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Apocrypha, Lost Books, Gnostic Gospels

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The Gospel of Judas

Patrick Zukeran

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Newspaper headlines all over the world reported that the lost Gospel of Judas has been recovered and translated. Reporters state that this gospel sheds new light on the life of Christ and His relationship with Judas who may not be the traitor portrayed in the New Testament Gospels. In fact he may be the hero! He is cast as the most senior and trusted of Jesus’ disciples who betrayed Jesus at the Lord’s request! This gospel further states that Jesus revealed secret knowledge to Judas instructing him to turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities. So rather than acting out of greed or Satanic influence, Judas was faithfully following the orders given to him by Christ. Does the Gospel of Judas reveal a new twist to the passion story of Christ? Are there new historic insights that should have Christians concerned?

The Gospel of Judas was discovered in 1978 by a farmer in a cave near El Minya in central Egypt. Scholars date this Coptic (Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet) text to have been written between A.D. 300 and 400.{1} Most scholars believe the original text was written in Greek and that the original manuscript was written in middle second century.{2}

The authorship of this gospel is unknown but it is unlikely that Judas or a disciple of Christ wrote it. It represents Gnostic thought that began to flourish around that time. The earliest mention of it is from Irenaeus writing in 180 A.D. who condemned this work as heretical.

The Gospel of Judas is similar to the Gnostic literature found in other areas along the Nile, including the Nag Hammadi library that contained nearly forty-five Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter and other texts.

What is Gnosticism?
Gnosticism flourished from the second to the fourth century A.D. What is Gnosticism? Gnosticism derives its title from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge and refers to the mystical or secret knowledge of God and the oneness of self with God. Here is a basic summary of Gnostic philosophy.{3}

First, Gnosticism taught the secret knowledge of dualism that the material world was evil and the spiritual realm was pure. Second, God is not distinct from man but mankind is, in essence, divine. God is the spirit and light within the individual. When one understood self, one understood all. Third, the fundamental problem in Gnosticism was not sin but ignorance. The way to attain oneness with the divine was by attaining mystical knowledge. Fourth, salvation was reached by gaining secret knowledge, or gnosis of the real nature of the world and of the self. Fifth, the goal in Gnosticism was unity with God. This came through escaping the prison of the impure body in order for the soul of the individual to travel through space avoiding hostile demons, and uniting with God.

In reference to Jesus, Gnosticism taught that Jesus was not distinct from His disciples. Those who attained Gnostic insight became a Christ like Jesus. Princeton University professor of religion Dr. Elaine Pagels writes,

    “Whoever achieves gnosis becomes no longer a Christian but a Christ.”{4}

So Jesus was not the unique Son of God and a savior who would die for the sins of the world, but a teacher who revealed secret knowledge to worthy followers.

Gnostic philosophy is contrary to Old and New Testament teachings. The Bible is in opposition to Gnostic teaching on fundamental doctrines such as the nature of God, Christ, the material world, sin, salvation, and eternity. Jews and Christians rejected Gnostic teaching as heretical, and the Gnostics rejected Christianity. Gnostic philosophy is what is taught throughout the Gospel of Judas. Like other Gnostic literature, there is very little similarity between the Gospel of Judas and the New Testament writings. This gospel contradicts the New Testament in major ways.

Contents of the Gospel of Judas
Gnostic philosophy is contrary to biblical Christianity, and the Gospel of Judas reflects Gnostic thought rather than biblical theology. An example of Gnostic philosophy is reflected in the mission of Jesus as portrayed in this gospel.

Dr. Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible at Chapman College, summarizes the goal of Jesus’ mission according this gospel.

    “For Jesus in the Gospel of Judas, death is no tragedy, nor is it a necessary evil to bring about forgiveness of sins.... Death, as the exit from this absurd physical existence, is not to be feared or dreaded. Far from being an occasion of sadness, death is the means by which Jesus is liberated from the flesh in order that he might return to his heavenly home, and by betraying Jesus, Judas helps his friend discard his body and free his inner self, the divine self.”{5}

In the New Testament, Jesus’ mission is clearly stated. He came to die an atoning death for the sins of the world and conquer the grave with His bodily resurrection. This contradicts the Gospel of Judas that teaches Christ sought death to free himself from the imprisonment of his body.

Another Gnostic fundamental teaching is that the problem of man is not sin but ignorance. Jesus is not a savior but a teacher who reveals this secret knowledge only to those worthy of this insight. Judas is considered worthy of this knowledge. Dr. Meyer writes,

    “For Gnostics, the fundamental problem in human life is not sin but ignorance, and the best way to address this problem is not through faith but through knowledge. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus imparts to Judas – and to the readers of the gospel – the knowledge that can eradicate ignorance and lead to an awareness of oneself and God.”{6}

Another Gnostic teaching is that since the physical world is evil, God did not create the physical world. Instead, He creates aeons and angels who in turn create, bring order to, and rule over the physical world. Since matter is impure, God does not enter directly into physical creation. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus asks His disciples, “How do you know me?” They are unable to answer correctly. However, Judas answers saying,

    “I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo.”

Barbelo in Gnosticism is the first emanation of God, often described as a mother-father figure. Since God does not enter into the material world because it is impure, Barbelo is an intermediary realm from which the material world can be created without contaminating God.{7}

Barbelo is clearly a Gnostic term and foreign to Christianity. Jesus stated in John 3:13 that He is from heaven. The Greek word is houranos. Other times, the New Testament writers see Jesus as sitting at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is from heaven with His Father with whom He dwells eternally.

Reasons the Gospel of Judas is Not Part of the New Testament
There are several reasons we should not consider the Gospel of Judas inspired scripture. First, it is written too late to have any apostolic connection. The Apostles of Christ were given the authority to write inspired scripture. One of the requirements for inclusion in the New Testament canon was that the book had to be written by an apostle or a close associate. Since an apostolic connection was necessary, it would have to have been written within the first century. There is compelling evidence that the four New Testament Gospels are written in the first century A.D. (See Dating The New Testament and The Reliability of The Four Gospels) The Gospel of Judas is written in mid-second century A.D. so it is too late to be apostolic.

Second, inspired literature must be consistent with previous revelation. God is not a God of error but of truth, and His word would not present contradictory truth claims. The Gnostic philosophy in Judas is inconsistent with Old and New Testament teachings.

The Old Testament teaches that God created the physical universe and Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-3). In the Genesis creation account, God created all things good. So contrary to Gnosticism, God created the physical world and He declared it good.

Gnosticism teaches that God would not create a physical universe because the material world is impure, so God creates aeons and angels. These beings in turn create the physical realm. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus reveals to Judas the creation of the world, humanity, and numerous aeons and angels. The angels bring order to the chaos. One of the angels, Saklas, fashioned Adam and Eve. The Gospel reads:

    “Let twelve angels come into the being to rule over chaos and the [underworld]. And look, from the cloud there appeared an [angel] whose face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood. His name was Nebro, which means rebel; others call him Yaldabaoth. Another angel, Saklas, also came from the cloud. So Nebro created six angels – as well as Saklas – to be assistants, and these produced twelve angels in the heavens, with each one receiving a portion in the heavens.”

It further states,

    “Then Saklas said to his angels, ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image. They fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe.”

This contradicts the teaching in the Old Testament that God Himself created the universe. Then God created Adam from the earth, and his wife Eve from Adam.

