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Monday, April 10, 2006

Responding to the Gospel of Judas: Ignorance is Not an Option

Darrell at The Southern Conservative posts his views after seeing the television special about this Gospel of Judas. I agree with Darrell that Christians ought to read - or at least become familiar with - some of these ancient gnostic texts. Not because they have any spiritual value but because of their historical importance.

In our time, when people are eager to reject established sources of authority, when victimization is in vogue, when minds are unusually open to conspiracy thinking, Christian people must know more about the origins of Christianity and the development of the Biblical cannon. If pastors, scholars and especially average lay people do not become more conversant with these issues, then crap writers like Dan Brown and historical revisionists will carry the hour. And practically speaking, that could equal souls lost.

Dr. Elaine Pagels of Princeton University has been asserting for decades that there were numerous competing theologies in the early period of the Jesus movement. And through political machinations, the so-called orthodox party managed to suppress its competitors, including Gnosticism. And ever since then, the church has been tyrannized by Dead White European Males, the dreaded D.W.E.M.S. Or so the theory goes.

Dr. Albert Mohler offers this very lucid treatment to help us know fact from hype. But let's be clear here. NO ONE is saying that this newly translated text was actually written by Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. NO ONE is even saying it comes from the apostolic era.

Apparently, there is some reference to the Gospel of Judas in Irenaeus which would put it from the late second century. These gnostic texts all seem to date from the late 2nd or 3rd century. And while some of these texts may have circulated quite a bit, none of them enjoyed anything close to a widespread reception from ancient congregations.

In order for a book to have been welcomed as Scripture in ancient Christian communities, it had to have bona fide apostolic origin. In other words, was it TRULY written by an apostle or a close associate of the apostles? That was the fundamental criterion for the reception of a letter or text. Those pseudapigraphic texts like the Gospels of Thomas or Judas simply did not meet the test.

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CB said...

Though Pagels has argued on behalf of the theological diversity of the early Christian tradition, this is actually a method to subvert the concept of orthodoxy. By subverting Christian orthodoxy in the first century, the resulting 'origin gap' of theological thinking is attributed to Gnosticism. What is ultimately incorrect and ironic about this argument is that the documented diversity of Gnostic thinking at the time far exceeds the supposed diversity of the Christian tradition that Pagels argues for. In fact, most of Pagels' 'evidence' for such diversity is from Gnostic documents, making her argument without historical basis and ultimately circular.

The Beast said...

You know what bugs me? I have been getting swamped with Christians who are totally into this Gospel of Judas thing. They are willing to dig into it and find out what it is all about and they want to know more and more about it. I 100% agree with you that believers need to know what is out there, but it sure would be nice if my fellow believers would place that same effort and intensity into the study of the actual Gospels.

Darin said...

You're partially right, of course, but apostolicity isn't enough. A lot of the books that we have in the canon are pseudepigraphic, or at the very least anonymous. Lutherans have historically had a very good grasp of homolegoumena/antilegomena, but a lot of that has disappeared over time, and that's a pity.

Preachrboy said...


Hebrews is anonymous.

What book in our canon is pseudepigraphic?

Darin said...

Sorry--I'm not being clear with the terminology. Hebrews is anonymous. If you're going to strictly define pseudepigraphic as being claimed as written by one person when actually written by another, then it's a different story. I'm much more interested as above in the apostolicity claim, because Hebrews (as anonymous) doesn't fit that criteria.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Darin, the word "pseudepigraphic" has only one definition. It means a book that is if falsely attributed. That's not the "strict" definition. It is the only definition.

Here is your problem. You said that apostolicity is not enough. But then you go on to say that it not necessary. Those are contradictory.

I don't think you meant to say that apostolicity is not enough. That implies that it may be necessary but that something else is required. But, as I say, that doesn't make sense in light of what else you wrote. I think what you meant to say is that there is some other (unspecified) criteria that is necessary.

If something is anonymous, the problem is not that it is apostolic but "apostolicity isn't enough." The problem is that apostolicity is unconfirmed. And the book of Hebrews is the only book I'd put in that category. Hence the antilegoma designation.

If, as you said, apostolicity were not enough, that would suggest that there are books accepted as apostolic but NOT received into the cannon. Then their apostolicity would "not be enough." Some additional criterion would be necessary. As it is, there are no books extant which are accepted as apostolic outside of what is canonical.

Unlike you, I think apostolicty would be plenty enough. If a new text were to be uncovered that would be universally received as genuinely apostolic, there is no doubt in my mind it would become accepted as Scripture.

The trouble would, of course, be determining a newly discovered text's true apostolicity. Since there are no living witnesses of the apostles, it would be quite difficult to judge with relative certainty that it came from an apostle especially if it contained any novel doctrinal material.

Darin said...

I dare say there is about zero chance of finding a new text that would be considered to be canonical, because it would be nearly impossible to prove or determine. In this sense, therefore, how do you "prove" that the books that have apostolicity actually are so? People such as Ludemann have been arguing against the apostolicity of the Paulines forever, and Meade and others have subjected the pastorals and other Paulines to claims of pseudonymity. I certainly don't agree with what they have to say, but the arguments are there, and these aren't morons--they're pretty smart people.

So if a text were found, how would it be accepted? If we agree that apostolicity would be impossible to prove, then what's left?

BTW, I'd certainly put other books into the antilegomena category. Others have. I think the Lutheran church lost a lot when this went out of favor, because it's useful in other places, too, such as textual criticism. How do we explain to Grandma Schwartz why Christians shouldn't be snake handlers like in the longer ending of Mark? If you're not going to teach the whole of textual criticism, and at the same time want to avoid the whole "You're Taking Bible Verses Away From Me!!!!!" argument of the KJV-only people, applying the same sort of homolegoumena/antilegomena arguements may be effective. I haven't had a chance to try them, but I'd like to do so.

PS: Thanks for the corrections. I'm not being precise as I should. My bad. :)

Anonymous said...

A couple of st louis seminary professors watched the show on the 'gospel' of judas the other night, and then gave a short talk on it. You can even check it out on the seminary webpage Go to the 'resources' section, 'audio', then 'gospel of judas'.

scott adle

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Other than modern higher critics, no one in the history of the church seriously questioned the apostolicity of the homologoumena.

But I feel like we're talking past each other. It seemed that you were objecting to using apostolicity as the fundamental criterion for receiving a text as Scripture.

The whole homologoumena/antilegomena distinction has to do with . . . apostolicity. Hebrews is the only anonymous book. Other books and small bits of a couple of the Gospels are of questioned origins. Why were some books placed into the antilegomena category? Because their origins were in question. Ultimately they were added, but with some note of reservation. Thus, we should never base a doctrine (sedes doctrinae) from an antilegomena text w/o substantiation from the undisputed books.

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