What are Christians to make of all this? The publication of The Gospel of Judas is a matter of genuine interest. After all, it is important for Christians to understand the context of early Christianity–a context in which the church was required to exercise tremendous discernment in confronting heretical teachings and rejecting spurious texts.
The scholarly research behind the publication of The Gospel of Judas appears to be sound and responsible. The codex manuscript was submitted to the most rigorous historical process in terms of dating, chemical composition, and similar questions. In the end, it appears that the document is most likely authentic, in terms of its origin from within a heretical sect in the third century.
Nevertheless, extravagant claims about the theological significance of The Gospel of Judas are unwarranted, ridiculous, and driven by those who themselves call for a reformulation of Christianity.
The resurgence of interest in Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas is driven by an effort, at least on the part of some figures, to argue that early Christianity had no essential theological core. Instead, scholars such as Elaine Pagels of Princeton University want to argue that, “These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse–and fascinating–the early Christian movement really was.” What Pagels and many other figures argue is that early Christianity was a cauldron of competing theologies, and that ideological and political factors explain why an “orthodox” tradition eventually won, suppressing all competing theologies. Accordingly, these same figures argue that today’s Christians should be open to these variant teachings that had long been suppressed and hidden from view.
Metropolitan Bishoy, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, dismissed The Gospel of Judas as “non-Christian babbling resulting from a group of people trying to create a false ‘amalgam’ between the Greek mythology and Far East religions with Christianity . . . They were written by a group of people who were aliens to the main Christian stream of the early Christianity. These texts are neither reliable nor accurate Christian texts, as they are historically and logically alien to the main Christian thinking and philosophy of the early and present Christians.” The Metropolitan is right, but we are better armed to face the heresies of our own day if we face with honesty the heresies of times past.
Simon Gathercole, a New Testament professor at Aberdeen University, defended the text as authentic, but relatively unimportant. “It is certainly an ancient text, but not ancient enough to tell us anything new,” Gathercole explains. “It contains themes which are alien to the first-century world of Jesus and Judas, but which became popular later.”
Indeed, those Gnostic ideas did become popular later, and they are becoming increasingly popular now. 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. Nevertheless, old Gnosticisms are continually repackaged and “rediscovered” even as new forms of Gnostic thought emerge in our postmodern culture.
Informed Christians will be watchful and aware when confronting churches or institutions that present spurious writings, rejected as heretical by the early church, on the same plane as the New Testament.
– Source: From Traitor to Hero? Responding to ‘The Gospel of Judas’ by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
This post was last updated: Apr. 11, 2006