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  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Jeff Kloha, director of collections operations at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., speaks Saturday at Zion Lutheran Church.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Former member of Concordia Seminary faculty Jeff Kloha,, now director of collections operations at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., speaks with guests of Zion Lutheran Church on Saturday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Former member of Concordia Seminary faculty Jeff Kloha,, now director of collections operations at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., speaks with guests of Zion Lutheran Church on Saturday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Beautiful light filled the inside of Zion Lutheran Church Saturday as Former member of Concordia Seminary faculty Jeff Kloha,, now director of collections operations at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., spoke with guests.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 am

Scholar: Defining Scripture tricky

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Lutherans often use the phrase “Sola Scriptura” – Scripture alone – to refer to a defining principle of their faith.

But Saturday at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, biblical scholar Jeffrey Kloha said figuring out what is and isn't Scripture isn't always easy – especially in light of mid-20th-century manuscript discoveries that purport to offer alternatives to the now widely accepted version of the New Testament.

Kloha came to the city at the invitation of former colleague and Fort Wayne resident the Rev. James Voelz, a former assistant pastor at Zion. Voelz is spearheading a series of talks on relevant theological and religious topics. About 70 people attended Kloha's lecture.

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egypt's Nag Hammadi collection of 13 books containing so-called gospels not in the New Testament, Kloha said, interest has been growing in why some texts became part of the Bible and some didn't.

First, scholars were captivated by the question. Then, the idea that there was “a lost Bible” containing differing interpretations of Jesus and his message gained traction with the public via Dan Brown's popular novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” Kloha said.

Kloha is a former professor of theology and provost of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis who now serves as director of collections operations of the newly opened Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, he said there are now more than a dozen texts purporting to be gospels. Among them are works attributed to the apostles Thomas, Peter, Philip and James. There's a Gospel of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and a Gospel of Mary, in which Mary, who some scholars think is Mary Magdalene, argues with the male apostles about knowing things about Jesus the apostles don't.

Unlike the books included in the New Testament, Kloha said, these works don't provide narratives about Jesus. Some, he said, are collections of sayings, much like an extended Sermon on the Mount.

They typically weren't included in collections with the now-accepted Gospels, and some are written from particular viewpoints.

In particular, some bear views of the Gnostics, a group found heretical that disparaged the body while exalting the spirit, he said. Some amount to anti-Christian polemic from groups outside the faith, he said, and one, the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, was admitted as a fabrication and forgery after a fragment appeared out of nowhere in 2011.

To evaluate purported Scriptures, Kloha said, one should recognize that the early church was not a monolith but a collection of communities with differing uses for writings and differing interpretations of Jesus.

Early Christians, after all, did not have the New Testament as Protestants know it today – the same 27 books in the same order bound in a single volume. That, he said, did not come into being until the last three centuries. The first surviving piece of Gospel dates to A.D. 150, he said.

New discoveries of scriptural manuscripts arise infrequently, he said, so when one does, Christians would do well to judge it by an old adage: “If it seems too good to be true,” he said, “it probably isn't.”

rsalter@jg.net