Summary: The rest of the story about the supposedly new gospel and why believers should not be shaken or surprised.
The Truth About the Gospel of Judas*
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Everyone has seen the headlines. It has been everywhere in the media. St. Louis and Hannibal papers carried the story. “A lost gospel has been found.” “Long-suppressed story of Jesus paints a different picture of Judas.” The sudden barrage of headlines was no accident. It was all part of very well orchestrated publicity campaign for a series of books and documentaries produced by the National Geographic Society. The TV special aired last Sunday (Palm Sunday 2006) on the National Geographic channel. The headlines hit a few days before the special, all intended to boost ratings, and advertising revenues.
Some of the announcements bordered on the sensational. Breathless reporters interviewed so-called experts to explain the earth-shaking consequences of the find. Some commentators predicted a complete reformulation of Christianity. We would be forced to rethink everything we know about Jesus, his last days, and especially Judas, the disciple the New Testament says betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The publicity spectacle has left many wondering, “what’s up.”
I’ve read many of the news stories. I’ve personally read the Gospel of Judas made available at the National Geographic web site. I’ve followed a lot of the discussion in the media and on the internet. Tonight I want to try to tell you the rest of the story.
First, let me give you a little taste of the media coverage. The Hannibal Courier-Post carried the typical Associated Press coverage. Under the headline “It is possible—Judas was a hero?” the piece went on to say, “For 2,000 years Judas has been reviled for betraying Jesus. Now a newly translated ancient document seeks to tell his side of the story. The “Gospel of Judas” tells a far different tale from the four gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas as a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus—and who turned him in at Jesus’ request.”
The April 6 USA TODAY article began this way, “Lost for centuries and bound for controversy, the so-called gospel of Judas was unveiled by scholars Thursday (4/6/06).
With a plot twist worthy of The Da Vinci Code, the gospel — 13 papyrus sheets bound in leather and found in a cave in Egypt — purports to relate the last days of Jesus’ life, from the viewpoint of Judas, one of Jesus’ first followers. Christians teach that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but in this gospel, he is the hero, Jesus’ most senior and trusted disciple and the only one who knows Jesus’ true identity as the son of God.
"We’re confident this is genuine ancient Christian literature," said religious scholar Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He and others on the translation team spoke at a National Geographic Society briefing, where they released a translation.
The manuscript claims that Jesus revealed "secret knowledge" to Judas and instructed him to turn Jesus over to Roman authorities, said Coptic studies scholar Stephen Emmel of Germany’s University of Munster, one of the restoration team members. In the gospel text, Judas is given private instruction by Jesus and is granted a vision of the divine that is denied to other disciples, who do not know that Jesus has requested his own betrayal. Rather than acting out of greed or malice, Judas is following orders when he leads soldiers to Jesus, the gospel says”.
The New York Times led with this, “Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.
"As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities," New York Times reporters John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein wrote, "they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out. For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers."
The Facts. Let’s step away from the sensationalism for a moment look at the facts.
First, some background about Judas. Judas is mentioned roughly thirty times in the New Testament. He was one of the twelve disciples, apparently the only one from Judah or southern Israel. The other eleven were all Galileans. Judas heard Jesus’ teachings, witnessed his miracles, and participated with the other disciples in preaching his message from village to village. Judas was the keeper of the purse for the disciples and apparently embezzled some of the funds from it, according to John 12. He betrayed Jesus for thirty-pieces of silver and then took his own life, possibly in regret. Scripture offers little explanation for his motives.