Judas gospels

There’s a lot of misinformation above. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I’ve read a fair amount about it. Take the following as a starting point and do your own research.

Most reputable biblical scholars (both Christian and secular), date the 4 gospels at between 60-75 AD for Mathew, Mark and Luke (Mark generally being perceived as the earliest), and around 85-90 AD for John. Paul’s letters (epistles), many of which include/replicate key aspects of the history of Jesus, date earlier, from about 50-65 AD.

(one set of dates can be found here: http://www.theology.edu/faq01.htm)

While there is certainly scholarly debate on these datings, generally, the mainstream debate would push the dates of each gospel forward or backward by about a decade. That still puts all the canonical gospels well before the (likely) dates of things like this gospel of Judas.

Matthew - generally agreed to be the apostle Mathew
Mark - generally agreed to be a close associate of the apostle Peter
Luke - generally agreed to be a doctor who attended to and followed Paul (the latter was not an apostle, but obviously a major early church leader)
John - generally agreed to be the apostle John

It is possible that Matthew, in particular was not written by the apostle Matthew (the naming is by old tradition, not within the gospel itself). Some dispute the authorship of John as well.

The apocryphal gospels (like this Judas gospel), when they can be dated, generally date to much later - usually at least 100 years later.

They don’t just pull these dates out of nowhere. They’re arrived at in a number of ways, including internal references (what historical events in the early church and Jewish/Roman history are referenced/foreshadowed in the various books), external references (when do reliable external sources reference the books), early church history/tradition, and how widespread and widely accepted the books were (the theory being that a book that was spread widely around the Mediterranean at a comparitively early date was much more likely to be an older book than one that had a narrower/later reach).

The early church didn’t just select these 4 gospels, and the other books of the canonical New Testament, at random from amid a sea of possibilities. Rather, these books enjoyed wide acceptance throughout all of the scattered early churches. i.e. they weren’t accepted because they were canon, but rather, they became canon because they were accepted.

There was some dispute about whether to include a few of the New Testament books, but not the gospels. Rather, certain epistles (IIRC, Hebrews, James, Peter 2, John 2 & 3, Jude) and Revelations. But they were eventually fully accepted as well.

Plus, the editting wars were really just the tip of the iceberg in “the” Church’s early spasms to define what it actually believed, and by spasms I mean generations of sometimes vicious political maneuvering. When Jesus Became God is a pretty engaging read on the subject.

For all the Gnostic gospels you can shake a stick at, The Nag Hammadi Library, after the best-known large recovered cache of them, is not quite as engaging. The Gospel of Thomas is pretty damn quotable, and includes a final verse praising female-to-male trannies (in a spiritual sense!) for added wackiness, and you get more trippy writings like The Thunder, Perfect Mind.

Vacitan responds LA LA LA NOT LISTENING.

Wouldn’t a more accurate summary be “Vatican reponds 'Interesting, but not really a big deal, faithwise.” ?

Which is kind of what Phil and I said. Only Phil said it better.


Phil, look at The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce. He gets into all this stuff, and talks about the scriptures that don’t make it. Interesting stuff, all around. It’s really interesting to note that the earliest Greek text we have that includes all of the books that are in the modern New Testament (Codex Sinaiticus - 4th century) also has something called The Letter of Barnabus and a part of Shepherd of Hermas.

Try God Crucified by Richard Bauckham. He’s primarily writing in opposition to people who see Jesus fitting into strict Jewish monotheism because he is an intermediary “demigod.” His point is, that even for the earliest Christians (predominately Jewish), Jesus as God did fit into strict monotheism. The idea is that Jews of the day didn’t think along Greek lines of classification. 2nd-temple Judaism thought of God according to his actions, rather than a set of characteristics. By ascribing activity to Jesus that is normally only ascribed to God, they are saying that Jesus is God. So, when the Gospel of John says “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”, it is equal to a direct inclusion of Jesus into the Godhead from all eternity. At the same time, “the Word” (Jesus) is kept distinct from “God” (what we refer to as the Father). The councils and creeds came about as this Jewish way of thinking ran into a world of Greek philosophy that demanded “He is…” statements.

Right, but don’t we have lots of earlier references to canons that include only the four Gospels we now recognize? The entire NT canon takes a while to get resolved, certainly, but it’s mostly, IIRC, about Epistles and other faith narratives, not Lives of Jesus. Iraenaeus is using his sophistry against the Gospel of Thomas as a fifth equal in the 180s.

(I am also not a Biblical scholar, and feel on much more certain ground on the political situation instead of the critical theology. But I am more than willing to be corrected if I am way off base on my dates.)

The Apocrypha stuff is really interesting reading, to be sure. Is there any good single book that has the lot of them?


