It’s late this year. I’ve come to expect it between Christmas and Easter. It’ happens like clockwork. Invariably during the one or both of these two Christian Holidays, there is always an “Alternate Story of Christianity” that takes root and is popularized by the media. In the past it’s been “The Da Vinci Code”, The “Gospel of Thomas” or even “The tomb of Jesus”. This year, it’s the movie The Gospel of Mary Magdalen.
The Gospel Of Mary Movie
The movie was produced by the Weinstein Company, and has been in release outside of the US since 2018. Due to well publicized problems in the Weinstein Company, the film was not released in the US until April of 2019. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, the movie follows the story loosely based on the gnostic gospel of Mary. Unsurprisingly, the film makers used the opportunity to create a “Feminized Jesus”.
In a recent interview in Newsweek, Joaquin Phoenix took the opportunity to complain about the non-inclusion of the Gospel of Mary into the New Testament.
Why Did They Make The Movie?
Commenting on the Gospel of Mary—an early Christian writing, rediscovered in 1896, that many scholars believe concerns Mary Magdalene—he said: “Why was Mary’s book not included in the Bible? The stench of blatant sexism becomes, you know, inescapable.”
I’ve created a word for this type of Biblical criticism from actors. I refer to it as being a “Thespilogian”. In other words, actors masquerading as a theologian. To be fair to Mr. Phoenix, I understand his skepticism about religion. He grew up in the “Children of God” cult in South America. That sort of upbringing would lead anyone to be naturally suspicious about Christianity or any other religion.
But the question isn’t whether or not Mr. Phoenix is justified in his skepticism. The question is, are his assertions about the Gospel of Mary correct?
What Are The Facts On The Gospel Of Mary?
The gospel of Mary was discovered in 1896 in a 5th-century papyrus codex written in Sahidic Coptic. The gospel is dated by most scholars to have been written between 120-180 AD. It falls into the genera of gnostic theology (the idea that special knowledge is needed to access God). With a few notable exceptions, it is generally regarded by scholars as an apocryphal gospel.
The gospel describes a dialogue between Mary, Peter and Andrew. Mary claims that Jesus gave her special knowledge that the other male disciples were not privy to. The creates friction between Mary and the male disciples. The relationship between Mary and Jesus is also amplified in other apocryphal gospels such as The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Phillip.
Why Was The Gospel Not Included In The New Testament?
So why was the gospel not included in the New Testament? Was there a conspiracy to keep alternate Christian stories out of the Bible? Did the NT authors purposely keep Mary’s gospel out because they were sexist?
No. The problem with Mary’s gospel is it is simply written too late to have been an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus. The standard used for inclusion into the New Testament cannon was that the account had to be written by a disciple or a close associate of a disciple. The gospel of Mary doesn’t fall into this category.
Were The NT Authors Biased Against Women?
The idea that the NT writers had a low view of women also should be addressed here. One simply has to look at how the women were represented as opposed to the men. The male followers of Jesus never seem to get the point of His teaching. Peter constantly suffers from foot in mouth disease. The men all desert Jesus at his arrest, and even deny knowing him. They are hiding in the upper room licking their wounds after Jesus’ death, with no hope to be found among them.
In contrast, Jesus treats women as equals. They are the ones that remain faithful to Jesus, following him all the way to the cross. They help prepare his body for burial, and dutifully returned to finish the rushed job after the sabbath. And most notably, it was women that Jesus appeared to at his resurrection. This is remarkable because in the culture at that time and place, the testimony of women was not considered trustworthy. A woman could not testify in court. For the disciples to record that women found the risen Jesus would have been an embarrassment to them.
Telling The Truth.
It would have been easy for the NT writers to write women out of the story. They didn’t, however. The disciples told the truth, no matter how it would ultimately affect the credibility of their story. They were honest in their telling of the events. And that’s why we should trust the documents canonized in the New Testament. While the apocryphal gospels give us a look at some of the ideas that were present in the second and third centuries, they were not eyewitness accounts to the actual events from the first century.