What? Judas Iscariot? Write a gospel?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A new gospel?
The manuscript discovered in a cave in Egypt that bears the title "Gospel of Judas" definitely has no connection with the historical person Judas Iscariot, or Jesus and the other apostles for that matter. It's text is in Coptic, an ancient language of Egypt, and dated to about 300 C.E. If it is a translation of a Greek original, which has not been proven, the original probably comes from the second century, around 100 years after Jesus Christ was crucified and arose from the dead. You can read the English translation for yourself at the National Geographic website.

Just another Gnostic wannabe
The content of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" bears all the telltale signs of being a Gnostic text such as those common in Egypt during that period. A whole library of similar documents were uncovered at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt in 1945. They share with the "Gospel of Judas" typical Gnostic features: emphasis on finding salvation through attaining knowledge, a hidden knowledge available only to a select few; a strong dualism between the physical and the spiritual realms; a series of intermediaries between the transcendent God and lowly humans, including the god that created us.

The contrast is stark
Of course, all of this is alien to biblical Christianity, which bases salvation on our trusting obedience to the only redeemer, the Word who became flesh and died, really died, for our sins on the cross of Golgotha and was raised never to die again (Romans 1:5, 16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1b). The physical and spiritual realms God intends to be integrated, so that we can use our fleshly bodies to offer to God spiritual sacrifices (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 12:1-2). We look forward to a time when our flesh will be transformed into bodies like His: incorruptible, immortal, and glorious, yet still tangible, human bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53-57; Philippians 3:20-21). The New Testament teaches that God is transcendent, yes, but also immanent enough to stoop to create, to redeem, and to have fellowship with us (1 Timothy 1:17; 2:3-6; 6:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Misaligned portrait of Judas
The "Gospel of Judas" presents a portrait of Judas that is misaligned with the portrait we find in the New Testament. The biblical picture of Iscariot speaks of a thief (John 12:6) whose greed apparently prompted him to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:14-16). A best-case explanation would be that he believed strongly in Jesus as the Messiah, but in his misapprehension that Jesus would be a political ruler rather than a spiritual one, he tried to force Jesus' hand by getting him arrested. Perhaps Judas believed that confronted with the choice of dying or initiating his rule miraculously, Jesus would choose the latter. The text does say, "When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse...", tried to return the blood money, and then committed suicide (Matthew 27:1-5).

In the "Gospel of Judas," Judas has a dream that the other apostles were stoning him and persecuting him severely. Jesus reassures him that though the other apostles will hate him, he has greater esoteric knowledge and his holiness far exceeds theirs. There is no biblical evidence that the other apostles stoned Judas, persecuted him severely or mildly, for that matter, or that they even hated him. As to Judas's esoteric knowledge, if our best-case scenario is true, he was just as deluded as the other apostles about the political nature of Jesus' kingdom. As to his holiness, I need only mention that Jesus calls him "lost" and "the son of destruction" (John 17:12), an Aramaic idiom meaning that he is characterized by destruction (compare "sons of thunder" and "son of encouragement" in Mark 3:17 and Acts 4:36).

Definitely a different gospel
The "Gospel of Judas" is not a reliable source for historical information about the traitor-apostle. Like many other Gnostic documents, it presumes to usurp a biblical narrative and then twist, distort, and abuse it for promoting its own agenda. Gnosticism, after all is only one more human-centered religio-philosophy that seeks a salvation by works, one that ends in human boasting, in a secret society that seeks to separate from the ignorant sinners who live in hopeless darkness. It offers no redemption and no forgiveness. It has no salvific mission to lift the world up and make it better for everyone.

Why go there for spiritual food?
Compared to genuine, biblical Christianity, the Gnosticism of the "Gospel of Judas" is bankrupt, impotent, and ugly. Why anyone would find here spiritual bread is a mystery to me, when the true Bread of Life makes Himself available to all without cost. He offers us His unsearchable riches, his illimitable power, and his winsome and awesome beauty. "Judas" or Christ--which will you choose?

Want to "go deeper"?
In his litany of heresies, the second-century Church Father Irenaeus mentions a Gospel of Judas, and the Coptic "Judas" seems to reflect what Irenaeus describes, though we cannot be certain that the two are identical. Read what Irenaeus says in Against Heresies 1.31.1. If you want to read more Gnostic texts, you can consult the standard edition, The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson, et. al, 3d ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), or study the on-line collection of the Gnostic Society. One of the most extensive recent studies of Judas is Judas: Betrayer of Friend of Jesus? by William Klassen (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1996). His bibliography on pages 209-225 provides an extensive list of books and journal articles about Judas and the betrayal. Klassen concludes that Judas has been slandered and wrongly maligned down through the centuries. While granting that Christendom has excoriated Judas much more than the New Testament authors, I cannot go as far as he does in rehabilitating Judas Iscariot. His mind was on earthly things. His treasure was Mammon (Money), and where his treasure was, there his heart was also. If you want more extensive discussion of the "Gospel of Judas," see the two articles on the blog of Ben Witherington, a conservative biblical scholar: "Gospel of Judas, et al.--Part One," and "Gospel of Judas--Part Two." I also recommend his dialogues with his readers.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Jesus walked on ice, not water?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

According to an Associated Press story, Florida State University professor Doron Nof claims he may have found a scientific explanation for Jesus' miraculous walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. According to Nof, an oceanography professor, a rare combination of water and atmospheric conditions in the Sea of Galillee two millennia ago may have caused a patch of ice to form.

To observers, in this case, the disciples in the boat, the ice would have been hard to distinguish from the unfrozen water surrounding it. "I'm not trying to provide any information that has to do with theology," Professor Nof is quoted as saying. "All we've thought is about the natural process."

