The Book of Enoch – an extra-canonical text used by some Christians

Question from DM, United Kingdom

A friend of mine has been massively influenced by the book of Enoch, to the point that he believes people in government across the world are descended from a line of interbreeding between fallen angels and humans – which is why there is so much corruption and abuse of power. I know the book of Enoch was not widely accepted as a canonical book, why was that? And what are the dangers of teaching a fairly important doctrine from a non-canonical book?

The Book of Enoch was accepted as authoritative by the Ethiopian Church, but within the general sphere of Christian thought was never included in the canon of Scripture. Without going into too much detail regarding the formation of the canon of Scripture, the Hebrew Bible (renamed by Christians as the Old Testament) was absorbed into Christianity from Judaism, while a book’s inclusion in the New Testament tended to revolve around Apostolic involvement or authorship.

The Book of Enoch is a collection of apocalyptic traditions including the pre-historical fall of the angels, dream visions, visions of the ‘Son of Man’ (probably Enoch, not Jesus), parables and the miraculous birth of Noah. It was probably written in Aramaic and is quoted in Jude 14-15. However, it was written sometime in the last two centuries before Christ, so was written too late to become anywhere near authoritative in the Jewish community. As it has pre-Christian roots and no Apostolic link, the majority of Christians ignored it, although it remained popular in Africa until Rome exerted it’s authority and insisted on a universal canon of Scripture.

Generally any theology that is based solely on the interpretation of one passage of Scripture should be open to debate. It is good exegetical practice to ensure that any doctrine is only considered a ‘primary doctrine’ if it is supported by several passages of Scripture, preferably from different books and writings. Thus we see that the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus as being vital to the salvation of human beings is a primary doctrine of the Christian faith. The great doctrines of the Church fall into this category and, in the Protestant traditions any doctrines that lack this Scriptural support are rendered irrelevant.

A doctrine that is based solely on a book that lies outside the mainstream canon of Scripture is optional at best, lacks authority and could very well be dismissed as misguided.

Balaam – an Old Testament character referenced in Revelation

Question from DRI, United Kingdom

Who was Balaam, mentioned as a teacher in Revelation 2 verse 14?

Revelation is a complex book and the opening sections addressed to the Seven Churches of Asia are no less difficult than the later chapters. In chapter 2 the church in Pergamum receives a prophetic word through the writer of Revelation, traditionally identified with John the apostle. During this the church is criticised in verse 14 of chapter 2 because “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.

The church in Pergamum would have instantly identified Balaam as a character from the Old Testament. He was a sorcerer and oracle summoned by Balak the Moabite king in Numbers chapter 22 to try and halt the progress of the Israelites as they headed out of Egypt towards Moab. Despite being a practitioner of magic, he recognised the hand of Yahweh on the people of Israel and refused to prophesy disaster for them (see Numbers 24 verse 12). However, after Balaam’s involvement with Balak, some of the men of Israel got involved with Moabite women and began worshipping their idols (chapter 25 verses 1-3). Balaam thus became identified with this idolatrous and immoral behaviour.

In his book Thunder and Love, Stephen Smalley notes that in the Jewish mindset Balaam became symbolic with religious syncretism, that is, the mixing of religions into an impure faith. According to Smalley, John’s warning to the church at Pergamum “is probably referring to those in the church who were guilty of religious infidelity, more than sexual licence” (op cit pp87-8). A similar coded warning is given to the church at Thyatira who “tolerate that woman Jezebel” (chapter 2 verse 20) – a ‘so-called prophetess’ who is leading the church astray. Calling the woman ‘Jezebel’ harks back to the idol-worshipping wife of King Ahab (1 Kings chapter 16 and following) who became a byword in Jewish lore for an immoral woman.

The ‘Balaam’ in verse 14 may have been an individual teaching a pluralistic worldview – encouraging members of the church to participate in the pagan rites of the city. Calling this person ‘Balaam’ was a way of letting the church in Pergamum know that his message deserved no place among the people of God.

