by Berit Kjos - April 2006
"After the discovery of fourth-century books at Nag Hammadi the ancient movement known today as Gnosticism... could now be studied in the writings of Gnostics themselves. Contributing factors to renewed interest in old mystical systems are Carl Jung's school of depth psychology.... Jewish mysticism [Kabbalah], and... Asian mystical systems." "The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas"
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Colossians 2:6-9
The assaults against Christianity began early. By the time the apostle Paul had written his epistles to the young churches he had founded, the seeds of Gnostic deception had already been scattered. In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul dealt specifically with some of those false teachings, but Gnosticism has always been a bit like a chameleon. Because its foundation rests on mystical revelations or knowledge (gnosis) rather than actual truth or reality, it could change its "colors" to fit any context.
Now as then, Gnosticism infiltrates churches because it sometimes masquerades as "Christianity." By using Biblical words and names (such as Jesus, spirit, creation, heaven, Adam and Eve) with radical new meanings, its followers would teach believable distortions. Since their key words sounded familiar, their myths and mysticisms seemed normal as well as exciting.
The newly translated "gospel of Judas" is such a story. It's not true! But it fits the purposes of those who seek justification for slandering Jesus, undermining the Bible, and ridiculing those who trust God's Word.
Actually, gnosticism turns truth upside down! It makes Satan look good, for he supposedly brought enlightenment or mystical knowledge (gnosis) to humanity. It makes its creator-god bad, for he conceived evil in the world. And in this particular manuscript, Judas Iscariot -- who betrayed his Master -- is presented as Jesus' best friend. The Gnostic Jesus shares mystical gnosis with Judas alone -- in secret, unlike the Biblical Jesus who taught and trained His disciples to speak His Word openly to the public. The National Geographic Society's website lets us glimpse this distortion:
"The Gospel of Judas gives a different view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, offering new insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Unlike the accounts in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which Judas is portrayed as a reviled traitor, this newly discovered Gospel portrays Judas as acting at Jesus' request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities."
Of course, Jesus warned us that "many false prophets will rise up and deceive many." [Matthew 24:11] But the source of these deceptions is not merely man's capricious imagination. Rather, it's "the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world." [Revelation 12:9] And we need to discern his tactics! Ephesians 6:10-18, which outlines the main truths in the "Armor of God," includes this reminder:
"...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
Nine tattered fragments from this "Gospel of Judas" were recently translated into English. They include some strange words with unusual Gnostic meanings such as Aeons. To some, this word means long periods of time. For Gnostics it's more likely to suggest male/female gods within an occult angelic hierarchy.
Some of the more readable statements are posted at nationalgeographic.com. This website introduces the manuscript as "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover." In this false "gospel," the words below were supposedly spoken by "Jesus" to his friend Judas:
"Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. In the vision I saw myself as the 12 disciples were stoning me and persecuting [me severely]."
"Lift your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star. Judas lifted his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it."
Bishop Irenaeus, a respected 2nd Century theologian and a disciple of the martyred Polycarp, was familiar with this false "gospel." To warn the early Church against such false teaching, he wrote a book titled "Against Heresies." It includes this statement:
"They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."
Unlike Irenaeus, many contemporary "Bible scholars" have embraced the deception. Claiming to know God, they betray His teachings. So when The National Geographic Society selected a Codex Advisory Panel to evaluate the readable fragments from the manuscript, these advisers were excited. The new story fit their quest for ammunition against the actual Word of God. Ponder some of their comments:
Bart D. Ehrman heads the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He says, "The reappearance of the Gospel of Judas will rank among the greatest finds from Christian antiquity.... [I]t portrays Judas quite differently from anything we previously knew. Here he is not the evil, corrupt, devil-inspired follower of Jesus who betrayed his master; he is instead Jesus' closest intimate and friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else.... This gospel has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence...."
Marvin Meyer, the director of the Coptic Magical Texts Project at Claremont Graduate University, is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and celebrated scholar on Gnosticism. He says, "The Gospel of Judas can be dated, with some certainty, to around the middle of the second century.... The gospel is thus an early source for our knowledge of an important mystical movement within early Christianity and Judaism, namely the Sethian gnostic school of religious thought."
Elaine Pagels has authored numerous books and articles on Gnosticism, including Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. A member of the Task Force on Progressive Religion in America, she was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship. She says, "Like the Gospel of Thomas... the Gospel of Judas offers startling new perspectives on familiar gospel stories: These discoveries are changing the way we understand the beginnings of Christianity."
Gregor Wurst, a Catholic professor at the University of Augsburg, Germany, serves on the editorial board of the Nag 'Hammadi and Manichaean [Gnostic] Studies series. He says, "If the Gospel of Judas... can be convincingly identified as being a Coptic translation of the original Greek Gospel of Judas that Bishop Ireneaus mentioned around A.D. 180 in his book, 'Against Heresies,' it will be an important step in the study of ancient gnosticism."
Stephen Emmel is professor at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at the University of Münster. He tells us that recovery of this ancient manuscript offers an "extraordinary opportunity to gain deeper insight into the thoughts and perceptions of our ancestors. The knowledge that we will gain will eventually have, I hope, some positive influence on the future of humankind..."
Don't believe it! Mary Ann Collins' warning in her article on The Da Vinci Code bears repeating:
"Perhaps you are saying to yourself, 'No thinking person would take that kind of thing seriously.' That is exactly what one Evangelical leader thought -- until he started talking with people who had read [the Gnostic suggestions in] The Da Vinci Code. He discovered that the book hardens the unbelief of people who aren’t Christians, and it turns honest seekers away from Christianity. The book even caused some Christians to become confused and disillusioned."
Small wonder. In our postmodern culture -- which trusts mystical experiences more than God's unchanging Word -- few will be able to resist today's onslaught of seductive lies. God told us it would happen:
"The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thessalonians 2:9
1. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas at http://www.gnosis.org/thomasbook/intro.html
2. The Lost Gospel at http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/
3. Document, page 33 at http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/document.html
4. Ibid., pages 35 and 57.
6. Codex Advisory Panel at www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/about_profiles.html
7. Mary Ann Collins, The Da Vinci Code, www.crossroad.to/articles2/006/da-vinci-code.htm