Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Sad Truth about Judas

According to John 12 it actually started before the Last Supper. Judas did not like the way things were going at the beginning of Passover week A.D. 30, and objected to the extravagance of Mary's anointing Jesus feet with the ancient equivalent of a pint of Chanel No. 5. Judas protested the wasting of a whole year's salary which could have been used to help the poor. Jesus' response was curt--- "leave her alone, allow her to observe it" presumably referring to her observing a burial ritual in advance of Jesus' death, though Mary would not have realized the act had this significance. We are told that Judas was the one who carried the money bag for the Twelve, and there is the further editorial comment by the Evangelist that he was not really concerned for the poor, and that he had a habit of dipping into the till.
He was not the last disciple to let greed get the best of him. But even on this occasion it began to become clear that despite riding into town on a donkey to great Hosannas and despite the prophetic action in the Temple, Jesus had come to town to die, not to kill or to kick the Romans out of town. If Judas was like Simon the Zealot, this could only have been profoundly disallusioning.

There is some reason to think that Judas may have been a Zealot. His name 'Iscariot' could actually mean either man of Kerioth, or Sicarri--- which means dagger men. The Zealots had their hit men, called Sicarri and Judas may well have been one of them before he joined the Twelve. This is by no means certain but it is historically plausible. If this was Judas' background, then his dreams of what Jesus would accomplish at Passover A.D. 30 would have been shattered by the last supper in which Jesus made clear he was about to give his life for his disciples, and others. We must all beware when we love our vision and dream of the Kingdom more than we love Jesus-- for Jesus will require it of us. I suspect Judas was such a person.

And Jesus knew what Judas had in mind, even told him to go and do it quickly. This does not mean that Jesus put Judas up to it, unlike what the Gospel of Judas suggests. It does mean Jesus foresaw where this story was leading and he tried to prepare his disciples for the shocking end that was coming. So when Judas went out into the night on April 6th A.D. 30, it is not a surprise that they most symbolic of Gospels says at this point "and it was night". Indeed, it was midnight in the garden of evil, and Judas was willingly going to play a role in the handing over and betrayal of Jesus. There could hardly be a worse perfidy, and it is in no ways surprising that the portrait of Judas got darker and darker after NT times in post-apostolic literature. This is one of the things that makes the Gospel of Judas interesting-- it is bucking the tide on this point.

But what should we really think of Judas's act? For one thing we notice that altruism is ruled out. Judas did not merely betray Jesus on principle, he betrayed him for thirty Tyrian shekels, which comports with what John 12 tells us about his love of money. This was a doubly dubious act, not a noble one meant to aid Jesus on his way to becoming martyr, superstar, or to help him get into heaven a little quicker, sloughing off the flesh. Nothing in our earliest sources suggests anything noble about Judas' deed.

Leave Judas aside for one moment-- ask your self this question-- Would Jesus have forgiven Judas if he had repented and sought it? The Jesus who from the cross said to his tormentors and executions "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" could certainly have said this to Judas. But as my friend James Howell has said guilt and remorse over consequences is not the same as repentance.

We have evidence that there was remorse in the case of Judas-- he tries to give the money back, and according to one tradition he hangs himself, presumably ashamed of what he did. His actions suggest shame and guilt, but repentance is another thing. In an honor and shame culture there are plenty of occasions where one feels shame and guilt about how things turned out, but in fact is not prepared to repent of what one has done. We do not know if Judas did so. But equally we have no basis in the NT to say what later church fathers said--- namely that we know for sure he was damned for all time.

Jesus, it is true says "it would have been better if such a person had never been born" but this is a woe saying presumably meant to warn his disciples against such an action, not suggest that it was inevitable or predestined that Judas would do this. It must be remembered that John 13 says Satan entered Judas (compare Luke's account), not God. He became an emissary of the powers of darkness, not of the Heavenly Father, and so his deed must be seen as wicked, not as noble or even God-ordained.