Song of Songs 8

Question from TV, USA

I have been told that in Song of Songs 8:8-10, the words “wall” and “door”, literally mean, in this context, “vagina (of a virgin)” and “vagina (of a non-virgin)”. In the context of the sentences, they might be translated “virgin” and “not a virgin “(or something to that effect). In the sixteen versions of the English Bible on, fifteen use the cryptic “wall” and “door” as the translation. For many pastors I know this would come across as a “stump the band” type of question, and is not so much about theology as various theologians’ motivations. Do you have any ideas on why this passage is translated a certain way?

Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon) is poetry and despite what the words used may mean, it is probably best to translate the words literally as they stand. The meaning of various words may be open to interpretation, but it would be very difficult to justify translating words into what the translator thinks that they mean. That goes beyond the remit of a translator and could easily lead to a ‘translation’ being the translator’s point of view as to what should be there, rather than what is there.

It is entirely possible that ‘wall’ and ‘door’ in chapter 8 refer to virginity. Song of Songs uses many metaphors, some of them quite obvious comparisons while others are left to the imagination. For example in chapter 2 verse 3, the female narrator’s lover is “like an apple tree among the trees of the forest”, i.e. he stands out from the other young men. The analogy is quite plain and is introduced using ‘like’, but then the woman says “his fruit is sweet to my taste”, which could mean any number of things and possibly be interpreted as a sexual act.

Within the history of Biblical study, Song of Songs’ blatant sexuality has often been played down by expositors. The poem was regarded as being a metaphor for God’s love for Israel in the Aramaic translations known as the Targums; in later Christian thought this allegorical interpretation was applied to God’s love for the Church. It is possible that because the Song features so many agricultural metaphors that it grew out of some ancient ritualistic fertility rite, although the evidence for this is dubious at best. Some early Greek translations assigned various sections of the song to characters – a trait that is followed in modern translations – but dramatising the Song of Songs in this way seems to be a later development.

It is generally agreed that Song of Songs, rather than being a continuous narrative, is a collection of very ancient love poems, linked together, almost like a ‘best of’ collection, hence it is the Song of Songs, the loveliest of love poems, placed together. Much of that poetic feel is lost due to reading it in a secondary language. Despite many Jewish and Christian religious teachers feeling uncomfortable with its contents through the ages, Song of Songs remains a testament to the importance of physical intimacy as a gift from God to human beings.

The Apocrypha – ‘hidden books’ found in some Bibles

Question from JM, United Kingdom

What is the Apocrypha?

The early theologian Jerome used the word ‘apocrypha’ (meaning ‘the secret books’) as a label for a collection of writing dating from the last few centuries before Christ. In fact, the books were not secret at all. Most of them had been part of the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Jews, and then Christians, throughout the Roman Empire. However they are not found in the Hebrew Bible because in AD70, after the Jewish War against the Romans and the destruction of the Temple, a council of top Jewish scholars met in Jamnia, Palestine and agreed on a set ‘canon’ of books/writings.

Any books that did not equate to their particular brand of Judaism (they belonged for the main to the group known as Pharisees) were dropped. Towards the end of the fourth century Jerome produced the Vulgate, the official Church version of the Bible in Latin, and excised the Apocrypha because he believed that the Hebrew text had more authority than the Greek Septuagint. Pope Damasus ruled against him and the Apocrypha stayed in the traditional place in the new Latin translation.

This highlights the big problem with the Apocrypha. The books are in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew Bible, which begs the question of which collection is authoritative. When the Church delineated a formal, authoritative canon (mainly in response to heresies), the Apocrypha were usually included and the Apocryphal books were widely quoted by the earliest theologians.

Since Jerome’s time the Apocrypha has been regarded as slightly less than authoritative. For example the Anglican Church describes the Apocrypha as suitable edifying reading, but not a permitted source of doctrinal authority (paraphrased from the sixth Article of Religion). The Protestant Reformers tended to reject the Apocrypha, removing the various disputed section from the body of the Old Testament – first to its own section and then dropping it from Bibles altogether. In contrast, the Roman Church decided to affirm the full canonicity of the Apocrypha at the Council of Trent, although now they are generally referred to as ‘deutero-canonical’ books (literally from the ‘second canon’).

