The Gospel of Judas was developed by a Gnostic sect in the second century A.D. and was originally written in Greek around 130-170. This fact alone tells us that it was not authored by Judas himself. The oldest extant copy is a Coptic manuscript written in Sahidic (last phase of ancient Egyptian) in the fourth or fifth century.
The gospel of Judas is included in a 62-page papyrus1 manuscript that was uncovered in Egypt during the 1950's or 1960's.2 The translator of the Gospel of Judas is Rodolphe Kasser of the University of Geneva, a leading Coptic Scholar, and the contents are due to be released in April, 2006. At the date of writing this article (April 7th, 2006), the complete translated text of this pseudepigraphal writing is unavailable. However, at CNN.com we have the following excerpts:
- "The newly translated document's text begins: 'The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.'
- "In a key passage Jesus tells Judas, 'You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'
- "'This indicates that Judas would help liberate the spiritual self by helping Jesus get rid of his physical flesh,' the scholars said."
- "'Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom,'" Jesus says to Judas, singling him out for special status. 'Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.'"
- "The text ends with Judas turning Jesus over to the high priests and does not include any mention of the crucifixion or resurrection."3
According to the National Geographic website on the Gospel of Judas page, it says that the newly discovered gospel is "One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century's lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus."4 In fact, National Geographic has invested a lot of money in its presentation.
"Retired Claremont Graduate University professor James Robinson said that 'early in November he learned that Kasser and several European, Canadian and U.S. scholars had signed agreements with the National Geographic Society to assist with a documentary film and a National Geographic article for an Easter 2006 release and a succession of three books.'"5
Is the Gospel of Judas authentic?
The Gospel of Judas apparently depicts Judas in favorable terms and commends him as doing God's work when he betrayed Christ to the Jewish religious leaders. This, of course, contradicts what was written by the apostles in their gospels of Matthew and John, as well as those gospels written by Mark and Luke who are under the direction of Peter and Paul.
The Gospel of Judas falls into the category of pseudepigraphal writings. This means that the gospel is not authentic, it is a false writing. In fact, the gospel was not written by Judas, but by a later Gnostic sect in support of Judas. Gnositicsm was an ancient heresy that taught salvation through esoteric knowledge. Gnosticism was known at the time of the writing of the later epistles in the New Testament and was rejected by the apostle John.6
The ancient writer Irenaeus (130 - 202 AD), in his work called Refutation of All Heresies, said that the gospel of Judas was a fictitious history:
"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."7
We can conclude that the Gospel of Judas is not authentic, is not inspired, and was properly rejected by the early church as an unreliable and inaccurate depiction of what really happened concerning Judas.
Of course, the complaint is often raised that this opinion, like that of the early church, simply rejected anything that opposed a preconceived idea. But, this complaint falls by the wayside when we understand that the early church knew which documents were authored by the apostles and which were not. God did not make a mistake when he led the Christian Church to recognize what is and is not inspired. The Gospel of Judas was never recognized by the church as being inspired.
On April 9, National Geographic aired the special on the Gospel of Judas. Unfortunately, the special was below standard in its scholarly representation of both sides of the argument--on the validity of the New Testament Gospels as well as the Gospel of Judas. It did not give competent counter evidences against its liberal and inaccurate suggestions regarding the formation of the New Testament Cannon. The special failed miserably to adequately deal with the formation of the New Testament Cannon, how the gospels were arrived at, how we know who wrote them, and when they were written, etc. I was extremely disappointed. Here is a quick example of one of the many problems.
The National Geographic show had a "scholar" who stated that most experts agree that the earliest gospels weren't written until around 60 A.D. The problem here is that no substantiation was offered for this opinion. Second, internal evidence in the Gospels and the book of Acts contradicts the statement. The book of Acts was written by Luke well after he wrote the Gospel of Luke. Acts is a history of the early Christian church and it does not include the accounts of "Nero's persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65)."8 The book of Acts is a compilation of the early church's history. One would think that it would naturally include the death of such important figures as James, Paul, and Peter if it were written any time after their deaths. Since this book does not include such information, it appears that it was written before, at least, the death of James (A.D. 62). Let's offer a conservative number of three years prior to the death of James, which would mean Acts could have been written around A.D. 59. This would mean that the Gospel of Luke was written years before that, let's pick a low number of five years before Acts which puts Luke at around A.D. 54. Additionally, it is generally agreed upon that Mark was the first Gospel written. Therefore, Mark was before Luke. Let's pick another low number of five years by which Mark preceded Luke. This would reasonably put the Gospel of Mark at 49 A.D. This is a conservative estimate, and it could be that Mark was written much earlier. Therefore, very quickly we see that the statement made in the program that the gospels weren't really written until after 60 A.D. can be easily countered. The question is, why is it that National Geographic did not produce competent counter arguments?
Another issue is regarding Gnosticism, which was not properly represented. Gnosticism basically states that God cannot become incarnate. The show suggested that gnostics were Christians, but this cannot be since they contradict one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith--which was also taught in the Old Testament (Zech. 12:10). John the apostle, who wrote 1 John, addressed the early formation of Gnostic thought in Chapter 4 when he denounced those as antichrists who denied that Jesus had "come in the flesh." National Geographic failed miserably to represent Christian theology, and instead misrepresented Gnosticism, trying to make it appear that the present Christian theological system was merely the result of political happenstance.
CARM concludes that the National Geographic program was very biased and insufficiently researched.
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- 1. Papyrus: A plant growing along the Nile in Egypt during biblical times. It was used as writing material. Papyrus scrolls were made by cutting and pressing sections of the papyri plant together at right angles. They typical maximum length of a scroll was about 35 feet. The scribe, when using papyrus, would often use the natural horizontal fibers of the papyrus plant as guidelines. He would take a blunt instrument and score horizontal lines and then score two or more vertical lines as margins for the edge of the sheet or to define columns on it. We get the word "paper" from this word. Many of the biblical manuscripts were on papyrus.
- 2. http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=13097.
- 3. http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/04/06/gospel.judas.ap/index.html.
- 4. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/gospelofjudas.
- 5. http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=1594.
- 6. 1 John speaks of those who deny the physical incarnation of Christ as being the spirit of the Antichrist. Many scholars agree that this is a reference to the Gnostic error that denied that God could incarnate.
- 7. Irenaeus, Heresies, 31,1.
- 8. McDowell, Josh, A Ready Defense, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, p. 80.