CNN is airing a multi-night special titled, “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fiction, Forgery”; ostensibly based on a number of biblical and extra- biblical sources with the so-called gospel of Judas at times taking center-stage. Which is hardly new, since the discovery of this long-lost “gospel” a few years ago had some thinking that Christianity would be forced to re-think itself because of its portrayal of the quintessential traitor – Judas – as a trusted friend and confidant of Christ. The Rev. Donald Senior, President of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, strongly disagrees, asserting that the authentication and translation of this document did indeed produce, “a short-term sensation, (but) it’s impact on the lives of ordinary believers is going to be somewhat minimal.”1

Scholar James Robinson, who organized the team that restored the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts (a collection of Gnostic Gospels similar to the Judas gospel) and who attempted in 1983,1993 to acquire the Gospel of Judas manuscripts for restoration as well, agrees, saying “It only tells what, 100 years later, Gnostics were doing with the story they found in the canonical Gospels.” And while many admit that this gospel is clearly not a part of the main-stream ideology of the established church, they none-the-less hope to find indications of the development of its theology. (The continuing attraction for some being the elevation of man through gnosis – or self-promoting knowledge – to the detriment of Christ’s deity and right to rule in their lives.)

There is little doubt the document that was eventually published by National Geographic is ancient, having been written in the turbulent time-period when competing ideologies concerning Christ and the meaning of his life were vying for acceptance. It was ruled heretical by the early church, the present document possibly a copy of one cited by Bishop Iraneus as a false Gnostic teaching in A.D. 180. Diverse “Christian” writings, such as the Gospels of Peter, Mary, Truth and Thomas were fairly common; stressing aspects of Christ’s person and teaching that redefined him in ways other than what was revealed and accepted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which had been embraced because of their proven authenticity and reliability as a result of eyewitness testimony. (See Luke 1:1-4 & 1Cor. 15:3-8)2Paul warning against false “gospels” already circulating at the time of his ministry, which occurred while many of those same eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry were still alive. (See 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6,7; 1 Timothy 1:3 & 6:3,4) (Matthew, John and Peter being disciples of Jesus during his ministry; Luke being a contemporary of Paul – and thus many other associates of the earliest church; Mark being a disciple of Peter; the earliest proponents of the true gospel of the established church basing its principles of belief on what was seen, heard and experienced of Jesus’ ministry – either first-hand or shortly thereafter.)

Most copies of this so-called gospel were destroyed or lost over time, the copy discovered and published most recently apparently lay hidden in the Egyptian desert for 1700 years before its discovery in the 1970’s. Based on radiocarbon testing and its style of composition, it has been dated to around A.D. 300 or later; written many decades after the publication of the four original Gospels – the later a document claiming to report an incident or authenticating a person’s words and activities, the less likely any reliable connection exists between it and what it purportedly supports or attempts to question. (And yes, there were incidents of fiction or forgery within the church, particularly during the time when Catholic ideology sidled up too closely to political expediency; the most egregious example being the Donation of Constantine, purporting to give the church title to lands and privileges that proved many years later to be false. The important thing to remember being that nothing has been shown to disprove the accepted Gospels of our New Testament and that the obvious sins of the Medieval church shouldn’t be used to disparage all Christians – and in particular Christ. The church, Catholic and Protestant, is overseen by human beings, fallible and at times, sinful human beings. But the truth and ideals of Christianity – the story of Jesus – remains the same. People almost never measure up to their ideals, it’s in the striving for their excellence that we better ourselves. If and when we don’t, they shouldn’t be jettisoned as unreasonable or so unapproachable as to be beyond our ability to comply; our failure is not because there’s something wrong with what we’re trying to attain, but our weakness in the attempt. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.)

It is important to note that the Gnostics were a supposedly Christian sect that emphasized gnosis – or knowledge – as a means of salvation; attempting to regain a oneness of the inner-self with God through that knowledge. They considered the material world the creation of lesser gods who had then imprisoned the spirit of men in a fleshly body from which they should continually strive to escape. The Gospel of Judas clearly reflects these beliefs in portraying Judas as the only disciple to fully grasp the “truth.” Jesus telling him, “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”; as he was told secrets none of the other disciples were privy to, and merely carried out Jesus’ wishes in turning him over to the authorities.

Besides believing in a dueling set of principles and gods – between good and evil, Old Testament and New Testament, flesh and spirit – they disbelieved in Jesus’ full incarnation, the real purpose of his crucifixion being a release from the material world instead of a merciful sacrifice extending grace to all men. They believed only a fraction of mankind was capable of salvation and that it was attained only through the realization of a secret knowledge exclusive to them; virtual “godhood” being achieved through that gnosis. The proper response to this challenge and answer to any questions raised by this document and/or documentary is found in a verse of scripture so well-worn as to sometimes be overlooked. Yet it is at the heart of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18

1 Indianapolis Star, April, 2006

2See F.F. Bruce’s excellent book titled, The New Testament Documents – Are They Reliable?, Eerdman’s Publishing