August 5, 2020

The Stupids Do New Testament 101

UPDATE: Scot McKnight is doing a series on the Gospel of Judas. This emerging church scholar is as sane and on top of the game as they come. Read his work.

The rather sordid recent history of the manuscript.

Also: Christianity Today interviews Darrell Bock, who says the “Cainite” Gnostics responsible for the Gospel of Judas were obsessed with rehabilitating the “bad guys” of the Bible. Now there’s a ministry.

stupid.jpgTo get some perspective on the recent much-trumpeted discovery of the Gnostic “Gospel of Judas”, let’s imagine the following announcement….and trust me, it will take some imagination.

Dateline: Arlington Virginia.

Scientists and historians announced today the discovery of a Biography of George Washington, purportedly written by Washington’s mistress, Mrs. Wallace Vanderweaver. The text was discovered in the Library of Washington and Lee University, where researchers were going through recent scholarly articles about Washington.

The text, written in 1970, almost two hundred years from the time of Washington, tells us the story of Washington from the notes of a long-time mistress, Lavenia Vanderweaver, known to be a local widow and friend of the Washingtons. Washington died in 1799, and the Vanderweaver Biography claims to be based on notes made during Washington’s lifetime and passed down through Mrs. Vanderweaver’s relatives.

Scholars anticipate this discovery will completely turn Washington studies upside down, as the text supposedly shows Washington to be a collaborator with the British, and in the employ of agents in the British government. The idea that Washington deceived his wife and his country for his entire life is a controversial one, but scholars who accept the Vanderweaver document believe the unusual nature of this text suggests it has been suppressed and is likely quite authentic.

Uh…wait….did he say written in 1970? Yeah…that’s still not the 300 years from Jesus that we have with the discovered text or the 200 years from Jesus to a mention of a Gospel of Judas in an earlier source, but it gives you the distance between a text like the Gospel of Judas and Jesus: centuries.

We’ve reached a point with DaVinci madness where nothing is too comic for the mainstream media to report with a straight face. Ideas about New Testament studies that wouldn’t appear on a freshman pop quiz are now tossed about the main stream media as if they are established facts. The palpable need for a “breakthrough” discovery that rattles our image of Jesus, destroys the Roman Catholic Church and upends the Bible is getting obnoxious.

Part of the problem here is the fault of the church. By not being honest about the literary milieux that produced the New Testament, all kinds of mundane facts are now exciting CNN reporters desperate for copy. With several cable channels hungry for religious oriented copy, we shouldn’t be surprised that the trash bin of New Testament ideas and interpretations is being raided for the latest discovery to sell books and drive up ratings.

“Did you know they discovered the Gospel of Judas?” You’ll hear it, and you’ll say “It’s three hundred years from the time of Christ, and was produced by a cult that totally and intentionally misrepresented everything about Jesus.” Your friends will say, “But on the Discovery Channel they said….”

There aren’t enough clones of Ben Witherington III to go around and straighten out this mess, so we all have to get involved. What can you do? Tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers, teenagers and fellow church-goers a few useful facts about New Testament studies. They will look stunned, but you’ll hold their hand and get them through it.

1. Two or three centuries is a long time to wait to write something important about a person. It’s like saying the real truth about Lincoln will be written in the year 2060.

2. The Gnostics were really really really wrong, much like the people who told you that we’d all be riding Segways by now.

3. There were lots of fake, phony Gospels. They are to the real Gospels what the Weekly World News is to the Wall Street journal.

4. The early church wasn’t trying to suppress anything salacious about Jesus. They were trying to keep the truth about Jesus above the waters of a rising tide of nonsense and heresy. Salacious stories about Jesus are actually quite popular in the magazines you find in those UFOs that kidnap you at night.

5. The four Gospels we have were chosen as reliable for good reasons by people who were in a position to know that the 200+ rejected gnostic gospels were better used to wrap fish or start a fire.

6. Ideas like Jesus being married or Jesus endorsing Oprah for Pope or the Catholic Church being a front for Microsoft are conspiracy theories. They aren’t true because the facts prove them wrong. They are great for parlor games, but talking about them seriously is a sign you may soon be talking to an actual Hobbitt.

7. A theory is not more likely the more outlandish and bizarre it is. If that were the case, I’d be putting money on the Reds to win the series in four right now.

8. Scholars who trumpet old documents found in garbage dumps as the reason to overturn all Christian faith are the kind of people who hear their baby say, “President Bush is the Anti-Christ” and make you keep listening till you hear it too.

9. Bart Ehrman, Dominac Crossan, Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar crowd are selling a lot of books to the general public because they are good marketers and know what the audience is craving. Scholars, on the other hand, consider these people to be like the third semester freshman guys in the chem lab who just announced they made a fusion time travel device out of plastic pipe, cold cuts, a dead rat and six gallons of Corona.

10. Any major announcement in New Testament studies that is announced by a reporter at CNN, complete with breathless tones and the word “breakthrough”, is quite likely to be about as significant to real New Testament studies as the invention of a cell phone for pets.

UPDATE: One of the major experts on Egyptian Gnostic documents calls the current claims “bunk”.


