Not since the early years of Christianity has our faith been under such an all-out assault. In rapid succession books, films, and critical essays are being released in a seemingly coordinated effort to redefine the person of Jesus Christ and to cast doubt upon his divine purpose. First, The Da Vinci Code book and resulting movie, and now The Gospel of Judas; all of which are being propped up by a massive volume of secondary writings and sources rooted mainly in Gnosticism and the occult. Why are these heresies coming to the forefront now? Who is driving these attacks? And, what do they hope to accomplish? The answers to these questions will become clear as we probe a little deeper.
When Dan Brown first published his book The Da Vinci Code, few Christians thought that a mere novel would produce such a large response. But the world was ready for a new gospel – one that undermined the divinity of Christ and the need for redemption, while placing man in control of his own destiny. With support from the media The Da Vinci Code has become an overnight phenomenon. The book and movie will be read and seen by tens, if not hundreds, of millions – in spite of the fact that it is admittedly a fictional story containing very little truth. This reaction should remind us of Paul’s words to Timothy:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (II Timothy 4:3-4) [Italics added]
When I first became aware of The Da Vinci Code in 2003, it immediately reminded me of an earlier book Holy Blood, Holy Grail written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln two decades ago (printed in 1983). Unlike The Da Vinci Code, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was presented and is still promoted as a true historical account, even though there isn’t a shred of solid evidence to support its main thesis. The book maintains that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, and that there has been a continuous bloodline of their descendants to the present day. It claims that various secret organizations have carefully guarded this esoteric knowledge, passing it from generation to generation – until it is finally revealed to the public by Michael Baigent and his co-authors.
Not surprisingly, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is enjoying a major revival in its sales due to the interest generated by The Da Vinci Code and the lawsuit which Baigent has leveled against Dan Brown for allegedly using his material without permission. Brown in his version however, places a strong emphasis on Leonardo da Vinci and his alleged role in preserving these “secrets” of Jesus – hence the title The Da Vinci Code.
The single most important effect of these writings is that they have fueled speculations that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection were faked. If this was true and Jesus never died on the cross, he could not have atoned for the sin of man; there would be no redeemer to believe in. Advocates of this heresy would also have us believe that there is no hell to avoid, and no final judgment before a Holy God/Creator. Man can do as he pleases without eternal consequence. He can be his own God – at least in this life.
The Gospel of Judas
Like The Da Vinci Code, The Gospel of Judas is a frontal assault on the divine purpose of Jesus Christ. However, there is one huge difference. Unlike The Da Vinci Code, which is presented as a novel, The Gospel of Judas is portrayed as a real Gospel that had been lost for centuries. A growing number of “scholars” are giving it status as an equal or even greater writing than the four Gospels of the New Testament.
Uncovered near El Minya, Egypt in the late 1970s, the leather-bound codex containing The Gospel of Judas made its way into Cairo’s antiquities market, and eventually into the hands of its current owner, the Maecenas Foundation, located in Basel, Switzerland.1 It is being hailed by some as the most significant religious archaeological find since the Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in 1947.
Assisted by a grant from Gateway founder Ted Waitt, The National Geographic Society has been involved in restoring the manuscript and translating it from Coptic into English.2 Upon completion of this task, the National Geographic Channel presented a special 2-hour documentary on the subject which aired on April 9th. Here are the narrator’s opening remarks:
National Geographic reveals the lost gospel of the Bible’s greatest villain. He’s the one who handed over his friend. He’s the one who brought about the crucifixion. And he’s the one who’s damned for all time. He is one of the most hated men in history – the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ. For centuries his name has meant treachery and deceit: Judas Iscariot.
Now, hidden for nearly 2,000 years, an ancient gospel emerges from the sands of Egypt. It tells a different story – one that could challenge our deepest beliefs. This account turns the story of Christ’s betrayal on its head. Here, the villain becomes a hero, and Jesus Christ arranges his own execution.
…Discovered by chance, sold twice, and stolen once – the race is on to preserve its pages before they turn to dust. Is this an authentic account, or an ancient heresy that should be left in the grave?
…Now, we read it for the first time. It is The Gospel of Judas.
The program goes on to interview ten esteemed experts from various fields of study in an attempt to validate this ancient text. A well-crafted case is made for why The Gospel of Judas is authentic.
The document is repeatedly compared with the Nag Hammadi texts, a series of more than 30 ancient writings found in Egypt in 1945. These texts include numerous other purported gospels such as the Gospels of Thomas, Phillip, and Mary Magdalene which never made it into our New Testament. They were rejected because they were not considered to be divinely inspired by early church fathers. The Gospel of Judas, like a majority of the Nag Hammadi Library, was written by Gnostics from the same time period.
