Sunday, April 09, 2006

Judas—Damned for All Time?

National Geographic is calling it One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century.

Winnipeg Sun columnist Charles Adler headlines his column What a Friend We Have in Judas.

The San Francisco Chronicle headlines it with 'Good Judas' idea provocative, but a tough sell

Google Blog Search reports that about 11,338 blogger have written about it.

A portion of the Gospel of Judas as reproduced on the National Geographic website.

The release of the discovery in the 1970s of the 1700 year old Gnostic Gospel of Judas is creating quite a bit of discussion among Christians. That the announcement was made just before the beginning of Holy Week in Western Christianity amplifies the discussion even more: Did Jesus instruct his disciple Judas to betray his whereabouts to the Sanhedrin to allow his arrest? Has Judas been disparage and defamed all of these centuries for following the instructions of his Teacher and Master?

I suggest that the Gospel of Judas has come as an unwelcome surprise to many Christians—with the exception of most Mainline New Testament Scholars. We have known of the existence of at the very least 15 Gnostic Gospels as ancient or older than The Gospel of Judas, from The Gospel of Thomas (my favorite), which is as old or older than three of the four New Testament Gospels, to the Gospel of Mary, of which only three fragments are known to have survived. (For a more complete list on the Internet see: Early Christian Writings: Gnostics, Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism).

I believe that the vast majority of Christians—Mainline and Fundamentalist alike—are unaware of the vast amount of early Christian literature that is beyond the canon of the New Testament. Nor are they aware that there were numerous groups who were believers in Jesus beyond those represented in the in New Testament. It was not until the late 4th Century that the books of the New Testament as we have come to know them were canonized—recognized is “sacred” or “more sacred” that the hundreds of other early Christian writings. Even then there was still an on-going debate as to whether the writings that we today identify with the author “John”—the Gospel and The Revelation should be included, even though the early Church Fathers identified the author with the Apostle John.

That is because the form that Western Christianity had developed was primarily Pauline in nature. The majority of the New Testament was written by Paul and his influence on is such that “many modern scholars consider Paul to be the founder of Christianity.” Thus, documents, including Gospels that did not coincide with Pauline theology, were usually destroyed by the Church. Thus it should be no surprise that the Gospel of Judas, which questions the “betrayer” status of that follower of Jesus should be hidden and not read for so many centuries.

Until I am able to actually read the Gospel of Judas I will make no comment upon it. From media reports I understand that it is a Gnostic gospel. As I stated above, today we know of several Gnostic gospels and have “discovered” at least fragments of several, Elaine Pagels is perhaps the foremost contemporary American authority on Gnosticism; The Gnostic Gospels, her 1979 book which was introduction to the Nag Hammadi library, brought to the attention of its many readers the existence of these early Christian writings. Other publications over the past twenty of so years, such as The Other Bible and The Lost Books of the Bible have enabled English to read some of these non-canonical early Christian writings. The translation and publication of the Gospel of Judas will make one more available.

I want to end this post with an observation on the timing of the announcement regarding the Gospel of Judas. I am certain that the proclamation of its existence was made just before Holy Week in the Western Church’s tradition to increase interest in it. This coming week, as millions of Christians attend services that re-tell the story of the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, the Gospel of Judas will be on the minds of many. This will be especially true on Maundy Thursday when the Eucharist service will include words such as “We remember that on the night of betrayal and desertion, Jesus took bread…”

I don’t consider that a “bad” thing. Whenever people are able and willing question and debate beliefs that they have taken for granted, positives often evolve. I shall write again about the Gospel of Judas after I have had a chance to read and study it. For now, may those who are believers have a blessed Palm Sunday and a spiritually enriching Holy Week!


  1. You have a blessed Holy Week as well. Hope all goes well with your test...isn't it this Thursday?

  2. Retired AF Chaplain in TexasSunday, April 09, 2006 8:30:00 PM

    Well done, Nick! Of course, this is nothing new, but to most Christians it will be shocking, new, faith-challenging, etc. It is definitely a Gnostic production and was rightly sidelined by the Early Church, in my humble opinion. Others have offered the same view, incidentally.
    I,too, think this is a good thing...makes people read, think, clean up their credo.
    Have you seen the new book by Wayne Meeks, CHRIST IS THE QUESTION?

  3. I have been reading about this since it came to light. I'm not sure it will make any difference one way or the other. Some are saying it was authored by an ancient gnostic apologist, in that it asserts that Jesus actually trusted Judas and took him into his confidence much more than the other disciples, even telling Judas special details, knowledge that was not told to the others. The accepted gospels do not even hint at such a relationship.

