(Note: This article is the result of a dream that I recently had. In it, I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to write this review of the alleged “gospel of Judas.” In fact, I woke up from my sleep quoting passages from this book (which I had read some years ago)! I pray that this brief study will be a blessing to you.)
One of the most mysterious and undoubtedly hated personages ever to enter the annals of history is Judas Iscariot. One of the twelve Apostles that was chosen by Christ Himself (Mark 3:13-19), Judas is presented to us as one of the trusted disciples of Christ. Indeed, the fact that he was given the responsibility of being in charge of the treasury of the disciples (John 12:6) demonstrates the position of trust he had with the Lord and the disciples. Furthermore, from the seating of Judas at the Last Supper (John 13:21-30), we see that Jesus considered Judas a special friend indeed. Barclay explains;
“But it is the place of Judas that is of special interest. It is quite clear that Jesus could speak to him privately without the others overhearing. If that is so, there is only one place Judas could have been occupying. He must have been on Jesus’ left, so that, just as John’s head was in Jesus’ breast, Jesus’ head was in Judas’. The revealing thing is that the place on the left of the host was the place of highest honour, kept for the most intimate friend. When that meal began, Jesus must have said to Judas: ‘Judas, come and sit beside me tonight; I want specially to talk to you.’ The very inviting of Judas to that seat was an appeal. But there is more. For the host to offer the guest a special titbit, a special morsel from the dish, was again a sign of special friendship. When Boaz wished to show how much he honoured Ruth, he invited her to come and dip her morsel in the wine (Ruth 2:14). T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, told how when he sat with the Arabs in their tents, sometimes the Arab chief would tear a choice piece of fat mutton from the whole sheep before them and hand it to him (often a most embarrassing favour to a western palate, for it had to be eaten!). When Jesus handed the morsel to Judas, again it was a mark of special affection. And we note that even when Jesus did this the disciples did not grasp the significance of his words. That surely shows that Jesus was so much in the habit of doing this that it seemed nothing unusual. Judas had always been picked out for special affection. There is tragedy here. Again and again Jesus appealed to that dark heart, and again and again Judas remained unmoved. God save us from being completely impervious to the appeal of love.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel Of John-Volume Two, 169-170 (Kindle Edition); Edinburgh, England; Saint Andrews Press)
Even though Jesus knew from the beginning who it was who would betray Him (John 6:70-71), we see Him continually reaching out to Judas to try and bring him to repentance. Indeed, it is because of the friendship of Jesus and Judas that the betrayal of Christ for thirty pieces of silver was so terribly horrible. That is why Jesus quotes (John 13:18) quotes from the prophetic Psalms about his betrayer:
Psalm 41:9-9 Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.
Judas, realizing the depths of his sin, chose to end his life instead of repenting before the Lord (Matthew 27:3-10). Thus ended the life of the world’s most notorious traitor.
Yet what if there is MORE to the story than we have been told?
That is the claim of the so-called “gospel of Judas.”
In the late 1970″s (some say 1978), an ancient document was found in Egypt (possibly in a cave; accounts differ slightly). The document was made of aged papyrus, and was written in Coptic (an ancient form of Egyptian). It begins with the words, “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.” It ends with the words, “The Gospel of Judas.”
Let’s notice what the alleged “gospel” actually says, and then we will examine its’ credentials of authenticity.
What The “Gospel” Of Judas Is All About
The book mainly claims to be a series of conversations between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. In it, Judas claims to know that “Jesus” is actually a being from the immortal realm of “Barbelo.’ Indeed, we read:
“Judas said, “I know who you are and where you come from. You are from the deathless realm of the aeon of Barbelo,12 the holy source of all, and my mouth is unworthy to utter the ineffable name of him who sent you.”
Jesus-impressed by Judas’ perceptions-claims that he is more intelligent and heroic than the other Apostles, and that there is a special mission for Judas: “you will sacrifice the man who clothes me.’ In other words, the gospel of Judas has Jesus ordering Judas to betray Him. As such, it is declared that Judas was actually a great hero, and not the villain that the other Apostles made him out to be. Furthermore, it is claimed that the Apostles would stone Judas to death because of his “betrayal.”
Throughout the book, there are continual conversations between Jesus and Judas regarding various themes that were common in the second century A.D. between the Gnostics (a general term describing false teachers of varying philosophies who attempted to combine Christianity with paganism) and Christians. Topics include discussions of worship, the true God, the creation of Adam and Eve, the fate of the world and of the wicked, various facets of Temple worship, and Jesus’ declaration to Judas that he would be hated by the other Apostles and that another would take his place. Interestingly enough, this Jesus also calls Judas “the thirteenth demon.”
