jump to navigation

Finding Judas, again… 25 April 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Life, Ponderings, Theology.
Tags: , , , ,

Come Easter I seem to find myself ruminating upon Judas Iscariot quite a lot and he tends to surface every so often in this blog. I can only presume that’s because he is also an integral part of the Easter story, no less than Doubting Thomas for example.

Last night we had a very lively session of Theos Cafe (and they nearly always are), even if I’m still not quite sure how we started with the loose topic of “Jesus: Resurrection and after” and ended up some 2 hours later with “why do all British people think their politicians are the lowest of the low?” Trust me, it made sense at the time…

However, one of the (few) pieces of preparation that I did for the evening, in between all the other running around of Thursday, was to simply trawl through the Gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians looking to summarise the topic. It’s always a worthwhile exercise, going through different sources and accounts, as it reminds you as much of their differences as their similarities, the way they compliment as much as the way they differ. I’d recommend the exercise, but one thing particularly struck me. The apostle Paul, who many credit and as many blame, for systematising much of early Christian thought and doctrine, speaks of a number of resurrection appearances in chapter 15 of the first letter to the church in Corinth: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

In case you didn’t know, and there’s no reason that you would, Cephas is another name for Peter. More importantly, despite the order of books in our New Testament, the Gospels are not the earliest written documents in it, just as Matthew wasn’t the earliest Gospel. It is pretty certain that this letter predates the earliest Gospel account (Mark) by about a decade. A reminder that we so often need, that collections of books take time. That’s not to say that necessarily believers in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome had widely-different views, they don’t appear to have done, but that information appropriate to one context is not necessarily appropriate in others. (For example, consider named or noted characters that only occur in one Gospel – they are likely to be known within the group to whom the Gospel is addressed, Cleopas in Luke, a Christian Samaritan community in John, etc).

I’m taking a very long way round route to get here, but what struck me about Paul’s account was the use of this phrase “The Twelve”. It is evidently an early form of address referring to the close group of Jesus’ companions, the Twelve Apostles, as opposed to the wider faithful community of the disciples. (To be an apostle was to be a disciple, but not neccesarily the reverse). What jumped out at me though is that the Gospel accounts do not use the phrase in the context of the Resurrection. In most references the number to benefit from Jesus’s resurrection appearances isn’t spelled out, or we can count or infer them. The only time we hear of a numbered group is “the Eleven” in the ‘longer ending’ of Mark’s Gospel, (which appears very much to be a piece in a different style tacked onto the usual, rather abrupt, ending and displaying an awareness of the other Gospels in a very different manner from the rest of Mark.) In the first chapter of Acts (also authored by Luke) we have account of the practices of eleven, named, apostles along with “the women.. Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” and the need to replace Judas with a new twelfth man. But this occurs after the Ascension, once the physically resurrected Christ has gone back to the Father, not during the 40 days that Acts claims he was present.

Paul’s account, almost certainly of an earlier date, still speaks of the Twelve. Of course, it’s probably all just an anachronism, but it also leaves open, for a simple heretic like me, a hope I expressed in Finding Judas, and a slightly different conclusion to conventional explanations!

And for bonus theological points, misogynists may note that despite all the emphasis that the Gospels and Acts place on the first resurrection appearances as being to women, they have no place within Paul’s account. Lose points if your Bible version, with the laudable intention of using inclusive language, has “brothers and sisters” in 15:6. (I haven’t checked the Greek, but I’m sure they’ll be wrong!)

Well, when I started writing all this I’m sure it made sense. Whether it does now, of course, is open to question. Perhaps we should al be grateful that I don’t have a theological library at hand here in the uni, or this would be even longer and more confusing!



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: