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Did Paul Know that Judas Betrayed Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag!

QUESTION:

Do you think that Paul, without naming him, is referring to Judas in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24? (The verse in the NRSV: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”)

 

RESPONSE:

Ah, it’s a great question. Paul never explicitly mentions Judas Iscariot or indicates that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples. But couldn’t this verse contain a reference to Judas? It refers to the night on which Jesus was betrayed!

One reason the question matters is that Paul says almost *NOTHING* about the events of Jesus’ lifetime. That seems weird to people, but just read all of his letters. Paul never mentions Jesus healing anyone, casting out a demon, doing any other miracle, arguing with Pharisees or other leaders, teaching the multitudes, even speaking a parable, being baptized, being transfigured, going to Jerusalem, being arrested, put on trial, found guilty of blasphemy, appearing before Pontius Pilate on charges of calling himself the King of the Jews, being flogged, etc. etc. etc.  It’s a very, very long list of what he doesn’t tell us about.  And it’s a very interesting question: WHY?

There are several explanations that I’ve explored on the blog before, but for now I don’t want to go into the question of why, but the question of what. Specifically, one of the things Paul doesn’t tell us is that Jesus was betrayed by Judas. But does he *allude* to it in this passage? I always thought so – for years and years.  And then I looked into it and read what other scholars have said about it. They convinced me. I don’t think this is a reference to Judas’s betrayal.

But why not? The passage comes out and *says* that Jesus had his last supper “on the night that he was betrayed.” So Paul is referring to Judas’s betrayal, right? Well, probably wrong. “Betrayed” is almost certainly the wrong translation of the Greek for the passage.

The term Paul uses here is …

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Did Judas Really Betray Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag
Readers Mailbag: Does Isaiah 53 Predict the Death and Resurrection of Jesus?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    AstaKask  May 15, 2020

    But you think Judas Iscariot was a real character and actually betrayed Jesus?

  2. Robert
    Robert  May 15, 2020

    Rutgers was only added to the Big Ten so that all of the other football teams in the Big 10 could get an additional win on their record each year.

  3. Avatar
    Scott  May 15, 2020

    Are you sure you meant Rom 11:24?

    For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

  4. Avatar
    Scott  May 15, 2020

    You point out that many scholars assume that Paul would have learned of Judas’ betrayal when he stayed with Peter. Could Paul’s seeming ignorance of Judas and his role rather be taken as a small piece of evidence that the betrayal was a later invention (or variant in the oral tradition, if you prefer)?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      I think there are good reasons for thinking it’s historical. Maybe I’ll post on that later.

  5. Avatar
    gbsinkers  May 15, 2020

    Love these kind of posts because I always learn something new from them. May show my ignorance here but could it be that Paul doesn’t know/write about Judas’ betrayal because it never happened? Yes, it is in all 4 gospels but as you’ve pointed out the 4 gospels do not agree on who showed up at the empty tomb, what they saw, and what they did next so…. If they get that wrong could it be that the Judas betrayal is also a fabrication/legend? They also don’t agree on what happened to Judas afterwards. And Paul was writing before the gospel writers, correct? So maybe the betrayal story was not yet developed when he wrote but came along later???

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      Yup, it’s an option. But I think there are good reasons for thinking it’s historical. Maybe I’ll post on that later.

  6. Shahin
    Shahin  May 15, 2020

    No one knew better than Peter and Paul that Judas did not betray Jesus, nor was he crucified or resurrected.
    What Jesus says in the Last Supper is that the disciple who will take the word of God from the mouth of Jesus, is the betrayer. And he uses both the bread and Judas metaphorically to allude to the claim of Peter in receiving the holy ghost.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  May 15, 2020

    I still wonder about the lack of Jesus in Paul’s writings, but plenty of Christ. Do you suppose that the only thing that mattered to Paul was the resurrection, which to Paul proved Jesus to be the messiah? The teachings of Jesus were good ethical teachings, but not unique in the world. Even the miracles were unimportant; there were a lot of supposed miracle workers in the ancient world, so perhaps Paul was skeptical about the miracle stories of Jesus because he had not personally witnessed them. But he believed he had witnessed the resurrected Jesus, proving to Paul that he really was the Messiah. That’s what his theology was based on, so that is what he wanted to teach and all that really mattered. But I wouldn’t rule out that Paul, even after talking with some of the disciples, really knew little of the details of Jesus’ life.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      I wouldn’t say it’s the *only* thing that mattered, but the death (also key!)and resurrection were the very intense focus, and everything else was more or less baackground. He surely would have said the background mattered — not just *anyone* could have been executed for the sins of the world and then raised. But he seems to take the rest pretty much for granted. Maybe to the point of not being all that interested himself….

