The Forbidden Sayings of Jesus: What the Church Doesn’t Want You to Know. ~Tom Rapsas

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Have you ever heard of the Gnostic Gospels?

They’re a collection of 60 or so texts written from the first to third century, based on the wisdom teachings of several prophets and spiritual leaders—including Jesus. In fact, they’ve been referred to as  “the secret sayings of the savior.”

Many of the gospels were written in the first through third centuries, about the same time as their more famous brethren, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Once in wide circulation, these gospels were passed around fledgling churches throughout the Mideast and beyond and show the rich diversity of early Christian beliefs.

There’s just one problem: in the Fourth Century, the early Roman church declared the books heretical in an attempt to centralize authority and get all Christians literally on the same page. The edict came down not just to stop reading these books, but to destroy every last one of them.

In spite of the best efforts of the book burners, many of these texts survive today. A treasure trove of them were discovered in 1945 in Egypt. But they are largely ignored or even considered taboo by mainstream religions. (Two examples: the reverend at my local church acted as if he had never heard of them, while a mild-mannered former priest I know agitatedly called the texts “pure garbage” when I asked about them.)

So what are these Gnostic books all about and why do they strike fear and loathing in some people? I’ve read 30 to 40 of the texts and can report the themes are as varied as those found in the Bible, with topics ranging from creation mythology to wild tales of a coming apocalypse. Most interesting though, and perhaps most controversial, are the many passages about the sayings of Jesus.

Like the Bible, some of the passages will leave you scratching your head. Yet, there are common themes that come up again and again threading their way through several of the texts. The Web site The Gnosis Archive sums it up this way:

Gnosticism asserts that…direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings…and the attainment of such knowledge is the supreme achievement of human life.

The key words here are direct and personal. There are several Gnostic passages that state that you and I have the power to tap directly into the higher source of knowledge. Consider the two sayings that follow, both attributed to Jesus (followed by the name of the Gnostic text):

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

Note the common words “within you.” They may sound innocent enough, but they’re really quite radical. After all, if what we seek after is inside us, it cuts out the need for a middleman to reach God. Which may explain why in the early church and even today the Gnostic Gospels are considered religious texts non grata.

Other Gnostic books continue this theme by pointing out the rich rewards and wisdom that can be found by looking within. Again, all of these passages are said to be the actual words of Jesus:

He who has known himself has…already achieved knowledge about the depth of all. ~ The Book of Thomas The Contender

Those who have come to know themselves will enjoy their possessions. ~ Gospel of Phillip

That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. ~ Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas as discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.

There are also several additional interesting passages from the Gospel of Thomas, which many scholars think was written before the four traditional Gospels of the Bible. A common theme is that God and the Kingdom of Heaven are right in front of us, here on this Earth, if we can only learn to see them:

The Kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. ~Gospel of Thomas

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

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

As you can see, many of the ideas in the Gnostic Gospels run counter to mainstream Christian beliefs. Yet, they give me a greater appreciation for Christianity and Jesus than I can find in any church or read in any traditional version of the Bible. For me at least, they teach in a way that resonates like few Bible passages do, with universal lessons echoed from voices as diverse as the Bhagavad Gita and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Want to learn more?

A great place to start is a conversation between Bill Moyers and Elaine Pagels here. Then, continue on to two authoritative and fascinating books about the early gospels; I highly recommend Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, followed by Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make
 It into the New Testament. For slightly more subversive reading, see Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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Tom Rapsas

Tom Rapsas is a blogger on inspirational and spirituality issues for Patheos, Elephant Journal and his own site The Inner Way. A long-time spiritual seeker and student of philosophy and religion, his influences include Thomas Moore, John Templeton, Napolean Hill, Ralph Trine and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A resident of the Jersey Shore, Tom lives with his wife, daughter and nine cats. He’s the author of Life Tweets Inspirational & Spiritual Insights That Can Change Your Life, which is now available for Kindle and as a trade paperback. His next book, the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel, will be published in 2014. You can reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TomRapsasTweets

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anonymous Oct 5, 2013 11:49am

I would take caution with this article, it seems to simplify issues.

