Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, April 28, 2006

The REAL Gospel of Judas

Occasionally (admittedly not often) The New York Times gets something more or less right in the area of Biblical studies. The recent tiresome flap about the so-called "Gospel" of Judas yielded a couple of good observations (Friday, April 7, front-page article by John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein). James M. Robinson (part of the Jesus Seminar crowd, but he is the real thing when it comes to ancient texts) said, "Correctly understood, there is nothing undermining [of the New Testament] about the Gospel of Judas." He correctly noted that both John and Mark have passages suggesting that Judas was part of God's (and therefore Christ's) purpose.

Best, though, was the Times' quotation from Irenaeus: "They [the Gnostics] produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the gospel of Judas."

For an authoritative word on the theological significance of Judas in the New Testament Gospels, I offer a passage from the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's often-dazzling Mysterium Paschale. He is examining the interplay in all four Evangelists' use of the word paradid├Ámi, to hand over, to deliver up. The next three paragraphs are his words:

Beside the Father who hands over, and the Son who is handed over, there appears as a third actor the traitor who is a hander-over also. Judas, one of the Twelve, is "he who hands over," the traditor. On the other hand, by his action, he becomes the representation of unbelieving and faithless Israel, which rejects its Messiah, and is thereby delivered up (for a time: Romans 11). The interplay between the God who hands over and the sinners who, in handing over, betray, has an extremely paradoxical character, although as early as the Old Testament, God has human executors of his justice who are nonetheless not exonerated from the blame of their actions....

The interplay can be interpreted by reflection as a mystery of God's providence (Acts 2:23) and in terms of the relative ignorance of the Jews (Acts 3:17)...but it can also be misused in a polemical fashion as the means of identifying a personal or national "black sheep." The eschatological situation requires us to see a link between this betrayal and all powers hostile to God (John 13:27)...

On the one hand, Judas steps forward with Israel, for the time of the world's history, in the visible role of reprobation, but on the other hand, from the perspective of the universalist affirmations of the New Testament, he is the visible agent of all that sinners-- Christians, Jews, pagans-- do in common (Romans 5:12ff; I Timothy 2:6; John 12:32, etc.).

--Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 110. (Original German edition, Theologie der Drei Tage, 1970)