so when these gnostic gospels start popping up, people like Irenaeus and others in the second century say that’s not from the Apostolic tradtion, that’s not what we read in the liturgythey’re not authoritative. So it’s already a practice of the early Christians of reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John because they’re apostolic, that is, they go back to the Apostles, but also the fact that they were read in the liturgy already as a custom, and then other gospels start popping up in the Second and Third Centuries, the Church doesn’t read those because they’re not of the tradition.

There is good historical criteria that people in the Second and Third Century used to distinguish these things, rather than just a modern idea that it’s just ideology, that there’s a conservative ideological decision by Constantine to exclude some others and include others. That perspective just isn’t historical.

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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