It is important to note that the church that most are familiar with in the US today is only one branch of the church. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, the "emergent church" movement) hail from Anselm and others who were not fully invested in the original ethos of early Christianity. There is an Eastern Christianity that does not smack of so much that we are repelled from.

The idea that the Kingdom of God is within is not only included in the gnostic gospels, but in the scriptural Canon itself. Luke 17:20-21: "Now when He (Jesus) was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The other important idea is that the philosophy of Gnosticism was rejected by the Church because 1. It is indicative of HIDDEN knowledge, the idea that God or spiritual experience is not for all but only for some elite. But the Eastern Church (and good portions of the Western Church) disavows that. God invites all to experience in Him.

Gnosticism also 2. set up a false duality between things which are spirit and things that are matter, saying that physicality and matter is in itself somehow lesser or shameful. Eastern Christianity maintains that there is no duality of this nature, and no way in which matter and spirit are unequal in their ability to be healed and whole by virtue of what they are.

anonymous Jun 9, 2013 3:15pm

From 1 to 23 I passed through several faiths – Congregationalism (protestant Christian), LDS (mormonism), Nichiren and then zen Buddhism. At 24 I felt a strange calling to “Jesus” (Yeshua). Not Christianity persay but Yeshua and the words he spoke. I was first drawn to the sexy allure of the nag hammadi library,hthe bruce codex and all the other gnostic-esque writings. I bought tons of books from stephen hoeller and elaine pagels and bart ehrman and began attending one of the only true gnostic churches in the world (ecclesia gnostica in hollywood california).

But after a few years of participation in gnosticism the allure wore off. To make it clear I am not an orthodox “Christian”. My beliefs are adoptionist/binitarian/pseudo-unitarian and based more in Judaism than what we today call Christianity. I study and practice Hebraic mysticism (i.e. merkabah, kabbalah) and have many views considered heretical (i.e. I consider myself a Tolstoyan or Christian anarchist).

But first I realized that the scholars and authors who promote these texts (or present versions of them or commentaries on them) were misrepresenting them. The vast majority of ones concerning Yeshua are from thee late 2nd to early 5th century (usually in the pocket between 180 a.d. – 450 a.d.).
Also the scholars like Pagels and Meyer and the like try to say these texts were highly significant in Christianity. The church was far more worried about the so called Jewish-Christians (nazarenes/ebionites/mashiyyakim/the church in jerusalem) than the gnostics.

Hellenistic philosophy had already pervaded certain Jewish circles and thinkers/teachers/writers. N.T. Wright theorizes that gnosticism took off among 1st and 2nd century jews (and christians to an extent) after the destruction of the temple (and the mother church in jerusalem) were destroyed and the Bar Kochba revolt failed around 60-70 a.d. Then in 120 the edict of hadrian forced the jews to leave israel and judea. Many felt as if Yahovah had failed them and thus adopted the gnostic notion of Yahovah being an inferior creator god, while the true god was somewhere or someone else.

Another misrepresentation is that these are likely historical sayings lof Yeshua. While the sayings of the canonical gospels were all written down and widely read by the 95 a.d – the gnostic gospels and writings were almost all of a much later date.

A few of the writings have some value – for instance the gospel of thomas, and the secret book of james….but neither is decidedly gnostic (neither fits the harsh dualist cosmology of text book gnosticism i.e. The Cathars, basilidians, manicheans, mandaens), and the gospel of thomas was written around the same time as the gospel of John (80-100 a.d.) – some say earlier.

The vast majority of Yeshua’s sayings from the gnostic writings are simply a plagarization of Plato and similar Greco-Roman pagan writers. It’s just Platonic mysticism forced uncomfortably into the mythology of someone elses faith.

My biggest problem with them is that their view that Yahovah is an evil demiurge who is inferior to the true god who the hebrews/jews follow in error is about as antisemetic as you could get.

YEshua has already been anglicized beyond recognition (blue eyes, blonde hair, white skin, Jesus or J.C. instead of Yeshua/Joshuab etc.). These gnostic wriitings seem to portray Yeshua as a sort of Platonic savior of self knowledge come to give the ignorant Jews salvation from their horrid god.
I get the attraction and Im not going to criticize the theology of them (I respect all people’s choice of faith), but I will say that without a doubt these gospels had no real impact in the early Christian church and the likelihood of the actual Yeshua saying most of the things they attribute to him is slim at best.

