It is all over the news today, as predicted (and, obviously, planned, given the date). “The Gospel of Judas Contradicts Christian Belief!” “Judas was Doing Jesus’ Will!” “Christianity Shaken!” Blah, blah, blah. When you get your historical and theological information from Katie Couric on the Today Show, well, you’ll buy anything.
When I was responding to Bart Ehrman’s media blitz on his book, Misquoting Jesus, I repeatedly emphasized the need for every-day Christians to start studying these sources so as to be able to provide a meaningful response in an ever more anti-Christian context in Western Society. Well, here’s another example. For those who have already realized Bart Ehrman’s “if they said Jesus once, they were Christians” mythology makes no sense, this is another second century gnostic writing, like Thomas or Mary. Judas was one of the favorites of the gnostics; this gospel is gnostic to its core; gnosticism is utterly incompatible with anything that can seriously be called “Christian.” End of story. Explain to the guy on the bus who just saw the Today interview (which had zero meaningful content). Go on with your daily service to Christ.
But, of course, not only are most Christians completely and utterly unaware of gnosticism, Nag Hammadi, aeons, dualism, etc., but they are likewise easily troubled by the culture’s invocation of the holy and authoritative phrase, “scholars.” Bart Ehrman is having to guzzle Starbucks to survive all the interviews he is doing today, all the while promoting his key argument: early Christianity was a mass of self-contradiction, and what we have today was just one small sliver that somehow managed to survive to predominance. And hence, due to lack of discipline and foundation, many are left wondering about the very foundations of their “faith.”
Let’s set the record straight right off the bat.
First, this isn’t news. Not really, anyway. Word has been out on this for quite a while. For example, see here.
Second, this work of fiction has nothing to do with the historical Judas. Even folks like Bart Ehrman admit that.
Third, this is a gnostic work. It is soaked in the terminology and worldview of gnosticism. That is, it is dualistic in its views. Note the citations in the above cited source and the appearance of the term “aeon.” Note as well this source holds to the gnostic distinction between the Creator and the Ultimate God. Since gnosticism was dualistic, believing matter to be evil, spirit to be good, the Creator was a demi-urge, an evil divine power, not the Ultimate and Good God. Hence, according to this work of gnostic fiction from the middle of the second century, Jesus was the son not of the Creator, Yahweh, but of the Ultimate and Good God. Further (and this even came out, however briefly, in the Today interview I saw), the gnostic body/spirit dualism, the very concept that caused the Greeks to begin mocking Paul when he mentioned the resurrection in Athens (Acts 17:32), is found in this fictional work, where Jesus is aided by Judas in ridding himself of his “earthly frame.” You might as well say a work written by a Buddhist or a Muslim is relevant to the definition of the Christian faith, for nothing is more definitional of Christian belief than the consistent monotheism taken without interruption from the Hebrew Scriptures, and nothing more central to the gospel than true resurrection.
Fourth, if the same kind of strident skepticism was applied to this work that is regularly aimed at the Gospel of John, it wouldn’t have made the “books received” notices in a minor theological journal somewhere. The double-standard of modern liberal “theology” is glaring, and, of course, the MSM (main stream media) is more than happy to put anything that could possibly cause disbelief in Christianity at the top of its front page or the first hour of its morning show. Of course, find a pre-Uthmanian manuscript of the Qur’an that truly does utterly shake the foundations of Islam and you wouldn’t hear a word out of these same brave journalists.
So should someone come up to you at work going, “Hey, Bob, I know you are a Christian, but how about that Gospel of Judas! Sure throws your Bible into a tailspin, doesn’t it?” just smile and respond, “Hey, I heard about that. I’ve been wondering all morning how a work of fiction written more than a century after the fact by a writer seeking to promote a completely different religion than that of Christ and the Apostles that doesn’t have a shred of historical foundation to stand on could possibly get so much major air time. You think they’d give the same amount of attention to something that reflected badly on Mohammed? Nah, probably not. So, did you hear anyone actually talking about the vast differences between the real gospels and this work of fiction this morning?”
Addendum: Sorry, I forgot an important point. Some are confused about the dating of the manuscript. They are saying it is third/fourth century, and that is probably quite true. But that does not mean it was written at that time. Instead, the work is contemporaneous with other gnostic gospels like Thomas and Mary, probably written in the middle of the second century, i.e., around AD 150 or so. We know that this particular work was written no later than about 165, because Irenaeus was familiar with it and identified it for what it was: fiction. In his Against Heresies Book I, chapter 31, section 1 (ANF 1:358), we read,
Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.
So it was known by the time of Irenaeus’ writing (182-188 or so) and was known to be exactly what it is: fiction based upon gnostic myths and teaching.