What if I told you some of the most amazing and compelling things Jesus said during his lifetime can’t be found in the Bible? That’s because they’re part of the Gnostic Gospels, a loose collection of almost 60 early Christian texts that have been referred to as “the secret sayings of the savior”.
Many of the Gnostic gospels were written in the first through third centuries, about the same time as the four gospels found in the New Testament. Once in wide circulation, these gospels were passed around early fledgling churches throughout the Mideast and show the rich diversity of Christian beliefs in the years following Jesus’s death.
And then they fell out of favor. In the fourth century, the early Roman church set out to centralize authority and get all Christians literally on the same page. So they declared the books to be heretical and ordered that all gospels not named Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, be destroyed.
In spite of the best efforts of this book-burning regime, many of these texts survived. A treasure trove of them were discovered in 1945 in Egypt at Nag Hamadi. But you won’t find them as part of your Sunday church service, as they are still largely ignored or even considered taboo by mainstream religions.
So what are these Gnostic books all about? I’ve read a few dozen of them and, like much of the Bible, it can be dry and difficult reading. The subjects covered include creation mythology, the feminine side of God and wild tales of a coming apocalypse—but most interesting, and perhaps most controversial, are the passages that quote Jesus.
I’ve selected 10 short passages from the Gnostic texts (see the gray boxes below) that are related in theme and grouped into three categories. I believe they deliver an important message from Jesus that is only hinted at in the Bible: skip the middleman, you can have a direct and personal relationship with God.
After each quote, you’ll find the Gnostic Gospel from which it originated. Some are trickier than others, but read them closely and you should be able to decipher their meaning.
The first step to knowing God is to know yourself.
He who has known himself has…already achieved knowledge about the depth of all.~The Book of Thomas The Contender
That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. ~Gospel of Thomas
Those who have come to know themselves will enjoy their possessions. ~Gospel of Phillip
All the answers can be found within.
What you seek after (is) within you. ~The Dialogue of the Savior
Beware that no one lead you astray, saying ‘Lo here!’ or ‘Lo there!’ For the Son of Man is within you. Follow after him! Those who seek him will find him. ~The Gospel of Mary
Matthew: “Lord, when I speak…who listens? The Lord said: “It is the one who speaks who also listens, and it is the one who can see who also reveals.” ~The Dialogue of the Savior
What you are looking for is here on this earth.
The Kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. ~Gospel of Thomas
The disciples said, “What is the place to which we are going? The Lord said, “Stand in the place you can reach.” ~The Dialogue of the Savior
His disciples said, “When will the Kingdom come?” It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying here it is or there it is. Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it. ~Gospel of Thomas
This Christmas Eve, I will be in church. I like the pageantry and sense of community and camaraderie. But I will do so knowing that the God I find in church that night, is the same God I will find in my home, and within myself, Christmas Day. This final Gnostic passage reinforces Jesus’s message that God can be found right in our midst:
Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest. ~Gospel of Thomas
This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at the faith site Patheos, December 18, 2013.