Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Red Letter" Sections Outside the Bible?

In some Bibles, the sayings of Jesus are highlighted in red, to make them easier to find when scanning the page. It is an easy way to distinguish places where Jesus' sayings are recorded and other material. The reason this is done is fairly obvious but it deserves notice all the same: many people are specifically looking for Jesus' sayings as the point of reading the gospels. The rest is of less interest to them for their own purposes.

When we look at alternative gospels outside of the Bible, they are not all the same type of document. The Gospel of Thomas records the sayings of Jesus and very little else; it is mostly "red letter" content. Some others do not record any sayings of Jesus, again for various reasons. This post will consider two different non-Biblical gospels and take a look at the different reasons why these two documents do not record any sayings of Jesus.

The Proto-Evangelium of James is the type of narrative that intends to tell an organized story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It does this by narrating events and conversations. It mostly concerns itself with the back story of Mary, beginning with Mary's parents before Mary's conception and following through to Mary giving birth to Jesus. While a number of conversations are included in the narrative, Jesus' own words and actions are not part of this narrative. That is intentional given the nature of the document: it does not intend to narrate the life or teachings of Jesus but to provide more material about his mother's side of the family.

The Gospel of Truth does not follow a narrative framework. It is a meditation or reflection, and includes some devotional and inspirational content. There are parts that might be suitable in some Christian circles today in a sermon, as a homiletic reflection on the meaning of the works of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, on the fruit of faith, and on our healing as we gain wholeness and forgiveness. It has some allusions to Jesus' words, particularly the lost sheep, along with other Biblical allusions. While there are places in the document that a reader might find a good spiritual reflection, there is no place in the document that a reader might find a quotation of a saying of Jesus. Again, that is intentional given the nature of the document: it does not intend to narrate the life or teachings of Jesus, but to reflect on some spiritual truths.

This post is the beginning of a survey which I intend to continue, giving the reader a better overview of various non-Biblical documents and whether they have any direct bearing on the life and teachings of Jesus.

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