  1. Yet again, Fox News… Fair and Balanced.

    Excellent suggestions. May I add one more.

    11. Go read the actual Bible itself and study Biblical Backgrounds from a Christian perspective. I have never met one person who got caught up in this kind of mess who actually has studied how we got the Bible (from a legitimate authority on the matter) or even spent much time reading and studying the Bible itself.

    I don’t know where I read it (may have been a quote on Challies), but someone was lamenting the fact that it is even necessary for Erwin Lutzer to write a book refuting the DaVinci Code for Christians. A lot of this mess would be resolved if Christians actually knew their Bible.

  2. Fair and balanced? The article is a Fox News report about a book that’s being published by one of its sister companies. I agree with James Robinson’s conclusions, but just because I agree with something doesn’t make it balanced. It just makes it slanted in my direction.

    Rants about Fox News aside, I love the post.

    I’ve been dealing with a lot of idiots lately who have been conditioned, thanks to an American educational system that doesn’t teach critical thinking, to believe anything they find in print. Unfortunately, this now also extends to fiction. So if The DaVinci Code says it, they reason there must be some truth behind it, otherwise it wouldn’t be convincing fiction.

    And following that logic, Martians are real and they landed in and attacked Britain in the late 1890s. H.G. Wells said so. Convincingly. After all, at the time, most people actually believed there was life on Mars. Reputable scientists like Percival Lowell said so and even drew maps of the canals. The radio version War of the Worlds even caused panics in New York 40 years later. The only reason people don’t take it seriously anymore is that the idea of life on Mars has been completely debunked by our space probes.

    If only we had something analogous for spurious gnostic documents… but for now we have to use reason, which is seriously lacking because few are trained to use it.

  3. bookdragon01 says


    I’ve only seen one actual news article on the Gospel of Judas (and I avoid Faux News, so I don’t know how badly they reported this), and it didn’t present it as anything that would turn Christianity on its head. It was discussed for what it is: a Gnostic document that sheds light on some of the beliefs that were part of the milleau of the first couple centuries of the early church. It presents a different take on who Judas was and how he’s understood. And that take is not in itself heretical (Judas as a trusted friend doing what was necessary is an idea that’s been around long before the discovery of this parchment). In fact, one scholar was quoted as saying that there is very little in this parchment that presents any real conflict with the accepted Gospels (only with ideas about Judas that developed later in Christian history).

    So, basically, it isn’t going to change or even challenge anyone’s understanding of basic Christian theology. For scholars it’s an exciting discovery, but for the average guy in th pews it has little meaning.

  4. I just read the translation at the Nat’l Geo site. I’m no bible scholar by a loooong stretch, but it reads more like the Book of Mormon than the Bible to me.

  5. I found a link to parts of the text of the “Gospel” of Judas.

    It is quite a hilarious read. It seems to randomly jump to various bits of “secret knowledge” that Jesus was sharing only with Judas. Surprise surprise the Gnostics are behind all this.

    My favorite part was the fact that apparently Jesus would appear as a child to his disciples randomly. I wonder if there is some link here between modern Hollywood’s fascination with children as a source of great wisdom and the ancient Gnostics.

  6. Thanks for this post. People will believe anything so long as it’s not the truth.

  7. Thank you for this article! I had a guy at work mention it to me today and was all excited (not “happy” excited, more like energetically talking) about it and asking what I thought. Since I had not really heard anything I reserved commenting. After some quick research, I stumbled onto the wikipedia article about it and somebody had linked back to iMonk about it.

    The sad thing is that “discoveries” like this and The DaVinci Code often get Christians confused and caught up in it. It is really sad that we do not search out truth better than we do. Too many people take CNN’s word for stuff and move on…

    It brings to mind the Bereans… We need to search out the truth and help others do the same. Thanks again for iMonk and the thought provoking articles you bring us!

  8. : Bart Ehrman, Dominac Crossan, Robert Funk and the
    : Jesus Seminar crowd are selling a lot of books to
    : the general public because they are good marketers
    : and know what the audience is craving. Scholars,
    : on the other hand, consider these people to be
    : like the third semester freshman guys in the chem
    : lab who just announced they made a fusion time
    : travel device out of plastic pipe, cold cuts, a
    : dead rat and six gallons of Corona.

    Hmm. This is a common evangelical stereotype, but I’m not convinced it’s really true. I’m no fan of the Jesus Seminar generally, but it’s not true that the individual scholars involved are regarded by other scholars as mavericks. Even Wright treats their work seriously and extensively.

    It’s just a little too easy to write them off as loonies on the fringes of “real” scholarship, but many of them are not. That’s not to deny the Jesus Seminar was a piece of slick marketing, but these scholars and their work go beyond just the Seminar.

  9. Well, comedy is a bit of a broad brush. I’m sure you’ve swiped a few “evangelicals” with yours.

    Yeah, Crossan is brilliant. Brilliantly wrong, and Brilliantly paddling his own boat, but brilliant. Wright hauls Crossan in on a couple of points in JVG, but every clock is right twice a day.