The carbon-dating process has revealed that the Coptic version of The Gospel of Judas was produced between 220 and 340 A.D., most likely around the year 280. The original text, which came into existence some time prior to 180 A.D., is believed to have been written in Greek. From the Greek it was then translated into Coptic, a language directly descended from the ancient Egyptian of the Pharaohs.
After examining the evidence, National Geographic’s team of experts unanimously concludes that the codex containing The Gospel of Judas is not a forgery. It is a genuine document from the third century. However, the fact that it is authentic does not mean that it is true!
The Gospel of Judas was known to already exist in 180 A.D. because this is when Irenaeus, together with other church leaders, vigorously refuted and rejected its inclusion into the New Testament. Only the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were deemed as worthy and divinely inspired accounts of the Savior’s life and ministry. The “other” Gospels were written or strongly influenced by leaders of the early Gnostic movement. Could it be that Irenaeus denounced Judas and the other Gospels for this very reason?
National Geographic’s scholars readily admit that these texts were produced by the Gnostics. Yet, the documentary makes no mention of the fact that the Gnostics were the chief persecutors of the Apostle Paul and the early Church. They often pursued Christians to their deaths, handing them over to the Roman authorities for execution. The Gnostics did everything in their power to prevent the message of salvation from going forward. In spite of these historically established facts, the documentary consistently presents Gnosticism in a favorable light, even identifying Gnostics as Christians.
The truth is – they were anything but Christians. They were occult mystics strongly influenced by pantheistic ideas. They perpetuated themselves and their anti-Christian teachings largely through secret societies. It is my personal belief that Paul may have been referring to these very groups when he warned of “the secret power of lawlessness” that was already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
Incredibly, the documentary goes into considerable detail about some of the Gnostics’ beliefs. Similar to New Agers and Eastern Mystics of today, Gnostics relied heavily on intuitive feelings and believed they had divine knowledge within themselves. This knowledge flowed from a “divine spark” or “divine spirit” dwelling within the body. According to some branches of Gnosticism, Jesus’ death was a good thing because it freed his spirit from the prison of his body; and Judas’ act of betrayal was really an act of obedience (as The Gospel of Judas tenaciously points out). Judas is therefore viewed as the champion and is thus envied, cursed and resented by the other disciples.
Dr. Marvin Meyer, a Coptic expert who along with Dr. Rodolphe Kasser (the world’s pre-eminent authority on Coptic language) translated The Gospel of Judas into English, elaborates further. The Gnostics he reasons, were convinced that,
the serpent in the Garden of Eden was a good figure. In fact, the Gnostics turned the story of the Garden of Eden upside-down, because the serpent was a rather engaging character. After all, the serpent said to Eve, “Take some of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And to Gnostics, that sounded like a wonderful invitation. – Wouldn’t you like to have a bite of an apple of knowledge, and have all the juice of knowledge in your being?
At this point, anyone viewing this National Geographic special should have recognized the Gnostics’ disregard for God’s command to Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Gnostics approved of Eve’s sin against God even though her actions caused the fall of mankind. Consequently, the source of Gnosticism – and therefore of The Gospel of Judas – must be Satan himself. Given this background, any Christian, even with limited knowledge of Scripture, should understand why Irenaeus and the early Church fathers wisely rejected the Gnostic Gospels.
The documentary continues by sharing some actual passages from The Gospel of Judas which are interlaced with comments from its team of experts. Their comments are heavily tilted in favor of Judas and Gnosticism. The Gospel opens with the following words:
This is the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke with Judas three days before he celebrated Passover…
The narrator interjects:
The Gospel of Judas uses familiar scenes to convey unfamiliar ideas.
The Gospel of Judas continues:
One day he was with his disciples in Judea, and he found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When he approached his disciples offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, he laughed.
Dr. Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina, explains:
He’s laughing because they think that they’re worshiping the true God; but in fact, they have it wrong – they’re worshiping the god who created this world, who is not the true God. The only one who understands is Judas.
To the Gnostics, the god who created earth wasn’t worthy of worship; only the true God, a being beyond comprehension was sacred. Jesus laughs at what he sees as false piety. But the apostles don’t understand and grow angry with him…
Jesus comments in the Gospel:
Why have you been provoked to anger? Let any one of you who is strong enough stand and reveal to me the true spiritual person within.
The disciples reply:
We are strong enough!
