What's the Problem
Tuesday of Pentecost 17
3 October 2017
Long before Elaine Pagels and Dan Brown came onto the scene touting the spurious and pseudepigraphical writings of the ancient Gnostics, the Christian church debated quite openly the value of this literature, putting to rest the silly claim that there was some Christian conspiracy of silence hovering ominously over this literature. Martin Chemnitz looked at the claims made for this literature by the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. The existence of these books was taken by the sixteenth-century Roman Catholics to point to a store of unwritten tradition to which the Christian church had access through the magisterium of the bishops. This tradition was understood to correct and reinterpret the doctrine of the canonical Bible. It is an irony that today this Gnostic literature and the unwritten tradition it is supposed to represent has been adopted by the learned despisers of the Christian religion to show Christianity to be anti-woman, morally insensitive, and tied to the superstitions of the cross and bloody death of Christ for sinners. At one time, this Gnostic literature was used by the Roman church to tout the existence and value of the unwritten apostolic traditions. How Dan Brown and Elaine Pagels can reasonably assert otherwise is baffling. But then their work has never been about truth or reason, has it?
Certainly, the Bible is not an encyclopedia of the life of Christ and of the apostles. Nor is the Bible a reality show intended to portray every moment of their lives. For example, not once does the Bible mention the apostle Paul attending to his normal bodily excretory functions. The Bible is written for a specific purpose and for that purpose it is entirely and absolutely sufficient. The Bible claims to be written on the basis of eye witnesses "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31). The Bible specifically says that Jesus did other things that were not written in the text (Jn 20:30). We do not know what those things were because they were not recorded in the text of the Bible. The Gnostic literature only begins to arise in the second century A.D., long after the eyewitnesses had left the scene. A great deal of the content directly contradicts the doctrinal content of the New Testament eye witnesses. Humanly speaking, we would not accept the testimony of someone who was 250 miles away from an event over those who were eye witnesses, nor would such distant witnesses be allowed to trump an eye witness in a court of law.
Beyond the basic fact that the witness of the Gnostic literature is less than factual because it fails evidentiary cross examination, the Bible's purpose is purely to convey the saving grace of God in the story of Jesus Christ, by his life, death, and glorious resurrection. Well over half of the canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are focused on the last six weeks of the life of Jesus. Why? Because those weeks focus on the bloody death by crucifixion suffered by the Son of God and His glorious resurrection, which acts of Jesus He claims would save the world from its sin. No, everything is not there, just everything necessary for our salvation. We need no more. So what's the problem?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Chemnitz

"[Some] object that not all the acts of each apostle were committed to writing by Luke [in Acts]. For he relates only a little concerning Peter but writes more about the deeds of Paul, whose traveling companion and associate in the ministry he was. Nevertheless, he also does not relate all the acts of Paul as seen from 2Co 11:23-27; Rm 15:24; Galatians 1 and 2; and from other places. Concerning the acts of the other apostles he recorded almost nothing. Therefore, the apostles both said and did far more than Luke has included in that thin book about the acts of the Apostles. Therefore, it is wrong to reject something as not instituted or done by the apostles because Luke did not record it in the Acts of the Apostles, but much more must be believed to have been instituted and done by the apostles than can be proved from the Acts written by Luke. To this I reply: What would finally be the measure, end, or number of the things which could be foisted on the church under this title without witness?
But the simple and true solution is understood from the following: In ancient times, immediately after the days of the apostles, this argument was carried on in this way, that many writings were put forth, promising to supply those things which had been passed over by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, and which nevertheless seemed necessary for the church, such as the Journeys of Peter, purporting to have been written by Clement, the Acts of Andrew, of Philip, of Peter, of Thomas, etc. Indeed, while the apostle John was still living a history about the time or the Acts of Paul and Thekla (2nd c.) was spread, which John showed to be a fraud by overthrowing the originator of the forgery. The other books also about the deeds of the apostles were rejected by the church. Therefore, it is not a new trick to foist on the church useless, false, and spurious things under the title and pretext that Luke had not followed up all the acts of the individual apostles in his writing.
"Now when spurious books, which were promising a fuller account of the acts of the individual apostles were rejected, without doubt because they contained uncertain and false things, were then other authentic writings about the deeds of the other apostles published, in order that they might be preserved to posterity, especially since John, who in his Gospel had added things which he saw had been omitted by the others, which however, he judged necessary for coming generations to know, was still alive at that time? Certainly no one will assert that this was done. And surely he would not dare to say that this was neglected in order that posterity might according to his own will or from uncertain tales make up anything and everything concerning the institutions, sayings, and deeds of the apostles. Therefore, the matter stands thus, that nothing else was written about the acts of the apostles because it was judged that the things which Luke had published, together with the epistles of the apostles were sufficient for posterity.

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent
1 John 5:1-21
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is he who came by water and blood- Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life- to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You did everything for our salvation by your incarnation, birth, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Keep us focused on these saving acts in the canonical books that You gave the church. Free us from the bonds that those who have set their hearts on other texts would cast over our lives and the liberty from sin and death You have given us. Rescue us from the decrepit old doctrines of the Gnostic speculations, now being dusted off and foisted on us in these wicked days. Help us to see that these speculations are as old as Satan, not new at all. Thank You, dear Lord, that You have said all we need for salvation in Holy Scripture. Amen.
For Susan Bomar and Michael Koutsodontis as they receive therapy for cancer, that Christ the physician would grant them healing
For all those who have undergone surgery, that they might recover fully
For Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, who is moving his family to Houston Texas to take up his office as Associate Pastor and Director of Parish Music for Memorial Lutheran Church, that the Lord would give them safe travels and a joyful homecoming
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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