30 Pieces of Silver

Historians do not know whether Judas really betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. On the one hand, betrayal by a trusted disciple is unlikely to have been invented, any more than denial by a disciple who became a prominent figure in the later church. But the sum of money may be derived from Scripture rather than knowledge of historical facts, and the discrepancies between Acts and Matthew leave us with uncertainty about whether one or neither had accurate information.

There is a level on which it may not matter, ultimately. Most of us would agree that betraying someone who trusts us for money is wrong. That is something that historical study cannot demonstrate, and depends not in the slightest on whether a historical disciple named Judas did this or that.

Such values may be worth living for, worth dying for, but historical study cannot demonstrate their truthfulness, nor provide motivation for living a certain way. Perhaps historical study could show us what happened to people who lived in certain ways. But would historical evidence that people who betrayed the trust of others often became rich persuade us that we ought to follow their example?

When it comes to other claims of value, the situation is similar. Regardless of matters relating to the burial of Jesus and a body missing from a tomb, the question of whether God exalted Jesus to heaven is clearly beyond anything historical study can investigate. And the notion that Jesus could have “ascended” implies a view of the universe and the location of heaven that is in tension with astronomical observation.

But there is no doubt that Jesus has been honored beyond the grave, in a way that may indeed be said to have mitigated or even reversed the dishonor perpetrated against him. Few even notice today that Mark’s story implies that Jesus was dishonorably buried. And Jesus has been honored by countless Christians and by many others over the course of almost 2,000 years. Could any chair placed in a distant nebula offer more than that?

Christians have historically believed that Jesus gave his life for the salvation of others, and it is only relatively recently that “salvation” has become something utterly other-worldly. If Jesus was the sort of person he is depicted as in the Gospels, and he learned that through his death the lives of mystics and missionaries, doctors and drug addicts, the helpless and the heroic would be transformed in all sorts of positive ways, with no assurace that it would also help them in the afterlife, would he go through with it? Do we really need more, and more certainty, than the positive things we can experience and have experienced?

We have no choice but to betray Jesus. If we repeat his words in a context where those words imply something different, we are unfaithful to his meaning. If we change the words in order to preserve what we think was the intention, we betray the words.

Simply repeating things that no longer make sense should not be an option. None of the writings in the New Testament written after the passing of the first generation of Christians dealt with the prediction that Jesus would return before then by merely repeating his words. Some took them as spiritually true. The kingdom of God has indeed dawned, eternal life is something here and now. Others simply advocating waiting, like the author of 2 Peter, saying that eventually it would happen in a more literal fashion. Neither approach simply repeated what had been said.

And so we reach the crux of the matter. Christianity cannot simply stay the same, because even by saying the same words and repeating the same actions as times change and the world moves on results in a different message being heard. But to consciously change and adapt leads us into uncertainty, and takes far greater courage.

But such betrayal may help bring salvation to the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02516464862589120674 graham old

    Great post! Loads to think over.Cheers.

  • disciple

    “..Could any chair placed in a distant nebula offer more than that?..”If the throne of God in the heavens to you is located in some distant nebula, you err.To the think that the testimony concerning Jesus Christ is any thing different than what’s truthfully conveyed in scripture will only cause you to do just what Judas Iscariot , the son of perdition did.Betray the body of Christ, and in turn hang yourself with the very rope given to you for your own salvation…the Word of God…Jesus Christ.If the truth of the Gospel, the pure milk of the Word doesn’t find a place in you to renew your mind in following after Jesus then he is not your saviour. The god of this world, the man of Sin is… 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve…”Jason M.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Jason, that’s a rather strange comment you left. On the one hand, you seem ready to treat the Bible in a symbolic-metaphorical way (Jesus as rope?) while also ignoring the underlying questions of how one can know whether information in the Bible is “truthfully conveyed”. Perhaps you’d care to explain whether this is simply a presupposition of yours (in which case it seems you’re at an impasse, and it is rather pointless to challenge others about their acceptance or not of your presuppositions) or whether you do indeed accept that historical-critical investigation of relevant evidence is necessary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04675409529182474415 Disciple

    you wrote:"Historians do not know whether Judas really betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver."-I assert that historians with a bible do know.>"…the discrepancies between Acts and Matthew leave us with uncertainty about whether one or neither had accurate information."-You diminish the historicity of the bible and undermine scripture and the personage of Jesus Christ in the process, whether knowingly or unknowingly.Whether Judas strangled himself to death and then fell forward into a field of pottery and was cut at the midsection is not directly stated but I can say that I have yet to find a discrepency in the bible that was not perceived as such because of a misunderstanding on my part.>"Simply repeating things that no longer make sense should not be an option."Again I state that if the gospel or the bible no longer makes sense to you then you do not have the mind of Christ. We may not fully comprehend every thing written but if you "…have no choice but to betray Jesus.."That thou doest do quickly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    No, you’ve got it backwards. You are betraying Scripture, which clearly presents two conflicting accounts, and the 30 pieces of silver you have been paid for this betrayal is the sense of certainty, and of being right, that your approach to the Bible gives to you. But it is a form of infidelity, as you deny that the Bible truly says what it says, because it must conform to your assumptions about it.Historians research questions about the past based on evidence. Having the Bible does not answer their questions. Cross examining the Bible may. If you are truly interested in following Jesus, you may want to try a less superficial and more honest approach to knowing him and knowing about him than your current one.


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