Buried for close to eighteen hundred years, The Gospel of Judas was discovered by Egyptian peasants in 1978. This Coptic translation from an earlier Greek manuscript is distinctly Gnostic in character. Gnosticism is grounded in Greek dualism as espoused by Plato and was declared heretical in its incipient form by the New Testament writers and in its full form by the early church.
Characteristics of this ancient philosophy include secret knowledge for its adherents and the notion that all things material or physical are evil and all things spiritual are good. As proponents of this system tried to integrate their thinking with Christianity, some denied the deity of Christ as a good God could not have created this evil world. Christ is but one aeon among many from God. Others denied the humanity of Christ saying that He was a phantasm because God could not inhabit flesh. Others asserted that Christ was trapped in an earthly body and needed release. Such is the case in The Gospel of Judas.
The Gnostic character of this Codex becomes apparent as aeons, the eternal realm, and other buzz words are prevalent. Judas is called the thirteenth spirit. The notion that Jesus needed escape from the material world is clearly seen in this supposed statement to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." Here, the real Jesus is clothed by a body from which he needs deliverance. He extends this secret knowledge to Judas who is depicted not as a betrayer but as the one who will perform a great service for Christ.
In the New Testament, Paul exhorted the Colossians not to deviate from the gospel they had been taught. They were to remain faithfully established in the true faith once for all delivered to the saints. They were to remain steadfast in the face of the false Gnostic philosophers. Thus, in Col. 2:8, he warns them: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ."
Paul tells the Colossians to beware or look out. They are to look out for false teachers so as not to be cheated. The word translated cheated refers to being kidnapped. Paul is concerned that the believers not be kidnapped from the faith through philosophy. He here refers to worldly philosophy: the kind espoused by the Gnostics. Paul does not disparage knowledge or wisdom in general. He only disparages that wisdom that is from below and not from above.
At this point, it is also important to point out that Paul is concerned with legalistic judaizers as well. Whether the philosophy is Greek or Jewish or any other for that matter, Christians are to beware. He offers a number of reasons as to why Christians should beware of such.
First, worldly philosophy is hollow or empty. Many times the world's wisdom will look substantial. It will appear to be sound or carry weight. But, like a hollow log crumbles when one steps on it, so too does worldly philosophy. One cannot trust in it. One cannot put his weight upon it. When it comes to ultimate questions, worldly philosophy will crumble and leaves those who rely upon it destined for destruction.
Second, worldly philosophy is deceitful. It promises answers; it promises fulfillment; it promises life. But, in the end the one who clings to such is deceived and left worse than before. Whether one appeals to unbiblical theology, the social sciences including psychology, or any number of philosophical constructs contrary to Scripture, the result is the same: empty promises that lead to deception and destruction.
Third, worldly philosophy is man-centered. Paul says that such is "according to the tradition of men." Tradition is neither right nor wrong in and of itself unless it is philosophical tradition contrary to the word of God. Paul refers to this type of tradition as that of men. Again, one may refer to religious tradition, psychological tradition, or even scientific tradition. If Scripture is contradicted, then these traditions, no matter how accepted by the world, are to be rejected by the Christian. The theory (and note that it is a theory, not a fact) of evolution is a case in point. It may be widely affirmed in the scientific and/or secular community. However, Christians are to see that they are not kidnapped by such hollow, deceptive, and man-centered philosophy.
Fourth, worldly philosophy is elementary. Paul says that it is "according to the basic principles of the world," or the "rudimentary elements of the world." The world's wisdom is basic, rudimentary, or elementary. The phrase Paul uses refers to the "ABC's" of something. By way of illustration, Paul is saying something like "don't be carried off by the kindergarten wisdom of the world when you have a Ph.D. in the wisdom of God by virtue of your knowledge of Christ."