    I have always defended Judas, Pilate too. But not based on anything contained in this new document.

    Yes, it is a shame you are not preaching. Are you enjoying your work, so far??

  4. Wow, how interesting, i need to go investigate more.............

  5. Hi Nick ~~ I have read your post and
    there was a iece in our newspaper about Judas. I think your Charlie Brown quote says it all ~~Theology
    is the one thing you can study where nobody can prove you're right or wrong. Good luck with your exams and job. Thanks for your comments.
    Cheers, Merle.

  6. Aw man. Now I've got that song from "Jesus Christ Superstar" running through my head.

  7. Punkmom—Thank you, I miss leading Holy Week worship. Actually, I miss leading worship.

    Retired AF Chaplain—Thank you. I hope some good discussion and introspection comes out of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas. There is already so much conflict in the world!

    Retired FBI Guy—It is Gnostic in origin. The church in the west after about 600 C.E. attempted to destroy all Christian Gnostic writings. And the New Testament does hint that Judas was a most trusted disciple. After all, he was the treasurer and the guy who kept all of their money. Theologians have long debated the Judas betrayal. If Jesus' death was part of God's plan, the Judas was acting as par of that plan.

    Michelle—It has done the same for me. This I’ve been researching and studying, remembering and adjusting the paradigm.

    Merle—Sometimes great wisdom comes out of comics, especially is the author is wise. I believe that was true of Schultz and Peanuts.

    Thomas—I join you. The music has been playing in my head, too!

  8. AH! A most rare agreement with Nick!

    Of course Judas was the pawn of God himself! Someone had to give Jesus up, there had to be three factors; betrayal, condemnation and blood. Someone had to do it and God chose poor old Judas. All the disciples had roles to play and this was his.

    And then we had to have the blood and to do that required condemnation and luckless Pilate had to do that. Jesus was bounced around from official to official and Pilate was the only one with the guts to deal with it. I maintain that Pilate was chosen by God himself to do what he did to Jesus.

    What if Pilate had given Jesus 30 days in the cooler instead of death on the cross?? What if Jesus had died of old age?? Where would we be with Jesus'
    universal atonement for mankind??. No, I firmly believe God controled both Judas and Pilate to get done what had to be done. They were merely actors in a great play.

    And, yes, you are right, Judas was treasurer, which meant he had some respect and trust.

  9. Retried FBI Guy--I agree. The NT implies that Pilate tried to wiggle himself out of being involved; he washes his hands of the thing, primarily because of his wife's dream. However, if we look at the trial and circumstances, Jesus was convicted of sedition/revolt against Rome. The Romans executed by crucifixion only two kinds of criminals: slaves and those convicted of attempting to overthrow the rule of Rome.

    Remember the crowds yelling at Pilate? "Crucify him! We have but one king who is Caesar."

    No matter how we look at it, Judas' role was somewhat minor. He led the temple police to where Jesus could be arrested without the crowds being around. If the Romans really wanted Jesus, they would have eventually arrested him no matter what the crowd did.

    In Dorothy Sayers' play, "The Man Who Would Be King," she makes Judas out to be a Zealot and suggests that there was to be a revolt in Jerusalem that Passover led by the Zealots, who were anti-Rome revolutionaries. The signal to begin the uprising was to be Jesus accepting the kingship. It was Judas' role to convince Jesus to do so.

    However when Jesus refused, Judas "turned in him" believing that that would force Jesus' hand and the crowds would proclaim him king. Of course, the exact opposite happened and the crowds clamored for the release of the Zealot leader, Jesus Barabbas.

    Sayers' work is, of course, fiction, but probably no more so than the Gnostic gospel of Judas. Both try to explain why a disciple of Jesus acted as he did. I think few people really accept the idea that Judas did it for "30 pieces of silver" alone.

  10. True! Jesus was definitely not that hard to find. The importance of Judas'
    act was simple betrayal.
    Judas - and Pilate - did what they did because they were compelled to do so by God himself in order to draw this drama to a close.

    I would caution, Nick, that what we are discussing here is not commonly held and tends to draw severe criticism from all sides in the religious arena.

  11. Retired FBI Guy—We were discussing this stuff in seminary my first semester.

    As one professor put it: "It really doesn't matter who did what. What counts is that there were those who believed Jesus' teachings and the church was born."

  12. I think that questioning religious beliefs is very important. Religion should be about helping people's spirituality, not ingrained dogma. Dogma helps control people, not "save" them.