Did Jesus know that Judas was going to betray him? If so, why did he make him a disciple? Did Judas perform in obedience to the instructions of Jesus by turning him over to the Jewish authorities? And where is the line between God’s plan and something that is done of one’s own free will?
Scholars have been looking for questions to the above questions before. The debate heats up following the recent discovery of the so-called Gospel of Judas, which is now available in Russian.
Below is a viewpoint on the problem by the modern theologian Ilarion (Alfeyev), the Bishop of Vienna and Austria:
“The early Christian writers were aware of the Gospel of Judas. One of them, Irenaeus of Lyons, whose writings were almost all directed against Gnosticism, mentions the Gospel of Judas in his anti-Gnostic work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), written in about A.D. 180. He specifically makes a reference to the Cainites, an alleged sect of Gnosticism. He writes that ‘the Cainites declare that Judas the traitor knew the truth as no others did, and he accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They also produce a fictional history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas’.
The recent discovery of the manuscript is fully in line with information regarding its Gnostic origins. It is rather difficult to reconstuct the author’s attitude towards the role of Judas in the betrayal of Jesus because the manuscript had not been meticulously handled over the last decades: some pages of it were lost, and the text, now in over a thousand pieces and fragments, is thought to be less than three-quarters complete. Judging by the fragments in pristine condition, it is clear that the author viewed Judas as being the favorite disciple of Jesus, who tells Judas the ‘mysteries of the Kingdom.’ The Gospel of Judas asserts that Judas was acting on the orders of Jesus himself.
During the second and third centuries A.D., various semi-Christian and non-Christian groups composed texts which are loosely labelled as New Testament Apocrypha, usually but not always in the names of apostles, patriarchs or other persons mentioned in Old Testament, New Testament or older Jewish apocryphal literature. The gospel of Judas is one of these texts and is so described by the only two references to it in antiquity. As for the concept of man being a creature endowed with a free will, it was missing in beliefs held by numerous Gnostic gpoups at the time. Man was rather seen as a toy manipulated by the forces of good or evil.
No Gnostic doctrine has ever interpreted the personality of Jesus Christ as a focal point. The Gnostics used only assorted components of His teachings for his own purposes reflected in their phantasmagoric constructions. Like many Gnostic works, the Gospel of Judas claims to be a secret account, specifically ‘the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.’
The representation of Judas acting on the orders of Jesus while betraying Him neatly corresponds with the Gnostic teachings about good and evil portrayed as two equal forces which govern the universe. However, it does not comply with the teachings of the Church, which insists that every individual is fully responsible for his deeds, and no one is predestined to commit any wrongdoing.
According to the Christian teachings, there is a mystical paradox between the omniscience of God and one’s personal freedom. On the one hand, God is aware of wrongdoing committed by a certain person beforehand. On the other hand, the omniscience of God shall not justify any evil deeds.
The venerable Johannes Damascenus (A.D. c675-749) writes: ‘It ought to be known that God is aware of all things in advance. However, He does not predetermine everything for He is aware of things that lie with our power but He does not predetermine them. He wishes no vice to take place yet He does not compel anybody to be a virtuous person.’
Judas was not meant to commit an act of betrayal. When Jesus Christ picked him as one of his 12 disciples, He did not single Judas out for the purpose of betrayal. Judas was chosen by Him for preaching the gospel. Judas was not deprived of any gifts bestowed on the other apostles. Along with the other apostles he attended the Last Supper. Like the other apostles he received the flesh and blood of Him who embodied God. Judas was plotting a betrayal as the others were listening to the words of the Savior.
Nobody compelled Judas to betray Jesus, he freely chose to betray Jesus. The words said by Jesus unto Judas ‘that thou doest, do quickly.’ (John 13:27) were neither a direct command to Judas nor a signal to set the ball in motion. The words might have been an indication that Jesus knew what Judas was secretly plotting. The words could have stopped Judas at the last moment. But the plot of betrayal had firmly implanted in Judas’ heart by the time, and even the words of the Savior failed to stop him. Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!’ (Matthew 18:7). First and foremost, the words are relevant to Judas the Betrayer.
Jesus Christ voluntarily chose to suffer in order that the entire mankind might be redeemed by the death of his mortal body. Yet Judas has nothing to do with the act of salvation and deliverance from the power of sin in terms of mankind. Salvation and redemption would have come even if Judas had not played his part because an act of betraying was not required to prompt a series of events that eventually led mankind to salvation. The Church views Judas as a person who crossed the last line, the one you should never cross regardless of circumstances or the amount of money at stake. Crossing the line brings about damnation and eternal death.”
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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