I had just finished teaching a fantastic lesson about Judas Iscariot.. Some in the young adult Sunday school class even had tears in their eyes. Paula, you must be a great teacher, I thought to myself. Then Tom raised his hand. He was sitting near the back of the class. Good, someone has a question. I noticed he had a bit of smirk on his face.

“Yes, Tom?”

“Paula, did you ever consider that maybe Judas Iscariot was one of the good guys?”

“Tom, are you serious? Why would anyone think Judas was a good guy? That makes about as much sense as thinking Hitler was a good guy.”

Tom cringed as if I had aimed a gun at him, but he stuck to his guns. His defense: “In my college Bible course the professor said that Judas was helping Jesus out. You know, getting the prophesies fulfilled, making sure the religious leaders could find him when the crowds weren’t around to stop the arrest. We even had to read a book by a British scholar suggesting this. Those Brits are smart, so it must be true.”

I knew this was the gnostic belief, but I had not expected someone to bring up this perspective of Judas Iscariot in MY Sunday school class. It was 1975 and The Da Vinci Code was not published until 2003. I disagreed with Tom and the gnostics, but how much did this little spat matter in the big scheme of things? Should I have reported Tom to the church elders? Should he have been shunned? Since this debate in 1975 I have known several friends who think the gnostics had a good point. Are these folks really Christians? They go to church on Sunday.

I’ve studied a far amount of theology, but today I can’t even remember what all the words mean. How many of these words can you define, let alone believe: preterism, isogesis, inerrant, hypostatic union, kenosis, transubstantiation, propitiation? How about x-nihilo? No, x-nihilo isn’t a label for an atheist. Which theological keys must we know to open the door to the kingdom? Here’s a clue. You only need one key to open a door.

This question of what really mattered to basic Christianity was especially troublesome for a ladies’ Bible study I taught. We came from various churches, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic… After several months we decided it would be helpful to identify our common beliefs. Could we agree to disagree on some things? Fortunately all of us were polite southern ladies. If we didn’t like you we never told you to your face. We just gossiped about you.

As we sifted through the theological issues the foundational issues began to settle to the ground floor – the absolute essentials one had to believe in order to be a Christian. We agreed this foundation was truly the key to the kingdom. It goes like this: God loves you so much that even though you do bad things sometimes, he sent his own son to die in your place, to pay for your sins. All you have to do is receive God’s gift of forgiveness, and God will give you eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Years ago I was privileged to hear a famous theologian, Manford Gutzke, describe how he moved from being an atheist to a believer in Jesus Christ. “One night while I was walking on a country road, I just looked up into the heavens and spoke to God. ‘I believe now that You are there, and I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son and that He died for me,’ I said. ‘I know I need Your salvation. Help me.’ And suddenly I was able to believe.” http://www.thebibleforyou.org/Booklets/files/BP357.pdf

On the day I heard Gutzke speak he was an old man. It had been many years since he used the key. He told us plainly that night he looked up at the stars he only believed Jesus loved him and died for him, but he did not even believe in the virgin birth until later. There were many details of theology which he came to understand in the years following that night.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalms 8:3,4

Last I saw on Facebook Tom is still an active member of that church in South Carolina. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.


7 thoughts on “WORTH A FIGHT

  1. I sincerely do not mean to cause anyone offense, although I regret that some people will choose to be offended. But I am astounded that anyone could believe Jesues loves him or her or that a deity feels any concern for the plight of human beings. How could I possibly be persumptuous enough to believe that when genocides and natural disasters snuff out life by the millions, my beating the odds and surviving could be evidence that I am divinely singled out? When people thank their god for the abundeance at their table, that sounds so incredibly self-centered to me, taking into account that countless children in this world literally attempt to live on garbage heaps to try to survive off of decomposing food. If there is a loving deity out there, it must be a pretty damn powerless entitity since it permits so many children to live and die in torment. That wouldn’t be a very intelligent designer, either.

    People who are intellectually honest consider these issues, instead of retreating into the denialism of faith. People who attempt to suppress these kinds of questions are not seeking truth. They are merely seeking to justify their own preconceived biases.


  2. “As we sifted through the theological issues the foundational issues began to settle to the ground floor – the absolute essentials one had to believe in order to be a Christian. We agreed this foundation was truly the key to the kingdom. It goes like this: God loves you so much that even though you do bad things sometimes, he sent his own son to die in your place, to pay for your sins. All you have to do is receive God’s gift of forgiveness, and God will give you eternal life.”

    If that’s the case, the earliest Christians in Palestine who identified themselves with the anonymously written document that later came to be called “The Gospel According to Mark” were not Christians. They did not believe that Joshua was “God’s only son” by way of supernatural birth. In Mark, Joshua (i.e., Jesus) always refers to himself as the Son of Man. And it is abundantly clear that Jesus is talking about himself in the third person. Mark 8:31, 9:9, 9:31, 10:33, 10:45, 14:21, 14:41. Mark makes a point of saying John’s baptism remits all sins (1:4), that Jesus submits to that baptism, and that God adopts Jesus immediately afterward (1:9–11). The role of John and his baptism are explicitly stated by Mark: to prepare the way for the Lord to adopt Jesus as a “Son of God” (1:2–3).

    In Jewish scripture, “Son of God” designated an especially important agent of God; thus, Moses was called “Son of God.” When God adopts Jesus, Jesus takes on a status as important as Moses.

    Gentiles who understood nothing about Jewish scripture later interpreted “Son of God” literally. And Jewish Christians converting gentiles did the same, since the original meaning of “Son of God” would have hardly been much of a basis for gentiles to convert, because they would have been converting to a breakaway sect of Judaism.

