On Sunday, the National Geographic Channel revealed to the world The Gospel of Judas. The Gospel of Judas was a document found in Egypt which presents itself to be the words of Jesus to Judas.
The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic document produced by the same people who left a collection of other books known today as the Nag Hammadi library. Among the books in the library is one document called The Gospel of Thomas.
The Gnostics were a group of people who believed themselves to be the preserves of the true teachings of Christianity. The truth, however, was that Gnosticism was a deviation of the basic teachings of Christianity and a denial of many truths taught in the New Testament. The Gnostics departed from the accepted teachings of the early church.
The word “Gnostics” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.” This is the reason that Paul, in his advice to Timothy, warned him to avoid the teachings of those who claimed to have a superior or hidden knowledge: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21 ESV).
The Gnostics believed that the resurrection of believers was an event of the past. This false Gnostic teaching appears in Paul’s warning to Timothy:
“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18 ESV).
When reading The Gospel of Judas, it is important to remember that this document was written many years after the death of Judas, who died not long after he betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:1-5). The dialogue between Jesus and Judas is not biblical and represents the views of the person who wrote that document.
In the program sponsored by the National Geographic, the people who participated in the presentation of the document, affirmed over and over again that the document was authentic. The fact is, the document is authentic because it is clear that The Gospel of Judas was written in the second or third century of the Christian era. However, just because the document is authentic, it does not mean that its content has authority over the church or is above the four Gospels that appear in the New Testament.
The church was right in rejecting The Gospel of Judas as a part of the canon of the New Testament. Gnosticism was a rejection of the traditional doctrines of Christianity. Gnosticism presented a radical form of Christianity that sought to gain acceptance by becoming apostolic, that it, they used the names of the apostles in order to gain acceptance among believers. Some of Gnostic books are called The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles.
The Gospel of Judas poses no threat to Christianity. The media tried to portray The Gospel of Judas as an alternative to the teachings of the New Testament, as a threat to the traditional view about Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus did not ask Judas to betray him; Judas betrayed Jesus voluntarily.
The Gospel of Judas is an apology for Judas. In it, the writer of the document tries to present a more sympathetic view of Judas. The dialogue between Jesus and Judas attempts to show that Judas would be misunderstood and maligned because he would be called a betrayer of Christ.
A legion of scholars may affirm the importance of The Gospel of Judas, but they cannot change the fact the Judas betrayed his friend, that he sold Jesus for a few coins of silver. Try as it may, The Gospel of Judas can never erase the teachings of the New Testament and the Christian church, that Judas was indeed the one who betrayed Jesus Christ.
If you want to read more about The Gospel of Judas, read “Gospel of Judas is heresy & unreliable history” by clicking here.
You can also read the article by Jim West who concludes that the Gnostic writings “are not ‘higher teachings’- they are heretical texts from heretics. The ‘Gospel’ of Judas is no ‘gospel’ at all.’”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary