The Bad News About the Gospel of Judas
The much ballyhooed modern translation of the “gospel of Judas,” which was released by the National Geographic Society in 2006, is touted today by many as one of the “lost books of the Bible.” These so-called lost books were supposedly excluded from the canon of Scripture in an effort to squelch freethinking and force-feed the world a rigid Christian fundamentalism. Ever since this canonical coup was carried out by diabolical church fathers, evil Christian fundamentalists have been busy suppressing the truth and forcing their beliefs upon others. Although increasing in popularity, thanks to things like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, this theory of Christian-bashers and Bible-haters has the dubious distinction of flying in the face of historical fact and amounting to nothing more than pure fiction.
Far from being a “lost book of the Bible,” the “gospel of Judas” is a Gnostic gospel found by an Egyptian farmer in 1978. Contrary to the opinion of many of today’s purported scholars, there never has been nor ever will be such a thing as a “Gnostic Christian.” Gnostics were heretics; they were the ancient world’s version of the modern New Age Movement. Much of the New Testament was written to combat Gnosticism; a couple of good examples are the First Epistle of John and Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. Furthermore, the fact that Gnostics fabricated false gospels to substantiate their false beliefs is also indisputably established by historical record.
Up until the 1940’s, almost everything we knew about the Gnostic gospels was gleaned from the writings of Christian apologists. One of these apologists was Irenaeus, an early church father and a disciple of the martyred Polycarp. In his book Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote, “The heretics [Gnostics] say that they have more gospels than there actually are; but really, they have no gospel that is not full of blasphemy.”
In 1945, local peasants in Nag Hammadi, a town in the middle of Egypt, unearthed thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar. These codices contained fifty-two Gnostic treatises, among them were: “The Gospel of Truth,” “The Gospel According to Phillip,” “The Gospel of the Egyptians,” and “The Gospel According to Thomas,” the latter being the most renowned. Since their discovery, these Gnostic gospels, along with all subsequent ones discovered, such as the “gospel of Judas,” have been touted as the “lost books of the Bible.”
Calling these Gnostic gospels the “lost books of the Bible” is like calling the Communist Manifesto the “lost section of the United States Constitution.” In other words, it’s patently absurd! Being contradictory to the canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—these Gnostic gospels cannot possibly have been meant for inclusion in the canon of sacred Scripture. Rather, they were intended to refute Scripture and to replace Christian orthodoxy with heretical doctrine.
The only explanation for our world’s insistence upon expanding the Bible to include heretical books is its sheer hatred of the Christian faith. Our Christ-rejecting world knows that corrupting the true Gospel with false (Gnostic) gospels is the best way to destroy Christianity, which is always only one generation away from extinction. The crucial question of our day is whether or not today’s Christians will prove to be like the Apostle Paul; that is, champions of the faith who will never allow the true gospel to be corrupted on their watch.1
Although the circumstances surrounding its discovery are shady and its history murky, it is still possible to piece together a brief history of the National Geographic Society’s “gospel of Judas.” To begin with, the existence of this Gnostic gospel was known long before a fourth-century Coptic copy of it was found by an Egyptian farmer in 1978. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons and one of the early church fathers, mentioned the existence of this heretical document as early as A.D. 180. In his denunciation of Gnosticism, Irenaeus wrote, “They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no other did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”
Despite the fact that we were aware of its existence, due to the writings of Christian apologists like Irenaeus, no copy of the “gospel of Judas” had ever been discovered until the late 1970’s. In 1978, an Egyptian farmer unearthed a fourth-century Coptic copy of this heretical document in a cave near El Minya, Egypt. Rather than notifying Egyptian antiquities officials about his discovery, as was required by law, the farmer secretly sold the leather-bound papyrus manuscript to an antiquities dealer in Cairo. From Cairo, the manuscript apparently passed through a number of hands in Egypt and Europe before ending up in a safe-deposit box at a bank in Hicksville, New York. After sixteen years of moldering in a safe-deposit box, the manuscript was finally purchased by a Zurich antiquities dealer named Frieda Tchacos Nussberger.
Ms.Tchacos Nussberger is, to say the least, an interesting character. In 2001, she was detained in Cyprus at the request of Italian officials who were seeking to question her in an investigation into the looting of Italian artifacts. She was later prosecuted for several violations involving Italian antiquities, but given a reduced sentence because of her promise to return artifacts claimed by Italy. Her Italian prosecutor also agreed to erase her criminal record, if she kept herself from being charged with any additional theft of antiquities until 2007.
According to the National Geographic Society, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger paid $300,000 to a Long Island antiquities dealer for the Judas document, which has since been named “Codex Tchacos.” Shortly after purchasing the Judas document, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger began what would ultimately prove to be an unsuccessful attempt to sell it at an exorbitant and nonnegotiable asking price. Unable to cash in as she had hoped, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger agreed to turn her acquired manuscript over to the Maecenas Foundation. The Maecenas Foundation had to first consent, however, that Ms. Tchacos Nussberger would receive revenues generated by the manuscript upwards toward $4 million. Although the Foundation has already begun paying Ms. Tchacos Nussberger, it refuses to divulge how much she has received to date.
It is from the Maecenas Foundation that the National Geographic Society bought the rights to publish its modern translation of the “gospel of Judas.” Moreover, National Geographic also paid the foundation to restore the manuscript, which, according to Jane C. Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, “was poorly handled for years because the people holding it were more concerned with making money than protecting it.”
Bristling at any suggestion that she’s in it for the money, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger insists that her involvement in this whole affair has been driven all along by religious conviction. In The Lost Gospel, a book by Herbert Krosney—the man who suggested the “gospel of Judas” project to National Geographic—Ms. Tchacos Nussberger is quoted as saying, “I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him.”
According to Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton, discoveries like the “gospel of Judas” are “exploding the myth of a monolithic religion and demonstrating how diverse—and fascinating—the early Christian movement really was.” Not satisfied with such hyperbole, Ms. Pagels heaps additional drivel onto the pile by asserting that “the gospel of Judas” offers us “startling new perspectives on familiar gospel stories,” which are consequently “changing the way we understand the beginnings of Christianity.” Caught up in and carried away with Pagels’ poppycock, New York Times reporters John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein have written a piece asserting that the “gospel of Judas” will not only “intrigue theologians and historians of religion,” but also prove to “be deeply troubling to some church leaders and lay believers.”
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: I’m supposed to be “deeply troubled” as a Christian because the National Geographic Society has published a modern translation of nine tattered fragments out of more than 1,000 brittle fragments of a damaged manuscript of a fourth-century copy of a second-century forgery fabricated by heretics to fool folks into believing false doctrine. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Not only am I not troubled, but I find anyone’s suggestion that I should be, laughable. Far from feeling the ground shake beneath my Christian feet, I feel that the only shaky ground around is that found beneath the feet of those attacking my Christian faith on the grounds of such flimsy evidence.
Even liberal scholars like James Robinson are being forced to admit that the “gospel of Judas” is a feeble weapon to be wielding against orthodox Christianity. Robinson, the lead scholar on the team that investigated the Nag Hammadi Library—the greatest find ever of Gnostic gospels—has honestly admitted that this new find (the gospel of Judas) “tells us nothing about the historical Jesus” and “nothing about the historical Judas.” Echoing Robinson, Adam Gopnik, an esteemed essayist and commentator for the New Yorker, argues that “the new Gospel [the gospel of Judas] ...no more challenges the basis of the church’s faith than the discovery of a document from the nineteenth century written in Ohio and defending King George would be a challenge to the basis of American democracy.”
What do we really know about the “gospel of Judas”? (1) We know that it’s not a gospel. (2) We know that it was not written by Judas, despite its own claim to the contrary. (3) We know—thanks to things like its imbecilic teachings on the heavenly kingdom of “Barbelo” and the baffling array of demigods inhabiting the 72 heavens and the 360 firmaments—that it is totally void of divine inspiration and totally unfit for inclusion in the canon of Holy Scripture. (4) We know that it is a second-century heretical document written by Cainite Gnostics who appear to have been obsessed with their efforts to rehabilitate condemned biblical figures; such as, Cain, the Sodomites, Judas, and even Lucifer.