    There is plenty that the orthodox Christians in the the late second century CE found objectionable about Mark. “John’s” theology (we have no idea who the anonymous author of John was, but do know it was written roughly 100 or more years after the events at issue)
    could not be further removed from Mark’s. In John, Jesus
    is identical to God (John 1:1–5) not (as had originally been
    preached) his subordinate (Philippians 2:5–11; 1 Corinthians
    15:24), eliminating any rationale for the baptism.

    In Mark, Jesus’ cry on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you
    forsaken me!?” in Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46), is a
    quotation of Psalms 22:1. These are instances of the Jewish tradition of the suffering just man. There was nothing embarrassing about it to the early Jewish Christians who identified with Mark. But later Evangelists found it so embarrassing they changed it. The unedifying groan (unedifying to Luke and John) is replaced in Luke by Christ’s trustful commendation of his spirit to his Father (Luke 23:46) and in John by a cry of triumph” (John 19:30). And John naturally redacts Jesus’ baptism by John, because his version of Jesus did not need to be cleansed of sin to be adopted by God as an equal to Moses.

    Of course, the documents we as a full collection of various sources are dated circa 200 CE, but we know for certain that one of the most influential Bishops of the late second century (Irenaeus of Lyons), who led in the persecution of the gnostics and heavily influenced the interpretation of Christianity, condemned Mark as heresy in 180 AD in his Refutation Against Heresies, calling Mark “the Gospel most closely associated with the gnostics.” Mark had not yet been doctored to be theologically acceptable by including post-resurrection events.

    The following verses were obviously added to Mark to incorporate elements of other gospels that were not written until 20-70 years after Mark (the dating is pure guess work). Thus, this ending to Mark, which was added after 180, is pure forgery:

    [9b] Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom
    He had cast out seven demons. [10] She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning
    and weeping. [11] When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. [12] After
    that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. [13]
    They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either. [14] Afterward He appeared to the
    eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart,
    because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. [15] And He said to them, “Go into all the
    world and preach the gospel to all creation: [16] He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who
    has disbelieved shall be condemned. [17] These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will
    cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; [18] they will pick up serpents {in their hands}, and if they drink
    any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
    [19] So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right
    hand of God. [20] And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the
    word by the signs that followed.

    In fact, in Mark, neither Peter nor Judas are regarded as having betrayed Jesus. It is telling that Judas means “Jew.”

  3. Correction: Mark does include the Judas drama. But it is obvious the Roman authorities did not need Judas to capture Jesus. It does not come across as a narrative of historical fact, but as a morality tale within the narrative.

  4. Anthony, my entire goal was to dumb things down. You are doing the exact opposite. Please post the link to where you got your research evidence for the history of the documentation of the gospels. Gutske became a theological scholar, but his starting point was gazing at the sky and deciding there had to be a first cause we call God. A modern day writer, Ann Lamott reached the same conclusion. Her comment, “F… it all, God. Come on in.” We can scream all we want about how bad the world is, but we still must decide, is there a God who cares, or are we victims of the universe?

  5. I believe we should seek a truthful answer, not one that comforts us regardless of whether it is truthful. In my mind, the evidence is overwhelming against the existence of a loving, omnipotent God who has any concern for the welfare of human beings.

    But I also do not believe there are only two options: believing in this particular deity or being a victim of the universe. For instance, Buddhism rejects the concept of a creator God, but holds that liberation from suffering is possible by first purifying oneself of all selfishness and then by examining the source of one’s consciousness, which reveals the true nature of reality, and results in an irreversible realization of “the unborn, unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, undefiled supreme security from bondage [i.e., from phenomenal existence].” That form of knowledge is described as being incomparably more clear than human conceptions. And blind faith is considered a barrier against truth, because the truthfulness of this claim can only be confirmed by direct investigation. Early Buddhism does often mention development of faith. But that is a term of art. It means development of a willingness to investigate. Whenever one of the Buddha’s followers proclaims on the basis of emotional faith that he speaks the truth, that person is gently chastised not to make claims that he or she has not personally verified. I would be appalled if someone simply believed Buddhist teachings outrights without having investigated them by first comprehending them intellectually, and then by following the Buddha’s instructions (selflessness in conduct and thought, and investigation into the nature of consciousness itself). In any case, that is simply an example of another option besides believing in a deity who loves humanity (despite all of the evidence to the contrary) or being victims of the universe. Nevertheless, I can think of millions of innocent victims of the universe, such as people born with schizophrenia, or people who die of disease and starvation after natural catastrophes. They are victims of the universe, plain and simple, whether one believes in a loving God or not.

    The sources I cite are the Gospels themselves.

    The other thing I did not mention in my response is that declaring an opinion to be untrue merely because one ascribes it to the Gnostics is simply an argument ad hominem.

    I do not agree that Judas’s supposed betrayal of Jesus would have served a divine purpose for the simple reason that the betrayal was entirely unnecessary for the rest of the synoptic gospel account to unfold; i.e., the Romans hardly needed Judas to locate Jesus. One explanation for the story of Judas’s betrayal is that it underscores the Jewish tradition of the innocent servant of God being unjustly betrayed and punished.

    Many of the Gnostics considered Mark to be their gospel. If something is false merely because some of the gnostics (a highly heterogenous group that really should be lumped together under one name) believed it, then Mark is surely false. Whether the gnostics believed something or did not believe it is entirely irrelevant as to whether the belief is correct. So their beliefs about Judas have no bearing on the accuracy of the student’s remark that Judas served God’s purposes in the Gospels.

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