Oh, yeah. The Muratorian Fragment is a 7th century copy of a Latin document that was written in the late 2nd century. It is damaged, but the portion that remains speaks of Luke and John being the 3rd and 4th Gospel narratives - with some legends of how the authors were inspired to write them.

The author then goes on to list what books were held to be authoritative in Rome at the time, saying that Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans and Alexandrines were forgeries written by followers of the heretic Marcion.

None of the writings of Iranaeus (became Bishop of Lyons in 177 AD) have survived. However, the church historian Eusebius quotes his work in his Church History of ~305 AD. Apparently, Iranaeus lists 4 gospels - and goes through some tortured logic as to why there should be only 4, and no more. F.F. Bruce says of this work,

"…the general impression given by his words is that the fourfold pattern of the gospel was by this time no innovation but so widely accepted that he can stress its cosmic appropriateness as though it were a fact of nature… It is the mark of heresy, he says, to concentrate on one of the four to the virtual exclusion of the others, as the Valentinians, according to him, concentrated on the Gospel of John."

The entire NT canon takes a while to get resolved, certainly, but it’s mostly, IIRC, about Epistles and other faith narratives, not Lives of Jesus.

Absolutely. In fact, the canon of scripture is still not really sealed. This is where so many people misunderstand what scripture is. If this Gospel of Judas, so recently found, was considered to be theologically in union with the other texts, and early enough in date - there is no reason to exclude it from scripture. But as it sits, it appears to be written later and in support of a position that was never considered orthodox by any church father - the idea that Jesus’s body wasn’t really him, but kind of a husk that he shed when he died. So, no. The Gospel of Judas is out.

Documents are invalid if they don’t agree with the documents we’ve decided are valid. :)

Presumably, Judas is subject to Christ’s forgiveness, same as the rest of us.

When I found that the text was held by Gnostic sects, that clears up in my mind what this gospel is about.

Best. P&R post. Ever.

The dating is a bit more complex than this because parts of Gospels are thought to be added and edited later. The earliest gospel, Mark, has an (in)famous “appendix” added on to make it comply with later orthodox theology.

I would also add that the Gospel of Thomas – parts of it at least – is thought by some to predate John. Elaine Pagels has put forth an interesting theory about John being the orthodox rebuttal to Thomas, this also being the origin of the “Doubting Thomas” story in John that is not present elsewhere.

None of the gospels are thought to be written by their namesakes.

The earliest extant fragment of the Gospels is named P52 and is reasonably dated to between 100-150AD. It contains some portions of John 18. However, there is a fragment among the Dead Sea Scrolls named 7Q5 which is dated to no later than 68AD. It contains very few letters (believed by some to be from the Book of Mark), but if it is pieced with another fragment from the DSS and demonstrated as being from the gospel, will be absolutely huge in archaeological, historical, and theological importance. This isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility since so much of the DSS still haven’t been indexed and examined.

As for canonization, the NT was recognized more or less in its current format in Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century AD (current NT, with Barabbas and Hermas in an appendix); Codex Vaticanus, 4th century AD (current NT minus Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Revelation); Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century AD (current NT, with Clement as an appendix), the Muratorian fragment, about 170AD (the four gospels, Acts, Jude, and the 13 Pauline epistles). The Epistles of Clement and Epistle of Barnabas also recognize the majority of the NT.

Then there were “early fathers” of the Church such as Polycarp, Ignatius, Papius, and other who didn’t explicitly list the NT books, but who quoted them in their own writings (between 100-200AD). Athanasius of Alexandria considered the NT canonical as it stands now in a letter written about 367AD. Pope Damasus identified the NT canon as now about 382. A Carthage synod in 397 also canonized the modern NT.

Certainly biblical dating is complex. But I’m not sure that it’s closely related to the issue of possible alterations. The only two significant sections of the gospel subject to THAT discussion, that I’m aware of, are the ending of Mark, and the story of the adulterous woman (John 8)

Huh? There’s little serious debate on the authorship of Luke. Some critics argue variously the authorship of the others, but, at least from what I’ve read, it’s reasonably probable that Matthew, Mark and John authored their namesake gospels as well.

This is a fairly good link on gospel authorship:
It’s a Christian site, to be sure, but the arguments and supporting evidence listed seem solid.

Phil, this is absolutely incorrect. There is no serious* Biblical scholarship to that effect. It’s highly unlikely that the authors of the Gospels ever even met Jesus. They draw from earlier sources that are lost to us and that may very well be the work of the Apostles, but the Gospels in their current form certainly weren’t written by the Apostles.


  • I don’t mean that as a slight, but rather as a way to indicate peer reviewed academic work that doesn’t proceed from a faith-based perspective.

