Posted April 21, 2006
In early April, news organizations breathlessly reported the "discovery" of a new Gospel—"the Gospel of Judas," as it is being called. Could this actually be a document authored by Judas, the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver as recorded in the Bible? If not, what exactly is it?
In early April, news organizations breathlessly reported the "discovery" of a new Gospel—"the Gospel of Judas," as it is being called.
Actually the discovery wasn't new, since the ancient papyrus codex—a small book written in the ancient Egyptian Coptic language—had been discovered sometime in the late 20th century and was offered for sale by an Egyptian antiquities dealer in 1983. What was new was that it had been translated and was now the subject of a TV program, magazine cover story and two books by the prestigious National Geographic Society.
Could this actually be a document authored by Judas, the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver as recorded in the Bible? If not, what exactly is it?
An April 7 USA Today cover article stated, "The Gospel of Judas takes a whole different vision of the life, death and purpose of Jesus." And indeed it does. To a regular Bible reader, the text is so strange as to be virtually incomprehensible. Apart from a few names familiar to Bible readers, the manuscript is utterly foreign.
That's because "the Gospel of Judas" is one of a number of gnostic writings discovered in Egypt during the last century. Gnosticism, which takes its name from gnosis, the Greek word for "knowledge," was a movement that began in the first century and flourished for several centuries. This particular document has been dated to A.D. 220-340, when the Gnostic movement appears to have been near its peak in Egypt.
Gnosticism emphasized special or secret knowledge (hence the name of the movement) involving mysticism, cosmology, the angelic realm and the soul. A basic premise of the "Christian" version of gnosticism was that Jesus was never a real flesh-and-blood human being like us, but only appeared to be human.
These strange and anti-biblical beliefs permeate "the Gospel of Judas." The translation of the document provided by the National Geographic Society is filled with references to mystical gnostic teachings on cosmology, imaginary spirit realms, and ranks of angelic creatures and spirit beings called "aeons."
Since it is the work of a strange sect with no real connection to Jesus Christ or His disciples, it presents a vastly different view of God and Jesus Christ. For example, it has Jesus mocking the disciples for praying to "your god," a being who, in Gnostic theology, was inherently evil and corresponded to the God of the Old Testament.
It contradicts the record of the authentic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in many ways. It has the disciples seeing visions and Jesus interpreting those visions. It states that Jesus often appeared to the disciples not as Himself, but as a child. It has the disciples getting furious at Jesus to the point that they "began blaspheming against him in their hearts."
It also bizarrely has Jesus describing Judas, who in reality was a thief and betrayer whom Jesus called "the son of perdition" (John 17:12), as the disciple who "will exceed all" the other disciples by playing a role in the killing of Jesus' physical self so His supposed inner man could be set free.
Regular readers of the Bible are no doubt familiar with the fact that the New Testament books constantly quote and refer to the Old Testament, demonstrating the unity found throughout the Scriptures. It is striking that this manuscript contains no quotes or accurate references to anything else found in the Bible, other than the last few sentences briefly describing Judas betraying Jesus for money.
And, of course, it is difficult to imagine when Judas would have written his story down or told it to someone else, since Matthew records that shortly after betraying Jesus, Judas was filled with remorse, returned the money to the priests and committed suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:1-5).
It's not surprising that this document should vary so greatly from biblical teaching. The bizarre philosophies expressed in it simply didn't exist when Jesus Christ actually lived. These ideas came along several decades later and weren't fully developed for another century or two—which is when this "gospel of Judas" was written.
The Telegraph (London) summed up this incongruity well in quoting Aberdeen University New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole, who said: "It is certainly an ancient text, but not ancient enough to tell us anything new. It contains themes which are alien to the first-century world of Jesus and Judas, but which became popular later. An analogy would be finding a speech said to have been written by Queen Victoria, in which she talked about her CDs" (April 7).
This so-called "Gospel of Judas" serves no useful purpose for Christians other than to show how utterly clouded and confused human thinking becomes when we reject the truth of God and His Word (compare Romans 1:20-32). If you would like to learn the real truth of Jesus Christ's life, and why the biblical Gospels are an accurate historical record, request our free booklets Jesus Christ: The Real Story and Is the Bible True?