But where does this leave us, with Judas hanging from a tree and Jesus hanging on a tree? What should we think of all this today? The universal offer of forgiveness by Jesus is a paramount part of his message. But forgiveness offered is not the same as forgiveness received. We must be content to leave the final judgment of Judas in God's hands, and not try to either blacken or exonerate his reputation on the basis of later Christian and not so Christian traditions.

When we think of Judas there should be one thought upper most in our mind when we look at how he ruined his life. We should reflect and say in our heart of hearts "there but for the grace of God go I." We must all repent and believe the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Only so will Good Friday and Easter be good news for us.

36 comments:

yuckabuck said...

Doug Groothius informs us that scholars with the National Oceanic Society have uncovered a "Gospel of Brutus" which will probably be making waves in the mainstream press soon.

http://theconstructivecurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2006/04/gospel-of-brutus-revolutionary.html

(satire alert)

Phil said...

I've always been amazed by the similarities between Judas and Peter. One who sought forgiveness and one who couldn't.

pelagius said...

Great commentary! A very good and accurate job. I really appreciate your work.

Tony Myles said...

Great words, bro... Judas was called "friend" by Jesus. Amazingly, so are we. How weird is that?

JT said...

Ben,
As a college student who recently read Endo's Silence, I cannot help but see parallels between Judas as depicted by this newfound "gospel" and Endo's character of Rodrigues (a priest who apostatized to save suffering people). I am not sure if you are familiar with this work, but was wondering your thoughts on this matter. Is it indeed possible for the most difficult act - that of betrayal to Jesus Christ - to not be a sin, but rather a noble act?

Bill Barnwell said...

Dr. Witherington:

I'm sorry to interject this in the middle of this interesting discussion, but I would like to talk to you about the coming Ph.D. program at Asbury. I am a 25 year old pastor in Michigan who is also currently finishing the MATS program at Bethel College (Mishawaka, IN) this month and would to speak to you about what Asbury will be offering next year as I plan my next step. I could not find your email address anywhere so I figured I'd try and reach you this way. Please drop me an email at: Wbarnwell1@gmail.com
Thanks!

Best,
Bill

Ben Witherington said...

Its possible of course for difficult acts to be noble ones, but in the case of Judas, all the earliest evidence we have suggests otherwise,

Ben W.

W.Nielsen said...

Ben,

I wanted to tell you thanks for your last four posts on Judas and the so called Gospel of Judas. They have been very helpful to me personally. I hope you don't mind that I have linked your posts on my blog.

Ben Witherington said...

You are all most welcome....this too is part of my ministry to you all.

Ben

Joe Camarda said...

Dr. Witherington,

While watching Sunday's documentary on the Gospel of Judas, the narrator made claimed that the depictions of Judas in the Gospels when through an evolution, starting from Mark and ending with John. Particularly, he stated that Judas did not receive bad press (to use modern language) from the Gospel of Mark at all. It would then seem that the lenses of the later gospels force a negative reading of Judas in Mark's gospel.

I am curious about your thoughts on this.

Thank,

JC

Ben Witherington said...

Hi JC:

It is certainly true that the portrait of Judas in Mark is somewhat less severe than in the later Gospels. It is not the case that even Mark exonerates Judas. Consider for example Mk.3.19 and the list of the Twelve. Even here Judas is placed last on Jesus' list, and is said to be the one who betrayed or handed over Jesus. Further, we have the woe saying in Mk. 14.21 about Judas which can only be taken as a severe remark, followed in short order by Judas betraying Jesus in Mk. 14.43-47. Thus, while it is true that we do not hear about Judas' suicide in this Gospel, the portrait we do have of him is still negative in our earliest Gospel.

Blessings,
Ben

Chong Choe said...

Dr. Witherington,

I also want to thank you for addressing the gospel of Judas. The posts have been very helpful.

