Anybody who has ever ridden a jitney, bus, or other modest means of transportation in the Philippines, has also spotted a sticker or sign with the playful play on words: "God knows Judas [pronounced ‘who does’] not pay." To Filipinos, the name of the apostle who betrayed Jesus serves as a caveat to cheaters.
According to the National Geographic Channel documentary “The Gospel of Judas,” a Cairo antiques dealer came into possession of leather-bound, 26-page papyrus document some 30 years ago. What he didn’t realize was that the manuscript was the only extant copy of the Easter story from Judas’ point of view--- originally crafted by a Greek Gnostic and translated into Coptic around 300 AD.
The subtitle says it all: "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot three days before he celebrated Passover."
Scholars familiar with the “Adversus Haereses” of Irenaeus (180 A.D) knew about the gospel’s existence (in fact, the author dedicated an entire chapter to arguments against its inclusion in Holy Writ) but no copies of the “Jesus-made-me-do-it” narrative had ever surfaced.
The New Testament canon, sans as many as 30 apocryphal gospels (Mary Magdalene, Philip, Thomas, and even The Gospel of Truth) was chiefly fixed at the Synod of Rome, where the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (60-100 AD) were established as the only suitable accounts of Jesus' birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Gnostic gospels such as Judas didn’t appear until at least a century later and were contended to be too distant in time to be considered a reliable report. “To say that the gospel of Judas reveals anything factual about Judas,” Asbury Theological Seminary professor Ben Witherington told the New York Times, ''is like saying a document written 150 years after George Washington died tells us the inside truth about George Washington.''
Over the years, the Judas manuscript, supposedly discovered by a farmer in a cave in southern Egypt, changed hands several times, and, due to the cupidity of the aforementioned Cairo antiques dealer, ended up crumbling away inside a Hicksville, New York bank safety deposit box. The deteriorating fragments, numbering over 1,000, were paleographically-analyzed, multispectral-imaged, carbon-dated, reassembled, and translated into English. (See: www.nationalgeographic.com).
Just as the press often overstates scientific achievements (recently, the so-called “missing link” fish), the Judas gospel news stories, with claims about long-hidden evidence threatening long-held beliefs should likewise be taken with a grain of salt. The hysterical cable-TV hype, the brilliantly theatrical news conference announcement (“It will shake Christianity to its foundations!”), and the CSI-esque authentication of the codex, really don’t amount to much---substance-wise.
While the gospel of Judas is remarkable as an ancient find, the text discloses no more about the historical Judas than Dan Brown's “Da Vinci Code,” Nikos Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ,” or Morely Callaghan’s “A Time for Judas.”
Gospel writers John and Mark have already told us that not only did Jesus single out Judas to betray him, but actually encouraged his “friend” to hand him over to those who would crucify him. In the Book of John, Jesus instructs Judas, "Do quickly what you are going to do," with none of the other apostles grasping what Jesus meant.
Rev. Donald Senior, president of the Catholic Theological Union, told the Washington Post, "At one level, the Gospels already see the betrayal as a mysterious part of God's plan." He predicted that the Judas gospel would produce "a short-term sensation" but after Christians read it, "the impact on the lives of ordinary believers will be minimal."
“It has no bearing whatsoever on (the Easter) story, much less on the faith of the Christian church," weighed in Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In an interview with USA Today, he dismissed the Judas gospel as nothing more than "an ancient manuscript that tells an interesting story."
The word “gospel” means "good news.” Yesterday, 1.6 billion believers worldwide celebrated the good news of the Resurrection. The gospel of Judas, on the other hand, concludes with the words, "The Pharisees ... went to Judas and told him ... although you are evil in this place, you are Jesus' true disciple. And he answered them as they wanted him to. And Judas received the money. And he surrendered him.”
Betrayal, however, is not the unforgivable sin.
The eleven other apostles also betrayed Jesus in various ways---but they stuck around. Judas cheated---unable to face falling short, he chose to die by his own hand. God knows Judas not pay (repent).
Finally, according to Corinthians, 500 would eventually witness the risen Christ but Judas would not be one of them.
So what’s so good about that kind of news?