For those who have not got a copy of the Bible containing the Apocrypha:

Freelance Theology’s Rough Guide to the Apocrypha

There are 14 ‘writings’ popularly listed as the Apocrypha, including additional material from Esther and three stories interpolated into Daniel.
The other 10 are:
1 Esdras (also known as 3 Esdras)
2 Esdras (also known as 4 Esdras)
Tobit/ Tobias
The Wisdom of Solomon
(The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of) Sirach (often called Ecclesiasticus)
Baruch & the Epistle of Jeremiah
The Prayer of Manasseh
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

FF Bruce splits the Apocryphal books into four types: Historical, Religious Fiction, Wisdom/Ethical Literature and Apocalyptic (See The Books and the Parchments, revised edition, 1991, pp 153-165)

The Historical Books
1 Esdras is an alternative version of the book of Ezra which includes material covered in 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. 1 and 2 Maccabees are two independent works covering the inter-testamental period. 1 Maccabees relates the war between Judas Maccabaeus and the Greek despot Antiochus Epiphanes who sought to destroy the Jewish faith after conquering Palestine. It was probably written in about 100BC and seems to have been translated from a now-lost Hebrew original. 2 Maccabees is written from a different point of view, covers the same struggles and has a noted emphasis on martyrdom, which possibly influenced early Christian attitudes towards dying for the faith. Two further ‘books of the Maccabees’ (numbered 3 and 4) have been discovered, but have nothing to do with the Maccabaean rebellion.

The Religious Fiction
Tobit and Judith are both stories featuring eponymous heroes. Tobit is a pious Israelite carried off to Assyria and has a lot of Persian influences, especially regarding the influence of good and evil angels. It’s main point seems to be the importance of observing the Law in a foreign land, which might be why it survived among Greek-speaking Jewish communities outside Palestine. Judith is a plucky Hebrew heroine who saves her city by charming and then beheading a Persian general. Bruce believes the story became popular during the Maccabaean uprising as a stirring patriotic tale (op cit, p157)

The additions to Esther add some religious content to a book notably lacking in this regard. The three additions to Daniel – ‘The Song of the Children’, ‘The Story of Suzannah’ and ‘Bel and the Dragon’ – vary in purpose. Bel and the Dragon is an attack on idolatry, which leads to Daniel (Belteshazzar is his Babylonian name) being thrown into the lion’s den again. Suzannah is a virtuous Jewish woman saved by Daniel’s legal expertise from those who would harm her and the Song of the Children is a poetic expression of praise to Yahweh inserted into the story of the three men cast into the furnace in Daniel chapter 3.

Wisdom literature
Both the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach/Ecclesiasticus are classic examples of Jewish Wisdom literature. Early Christian theologians quoted both frequently and even Jerome, who coined the word Apocrypha when he rejected ‘the secret books’, referred to Sirach as ‘Scripture’. In fact the probable reason why Sirach received the alternative name of ‘Ecclesiasticus’ is because sections of it were read so widely in the liturgy of the early Church. Sirach was also used in synagogue services, even after the Council of Jamnia rejected it because the view it held of the afterlife did not tally with the Pharasaic outlook.

The Wisdom of Solomon contains an attack on idolatry very similar to Romans chapter 1, which has led some scholars to date it as late as AD40, when the Emperor Gaius insisted on placing an Imperial image in the Temple of Jerusalem – an edict which contributed to the failed uprising thirty years later that saw the Temple destroyed. Wisdom, as it is often called for short, was probably written in Greek and has a Hellenistic cultural style, which may account for it never being incorporated into the Hebrew Bible.

Baruch was the name of a friend of Jeremiah, but this book probably has nothing to do with him. It talks about sin, wisdom and redemption, a theme also picked up in the Prayer of Mannasseh – supposedly the petition of King Manasseh of Israel when he was captured and taken to Babylon. Mannasseh’s prayer is alluded to in 2 Chronicles chapter 33 vv11-13, but was not recorded by the Chronicler.