The Gospel of Judas contradicts New Testament teaching as well. The Gospel teaches that the body is evil and that Jesus wished to escape His physical body. Jesus instructs Judas saying, “But you (Judas) will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” Jesus’ death through the assistance of Judas would liberate His spirit to unite with God.{8}

However, the New Testament teaches that Jesus did not wish to escape His body. In fact, Jesus taught that His resurrection would be a physical resurrection (John 2:19-22). In Luke 24:39, Jesus makes clear to His disciples that He has a physical body. “See my hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” In John 20 and 21, Jesus reveals it was a physical resurrection of the body that was on the cross. He invites Thomas in chapter 20 to touch His scars. If Jesus rose as a spirit, He would have been guilty of deceiving His disciples.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul teaches a physical resurrection. He explains that Christ rose from the dead and over five hundred witnesses attested to the fact. He then explains that the resurrection body is a physical body but different from our earthly bodies. At the resurrection, Christians will have glorified physical bodies, a clear contradiction to Gnosticism that seeks to escape the impure physical body. Paul did not teach Christians to escape the body, but look forward to the resurrection of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). See Section on The Resurrection

Despite the hype in the media, the Gospel of Judas does not affect the historical reliability of the Gospels nor does it pose any threat to the deity of Christ. This gospel cannot be considered inspired scripture like the New Testament books. It was written in the late second century and therefore, not written by an Apostle of Christ or a close associate. Its teachings contradict previous revelation of the Old and New Testament. It presents very little information that could be considered historical. The Gospel of Judas gives us more insight into early Gnosticism, that is all. It presents no historic facts of Jesus that affect the New Testament in any way.


  1. Dan Vergano and Cathy Lynn Grossman, "Long-lost gospel of Judas casts 'traitor' in new light," USA Today, 7 April 2006.
  2. Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst, The Gospel of Judas (Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2006), 5.
  3. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 119-141.
  4. Pagels, 134.
  5. Kasser, Meyer and Wurst, 4-5.
  6. Ibid., 7.
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbelo
  8. Kasser, Meyer and Wurst, 43.

© 2006 Probe Ministries. Copyright/Reproduction Limitations This document is the sole property of Probe Ministries. It may not be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions of this document must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright 2007 Probe Ministries) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.

Footnote: According to Wilford and Goodstein, in an article for the New York Times (April 7, 2006), "The 26-page Judas text is believed to be a copy in the Coptic language, made around A.D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before." If this is the same text referred to by the second century church father Irenaeus, then it probably dates to the second half of the second century. This would put it a full hundred years or so after the New Testament gospels—all of which were authored in the second half of the first century A.D. (The Gospel of Judas. Michael Gleghorn)

InPlainSite Note: Some New Testament Book’s Were Penned In The 40s And 50s A.D., With Sources From The 30s (Only The A Few Years  After The Death Of Jesus). See Dating The New Testament.


From Traitor to Hero? Responding to “The Gospel of Judas”
Albert Mohler

Headlines around the world are announcing the publication of a "long lost" and "suppressed" ancient document, known as The Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society announced the publication at a major media event on Thursday, just in time to boost publicity for its Sunday night special on the National Geographic Channel.

The announcement led to a frenzy of media coverage, ranging from responsible reports to outrageous sensationalism. According to some commentators, the publication of this new document will force a complete reformulation of Christianity and our understanding of both Judas and Jesus. In reality, nothing of the sort is in view. The document is highly interesting, however, offering an ancient and authoritative source into the thinking of heretical groups who offered alternative understandings of Christianity.

The document purports to be written by Judas, even though it certainly was written long after Judas's death. Nevertheless, the very existence of this document, rooted in the third century after Christ, indicates something of the struggle Christian leaders confronted in defining and defending the authentic Gospel against heretical groups such as the Gnostics.

A quick look at The Gospel of Judas reveals the contrast between this document and the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The English version, edited by Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, presents an accessible and readable version of the portions of the Codex Tchacos now available. The most remarkable feature of this text is its thoroughly Gnostic character. The substance of this gospel bears virtually no resemblance to orthodox Christianity--a fact which explains why the early church recognized this writing for what it is, and rejected it as neither authoritative nor authentic.

In The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, Herbert Krosney explains how the codex was discovered and traces the events that led to its publication in English this week:

    "In the mid- to late 1970s, hidden for more than fifteen hundred years, an ancient text emerged from the sands of Egypt. Near the banks of the Nile River, some Egyptian peasants, fellahin, stumbled upon a cavern. In biblical times, such chambers had been used to bury the dead. The peasants entered the cave, seeking ancient gold or jewelry, anything of value that they could sell. Instead, among a pile of human bones, they discovered a crumbling limestone box. Inside it, they came upon an unexpected find--a mysterious leather-bound book, a codex."