As Joe noted, the National Geographic program discussed how Judas's portrayal in the gospels became increasingly sinister over time. While Judas does not appear as a saint in Mark, his portrayal is markedly more negative in John. Most people place John somewhere between the late first century to the mid-second century. Assuming that John was written one or more generations after Mark, I'm wondering how we should respond to those who say that the picture of Judas in John is based on how later Christians perceived him rather than an accurate depiction of his character and role.

On a related but different note, I recently was asked whether the gospel writers exercised discretion in selecting words to write their gospels--particularly in reference to Jesus's quotes. In the OT, there is language to suggest that God spoke to certain individuals and they recorded His words. In the NT, the text is equally inspired, but, arguably, there is more room for discretion (particularly when we have four varying accounts of Jesus's life and teachings). Would it be fair to say that the human authors exercised discretion to convey a particular message? And how do we reconcile that with divine inspiration?

Thank you,
Chong

Dave said...

Dr. Witherington,
Thank you for all your time on these posts. They really have been very educational and insightful!

Chong,
Great question!

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Chong:

In the first place, I think the 4th Gospel is based on eyewitness testimony of the Beloved Disciple. So I am unconvinced about the evolutionary argument that in John the darker portrait reflects pure redaction, not historical knowledge. In the second place, you are quite right that a certain amount of freedom was granted to the inspired Gospel writers to edit the sayings of Jesus according to their own diction and purposes. I would stress that we only know what inspiration looks like by examining the particulars of the text itself. We should not dream up a notion of inspiration and then try and see if the text can be shoe-horned into it. We should study the text to see how God worked with his human authors to convey the truth to us.

Blessings,

Ben

Joe Camarda said...

Thank-you for your answer. It helps me sift through my thoughts.

JC

davebeals said...

Ben...Your most recent reply to "Chong" contained without a doubt the best comment I have ever read or heard regarding the inspiration of Scripture. AS I HAVE SAID BEFORE YOU NEED TO WRITE A BOOK ON THIS SUBJECT (in your spare time) IT IS SOOOOOOOO NEEDED....Thanks Dave

Jeremy Pierce said...

Dave, this view of inspiration is actually fairly common among evangelicals and I would say is even the dominant view. I do think Ben's way of putting it is not the most common way of expressing it, and I would say even that it's a way of expressing it that would speak more clearly to those with more liberal views of scripture, but I do think what Ben has expressed is exactly what most inerrantists hold. (To be clear: I do think Ben has disagreements with many inerrantists on particulars, e.g. in his interpretation of Genesis 1-11, but this particular statement seems to me to be what inerrantists generally believe. I'm just saying here that it's not a radically new position, just a very nice way of capturing a classical view that I would say goes back at least to the early church.)

Shea Cole said...

Hey Dr. Witherington! I just wanted to let you know that I have got a blog up finally and you can check it out if you get time. I'm sure there won't be anything on there that you havn't heard before though... haha!

Shea

Chong Choe said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thank you for your response. I agree that we should not devise an approach for inspiration and read the text based on that approach. Instead I always have preferred a literal, plain meaning approach.

I also agree that the gospel of John is based on historical knowledge (eye witness accounts transmitted orally and eventually memorialized). As a believer, I place great weight in God's ability to preserve the truth. But nonbelievers would assume, and rightfully so based on human experience, that there would be some alteration or distortion of the message over time. We assume this concerning the newly discovered gospel of Judas (originally as a deliberate distortion based on the other gospels’ accounts of Judas and, possibly derivatively, as a distortion of the original gospel of Judas). But we hold the opposite assumption with regard to the gospel of John.

It was interesting to read your statement that the gospel writers were able to edit Jesus's sayings according to their own diction and purposes. I wonder whether it is critical to have the events and words recorded just as they occurred. Or whether God is conveying something beyond just the events and words—maybe, a glimpse of His multifaceted character. And likewise the entire Bible reveals to us the character and purposes of God.

As we approach the day commemorating our Lord’s resurrection, thinking about these things have made me recognize more our frailty and appreciate more God’s grace and power. Truly, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Thanks again,
Chong

davebeals said...

