Days away from celebrations that are keystone to Christian faith, the central tenets of Christianity the cross and resurrection are being challenged by the Gospel of Judas, a text that respected theologians have pointed out as Gnostic in origin and relatively unimportant in current understandings of Jesus and Judas.
Originally found in the 1970s and recently translated and released in English by the National Geographic Society, the Gospel of Judas omits crucial Christian events such as Judas betrayal of Jesus, the scene of Jesus death on the cross, and Jesus resurrection resulting in a text that is incompatible with the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in terms of Jesus purpose on Earth.
It (the Gospel of Judas) presents a completely different cosmology and theology from what we find in the New Testament, said George Gutherie, a Christian studies professor at Union University, in a report released by the school on Apr. 10.
Gutherie along with other faculty members at the Jackson, Tenn.-based Christian university agreed that the document is an unreliable source for historical events in the life of Jesus and promotes heresy of Gnostism.
It is not in any way, shape or form a writing that tells us anything reliable about either the real Jesus or Judas, said Greg Thornbury, dean of Unions School of Christian Studies.
The Gospel of Judas was actually mentioned by second-century theologian Irenaeus in his work, Against All Heresies.
Irenaeus explicitly says that the Gnostics wrote many different gospels and books, but he, along with all other church leaders of the second through fourth centuries, regarded them as grossly inaccurate and harmful in what they taught, said Dr. Clinton E. Arnold, professor and chair of the New Testament department at Biola University.
Gnoticism was an ancient teaching condemned by the early Christian church as heretical. Gnosticism held the belief that salvation comes through gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge. It surfaced as early as the last first century A.D. and was popular among some communities through the fourth century A.D.
Its about becoming an insider on the secrets of the universe, Guthrie explained.
For example, at one point in the document, Jesus tells Judas Iscariot, Come, that I may teach you about secrets no person has ever seen.
Jesus also tells Judas that he will exceed all of the other disciples, For you will sacrifice the man who clothes me, according to the document. It suggests that Judas betrayal of Jesus came at the request of Jesus himself.
Yes, it is quite clearly a document written by someone who was a Gnostic, stated Arnold. The language, the ideas, the theology, and the names mentioned in it all suggest it was written by someone who was an ardent advocate of Gnosticism.
Unions Thornbury calls the document a Gnostic propaganda piece.
In other words, this newly discovered gospel is nothing more than one of many propaganda pieces produced by Gnostics a group of people who were desperate to undermine the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the dean said.
Gnosticism believed in the dualism between the true God and the evil God. One of the bad things this evil God did was to create the world. The evil God is similar to the Old Testament God seen through Genesis 1 whereas another secret, hidden, unknown god exists in the kingdom of light. Gnostics seek to reveal this unknown god and believed that Jesus was a heavenly being who whispered secrets to people.
Their Jesus was very different than the Jesus who is revealed in the Bible, said Arnold. The Gnostic Jesus did not become incarnate to die on the cross to make atonement for the sin of the world.
He came to reveal the higher knowledge about the existence of the unknown god and that every person has a divine spark of this god within them. This divine spark is trapped in our physical bodies and longs for release from the entombment of the flesh to be reunited with the unknown god in the kingdom of light, he explained.
The professor of New Testament Language and Literature further explained that the only reason the death of Jesus was important to Gnostics was because Jesus was freed from his physical body which Gnostics regard as evil.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of the first theologians to comment on the ancient text, calling it a highly interesting document that offers insight into the thinking of heretical groups with alternative understanding of Christianity.
Mohler who has often been asked to represent the Christian voice on programs such as CNNs Larry King Live, and Dateline NBC had also pointed out the texts Gnostic features and concluded that the Gospel of Judas does not challenge the authority of the nearly two thousand-year-old New Testament.
The truth of the Gospel stands, and Christians will retain firm confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament and, in particular, of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he concluded.