All Gospels  Were Not Created Equal

By Philip Jenkins

Not EqualI just read an obituary of Early Christianity scholar Marvin Meyer, who died at the obscenely early age of 64.

In recent years, Meyer was best known for his edition of the Gospel of Judas, which in his view portrayed Judas in vastly more positive terms than the conventional account. His translation was however controversial, provoking a vigorous attack by his doctoral supervisor James M. Robinson. Among other issues, Meyer seems to have omitted the word “not” in a crucial sentence, resulting in Jesus placing Judas in a highly favorable light. I am not a Coptic scholar, and cannot judge the linguistic point.

I am, though, a historian, and on that basis I fundamentally challenge the framework of the debate presented by among others, Britain’s Daily Telegraph. (I stress that I am critiquing that media discussion, and not Meyer’s own work). According to the Telegraph, which should know better,

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What we know as the New Testament – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation – was actually born of thousands of texts and gospels circulated among the early Christians. Members of the new faith were subject to persecution, and the Church fathers felt that for the faith to survive, there had to be a unified belief system. Some time around AD 180, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon denounced all gospels but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as heretical. Later, about 50 years after Constantine’s conversion early in the fourth century, the New Testament became Christianity’s official text.

Lacking here is any sense that these early Christian texts vary enormously in authority, and in date…


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