The Catholics, protestants, orthodox and all the major branches of Christianity today have corrupted the teachings and life of Yeshua as well. In fact their teachings have many gnostic tendencies as well. But Yeshua was a law abiding and devout Jew. He taught to Jews.

anonymous Aug 13, 2012 10:52pm

I just now finally ran across this article and read it. Excellent stuff…
I grew up in a Christian home. After awakening to my spiritual identity in my teens I was able to hold on to my appreciation of Jesus' life and message into my adulthood for a decade or two. But the identity of Christianity was hacked by the political right-wing in America and I now find it rather difficult to connect with anything Christian. The Gnostic Gospels have given me back some of what was stolen… a sense of gratitude & personal connection with Christ.

anonymous Jun 24, 2012 10:32am

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anonymous Mar 26, 2012 11:21am

I recently discovered these texts,being raised in the church I also strayed away when I saw hipocrites being one person on sunday and someone else the rest of the time.As I have aged,I findmyself looking more and more for the real truth.In my research I have found many books deleted,or pushed back out of sight.To me these texts shed more light on the real truth that hasnt been rrwritten many times often by authors wjth agendas.Iseem to believe simple is best,as I am still searching the nag hammadi has been a source of undiluted information,it feels right to me,god within us and all around us,people have spirituality confused with religion in my opinion.

anonymous Mar 5, 2012 7:43pm

God is not within us, because that would imply distance, there is no distance, 😉

anonymous Mar 5, 2012 4:15pm

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anonymous Mar 1, 2012 2:41am

Okay, so I'm feeling moved to offer some balance to this blog. I'm a progressive Christian and am sympathetic with much of the best aspects of the best of the early Christian gnostics. That said, as with everything, there is another side to know about.

I read the Gospel of Thomas and excerpts of several other gnostic writings when I was in seminary at the Iliff School of Theology. There were various forms of gnosticism but many (most?) of them shared an un-Chrisitian rigid dualism; i.e., that everything earthly and enfleshed is vile and wretched and that everything Divine is other worldly. Hence, they denied that Jesus was actually God in the flesh (incarnate – Immanuel) — apparently more like an interactive hologramic phantasm — and thus, there was no real life, death, or resurrection… which means … no good news/Gospel. Hence, those texts weren't included in the Bible. Moreover, the apparent Gnostic disdain for the flesh led them to hold views about rigid views about sexuality that made the Puritans look like horny, lust monkeys.

Here's an article that provides a critique of the Gospel of Thomas:

On a related note, in another gnostic text, "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas," Jesus, as a youth, was somewhat malevolent and killed and resurrected birds for fun. : P

I should also share that one of the key pieces of Tom's article is the notion that "the Kingdom is within you."

I fully agree, and the mainstream/traditional Bible says so too: "Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20-21

Indeed, this is the basis of the Quaker teaching that there is an inner light of divinity within each of us.

That mainstream Christians don't tend to emphasize this enough is a loss, but it's not the case that these teachings aren't in the canonical Bible or that the gnostic texts have a monopoly on them.

My views on gnosticism are evolving and becoming more nuanced based upon hearing Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault speak last year and reading her book, "The Meaning of Mary Magdalene" which emphasizes the gnostic text, the Gospel of Mary. According to this view, Mary was one of the few disciples who truly "got" Jesus' teachings and who truly wove them into her being. She was the female form of the "anthropos" – the authentic fully realized human. At their best, the gnostics were egalitarian and offer helpful and worthy reminders about embracing who and Whose we really are.