  8. Avatar
    Maracus  May 15, 2020

    Dr Ehrman, I was reading today your post on “Paul’s Incredibly High Christology” since I came across the passage in Romans 9:5. I’m not versed in ancient greek, so I find it difficult to deem one translation or other as correct. I, for the sake of argument, can roll with the idea that Paul is presenting Jesus as a Divine being in this verse. What I’m wondering is why isn’t this something that Paul stresses more often and more prominently throughout the rest of this and other later letters?
    I can see of course references to Jesus’ divinity in other verses on other letters that you also mention in that blog entry. However, these seem to be scattered instances of the view that Jesus is a divine being. For a statement of this calibre, I would expect it to be way more prevalent, à la John’s gospel, especially since Paul doesn’t shy away from stating numerous times those things which are central to his theology and his Christology.
    Maybe the churches he addressed took for granted Jesus’ divinity? Otherwise I struggle to understand how a central part of the Christianity he was preaching isn’t as ubiquitous as I would expect.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      The problem is that it’s not clear how to translate the verse, whether it is saying “Christ who is God over all, blessed forever” or “Christ. May the God who is over all be blessed forever” The Greek can be read both ways, equally well.

  9. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  May 15, 2020

    Interesting !, thank you.

  10. Avatar
    veritas  May 15, 2020

    Is it plausible to assert that since Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot in Acts 1; 26, ” Then they cast lots and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven”, so that number * 12 * had to remain intact because of it’s symbolic meaning to the 12 tribes of Israel ( 12,000 being sealed from each tribe) and thus Paul’s mention of Jesus appearing to the twelve after his bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15; 5, is, in his mind, a given and factual confirmation of the existing Apostles chosen by Jesus? On a side note, Revelation 21; 14 ” The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”. Whose name is widely believed among scholars, yourself particularly, will be there, Judas Iscariot or Matthias ?

  11. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  May 15, 2020

    Well, here’s one possibility: Paul was early, the earliest, earlier than Mark. Suppose at this stage of the game, that the accounts of betrayal at the hands of Judas did not even exist yet, because they had not been INVENTED. Yes, I use the term INVENTED quite deliberately. By the time the gospel of Mark was written, or compiled from oral traditions, the stories about Jesus had already become so heavily embroidered they were for all practical purposes fiction. Judas was part of the fiction. Everything Paul fails to mention he fails to mention because those stories had not been invented yet– Paul predated the later revisions and elaborations of the heavily fictionalized life of Jesus that “Mark” and the later gospel writers drew upon. In fact, those gospel writers were themselves inventing incidents out of– thin air. To serve whatever agenda they might have had.

  12. Avatar
    Poohbear  May 15, 2020

    Paul, like all Epistle writers, need not go over what was already known of Jesus.
    There’s this industry of biblical de-historizing (liberal makeovers via the sleight of “translations.”) Example: for Mary the word “virgin” (“Alma” – Greek) in “translated” into one of its meanings, ie “young girl.” Mary stated, “How can this be, I do not know a man?” The “translator” then takes the Greek word “man” into “anthropos,” which also can mean “husband.” There’s a human father, but not Joseph. And Mary’s song is reinterpreted, “God has lifted up his humble maidservant;” so the Greek word “humble” is connected to the old Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, used to describe the rape of Dinah in Genesis. Thus Mary’s “humility” is “humiliation” from a sexual assault.
    Judas’ new spin is just as sly: The Greek word for “betray” is re-interpreted as “giving over” as in Judas “gave over” Jesus in the time-honored way of presenting someone to officially test their ideas.
    But Peter is portrayed as the real traitor for denying and abandoning Jesus.
    This is typical of the intellectual effrontery and mockery of the bible.

    • Avatar
      RICHWEN90  May 18, 2020

      If God wrote a book, would it be “mockable”?? Or would it be so full of sublime wisdom that we would all fall down and worship it?

  13. Avatar
    nanana1  May 15, 2020

    One should not seek to establish facts based on the absence of evidences which much apply to this article.

  14. Avatar
    John  May 16, 2020

    Bart

    I have a question about multiple attestation and how it is used. I wonder if this would make a useful topic for a post or a least an answer to the question.

