I recently read a book titled The Lady in Blue, by Javier Sierra. The book is extremely interesting; it is a story based on the true events that happened in the seventeenth century, when a nun called María de Jesús de Agreda was known to have the ability to bilocate, that is, to be at two places at the same time. She appeared in America performing evangelization labors at the same time she was in her convent in the Spanish city of Agreda. The case was very well documented at that time, there was even an investigation from the Spanish Inquisition, which confers a lot of credibility to the accounts that speak of her bilocations. The story is even interesting for those who love paranormal stuff, because it has been theorized that the nun’s ability to be at two places at the same time was due to mental powers, Stranger Things style. It really is a fascinating subject.
The other night I went out with some friends and we started talking about this case. The conversation quickly became about the reliability of the testimonies from that time and a friend said you cannot trust something that was written 500 years ago. Even less so something that was written two thousand years ago, like the Gospels. This of course is an absolutely erroneous idea, for even if something was written thousands of years ago there are a lot of ways in which you can find out if said document is reliable. But that’s a subject for a whole other conversation. There was that night another idea that was far more popular among my friends and which I want to talk about: the idea that there is a document that denies the whole canon of the Church, and that such a document is either kept under extreme secrecy at the Vatican or it has already been destroyed by the Church (a la the DaVinci Code). There is no sufficient reason to believe this.
First, I have to say it: it is possible that a document is found tomorrow that denies the whole canon of the Church, or that even denies the very existence of Jesus. It is possible because you cannot completely rule out the existence of something.
Now before we get into the subject, let me tell you something, if you are worried that the Church is going to hide or destroy a document that badmouths Jesus, let me put your mind at ease: such a document already exists. In fact there are several documents that contradict the canon of the Church: from some Roman references (to which I will refer later) to the so called Gospel of Judas. No one tries to hide them. No one tried to destroy them. They are available for all people to read them, analyze them and decide freely what to believe. My friends’ worries more precisely would be about a document which states that Jesus never even existed and that it was all a lie from his so called Apostles. Let’s analyze that possibility and what we know today:
There are no references to such a document. No author, no letter, no document known to this day talks about a manuscript in which the existence of Jesus is denied. We have a lot of material available nowadays, both in the format of books and letters, to have a clear idea of the documents that were around during the first centuries of Christianity, and there is no known reference to a document that denies the existence of Jesus Christ.
Apart from the books which form the Catholic canon, we have a wide amount of apocryphal gospels, some of which do not state something different from the faith of the Church and others that do defer from it. And finally we have the texts from non-Christian sources from the first and second centuries that talk about Jesus. More specifically we can cite the philosopher Mara bar Serapion, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the Jewish Talmud and three Roman sources that refer to Christ (Pliny The Young, Tacitus and Suetonius). Admittedly, these sources talk about Jesus in a very non flattering way (except for Flavius Josephus and Bara mar Serapion), calling him a liar, a magician, a deceiver and similar things. However, they all agree on something: Jesus existed. Whoever wants to ensure today that Jesus did not exist and that it was all an invention from a small group of people that were too successful, has to explain why there are sources contrary to Christianity that talk about Jesus. This in my opinion is a fundamental aspect to prove the existence of the Son of God.
Another opinion that turned out to be quite popular among my friends was that the almighty Roman Catholic Church, during Christianity’s first years, might have acquired, through its tentacles, any text that contradicted its canon, and made them disappear completely. However there is a pretty common and huge mistake in this belief: to think that the Church has always been as big and powerful as it is today. It hasn’t. Actually, the first Christians spent more than two centuries being chased, martyred, tortured, imprisoned and murdered because of their faith. Christians were the enemies of the Roman Empire. The Church wasn’t powerful then. The Church couldn’t make texts disappear back then, even if it had wanted to. And also, why then didn’t the Church make all the other apocryphal texts disappear if it was so powerful? Because it wasn’t. So no, the Church did not make texts disappear during Christianity’s first years.
The first Christians were pretty busy defending their faith and spreading the Word of God. Within these activities was writing. Nowadays we have a lot of texts written by the first Christians, and in many of those texts the main goal was to refute heresies. Why is this important? Because thanks to this we can see that the wish of the first Christians was not to destroy texts; on the contrary, Christians dedicated themselves to fight against heretics through argumentation, publishing their own texts. Besides, as I mentioned before, in those texts against heresies we have references to all the texts that circulated in those times and nowhere has it been found a reference to a manuscript denying the existence of Christ.
It seems obvious, but it needs to be said: when an old manuscript is found, it is not found in a perfect state ready to be read. And it is not written in a language that can be read by anyone who finds it. Old texts are found in a very delicate state of conservation, which means they have to be treated with extreme care before unfolding them and trying to decipher them. Besides, the process of translation of such documents is extremely complicated because even when a manuscript has been recovered and its writing can be identified, they are written in a lost language. Where am I going with this? If tomorrow a manuscript is found in an excavation, and it contains a text saying Jesus never existed, no one would know! At least not until all this process of recovery and translation has been carried out, and by that moment it would be impossible to make it disappear because it has already been catalogued and photographed, and its discovery has been published. In fact, nowadays there are many old texts waiting to be translated. Does any of those texts say that Jesus didn’t exist? Could be. Is the Church going to destroy it? No, the Church is not even aware of its content.
If such a text was ever discovered, it really would not be devastating to the Church and the Christian faith, this would still remain a matter of faith. We would have to evaluate its authenticity, determine when it was written, find out who wrote it, which were his motivations, if the author was a witness of the event, and such matters. Just like with the Gospels, everyone would have to decide what to believe, like we do now.
Finally, and this is important, we love conspiracy theories. We love to see mysteries, secrets and conspiracies everywhere. Who knows where our fascination for conspiracies comes from, but it is real, and it may be this as well that makes a lot of people accept the idea that an institution as big as the Catholic Church might incur in an elaborate plan to hide the truth. But, as in most cases, when we analyze the evidence in a rational way, we realize this is not so realistic.
I hope with this little text I can ease down my friends’ worries and give them the confidence to believe that the truth always comes out to light. I am certain that the authors of the Gospels were transmitting something that was of the utmost importance for them and that is why they tried to write something that was as close as possible to the truth. I am certain as well that God does not need lies, that He has spoken to us through His chosen ones and that these men have not had the need to lie at all to spread His Word. After all, it was Jesus himself who said it.
The truth will set you free
John 8: 32
For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be known and illuminated
Luke 8: 17
I want to thank my friends Andres, Berna and Laura for a talk with an open mind. Not so much Mudo, he doesn’t have a very open mind. Just kidding, also Mudo, I hope you find the truth in your life my friend.