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The Gospel of Judas: Monster or kitten?

The rest of the text is didactic material that is so clearly Gnostic and so clearly from the second century that it is difficult to take its sparse historical claims seriously. The idea that we might have in this gospel an alternative version of the betrayal of Jesus is simply impossible. Or, if there is some whiff of historical reliability in the claims of the Gospel of Judas, it will be by pure coincidence. There is nothing about this text that would lead us to a conclusion about the events that surrounded the death of Jesus.

The Gospel of Judas ought to be interpreted as a Gnostic document which, following the tendency that was typical of that perspective, uses the inversion of the relationship between Jesus and Judas to promote the doctrines of Gnosticism without any reference to real historical data. The text itself confirms this in the introduction. It is “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.” The author’s purpose is to communicate Gnostic mysteries, not bring to light some historical evidence or plot designed, Dan Brown style, to hide a scandal. It comes from an ideology in which the villains of the Bible are inverted and turned into heroes, and this is why Judas is the central character. This is perhaps the crucial point in the interpretation of this and other documents that have been used recently to cast doubt on the reliability of the biblical gospels. The Gnostic gospels are consistently treated as though they were historical accounts that get us back to what really happened, and if they affirm something different than the Gospel accounts it is automatically assumed that they must ipso facto be telling the correct version. But the Gnostic gospels will always be of secondary significance to determining the events surrounding the life of Jesus. First, because they were written well after those events, and second because their affirmations are so heavily tied to the Gnostic ideology of the second and third centuries.

Craig Evans, one of the scholars that participated in the translation and restoration of the Gospel of Judas, said it well: The Gospel of Judas “has an axe to grind, and it grinds it.” Evans thinks the canonical gospels are accurate versions of the life and death of Jesus and he says that while the Gospel of Judas is interesting, it tells us more about the beliefs of those who wrote it than about the “true story about the crucifixion.”

Why, then, such a big fuss?

We already knew that Gnosticism existed. We already had an outline of the contents of the Gospel of Judas from Ireneaus. We already knew about other Gnostic texts that make similar claims and we had already come to the conclusion that they do not measure up to the historical reliability of the New Testament documents. Why, then, such a fuss over the Gospel of Judas? Why do we read claims in the press that suggest the credibility of the Bible is at stake?

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Category: Fall 2016, Living the Faith

About the Author: Rob Haskell grew up in Argentina as the son of missionaries. He has done college ministry and worked in missions in Latin America, training pastors. Rob has a ThM in New Testament from Regent College. He is author of a Spanish language book on hermeneutics (Interpretacion Eficaz Hoy) and co-editor of Local Theology for the Global Church, a book produced by the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission. Currently he makes websites at his company, Intuito Websites, and teaches regularly at his local church in Bellingham, Washington. He enjoys a busy life as a single parent and an avid hiker.

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