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The Gospel of Judas

from the April 11, 2006 eNews issue



"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 (2 Timothy 4:3)."

The May issue of National Geographic magazine hasnt even hit the news stands, but it has already triggered widespread debate. The feature article in next month's issue describes a 1,700 year old manuscript that claims to tell the story of Christ's last days from the point-of-view of history's most notorious traitor. This so-called "Gospel of Judas" conflicts greatly with the Biblical account and is only one of several noncanonical gospels, often called the "Gnostic Gospels". Scholars widely agree that none of these texts contain historically reliable information about the life of Jesus and that all were likely written in the second century or later. However they do help us learn more about false teachings that early church leaders like the Apostle Paul preached against in book of Colossians and elsewhere.

Gnosticism is a system of false teachings that existed during the early centuries of Christianity. Its name came from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. The Gnostics believed that knowledge was the way to salvation. For this reason, Gnosticism was condemned as false and heretical by several writers of the New Testament. The Gnostics consisted of diverse groups, from high-minded ascetics to licentious charlatans.

Sources

Our knowledge of Gnosticism comes from several sources. First, there are the Gnostic texts, which are known as the New Testament Apocrypha. These texts are not recognized as Scripture because they contain teachings which differ from those in the Bible. Then, there are the refutations of the Gnostics by the early church fathers. Some of the more important ones are Irenaeus, Against Heresies; Hippolytus, Refutations of All Heresies; Epiphanius, Panarion; and Tertullian, Against Marcion.

A third source on Gnosticism is the New Testament itself. Many Gnostic teachings were condemned by the writers of the New Testament. Paul emphasized a wisdom and knowledge that comes from God and does not concern itself with idle speculations, fables, and moral laxity (Colossians 2:8-23; 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 1:10-16). John, both in his gospel and in the epistles, countered heretical teaching which, in a broad sense, can be considered Gnostic.

Gnostic Gospels

A large number of spurious documents emerged during the centuries following the ministries of the Apostles and were universally rejected by the early church. Copies of a group of these were found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries. These include The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Truth, and about four dozen others.

They are not "gospels" at all, but rather speculative opinions, totally devoid of any verifiable facts. Furthermore, they were written under false pseudonyms in an attempt to gain legitimacy. The early church rejected any documents under pseudonyms as being inconsistent with the concept of God-breathed inspiration. Lastly, they were all written centuries after the Gospel period - in contrast to the contemporaneous eyewitness accounts in the New Testament.

False Teaching

Ethical behavior among the Gnostics varied considerably. Some sought to separate themselves from all evil matter in order to avoid contamination. Paul may be opposing such a view in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. For other Gnostics, ethical life took the form of libertinism. For them, knowledge meant freedom to participate in all sorts of indulgences. Many reasoned that since they had received divine knowledge and were truly informed as to their divine nature, it didnt matter how they lived. Such an attitude is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. Paul, on a number of occasions, reminded his readers that they were saved from sin to holiness. They were not to have an attitude of indifference toward the law. They had died to sin in their baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-11) and so were to walk in newness of life. John reminded the Christians that once they had been saved they were not to continue living in sin (1 John 3:4-10).

These Gnostic teachings also had a disruptive effect on fellowship in the church. Those who were "enlightened" thought of themselves as being superior to those who did not have such knowledge. Divisions arose between the spiritual and the fleshly. This attitude of superiority is severely condemned in the New Testament. Christians are one body (1 Corinthians 12) who should love one another (1 Corinthians 13; 1 John). Spiritual gifts are for the Christian community rather than individual use; they should promote humility rather than pride (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11-16).

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8)."

Related Links

- Article: The Danger of False Ideas - Koinonia House
- Colossians and Philemon - MP3 Commentary - Koinonia House
- The Lost Gospel - National Geographic
- Translation of The Gospel of Judas (PDF File) - National Geographic

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