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ARCHIVE: The Da Vinci Code, Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas

1. The Da Vinci Code: A Christian Response
2. The Nag Hammadi Documents and Gnosticism
3. The Gospel of Judas
4. The Gospel of Judas - A Retake
5. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 1)
6. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 2)
7. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 3)
8. Canonicity and the Gospel of Judas



by Ong Kok Bin

JESUS CHRIST and SALVATION in The Gospel of Judas
The introduction in the Gospel of Judas reads as follows:

      When Jesus appeared on earth, he performed miracles and great wonders for the salvation
      of humanity. And since some [walked] in the way of righteousness while others walked in
      their transgressions, the twelve disciples were called. He began to speak with them about the
      mysteries beyond the world and what would take place at the end. Often he did not appear to his
      disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child.

This introduction, more or less, provides the gist of the substance of material that is covered in the Gospel and that will be the attention of our discussion at hand: (1) the personhood of Jesus Christ, and (2) ‘salvation of humanity’.

Jesus is characterized in the Gospel as a laughing Jesus. He laughs when he overhears his disciples ‘offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread’ [34]; when his disciples asks him concerning the ‘great and holy generation’ [36]; when Judas informs him that he has ‘seen a great vision’ [44]; and when he reveals to Judas the destruction of the wicked [54-55]. This pervasive caricature of a humorous (and, at times, contemptuous) Jesus is distinctively different from the more sombre Jesus found in the canonical Gospels.

True to the gnostic system of belief in the dualism of spirit and corporeity, Jesus is cast in docetic (from the Greek dokeo, which means ‘seem’ or ‘appear’) terms: ‘When Jesus appeared on earth’, ‘Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself a child’. Unlike the biblical teaching of the incarnation of Jesus - that Jesus was God come in human flesh and blood (e.g., the Johannine ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14), or, ‘has come in the flesh’ (1 John 4:2)) - the Judas Jesus is merely an apparition - a form appearance which can take any shape that Jesus may choose. His oft appearance ‘as a child’ to his disciples is a phenomenon which is also common to some of the Nag Hammadi documents. Why a child? A child is a picture of innocence and purity (and naiveness) and this is probably what the author of the Gospel of Judas wants to convey - that Jesus is absolutely pure and innocent (minus the naivety) because he alone possesses the absolute wisdom and knowledge pertaining to ‘the mysteries beyond the world and what would take place at the end’.

In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus is not a sin-atoning saviour. Rather, he is a revealer and a teacher of ‘the mysteries of the kingdom’ [35]. He knows which human beings will be saved and which will die. He speaks of a ‘[generation] that will last...for all eternity’ [43]. And when Judas Iscariot asks of him, ‘[W]hat kind of fruit does this generation produce?’ he replies:

      The souls of every human generation will die. When these people, (not the ‘human generation’,
      but the ‘generation’ that is the subject of Judas’ question, mine) however, have completed the
      time of the kingdom and the spirit leaves them, their bodies will die but their souls will be alive,
      and they will be taken up.

But when Judas asks about the ‘rest of the human generations’, Jesus responds with: ‘It is impossible to sow seed on [rock] and harvest its fruit’ [43-44].

From the foregoing, it is readily seen that in the Gospel of Judas, human beings are divided into two categories: (1) a ‘human generation’ or ‘mortal people’, who will not see salvation; and (2) a ‘holy (or, great) generation’ ‘whose souls will be alive’. These two categories are further elucidated by Jesus when he answers another of Judas’ questions: ‘Does the human spirit die?’ Jesus responds to this question by saying:

      This is why God ordered Michael to give the spirits of people to them as a loan, so that they
      might offer service, but the Great One ordered Gabriel to grant spirits to the great generation
      with no ruler over it - that is, the spirit and the soul.

Not only are there two categories of human beings, but there are also two realms, the realm of the true spirits (or, ‘the realm of Barbelo’) and the realm of the fallen spirits (or, the realm of perdition, or, corruption). The physical world of the cosmos, comprising the sun, the moon, the earth and other celestial bodies, is the creation of the fallen spirit, Nebro or Yaldabaoth. Saklas, another fallen spirit, and believed to be a creation of Nebro (e.g., [51]), created human beings on the earth planet. These human beings, created by this fallen spirit (angel), are only given the spirit of life as a loan and when they have completed their course of service on earth, their spirits will be recalled and their bodies die. They cease to exist in this respect.

But there is another class of human beings, not created by the god Saklas, but by ‘the Great One’. These (‘the great generation’) have ‘spirit and soul’. They have the spirit of the divine. When the spirit of breath leaves them, their bodies die, but their souls live on - to be transmigrated to the heavenly realm, which is ‘great and boundless’ [47]. Humans, without this spirit of the divine, can only look forward to their eventual extinction. They are like seeds which fall on the rock. They cannot produce any harvest of fruits.

Salvation, then, in the Gospel of Judas, is about possessing this knowledge of ‘the mysteries of the kingdom’: the spirit of the divine must be released from the mortal body through death and returned to the great and boundless realm, which is the realm where the Great One, Barbelo and the Autogenes are. Jesus, in his role as saviour, comes to reveal this truth and his death sets the path for others, like Judas, who ‘know’ him to be similarly released from their mortal bodies. But those who continue to remain faithful to the God of this world, as the eleven other disciples [34], will not have this knowledge (since they do not have the spirit of the divine, in any case) and are thus doomed to destruction.

In the Biblical Tradition
Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Mt. 16:16) and is in fact, God incarnate (John 1, Philippians 2). He comes as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:1-2) - sent by a loving and benevolent God (John 3:16). There is only one category of human beings on this earth - sinners - who stand in need of God’s outpoured grace and offer of forgiveness (e.g., Rom. 2 & 3). Salvation is a salvation from condemnation under the wrath of God. It comes about when one believes in Jesus Christ and is baptized into him for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). When one receives this grace of God, one stands justified (saved) before God (Rom. 5:1).

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