Fifth, worldly philosophy is un-Christian. It is "not according to Christ." Nothing more needs to be said by way of argument. When persons criticize Christians for their rejection of worldly philosophy or accuse them of ignorance, the only answer the Christian needs to satisfy his anxiety, uncertainty, or temptation to waver is the simple thought that the world's wisdom is not according to Christ. "Christ is the yardstick by which to measure philosophy and all phases of human knowledge. The Gnostics were measuring Christ by their philosophy as many men are doing today. They have it backwards. Christ is the measure for all human knowledge since he is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe (Robertson)."
In another place, Paul extends the same thought: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18-24)."
Paul expands upon who Christ is and indeed what He is. His rationale for admonishing the Colossians to follow Christ and not the hollow and deceptive philosophy of the Gnostics is that Christ is none other than God Himself in bodily form, or the flesh. Paul declares, "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (9)." What a counter to Gnostic philosophy! Again, in their view, flesh is evil in and of itself. Therefore, Christ could not be God if He were flesh. Thus, the Gnostics denied the humanity of Christ and indeed they denied that He was the one true God as well. The one true God could not have been responsible for creating an evil world. Christ must be one of God's little gods or emanations perhaps thirty times removed from the one true God. Of course, their system does not explain how Christ could even be a little god and create an evil world.
The Scripture tells us that God created the world good and then sin entered in through Adam. Further, we know that flesh in and of itself is not evil. Our flesh is evil simply because we are born dead in sin by virtue of what Adam did. Christ was born without the taint of sin as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not an earthly father. Thus, He is the sinless God-man, fully God in human form. That is, He is fully God and fully man at the same time. Christ has two natures in one person. He is the second person of the God-head (there is only one God). The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. He is fully God even as He walked this earth and indeed as He sits enthroned now.
Paul says that in Christ dwells the fullness of the godhead in bodily form. The word "dwells" means to house permanently. Christ, as the second person of the Godhead, has always existed. But, He took humanity upon Himself in time, that is, when He was born in Bethlehem. Yet, even though He has ascended from whence He came, He still exists in bodily form, albeit in His resurrection body. Nevertheless, the fullness of the Godhead is now housed in Christ in bodily form and will be so forevermore.
By the way, Christ is not partly God. He is fully God as the fullness of the Godhead is housed in Him. The word fullness means to be filled up or complete. Christ is filled up with deity. He is completely deity. The same is true for the Father and the Spirit all at the same time. There is One God who has revealed Himself in three persons. While the fullness of the Godhead resides in the Father and the Spirit, the fullness of the Godhead also resides in Christ, and, in His case, in bodily form. Those who saw Jesus face to face saw God face to face and were not consumed. Indeed, a new day dawned with the ushering in of the New Covenant in Christ!
Paul tells the Colossians, "and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power (10)." No need exists to run after the wisdom of the world. Not only is it bankrupt, but Christians are complete in Christ.
In addition, Christ "is the head of all principality and power," Paul says. The word "principality" refers to rule, dominion, kingdom, beginning, and the like. There are earthly principalities, heavenly principalities, and demonic principalities. Christ is the head of all principalities. That is, He is the Lord and He governs His universe. Nothing happens apart from His sovereign rule and dominion.
The word "power" is closely aligned with principality and refers to authority or the right to rule something. It can refer to an ability to rule, strength to rule, or the privilege and freedom to rule. Christ is the head of all authorities and powers. He alone is supreme and has the right to do whatsoever He pleases. No other place for Christ can exist except the place of power and authority; except the place of preeminence and supremacy. He is first in time and in rank. All rule and authority comes after Christ and at the discretion of His own will. If there are angels, demons, kings, and despots, they fall under the sovereign rule of Christ. Remember, the Gnostics had a false notion of little gods known as emanations or aeons. In their system, Christ was but another aeon. But Paul here combats that heresy and declares that Christ is no mere aeon. He is the head of all principality and power.
We are complete in Christ. He is the head of all things. No need exists to chase after anyone or anything else. We must reject worldly philosophy and works like The Gospel of Judas, for it is no gospel at all. We must reject heresy and embrace the sufficient Christ in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form and in whom we find our completion. We must beware, at all times!
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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