Jeremy...What I like about Ben's statement is that he is more interested in studying the PRODUCT of Biblical inspiration than he is in studying man made, uninspired DEFINITIONS of Biblical inspiration. I like that a lot !!! Dave

yuckabuck said...

1)While reading the discussion of the supposed "evolution" of a negative picture of Judas in the New Testament, I was reminded of how all historical exegesis deals in probabilities. I wondered if I could come up with an alternative explanation for the "negative evolution" (which Dr. Witherington points out does not exist, for even Mark pronounces woes on Judas), and I came up with this- Perhaps each successive gospel writer felt that previous gospels did not do justice to the Judas tradition as they had heard it or knew it, and so each one got a little more negative. Hey, it could be possible! But it reinforces how many of the theories bandied about in modern scholarship rest on probabilies and not certainties.

2)Jeremy, I dispute that the view of inspiration mentioned above is a majority evangelical view among the rank and file. I repeated the Ladd/Fee line that the Bible is "the Word of God given in the words of people in history" on another blog, and half of my in laws think I'm a liberal. I was told that "God doesn't lie, and therefore His Word doesn't lie, and therefore His Word is inerrant in all historical and scientific details."

3)Finally, I agree with Dave. There is a need for a new treatment of the inspiration of Scripture, one that might reach a broad audience like Ladd's "The New Testament and Criticism" tried to (before Lindsell's "The Battle for the Bible" made the issue sour again). I did not think Wright's last bible book met this need , or even lived up to the hype on the cover (though it was good in itself).

If Dr. Witherington won't write this book, then I MIGHT HAVE TO. But I doubt anybody will publish it until I get letters after my name. :-)
God bless ya all!

KentF said...

Is it plausible that Judas wrote a Gospel before his betrayal? Makes little sense to me. Thanks for the wonderful writing.

Shea Cole said...

yuckabuck.

read N.T. Wright's book The Last Word it's amazing!

Shea Cole said...

sorry i didnt see that you mentioned it haha oh well.

Ben Witherington said...

Just so ya'll will rest easy over the Easter season, it is my conclusion that the Bible is both truthful and trustworthy in whatever it intends to teach us. Of course there are ever so many subjects not addressed by the Biblical writers, and defining what constitutes an error depends on what, and in what way the author is trying to convey the truth. This matter is actually exceedingly complex--- for example, a truthful report of a lie which someone tells in the Bible is still a form of telling the truth. Or again, when an author is trying to convey a general concept or say a round number, he should not be faulted for not being more precise--- this hardly counts as an error of any sort. Rather one is applying too rigid a standard or the wrong standard of what counts as truth. Then there is the whole issue of genre. For example if we are dealing with apocalyptic prophecy in Revelation, then we had better know how that kind of literature works with symbols and hyperobolic images of various sorts. Here is a case where taking "the plain literal sense of the text" is absolutely not at all what the inspired author wanted us to do--- in fact he would find such literalism applied to his visionary images or to parables, for example, quite laughable. And then of course there is the distinction between what Scripture teaches and what it touches. The Bible touches on many subject, like for instance, the worship of Molech, or baptism for the dead--- which is does not endorse or encourage. One has to know something about what counts as false to understand what counts as true.....

And so on.

Maybe someday after this huge pile of contracts staring at me, I will write a book on the inspiration and authority of the NT-- in the mean time, trust what 2 Tim. 3.16 says about the OT.

Easter blessings,

Ben

Ben Witherington said...

