Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel of Judas--What's All the Hype & Fuss About?

Image hosting by PhotobucketMy daughter in LA sent me a news link concerning a translation of the ancient Gnostic Christian writing called the "Gospel of Judas" that was rediscovered in 1970. Here is what I emailed back to her:

April 6, 2006
Re: The Gospel of Judas

(Daughter #1), thanks for forwarding the link to the article regarding the “Gospel of Judas.” I first heard it referred to on the radio this afternoon but I guess the story was widely reported on Tuesday. There are many, many early Christian writings that we know once existed but have disappeared (sometimes literally) into the sands of time. Not all were "burned" as heretical books although many manuscript copies undoubtedly were destroyed by zealous believers. One of the earliest post-scriptural Christian documents from the 2nd Century, The Shepherd of Hermas, was only rediscovered early in the last century (I have the text in my office). If even well-known orthodox documents have disappeared and been lost over the centuries it should not be surprising that "heretical" texts, such as the gnostic Gospel of Judas also disappeared. I do not expect to be surprised by anything in this document. I suspect that its contents will be very predicable, reflecting a Greco-Roman "Mystery Cult" "Gnostic" revision of the four historic Gospels that were written by or directly linked to those who actually knew Jesus as his disciples.

This "new" (actually simply recovered) gospel will shed light on the complex diversity of early Christianity and, perhaps, answer some long unanswered questions concerning the actual contents of this document. It is doubtful that very many people will be "inspired" by what it says and be lead away from the truth of the Gospel that has been affirmed as canon by the Christian Church for over 2,000 years.

People like Elaine Pagels actually make their living off of writing and publishing and sensationalizing these things (like the Gospel of Thomas). There is nothing new. Only a new shred of history that arrives at a perfect time to hype and fan even more interest in the upcoming release of "The DaVinci Code" in a theater near you!

In many ways the early Church was much as it is today, filled with diverse opinions about the meaning of scripture and doctrine and splintered into competing cultic factions not unlike today's Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, Jim Jones, David Koresh and, of course, Benny Hinn!

No one would consider any of these to be threatening the integrity of the Christian faith as we know it. And writings such as the Gospel of Judas did not really threaten the ancient church either.

The major points of disagreement in the first centuries of the Christian faith were not over such fringe beliefs as represented by the Judas or Thomas gospels. The disagreements mostly concerned interpretation of the books that are firmly fixed as our New Testament today; in particular "In what way do we understand the nature of a triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and "In what way do we understand the nature of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ."

After nearly 100 years of debate the final conclusions on these matters were incorporated into the "Nicene Creed" which has, for some 1600 years, been considered the true measure of the Christian orthodox faith for Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox believers.

My only concern over the Judas gospel is that there are far too many vulnerable folks who may be led astray by all the hype. This very situation was described in I Timothy 4:3,

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
And also described by I Peter 2:1-3,

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
And by Ephesians 4:14,

. . . we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Although these canonical New Testament letters were written nearly 100 to 200 years before the so-called "Gnostic" writings we are seeing being "resurrected" today, the New Testament writers had these very teachings in mind. For Greek "Gnosticism" existed long before the Christian faith arrived. It is not, therefore, that the early Christians were "Gnostic," it was that the "Gnostics" took the outline of the Christian faith and reshaped it according to their own pre-Christian spirituality!

Where "Gnostic" spirituality claimed that the flesh was corrupt and only "spirit" is pure, the Christian gospel affirms the goodness of the physical world, reflecting and revealing the goodness and love of God the Creator of all things.

Where "Gnostic" spirituality claimed to have "hidden" and "secret" knowledge (the word "knowledge" is derived from the Greek word "gnosis" by the way) the Christian gospel held nothing back, revealing everything that could be recalled about Jesus, his miracles, teachings, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension.

A safe rule of thumb is that, if there are secrets, then it isn't Christian. (In fact the only time the New Testament talks about "mysteries" is when the writers are discussing former mysteries that have now been revealed to us, not by spiritual revelation, but through the historical person of Jesus Christ.

I John 1:1-4 addresses all of these concerns when we read

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
As Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us,

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
While it may be a curious and valuable historic relic from the past, the Gospel of Judas is, in the end, just the "same old, same old." Been there. Done that. "Nothing new."

In any case, thanks for the link.

Love and Aloha, Dad

Update: For more thorough commentary on "The Gospel of Judas" by Christians who have taken a bit more time to articulate their thoughts I urge you to click on some of the following links, beginning with the one by Mark Roberts. You will note that we are all saying more or less the same thing in different ways: