Sunday, April 09, 2006

More on the Gospel of Judas

This comes courtesy of Rev. William Cwirla of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, CA:

The Gospel of Judas is one of many "gospels" written under the name of an apostle, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. They may as well be the Gospel of Moe, Larry, and Curly for all their authenticity. These are the works of various sects of gnosticism, a destructive heresy that crept into Christianity like a virus in the latter part of the first century and turned into a full blown disease in the second and third. In general, the gnostics believed that the material world was created by a bunch of lesser gods who imprisoned the spirit in a material body, from which one must escape through the acquisition of secret knowledge (gnosis, hence "gnostic") from certain "enlightened" teachers in order to ascend to the Divine. Gnostics were very "spiritual," in all the wrong senses of the word. They saw the body as a pop can from which the real you has to escape in order to become united with the divine. Gnosticism is by no means dead in our day; it just masquerades as various "spiritualities," none of which are of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel according to St. John (I'm talking about the actual Gospel according to the real St. John) has the beginnings of gnosticism in full view, as do the later epistles of Paul along with Jude and Peter. Jude 1:7-11, 1 John 1

In the same letter, Paul referred to the early gnostics (proto-gnostics, actually), when he wrote 1 Tim. 4:1-5

For those who think the Da Vinci Code is scholarly and who get their historical theology from National Geographic specials, let me remind you that the Gospel of Judas is not exactly news in Christian circles. Irenaeus (AD 130-202), the bishop of Lyon and a student of Polycarp (who studied under the apostle John), mentions it in his encyclopedic "Against All Heresies," where he writes:

"Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledged that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquanted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others 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."

The Cainites were a fun bunch whose hero was Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel. It only stands to reason that they would come up with a Gospel of Judas, making the cursed betrayer of our Lord into a martyr for the cause.

In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is the only disciple "in the know" (gnosis) while the other eleven are in the dark. Jesus tells Judas, "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." So Judas is the enlightened one. Now you understand why John tells us "it was night" when Judas went out to betray Jesus.

Jesus is also purported to have said to Judas, "You will exceed all of them (the other disciples). For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." There's the old body as a pop can business. Jesus had to die in order to escape the prison of his humanity, and Judas was going to give Jesus a helping hand by handing him over to the religious authorities. Now you understand why John makes such a big deal out of "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

John 20:24-28

You also see why everyone is touching the resurrected body of Jesus and making a big deal about His wounds. No disembodied "spirit" on the first Easter Sunday. There is also no mention of Jesus' death and bodily resurrection on the third day in the Gospel of Judas. What do you need a resurrection for, when you can be pure spiritual gas?

Christians need not let such "findings" spoil their Holy Week or dampen their Easter joy. These works were well known in the early centuries and were amply refuted. You may want to spend a little quality time with Iranaeus and check out what he has to say about the various gnostic sects of his day. Also good bedtime reading is Kurt Rudolph's "Gnosis - The Nature and History of Gnosticism."

Findings such as the Gospel of Judas are important historic evidence for the various ways in which the Christian Gospel was perverted in the early centuries following the apostles. Scholars have expressed doubt over the veracity of Irenaeus' catalog of heresies. The finding of a genuine copy of the Gospel of Judas from the second century is a powerful vindication of Irenaeus. Irenaeus wasn't exagerating. There really were wacko groups that wrote and believed this stuff! But hey, who are we to talk? We have UFO cults and Scientology.

The Gospel of Judas, Thomas, Moe, Larry, and Curly also remind us of the importance of the apostolic Word, the record of the first century eyewitnesses to the resurrection recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You'll notice that these are called "The Gospel according to..." not "The Gospel of...." There's a reason for that. There is but one "Gospel" of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, who died for the sin of the world and rose triumphantly and bodily on the third day. The canonical tradition gives us four perspectives on this one Gospel, not four distinct gospels.

There will always be perversions of the Gospel by those who would proclaim another gospel and another way to salvation except through the narrow door of Jesus' death and resurrection. That's why we have to be on our toes. Heresies are like viruses. They never really go away. They only go into remission, waiting for an opportune time to flare up again. In these grey and latter days, we can expect the gnostic virus to flare up with a vengeance, along with every other way people have invented to deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to scandalize the little ones of faith. Have no fear. Jesus has overcome the world and its religion. And that's no secret.

The Apostle Paul gets the last word:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I said again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:6-9


At April 15, 2006 8:47 PM, Blogger Whey Lay said...

Gnostics may claim to have some hidden knowledge, but that will always be un-Christian, and Devil whispered.
"I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus replied. "I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. John 18:20.
Great Blog! I can see I will be busy for a while going through your old posts. Found my way here via Putting out the Fire.


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