Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

On the 6th of April, a papyrus manuscript was announced to be a genuine copy of the lost Gospel of Judas.

Since then, the media has enjoyed continual hype over this additional ‘gospel.’ Scholars are excited about the radical new insight this text offers, not just to the figure of Judas, but also to Jesus Himself.

Like other apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, many believe this text offers a fresh glimpse at the historical Jesus whom the church later hushed up and reinvented.

Not So Very New

As it turns out, however, there is nothing so very new about this find. It is simply one more among many Gnostic writings from the first and second century.

Gnosticism was the heresy that the apostle John had to combat in his first epistle and that Paul struggled against in his second letter to the Corinthians. In short, gnosticism taught the because creation is inherently bad, salvation occurred as the spirit escaped from the constraints of matter. In it’s reinvented christology, Jesus did not actually come ‘in the flesh’ (how could He if matter is evil?), but only appeared to be in a body as He came to bring enlightenment to humans. That enlightenment, or secret knowledge, tells us how to escape from the concerns of this world to a higher spiritual experience.

The Gospel of Judas was clearly written by a Gnostic. It portrays Judas as having sacrificed himself for his master since, by helping Jesus get rid of His physical flesh, he was able to liberate Jesus’ true spiritual self. The cross represents the escape from this world, not the redemption of it.

Gnosticism Today

The remnants of Gnosticism still pollute the church today. It is easy for us to slip into the idea that salvation is about escaping from this world. Like the Gnostics of old, our temptation is to retreat into an insular ‘personal’ faith that refuses to engage with the reality of the world in which we live. Believing that the world is beyond hope, many Christians think there is little point to confront and challenge corporate ungodliness and institutionalised evil.

Engaging With the World

The Bible presents another way. Scripture shows that when Jesus died, He died to reconcile every aspect of the material world to Himself. (1 Jn. 2:2) This means that our world, culture, nation and institutions do not belong to satan, but to Jesus (Mt. 28:18). As ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), the church’s vocation is to proclaim the Lordship of Christ into every area, from Parliament to opera houses, from our hospitals to our schools. Rather than lapsing into the privatised kind of spirituality offered by the Gospel of Judas and the Gnostic vision it represents, we declare publicly that Jesus reigns and that His Lordship extends over every inch of the material world.

That is the reason we should protest ungodly productions like Jerry Springer-The Opera and why we write to our MPs about ungodly legislation: to offer a testimony that Jesus is king of this world. This is the vision challenged by the Gospel of Judas, which argues that the world does not belong to God. As Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham has succinctly stated the matter HERE,

The whole scripture, and with it all mainline Jewish and Christian thought, it based on the belief that there is one God who made the world, who made it good, and who will put it to rights at the last. Gnosticism declares, very explicitly in the ‘gospel of Judas,’ that the world was made by a lesser, low-grade divinity, and that the thing to do is to find the way to escape… …it cuts the nerve of working for God’s kingdom in the real world.

Since the world was made by God, not a lesser demi-god, and since He promises to put the world to rights, we have hope. This means that nothing we do for Christ’s kingdom will ever be wasted, even if we cannot now see any visible fruit. Unlike the homosexual lobby, who can only judge their success by their results, we know we are building for God’s kingdom whether we see anything or not. ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
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