Just so ya'll will rest easy over the Easter season, it is my conclusion that the Bible is both truthful and trustworthy in whatever it intends to teach us. Of course there are ever so many subjects not addressed by the Biblical writers, and defining what constitutes an error depends on what, and in what way the author is trying to convey the truth. This matter is actually exceedingly complex--- for example, a truthful report of a lie which someone tells in the Bible is still a form of telling the truth. Or again, when an author is trying to convey a general concept or say a round number, he should not be faulted for not being more precise--- this hardly counts as an error of any sort. Rather one is applying too rigid a standard or the wrong standard of what counts as truth. Then there is the whole issue of genre. For example if we are dealing with apocalyptic prophecy in Revelation, then we had better know how that kind of literature works with symbols and hyperobolic images of various sorts. Here is a case where taking "the plain literal sense of the text" is absolutely not at all what the inspired author wanted us to do--- in fact he would find such literalism applied to his visionary images or to parables, for example, quite laughable. And then of course there is the distinction between what Scripture teaches and what it touches. The Bible touches on many subject, like for instance, the worship of Molech, or baptism for the dead--- which is does not endorse or encourage. One has to know something about what counts as false to understand what counts as true.....

And so on.

Maybe someday after this huge pile of contracts staring at me, I will write a book on the inspiration and authority of the NT-- in the mean time, trust what 2 Tim. 3.16 says about the OT.

Easter blessings,

Ben

Chong Choe said...

Just to clarify, I interpret Scripture based on its literal, plain meaning unless the text indicates otherwise. I hope that my earlier comment was not takent to suggest that I interpret "twelve lampstands" to mean only twelve lampstands literally.

poserorprophet said...

Dr. Witherington,

This is an excellent post. It helps clarify what we can know, and what we cannot know.

I am often struck by the similarities between Judas and Peter. Both betrayed Jesus, Jesus mentions both of their betrayals before hand, both seem to be linked to hopes for a violent revolt. Both are overcome with remorse.

Yet there are two striking differences. One loves money too much, and one loves Jesus so much that he is able to push through the shame and remorse and go and see Jesus after the resurrection.

If Peter is just one step removed from Judas, perhaps the rest of us are only one step removed from Peter.

Of course, so many of us are so attached to our money that we end up being only one step removed from Judas.

Grace and peace,

Dan

Jeremy Pierce said...

Yuckabuck: Anyone who does not understand that "the Word of God given in the words of people in history" is consistent with "Word is inerrant in all historical and scientific details" does not understand the historic doctrine of inerrancy that goes at least back to Augustine. There is a strain within the most conservative fundamentalists today that doesn't recognize it, but the ordinary evangelical does not require pi to be 3 simply because Chronicles estimates the ratio between a circle's circumference and its diameter to be 3. Most evangelicals have no problem at all with rounding or lack of precision as long as the intent was never to give that level of detail. Most evangelicals have no trouble describing things from a human perspective (e.g. the sun rising) even though it would be literally false if you just paid attention to word meaning and grammar apart from idiom and phenomenological perspective. Most evangelicals flat-out insist the inerrancy never required a dictation theory, which means God inspired the authors through using their own language. This is the mainstream evangelical view. Find me a serious evangelical scholar who holds to inerrancy who accepts that pi is 3. That sort of view is simply not mainstream.

yuckabuck said...

Jeremy,
I am referring to the debate between so-called "Limited" and "Unlimited" inerrancy. To quote footnote 1 on page 1 of Gordon Fee's "Gospel and Spirit" (Hendrickson 1991):

"'Limited' inerrancy describes the belief that what God intends to convey in Scripture, or the message of Scripture, is without error, but this absence of error does not neccessarily apply to the incidental scientific or historic notations in Scripture. 'Unlimited' inerrancy would include the latter items as well. This language, it should be noted, is the product of the latter group and is intended to exclude by definition of terms."

While the George Ladd quote I used could be stretched to include either view, I still hold that the majority of Evangelicals (not just scholars, but all believers) think that anything less than "Unlimited" inerrancy is liberal, heresy, or both. Indeed, I understand Mr. "Battle for the Bible" himself, Harold Lindsell, wanted Harold Ockenga to fire Ladd from Fuller Seminary (as well as Paul Jewett) over the issue.

When H. Orton Wiley wrote the Nazarene statement on inerrancy, he reportedly said that he purposefully put "elbow room" in the statement so that both views could fit under it.