2 Esdras is one of a number of apocalyptic books that circulated from 200BC to AD200. It consists of seven visions of the future received by Ezra in Babylon with some Christian polemic attached as a frontispiece. FF Bruce dates it to AD100.

Some final comments
1 & 2 Esdras are sometimes called 3 & 4 Esdras because, in the Vulgate, Ezra (Esdras in Latin) and Nehemiah are called 1 & 2 Esdras, hence the Apocryphal books are numbered 3 & 4.

The Ethiopian Church also gave canonical status to the Book of Enoch (sometimes called 1 Enoch to distinguish it from some other books bearing Enoch’s name) and the Book of Jubilees. Words from Enoch chapter 1 v 9 are quoted in the New Testament epistle of Jude (vv 14–15) and this caused a notable early Christian theologian called Tertullian to argue for 1 Enoch’s authority. The Book of Jubilees is a different version of the Book of Genesis that divides history up into ‘jubilee periods’ i.e. sections of 49 years each.

Thanks for your question, JM – hopefully this guide will be of use as well.

Salvation & the Kingdom

Question from JE, United Kingdom

What is the difference between ‘salvation’ and ‘entering the Kingdom of God’?

During his earthly ministry, Jesus constantly referred to the Kingdom of God (or its corollary – the Kingdom of Heaven) and the gospel writers rarely record the use of the Greek word ‘sote’ (to save) or its derivatives. It is more often used in Paul’s letters and in the epistle to the Hebrews, where the word ‘soteria’(salvation) appears frequently.

The easiest way to understand the distinction between the two is to recognise salvation as the subjective event that changes a person’s life. The Kingdom is, however, an objective reality (which is why Jesus compares it analogically to so many things) that the saved person enters. By ‘passing from death to life’ (John 5 v24) through acknowledging Christ as ‘kyrios kai sote’ (Lord and Saviour), a person enters the Kingdom of God. This is the new reality for the believer, a place where the natural, sinful order of things is turned on its head, the last are first and vice versa.

Salvation is the point where humans are saved from the power of sin and death, but ‘salvation from’ is only half the story. Christians are ‘saved for’ a purpose – to live holy lives as citizens of a new Kingdom.

Know Your Theologians #1 Gregory of Nazianzus

Bare Facts
Born c.329AD in Nazianzus, Cappadocia (now part of Northern Turkey). Studied Rhetoric and Philosophy in Athens, then lived in quasi-monastic seclusion. Ordained a Bishop against his will, he ended up Bishop of Constantinople. Resigned from the chair halfway through the Council of Constantinople in 381AD. Died in obscurity c 389. Canonised along with his friends Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa – a trio of theologians known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Why is he important?
After the Council of Nicea declared the Son to be consubstantial/homoousios with the Father in 325AD the Church was split between those who believed the Son was the first of the created order (known as Arians after their leader Arius) and those who held to the Nicene Creed. In about 380AD, Gregory was appointed leader of a small church of loyal Nicenes in Constantinople where he formulated a classic defence of the Nicene faith in his Five Theological Orations.

When Theodosius I became Emperor he appointed Gregory as Bishop of Constantinople and called the Council of 381, which reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and the full divinity of the Son as true orthodoxy. Gregory’s coherent arguments for the divinity of the Holy Spirit meant the Nicene Creed was augmented by the ‘Spirit clause’. The problem was that while it was clear that the Son was begotten, the Spirit could not have also been begotten. Gregory’s phrase – that the Spirit ‘proceeded’ – became the classic formulation for pneumatology (theology of the Spirit). Gregory also refuted the Apollinarian heresy that Christ did not possess a human spirit.

This all seems very complicated…
Yes, it is. But this was the fourth century and philosophy ruled. Apparently, in Constantinople, they even discussed whether the Son was created or eternally begotten in the barber shops while cutting hair.

