Since writing the previous gracEmail on the “Gospel of Judas,” I have viewed the two-hour television special aired on Sunday night, April 9, 2006 on the National Geographic Channel and have read the actual translation of this document. Having now seen the program and having read the “Gospel of Judas” itself, both of which confirmed the previous gracEmail, I add the following observations in this quick update.
National Geographic certainly knows how to tantalize an audience even though its titillation is sometimes misleading. In discussing the “Gospel of Judas” found in an Egyptian cave in the late 1970’s, the TV special teasingly asked whether the manuscript was “real” or “fake,” finally assuring viewers that this “Gospel” had indeed been “authenticated.” Many viewers likely took these proclamations as assurances that the “Gospel of Judas” was written by the Apostle of that name, or even that the Gnostic doctrine this “Gospel” was written to promote was really true. In fact, the “authentication” talked about meant only that radiocarbon dating placed the manuscript’s origin at about A.D. 300, give or take 50 years. In other words, the “Gospel of Judas” is not a recently-forged fraud. But that is almost unimportant when we know that it was instead an ancient fraud, according to the church father Irenaeus, who wrote about A.D. 180. Unless I blinked and missed it, National Geographic’s television special never even mentioned the fact, also known from Irenaeus, that the “Gospel of Judas” was used by a group known as Cainites who claimed spiritual lineage from Cain, Esau, Korah and the inhabitants of Sodom.
At the surface level, the television special seemed to focus on this apocryphal Gospel’s potential to rehabilitate Judas’ reputation as a Satan-driven scoundrel — a characterization that has indeed been misused by some professing Christians as an excuse for anti-Semitism (which is always inexcusable). In fact, even the New Testament Gospels eschew a one-dimensional view of Judas since they report that he returned the betrayal money to those who had hired him and then committed suicide — two incidents which some Christians have seen as evidence of deep remorse and perhaps even of genuine repentance. Further, Judas inadvertently served the divine purpose according to the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts, even though he remained personally culpable for his actions.
Be that as it may, the presentation of Judas the man is only window-dressing in this newly-discovered “Gospel.” The manuscript’s real point and the main reason orthodox Christians reject it (aside from the fact that it is a fraudulent work to begin with), is its promotion of Gnosticism, a worldview contrary to the biblical understanding of reality on almost every fundamental point. This is apparently a minor detail to many postmodern scholars, for whom all ideas are equally valid and all groups claiming to be “Christian” are legitimate spokespersons of Jesus Christ.
Those of us who remain committed to Scripture as divinely-authoritative and who therefore oppose whatever essentially contradicts its core teachings need to realize that we are increasingly out of step with the spirit of the age. It is not unimaginable that the day may come even in America, as it did for the apostolic church of the first three centuries and as it has today in many other parts of the world, when we must choose between personal comfort and security on the one hand and faithfulness to Christ on the other. If that happens, may we — like Irenaeus and Polycarp and John — stand firm whatever the cost.