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DominicX's avatar

Biblical question: why is Judas Iscariot viewed so negatively, yet his actions were necessary?

Asked by DominicX (28701 points ) April 16th, 2013

Most people know the story of Judas the betrayer. The word “Judas” has come to be a general term referring to a betrayer. Judas Iscariot is almost universally viewed as a negative menacing character in the Bible who betrayed Jesus for money and his motives are weak and ill-defined. Yet at the same time, Jesus knew that someone would betray him and that his fate was ultimately to die. Jesus’ death is obviously an important event in Christianity; without it there would be no salvation through Jesus. Judas played an important role in something that needed to happen and yet he is vilified for it.

Obviously there is a lot more to the image of Judas. His name just means “Jew” and he is associated with Jews as a whole. In Matthew 27:25, the Jews proclaim their guilt for the death of Jesus. Judas was often a symbol of the menacing traitorous Jesus-killing Jew and was used in support of anti-Semitism for centuries.

Interestingly enough, in the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, Judas is portrayed as receiving instructions from Jesus to betray him because it is part of a greater plan.

Any responses are welcome.

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42 Answers

Judi's avatar

I have often wondered the same thing. I think history has portrayed him as evil more than the gospels have.
I have had a recent thought though. Judas seemed to be aligned more with the Zealots who wanted Jesus to be a King who would deliver them from Cesar’s oppression. By contrast, the Pharisees were trying to maintain control and order within the Roman system.
I see the Zealots and the Pharasees sort of like Democrats and Republicans.
I think that most of Jesus teachings aligned more with the Zealots, in that he wanted to care for the marginalized, and the Pharasees were wealthy and legalistic, but missing the whole point of charity.
The great thing about Judas is that he reminds us that neither side was right. Jesus was calling his followers to a third way. A way that was way to passive for the Zealots and way to radical for the Pharasees.
Then I bring it to today and see that there are still Pharasees and still Zealots especially in America and neither really seem to get it.

DominicX's avatar

@Judi I have also read that Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus didn’t meet his expectations of him.

The verse in the Bible that perplexes me the most about Judas is Mark 14:21 “For the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

Here Jesus reveals that it is written that the Son of Man must die, yet he claims that it would have been better if the betrayer that leads to his death had never been born.

mazingerz88's avatar

The Gnostic Gospel of Judas was never acknowledged by the Catholic church. I don’t know about other Christian churches. I find it credible but that’s only because I’m agnostic. I’ll raise the discussion a bit higher. Just the other day, thoughts came to me about how incredibly dubious that God sacrificed his own Son to suffer and die for humanity. He is God and the Son is God. Gods, see?

So any pain either son or father endured we’re probably just self-inflicted. Why do it? Who knows. Were they hoping that Jesus will be accepted as the Messiah? Were they that naive? My point is this, the ancient Jews knew what they were doing. They wanted a new religion and they got it.

Judi's avatar

@DominicX,
I think Judas was expecting Jesus to finally show them once and for all how powerful he was. I think he loved Jesus and was just trying to give him that push to prove that he WAS the king they had been waiting for.
The last thing he expected was that Jesus would allow himself to be crucified.
EDIT: I think the verse you referenced refers to the anguish Judas experienced when he realized what he had done. I don’t think it has anything to do with some punishment from God. I believe that there is Grace, even for Judas.

filmfann's avatar

I don’t know. I doubt anyone does.

I am not a Biblical scholar, but I will point out some of my own thoughts.

It is interesting that the Bible does not say that God manipulated Judas, the same way He did manipulate Pharaoh. Does that mean He didn’t move Judas? Did He just know that Judas would do this? I know that Jesus knew what would happen, and who would betray Him. Judas had been an earnest supporter, and in his ignorance he may have thought he would reveal Jesus and His power.
I wish I could help you with this. I have many questions myself, but I accept what is written.

DominicX's avatar

Thanks for the answers.

Some other interesting facts about Judas:

Judas is portrayed increasingly villainous as the Gospels go on. Mark says little about Judas other than his betrayal. In John, however, Judas is mentioned before the betrayal and Last Supper, as someone who stole money from the poor box, indicating that he was always of a low character and money-hungry.