Was he really ordained a bishop against his will?
Yes. His best friend Basil was Bishop of Caesarea and he needed some loyal bishops in his arch-diocese. So he created a new bishopric based on Sasima – a small town described as a cross-roads where the roads ran nowhere.

So, why isn’t he called Gregory of Sasima?
Because he never even visited the town. Gregory was helping his father, also called Gregory, who happened to be bishop of Nazianzus, and he was pretty annoyed with Basil for pressuring him into it. He refused to go.

That seems a bit lax!
It was. And later when he was at Constantinople his theological opponents used the fact that he had swapped from being Bishop of Sasima to being Bishop of Constantinople to get rid of him. According to the canons of Nicea, bishops were not allowed to move around.

So it came back to bite him?
After Constantinople he wrote several bitter comments on church politics. Gregory really wanted to be left alone writing his poetry and meditating on the Scriptures.

If he was so important, why haven’t I heard of him?
The Cappadocian Fathers are pillars of the Orthodox Church and were only really rediscovered in the West comparatively recently. There are few translations of his works available in English.

Notable quote: “That which has not been assumed has not been healed.” (From a Letter to Cledonius, referring to the fact that Christ must have possessed full humanity in order to save humans completely – this was to counter Apollinarius).

Final Fact: Some 17 000 stanzas of Gregory’s autobiographical and doctrinal poetry survive.

Dirty Money

Question from CM, United Kingdom

I know that churches differ widely on this issue, but does the Bible have a standpoint on whether churches should accept “dirty money” in order to fund work that would otherwise not have been able to take place? By “dirty money” I mean money gained from gambling, the Lottery or even from crime but is given to the church with a giving heart and honest desire for it to be used to glorify God.

This is a quite a topical issue at the moment for many Christian organisations and churches in terms of applying for lottery funding. But while many churches agonise over whether to apply for money from the lottery, there is an almost hypocritical mechanism at work, in that financial donations from any private individual are never questioned. If a stranger walked into a church and dropped a large wad of notes into the collection plate, would the church hand it back if they knew he was a drug dealer? A cynic’s reply would be ‘Of course not!

Gambling is often seen as morally wrong, mainly because it can turn into a destructive vice. There is an element of prediction at work and, of course a person places their trust into whether the horse comes home first. There does not seem to be a definite stance taken against gambling in Scripture, though Matthew’s gospel notes that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes (chapter 27 v35). This is about the only direct reference to gambling and Matthew mentions it in a neutral way because the writer is more concerned about the fact that it fulfils a prophetic statement from the Psalms that the writer presumably felt applied to Jesus (Psalm 22 v 18 – this Psalm begins ‘My God, why have you forsaken me’, the words Jesus says on the cross in Matthew 27 v 46)

However, gambling is generally a waste of money and, since the rise of Puritan elements within Christianity during the Reformation, has been generally frowned upon by Christians. As most of the Protestant denominations owe much to Puritan roots, this attitude that gambling is a sinful activity is very well established.

In terms of using “dirty money” for good purposes, there are Biblical stories that would seem to indicate that this is acceptable. In Luke chapter 7 a woman who “had led a sinful life” (usually regarded as a coded reference to prostitution) broke an alabaster jar of nard, an expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with this. The reaction of Simon the Pharisee centred on the woman’s sinful past and Jesus rebuked him, seeing the use of this perfume, which probably acted as her financial security due to its worth, as indicative of her repentance. Similarly the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke chapter 19 sees the penitent cheat giving his ill-gotten wealth to the poor, an action that leads Jesus to declare that “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9).

It would seem that in both these instances the change in the individual and their subsequent use of their wealth met with Jesus’ approval. However, this does not provide Christians with a carte blanche to earn money by any means necessary. It is important to note that the money earned through dubious means was done so before these people encountered Jesus.

