Thursday, April 06, 2006

What About the 'Gospel of Judas'?: A First, Brief Consideration

For several weeks now, the National Geographic Society has been touting a TV special on 'The Gospel of Judas.' Today, the society has revealed the text of a second-century papyrus copy of the document. As described in a New York Times article, the Gospel of Judas is 26-pages in length and a Coptic translation from the Greek in which it's thought to have originally been written about one-century before.

As reported by both the Times and on NPR's Day-to-Day, this is seen as some bombshell revelation. The Times, for example, claims that, "The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today." But frankly, there's nothing new here and certainly nothing that undermines the credibility of Biblical teaching about Jesus Christ.

The Times article rightly asserts:
The most revealing passages in the Judas manuscript begins, "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."
That is revealing, a signal that the Gospel of Judas is an example of an early Christian heresy called gnosticism. The Gnostic movement arose among early Christians and was rightly seen as being inconsistent with the revelation of God found in both the Old Testament and in Jesus Himself.

The term, gnostic, comes from the Greek word, gnosis, meaning knowledge. Gnostics said that Jesus gave certain secret knowledge to various people--who differed from one gnostic group to another. This secret knowledge, it was taught, gave those who learned it special insight or special wisdom not possessed by others.

But of course, while Jesus did sometimes teach only three or twelve of His disciples, that teaching was always an explication either of long-known Old Testament truth or of teachings which in some form, He shared with large numbers of people. This is the point behind Jesus' remark to His accusers, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret." (John 18:20)

And once, when asked to account for his faith by King Herod Agrippa, the apostle Paul recounted Jesus' life, death, and the Christian assertion of His resurrection and observed:
Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. [Acts 26:26]
There were many "gospels" floating around in the first, second, and third centuries. One reason that gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Judas or the documents that lay behind Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, didn't make it into the Bible we have today is that there are no secrets with Jesus Christ. He's been revealed to the world. And so has the way of eternal life He grants:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Gnosticism appeals to our egos. Orthodox Christian belief affirms that "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) But gnosticism says, "Not so. You need to know this or that." It thus establishes a law the obedience or mastery of which brings salvation. This is utterly contrary to what Jesus taught, what the Old Testament taught, and what those writers whose words are in the canonical New Testament taught.

As Paul puts it in Romans:
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
Like all mass movements in history, early Christianity contained various groups with slightly different takes on what beliefs were (and are) central to Christian belief. The New Testament book of Acts and the writings of Paul honestly portray the arguments, councils, prayers, and understandings through which the early Church went, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the memory of the historic Jesus, to arrive at what was of central importance. (For an excellent survey of the diversity of theological emphasis in the early Church, read The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.) There is still much diversity today.

The early church also had what might be called sub-Christian movements, groups that started with Jesus but wandered far from the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments that a relationship with God is not captured by certain works or certain knowledge, but is a free gift to all who dare to surrender to Him. In Jesus Christ, this relationship has become available to all people. The Gnostics couldn't accept this.

Gnostics also upheld a notion imported from Greek philosophy, one in which Hindus believe today. They disdained the physical body and thought that we needed to be liberated from it. But when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He was resurrected in bodily form. He even invited Thomas to touch the wounds on His hands, feet, and side. The Gospel of Judas has Jesus telling Judas to betray Him, thus more quickly liberating Him from His body. Orthodox Christian faith, consistent with Old Testament teaching, has never disdained the human body, seeing it as part of God's good creation. Furthermore, we believe that one day all believers in Christ will be resurrected in bodily form under the power of the One Who made heaven and earth.

So, there's nothing new in the Gospel of Judas...and nothing particularly useful in it, beyond satisfying a certain historical curiosity.

UPDATE: Rick Moore at Holy Coast has linked to this post. Thank you, Rick.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has linked to this post, as well as my Lenten series, 40-Days to Servanthood. Thank you, Hugh!

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: John Martin of Martin's Musings has linked to this piece in a wonderfully informative post of his own. Thank you, John!

AND STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Olson at Blog Watch for linking to this post and to Pastor Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping for doing so as well, in a really good post on his site.

