What is Christian Scripture

Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Hoeller,Stephan A. "What is Christian Scripture." Quest  89.5 ( September-October 2001): 165.

Observations stimulated by the Theosophy-Christianity Con­ference, November 5 -7, 2000
(Continued from Quest July-August)

Stephan A. Hoeller

WE MAY ASK NOT ONLY “What is a Christian?” but also “What is a Christian scripture?” What counts as sacred scripture within a Christian context, and what is its role within the framework of a dialogue between Theosophi­cal and Christian partners?

The Bible has always occupied an important position in Christian thinking. Among believers with an allegiance to the Protestant reformation, the Bible has even assumed an unquestioned centra­lity. The canonical Bible has been interpreted and dissected by many per­sons, both esoterically inclined and otherwise. What may be of signal in­terest for purposes of a dialogue of the kind envisioned is the appearance in our days of an “Other Bible,” a set of alternative scriptures dating back to the earliest centuries of the Christian dispensation.

The extensive collection of scriptures discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, holds great promise as a basis for a dialogue. While some of the tractates in the codices are admittedly difficult to relate to conven­tional Christian teachings, others are far more amenable. One of these, The Gospel According to Thomas, contains a large number of sayings of Jesus, most of which would be viewed with interest by any fair-minded Christian. Some of the sayings are virtually identical with sayings in the New Testament, while others are of a more esoteric character. Several editions of the New Testament that in­clude this scripture as the “Fifth Gospel” are now on the market. Another such work,The Gospel of Truth, contains a most inspiring, devotional meditation on the salvific work of Jesus. Any sensitive Christian could not help but be deeply impressed by these writings as well as by others in the same collection.

My experience has been that most Christians, often even of the most conventional variety, respond favorably to these scriptures. It would seem therefore that they may be a suitable basis and common ground for dialogue. The Gnostic overtones of these writings, along with their explicitly Christian character, make them emi­nently suitable to act as a bridge between aTheosophical and Christian worldview.

Many scholars who translated and sympathetically commented upon the Nag Hammadi scriptures are Christian ministers. Their ranks include the chief instigator of the translation project, the former head of the Institute of Antiquity and Christianity, Dr. James Robinson. As the result of the publication of these scriptures, there has been a marked change in the attitude of Christian scholars toward Gnosticism and related schools of esoteric Christianity. Formerly abominated as irredeemable heresies, these approaches to Christianity are increasingly viewed as capable of contributing usefully to our understanding of early Christian history and often to the Christian message in general.

Regrettably, the views of Christian scholars are often unknown to the rank and file in the churches. Theosophical writers and lecturers could make avaluable contribution to the dialogue by engaging in an informed study and exposition of these scriptures and by making them available to Christian people.

Such are some observations that have been stimulated by the Conference on Theosophy and Christianity of November 5 -7, 2000.    

Stephan Hoeller, a bishop in the Gnostic Church, is a popular lecturer and the author of several Quest Books. He is writing an introduction to Gnosticism as his next volume for the Theosophical Publishing House

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