    MA is held up as a criteria that can provide confidence that an event in history actually happened. The question here, is that all that is needed? Just 2 independent sources that mention it? I know you used it a lot in Did Jesus Exist but you have also said that the written sources were likely based on oral stories, so how independent are they?

    So for example, someone mentioned that Jesus appearing to large crowds after his resurrection, is multiply attested. It appears in Paul (1 Cor 15) and Luke. So should we take that to be evidence that he did? If not, why not?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      It’s a criterion that provides additional probability to something that otherwise is a mere possibility, but it can never be decisive. There are thousands of people who claim the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared to them. Doesn’t mean she really did. Do a search for Multiple attestation on the blog and you’ll see some posts on it.

  15. Avatar
    Silver  May 16, 2020

    Of the two words PARADIDOMI and PRODIDOMI how are they used in other accounts of the betrayal story, please?
    Don’t the gospel accounts use PARADIDOMI. Does Paul (or any of the gospels) use PRODIDOMI anywhere?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      YEs, the Gospels do use PARADIDOMI with respect to Judas, but meaning “to hand over” rather than “betray.” They also use the noun form of PRODIDOMI (PRORDETOS) but not often. My point is that when Paul uses PARADIDOMI it doesn’t mean “betray” and when he uses it with respect to Jesus, it refers to God’s act “handing him over to his fate,” not a human act of betrayal. Paul does use PRODIDOMI once in Rom. 11:5, but in a quotation of the Greek translatino of Job 41:3.

      • Avatar
        tom.hennell  May 18, 2020

        It might be more exact to say that, in three of the Gospels, Judas is identified as the one who handed Jesus over (PARADIDOMI); while only in Luke is he identified as the one who betrayed Jesus (PRODIDOMI) . Which could be presented as an argument against Judas being a fabricated ‘betrayer’, added into the narrative at a later date. Arguably, had Judas been wholly invented, he would have been described as PRORDETOS throughout.

  16. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  May 16, 2020

    So the word used here for “betrayed” almost certainly means “handed over”? But the Evangelicals love pointing out how Jehovah’s Witnesses changed the English in their Bible from what the Greek almost certainly means. It’s crazy how often as a fundie I’d learn some new “truth” about my faith only to find it easily contradicted by some other “truth”. Starts to mess with your concept of reality after a while. Are things really as black and white as I seem to think they should be?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      They tend to be grey most of the time. If someone’s close friend turns them over to the police, it may indeed be thoguht of as a betrayal; even if “turns them over” is not — as a phrase — necessarily a betrayal. You can turn over some eggs too!

  17. sschullery
    sschullery  May 16, 2020

    How would you characterize the differences between the NRSV and the RSV? Does the NRSV get this right? I’ve got a bunch of copies of the KJV and RSV and huge concordances of those but don’t like wasting my time reading sloppy
    translations if accurate are subatantially different. I would call this substantial.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      The NRSV is a significant revision of the RSV based on advances in scholarship, changes in the English language, and discoveries of new manuscripts.

  18. Avatar
    billsturm  May 16, 2020

    Dr Bart,
    I like this for several reasons. First, I am actually surprised that you say “Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.” Although I feel like Paul had some influence on Luke (and his Gospel and Acts) and perhaps vice-versa–1 Corinthians certainly pre-dated both of Luke’s works (although I also feel like Luke wrote Hebrews, but I digress).

    paradidomai is used in one of my favorite verses, Romans 8:32, and of course refers to God’s actions in “betraying”/”delivering” Christ “for us all.”

    Thanks for the post.
    Bill

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      I think everyone agrees Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Well, everyone I know at least!

  19. Avatar
    johnsotdj  May 16, 2020

    Excellent post, and what a revelation. In all the years of observing the Lord’s Supper in church, this was the passage that was read. Thanks.

  20. Avatar
    anthonygale  May 16, 2020

    Given that paradidomi and prodidomi are so similar, and that paradidomi occurs so frequently (including in the same verse), would that render a hypothetical prodidomi in the original text vulnerable to accidental textual corruption? In that case, Paul would have originally said betrayed and it got changed to handed over.

    I’m not saying I think it is likely that occurred. It does seem though, to a modern reader at least, that saying God handed Jesus over to his fate is an unusual thing to say while saying he was betrayed seems more natural.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      Seems unlikely. There aren’t any manuscripts that read differently and there’s nothing about PRODIDOMI that would have raised red flags if it had been there. Given the common interpretation of the passage it would be more likely that a PARADIDOMI would have been changed to PRODIDOMI, buy that appears not to have happened either,

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