Holy cats, Phil, I just had a look and that stuff is terrible. If this is a matter of faith for you, that’s one thing and I hope you’re not hanging your hat on Biblical scholarship. Scripture is far more important than that.

But if it’s a matter of academic curiousity, you’d do far better to just, I dunno, check Wikipedia or something.


Tom, I don’t read biblical studies journals, peer-reviewed or not. As I said, I’m not a biblical scholar (nor a scholar of the origins of the bible/Christianity). But I’ve read the summaries of such research - both summarized by Christian and secular sources, both by non-Christians (skeptics) and by Christians. To say that there is “no serious Biblical scholarship” to that effect is far out of line with what I’ve read. Among researchers who are secular and non-Christian, there are certainly some who would dispute authorship and dating on the gospels, but I’ve read others who do not. For that matter, some Christian writers also dispute these. While earlier dating and apostolic authorship are certainly helpful to the Christian cause (i.e. making the gospels more authoritative/less likely to be distorted), it’s not necessary for gospels to be accurate (merely supportive).

Case in point - Bruce Metzger is the sole scholarly source for the Wikipedia page on gospel authorship and dating. He’s the professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, and probably the pre-eminent living New Testament scholar. He does in fact state that the authorship of the gospels is “unknown” (Though I believe the Wikipedia article creator has stretched that to say that say that Apostolic involvement in authorship is somewhere between unlikely and absurd - I can’t find on-line support in actual Metzger quotes for that viewpoint). Also note that the author of the Wikipedia article draws not on Metzger directly, but on a summary on a site called ‘infidels.org’, leading me to suspect that the Wikipedia article author is possibly a less than entirely neutral source.

But despite Metzger’s views on authorship, he also has a high opinion of the accuracy of the New Testament, and of the canon as accepted by the early church and in use today. He believes that the New Testament was authored by fallible humans, and is certainly not in the ‘inerrant bible’ camp (thus earning the emnity of some very fundamentalists Christians), and yet he is a believing Christian. (It’s interesting that infidels.org should include such a lengthy summary of Metzger’s work, but, so be it).

I certainly can’t read/speak ancient greek, so I can’t personally judge issues of literary style/grammar/word usage that are sometimes used in these debates. But most of the other arguments (on both sides) are accessible to the lay reader with a reasonable knowledge of the contents of the gospels/NT, and of 1st century Christian history. Based on my readings, I find it more probable than not that the bible authors are who they are generally claimed to be, and that the dates range from ~60 to ~90 AD.

Again, I would encourage the curious to do their own reading/research. Be wary of much of what’s on the web - there are a lot of cranks out there (on both sides of the debate). But you can probably find 20-50 books on these subjects at your local Borders/Barnes & Noble, again, representing multiple points of view. Read/skim them and form your own opinions.

Phil, I’m not trying to convince you of anything, and I completely agree that there are plenty of unreliable sources. I don’t know the first thing about Wikipedia’s pages, but I was just throwing that out there as an example.

But when you’re talking about the conventional academic wisdom, supported by the community of people over the years who’ve made it their lives’ work to investigate who wrote the Bible and when, you won’t find anyone seriously suggesting that any of the Gospels were written by their respective Apostles.


Tom - this amounts to “Everybody says X”, without, in fact, listing anybody, who says X. I don’t know how or where you’re drawing your conclusions. Have you done a lot of reading on the subject? Both sides of the debate? My reading is certainly not exhaustive, and I’m not sure if all the authors I’ve read would fit whatever standards you put forth. I certainly haven’t read ‘everybody’. But in the limited reading I have done, I’ve seen more and better stuff on the side of the ‘conventional’ authorships than against it. To cut off the debate with the sweeping conclusion that there IS NO debate seems simplistic and not in synch (at all) with my reading.

For an even-handed account of conservative vs. scholarly views on religion, I recommend the www.religioustolerance.org site.

And I am not trying to bait anyone with the term “scholarly.” As Tom implies, it’s simply the consensus of peer-reviewed academic journals. That doesn’t mean you have to prefer them over the faithful orthodox. The religioustolerance website also includes footnotes so you can follow trails if you like.

Phil, I have to agree with Tom that the scholarly view is that there is no reason to think that the gospels are written by their namesakes.

I also hasten to add that “the ending of Mark and John:8” are the not the only parts of the canonical gospels that have been altered. John 21 is also well-known as an addition (brings Peter back into good graces). There are many smaller modifications. The fragmentary “secret” verses of Mark are particularly controversial to some.

Anyway… see http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_ntb1.htm
for an account of the the canonical gospels and a few gnostic ones.

For the letters of Paul, see http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_ntb3.htm.

Tee hee.