Redeeming Judas?

Today’s headlines contain news of a new gospel: The Gospel of Judas.

This, of course, raises lots of questions:

(1) Is this genuine? This is a very difficult question to answer. (What does genuine mean, anyway? It could be a genuine third century document with completely false information or it could, theoretically, be an eighteenth-century document with completely accurate information.) By way of comparison, for many years, the Secret Gospel of Mark was generally regarded as authentic, but in recent years, the tide has turned. The prestige of the National Geographic Society is behind this document, but . . .

(2) What does it say? Well, the headline grabber is that Jesus told Judas to betray him. As far as I know (if I’m wrong, please correct me), this is an idea not taught in other ancient documents; at least, not in the canon. Could it be true? We’ll all need to think about that for awhile. One data point: President Kimball taught [1] that when Jesus told Peter, “Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” (Matthew 26:34), that that was a commandment, not a prophecy. (If anyone has the citation for his statement, please let me know.) In other words, Peter was commanded to betray Jesus. This parallel would lend some (but not overwhelming) credibility to the idea that Judas was commanded to betrary Jesus.

(3) What difference does it make for Latter-day Saints? This one also requires some thought. If we accept that Judas was commanded to do this, what difference does it make? Why, then, did he kill himself? I’m tempted to think about parallels to the Fall, where there is a necessity for a sin/transgression. I’m sure there are other implications and parallels.

More information here.

[1] I have heard it said that the Greek does not support this reading, but I am unsure whether that closes the case for those who regard President Kimball as authorized to offer authoritative interpretations of scripture.

32 comments for “Redeeming Judas?

  1. Julie, suppression of a gnostic tract as a heresy might have been a legitimate course of action, even for a religion that had already slipped into near total apostasy by the third century to which this manuscript dates.

    Just because something exists and comes to light 1700 years later doesn’t mean it wasn’t heretical to begin with. The NYT article announcing this quoted several who waxed eloquent about how this evidences the diversity of views and thought among the early Christians. This seems uncontroversial to me, given the effort Paul put into stamping out false doctrines.

    Nevertheless, the discovery of this text is exciting. My guess is it will be pretty standard gnostic fare. But again, who’s to say that Irenaeus wasn’t totally justified in stamping out gnostic heresy in the early days of the Church?

  2. This is totally bad, because I don’t have the citation for President Kimball, but I believe it was at BYU and it was posited as a supposition, something really ambiguous and clearly Spencer Kimball’s opinion, not the President of the Church, like, “It could be that Christ was telling Peter to deny him, not foretelling the future.”

  3. I just sent the article to Wade and he mentioned that if this was accurate, it could offer some vindication for Joseph Smith claiming in D&C that the twelve that were with Christ in His ministry would return with Him in glory (A scripture which I use pretty regularly in my defense of Judas).

  4. Nonny Mouse:

    You’re right about President Kimball’s view. I actually brought up the issue of Peter denying Christ and the analogy to Judas’ betrayal in the comments thread here.

  5. Also,

    I reference President Kimball’s view about Judas. He explicitely says in Miracle of Forgiveness that we should not speculate about the sons of perdition because many of defamed Judas as one when he probably never was.

  6. What if Jesus did tell Judas to betray him? That doesn’t mean he knew what would happen. Maybe Judas thought Jesus would be beaten with a few stripes and set free. Maybe he thought Jesus would take the occasion to call down legions of angels and clean house. Maybe Judas even thought Jesus would be killed, obeyed despite being horrified, and then just couldn’t live with the thought. Maybe he hoped to be reunited with his friend the sooner. It’s hard to know. He must have been a pretty sincere and well-meaning guy for the most part or presumably he would never have been called as one of the twelve.

  7. Just to clarify Wade, you are simply pointing out that Judas, according to Kimball was likely not a SOP but Kimball is silent as to Judas place among the twelve correct?

  8. It’s as legitimate as any of the other apocryphal gospels, which is to say, only slightly less reliable than the actual gospels that we have (which is to say, not reliable at all). The gospel was discovered some time ago. The page for it at the Early Christian Writings web site is right available here.

    The Last Temptation of Christ portrays Jesus asking Judas to betray him, because Judas is the most faithful apostle, and it’s all part of a master plan (it also features Judas [ingeniously played by a red-headed Harvey Keitel] sneering sarcastically at a spineless Peter, “Upon this rock, we’re building a church!” and berating Jesus for making crosses for other people’s crucifixion, “You’re a jew killing jew!” he says in his trademark Brooklyn accent).

    Jesus Christ Superstar also portrays Judas sympathetically, though he’s not the good guy. He is just an unwitting dupe.

  9. Ryan:

    Yes, you are correct. Kimball, from what I’ve read, is silent on Judas’ actual position among the 12. However, his adament position that he (Judas) is likely not a SOP is a strong correlation toward the position that Judas, even if in the wrong, could have repented and assumed his position. This of course, is my own speculation about what I think Kimball was trying to say.

  10. On your Greek question, the key word is the verb aparneomai, here in the form aparnEsE, which is a future indicative. Certainly the most natural reading of this is as a prediction.

    As a matter of general linguistics, sometimes a second person future indicative can have the force of an imperative. Consider the army sergeant who tells his recruit “You WILL shine your shoes before dinner tonight, soldier!”

