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"The Judas Ballyhoo"
by Tom Goodman
April 12, 2006

Hype Alert:  “The Gospel of Judas” is back in the news after 1800 years, and National Geographic wants you to think Christianity is about to collapse from the discovery.

In the year 180, the Christian leader, Irenaeus, warned believers against the heresy promoted in a document called the Gospel of Judas.  Now scholars have a chance to actually read this document, thanks to the discovery of a late third-century Coptic copy.

Fascinating?  Of course.  Threatening?  Hardly.

But according to the National Geographic Society, the document will “shake Christianity to its foundations.”  The New York Times breathlessly reported that the text has proved “deeply troubling for many believers.”  They don’t bother to interview any, or to even cite a poll of how many believers are actually shaken.

Deep in the article, the reporter makes a passing reference to retired professor, James Robinson, a widely recognized expert in ancient documents like this.  “There’s nothing undermining [to Christianity] about the Gospel of Judas,” he said.

Oh.  Never mind.

Kudos to the Austin-American Statesman, who complained in Monday’s editorial that “there was more marketing than scholarship” in the National Geographic ballyhoo.  To be sure, the Coptic codex joins the celebrated Nag Hammadi collection as essential material for anyone who is interested in studying the late second-century challenges to historic Christian belief.  Still, let’s keep this in perspective: we’re talking about challenges to Christianity that appeared more than 150 years after Christ.

The Gospel of Judas was written by Gnostics, who claimed to have secret spiritual “gnosis” (the Greek word for “knowledge”).  Many of their writings put Gnostic beliefs in the statements of New Testament characters.  In the Judas text, for example, it’s only Judas who really understood what Jesus was up to.  In the Gnostic story, Jesus asked Judas to turn him over to the authorities and thus, “you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”  In other words, by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas would liberate the true divine being within Jesus.

The Gnostic Jesus simply saw his death as the way for his pure soul to be liberated from his impure body.  The biblical Jesus saw his death as the cosmic atonement for the world’s sins, and he looked for the resurrection of his body following his sacrifice.  As we celebrate Easter this weekend, I’m staking my life and future on the original version.  How about you?


Important Notes:

Postcard from “Hillcrest Church”?  Have you mailed the postcard advertising the “Code Breakers” sermon series?  We included one in last Sunday’s bulletin so you could send it to a friend (first-class stamp is required).  Some of you are asking why the title “Hillcrest Church” shows up twice on the card.  I will address this in this week’s LeaderLines (subscribe here or read it next week in the archives).  Let’s keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is to use this study as a way to invite a friend to Hillcrest.  I look forward to meeting yours!

HELP US WITH PARKING!  We need 30 cars parked offsite on Easter, April 16.  Send an e-mail to my assistant, Jami, and let her know you will park offsite.  Drop off your family at Hillcrest and then park at Hill Elementary School.  We’ll provide a shuttle to get you from Hill Elementary School to Hillcrest and back.  Our shuttle will run 9:15-9:45 a.m., again from 10:30-11:00 a.m., and then from 11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Interesting Links:

Find more articles on the Gospel of Judas at the BBC, Christianity Today, and The New York Sun.  The last article is a surprise, coming as it does from by Bruce Chilton—a member of the highly unorthodox Jesus Seminar.  (Hat tip: David Haralson).
The Baptist Standard has an article about the recent decision of the Austin Baptist Association to move funding from the UT-Austin Baptist Student ministry to support the new focus on aggressive church planting in the Austin metro area.
As you get ready for Easter Sunday, think on this: Most don't believe in a future resurrection according to the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Only 36 percent of the respondents said they anticipated a resurrection.  What’s worse, only 59 percent of people who claim to be “born again” said they believe in a personal resurrection.  We have a lot of educating to do.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, has written a good summary of Calvinism and good advice for how to discuss the matter in our churches.  Be sure to read the Spurgeon quote at the end.  Excellent!
Finally, every week I’ve been providing links to Christian sites designed to prepare us for the upcoming film release of “The Da Vinci Code.”  This week, read “The Ultimate Cinematic Discussion Starter.”  Be praying for our 3-week series, “The Da Vinci Code Breakers,” following Easter.

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