The lottery money is there to be spent and, if Christians do not spend it, then other people will. Does that mean its right to use it for ‘the Lord’s work’? Well, the answer to that has to be ‘maybe’. Is God interested in how we earn and use our money? The answer to that is ‘Yes, definitely!’ The rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18 acts as a counterpoint to Zacchaeus. He could not bring himself to give his money away to the poor (verse 23) and the implication is that as a result he failed to enter the Kingdom of God. Yet there is no inference that his money was in any way “dirty”. His fault lay in his heart attitude and that he valued his wealth more than the promise of the Kingdom.

Thanks for your question, CM. I hope that you found this answer helpful.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats; Judgement Day

Question from NM, United Kingdom

In Matthew 25 verse 31-46, Jesus tell the ‘sheep’ that they are righteous because they have done acts of kindness for ‘my brethren’, but the goats are classed as unrighteous because that did nothing ‘for the least of these’. Who was Jesus referring to as his brethren?

There is some debate over whether the story of the sheep and the goats should be regarded as a parable at all. In his classic The Parables of the Kingdom, C.H. Dodd compares it to judgement scenes in the apocryphal Book of Enoch (footnote, p 65). Dodd regards this story as apocalyptic with the only parabolic elements being the labels ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’.

However, whether this is a parable or an apocalypse, the main hermeneutic principle remains the same. Finding the motive behind the passage and who it was aimed at will enable us to apply the message. This whole chapter consists of warnings to be watchful and mindful of the Lord’s return through the definite parables of the Ten Virgins (verses 1-13) and the Talents (verses 14-30). This follows on from Jesus’ comments in chapter 24 verse 36 that nobody knows the day and the hour of the Lord’s return.

The Virgins are split into two groups – the ones who are not ready and the ones who are. The Servants are similarly split with the good servants using their talents to prosper their master, while the wicked one buries his talent in the ground. When we come to the sheep and the goats however, the split is slightly different. For one thing, the Virgins and the Servants know what is required of them and they either live up to expectations or they do not. The sheep, however, seem quite mystified as to why they are being accounted as righteous.

Of course the main thrusts of the story are aimed at two groups of people – the disciples (and later the Christians reading the story) and the ruling religious elite. When the King accounts the acts of the righteous, he accounts acts of mercy carried out unwittingly, not rigid adherence to the Law. This echoes chapter 10 verses 40-42, where to receive the disciples or offer them water, is to receive Christ and be rewarded. While left unstated, the implication is that the goats expected to be accounted as righteous. They protest that they have never ignored the needs of the King they see before them and that is when the dreadful sting in the tale of this apocalyptic parable comes in.

So, who were the brethren? Is Jesus saying that anyone who shows kindness to his followers will be accounted as righteous? On the one level, maybe he is (especially taking into account chapter 10 vv40-42), but given that this story will have been recounted within the Christian community it seems unlikely that the earliest Christians read it merely that way. It may have been an encouraging word to them when they faced persecution – the knowledge that those who misused them now would get an unpleasant surprise on Judgement Day. But equally it was a reminder, like many gospel stories that what you actually do in this life is more important than what you say or believe (cf Luke 7 vv 44-48, Matthew 21 vv28-32, 23 vv23-4).

Bearing that in mind, asking ‘Who does he mean by ‘the brethren’?’ is reminiscent of the expert in the Law who asked ‘Who is my neighbour?’ in Luke 10 v29. The Christians who recorded Jesus’ story would know that the response to that expert’s question was the Parable of the Good Samaritan and that therefore, for a Christian, everybody was a neighbour to be loved. The fact that, on Judgement Day, the things done for the insignificant (‘the least of these’) is counted as righteousness implies that everybody is significant and nobody’s needs should be overlooked.

Drawing an arbitrary line because it seems that Jesus is only referring to believers as his brethren is a dangerous act. The point made to Jesus’ followers is that they should treat everybody as if they were meeting Christ’s own needs. By attending to the needs of anyone, even the least, you avoid the risk of ending up a goat.

Thanks for your question, NM.

