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The question of the historical character of the Church does not cease with her biblical roots but has relevance to her entire history.A great deal turns on one of the most basic (and most disputed) questions of the Church’s history—the development of doctrine.Also, modern scholarship itself is bound by its own times, and the historical-critical method has a history of its own that can also be relativized.
The most influential recent attempt to discredit the historicity of the New Testament is the rediscovery of certain “Gnostic gospels” (all written later than the New Testament itself) upon which popular works such as are based.
These “gospels” are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings allegedly written by Mary Magdalen, Judas Iscariot, and the Apostles Philip and Thomas. 36–39) was the only heretical movement in the history of the Church that considered it unimportant whether the Gospel narratives were historically true.
(Far more is known about Jesus than about many of the Roman emperors.) Then there are the attempts of some historians to make Jesus a modern man—the claim that He “liberated” women in the feminist sense or that He was the leader of a political movement.
Such claims necessarily assume that from the very beginning the leaders of the Church systematically falsified the record, concealing the fact that women were among the Twelve, for example.
The most lasting division in the history of Christianity was the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, but even then, both Catholics and Protestants agreed on the ultimate authority of the New Testament and the early creeds, a core of faith that was normative.
Now, however, proponents of the Gnostic gospels, including even some professed Christians, seek to reopen questions that had been settled since at least the fourth century.
By excluding in principle the very possibility of divine revelation, they imprison Christianity entirely within the movement of history, essentially reducing questions of faith to factional struggles within the Church.
If orthodox Christianity does not represent revealed truth, it must be seen as merely the triumph of one party over another, making it possible to cancel seventeen centuries of history in order to redefine the very foundations of the Church.
Thus, while making use of scholarship, Christians must ultimately read Scripture with the eyes of faith.
Its central message—salvation through Jesus Christ—is incomprehensible to those who treat it as a merely human document.