Who’s the Bad Guy?

August 20, 2007 | 17 comments
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The writer of the gospel of John worked really, really hard to make it clear that no one suspected Judas:

This is John 13:21-20, with commentary:

21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, [this is the stock phrase that Jesus uses when he means 'what I am about to tell you is really, really important'] that one of you shall betray me. [ He had to tell them. They didn't know at this point--and at this point, Jesus' public ministry is finished.]
22 Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. [They don't say, "Ah-ha! I just knew something was up with Judas!" They look around at each other, searching for a guilty face, because they have no clue who will betray Jesus.]
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. [Simon Peter has no clue who the betrayer is.]
25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? [The 'beloved disciple' has no clue who the betrayer is.]
26 Jesus 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. [Jesus devises a sign. So they should know who it is now, right?]
27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. [Even after hearing this suspicious sentence--even with the sentence falling hard on the heels of 'one of you shall betray me'--they don't get it.]
29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag [They trusted Judas so much that they let him be the CFO; they are so UNsuspecting of him that they think this statement is more likely to have to do with his financial role than it is to have to do with the topic at hand--who will betray Jesus.], 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. [They come up with these completely innocent explanations for Jesus' words--it doesn't even occur to them as a possibility that Judas might be a betrayer.]
30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

If the author had stood on his head or jumped up and down, it could hardly have been made clearer that, even at this late point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples have no clue that Judas will betray Jesus.

What are the implications of this? Why is it important to know that the disciples didn’t suspect Judas? What could this teach us about us? And why do artists always make Judas look like a bad guy?

17 Responses to Who’s the Bad Guy?

  1. Lynn Davis on August 20, 2007 at 3:25 am

    Why does John want the audience to know that none of the apostles suspected Judas? Well, if they HAD suspected him, why wouldn\’t they have stopped him earlier? Since Jesus alone knew, then Jesus allowed the betrayal as it aided the plan of salvation. More interesting is verse 27, which says that AFTER the sop, Satan entered into Judas. Almost as if he were appointed……

  2. R. Gary on August 20, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Though in the Outward Church Below
    (Hymns, 1948, No. 102)

    1.
    Though in the outward Church below
    Both wheat and tares together grow,
    Ere long will Jesus weed the crop
    And pluck the tares in anger up.

    Chorus:
    For soon the reaping time will come,
    And angels shout the harvest home,
    And angels shout the harvest home.

    2.
    Will it relieve the horror there
    To recollect their stations here?
    How much they heard, how much they knew?
    How much among the wheat they grew?

    3.
    No; this will aggravate their case;
    They perish under means of grace;
    To them the word of life and faith
    Became an instrument of death.

    4.
    We seem alike when here we meet;
    Strangers may think we are all wheat;
    But to the Lord’s all-searching eyes,
    Each heart appears without disguise.

    5.
    The tares are spared for various ends,
    Some for the sake of praying friends,
    Others the Lord against their will,
    Employs, his counsels to fulfill.

    6.
    But though they grow so tall and strong,
    His plan will not require them long;
    In harvest, when he saves his own,
    The tares shall into hell be thrown.

    7.
    O! awful thought, and is it so?
    Must all mankind the harvest know?
    Is every man a wheat or tare?
    Me for the harvest, Lord, prepare.

  3. Mike on August 20, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Is there a difference between “accidental tares” and “intentional tares”? Did Judas deeply desire to destroy Christ? Or perhaps he had a less malignant motivation; he saw an opportunity to make some money and he could see that Christ was already in quite a bit of legal trouble anyway? Or maybe he thought Christ would save himself if he really was all he claimed to be so why not make a little money on the side? What the heck was he thinking when Christ told him to do it quickly? Are we not supposed to do what the Lord tells us to do? Since we can not read the mind of Judas across the centuries we will never know. If we assume a more benign motivation for Judas then it is easier for him to go undetected.

