Judas was not much worse than the other disciples in the earliest gospel but by the time we read about him in Matthew, Luke and John he has become the arch villain. In the first gospel a case could be made that Judas was not singularly worse than the rest of the Twelve.
In Matthew, however:
- he is told directly by Jesus at the Last Supper that it is he who is the betrayer;
- at the moment of the fateful kiss Jesus twists the knife by calling him “Friend”;
- finally Matthew singles out the remorse and suicide of Judas for what he has done.
- Judas was possessed by Satan
- Judas was addressed personally by Jesus at the moment of the betrayal
- At the Last Supper Jesus singles out Judas as uniquely fated for the dreadful betrayal
- Judas is called a thief
- Judas is said to have been possessed by Satan himself
Compare Mark’s gospel:
- Jesus does not address Judas at the Last Supper
- Judas was not possessed by Satan
- Judas is nowhere called a thief
- Judas and Peter, the last and first disciples of the list of the Twelve, are arguably both representative of the Twelve, with Peter being the “greater” sinner if degrees can be assigned.
The fall of the Twelve
Mark, possibly a “Pauline gospel”, was attacking the credibility of the Twelve (compare Paul’s attacks on the Jerusalem leadership in Galatians and 1 Corinthians).
The redemption of the Twelve – by the sacrifice of Judas
The other evangelists were using their gospels to restore the Twelve, and Peter in particular. To achieve this, they had to sacrifice one of the Twelve as unlike the rest, the fallen singular one. (Luke restored the full quota of the Twelve in Acts by having Judas replaced by Matthias.)
It was no longer the Twelve, represented by the first and last names in the list of the Twelve, Peter and Judas, who were the incorrigibles. Just Judas. The Twelve, or at least the idea of the Twelve, and Peter in particular, were vindicated. Judas became their scapegoat and sin-bearer in the eyes of the redactors.
Reading Mark in his own right
If we read the Gospel of Mark through the perspectives of the later gospels who loved Peter (Matthew, John and Luke) then that “rock” epithet makes him sound solid and strong.
Mark lets Judas off fairly lightly. A case can be made that he is little worse than the rest of the Twelve and not nearly as bad as Peter.
But if we try to forget those later gospels and think about that word “peter” exclusively within the context of that first gospel, then the only association we are ever likely to make with that name is the one in the parable of the sower and the seed. As Tolbert shows in “Sowing the Gospel”:
- the rocky soil represents the disciples who begin well but whither like the fig tree in the end,
- the thorny ground represented those like the rich man,
- the wayside represented the Pharisees and such,
- and the good soil the hearers of the gospel itself — represented by the nameless many who were healed and responded fruitfully to Jesus.
In that parable “rocky” means shallow, iinfertile, undependable soil. It will sprout famously for a minute but then collapse in the heat. That is how Simon Peter is portrayed in Mark, as are all the disciples, who are led by that “rock”.
Peter follows Jesus immediately as he should, is keen to learn, but by the time we get half way through the plot the central hero suddenly calls the leader of the Twelve “Satan”; at the same time Jesus delivered his warning that whoever will be ashamed of Jesus would be cast out in the last day (Mark 8:33-38); and at the end all disciples, and Peter in particular, did indeed demonstrate their shame in knowing Jesus.
Peter’s tears of remorse were as efficacious as the remorse felt my Matthew’s Judas who was so distraught he hanged himself. A foretaste of the time when there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And the final mention of Peter in Mark’s gospel is a biting twist to highlight the total failure of the Twelve, represented by Peter who denied his Saviour 3 times. The message is for the readers/hearers of the gospel. Don’t be like the Twelve, the rocky soil, who become incapable of understanding spiritual things, betray and flee from their saviour and deny him repeatedly.
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