UPDATE #5: To the web site version of its original story on the Gospel of Judas, the New York Times has posted links to this blog and several others. Thank you, NYT!

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Ryan McReynolds at McRyanMac has linked to this post. Thank you so much, Ryan!

ALSO: Thanks to Carl K of On the Right Path for linking to this post.

ALSO #2: Alexandra von Maltzan of All Things Beautiful has linked to this and other pieces on 'The Gospel of Judas,' while presenting some information there herself. Thank you!

UPDATING AGAIN: Mark D. Roberts has written a fantastic analysis of the Gospel of Judas and has also linked to this post there. Thank you, Mark, for your faithful scholarship and for leading some of your readers to this site.

AND: Thanks to Common Sense Journal for linking to this post.

ANOTHER WORD OF THANKS to Neophyte Pundit for linking to this piece.

11 comments:

Charlie said...

I doubt that this would have made much of a media splash if not for the Da Vinci Code. But in the current atmosphere, even though this "gospel" doesn't really say much, it lends more weight to the debunkers of historical Christianity. National Geographic must be trying to increase its circulation.

PATRICK said...

Wonderful points. The Gospel of Jesus is yet another reason for evil in this world to cause doubts about who was and what Jesus was sent to earth to accomplish. I am amazed how how hard scholars work to disprove or distort Jesus. But, once again, Christ overcomes and goes beyond what scholars can and will bring against Him. We live by spirit and truth.
Blessings.

Kurmudge said...

Prof Philip Jenkins (http://php.scripts.psu.edu/dept/history/faculty/jenkinsPhilip.php) at Penn State, completely demolished Brown and all of his "Jesus Seminar" collaborators in "The Hidden Gospels" (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0195156315/sr=1-1/qid=1144438003/ref=sr_1_1/104-5235321-5762367?%5Fencoding=UTF8&s=books), and Charlotte Allen deconstructed the whole genre of a new revelation of left-wing naturalistic Christianity every 10 years in "The Human Christ".

I wish someone could just once drive a stake through the heart of the Gnostic "gospels", but evil has a lot of lives. Thanks for a good post.

JDH said...

I appreciate the time you spent on this. The MSM is always looking for anything anti-Christian, be it some "scientific finding" or mocking a Christian or Christianity on some TV program. Keep up the good work.

http://mop-jdh.blogspot.com/

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you to all who have visited the post...and thanks to those of you who have commented.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that I wasn't the one who appeared on 'The Hugh Hewitt Show,' although Hugh linked to this piece. The person he interviewed was Dr. John Mark Reynolds, a professor of philosophy at Biola University...and a very sharp fellow.

Thanks again to all.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark

Michael Wolff said...

the trouble with disdain for the body is that it makes for cults of people in purple tennis shoes. Unfortunately, its hard to say on the one hand there is an enternal life after death, but somehow our very short existence here has any meaning beyond allowing ourselves to reach heaven.

Alexandra said...

All Things Beautiful TrackBack The Gospel Of Judas"

ME Strauss said...

Mark,
This was not only filled with so much clear thought and theology, but it was well expressed and interesting to follow. Everyone tries to imagine what it was like then and how they might have "sorted" the information of the times had they been there. You make those thoughts easy to walk through.

Thank for the obvious time and work this article took.

Mark Daniels said...

Liz:
Thank you for your kind words. I sometimes see my job as a pastor--and now as a blogger--as that of an explainer, explaining the things I most study and care about. Thanks for the affirmation of that.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark

goliah said...

Like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi discoveries, this latest 'gospel' increases the amount of new scriptural material only available this century making the concept of 'canonical scriptures' and the traditions built upon them even less convincing. What would 'Christianity' look like if all these resources were available from the beginning? For a divine comedy check this link: www.energon.uklinux.net

Mark Daniels said...

Goliah:
The materials to which you refer were available in earlier centuries and fell into disfavor even among the sub-Christian groups that generated them. They fell out of favor because these second- and third-century documents didn't jibe with the established revelation of God evident in the Old Testament, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the experience of the early Church.

Thanks for dropping by.

God bless you.

Mark