by Ron J. Bigalke
Is the "Gospel of Judas" an accurate depiction of Judas Iscariot? Has the church wrongly accused Judas as the betrayer of the Lord Jesus Christ? There has been much media attention that proposes a new manner to think with regard to Judas, with significant implications for the Christian faith.
After being lost for 1700 years in a cave in Egypt, the “Gospel of Judas” has resurfaced. Supposedly the document resurfaced in Geneva in 1983, but only recently has it been translated. The papyrus document is 13-pages and written in Coptic (an ancient Egyptian language). According to the Coptic “Gospel of Judas,” Jesus privately instructed Judas to betray Him; therefore, Judas was actually a good disciple. The document quoted Jesus as saying: “You will be greater than all the others, Judas. You will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”
Although the document is being presented as a newly translated ancient document, it is not a new discovery. Church leaders in 180 AD (particularly Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons in his work “Against the Heresies”) denounced this “new gospel” as fiction. The church also denounced the heresy of Gnosticism, which it espouses.
Gnosticism is the attempt to present an Eastern worldview with Christian language. A syncretistic sect that blended many different religions, including Christianity, wrote the Gnostic gospels. From the very moment that they appeared, Christian leaders and the church (in general) rejected the Gnostic gospels as uninspired and incompatible with the historic doctrines of the Christian faith. Gnosticism was popular in the Roman world, and many duped minds were enchanted with Gnostic writings and their endless mysteries (even the gruesome and sensational initiation ceremonies).
Pre-publicity suggestions for the “Gospel of Judas” claimed it would “shake Christianity to its foundations.” Of course, such ridiculous thinking that the church has hid this text and others is a myth propagated in works like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and other conspiracy theorists. Documents such as the “Gospel of Judas” give the unregenerate mind of the unbeliever an excuse for not believing the claims of Christ, and, of course, it caters to the sensational and generates lots of money in books.
One reason the “Gospel of Judas” is no rival to the four Gospels, is that Gnosticism arose in the middle of the second century. If the document was authentic, it should probably be dated to the middle or latter part of the second century. By contrast, The New Testament Gospels were all written within the first century. What this means is the “Gospel of Judas” was not written by eyewitnesses. The “Gospel of Judas,” though, is entirely compatible with the Gnostic teaching that blamed God for evil in the world because it rejected His sovereignty. Furthermore, Gnosticism frequently championed the rehabilitation of Old Testament figures, such as Cain and Esau.
Why is Gnosticism so appealing today?
The reason is that it is compatible with the postmodern spirit of the age that rejects historical truth. The spirit of the age is “god, as you understand him.” Satan’s greatest lie is that fallen humanity may approach God on his own terms and through his own works. It is believed that God can be found however one may so desire. Of course, such belief denies the authority and necessity of divine revelation.
Just as the “Gospel of Judas” is not new, so are theories regarding Judas not new. For example, the 1973 play “Jesus Christ Superstar” had Judas singing, “I have no thought at all about my own reward. I really didn’t come here of my own accord. Just don’t say I’m . . . damned for all time.” There is also Taylor Caldwell’s 1977 novel I, Judas, which offered an explanation for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. The worldwide sales of more than 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code have no doubt excited postmodernists and provided the foundation for many more conspiracy works.
Even Michael Baignet, co-author of the 1982 conspiracy work Holy Blood, Holy Grail (perhaps the inspiration for The Da Vinci Code), has a new book entitled The Jesus Papers, which recycles the supposed “cover-up” that Jesus survived the crucifixion. Now some professor of oceanography from Florida State University has released a new “scientific” study that rare meteorological conditions allowed Jesus to walk on a floating patch of ice, in contrast to the Gospels stating He walked on water. One is not surprised by the outlandish claims against the Bible by unbelievers; for those who reject miracles will accept any theory (no matter how ridiculous) as long as they can continue to suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.
Unfortunately, the world today is grossly illiterate (as if the “Gospel of Judas” would “shake Christianity to its foundations”) regarding the Bible. On the other side, the fact is that many today simply do not care whether the “Gospel of Judas” differs from the true Gospels, as long as God can be found as they so desire. The concern of the canonical councils to only recognize the books of the Bible (and consistently reject the Gnostic gospels) that have always been God’s Word is foreign to most people. It is no wonder then that people can be so easily deceived about obviously fraudulent material.
What can Christians do?
Recognize the tremendous opportunity before the church. Christians should be laboring to remove objections against Christianity and seeking evidence of Christianity. Due to the success of The Da Vinci Code, there is tremendous opportunity to attack and rebut false claims. How exciting! . . . the unbelieving world is talking about the Bible (of course, it is not positive, but at least the door is open to defend the faith). The church should desire to do whatever is possible to help people understand the folly of their unbiblical beliefs. When that happens, the opportunity is there to present not solely the arguments whether Christianity is true (although that is important), but that in this postmodern world the Christian faith can be known to be true.