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N.T. Wright: Judas and the Gospel of Jesus


Nicholas Thomas Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth About Christianity? (Baker, 2006), 156 pages.

Wright is a lucid writer, with the gift of being able to express himself at both a popular and academic level. This book adopts the popular genre. Wright does not dismiss the Gospel of Judas. He is happy to acknowledge the manuscript, the discovery of which was celebrated in the media last year, as an authentic 2nd century writing. What is interesting is how he addresses the contemporary fascination with this and other, ancient Gnostic writings.

The Gospel of Judas presents Judas as the good guy and the disciples, who want Jesus to avoid death, as the bad guys. Jesus needs to escape the carnal prison of his body. Judas helps him, by arranging the “betrayal,” which is no betrayal at all. Judas is really Jesus’ savior, helping him to leave an imperfect world shaped by an imperfect creator, to be united in spirit with the true, superior God.

Wright’s thesis is that the problem does not lie with such ancient sources. Their discovery provides no threat to mainstream Christianity. The Gospel of Judas illustrates a popular notion current in the early centuries, a reaction to incarnational Christianity that was at one with philosophies that viewed escape from this world as the ultimate objective in human life. Indeed, he celebrates the publication of what he views as a valuable example of such Gnostic worldviews.

Wright sees the real challenge to mainstream Christianity to lie with the current fascination with “other worldly” religiosity, which seeks to look longingly towards life in the heavens, whilst denying the call to engagement with injustice and unrighteousness in this present world. He sees disengagement with truly Biblical faith in Christ that brought persecution and even martyrdom to the early church as the reason for the contemporary fascination and popularity of more “spiritual” messages.

This is an easy and good read. And it is a challenge to those who know the power of the Holy Spirit, but find difficulty in associating that with a faith that leads us to engagement with political and social injustices around us. Maybe some of us are closer to the teachings of the “Gospel of Judas” than we would care to imagine.

Reviewed by Jim Purves


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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2007

About the Author: James Purves, Ph.D. (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), has been serving in pastoral ministry since 1980 and is presently Mission and Ministry Advisor to the Baptist Union of Scotland. He is a research tutor at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic and author of The Triune God and the Charismatic Movement (Paternoster, 2004). His blog is

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