    For me the frightening question is how do I avoid becoming a Judas and selling out my Lord for the modern equivalent of 30 pieces of silver?? I do not purposely go about seeking the destruction of the Kingdom of God and I am not an intentional tare. I know of few if any such individuals. But I have done some well-meaning things that backfired and hurt people. I think many people do not see me as 110% on the side of the Church which is often equated with being on the Lord’s side. And I do not believe there is very little wickedness in people. If we spend very much time trying to figure out who we think the Judas types are in our ward, isn’t that going to lead to some more serious problems?

    I have dabbled in some Biblical scholarship several years ago that proposes that some of the New Tewstament was added in later for various theological purposes such as parts of the Lord’s prayer and Matt 25. This leads me to wonder if the story of Judas was woven in later. Perhaps when small persecuted Christian communities were betrayed by backsliding members and fed to the lions at the Roman circus? Very early christianity maybe needed a Judas character in its sacred story to survive harrowing times. Just a W.A.G.

  4. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2007 at 8:54 am

    What reason is there to think that the Judas story is an interpolation?

  5. Kevin Barney on August 20, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    The whole Judas thing is kind of perplexing, and some of these issues came out again when the Gospel of Judas was recently publicized. Three issues I find perplexing:

    - I’ve never understood why it was a big deal for Judas to identify Jesus. It’s not like Jesus wasn’t well known. If the quaternion of Roman soldiers or whoever it was needed him pointed out, there were hundreds of people who could have done the job, including Jesus’ avowed enemies. Why would the Jewish leaders cut a deal with Judas to do this? (The only thing I can think of is that having an insider identify him in an innocuous way would give the quaternion the element of surprise.)

    - Motivation is a big issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if Judas were trying to press Jesus to reveal himself as the Messiah (in the warrior sense of throwing off their Roman overlords).

    - Necessity is also a big issue. If it was necessary for Jesus to die and suffer, then wasn’t Judas’s act ultimately a good thing (sort of like the way Mormons see Eve in the Garden)?

    We like to paint Judas as the ultimate example of evil, but I don’t think it’s nearly that cut and dried.

  6. Matt W. on August 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Kevin: I agree that Judas doesn’t make a good ultimate example of evil (unless you add in the folklore that he absolutely knew Jesus was the Christ and willfully rebelled against that. Even still, so Did Cain and Satan etc.)

    Anyway, I’ve always thought of it as Judas took the soldiers to Jesus’ “Secret Hideout” and both parties refused to just let Judas say where it was, in case of a double cross. Maybe that is my own folk interpretation, but it is what makes sense to me.

    And I think Judas is more like the Snake than Eve…

  7. a spectator on August 20, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Kevin–
    While many could have identified Jesus, I have thought (based on my own uninformed sense) that Judas identifying him was more like a testimony against him; sort of the difference between identifying him in a line-up and then actually bringing the dirt against him in a more official court setting. Perhaps only an insider could have acted as a witness against Jesus’ words and deeds that the Romans viewed as problematic as Judas would have been a personal witness to much of Jesus’ work.

    I agree that I think it is possible to view this more sympathetically, as many do for Eve or Peter’s later betrayal.

  8. Mike on August 20, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Response to Adam #4.

    No reason. Intuition and guessing. I would admit a high probability of being wrong.

    This is a blog, not a court of law. I learn more this way.

    Back closer to the original question, does this make me a Judas? What makes any of us a Judas?

  9. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    No reason. Intuition and guessing. I would admit a high probability of being wrong.

    I’m pretty leary of deciding that canonized scripture is uninspired even when we have good reasons. But I don’t think that makes you a Judas.

  10. Paul S on August 20, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Raymond Brown, a NT scholar, has hypothesized that those out to get Jesus needed to get at him when the masses weren’t around. They used Judas to lead them Jesus when he was relatively alone and exposed. I don’t know, but seems like a good hypothesis to me.