Isn’t it true, however, that the National Geographic Society claims that scholars have authenticated the “gospel of Judas” as genuine? Yes, but all this means is that scholars have determined by radiocarbon dating, ink analysis, and the study of the script that the discovered manuscript may well date back to the fourth-century. It certainly doesn’t mean that the document has been proven to contain a single word of truth.
Do you remember when some products used to be labeled “genuine imitation leather”? I don’t know about you, but I could never understand what that meant. How can anything be a genuine imitation? Well, I guess that’s sort of what the National Geographic Society means when it claims that the “gospel of Judas” is genuine. It’s a genuine imitation, not to mention a genuine forgery and a genuine pack of lies.
GNOSTICISM: ZANY SPIRITUAL SNOBBERY
Having looked at the shady and murky history of the National Geographic Society’s modern translation of the “gospel of Judas” and having proved absurd any suggestion that it is a “lost book of the Bible” or a serious threat to the historic Christian faith, we now turn our attention to the heretics who composed it and to the heresy it contains.
To begin with, let’s consider in this section the heretics who composed it. Who were the Gnostics and what exactly did they believe? Gnostics were heretics posing as Christians who propagated false doctrines that were diametrically opposed to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.
It is safe to say that in several ways the ancient Gnostics were like modern-day cults. First, they claimed to be Christian, while denying cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Second, they utilized Christian terminology, but replaced the traditional definitions of the terms with their own meanings. And finally, they attempted to substantiate their false teachings with forged “sacred” texts of their own invention. Like the Book of Mormon, the extra-Biblical scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Gnostics’ extra-Biblical scriptures, like the “gospel of Judas,” were products of human fabrication rather than divine inspiration.
A short synopsis of Gnostic absurdities should suffice to convince anyone of Gnosticism’s incompatibility with orthodox Christianity. Let’s start with Gnostic beliefs about the God of the Old Testament. Gnostics believed that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was an evil “Demiurge” (second-rate god) who created the corrupt material world and arrogantly believed Himself to be the only true God. It was this evil “Demiurge’s” creation of the material world that fouled up the human race by imprisoning our pure spirits in corrupt, physical bodies.
The real true God, according to the Gnostics, was the “Pleroma,” a pure, heavenly, immaterial fullness who dwelt in a spiritual realm of light and ideas. Since Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, they insisted that the “Pleroma” could have no contact with the physical world or material things. Too distant and transcendent to dirty his hands with materiality or humanity, the Gnostic god, often called “the Incorruptible,” worked through emissaries.
These emissaries or lesser spiritual entities called “aeons” supposedly formed a hierarchical ladder stretching from the “Pleroma” and the spiritual world all the way down to man and the physical world. Each emissary on the ladder was believed to be capable of imparting “gnosis” (knowledge) to men. Those on the ladder’s lower rungs and closer to the material world imparted lesser knowledge, while those on the ladder’s higher rungs and closer to the “Pleroma” imparted greater knowledge. By ascending this hierarchical ladder of spiritual “aeons” and ultimately being enlightened by the “Pleroma” himself one could become a member of the enlightened elite; that is, one could become a Gnostic.
Believing such nonsense as stated above necessitated the Gnostics’ twisted interpretation of the gospel. For instance, Gnostics denied the truth of the Incarnation. There was no way that Jesus could have possibly come in the flesh, since divinity could have no contact with humanity. Furthermore, Christ could not have died on the cross nor risen bodily from the dead. With these cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith cut out of its theology, Gnosticism was left with an “aeon” Christ who took possession of the body of a human Jesus only to depart from it prior to the crucifixion and return afterward as a “phantom” in order to deliver humanity, at least its intellectuals, from the prison of materiality.
Now, if you’re having a hard time understanding all of this gobbledygook, it’s probably because of your lack of the divine spark. According to the Gnostics, only a few people possess the “gnosis”; that is, the ability to join their exclusive club of spiritual superiors. All other Christians, due to their lack of spiritual brainpower, will remain spiritually inferior and stuck in the “Demiurge’s” middle realm. Still, this is better than the rest of humanity, who are unfortunately doomed to their spiritual ignorance.
THE GOSPEL TRUTH ABOUT JUDAS
“The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover...Jesus said to him, ‘Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.’”
