Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Extracanonical Scriptures

The word "canon" is derived from the Greek word for a carpenter’s measuring rule; so a canonical text is considered straight and true. The orthodox Christian Scriptures consist of 27 canonical texts.  It took until the 4th century for the proto-orthodox* church to finalize the canon of the Christian Scriptures. However, as early as the end of the 2nd century the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were already being cited as the four pillars of the proto-orthodox church. This was because of their widespread acceptance and use by many Christian communities. There were other communities that used different gospels that the proto-orthodox church did not accept for various reasons; some were considered to be heretical, others were in the wrong language, and others were just considered superfluous to the four we ended up with. These writings that were not included in the canon have usually been called noncanonical which has a negative implication, and therefore I prefer the more neutral term extracanonical. The diversity of early Christian thought, understanding and worship found in these texts can give us further insight into the historical Yeshua (Jesus)and post-resurrection communities that formed after him. Many of these extracanonical documents were lost or purposely destroyed by the proto-orthodox church. It must be understood that what we now consider orthodox Christianity is a Greco-Roman interpretation of Yeshua of Natzaret (Nazareth) and would have appeared alien to him as a Jew. The group closest to Yeshua, and therefore his own Jewish understanding of himself, were those Jewish followers of Yeshua Mashiah (Christ) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) led by Yeshua’s brother, Yohanan (James) the Just. This group of 1st century Mashianic Jews* fled to Pella east of the Yarden River after Yerushalayim was sacked by the Romans in 70 CE. They came to be known as the Ebionites and/or Nazarenes and were denounced as heretics by the 2nd century because they held to observance of the Torah (as Yeshua did) and saw Yeshua as Mashiah and Son of God  but did not equate that with him being God! So these gospels that did not make it into the canon of the proto-orthodox church offer us important information about the broader range of early Christianity and therefore, possibly about Yeshua Mashiah himself. And that is why I have judiciously used them in this Gospel.

The extracanonical scriptures I use are:

The Acts of Philip

The Gospel of the Hebrews

The Jesus Sutras (These stretch the definition because they are 6th century translations of the Christian Scriptures to Chinese and simultaneously adaptation to Buddhism, Taoism and Bon Tibetan religion. In this process it's as if Yeshua has been encountered by them in their cultural setting and they have their own Gospel.)

The Gospel of Mary Magdala

The Gospel of the Nazoreans

The Gospel of Philip

The Gospel of Thomas

The Sophia of Jesus Christ

Please see References for Texts, Abbreviations and Symbols for sources.

*The proto-orthodox church were the early Christian communities that chose the development of creed, cult and clergy to define what was true Christian faith. It would, by the 4th century, develop into two main divisions: 1) the Imperial Church of Rome and 2) the Oriental Orthodox Churches, those of primary importance at that time being the Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Indian Orthodox Churches.

**These 1st century Mashianic Jews have no connection with modern day Messianic Jews or “Jews for Jesus.”

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