And, Judas’ death is described in different ways. According to Acts, Judas died by falling on his property bought with the money and having his entrails spill out. In Matthew, however, Judas hangs himself shortly after finding out that Jesus had been condemned. The Matthew story almost makes me think of what you said, @Judi that Judas didn’t actually think Jesus would be killed.

Some Biblical scholars actually think the story of Judas was created by Mark, based on the fact that there are references in Matthew and Luke to Jesus telling all 12 disciples, including Judas, that they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel, despite having knowledge of Judas’ future betrayal (and that these lines come from the Q source that the post-Markan Gospel writers used as a source along with Mark’s gospel itself).

Judi's avatar

Most think that Mark was written first and used as an outline for Matthew and Luke. John is thought to have been written independently.

DominicX's avatar

Mark is also the shortest and most succinct. So it would make sense that Matthew and Luke have more to say about Judas, since Mark presents the story somewhat quickly and Matthew and Luke expand upon Mark’s story (which is part of why some think the “ending” of Mark was added later and that originally, Mark ended abruptly with “they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”) It’s all interesting. And I haven’t read much of the apocrypha, but I’m curious if any of the other apocryphal “gospels” have anything to say about Judas.

gorillapaws's avatar

Do the other Gnostic Gospels make any mention of Judas (other than The Book of Judas)?

dxs's avatar

Evil has to exist for good to exist, and that is why Judas is here. He is necessary, but that doesn’t mean that he deserves praise for it. It’s part of the prophecy of the Old Testament for him to betray Jesus, too. My question is why Pontius Pilate is portrayed as evil.

Judi's avatar

As a kid, all the new testament biblical stories pulled together for me when I watched Jesus Christ Superstar.

genjgal's avatar

@dxs got it right. Though God used Judas’ actions for good, they were still wrong. I don’t know of anyone who believes the “Gospel” of Judas.

It’s similar to Joseph. Joseph made some bad decisions (such as to tell his brothers the dreams), and his brothers were sinful in the decision to sell him to slave traders and lie to their father about his whereabouts. But Joseph’s being in Egypt was the mercy of God to the people during the famine.

rojo's avatar

I have always thought that Judas got the sh*t end of the stick in this story. Felt sorry for the guy being set up by god and all. Did nothing to bring me into the fold.
@Judi did enjoy his portrail in JCSS however. It said what I thought.

DominicX's avatar

@genjgal If you read the rest of the Gospel of Judas, it’s very odd and a product of Gnosticism, a religion that has pretty much died out, so it makes sense that people don’t follow it or the other gnostic works.

@gorillapaws I think the Acts of Andrew and Paul mentions Judas, but I’m having trouble finding the text.

@rojo I also felt bed for Judas. I remember learning the story when I was younger and viewing Judas as an evil character, but then thinking about it, seeing him more of a necessary catalyst. It doesn’t make his actions “praiseworthy”, but it does bring up an interesting question of free will vs. determinism.

rojo's avatar

@DominicX I have never viewed Judas as an evil person. Only a patsy. He seems to only have done what was wanted and expected of him. Perhaps because no one else would, perhaps because he had no choice in the matter. I do agree with you about the catalyst though. He had a part that had to be played out and he did his assigned task; paying for it with his reputation. Just as Jesus reluctantly did his part, so did Judas.

Symbeline's avatar

Judas was Jaws? You mean he swam around, eating people? Holy ass, The bible is awesome.

Cough. Well, I don’t know. The way I see The Bible, a lot of how it works is that it machinates itself to offer points and morals, so it kind of needs to set stuff up all black and white, if it’s going to label its teachings as absolutes.

ucme's avatar

Sounds like he was just a patsy, the Lee Harvey Oswald of his time…only taller & probably better looking & he had no affiliation with Cuba whatsoever, except for their world famous cigars which he smoked, but only after xmas dinner with a nice bit of wine.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Judas betrayed Christ and wasn’t the only one, so he shouldn’t be vilified more than any of the other disciples. In my opinion, all of us have a choice to make every day when it comes to denying Christ or our Christianity, by our words, our actions and our example to others.