Their spirits did not dare to stand before him; except for Judas Iscariot.
Judas stands and speaks:
I know who you are and where you came from. I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.
Jesus approaches Judas and responds quietly, saying:
Step away from the others, and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is a great and boundless realm which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by name.
Dr. Marvin Meyer, Chapman University, comments:
Jesus issues a challenge to the disciples. He says, “Let the perfect person inside of you step forward and face me.” And that perfect person within is the inner person, the spiritual person that truly knows, the person that ought to have a knowledge of God and a knowledge of oneself. And the disciples say, “Well, we can do that.” But they couldn’t do it. And so Judas steps forward, and he was able to stand before Jesus.
Dr. Craig Evans, Acadia Divinity College, Canada adds:
But he doesn’t just stand up, he’s also modest; he doesn’t stare Jesus in the face, but sensitive to the cultural norms of this time, he averts his glance. So he’s got what it takes; he has you might say the spiritual backbone to stand up, but he has the good grace and modesty to know his place when he stands before Jesus.
Dr. Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, remarks:
Jesus, if he were like other Jewish teachers would have probably taught one way to the crowds and other things to his disciples in secret. The Gospel of Mark in the New Testament says exactly that. If so, he taught the way teachers in antiquity ordinarily taught, and many still do today.
Judas says to Jesus:
Master, in a vision I saw myself. The disciples were stoning me to death.
Jesus responds to Judas:
You will become the apostle cursed by all the others. It is possible for you to reach the kingdom of heaven, but you will grieve a great deal.
But what good is it to me?
Your star’s brilliance will eclipse all the others. You will be greater than them all. Judas, you will sacrifice the man that clothes me. Judas, the star that leads the way is your star.
Dr. Evans theorizes:
Judas has had a vision which I think confirms his choice. But he doesn’t understand the vision until Jesus explains it to him. Judas understands now his mission, and he has the strength, the stamina to carry it out; which is to betray Jesus. But it’s not a bad thing that he does; it’s actually an act of sacrifice, it’s like an act of worship, it’s a good thing, it’s a pious thing.
Dr. Ehrman speculates:
Jesus reveals these truths to Judas, and Judas alone. Among these truths are that people in this world have a divine spark trapped within them that needs to be set free. Jesus himself represents a divine spark that needs to be set free.
Unlike the New Testament Gospels, The Gospel of Judas contains no crucifixion scene. It ends abruptly with Judas’ betrayal. By omitting the crucifixion, Judas’ Gospel added to tensions between the emerging Orthodox Church and the Gnostics.
Dr. Ehrman adds:
In the early Gospels it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that really matters for salvation. His body dies, and then God raises his body from the dead. This resurrection of the body is very important, so that Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John actually appears to his followers to show that he’s still living – his body is still alive. That stands completely at odds with what happens in The Gospel of Judas, where there’s no account of his death because his death isn’t what really matters, and there’s especially no account of his resurrection. What matters is that the body is going to die, and the spirit is going to live on.
For the Gnostics, Jesus had to die to free himself of the prison of his body. But in the eyes of the Orthodox Church, that interpretation sealed their fate as heretics.
The narrator reasons:
Almost all experts believe the four Gospels of the New Testament were written between 60 and 100 A.D. Because of Irenaeus we know that The Gospel of Judas existed in 180 A.D. But we have no way to know when the original was written. Deciding how The Gospel of Judas stacks up against the New Testament Gospels may depend not on when it was written, but on what you believe.
Dr. Pagels argues:
So it’s not that these are necessarily opposites; it’s not that you have to choose Mark, or The Gospel of Thomas or Judas. The Gospels from Nag Hammadi and The Gospel of Judas are puzzling and, in fact, they’re probably not meant to be publicly read. They were meant to be advanced level teaching. So they don’t have the same function as the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Whether advanced course or heresy, The Gospel of Judas forces us to recognize that early on there wasn’t just one Christianity. There were many.
Dr. Ehrman comments:
Largely because of discoveries of ancient gospels like The Gospel of Judas and like the Nag Hammadi Library, scholars have learned about other forms of Christianity that didn’t make it; that ended up being squelched and marginalized, and they eventually disappear.
Dr. William Klassen, University of Waterloo, Canada remarks:
The value of The Gospel of Judas comes first from the fact that it’s a source for our understanding of Gnosticism. It’s secondly a very important source for our understanding of what the early Church did with the figure of Judas; that there were some, as there have been actually all throughout history, who could celebrate the existence of Judas.