    The fact is that no matter what pitches these guys occasionally hit, their scholarly METHOD is dumbfounding cavalier. What Crossan does to the study of historical sources ought to be illegal. He believes the insights of a sociologist on brigands in first century Judaism tell us far more about Jesus than the New Testament. Huh?

    All these people, at the end of the day, have two axes to grind: Jesus is really a _________________________ (insert their latest politically correct interest) and evangelicals are the devil incarnate: Jew haters, etc.

    Giving them some credit is appropriate. Looking past their blatant agendas and bias is not possible, however.

  10. The Gospel of Judas is rather new and unread. It is my understanding that the majority of the testaments in the bible were not written by the disipiles and were not written during their lives. They too were written over 100 years later. The testaments are even compilations of different authors works.
    I am looking forward to reading the Gospel of Judas, especially if it expounds the ideas of love and truth.

  11. I would suggest you do a survey of the current scholarly concensus regarding the dating of the four canonical Gospels. The original forms of the four canonical Gospels were written within the lifetime of the Apostles, 60-90 a.d.

    The Gospel of Judas expounds the same message as other gnostic tracts: salvation = secret knowledge available to only a few privileged mystics.

  12. randy short says

    Dear Mr. Spencer:

    I read your article “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and I found it wanting. I am always perplexed in how “educated” white males see the world in such a narrow focus. While many of the things that you wrote I consider a banality, you clearly are missing the boat on one-third of the American population which is not white. Your analysis was very general. Actually, the Mainline churches are collapsing as you know. The fastest growing entities are among Latinos and African Americans, but like the eurocentric divinity school that I attended these persons obsessed with only Anglo-Saxon churches ignored huge non-white churches like the AMEC, COGIC, PNBC, and so forth. COGIC has perhaps 6 million people and this up from 200,000 in 1960. The AMEC has no fewer than 4 million people.

    My point is you are looking at America as if the aging and declining white church experience is the proper interpretive lens for American churches in their totality. It is not only wrong, but it is arrogant. The same way the U.S. census has never taken an accurate count of the non-white population in this nation is analogous to how you wish to discuss faith for people you either do not know or possibly do not care to understand.

    You completely have left out of your calculus the present Depression and how this might greatly revitalize the importance of church in the lives of millions. This happened in the 1930s, and there is reason to think that it can happen in this century.

    The same way I think Post-Modernism is a white male ego-trip that postulated history is not important if WE are not totally able to mistreat yellow, brown, red, and black people. The collapse is reflective not the coming of an anti-Christian age but an age that is intolerant of a racist-inspired heresy that justifies all manner of evil done against poor, non-European, and marginal people based on fraudulent false notions of European supremacy. All the theological talk and pretense never covers for the reality of hatred and mean-spirited offal that has presented itself as Evangelical Christianity.

    I do think that you are 100% correct about Pentecostalism and related sects. By the way, it was not until the early 1990s that major divinity schools even acknowledge the importance of these groups. Your neo-Death-of-God theological point of view was common in the 1960s, and look at the rise of the religious right that occurred. There will not be a decline of Christianity in the West. Europe’s population will be one-third African, Arab, and Asian within the coming 30 years. The major difference between the non-European and the European is that the latter has never had a god-complex. Therefore, there is a need for God and reverence for the same. It is rarity to meet people in the poorer or suffering communities that have no sense of God. True, there is a secularism among the young, but how much of this is driven by alien hegemony of Madison Avenue?

    Also, I think you ignored the elephant in the room. Why is there such an anti-Christian tact in the American media? Why has the Holocaust replaced Christ’s death of the cross as the singular event in history? Why are school choirs afraid to sing Christian songs? Who makes the films and has a considerable influence in the mass media of this nation? Is this really an anti-Christian bias in America? Or, are we victims of mass manipulation by parties that have an antagonistic appreciation for Christianity? Who makes the movies and opinions? Why are our armies at war? Who are our white Evangelicals allied with? Answering these questions can get one into trouble no matter how carefully considered and measured. We are living in an age of a quiet Inquisition, but the culprits are of secularists united with believers.
    If you have read Edward Bernays, you about his book Propaganda.

    How much of what you and I think about the Church today is based on the negative images the come from the media? I worked in media for 4 years, and I observed the relish people took in attacking anything or anyone associated with organized religion–especially Christianity. However, nobody can notice this or the heritage of the producers or newspersons making constant negative scoops on the church. I am amazed that persons whose controversial views of war and human rights are never reported in the news. I am awestruck by the underreporting of the media to report paedophilia rings and scandals of an unstated faith. After all, to mention anything is a complete and gross crime against humanity.

    I agree the decline of Evangelicalism for white folks is coming due to demographic changes. I think that the Christian faith will grow stronger after this age of repression and abuse by the super rich results either in a major civil war or a non-violent reformation in America. I place my bets on the civil war, because the Anglo-Saxon elite are so greedy and besotted by 500 years of corruption and rapine theft of resources that only thing understood is extreme force.

    The United States might break into separate states. The massive influx of immigrants makes this breakup possible. The Catholic church will be a big player in such a conflict.