Spotting A Fake Gospel
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8
The document’s final words read, “Gospel of Judas,” and the content of the same would lead anyone to conclude that the author is the disciple of Jesus, the one who betrayed Him in the garden for 30 pieces of silver, and then hanged himself in contrition for the dark deed. It seems to be more than a mere coincidence that National Geographic released a special on this manuscript during Holy Week as though it was something just discovered, when, in effect, scholars have known about the document discovered in the sands of Egypt for a long, long time.
“Just one more confusing old manuscript,” say some, not quite sure what to believe and what not to believe. There is one thing for certain: nobody counterfeits brown wrapping paper. And what does that mean? For everything in the world that is genuine and authentic, there is a counterfeit, a cheap imitation, a piece that is fraudulent no matter how colorful or interesting it may be. Is this real or counterfeit?
Here are the facts.
Fact #1: Judas never put his hand to this document. While the New Testament was written in Greek, this document was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language, unknown in all likelihood to Judas. Furthermore it was probably written about 400 AD though some scholars-based upon the scribe’s handwriting, the ink that was used, and the linguistic styles commonly used in the second and third centuries–say that it was written earlier, perhaps about 200 A.D. Whoa! Two centuries after the whole event is totally out of sync with the dates for the other New Testament documents. In existence today is a portion of John 18 dated 125 A.D. An unknown author, with an axe to grind, a point to prove, wrote this, asserting that Judas was the author, when he had actually been dead for a long, long time.
Fact #2: The whole message of the document flies in the face of the New Testament books. It reflects a Gnostic message that the flesh is evil and we need to escape from it–which is why Judas, who betrayed Jesus, looks like the hero, not the villain. Paul condemned this teaching in his letter to the Colossians.
Fact #3: Church fathers consistently denounced Gnostic teaching, and to suggest that this fits into the New Testament framework reflects a bias which is better known as heresy. No wonder Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8).
Fact #4: The suggestion that this is a “Gospel” is a misnomer—a fraud designed to glean support through confusion. The Greek word uniformly used in the New Testament for “gospel” means “good news,” a “good message.” The first record of the word’s use was on a Greek inscription when one army triumphed over another and a runner carried the “good news” of the victory.
Fact #5: This is but one of many manuscripts or documents written in the aftermath of the spread of Christianity where “wannabees” – people who wanted to be something else–wrote, using an assumed name.
A final thought. When anthropologist and missionary Don Richardson told the story of the Gospels to the Sawis of Papua New Guinea, he was appalled that they cheered for Judas. “No,” he thought, “they got it wrong.” He retold the story. Yes, they liked Judas. Then Richardson learned that the Sawis valued treachery above integrity and so they cheered for the bad guy. I think the old Sawis would like the alleged “Gospel of Judas.” But, thank God, as the result of Richardson’s ministry there, the new Sawis no longer cheer for the traitor. They know the truth, and the truth has set them free.
Scripture reading: Jeremiah 36