The narrator concludes:
The Gospel of Judas will always fuel debate. Its uncanny journey through time is a story about human passions, to challenge authority, to make a buck, to preserve the past, and ultimately, to understand God. This lost Gospel has emerged to become part of our history, to reveal the diversity of early Christianity, and to challenge us to ask why we believe what we do.
These are only a few of the misleading passages and comments from The Gospel of Judas manuscript and documentary. But they are enough to give us a clear sense of their purpose which, like The Da Vinci Code, is to undermine the integrity of Christ and counter the true Gospels of the Bible.
The fact that major film and documentary makers are willing to cast Gnosticism and Judas in such a positive light demonstrates a bold audacity and complete disregard for the Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ. If anything comparable were presented about Muhammed, Muslims would call for the heads of the producers. While we should not wish harm upon the creators of these films, will we as Christians tolerate these accounts and fail to expose such flagrant misrepresentations of the truth?
I am afraid that this is just the beginning of what will become a growing movement to elevate Judas and redefine Jesus Christ. A group of Jesuit priests in Germany are already leading an attack to make Judas the Betrayer, a Saint.3 If The Gospel of Judas becomes widely accepted as a legitimate writing, it will be only a matter of time before the other so-called gospels of the Nag Hammadi Library are accepted as well. When this happens the momentum away from biblical/historical truth toward sinister Gnostic myths will be unstoppable.
As we enter the last days before Christ’s return, we should not be surprised that such lies of Satan are proliferating with speed and intensity. Satan is not called the master deceiver for no reason. Jesus Himself warned that at the end of time, there would be unprecedented deception (Matthew 24). In Luke 18:8 He posed the question, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” We are witnessing the signs of the times which testify to the fact that the unveiling of the antichrist is near, and Christ’s return is drawing closer.
In the days ahead, as God’s truth comes under ever-increasing fire, we need to be prepared to stand under pressure. As The Da Vinci Code and The Gospel of Judas generate questions and discussions in the workplace, neighborhood, home and church, we must be able to speak knowledgeably on this subject as the Lord’s ambassadors. If we are unable to offer factual and compelling arguments in defense of God’s Word and His truth, countless individuals will be lost, and we ourselves could be deceived.
For this reason, I am urging you to educate people as quickly as possible about these developments. I am recommending that everyone obtain a copy of Dr. Irwin Lutzer’s important book, The Da Vinci Deception. It will equip you with the facts you need to effectively contend for your faith on this subject. If used together with the Bible – as Dr. Lutzer strongly urges – you will be prepared to defend your beliefs and to “argue persuasively” for the truth. (To order your copy of the book, visit our Website at garykah.org or call 1-317-290-4673, or write to us at Hope for the World, P O Box 899, Noblesville, IN 46061.)
We will also be posting this article on our Website so that you can prompt others to read it. If you do not have access to the Internet, please make copies of this newsletter and spread it among your friends and cohorts. With God’s help we can all contend for the faith in some way. Now is the time to stand up and be counted for the Lord!
1 Jay Tolson, “Was This Villain Really a Hero?” U.S. News & World Report, April 17, 2006, pp.52-53.
3 The National Geographic Channel, “The Gospel of Judas,” Produced and Directed by James Barrat, April 9, 2006.
Refuting The Gospel of Judas
Here are a few of the passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that refute the claims of The Gospel of Judas, the Gnostics and some of National Geographic’s “experts.”
Claim: There were many forms of Christianity in the early Church, and Gnosticism was one of them.
Counter: As I mentioned in the preceding article, Gnosticism was never considered to be Christian by the early Church. It was a form of occult mysticism that embraced pantheistic concepts. Together with Rome’s imperial paganism, it represented Satan’s foremost attempt to oppose and eradicate Christianity during the first through the fourth centuries. Jesus assured that there was only one truth but many pathways leading to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14, Luke 13:22-30, John 5:22-23; 6:29-59; 10:27-33; 14:6). He passionately warned his followers about horrible deception and false prophets who would attack the truth (Matt. 7:15-23; 24:3-14, 21-25, Mark 13, Luke 12 & 21, John 8:42-47).
Claim: Gnosticism consisted of Jesus’ secret teachings which were intended only for his advanced-level disciples, and certain secrets were entrusted to Judas alone.