Against this theory are two strong arguments.

  1. The walk on the water took place at the wrong season of the year for ice. According to John 6:10, "there was plenty of grass" at the place where Jesus fed the 5,000, a miracle that He performed earlier that same day (see also Matthew 14:19). Mark's account (6:39) describes it as "green grass." This historical detail indicates the event did not take place in the winter but some time during the season when grass is green. In fact, the context of John 6 and 7 suggests that it happened before the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), which occurs in October. Sukkot involves sleeping outside in shelters made of tree branches, not an activity for sub-freezing temperatures, and the miracle apparently took place before Sukkot, closer to summer.

    According to the temperatures posted by the Israel Meteorological Service, mean temperatures there from July through September range from a low of 70º F. (about 20º C.) at night to a high of 84º F. (about 30º C.) during the day. Even in October, the range is much too warm for ice – 66º F. (19º C.) to 81º F. (27º C.).

  2. The observers of the event were well qualified to distinguish between water and ice. They were not visitors to an unfamiliar setting; they were professional fisherman who had spent their entire lives on that very lake, night and day, in all seasons and every kind of weather. Furthermore, at the end of the walking on water incident, they received Jesus into the boat, which means they were not just viewing Him from a distance, but close up—close enough to discern ice if it had been there. The larger the piece of ice—and it would have had to be substantial to sustain a grown man's weight—the more easily it could be seen. When we add the detail that Peter climbed out of the boat and also walked on the water, the possibility of a patch of ice melts away.

Naturalistic explanations
The world has suffered a long history of such naturalistic explanations for the miracles of Jesus. People who read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with an anti-supernatural bias feel compelled to deny His power however they can, no matter how implausible or bizarre their proposed solution becomes. The gospel accounts, however, do not focus attention on the miracles, but describe them as signs. They point, not to themselves, but to Him, and they force us to look at His inner nature, inside the skin of the Miracle Worker. They compel us to see Him as something more than just a man.

When we accept this as a legitimate miracle, we then analyze where it is pointing. One who can suspend the laws of nature like this must live outside those laws, or rather above them. Colossians 1:16-17 explains it this way:

    For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones of powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
That last statement that "in Him all things hold together" suggests that by His power and authority, by His constant attention, Jesus Christ holds the universe together moment by moment, including all of its natural laws.

Follow the signs to this One who has set the universe in order and can straighten out your life as well. Please, don't linger looking at the sign, or looking for reasons why the sign can't exist.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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CSI: Creation Scene Investigation

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The popular T.V. show C.S.I., with its multiple spin-offs, has commanded the attention of millions of viewers across the country. But make those same initials, C.S.I., stand for “Creation Scene Investigation,” and you confront a fiercely controversial and intriguing field of study.

Do a search for the keywords “intelligent design,” and you will understand what I mean. I can only cover the main points here; you will have to study it for yourself if you want “to go deeper,” which, as the founder/operator of “DeeperStudy.com” I would heartily recommend.

  1. We live in an orderly universe. It is so orderly that things operate according to what science calls “laws,” such as the law of gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, etc. This orderliness must have come from somewhere. The presence of design implies a Designer. Order, an Orderer.

  2. In the present, life never spontaneously arises from non-life. We stake our lives on this truth every time we open and eat canned food. Life never comes from non-life. It is inextricably linked: life come from Life.

  3. In the present, definite and apparently fixed gaps exist between different kinds of plants and animals. Different kinds cannot interbreed, or when they do, their offspring is sterile or deformed. As far back as fossils take us, we find the same thing. The plants and animals change in the fossil record, but the gaps remain.

  4. In the present, a huge gap exists separating human beings from all other animals. Humans seem to be unique in their ability to conceptualize, to communicate by means of language, to store and pass on complex knowledge, technology, etc., from one generation to the next.

Just as the Crime Scene Investigator makes inferences and deductions about the past based on what he or she finds at the crime scene, so Creation Scene Investigators can draw inferences and make deductions about the past—specifically the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the cause for the diversity of life, and the origin of human beings—based on what they find on the scene.

The Crime Scene Investigator’s purpose is to find the perpetrator, if any. The Creation Scene Investigator may also find a Person—the Divine Creator of everything and everyone. As Paul told the philosophers of Athens, “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). He is there, He is not silent, He wants to be found.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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April's Fool Day: Playing with Fire

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fool's Day has been around since at least 1582. That's when France changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. Before that time, the New Year was celebrated for eight days, leading up to April 1. But when the Gregorian calendar became official, New Year's Day became January 1.

Back then, news traveled slowly, and many people did not know about the change for several years. Others, though they knew, resisted the changed and kept celebrating New Year's on April 1 as they had always done. Both of these groups, the ignorant and the traditional, became subject to ridicule and were labeled as "fools." They were often sent on "fool's errands" and made the victim of other practical jokes.

This light-hearted harassment slowly evolved into a tradition of prank-playing on the first day of April. You might want to take a look at the Museum of Hoaxes's "Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time," which includes two worth mentioning. Leading up to April 1, 2000, a Dutch IPO was announced. It brought in $7 million before the hoax was revealed. Four year earlier, in 1997, there was a world-wide request that everyone log off the Internet from Mark 31 through April 2 to allow "five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world" to clean the Internet free of all of the "flotsam and jetsam" that had accumulated, purging it of dead e-mail addresses, and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites.

The Bible says, "Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, 'I was only joking!'" (Proverbs 26:18-19). Better to find other ways to have fun or even to bypass the humor than to laugh at another's expense. Some people's self esteem just can't afford to take a hit. Or if you must have your laugh, choose your victim carefully. The Bible warns you are playing with fire, and fire has a way of getting out of hand.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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