Yesterday, the news media brought to our attention an ancient document recently discovered in Egypt. It has been pieced together by a group of scholars and translated from its original Coptic language. In it, we are told, is contained a conversation between Jesus and Judas, in which Jesus more or less sets up Judas to betray Him. Jesus apparently, not only knew that Judas would be His betrayer, but instructed him to do so.
The document has been dated by the radio carbon method and found to be from around the 3rd or 4th century. However, that doesn’t make it “genuine,” as was claimed by one scholar on ABC. All that proves is that it’s old! I’m still uncertain as to how Judas authored this account, seeing as how he was supposed to have committed suicide soon after the betrayal.
The news media, of course, did what they do so well – taking an important bit of news and blowing it up beyond its importance into a major crisis. What will this do to our faith? What effect will it have on those who have placed their trust in the accounts in the canonical gospels? What effect will it have on our opinion of Jesus’ integrity?
Wait a minute!!! Don’t panic!!! First of all, this document is dated, we’re told, to about the 3rd century at the earliest, 200 years later than the New Testament documents (although there probably were earlier editions). Second, it is, as one scholar said, a “Gnostic” document. The Gnostics were sectarians, considered heretical by the early Christians. Third, it is only one of literally dozens (maybe hundreds) of “gospels” and other writings produced by both sectarian and “main-line” Christians. Fourth, it was known to, and rejected by early Christian writers. Irenaeus, writing toward the end of the 2nd century, says, “And furthermore – they say – Judas the betrayer was thoroughly acquainted with these things; and he alone was acquainted with the truth as no others were, and (so) accomplished the mystery of the betrayal. By him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thrown into dissolution. And they bring forth a fabricated work to this effect, which they entitle The Gospel of Judas.”
There will be many scholarly and other works dealing with this new discovery, and I will probably read some of them. In fact, I hope to get a copy of the Gospel of Judas, read it and add it to my library.
What is most troubling to me however, is that many people will take this work for what it claims, as many have done with previously discovered documents (as well as works of fiction), and at the same time they will ignore the biblical accounts. Or worse, they will accept these wholeheartedly as a refutation of the biblical accounts.
But it is the biblical accounts that tell us the truth about Jesus, the Man who was God in the flesh, who came to die for our sins.
It is really a matter of faith. We can either take the Bible for what it claims about Jesus, or we can hope for something that will refute His claims and get us off the hook – we can agree with what John Fogerty said a few years ago (tongue in cheek, I believe), “I know it’s true, ‘cause I saw it on TV.”
April 7, 2006