What if I told you some of the most meaningful 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 ancient texts that some early Christian 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 the death of Jesus.
In the 4th century, the Gnostic Gospels were banned by the Church.
The early Roman church wanted to centralize authority and literally get all Christians on the same page. So, they did things like make December 25ththe official birthday of Jesus, even though history shows he was born in March or April. They also declared the Gnostic texts to be heretical and ordered that all books about the life of Jesus, 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 Christian religions. (Exceptions can be found today like the Johannite Church.)
What are these Gnostic books all about? I’ve read many of them and, like much of the Bible, it can be dry and difficult reading. The subjects covered include everything from creation mythology to the feminine side of God to wild tales of a coming apocalypse—but most interesting, and perhaps most controversial, are the passages that directly quote Jesus.
I’ve selected 10 short passages from the Gnostic texts and then grouped them by theme into three categories. I believe they reveal extraordinarily important messages that Jesus only hinted at in the Bible. In total, they inform us we can skip the priest or middleman, because each of us can have a direct and personal relationship with God.
After each quote, you’ll find the Gnostic book from which it originated. Some passages are trickier than others, but if you read them closely you should be able to decipher their meaning.
Theme 1. 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
Theme 2. All the answers you seek 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
Theme 3. You can find God 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 final Gnostic passage reinforces the message that God can be found right in our midst. We just need to look and listen, our eyes open to see and our ears open to hear.
- 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