Question: What was this about a “Gospel of Judas” on the National Geographic Society Channel?
Answer: There are four and only four divinely inspired Gospels; those written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Yet there are any number of other accounts written about Jesus Christ, within a century or two of His life, and these are sometimes called gospels—although “apocryphal gospels” would be a more correct term. (The apocrypha were treated at greater length in the October 2004 Parish Bulletin.[i]) The apocryphal “gospels” may contain accurate historical information, pure fiction, or a combination of both—they must be evaluated like any other non-Scriptural religious literature. As the Geographic Society was correct in pointing out, the “Gospel of Judas” was written by a gnostic heretic—one who claimed that his sect had secret knowledge not available to all Christians, and who held the false, dualistic, notion that all material things are evil, and only spiritual things are good. The gnostic writer and his gospel were known and condemned by the great Saint Irenæus of Lyons (martyred c. 200 AD).
The dualistic heresy of the Gnostics moved the author to portray Judas’ betrayal of Christ in a favorable light, the cause of the liberation of His good spirit from His “evil” body. Other dualists, in later years, would come to view murder, suicide, abortion, and contraception as likewise praiseworthy methods of spiritual liberation—a dangerous heresy indeed.
The Geographic Society video trotted out Elaine Pagels and the other “usual suspects” in favor of gnosticism. Unfortunately, many viewers will be likely to assume that the appearance of so many PhDs from Ivy League institutions makes the claims of the “Judas Gospel” legitimate, which, of course, it does not. The main theme of the video was the “authentication” of fourth century Coptic copy of the “gospel.” Again, the casual viewer might make the incorrect assumption that the word “authentic” guarantees the wisdom of the “gospel.” In fact, all that the scholars employed by the Society claimed (and were capable of claiming) was that the manuscript was in fact a real fourth century Coptic writing. They could not and did not claim that it was an accurate translation of an earlier work, let alone that it possessed any spiritual value. A fourth century Superman comic would have been equally “authentic.”