An Antiochian Christian Viewpoint on the Gospel of Judas
by Fr. Michel Najim
Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
I greet you all with the Paschal greeting: Christ is Risen! Please pray for one another on the road towards Holy Pascha in the great joy and light of the Resurrection. For my part, I pray that this Holy Pascha will strengthen you and all the faithful to spread the spirit of philanthropy and self-sacrifice, so that our Risen Lord Jesus Christ will always reign in human hearts.
In spite of the media’s relentless avalanche of anti-Christian propa- ganda concerning our Lord, I am confident that you are standing firm in your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Battling for our Orthodox Faith, which bears the Truth of Who Jesus Christ is, we must remain undismayed by attacks that the media launches against the accuracy and veracity of the four Gospels. The controversial publication of the Gospel of Judas, just a week before we celebrate Christ’s resurrection at Easter, is sure to scan- dalize any faithful Christian.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media is fascinated by Gnostic ideas that were popular in the days of early Christianity. Consequently, the media is seeking to resurrect these defunct ideas with this so-called Gospel of Judas as Christians celebrate the true Resurrection. Orthodox Christians, however, believe that the truth of the four Gospels stands eternally unwa- vering. We retain strong confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament and, in particular, of the four Gospels.
Unfortunately, any discovery of an ancient text, especially one rejected by the early Church, is lavished with all kinds of media attention. This recent “new gospel,” better entitled the Judas Document, is neither “good news” (the meaning of Gospel) nor was it written by Judas Iscariot — nor is it even particularly “new.” Although this ancient manuscript was recent- ly found by some Egyptian peasants in the mid- to late-1970s, it was well known by the early Church Fathers. In fact, the Gospel of Judas was roundly condemned and refuted by the Fathers.
For example, St. Irenaeus (ca. 125-202), bishop of Lyons, in his book Against Heresies mentions the doctrines of a Gnostic sect known as “Cainites,” who declared that Cain (the son of Adam who murdered his brother, Abel, in a fit of envy) and all of the “evil” characters of the Old Testament were to be venerated because of their “persecution” by God. According to historians, this sect never had many adherents, and by the beginning of the third century AD, Hippolytus of Rome barely mentions them while listing the heretical groups of that time.
The Cainite heresy asserts that there are some sins that even Christ cannot cleanse with His blood, and that the scars left on the body and the soul by old transgressions are sometimes so deep that they cannot be removed by the healing grace provided by Christ. What else is this but to say that Christ died in vain? St. Irenaeus reveals that this sect produced the fictitious Gospel of Judas, now trumpeted everywhere in the media. While talk-shows and magazines assume this Gnostic text somehow gives us a glimpse at the “real” Jesus, in reality this fanciful narrative reveals more about the ancient Cainites (and the modern media) than it does about Christ.
The Gnostics put emphasis on the dualism between the material and spiritual worlds. For this reason, Judas, according to this “Gospel,” is selected to free Jesus from his physical body, so that He can enter the spiritual world. Judas, therefore, performed a service to Jesus by betraying Him to those who could then crucify Him. Thus, He “liberated” Jesus from His physical body, freeing Him to become pure spirit. Consequently, according to this Gnostic text, the Resurrection of our Lord’s body does not matter, but only that of the spirit. This is so preposterous that I will not even waste any Christian’s time by explaining why this is false.
The word gnostic derives from the Greek word for knowledge, “gnosis.” Thus, Gnostics focus on secret and mysterious knowledge. In this document Jesus reveals secrets to Judas that have been kept hidden from the rest of humanity. In the so-called Gospel of Judas, Jesus refers to Gnostic concepts such as “aeons” and the “eternal realm” of “emanations.” He explains the so-called esoteric mysteries of the cosmos, and He teaches about “the error of the stars; and … sent it … on the twelve aeons.” This document thus creates a false synthesis of ancient mythology and Christian theology, syncretizing elements from many different religions, Christianity being merely one of these. For this reason, this text is neither reliable nor authoritative, and it contradicts historically and theologically the Faith once and for all delivered unto the saints.
St. Athanasius declared of our four canonical Gospels: “Let no man add to these, neither let him take out from these.” Whatever ancient document comes to light either now or in the future, it cannot undermine the authority of the four inspired canonical Gospels, which were established forever in the biblical canon by the Church in its Ecumenical Councils. For this reason, the falsely-titled Gospel of Judas, written long after Judas’ death, does not merit the name “gospel.”
In celebrating the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, my beloved brethren in the Lord, we need to carry today’s cross; for without the Cross there is no Resurrection. Our biblical and liturgical texts for Holy Week are the greatest reply we could give to the Gnostics of our time. Be assured that the enemies of the canonical Gospels will be “scattered like the smoke” and will “melt like the wax before fire!” Christ is Risen! Truly, He is risen!
Courtesy of the
June 2006 issue of The Word magazine.