Author Erwin Lutzer provides a good analysis of much of the content and theme of this book:
“The Judas Document is part of the broader collection of Gnostic literature that has received a great deal of attention in the past few years, especially with the success of The Da Vinci Code. Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, or “knowledge,” refers to the teachings of those who believed that they had hidden knowledge. Gnosticism was an attempt to harmonize Greek philosophy with the New Testament. Thus, as a part of this literature, The Gospel of Judas teaches the following: First, there are many different gods. Indeed, Jesus was laughing because the disciples were praying to “their god,” but He belonged to a different god altogether. The Gnostics couldn’t agree on the number of gods but believed it was somewhere between two and thirty. Second, in keeping with Greek philosophy, Jesus says at one point, “Your star has led you astray.”10 Again Jesus laughs and explains, “I am not laughing at you but at the error of the stars, because these six stars wander about with these five combatants, and they all will be destroyed along with their creatures.”11 These wandering stars are likely five planets along with the moon. According to ancient astronomical theory, such wandering stars can influence our lives. Third, this laughing Jesus is not divine, except in the sense that we all are divine. We are trapped divinities, waiting to escape to return to our distant home. Jesus, some Gnostics believed, was an aeon from the realm above—He was not a man of flesh and blood, but only appeared to be human.12 Fourth, the Greeks believed that matter was evil and spirit was good, thanks to various forms of Platonic thought. With that in mind, read this next text carefully: Jesus says to Judas, “But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”13 Let me say again that the notion here is that Jesus’ physical body clothed the real Jesus, the spirit that longed to return to god (or the gods). Fifth, there is both an implicit denial of the bodily resurrection and of the church’s mission. As already emphasized, the death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to be the liberation of the spiritual person within. The climax of the Judas Document, naturally, is the betrayal and Jesus’ impending crucifixion—the great release and escape from this world. This world, for the Gnostic, is a prison, and why would Jesus want to be raised and returned to prison? And for that matter, why should the church engage in any form of mission? If this world is a cesspool of pain and suffering, our only hope for salvation is simply to forsake it. The vision of Christianity according to The Gospel of Judas, therefore, is fundamentally at odds with that of biblical Christianity. The Gnostic teachings have no coherent theology—they contradict one another in ways great and small. In fact, they don’t even agree on how many gods there were. They can afford to contradict one another because they are simply human musings for which reason and coherence are not important.” (Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Slandering Jesus: Six Lies People Tell About The Man Who Said He Was God, 906-934 (Kindle Edition); Carol Stream, Illinois; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)
Now, we need to find out when this book was actually written, and who the actual authors were.
The Dating Of The “Gospel” Of Judas
Let’s spend some time talking about the dating of this document. Several lines of evidence indicate that this book was written between the second and third centuries A.D. This is a very important factor: for it demonstrates that this book was not written by Judas but was instead written long after the time of Jesus and His Apostles.
Speaking of some of the evidences which document the late writing of this book, one author has testified:
“Emmel was able to identify four tractates, including one that frequently mentioned Judas in conversation with Jesus. He concluded that the codex was genuine (i.e., not a forgery) and that it probably dated to the fourth century. Subsequent scientific tests confirmed Emmel’s educated guess….The National Geographic Society wisely commissioned a series of tests to be undertaken, including carbon 14, analysis of the ink, and various forms of imaging, to ascertain the age and authenticity of the codex. Carbon 14 dates the codex to AD 220-340. At the present time most of the members of the team incline to a date between 300 and 320 (but Emmel thinks a bit later).” (Craig AA. Evans, ‘What Should We Think About The Gospel Of Judas?’ in William A. Dembski & Michael R. Licona, Evidence For God: 50 Arguments For Faith From The Bible, History, Philosophy, And Science, 248 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Even the defenders of this document are in basic agreement with this dating analysis. For example, Marvin Meyer has written:
“The Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas in Codex Tchacos dates to around the beginning of the fourth century, but the Greek original must have been composed no later than around the middle of the second century, before Irenaeus of Lyon denounced it in about 180.” (Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, 134 (Kindle Edition); Boston, Massachusetts; Shambhala Publications, Inc.)
