Last week I was asked by a group of students about the Gospel of Judas. I had not planned to write about this topic, but I want to help my students readers understand this manuscript. This little article of mine is designed to be a simple explanation. If you want an even shorter explanation, just scroll down to the “summary” below.
Like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, this manuscript has created quite a stir and confused many people. The Gospel of Judas has something else in common with the Da Vinci Code: they are both purely fictional. Dan Brown’s novel is modern-day fiction; the Gospel of Judas is ancient fiction. From ancient times until now, people have been writing false statements about Christianity and Jesus himself.
Gnosticism and Gnostic Gospels
The Gospel of Judas is simply an example of a Gnostic Gospel. The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.” Gnosticism was one of the earliest threats to the Christian faith because it attempted to “mix” false teachings with the teachings of Christ.
Here are a couple of common beliefs among the ancient Gnostic cults:
False Gnostic Belief #1. Flesh/material is evil, so Jesus did not actually come to the earth in the flesh. False teachers were apparently trying to convince the early Christians of this. We can see that John needed to clarify the truth about Jesus to believers:
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.
–1st John 4:1-3
False Gnostic Belief #2. Certain people have special, secret knowledge or mystical experiences which are superior to the basic teachings of Christ. Again, we can see evidence that the New Testament church was dealing with many different types of false teachings:
Teach these things, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions.
–1st Timothy 6:2-4
These false teachers eventually wrote false “gospels” in order to promote their doctrines. It was not unusual for them to claim a Bible character wrote their books. The Gospel of Judas is just one example of this (other examples include The Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Thomas).
Judas according to the Bible
The Bible clearly teaches that Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus was not surprised by this, but it was an evil act. Satan, in fact, is described as heavily influencing Judas. The Bible also teaches that Judas committed suicide.
Then Jesus said, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray him.
Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
“I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”
Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all very consistent on this matter. Most scholars would agree that all four of the genuine Gospels were written before 90 A.D. (Mark as early as 55 A.D.; John as late as 90 A.D.). We have thousands of copies of New Testament manuscripts, which verifies the importance and authenticity of the New Testament. There is only one copy of the Gospel of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas and Christian History
We now know that there was a particular group of Gnostics called the Cainites. This group basically tried to change the image of all the Bible’s wicked characters (starting with Cain). They are most likely responsible for writing the Gospel of Judas.
The earliest mention we can find of the Gospel of Judas is 180 A.D. A church leader name Irenaeus rejected it because it directly contradicted the true teachings about Christ. The Gospel of Judas was most likely written about one hundred years after the death of Jesus (130-170 A.D.–much later than the authentic Gospels).
The now famous manuscript (translated in 2006) was probably written in the 3rd or 4th century. In other words, it seems to be an old and authentic copy, but it is a copy of a work of fiction. It is a fictional story coming from false teachers.
*False teachings about Christ have existed since the time of the New Testament church. Some of these false teachings were written down.
*The Gospel of Judas is just an example of one of these false documents.
*The New Testament is the 100% reliable source of information about the life of Jesus and his followers. The New Testament clearly teaches that Judas was a traitor, influenced by Satan.
*The Gospel of Judas was written much later and not by Judas himself. It is not a reliable source of information about the life of Christ.
(All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation>)
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