Counter: Jesus’ teachings were intended for all who would receive them. However, He knew that some people’s hearts were hardened against the truth. His parables were only understood by those whose hearts were uncalloused and open to His teachings. This is still the case today (Matt. 13:11-23, Mark 4:34). Jesus said that anything hidden would be made known and would be spoken in the daylight (Matt. 10:26-27), and that even children with open hearts would understand (Matt. 11:25). Anyone who “asks, seeks and knocks” would find the truth (Matt. 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-13). Jesus also said that his followers were salt and light to a dark world and should share this light (truth) and not hide it or keep it to themselves (Matt. 5:13-15, Mark 4:21-23, Luke 8:16-18).
Claim: Judas was stronger, more perceptive and spiritual than the other disciples and, therefore, the only one who could stand before Jesus.
Counter: Jesus was grieved by the wickedness that he knew was lurking in Judas’ heart. He said it would have been better that the betrayer had never been born (Matt. 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:20-23). According to Luke 22:1-6 and John 13:27, Satan entered Judas and worked through him. From the Last Supper, Judas slipped into the night to betray the Master (John 13:21-30). This does not describe a man who was more highly regarded than the others by Jesus.
Claim: Judas will receive a greater reward than the other disciples, because he is the one who was “willing” to take on the assignment of betraying Jesus.
Counter: In addition to the fact that this notion runs contrary to the scriptures just cited, Jesus did not tolerate talk of one disciple being greater or receiving a greater reward than the others. In Luke 22:24-30, Jesus rebuked his disciples for asking Him which of them was the greatest. So it would be completely out of character for Him to have said to Judas, “Your star’s brilliance will eclipse all the others. You will be greater than them all…” as The Gospel of Judas alleges. Other related passages include Matt. 18:1-5; 20:26-28, Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45, and Luke 9:46-48.
Claim: Judas’ betrayal of Christ was a noble act which was orchestrated by Jesus Himself.
Counter: Again, the scriptures already cited leave no room for this theory – not even as a remote possibility. Compare this outrageous claim with Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where he pleads with the Father to take “this cup” from Him, unless it be the Father’s will; and where He tells His disciples that His soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matt. 26:36-42, Mark 14:32-36). In Luke 22:44, we are told that Jesus was in such agony when He prayed that his sweat was like “great drops of blood” falling to the ground. And when Judas came with the chief priests and the guards and approached Jesus to kiss Him, Jesus, amazed by Judas’ audacity, asked him if he was betraying Him with a kiss (Luke 22:48). This does not sound like someone who would have looked forward to, or arranged, his own death.
As for Judas betraying Jesus for the “right” motives, Matthew 26:14-16 and Luke 22:1-6 make clear that Judas approached the chief priests and handed Jesus over to them in exchange for money (thirty pieces of silver). Clearly understanding the wrong he had done, Judas later returned the silver to the priests and elders, telling them that he had sinned and betrayed innocent blood. After doing so, he was so consumed by guilt that he committed suicide (Matt. 27:3-5). This is a strange ending for someone who believed he was doing a good deed!
Claim: The Gospel of Judas contains no mention of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, thereby signaling its belief that they were unimportant.
Counter: Jesus’ death and resurrection is the climactic event of all history and is treated as such by each of the four Gospels. It is of the utmost importance because through it Christ conquered death and hell, paying the penalty for our sins. He met the just requirements of God to atone for sin; something only He, being the perfect Son of God, could do. Had Jesus not died and risen, there would be no hope of man living for eternity in the presence of God. There would only be an assurance of death and condemnation.
In John 3:16-21, Jesus states that He came into the world so that through Him it would be saved from condemnation. And in Luke 2:11, the angel announcing Jesus’ birth described Him as Savior, and Christ (Messiah in Hebrew). In John 4:42 Jesus is said to be the Savior of the world. And in the same chapter (4:25-26), when people were speaking of the Messiah, Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” In Mark 14:61b-62, we read, “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Also, see John 5:22-23, 36-40; 4:36; and 6:40.
These are only a few of the passages that portray Jesus as the Savior – whose power to save would be conditional on His death and resurrection. Specific scriptures on Jesus’ death and resurrection are found in Matt. 27-28, Mark 15-16, Luke 23-24 and John 19-20.
Claim: The god who created earth is not the true God. Or, similarly, the true God did not create earth.
Counter: Along with the familiar Old Testament passages such as Genesis 1:1 which declares, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”, there are scriptures in the New Testament that are equally clear about who created the world. John 1:1-18 places the Word (Jesus) with God at the beginning, proclaiming that He was one with God and that through Him all things were made, including the world. Also, see John 17:5.
For more about the history of Gnosticism and the occult, and their conflict with Christianity, consider reading my books En Route to Global Occupation and The New World Religion, available at www.garykah.com.