Friday, March 8, 2013

Judas Fish, Part 2: Betrayer Revealed

Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, had a clandestine meeting with the Chief Priests to have Jesus arrested. This helped set up the ultimate fate of Jesus, but left us with many questions.

But it was the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so Jesus had His Disciples arrange a place for them to feast in Jerusalem with a man carrying a jar of water (Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 22:7-13).

During the feast, known commonly as the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of the Disciples to demonstrate His love for them and emphasize how they should treat each other. This incredibly memorable, if not shocking, display is somehow forgotten by other Disciples, omitted from the other three Gospels. But what happened next would not be forgotten so easily...

This is Part 2 of a four part series entitled "Judas Fish." The series entries are:

Judas Fish, Part 2: Betrayer Revealed
Judas Iscariot is the ultimate human symbol of betrayal in the Christian world. It may not have always been that way, as the Apocryphal, Gnostic Gospel of Judas renders him as somewhat of the archetype of willing obedience to Jesus. However, those traditions are long dead. So to us, Judas is a villain. On the night when Judas' treachery would be revealed, Jesus let it be known that He knew the deceitful plan.

We will begin with Gospel closest to the original source for the Synoptics. In Mark 14:17-21, we find Jesus eating the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles. In Mark 14:18, Jesus dropped the bomb:
While they were reclining at the table eating, [Jesus] said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me." NIV
Now, it was just Jesus and the Twelve Disciples eating there, so the "one who is eating with Me" part seems a bit redundant. However, that phrase was very carefully placed there. We will see why in a moment.

As you may imagine, the Disciples were shocked to discover this, and so they each started telling Jesus that they would not betray Him (Mark 14:19). But Jesus verified that it would be one of the Twelve, one of the ones dipping bread with Him (Mark 14:20), and in Mark 14:21 revealed:
"The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." NIV
"...just as it is written about Him." What is Jesus talking about here? Written where? It is difficult to say if this is meant to be a reference to one specific prophesy or a more-general notion of God's plan as revealed in many prophesies. However, the references to the traitor eating bread with Him do loosely imply a specific prophesy. While it is vague here, there is an explicit reference which is given by John that helps us find that specific prophesy, but we will cover that in a moment.

Yet, before we move on, we should stop for just a moment at that last sentence. That part about being better for the betrayer if he had never been born; that implies a future punishment in store for him. Without specifics, it is hard to know what is meant, but the implication falls in line with the traditional view of a Hell of eternal torture.

Moving on, Matthew 26:20-25 is almost word-for-word identical with Mark's account; a sure sign of copying as opposed to independent witness. However, Matthew does append one large twist at the end. After the better-not-born verse, in Matthew 26:25 we read:
Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?"
Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." NIV
Wow! How shocking that would have been to the rest of the Disciples! Not only did they know one of their own group would betray Jesus, but now they knew exactly who it would be... assuming, of course, that Jesus and Judas had this little discussion loud enough for others to hear. And that should be a safe assumption, given that it is recorded dialog in Matthew. But that just makes it rather incredible that this trust-shattering news was not relayed in Mark. That seems like kind of an important detail.

Speaking of important details, Judas is not mentioned again in Matthew until he shows up with the squad to arrest Jesus, starting at Matthew 26:46. That matches the pattern written by Mark, but, as noted above, Mark never claimed that Judas was identified specifically as the traitor, and that makes it awkward. Why? Well, following Mark, you can just assume that Judas sneaked away to coordinate the later arrest. With Matthew, however, Judas is identified as the traitor, but he is never given an exit. In other words, it seems like right after Judas was revealed as the betrayer, they all just continued to eat dinner together, including moving on to the Communion Ceremony, like nothing had happened!

Turning to Luke, you will find his account has been adjusted. According to him, Jesus does the Communion Ceremony first (Luke 22:14-20) and then announced that there was a traitor in the ranks (Luke 22:21-23). Just like in Mark, Luke does not claim that Judas was explicitly identified as the traitor, which is very surprising if Matthew's account is accurate. Perhaps even more surprising is that, according to Luke 22:24-27 the Disciples got over their shock regarding a traitor so quickly that they next began to squabble about which of them would be the greatest! How bizarre!

John's account of this episode is quite different, and is found in John 13:18-30 as an immediate continuation of Jesus' foot-washing ceremony. Right after Jesus announced that most of the Disciples were now clean, and they should follow the example that Jesus had set Himself, He said this in John 13:18:
"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.'" NIV
Jesus provided a partial quote of Psalm 41:9, and it is a good thing that He truncated it, because to would have begun unraveling the truth. Psalm 41:9 reads:
"Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has raised his heal against me." NIV
Indeed, this is a verse about betrayal, but this is betrayal from a trusted friend. As noted in our previous study, according to John 6:60-71 Jesus knew that Judas could not be trusted from early on, and even implied that that his yet-to-be-manifest treachery was why Jesus had chosen him.