The portion of the text that is now translated is taken from thirteen pages of papyrus, with the text written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egypt. Most scholars agree that The Gospel of Judas was originally written in Greek, and later translated into Coptic. This was the common history of many Gnostic texts, especially those associated with groups common to the area in which the manuscript was found.

The Lost Gospel reads like a suspense thriller at times, tracing the odd and admittedly remarkable story of how the codex was preserved and eventually published. Those familiar with the story of the Dead Sea scrolls and the documents of the Nag Hammadi library will recognize significant parallels in the saga of how the texts and manuscripts were found and eventually made available for scholarly review and publication.

The Gnostic character of the text is immediately evident. In his supposed conversations with Judas, Jesus speaks in Gnostic categories such as "aeons" and an "eternal realm." Judas is identified as the "thirteenth spirit" who was appointed by God to be the agent of releasing Jesus from the physical body in which He was trapped in the incarnation.

When Judas speaks of a vision and asks for its interpretation, Jesus answers: "Judas, your star has led you astray." Jesus continues: "No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy. Neither the sun nor the moon will rule there, nor the day, but the holy will abide there always, in the eternal realm with the holy angels. Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and I have taught you about the error of the stars; and . . . sent it . . . on the twelve aeons."

The concept of secret and mysterious knowledge was central to Gnostic sects. The Gospel of Judas purports to reveal conversations between Jesus and Judas that had been kept secret from the rest of humanity. The Gnostics prized their secret knowledge, and taught a profound dualism between the material and spiritual worlds. They understood the material world, including the entire cosmos, to be a trap for the spiritual world. In essence, the Gnostics sought to escape the material world and to enter the world of spirit.

Accordingly, the most revealing statement in the entire text of The Gospel of Judas records Jesus saying to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

In other words, Judas would perform a service to Jesus by betraying Him to those who would then crucify Him, liberating Jesus from the physical body and freeing Him as spirit. As the editors of The Gospel of Judas indicate in a footnote, "The death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to be the liberation of the spiritual person within."

Needless to say, this is in direct conflict with the Christian gospel and the New Testament. The consistent witness of the New Testament is that Jesus came in order to die for sinners--willingly accepting the cross and dying as the substitutionary sacrifice for sin.

This redemptive action is completely missing from The Gospel of Judas. For that reason, the text was rejected by early Christian leaders. Writing about the year 180, Irenaeus, a major figure among the early church fathers, identified the text now known as The Gospel of Judas as heretical. In his foreword to The Lost Gospel, Bart Ehrman, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains,

    "This gospel was about the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and indicated that Judas didn't actually betray Jesus, but did what Jesus wanted him to do, because Judas was the one who really knew the truth, as Jesus wanted it communicated."

Ehrman, no friend to orthodox Christianity, has correctly explained the problem. Irenaeus rejected the text precisely because it was in direct conflict with the canonical gospels and with the teaching of the Apostles. Accordingly, it was his responsibility to warn the church about the heretical nature of this document. Still, the very fact that Irenaeus mentions the document with such a specific reference gives considerable credence to the claim that The Gospel of Judas is as old in its origin as its patrons now claim.

We now know a great deal about the Gnostic sects common to the first centuries of Christianity. The particular sect thought to be associated with the origin of The Gospel of Judas was known as the Cainites. The peculiar teachings of this sect included the rehabilitation of many characters presented negatively in the Bible--starting with Cain. In essence, the Cainites attempted to take the negative figures of the Bible and present them in a heroic light. In order to do this, of course, they had to create alternative texts and an alternative rendering of the story of Jesus.

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.

The verdict of Athanasius, one of the greatest leaders of the early church, still stands: "Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these, for concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, 'Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.' And He reproved the Jews, saying, 'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.'"


Apocrypha, Lost Books, Gnostic Gospels