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Commentary on the Gospel of Judas

Recently (archaeologically speaking) a Coptic (Egyptian) manuscript was found that turned out to be the Gospel of Judas. Its translation, sponsored by National Geographic, was sensational and captivated the attention of people across the world. People asked me about this gospel and its relevance to Christianity.

I am not a Gnostic scholar and I have no authoritative background to deal with this Gnostic manuscript. However, Birger Pearson is a Gnostic authority and he can comment on it. His report was printed in the May/June 2008 edition of Biblical Archaeology Review. You may read the article yourself at www.bib-arch.org. It is titled “Judas Iscariot Among the Gnostics" by Birger A. Pearson.

What I’m going to do here is simply give you a few highlights of what he said in his article and then add a few comments of my own.

The Gospel of Judas was found among other ancient Coptic (Egyptian) writings, and after many years translated into English. This translation was sponsored by National Geographic, which insisted on certain boundaries. The translators may not discuss with anyone what they were doing, nor may they consult with Gnostic scholars. Then, with much fanfare, National Geographic revealed its sensational new book, which sold well.

Unfortunately, the new book had glaring errors, which the customers didn’t know about. How could they know? People, for some reason, tend to think translations are always accurate. Even an honest, expert translator working his best is going to make some mistakes. And when the translators are told to sensationalize the book, that’s what they’re going to do.

In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is a villain, but the English translation portrays him as a hero. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is called a “demon," but the English translation calls him a “god." Many other such errors were made.

Scholars pointed out these errors to National Geographic, and that company is re-translating the manuscript and will issue a new release soon. But now it’s a little too late, because the people who bought the first, sensationalized, English translation still have it and believe that’s what it says.

Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy that believed knowledge was the way of salvation rather than faith. Gnosis is a Greek word meaning “know." There were various versions of that sect, but the name “Gnostic" was not applied to them until later. It’s a good name; it identifies a group and belief. The name allows us to refer to them easily.

Some passages in the New Testament warn us against that group, but since they did not have an identifiable name at the time, the New Testament describes them as people who claim to have knowledge. The first recipients of the New Testament writings knew exactly who was being talked about.

Gnostics believed in many gods. The god that created this earth was known variously as “Fool," “Blind God" and “Child of Chaos." That was our God, the Father. There was another, higher god, to which we should strive to ascend to.

From here on is my commentary.

Gnosticism was not a small group that would soon be forgotten. As many successful religions, they influenced our thinking and culture. Although they did die out, a few of their writings survived. When found and translated, they befuddle some people because these people tend to ascribe truth and power to everything ancient or mystical except Christianity and Judaism.

The author of 1 Timothy in the New Testament said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly." (1 Tim 4:7)

Another disciple said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life." (1 John 1:1)

The gospel passed on to us in the New Testament was written by eye-witnesses. They described what they saw and did, and they told what happened to them. There is no need for Christians to grasp at every new spooky thing that comes along and wonder if this is going to change everything we believe.

 

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