    Adam #9: are interpolations necessarily uninspired? I realize Mike was implying that maybe the later interpolation was uninspired. But if scholars are correct that later Pauline Epistles, like Timothy, were written by a disciple of Paul and not Paul himself, would that necessarily mean that they were not inspired or would it more likely mean that they were inspired but the early Church Fathers putting together the Bible thought Paul’s name carried more gravitas (and thus more likely to make the final cut for the Bible before the deciding counsels with Paul’s name on it as opposed to a later disciple)?

  11. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    What’s the point of saying that the Judas story is an interpolation if we think its still accurate?

  12. Paul S on August 20, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Or, I see nothing inconsistent in the view that if there are interpolations, some may have been made by inspired authors (perhaps the Lucan author making edits to Mark) much like Moroni made interpolations throughout the Large Plates. Of course, this is less likely to apply the later the alleged interpolations were made because of the effects of the apostasy. It seems very possible that if Mark were written some 20 years before Luke, for instance, the Lucan author could have been the one to write the longer ending to Mark that we have in the KJV version. Though, from my understanding, documentary evidence does seem to imply that it was probably written much later.

  13. Paul S on August 20, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Adam #11: what do you mean by “accurate”? By this do you mean that you espouse the belief that if the words were written by someone inspired they are therefore inerrant?

    Additionally, even if the interpolation is “accurate” don’t prophets think differently across the years or remember or forget different things after many years? I’m interested about both the time and the author because I think this adds to our understanding of why something was written. Even in scripture, knowing the audience can give us a deeper understanding of text. Whether it reads differently because written for Jews or Romans or because by the late 1st Century, Jews were more reviled and the young Christian Church was separating itself from their Jewish roots, etc.

  14. Adam Greenwood on August 20, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    You’ve lost me, Paul S. By ‘accurate’ I mean did Judas exist and did he betray Christ more or less the way portrayed in the gospels?

  15. Paul S on August 20, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    “more or less” doesn’t sound like a traditional definition of “accurate” to me. But I get what you’re saying. And I suppose I agree that if all you’re worried about is whether something happened “more or less” the way it is reported, my theory of interpolations wouldn’t be that interesting.

    However, if you are also interested in whether authors are stressing or emphasizing different parts of the story for different reasons and whether those stresses are inspired or not, my theory might be mildly interesting. For instance, none of Christ’s apostles were there when Judas went to the authorities and betrayed Christ. How do we know what happened? If we don’t exactly, are there reasons why the different Gospel writers tell that story a little differently each time? Seems like that is both interesting and informative.

  16. Ray on August 20, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    The story of Laman and Lemuel is impossible for us to understand fully without the background information that occurred prior to Lehi’s conversion. Judas’ actions, likewise, are impossible to understand fully without more information about him. Essentially, we know NOTHING about him except for what is recorded in this one passage.

    I have read interpretations ranging from the idea that Judas was Lucifer incarnate to the idea that he was carrying out the Savior’s plan to goad the Jewish leadership into initiating the process that would lead to His sacrificial death – and quite a few between those extremes. The most intriguing idea, to me, is that he knew what was being planned (the trial) and decided to make some money out of it – never imagining that Jesus eventually would be crucified by the Romans. I can’t say I believe that option, because I really don’t have a clue, but it is intriguing.

  17. JanetGW on August 22, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Julie, I heard some GA hazard speculation that perhaps Judas thought his little plot would cause Jesus to reveal his full glory to the Romans and actually bolster his standing rather than result in his death. Aggravatingly, I can’t remember which GA it was (please nobody flame me, I swear I’m not making the story up or anything despite the apocryphal sound). The GA clearly located his comments as speculative rather than doctrinal. I thought it was a fascinating idea, though, and one which would lend a great deal of complicating depth to the story. Bleeding hear that I am, it appeals to me. But it also flies in the face of tradition rather swiftly.