Jesus did know he’d be betrayed. Human weakness is still a disappointment today, and I think most of us would like to think we’d never deny Him, but it happens all the time. Judas betrayal of Jesus was a warning and an example, and Jesus was the living son of God sent to redeem all of mankind, so it was kind of a big deal for all time. That’s my take on it.

Judi's avatar

@KNOWITALL, it was Peter that denied him 3 times not Judas.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Judi Sorry, still on my first cup of coffee…lol, scratch that part.

Judi's avatar

I figured it was something like that.

rojo's avatar

@DominicX You are right, there are some interesting questions regarding free will.

There is even the makings of a couple of other good stories:

Storyline 1 – Judas refuses to do gods bidding and turn Jesus in. How does the Christ story play out? What about Judas, does he live?

Storyline 2 – Judas was not gods first choice but his second after Peter refused to do it (this is the basis for Peters’ later denial).

Any writers in the bunch want to tackle this?

mazingerz88's avatar

If Judas did not betray Jesus, someone else would have. The writer of the story could do whatever he wanted considering these were written decades after the supposed events. Nothing would stop Jesus from being sacrificed. Otherwise there is no story here. No source of emotional inspiration that someone, a God even, sacrificed himself for them. This God…is really full of drama.

Did the events in the Gospel of Judas really take place? It will change the entire matrix of the Catholic faith if they did. Some refer to the Gospel as written by anti-christs to create doubt about what really happened. What did really happen? Anybody know?

flutherother's avatar

Jorge Luis Borges in Three Versions of Judas goes so far as to wonder if Judas was the Son of God: “God became a man completely, a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of being reprehensible.”

submariner's avatar

The Bible is ambiguous on the nature of human freedom and its relation to divine omnipotence and omniscience. Martin Luther and Erasmus had an interesting debate on this point. During the 16th c., Dominican and Jesuit scholars (such as Suarez and Molina, both Jesuits) engaged in such a bitter controversy over the metaphysics and theology of freedom that the Pope had to step in and say, “It’s a mystery. Now STFU.”

It’s not just a problem for Christians. Walk into any philosophy department in the Anglo-American world and you will find atheists who style themselves “compatibilists”, i.e., they claim that determinism is compatible with human freedom in a morally relevant sense. When it comes to freedom and causality, the desire to have one’s cake and eat it too is widespread in both believers and non-believers.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

First I just want to say that I believe Jesus was God in human form and He was sacrificed even though He had done good things. And Pontius had free will and chose to do something because he did not want to look like a coward. Still Jesus is vilified today because we suffer today, yet He died on the cross for our sins decades ago. It’s all part of the plan.

Unlike the other disciples that called Jesus “Lord”, Judas reffered to Jesus as “Rabbi” which means he acknowledged Jesus as nothing more than a teacher. While the other disciples made professions of faith Judas remained silent.

Judas was consumed with greed and had free will up until Satan entered him.

27 Then after he had taken the morsel,Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
~John13:27

So his actions were necessary and they were negative. Judas shows us then what it’s like to truly have free will and to choose to turn our cheeks from Jesus who is all good and all knowing and then have evil and greed (Satan) take over.

gorillapaws's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl Have you read the Gospel of Judas?. Do you think it was truly written by him/his followers? If so, what do you think of his version of the facts?

With regard to Pontius Pilot having free will, how can that be and still have it “all part of the plan.” If it’s all been predetermined how can you say we have free will?

rojo's avatar

@gorillapaws Am odd version of free will:

Here are your choices.

You get to choose any one you want to.

I already know which one you are going to choose (the omniscient part of godhood) and have planned accordingly.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@gorillapaws No I haven’t and I don’t need to read the Gospel of Judas. The Gnostic gospels have plenty of documentation to show me that they are forgeries.

I believe they could have been fraudulently written in the names of the Apostles to give them legitimacy in the early church.

The gnostic gospels have so many contradictions between the true Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that I believe early in the church the ministers and pastors and fathers of christian faith were all in agreement in recognizing the Gnostic gospels as promoting false teachings about all Christian doctrine.

As for free will, it is clear to me that you obviously don’t understand what it means.