But the 'Limited' inerrancy position (I hate that term) was clearly attacked in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy:

"We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. " (Article 12) (Though Article 18 seems to conflict with this, as well as some bits of part 3, section c.)

Note that I am not hereby stating what Dr. Witherington believes about inerrancy. That is his for him to jump into the pool where he thinks best. But there are definitely two views (at least) within Evangelicalism, and I believe most of the rank and file do not hold to the one many biblical scholars do.

davebeals said...

I think we should take the negative, outdated, ineffective, divisive term called innerrancy and dump it where a lot of other Evangelical baggage should be dumped and instead focus on the FINAL PRODUCT of inspiration which is the inspired text. As we understand the inspired text better so shall we understand what inspiration is better. Let's not (as someone else said) shoehorn fit Scripture into human theories of what inspiration is. I love the Scriptures so much more than the crap that is written by those who want to put God and His written Word into a nice little box that fits their theological agenda. I cringe when I hear brainwashed fundamentalists say "If I find one "error" in Scripture, then I can't believe any of it and the Bible is just like any other book."...GODS WORD IS ALIVE, INSPIRED, AND WAY ABOVE and BEYOND OUR NEAT LITTLE THEORIES !!!Dave

davebeals said...

P.S. By the way...I am an Evangelical Christian who accepts the National Association of Evangelicals "Statement of Faith" as pretty well written and solidly Biblical stuff...I noticed that they left out the little divisive word mentioned in my prior post in that statement...Dave

davebeals said...

FINAL THOUGHT... The term "inerrancy" has too many different meanings in today's world to be considered a helpful term in diccussions pertaining to the inspiration of Scripture. Today's theological climate needs to be introduced to some new and more effective terms to describe this miracle of God speaking through the writings of humans....Thats all...I will sit down now...Dave

yuckabuck said...

Dave-
Amen!

Curiously, Gary Dorrien makes the claim that the argument that "If we find one error in Scripture, then the whole Bible, and Christianity which rests on it, falls to the ground," actually was first presented by the conservatives (Hodge, Warfield), not the liberals. I was shocked to hear that. I grew up thinking it was a liberal criticism of Evangelicalism.

Steve said...

While I was at Asbury, Dr. Mulholland shared a facinating hypothesis of Judas. Following the train of thought that Iscariot referred to Judas belonging to the sicarii sect, it would make sense that Judas may have intended to force Jesus' hand during this Pesach in Jerusalem. When things didn't play out the way Judas had planned there was total confusion and remorse. Dr. Mulholland also threw out for thought that maybe all of the disciples had been influenced by Judas' focus on a Messianic lead overthrow of Roman occupancy. Perhaps they all had somewhat of a guilty conscience during the last supper when Jesus told them what would happen, and one after the other they all proclaimed, "surely, not I, Lord!?" It might also explain why Peter the fisherman had a knife with him in the garden. His strike at the high priest's son meant that Peter was ready to throw down and get the revolt started. Jesus rebukes him and again changes their perspective at which point the remaining talmidim bolted.

It's been an intriguing conspiracy theory rolling around my mind all these years. Have you ever heard these thoughts or discussed them? What are your thoughts on it? And I hope that my oversimplification of Dr. Mulholland's theory isn't inaccurate, because I wouldn't want to be guilty of spreading some apocryphal oral tradition.

TBrookins said...

Dr. Witherington, I'm not sure if this post is still alive, but I wanted to clarify something. At least one person has hinted here that the position you hold on inspiration is the majority evangelical position and is essentially the position of "inerrancy." Am I wrong when I say that you would not hold to "inerrancy" in its form explicated in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy? It seems to me that you would be comfortable leaving, for example, certain discrepancies in the Gospels unreconciled--or dare I say, in contradiction--and would instead explain the discrepancies as being varied attempts of human writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and explain Jesus for particular audiences. I'd love to hear your thoughts.