Secular scientists, agnostics, and non-Christians have challenged the authority of the Bible. Next, a new protestant movement will actually involve Christians who challenge its authority. In the 16th century, the Protestant Revolt shifted authority from the church to the Bible. Now, in the half century since the discoveries of the Nag Hammadi Library and Dead Sea Scrolls, a growing number of Christians are questioning why earlier protestants who challenged the church’s authority on policy would not challenge their authority in regards to their decision about the books that were excluded and included in the Bible.
During the first few centuries after Christ, there were lots of gospels and epistles. In the 4th century, the church sorted through the list of dozens and dozens of possible books to come up with the list that 98% of Christian churches use today. Discoveries at Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea revealed some of the variety represented in the discarded books.
A belief about the Old Testament God being a different entity than the New Testament God were typical of the different ways this new religion was defined. Some advocated asceticism (a denial of any physical pleasure) as a means to greater enlightenment, prohibiting sex. Others took the reverse position, and felt that the body was irrelevant to spiritual salvation and were criticized for tolerating and encouraging licentious behavior.
Of course people have questioned the authority of the Bible before. But I suspect that as interest in the gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Judas increases, we’ll see even greater variety of challenges from under the umbrella of Christianity. It won’t just be those outside of Christianity who challenge the Bible during this second protestant revolt.
In the 16th century, we had a protestant movement that challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. Today, so quietly that it is largely escaping notice, a new protestant movement has begun, one that challenges the authority of the Bible defined by the Catholic Church. This will probably lead to even greater variety of denominations and definitions of what it means to be Christian. And this will be in keeping with the trend of all modern social change: greater autonomy and definition by the individual and less by authority figures. It will, in the end, be just more reason that the 21st century will be a fascinating time to be alive.