So now I have to ask you, have you read and understood the scriptures in the bible?

God does have supreme power over us in the end He is constantly testing our faith in Him, but He never forces Himself on us, He doesn’t violate our decision when it comes to making a decision for Him and He doesn’t drag us kicking and screaming into His kingdom.

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. —Proverbs 16:1

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

Gods plan is to get all His obeying children into His kingdom of heaven unfortunately He tried it the first way and we didn’t want to listen that way so we have to do it the hard way now, by the ultimate suffering.

rojo's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl There are many ways to define free will. Rather than just accusing @gorillapaws of not understanding it, would it not be better to give your interpretation of it first and see if there is consensus on the definition?

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@rojo I wasn’t being accusatory. I was responding to his question with a question. You may think I was accusing him of not understanding “free will” but back up for a second and think about @gorillapaws comment and that I apparently don’t understand the Gnostic Gospel of Judas. I am not trying to play semantics here so why are you? And if that’s the case then why it is OK for you to accuse me of being an accuser!

Besides if @gorillapaws has any ideas then have at it already so then @gorillapaws doesn’t need to ask me questions on my opinion so if you already have your general idea about it don’t degrade me for stating mine after I was asked mine. sheesh!

rojo's avatar

You dare to accuse me of accusing you of being an accuser?!

How can you even bring yourself to make such an accusation?

Judi's avatar

Lol. I think this thread is devolving.

rojo's avatar

One item of note, just for the sake of semantics, @gorillapaws never accused you of not understanding the Gospel of Judas. He asked you a series of questions.

I quote: “Have you read the Gospel of Judas?” Nothing accusatory there.
Maybe the next part: “Do you think it was truly written by him/his followers?” Nope, nothing there either.
Perhaps it is in the third question: “If so, what do you think of his version of the facts?” Hmmm. I suppose that could be accusatory if you have a mind to believe so, but I think not.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

LOL “Have you read the Gospel of Judas?And I quote from wiki that it is virtually impossible to read as “Today the manuscript is in over a thousand pieces, with many sections missing due to poor handling and storage.” So no, absolutely nothing accusatory there, mocking would be more the tone I would call it. But I am over it now. Chow.

“The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”
~George Santayana

gorillapaws's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl I actually wasn’t trying to mock you at all—I was genuinely interested in your opinion. I was a philosophy and religion major in college and have studied extensively on the philosophical dilemmas of predetermination and free will so I’m not nearly as ignorant as you seem to suggest.

I just think it’s interesting that Christ hand-picked his disciples, and yet guys like Athanasius of Alexandria, who lived 300 years later, made the call about what was in and what was out.

“The gnostic gospels have so many contradictions between the true Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”

There are major contradictions in the Canonical Gospels too. I’m not saying I know for certain one way is right or wrong, it’s an open-ended discussion.

DominicX's avatar

@gorillapaws Fascinating link. The part about Judas’ death is the most interesting to me. It’s described in two clearly contradictory ways. Yet it also seems to contradict other passages, especially the whole issue of Jesus appearing to “the twelve”, yet Judas is supposedly already in hell by that point. Additionally, there is another passage where Jesus tells the disciples (including Judas) that they will reign over the 12 kingdoms. Why did he say that knowing that one of them was clearly not going to share that privilege?

Judi's avatar

Like is said. I think that Judas gets a bad rap. I think there’s Grace for him too.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@gorillapaws I was not accusing you of mocking me. My first response was to you and you only, the rest is flaming rhetoric and semantics. I was actually answering your questions the best way I knew and directing them for you. But then all of a sudden someone has to start a flame war and I always fall for that. :/ And I’ve got to stop falling for that!!

Just for the record, I do not think you are ignorant.

I am ignorant, I fall into flame war every time. I can admit that.

Note to self:—Flamers write obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war. DO NOT REPLY.

Response moderated (Personal Attack)
Response moderated
Judi's avatar

Can we please get back on topic? This crap should be kept in PM’s. I hate coming to a thread and seeing people argue about personal crap. I don’t really want to stop following the question because someone might actually have something to say that is on topic and interesting. This juvenile banter is getting boring.

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