A Response to Art Sippo's Synthesis
In a recent blog post, (link), Roman Catholic (lay) apologist, "Art-of-Attack" Sippo attempts to strike a middle path between extreme views of Judas. He think the conventional view of Judas is too harsh, while he realizes that the Gnostic portrayal is clearly wrong.
It's really undeniable that Judas is portrayed in a harshly negative light by Scripture. Here's an exhaustive list of the passages in which Judas is mentioned by name. In every single one, something bad about Judas is mentioned, most of the time focusing on his betrayal of Jesus, though his avarice and suicide are also mentioned.
Matthew 10:4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
14Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, 15And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
Matthew 26:25 Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.
Matthew 26:47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
Matthew 27:3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
Mark 3:19 And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
Mark 14:10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.
Mark 14:43 And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
Luke 6:16 And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
Luke 22:3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
47And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. 48But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?
70Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 71He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.
4Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, 5Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
John 13:2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
21When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. 23Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. 25He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? 26Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. 28Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. 29For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.
1When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. 2And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. 3Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? 5They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
16Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
24And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
Sippo provokes a response from the Reformed church when he writes:
First of all, Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus himself to be in his inner circle and literally in his messianic Sanhedrin. For this reason, even as a child I could never understand why Jesus would have let an evil person get so close to him. There must have been something good -- if not exemplary -- in this man for Jesus to have elevated him to such an intimate relationship with Him. I cannot believe that Jesus would pick someone just to be His betrayer. There must have been more depth and character to Judas of which we are unaware.
Sippo's mistake is understandable, because he is embedded in a religion of merit and works righteousness. It is hard for Sippo to imagine that God could choose an unworthy man for the role of apostle. Yet, Paul himself was most unworthy to be called an apostle because He persecuted the church. Paul was not saved because of something good in him, but despite the great evil in him. Judas was picked to be the betrayer. Recall Jesus' own words to that effect in John 6.
Jesus himself refers to Judas Iscariot as a devil.
Sippo even goes so far as to question Judas' avarice, claiming that the Apostles disliked Judas and exagerated his faults!
The Gospels tend to magnify Judas' faults and portray him as a hypocrite. We are told that he held the common purse of the group and stole from it (John 12:6). But is that not a mere peccadillo of which many of us are guilty? Who hasn't padded an expense account or somehow funded a pet project from company funds? Mea culpa! I find the fact that Jesus trusted Judas with money to indicate that he was a better candidate to do so than any of the other disciples. He may have dipped into the till, but he also may have been very careful with how the money was spent and kept everyone on a budget. Maybe the other Apostles resented how Judas controlled the purse strings. Nobody likes a bean-counter.
That's simply shocking. It's not as though Jesus and the 12 had much money at all. Recall that Jesus indicated that he did not even have a place to lay his head. Furthermore, when it came to ride into Jerusalem, Jesus did not have the cash for a mule. Perhaps we might even go so far as to suggest that Judas' theft is what kept Jesus poor, but to suggest that Judas was hated because he was a good accountant that occasionally padded an expense report is bizarre!
Sippo's punchline is about equally shocking:
I sincerely believe that Judas did not intend to betray Jesus to his death. Instead I think that was trying to goad Jesus into a final confrontation with the High Priest which he thought Jesus would win.
One is almost left without words! Judas may have be unaware that the Jews would kill Jesus, but he certainly intended to betray Jesus, and Judas certainly did do it for the money.
Furthermore, immediately before Judas' pretend interest in the poor (at least, immediately before in the order of Matthew, though not necessarily immediately before chronologically), Jesus had told the disciples:
1And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, 2Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. 3Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.
Judas should have known that the betrayer was betraying him unto crucifixion, even if the Jews somehow hid their murderous intent from Judas when they solicited his betrayal of Christ.
It is a strained optimism to suppose that Judas thought it impossible that his betrayal would result in the death of our Lord. Jesus had often spoken of his death before hand, and we are told that the idea to betray Jesus was placed into Judas' mind by Satan.
Sippo goes on to speculate that Christ's death caught Judas by surprise, and that it was the surprise of a plan gone wrong that caused Judas' remorse. The problem is this, there is a powerful Scriptural reason not to suppose that Judas was not merely a misguided well-wisher, intending to set up Jesus so that Jesus could triumph over the Jewish leaders.
The Apostle Peter (in Acts 1) declared that Judas was to be numbered as one of those foretold by Psalms 69 and 109, i.e. that Judas was a wicked man. Furthermore, Peter, in his prayer, acknowledged that Judas fell from the ministry and apostleship by transgression.
But Peter does not stop there, he indicates that Judas fell "that he might go to his own place." That is to say, this was the place to which Judas was appointed, namely to hell. It's something that should give us all pause.
After all the punchlines, Sippo reminds us of his works-based religion with this closing remark:
And this hope serves a higher purpose. If there can be hope for Judas Iscariot, then there is hope for the rest of us! And to be honest, I identify better with the poor screw-up who blew it than with those sleek and sassy saints who never seem to have taken a misstep. May God have mercy on us all!
What Sippo correctly realizes is that we all make mistakes. If perfect obedience were the measure of salvation, then no one (not even those whom Sippo calls the "sleek and sassy saints") would be saved. Our hope is in the substitionary work of our Christ. It is His perfection on our account that saves us, not our works of righteousness. We do not avoid hell because we are more holy than Judas, but because God has chosen to show mercy upon us. Sippo's request for mercy is exactly right in one respect - it is mercy that we need to be saved. Sippo's request is somewhat off in another respect, however, namely that God will not have mercy on all, but on whom He wishes to have mercy - which is not necessarily those who are the most deserving.
Accordingly, we should see Judas' example and tremble. It is not enough to go to a good church, to be in the fellowship of the apostles, or even to be a disciple sitting at the feet of Jesus himself. Our hearts must be changed, we must trust in Jesus, we must love God, and worship Him.
And yet Judas is a testimony to the goodness of God, and an answer to the supposed problem of evil. Judas, Satan, and the Jews had bad intent and purpose in the crucifixion, but God meant it unto good to save much people. God, therefore, ordained that the wickedness of man should be the instrument of crucifying His only begotten Son and the salvation of his flock, the elect.
May God provide us with both fear and praise at the story of Judas Iscariot, whose habitation was rendered desolate by the curse of God against sin!