Summary: It had been less than 24 hours since National Geographic had broken their story, “The Lost Gospel.” Yet as I spoke at an open-forum “Q & A” the next day at a Virginia college, the first question I got was, “Is this new Gospel accurate? I mean, what other
The Gospel of Judas- An authentic copy of an ancient lie?
by Alex McFarland
It had been less than 24 hours since National Geographic had broken their story, “The Lost Gospel.” Yet as I spoke at an open-forum “Q & A” the next day at a Virginia college, the first question I got was, “Is this new Gospel accurate? I mean, what other secrets about my Bible should I know?”
One of the professors quoted in the National Geographic article said that the content of the Judas document, “…would be very difficult to falsify.” This quote seems to imply that the The Gospel of Judas belongs in the Bible. In reality, it simply means that this ancient manuscript is thought to be an accurate copy of something with (for Christians, at least), no real theological significance.
The Gospel of Judas- so prominently featured in recent news reports- is an example of an ancient Gnostic document. “Gnostics” were second and third century sects which taught that spiritual growth came about through the acquisition of mystical knowledge and secret truths. The nature of Gnostic teaching was esoteric (hidden, understandable only by certain individuals). Christianity, on the other hand, has always been exoteric (the message of the Gospel is intended to be understood by all).
In 1945, a collection of Gnostic writings dating from the fourth century was discovered in Egypt (often called “The Nag Hammadi Gospels”). We have no record that ancient Christians ever embraced the Gnostic writings (of which The Gospel of Judas is a part) as Scripture.
When cultural happenings like The Gospel of Judas or The Davinci Code raise questions about Christianity, church history becomes a vital tool in defending the faith. An important early apologist was Irenaeus (130-202 AD), who argued effectively for the authenticity of the Christian Scriptures. Irenaeus had been discipled by Polycarp- a disciple of John- who, of course, had been with Jesus. In his work entitled, “Against Heresies,” Irenaeus had specifically spoken against The Gospel of Judas. So, the content of the Judas document represents nothing new. Christian leaders such as Irenaeus were aware of such Gnostic texts 1800 years ago- and had rejected them as not belonging to the canon.
The term “canon” means, “measuring stick.” God has given the world the “canon of Scripture” as a tool for separating truth from error. But without printing presses, mass communication, or research aids, how did the people of God recognize which books were canonical, or “divinely inspired?” Some of the “tests” or questions for canonicity were as follows:
Authorship: Was the book written by a recognized prophet of God or one of the apostles?
Credentials: What acts of God validated the author’s credibility?
Content: Does the book contain truth about God, corresponding with other known revelation?
Power: Does the writing possess the Spirit’s anointing- does it instruct, build up, equip, and edify readers?
Acceptance: Has the book been received by the people of God?
Some today have doubts and questions regarding early Christianity and how the Bible developed. How God both inspired and preserved His Word is an interesting story indeed. In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said that, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The history surrounding the Bible illustrates that God has certainly fulfilled this promise.