However, it only seems blatantly out of its own context when looking at John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not mention Jesus' early mistrust of Judas, and thereby they leave the door open (at the cost of omniscience) for Jesus to have trusted him. And so, as those other three all emphasize Judas sharing bread with Jesus, presumably as a connection to this same "prophesy" from Psalm 41, their accounts still provide some leeway for Jesus to have trusted Judas originally.

The preceding verses in this "prophesy," Psalm 41:7-8, speak of enemies imagining that the Psalm's speaker was struck with a deadly illness, which is a far cry from them actively conspiring in his death. So we see that, regardless of which Gospel you look at, this is yet another cherry-picked Christian prophesy, where verses taken out of context are used to support the case for Christ.

Moving on, in John 13:19-21, Jesus explained that He was letting them know about the treachery in advance as more proof of His own identity. The Disciples were shocked, and eventually got up the courage to ask Jesus who the traitor was (John 13:22-25). In John 13:26...
Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. NIV
So we see that, whether or not Matthew's Judas-to-Jesus conversation was private, here in John Jesus has explicitly identified Judas as the traitor using a non-mistakable, public gesture. Can you imagine, being one of the Twelve Disciples, hanging on Jesus' every word and motion as He revealed His betrayer? It would have been shocking, and incredibly memorable, which is precisely why it is so odd that this scene does not show up in any of the other Gospels. That suggests that either John or the other three are not accurate, and/or they are not based on original eyewitness accounts.

What follows next in John is strange as well. There, as soon as Judas took the bread from Jesus, Satan entered him, which is an odd event to record given that it (presumably) would have been impossible to witness (John 13:27). Not too surprisingly, Judas left the group as soon as he was identified as the traitor (John 13:30). On the other hand, what is surprising is that the other Disciples do not have a clue as to why Judas just left (John 13:28-29)! Even if they had not seen Satan just enter Judas, they would have at least noticed that Jesus identified Judas as the traitor.

This is all really bad fiction. It does not show the sign of memory which was corroborated over and over again by eyewitnesses. Instead it shows stories which developed on independent paths, with only the most fundamental elements shared in common; Jesus, the Disciples, and the betrayer Judas.

And, as usual, John's Gospel show signs of someone who is writing without fully considering the strange and disparate details within his own story because he is too focused on getting another message out to the public. Our politicians make this same mistake all too often.

Maybe this is not enough to convince believers that their faith is unjustified, but it should, at the bare minimum, be enough evidence to prove that not everything in the Bible is the truth. They have been betrayed by (at least parts of) the Gospels.


  1. Great post as usual. Once again, after looking at these things in detail it is pretty clear that the supposed prophecies in the new testament are really just cherry picking.

  2. Thanks Hausdorff. It is really uncanny how many "prophesies" just fall apart under scrutiny, is it not? I think that speaks to just how limited the access to the information (Scriptural scrolls) was at that time. It was nowhere near as easy to verify as it is today.

  3. Yeah definitely, a lot of this stuff is clearly the result of it being difficult to get their hands on the actual old texts. I think that would explain a lot of the discrepancies in the gospels too. If they are written for a different audience for a slightly different purpose, why not change the message a little, it's not like anyone is going to be able to compare them easily. Even when they put them together in the bible, most people didn't have one. Now of course it is so easy to cross reference things, it becomes clear much more easily that this thing isn't divinely inspired, but instead put together by fallible humans.

  4. Yeah Hausdorff. I think it is only a matter of people taking the time to honestly compare them to discover the truth. The problem I find is that most Christians who do study the Bible do so with the assumption that it is correct. So when they see a discrepancy, they just turn it on themselves, thinking that they must not be properly understanding the material.

  5. I think you are 100% correct on that one, I used to do that a lot. It wasn't usually from reading the bible, as I didn't do that much, but from contradictory things I learned in church. Me and my friends would try to reconcile contradictory ideas that we learned, and we usually could do it. It's amazing the stuff we were able to come up with. Here and there we were unable to come up with answers, and we just assumed that the answer was out there and we were just unable to think of it ourselves. Unfortunately, we would usually just assume an answer exists and move on without actually seeking the answer.

  6. I know I used to do that too, Hausdorff. :-)

  7. > Maybe this is not enough to convince believers that their faith is unjustified, but it should, at the bare minimum, be enough evidence to prove that everything in the Bible is not the truth.

    You mean... "that not everything in the Bible is the truth", right? There's a huge difference. ;-)

  8. Actually, either works. But your suggestion is definitely more clear to the intent. :-)