Many of you have sent me suggestions about how to get through the morning paper without running the risk of spoiling a good cup of java. Most have suggested switching newspapers. But the best advice came from a reader from Milan: stick with Italian coffee! And he’s right. A strong “espresso” or creamy “cappuccino” taken in this city of Rome is clear evidence that God exists and he loves us dearly, no matter what the New York Times columnists have to say.
From the moment I posted Monday’s blog on the “Gospel of Judas” you responded, and robustly! Today I had a choice to make: either let the topic die and turn my attention to one of many other significant news items (immigration protests, Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment, suicide bombers in Pakistan, etc.), or respond to your latest questions and comments. I decided, hesitantly, to go back to Judas. Your notes were that good.
An introductory remark: While some of your questions are religious and spiritual in nature, I deliberately limit my responses to explain the issue at hand and not to preach. There’s a place for the latter, but I don’t think this is it.
Enjoy and God bless, Father Jonathan
I am a second year university student. I read your article on "the Gospel of Judas," and I have to say that I was a little disappointed.
I had a hard time understanding how you can say people who do not take the Bible literally are not really Christians. I have always had a hard time making sense of my surroundings when using the Bible as a guide. I struggled with this, wondering if maybe my faith just wasn't strong enough.
I believe that Christ died for my sins. I believe that He was the son of God. Is this not enough to call me a Christian?
— Shaundi (New York)
RESPONSE: If you go back to Monday’s blog, you’ll notice I didn’t suggest we take the Bible literally. That would imply using it as a science book or a history text. It is neither of the two, and if used as such, would be a misleading guide.
What I did say was that people who do not consider it the Word of God, may well be good people, but are not Christians. I want to underline what I said about them being good people, no matter their views. That was not irony. At the same time I stand by what I said about accepting scripture as the Word of God being an essential tenet of the Christian religion. Christians believe the Bible is “revelation” (God communicating himself to man), and is true in as much as it teaches us about God and man. While some Christian beliefs are secondary, if you discard this one, you strike at the heart of what defines it. You yourself say you believe Christ died for your sins and was the Son of God. Where else did you learn this besides in the Bible?
Shaundi, I think we agree on a whole lot of things, and I hope this clarifies a bit.
Dear Father Jonathan,
Finally, someone who understands the early Church wasn't formed in a hermetically sealed doctrinal environment. I'm so grateful to God for such a lucid, articulate, well-informed, insightful and irrefutable article addressing the "Gospel of Judas" story.
God's grace and blessings to you
RESPONSE: Sheila, my mom always tells me it’s only fair to post some positive responses too. She’ll be happy. Thanks for your kindness.
You made a curious claim in your article, at least twice by my count. Specifically, you claim that the Gospels we have in the New Testament are "eyewitness accounts."
When I studied theology and biblical history many years ago, we understood that even the oldest of the synoptic Gospels was written approximately 60 years after the death of Jesus. That's hardly what I would call an "eyewitness account."
I do realize that you're writing as a partisan of a specific point of view, so your article is just as slanted as the writings of the Gnostics whom you vilify in your article.
RESPONSE: I vilified those who would suggest writings like the “Gospel of Judas” represent faithfully the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth or the early Christian community. My belief in the divine inspiration of scripture is certainly “slanted” by my faith. But my article was not about “inspiration” of texts, but about their historicity. I stated that the four Christian Gospels are the most credible points of reference for what the early Christian community believed.
When I say at least two of the four Gospels are eyewitness accounts, I’m leaning on scholarship that, while unclear and disputable in many details, solidly backs that affirmation.
We can say the “writing” of the Gospels happened in three stages: 1) the life and oral teachings of Jesus 2) the passing on in verbal form of this information from the first apostles to other disciples 3) and finally the jotting down of all of this by a varied group of persons, including some of the apostles themselves. This third stage began as early as the year 70 A.D. and ended as late as 110 A.D. The first copies of some of these writings date back to 125 A.D.
In other words, the Gospels are narrations of what people saw Jesus do and heard him say. They are not digital recordings.
You say, "the gospel of Judas is not an early Christian manuscript." This is absolutely a false statement. It is an account of Jesus and his activities, therefore, it is a Christian account. It was written just as early as many of the manuscripts which were used as the basis for the canonical Bible. It was written and copied by hand so, by definition, it is a manuscript.