Rev. Roger Wolsey

    anonymous Mar 7, 2012 12:08pm

    Hello Roger, thanks for your comments. I was negligent in checking back to see if anyone else had commented on this post and appreciate your POV. I have just looked into the "The Meaning of Mary Magdalene" and will certainly read it. I also highly recommend "The Secret Magdalene" by Ki Longfellow, a beautifully written retelling of the Mary Magdalene story that incorporates much Gnostic thinking. (Just checked on Amazon to be sure it's still available–it is and has scored a remarkable 72 5-star ratings out of 81 reviews). ~Tom Rapsas

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:30am

God always has been within us and it scares main stream churches.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 2:09pm

Thanks for your comments, and yes, it is amazing how what appears to be some rather arbitrary decisions made in the year 397 dictated which books should be in the bible and which should be left out. Fortunately, many of these texts, which were used by some of the earliest followers of Jesus, survive today. I believe Christianity is richer for them, and rather than be ignored, they should be embraced. ~Tom

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 7:25am


I am sure Christianity and the church had tons of scandals as it is populated by humans and they are not perfect and sometimes quite im-perfect. I believe that Christianity and the church discovered the power of the written word over people and by banning certain books and scripts tried to prevent lesser educated people or easily impressed people from embracing certain thoughts. It might have been done in the best of intentions and is now elevated to an almost criminal level.

I am sure both ways have their merits and I am sure a lot of people do not like my comments. I assume I have to live with it.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 7:24am

Where in all Christianity does it say we need a middleman? And why does it have to be a secret where Jesus travelled and where do the lost years come from. I believe the Internet created a lot of "What is written has to be true".

I am not saying it did not happen but I have a problem with the importance that is placed on exotic outcrops on topics versus the core of things. Does the 1/2 percent of "long lost" or "forbidden" and similar really change the whole picture?

The half truths, mis-informations and pesonal pickings of beliefs as they suit people in the North American Society versus Europe are just bizarre. I hope nobody is "force fed" math or physics and now discovers the secret truth.
It sounds like a mystery addiction to me that bloggers discovered to hike up ratings of their sites.

"Having someone else tell us where the path is, is only going to cause bigger problems in the long run. " And I assume this poster discovered everything on its own But with the help of Yoga, Meditation and similar?

anonymous Feb 24, 2012 8:06pm

Great article, Tom. There's also a body of evidence, long kept secret, that during his "lost years" Jesus traveled around India and the Far East, including a stay in a Himalayan monastery. Which would go a long way to understanding how his secret teachings are so close to Hinduism and Buddhism.There's a fascinating video about this, "How Jesus Became the Christ," that's narrated by a former priest who was once a highly placed advisor to the Vatican.

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:52pm

    Thanks Val, I'm aware that there are claims that Jesus traveled to both India and the Far East. There are really are so many fascinating stories out there–lots of material for future posts! I will definitely check out the video you mentioned. ~Tom

anonymous Feb 23, 2012 4:47pm

Excellent article. Thanks for posting this – it's something I've always been interested in but never actually followed through to study. One day perhaps. Regardless, it is much more in alignment with my own ideas of Jesus and what he was about than what I learned at church before I protested going at an early age. It seems obvious that what we seek is within us, and within all around us. Teachers are helpful, but truly no middle-man is needed.

    anonymous Feb 24, 2012 8:34am

    Thanks, Katrina. I had the same experience, having been force fed Catholicism until the age of 16 when I began an almost life-long boycott of church. (Though I do occasionally attend services and appreciate the sense of community the church provides.) I am so glad I stumbled upon the Gnostic texts, which have given me a much richer view of Christianity and the real message of Jesus. ~Tom Rapsas

anonymous Feb 23, 2012 4:10pm

haha, that was "Sacred Mirrors."

    anonymous Feb 24, 2012 8:26am

    Thanks, Carol, Yes, I agree on Elaine Pagels, she's a treasure. I just saw where "The Gnostic Gospels" was selected as one of the top 100 books of the last century by The Modern Library. Well deserved. ~Tom Rapsas

anonymous Feb 23, 2012 4:09pm

"Be passersby." Or something of that nature. Adore Pagels and the like's work, a big YES. Glad you're bringing this to Elephant, nicely expressed! Memories of the Alex Grey House of Mirrors exhibit in Boulder '91, the hostel, ahhhhh . . .

anonymous Feb 23, 2012 4:33am

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anonymous Feb 23, 2012 4:05am

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anonymous Feb 24, 2012 9:08am

Thanks, all good points. I am in agreement that the only way we can truly connect with God is through our own direct inner experience. There are several ways to get there, "many paths to my master's house", but those relying on others or a narrow interpretation of the message of Jesus are going to have a much tougher time. ~Tom Rapsas