These are the opening words of the “gospel of Judas.” Like other Gnostic gospels, the “gospel of Judas” is predicated on secret “gnosis” (knowledge) imparted to a select recipient by the Savior. Other examples of this among Gnostic gospels are the “gospel of Thomas,” which claims to be “secret words which the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down,” and the “gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which claims to “reveal what Jesus showed Mary in a vision.”
Gnosticism was all about secret “gnosis” (knowledge) imparted to select individuals who alone possessed the potential to understand spiritual mysteries and become Gnostics; that is, “knowing ones” or spiritual elitists. According to the Gnostics, man’s problem was not sin, but ignorance, and the solution was not found in Christ, but within us. If one was fortunate enough to find the uncommon spark of divinity within, it could be fanned into flame delivering one from materiality and enabling one to rejoin all the other sparks in the spiritual realm to reconstitute the “Pleroma”—the true God.
According to the “gospel of Judas,” Judas was not our Lord’s betrayer, but His best friend. While the other apostles prayed to a lesser god, Judas understood the “mysteries of the kingdom” of the true God. For instance, he alone understood Jesus’ need to be freed from His mortal flesh. Thus, he was called upon to “sacrifice the man” that clothed Christ; that is to say, he was asked by Jesus to betray Him into the hands of the Roman authorities so that Jesus could be executed and freed from His physical body once and for all. Although Judas’ obedient act of betrayal would initially result in him being “cursed by other generations,” Jesus promised that it would ultimately lead to Judas ruling over all who cursed him and excelling over all of the other apostles.
Poking this Gnostic nonsense full of holes with the Sword of the Spirit is way too easy. To begin with, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are proof positive of His bodily resurrection. Take for example these words of the resurrected Christ to His frightened apostles in Luke 24:39, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” If, as the “gospel of Judas” alleges, Judas’ betrayal of Christ was intended to rid Christ once and for all of flesh and bones, then we are forced to conclude that either Judas’ betrayal is the ultimate debacle or the “gospel of Judas” is all together bogus.
What's more, if Judas was only doing our Savior’s bidding in betraying Christ into the hands of the Roman authorities, then why did Judas become “seized with remorse” and commit suicide?2 If Judas was Jesus’ favorite, then why did Jesus call him a “devil” and the “son of perdition”—a term used in reference to no one else in all of Scripture except Paul’s “man of sin”?3 And if Judas excelled over all of the other apostles and is going to rule over all who cursed him in every generation, as the “gospel of Judas” contends, then why did Jesus say that it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born.4
Truly, the teachings of the canonical gospels are completely incompatible with those of the “gospel of Judas.” Consequently, no one can embrace both. Men must either reject both outright or receive one and renounce the other. That anyone would chose to believe a counterfeit Gnostic gospel like the “gospel of Judas” over the canonical gospels, which have withstood one onslaught after another over the centuries, is certainly inexplicable upon the basis of the evidence alone. It must, therefore, involve an ulterior motive.
I believe that it is here that we find the explanation for our world’s sudden fascination with ancient Gnosticism and its heretical texts. Today’s world, being as adverse as it is toward Christianity and the Gospel of Christ, is ever ready to embrace anything that emphasizes self-realization and moral relativism. If it promotes the deification of man and each man’s right to play god by determining truth for himself, then it will be championed by today’s Christ-rejecting, truth-hating world. Regardless of its validity or lack thereof, men will line up to adhere to it as long as it’s adversarial to the truth of God’s Word—the Bible.
It is this hate of Biblical truth that is behind today’s fascination with the National Geographic Society’s modern translation of the “gospel of Judas.” It is also the reason for the resurgence of ancient Gnosticism in our modern world.
Speaking of the heresy of Gnosticism in his day, the Apostle John wrote, “...and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”5 Is what we are now witnessing—the revival of ancient Gnosticism in today’s New Age Movement—the beginning of the end time deception foretold by the Apostle John?
Remember, the Apostle Paul predicted that in the last days a “strong delusion” will come so that all who “received not the love of the truth” will “believe a lie” and “be damned.”6
1 Galatians 2:5
2 Matthew 27:3-5
3 John 6:70; 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3
4 Matthew 26:24
5 1 John 4:3
6 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12