Veggie Predators

Question from DW, United Kingdom

Isaiah ch11 v6 says: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat”, v7 says: “the lion will eat straw like the ox”. It would seem that the wolf, leopard and lion would cease to be carnivores, so were they carnivores as a result of the ‘Fall’ and was it God’s intention that they should never eat flesh for their livelihood in the first place?

This passage from Isaiah depicting a peaceful world after God permanently establishes his glorious rule would seem to indicate an end to the normal behaviour of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. In this sense it is presumably meant to be an allegorical reference to an end of suffering and conflict.

However, the point raised is an interesting one. If we accept the idea of a ‘Fall’ back in humankind’s prehistory from a perfect existence as described in Genesis, then carnivorous diets are a result of such a ‘Fall’ from grace. In Romans 5 verse 12, Paul states that: “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin…”

If death is a result of sinful activity, then it follows that eating meat cannot have happened before the ‘Fall’ – it would be very difficult to eat an animal that was not dead! In the final consummated creation, the ‘new Heaven and new Earth’, death again ceases to exist. If animals live in the re-created order, then it seems unlikely they will be eating each other.

Thanks for your question DW. I hope you found the answer helpful.

A Traitor’s Punishment?

Question from AW, United Kingdom.

Did Judas go to hell?

Judas Iscariot has gone down in history as the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish and Roman authorities. In the three synoptic gospels Judas appears to be motivated by money, but the account in the gospel of John is less sympathetic and more troubling for the reader. In chapter 13, the author states twice that the devil/Satan entered Judas (verses 2 & 27) and that Judas’ traitorous actions fulfilled Jesus’ own prophecy of betrayal (verse 19). In fact John intimates that Judas was chosen specifically to betray Jesus and the reference to Satan leaves the reader in no doubt of Judas’ eventual destination.

The reason this is troubling is because Judas is one of the twelve chosen especially by Jesus as his ‘inner circle’ of companions. That implies that while the other eleven were chosen to spread the good news of the Kingdom, Judas was chosen precisely to commit a heinous sin and bring about Jesus’ death. This seems like a form of ‘double predestination’, with the eleven being chosen for eternal life and Judas being chosen for damnation. Given the difficulty many Christians have with holding a doctrine of predestination (or election), the thought that Judas was chosen to betray Jesus and go to Hell as a result seems unpalatable.

That was certainly the belief of the early Christians. One second-century writer, Clement of Alexandria (d 214), refers to Judas being replaced because he was an unworthy apostle (cited in J Stevenson, A New Eusebius, p 199). This was evidently a common view held by Gnostic sects, but Clement does not disagree with their comments on Judas. The Biblical passages that relate to his death (Matthew 27 verses 1-10 and Acts 1 verses 16-20) are both gory and highlight the fact that he committed suicide – an unforgivable sin in Jewish society. [There are some inconsistencies in the two accounts of Judas’ death – see ‘What Happened to Judas’ in The Bible – New Testament section for more on this] Christian creeds named Judas as the betrayer and in popular medieval art and mystery plays Judas is tormented by demons as an arch-sinner, a byword for wickedness.

However, there have been some efforts to rehabilitate Judas in recent years, seeing him as a confused individual who believed that he could ‘force God’s hand’ by pushing Jesus into a confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders. Much of this stems from a possible translation of Iscariot as ‘sicarius’ (‘dagger man’). The Zealots, Jewish freedom fighters who opposed the Roman occupation, carried long thin-bladed daggers (sicarii), which could be thrust between the armour plates of a Roman soldier.

If he was a Zealot, Judas may have understood Jesus’ Messianic claims in terms of a liberated Israel with Jesus as the new King, heir of David, reigning in Jerusalem. His subsequent suicidal remorse when he realised that Jesus was not going to ‘declare himself’ adds to the tragedy that is Judas’ misunderstanding of what is going on.

Whatever Judas’ motivation – money, possession or misguided patriotism – we simply cannot say whether his suicide was a genuine act of repentance. The tradition of the church is that Judas went to Hell for his deed and without more information we simply cannot know otherwise in this life.

Thanks for your question AW, I hope that you found this answer helpful.