The dating of this book to such a late date is extremely important for several reasons. First, it shows us that this book was written long after the historical period of the New Testament. Second, it demonstrates that this book was not written by Judas Iscariot. Third, we learn from the contents of this work that the primary theme is to expound upon Gnostic philosophy and theology, not to provide legitimate historical discourse. Although there are some contributions to historical events made in the book (such as the fact that Jesus existed, worked miracles, and had a band of twelve close Apostles), the underlying purpose of this work is to explore and extrapolate from common Gnostic theory of that time. As Timothy Paul Jones has pointed out:
“That’s what happens in the most popular reconstruction of the Gospel of Judas: Jesus Himself commands Judas Iscariot to betray Him. In the end, Judas becomes a heroic martyr when the other disciples stone him to death. These sorts of fractured Bible stories became popular among gnostics in the mid to late second century, so if this reconstruction is correct, it would seem that the Cainite gnostics created the text no earlier than the mid-second century, probably later. Another reconstruction of the Gospel of Judas points out that the text refers to Judas as daimon, a term that can mean “spirit” but which more commonly means “demon.” If this reconstruction is accurate, the Gospel of Judas would seem to represent a second-century expansion of the stories of Judas found in the New Testament Gospels—an expansion that was intended to critique orthodox Christianity.25 In either case, the claims about this Gospel in the news media—“a story that could challenge our deepest beliefs,”26 the commercials claimed—represented unsubstantiated clamoring. The Gospel of Judas emerged more than a generation after the latest New Testament writings.” (Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies And The Cross, 837-849 (Kindle Edition); Lake Mary, Florida; FrontLine)
Contrast this with the New Testament Scriptures. These books provide detailed historical information which encourages people to investigate and confirm its’ claims (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Luke 1:1-4; Acts 2;22; 2 Peter 1:16). While there obviously are theological overtones to the New Testament Scriptures, they base their case on real and objective historical facts-not on groundless supposition and mythological intrigue. Indeed, the textual evidence of the New Testament Scriptures is vital in this area as well; for we have manuscript evidences that connect the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to within ten years of the Resurrection of Christ itself!
“Our attention is drawn to the work of Dr Carsten Thiede, and his book, The Jesus Papyrus (see Bibliography). Suffice it here to say that a thorough and scientific analysis undertaken by Dr Thiede of the Gospel fragments known to scholars as the Magdalen Papyrus (named after Magdalen College Oxford, where it is kept), dates this particular copy of Matthew’s Gospel to times so close to the Resurrection, that it could easily have been copied or read by an eyewitness of our Lord’s entire ministry. To be brief, the Magdalen Papyrus was copied out between the mid- 40s and AD 50. But we must also bear in mind that this particular papyrus was itself but a copy of an even earlier original, though by how many removes we cannot know. The fragments were discovered in Egypt, which tells us further that the Gospel of Matthew at least had gone overseas from Palestine at a very early date… (Bill Cooper, Old Light On The Roman Church, 603-609 (Kindle Edition)
As far as historical content is concerned, the gospel of Judas is of very little worth.
The Authors Of The “Gospel” Of Judas
When we come to consider the true authors of this document, we begin to see why it has contains such ridiculous claims.
Around the year 180 A.D. a Christian named Irenaeus wrote a defense of the Christian faith and contrasted the teachings of Christ as handed down by the Apostles with the heretical claims of the Gnostics of his day and age. He points out that the Gnostic group known as the Cainites had created a forgery of a gospel according to Judas. The following account provides a summary of the Cainite philosophy, along with two quotations from the early church writings regarding this Gnostic group:
“The Cainites were an early Gnostic sect who taught that Cain, Judas, and other ungodly persons were actually spiritual seekers who resisted the evil Creator…
Others declare that Cain derived his existence from the Power above. They acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons are related to themselves. . . . They maintain that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things. . . . They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they call the Gospel of Judas. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.358. A viper of the Cainite heresy . . . has carried away a great number of persons with her most venomous doctrine. She makes it her first goal to destroy baptism. Tertullian (c. 199, W), 3.669; extended discussion: 1.358.” (David Bercot, A Dictionary Of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide To More Than 700 Topics Discussed By The Early Church Fathers, 3307-3313 (Kindle Edition); Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers)
The gospel of Judas was written by Gnostic pagans who were determined to try and give their teachings legitimacy by attaching the name of an important follower of Christ to their writings. The book contains very little historical content, unlike the New Testament Scriptures written by the Apostles of Christ. Build your life on the Word of God my friends.
The New Testament reveals to us how the Son of God came to this world and lived among us, living a perfectly sinless life so that He could become the perfect ransom for our sins (1 Timothy 2:6). He died for us, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). He invites all people to come to Him to be saved (Matthew 11:28-30), for He does not desire that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9; cf. Ezekiel 18:23). As a believer (John 8;24), will you not repent of your sins and be baptized into Christ to have your sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16)? If you are an erring child of God, will you not today repent of the sin in your life and confess to the Lord, praying for His forgiveness (1 John 1:9)?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.