RESPONSE: Brad, I see where you are coming from, but here is why I disagree: I can write all I want about recent events or not-so-recent events (as the Gnostics did), but my writing doesn’t make them true. The early Christian community, as leaders of a budding religion, had the responsibility to determine what represented accurately the teachings of Jesus.
There is no doubt that the long and winding road that led to the present “canon” of scripture was full of human factors. But even without recurring to faith, we find consistency throughout these 2,000 years of the basic tenets of Christianity. That itself has made many people wonder if there might not be some divine intervention after all.
Dear Father Jonathan,
I find myself looking forward to what you write each day. I am a Christian of another “flavor” and yet I am so drawn to your stories and insights. I don’t know much about Catholicism. I guess I always thought there were major differences. Not so, really. Thanks. I am learning and thinking. Both good things.
— Stacey, 5th Grade Teacher
RESPONSE: Stacey, I know being a teacher is not always easy! If it’s not the students, it’s the parents. Yikes! Thanks for all your hard work.
Who cares, man, that you became angry. Your problem is that you continue to believe those things you were taught as a child. You have yet to give an adult interpretation to those childish instructions. How old did you say you are? That would be a good clue as to how long you have lived as a stupid kid. Wadaya say to that, fella?
RESPONSE: Thanks for caring enough to write. And I agree, it was stupid of me to get angry at the New York Times.
I write to you to express my gratitude for your blog. I always look forward to it. I might not always immediately agree with you, but I always see your point when I let your ideas digest. You have helped me have a more open mind to issues that normally provoke a knee-jerk reaction (immigration, abortion, etc.).
I am really looking forward to your upcoming articles on the Da Vinci Code and the Gnostic writings. I have a very good Muslim friend who always points to these writings as proof of some sort that the New Testament is only the work of man and not divinely inspired.
Thank you again and Peace be with you!
RESPONSE: I, too, have to breathe deeply so as not to respond with knee-jerk reactions. Thanks for setting the example.
A very deep, heartfelt “thank you” for your blog today. As is becoming the norm, I am finding you to be very methodical and precise in your explanations, which is a refreshing change from the usual commentary that is found in the media today. As a Baptist, I feel I have found a "kindred spirit" in you and I am very appreciative for your well-spoken thoughts and words. The secular media has adopted this Gospel of Judas as a revelation that debunks Christianity. Your blog enables those believers, like myself, to obtain facts that are otherwise very difficult to obtain.
Looking forward to your next article.
— Jim (McArthur, Ohio)
RESPONSE: Yes, kindred spirits, Jim.
Dear Father Jonathan:
Perhaps you could help with a question regarding Judas that has really troubled me. I was always taught (I am Catholic), that we are born of free will. However, it seems to me like Judas was predestined to betray Jesus in order for Christ to be handed over. If this is correct, it doesn’t seem like Judas had free will and he was born for damnation. Your thoughts if you have a moment.
You do a very good job for FOX News.
— Laurie (Strongsville, OH)
RESPONSE: You must have listened well in Sunday school. Yes, we all have free will. In fact, it’s what makes us human. Here’s how I would explain a very difficult question: God is outside of time and knows everything. He knew before creating Judas, that he would be the traitor. But God’s “pre-knowing” doesn’t take away our capacity to choose. God knew, for example, that I would talk back to my mother. Did he make me do it? No. I was just ticked off and wanted her to know it.
The question immediately arises, if God knew Judas would betray Jesus, why did he create him? I don’t know. What we do know is if God is all-loving, somehow he has got to bring a greater good out of such evil. Christians believe the passion and death of Christ was the greater good. But where is the “greater good” for Judas? Is he in hell? I don’t know.
Dear Father Jonathan,
I have been hooked on your blog since the very beginning! I always appreciate reading what you have to say about current topics.
I read on FOXNews.com that you were going to be on "DaySide" today to speak about the new gospel of Judas. For those of us who can't watch the program (stuck at work all day!), could you please post a transcript, or write something about it in your next blog entry? I'm very curious about your opinion on this matter.
— Shannon (Laurel, MD)
RESPONSE: Shannon, yes I discussed this topic on "DaySide," and then again on "FOX & Friends" this past Monday. If you go to the box where the pictures of me are (to the right of this article) and click the “video” tab, you can download the little video. Did I sound a bit too dogmatic as I talked to Brian in the interview? Oh well. I’ll try to do better next time.
Write to Father Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.