    But it has to work in the context, and the context here requires a prediction, not a command.

  11. Wade, if I recall, Kimball’s position on Judas relates to the fact that he did not have enough light to sin against to make him a Son of Perdition. It was not until the Day of Pentecost that the apostle’s received that amount amount of light. Obviously, Judas’s betrayal occurred before that great and dreadful day.

  12. Homily XX of Clement’s Homilies, dating from the 2nd-Century, has Peter teaching that Satan works for God that since Satan fulfills his assignment he will ultimately be rewarded.

    It doesn’t mention Judas at all, but it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to me to say that if Satan is on God’s team then Judas could be also. However, it also teaches about “compositions” and “dispositions,” which might give wiggle-room for Satan to be righteously playing his role for God but for Judas to be just plain evil.

    Some excerpts from 20.3 (Note: my ellipses cover about two-thirds of the text; the original linked above also has footnotes identifying emendations):

    “But of these two [Christ and Satan], the one acts violently towards the other by the command of God. …Moreover, these two leaders are the swift hands of God, eager to anticipate Him so as to accomplish His will. …He [God] kills through the left hand, that is, through the evil one, who has been so composed as to rejoice in afflicting the impious. And he saves and benefits through the right band, that is, through the good one, who has been made to rejoice in the good deeds and salvation of the righteous. …The wicked one, then, having served God blamelessly to the end of the present world, can become good by a change in his composition, since he assuredly is not of one uniform substance whose sole bent is towards sin. For not even more does he do evil, although he is evil, since he has received power to afflict lawfully.”

  13. Oops. First sentence in 14 should be: “Homily XX of Clement’s Homilies, dating from the 2nd-Century, has Peter teaching that Satan works for God and that since Satan fulfills his assignment he will ultimately be rewarded.

  14. Didn’t Jorge Luis Borges write a story like this? Except I think it was even stronger.

  15. Tatiana (16): Possibly you’re thinking of “Tres versiones de Judas” (“Three Versions of Judas”). The story in spanish is here.

    “Except I think it was even stronger.” Yep. One of the “versions” of Judas is that God did not become Christ but instead became Judas.

  16. Judas became a son of perdition by suffering himself to come out in open rebellion against Christ. He was an annointed apostle who had sufficient knowledge of Christ and his purpose. Satan obtained his soul. He committed suicide as a result and is enduring an endless type of torment for his actions.

  17. 1. Kimball merely suggested the possibility that Christ commanded Peter to betray him – he never said “that’s how it is” – for Kimball it was just a strong probability.

    2. The Greek makes this impossible. In english “You will do X” can be either a statement of fact or a command, but Koine Greek has different forms for statements of fact and the imperative (commands). In the NT, Christ tells Peter a fact, not a command. There is really no possibilty, if you give the original text and credibility, that Christ commanded Peter to betray him. I don’t fault Kimball – he didn’t know Greek and so was relying on the English (plus he never taught it as official doctrine anyway).

  18. Spoken by one having authority, and not as the scribes.

    And now back to the scribes’ gallery

  19. I understand that a new document has come to light which details a conversation between James the First of England, and William Shakespeare in 1605. Fascinating stuff about who wrote the plays.

    Oh, and by the way. The document was written in 2005.

  20. For what it’s worth, in note 8 of chapter 34 of “Jesus the Christ“James E. Talmage cites the Savior to argue that Judas is a son of perdition:

    John 6:70: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”
    Mark 14:21: “woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.”
    John 17:12: “those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition;”

  21. Has anyone read the gospel of Mary? It might have another name, I can’t remember exactly what it was called.

    I believe that Judas had good intentions. I believe that what happened to Jesus would have happened no matter what. I think Judas was foolish, but not evil.

  22. If what Judas did was just foolish and not evil, define what evil is. That act od Judas is in my opinion the very definition of evil. It is up there with King David’s sin in my book.

  23. I believe the jist of President Kimball’s arguement that Judas is not a Son of Perdition is that the sin one must commit to become a Son of Perdition is the “Sin Against the Holy Ghost”. Since the scriptures are quite explicit that the Holy Ghost did not come to the apostles until after the resurrection, then Judas (not having the Holy Ghost) could not have sinned against the Holy Ghost.

    It is also clear that the apostles didn’t have a full understanding of Christ and his role in the plan of salvation prior to his crucifixion. They could not stay awake in Gethsemane, nor did they expect his resurrection. As wrong as Judas’ betrayal was, it is difficult to argue that he sinned against a full knowledge of the light, even under the traditional interpretation of his actions.

  24. Harry Potter fans take note: This idea (Judas did it becaus Jesus told him to do it) is now widely held among Potterophiles: Dumbledore told Snape to do it.

  25. Maybe this “gospel of Judas” is the book the founder of the Mormon church was refering to when he saw a vision of a hidden scripture written on gold tablets. Talks about everyone having their own star, ect.

    Regardless of authenticity or not, Judas had the spirit of Satan in Him and Jesus new this. Hopefully no one would believe the words comming out of Satans mouth. I think this book is here to test ones faith. The book goes into finding out the secrets of the universe and how to attain the knowledge of God. If this was true, I don’t think Satan would want anyone but himself to have it. These writings in this book of Judas are here to test ones Faith, so be careful.

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