Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reading the Gospel of Judas VIII: Judas's Legacy

It is clear from the gospels that during Jesus’s life, many groups persecuted Jesus and his followers and they wanted to kill Jesus and end his Church. The outside persecution could be endured, what made a difference was the treachery inside and its conspiracy with the persecutors. As I have noted before:
The most deadly combination for the Church in its first century was apostates within colluding with persecutors without. Judas Iscariot had used that combination to kill Jesus, and others found it equally effective in killing his Church.[1] 
This was Judas’s legacy to the first century Church.

Whenever 3 John was written, probably in the last half of the first century, John notes Diotrephes would not permit him to come to the Church because Diotrephes wanted to be in charge (3 John 1:9).

In the seventies and eighties, a number of Christians left their faith, although the man who recorded this did not care why they did so only that they did so.[2]

Jude’s grandsons were denounced as politically dangerous in the late eighties or early nineties, but they were released even though they were Christians.[3] This means that someone had to make accusations to Roman authorities about them, accusations so serious that they carried the death penalty.

At the end of the beginning of the Second Century, Pliny writes to his friend, the emperor Trajan, and notes that he is receiving anonymous accusations against individuals accusing them of being Christians.[4] Pliny wants to know whether simply being a Christian is automatically sufficient cause for execution, and it seems that whoever wrote the accusation must have thought so.

Hegesippus records that also about this time a certain faction of Christians at Jerusalem accused Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem, to the authorities and had him put to death.[5] Hegesippus also says: “until that time, the Church had remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin since until that time those who corrupted it lay undeclared in darkness.”[6]

Clement of Rome says that in Trajan’s day the Church was filled with “unholy sedition,”[7] as proof of that he pointed to “everyone abandoning the fear of God, and becoming blind to his faith, neither walking in the ordinances of his appointment, nor comporting according to the Christian duty, but walking according to wicked lusts of his own heart.”[8]

This tale of Christianity to the beginning of the second century shows that various individuals tried to sabotage the Christian faith, often by betraying the leaders to get gain or imagined power. Between the betrayal of Jesus and the similar betrayals of local Christian leaders lies about a half century hiatus. Other betrayals may have occurred, obscured from our view. The legacy of Judas was alive and well at the end of the first century.

[1] John Gee, “James, First and Second Peter, and Jude: Epistles of Persecution,” in The Life and Teachings of the New Testament Apostles: From the Day of Pentecost through the Apocalypse, ed. Richard Nietzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 190.
[2] Pliny, Epistles 10.96.6.
[3] Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.19.1-20.8.
[4] Pliny, Epistles 10.96.2.
[5] Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.32.1-3.
[6] Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.32.7.
[7] Clement of Rome, Corinthians, 1.1.
[8] Clement of Rome, Corinthians, 3.4.