“The Gospel of Judas”?

by Ron Lehde

Tonight (April 9, 2006) the National Geographic Magazine is scheduled to present a television program that deals with an ancient work known as “The Gospel of Judas”.  It is a 26-page manuscript (ca. AD 300) that is a Coptic translation of a Greek manuscript that is at least one hundred years older and was found in Egypt in the 1970s.  The Copts are pre-Islamic inhabitants of Egypt and are believers in Christ.  However, they have digressed in doctrine and practice to the extent they have their own pope.  This “Gospel” presents a Judas that is doing the Lord’s bidding when he hands Him over to be crucified.  At best this “show” will be a cynical attempt to gain “ratings” on TV and at worst it is – of course - an attempt by Satan to undermine faith in the Bible as the inspired Word of God.  The following is from a news article about this false work.

“Although the full details have not yet been made public, snippets discussed in academic circles say it will prove Judas was acting at the behest of God when he sold Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver.  Its publication will raise fears among traditionalists that efforts may be made to rehabilitate a man whose name is synonymous with betrayal.  Sympathisers (sic) with Judas contend that had Jesus not been crucified, he would not have been subsequently resurrected to save humanity.”

There are at least three untruths in the above paragraph and even more in the newspaper articles you may have already read about this “Gospel”.  To try and untangle this mess we must go back to the Bible and note a few things.

  1. “Judas was acting by the command of God when he betrayed Jesus.”  This is not so! The Bible plainly states:  And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him” (John 13:2).
  2. “Judas…sold Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver.”  Once again this is an effort to cover up the guilt of the chief priests and elders of the Jews of that generation.  They are the ones who sent Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate, in an effort to hide their conspiracy in Jesus’ death.  Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:14-15).
  3. Sympathisers (sic) with Judas contend that had Jesus not been crucified, he would not have been subsequently resurrected to save humanity.”  Critics of the Bible contend that Judas’ action was necessary for humanity to have salvation.  However, just because God uses the deeds of an unrighteous individual to accomplish His ends does not mean that person will receive a positive reward.  The unrighteous judge in Luke 18 finally did right in avenging the widow of her enemies; yet he did it only because she was wearing him out by her constant pestering him to do so.  So we read: "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24).

Scholars have long known that a work called “The Gospel of Judas” existed.  They have been on the lookout for it because of a reference to it in a text called Against Heresies, written by one of the so-called “Church Fathers”, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons , about the year AD 180.  Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.  As John made every effort to repudiate the heresy of the Gnostics (cf. 1 & 2 John), so did Polycarp and Irenaeus.  The Gnostics were a faction that had apparently (outwardly) obeyed the gospel and were Christians but then had gone after the false teaching of this sect.  Their name comes from the Greek word for “revealed knowledge” (gnosis) and they claimed to have a secret knowledge regarding spiritual things.  They taught that “sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from this transcendent realm into the material universe, which is wholly evil, and were imprisoned in human bodies. Reawakened by knowledge, the divine element in humanity can return to its proper home in the transcendent spiritual realm” ("Gnosticism," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia).  In short, souls/spirits from the Divine Being were shaken out of heaven, fell to earth, and became imprisoned in human bodies.  And the only way they can find their way back to heaven is to embrace this secret, superior, revealed knowledge that will guide it back.  Paul may have also warned against the beginnings of this heresy when he wrote: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge“ (1 Timothy 6:20).

Three of the divisions within Gnosticism were: Ebonites, Cerenthians, and Docetaeans. Essentially all sects of Gnosticism believed that the world was evil; evil was all present; and therefore Deity could never assume/occupy sinful flesh.

  1. The Ebonites believed that Jesus was only a good man like anyone else in an evil world.  Hence His death only benefited Him.  This heresy the apostle John adamantly denied when he wrote: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (I John 2:22).  This passage also refutes the following belief of the Gnostics, the Cerenthians
  2. The Cerenthians believed that the body of the man called Jesus became occupied at his baptism by a demon named Christ, which then left him before the “passion”.  This belief denies the Deity of Jesus.
  3. The Docetaeans believed that Jesus Christ appeared to be real but his body was only a shadowy phantom (hologram?).  This would mean that Jesus’ suffering/passion and death was only an illusion; therefore they denied the humanity of Jesus. 

The apostle John, in refuting these Gnostic beliefs, said: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (I John 4:2-3).

All of these different aspects of Gnosticism actually came about because of one common hedonistic desire.  It allowed them in their “state of superior knowledge” to be as indulgent in the lusts of the flesh as they wished because the body was evil, would die, and the spirit – being pure – would return to heavenly realms.  Their analogy was that if a diamond fell into a pigsty it remained a diamond despite being covered with filth; and when it was removed from the sty it could be cleaned and again become bright and shiny.

The most revealing passages in this false gospel begins, “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover.”  The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas “you will exceed all of them.  For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”  This last phrase is very important to remember when you consider the aspect of Gnostic belief concerning the pure spirit being imprisoned in an evil body. 

It is true that this “Gospel” is an old work, probably dating back to the 2nd century AD.  But because it does not go further back than this it cannot be the work of an eyewitness of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus; to which must also be added the death of Judas as recorded in Matthew and Acts.  It is obviously a work espousing Gnostic heresy that we find at least in principle - if not out rightly – condemned in the writings of Paul and John.

In summation, we can see that “The Gospel of Judas” is a contradiction of what is in the Gospels of the New Testament.  They – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all agree that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  Because of the great truth (i.e., Truth never contradicts itself) it is easy to see that this is a false work and is to be rejected by all faithful children of God.

May our faith be strengthened through our confidence in God’s revealed will, the Bible…as we have it now!