One of the great puzzles in the Bible is: After living with Jesus for some three years and seeing countless miracles by him, why did Judas Iscariot turn away from Jesus?
Reason #1: The most common explanation is that Judas was greedy for money. The apostle John said Judas had been stealing from the communal money bag [John 12:6]. So greed was a reason. But, was the gaining of 30 pieces of silver, the standard price of a field, the highest ambition of Judas? Did Judas trudge hundreds of kilometres with Jesus just for 30 pieces of silver or a field? Obviously not.
To overcome this difficulty, a recent theory says that Judas was trying to force Jesus to turn political and liberate Israel from the Romans. This is an ingenious idea. However, does the Bible say this? No. But the Bible gives several reasons for Judas' behaviour, in the passage Mark 14:3:11.
Reason #2: The passage begins with Jesus having a meal ["reclining at the table"] in the home of Simon the Leper. Say, in those times leprosy was a dreaded disease seen as a curse from God, and people kept away from lepers! Would they eat with lepers at the same table, from the same dish? Jesus must have healed Simon, but didn't people still fear entering the house of an ex-leper and risk becoming lepers? Even today, with all the medical knowledge and education, do people readily go into the home of an AIDS patient and eat with him from a common bowl?
If you were Judas, how would you feel, having to follow your Master into the home of a leper/ex-leper, to eat with him from a common bowl? Fearful? Wondering why you were doing such a stupid thing? Did this contribute to Judas' turning away from Jesus? Why else did Matthew and Mark mention Simon as "the Leper" and not name anyone else, including the woman who poured over Jesus an expensive perfume worth over a year's wages of a manual worker? [That's some S$12,000/- today!].
Reason #3: The disciples were indignant, exclaiming that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Now keep your eyes on Jesus. Instead of rebuking Mary the sister of Lazarus [John 12:2-3] for disrupting the meal and wasting an enormous amount of money, Jesus told the disciples, "Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing to me." When you have left your family and possessions to follow a religious teacher so humble that he did not carry any money throughout his travels around Israel and beyond, what would you think if he suddenly began accepting expensive gifts costing tens of thousands of dollars? Wouldn't you feel betrayed? Jesus the humble teacher had accepted an enormously expensive gift.
Reason #4: Jesus the humble had welcomed personal adulation, just like the Pharisees did. Did Judas suddenly feel that Jesus was no longer special, no longer way above the Pharisees?
Reason #5: Jesus had not been indignant at the great waste of money which could have gone to help the poor. So where was the compassion for the poor and the handicapped that the disciples no doubt admired in Jesus? Satan is very clever at planting such seeds of doubt and pointing out apparent feet of clay. Did Judas fall for his lies?
Reason #6: More worrisome was Jesus' next statement: "The poor you will always have with you .... But you will not always have me." What kind of weak excuse is this? Any corrupt leader could use the same words to justify accepting expensive gifts instead of using the money to help the poor.
Reason #7: But Jesus' words had a more sinister meaning for the disciples. It was a reminder of the two other times he had foretold his death [Mk8:31, 10:33]. Jesus now said "you will not always have me", and, "She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." Put yourself in Judas' shoes. If you have been hoping for some great reward when the Master you serve comes to power, where would your Master's death leave you? With nothing? So what's the best way to salvage this sad situation? Cross over to what now looks like the winning side? Isn't that what Judas did?
This Christmas, as we remember the birth of Christ, let's also think of how we can avoid making the wrong assumptions that Judas may have made. No matter how bad the situation may look, we are on the real winning side. Let's celebrate that too, this Christmas.
that you are driving down a narrow road with a cliff on one side and a
precipice on the other, when you find that a huge, thick log blocks the
way forward. The log is too heavy to lift, and there is no way around
it. If you are going to proceed, you must find some way to split the log
into segments, so you can move the barrier out of the way. Fortunately,
this can be done. The log seems solid, but there are bound to be cracks,
some of which penetrate deep into the interior. What you need to do is
insert the thin edge of a wedge into the most profound crack and
gradually drive the broader parts of the wedge into the log until the
crack widens and the log is split.'
This is opening paragraph of Phillip E. Johnson's The Wedge of Truth. Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism
(Downers Grove: IVP, 2000). As Johnson goes on to explain, the log in
this allegory is scientific naturalism, or the belief that everything in
the universe can be explained without reference to a creator God. This
belief is widely held today, particularly in scientific circles. It also
occurs in more popular forms, such as the vague but pervasive view that
'science has disproved the existence of God'. Johnson, a law professor
at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of a number of
books challenging the Darwinian theory of evolution, attacks this belief
In Johnson's view we must distinguish between two different meanings of
the word 'science'. On the one hand, 'science' may denote an approach to
knowledge in which hypotheses about the nature of reality are tested by
how well they fit with, or account for, what we see in the world around
us. Laboratory experiments suggest hypotheses, which are then tested
against further experiments and further refined. This is the 'scientific
method', and it is an entirely respectable and worthwhile endeavour. But
'science' can also denote the philosophy of naturalism, and this aspect
of scientific thinking is much less defensible. Indeed, it is not
generally defended, but is simply assumed. Thus it is widely held that
to speak about God as having created the world, or as still active
within the world, is 'unscientific'. But this view is rarely argued by
naturalists, and it is indeed not easy to think of plausible arguments
for what is little more than a metaphysical prejudice.
This, then, is the 'crack' in the 'log' of naturalism which Johnson
seeks to widen: the largely unargued exclusion of all 'God-talk' from
scientific discourse. In the course of this book Johnson engages with
the writings of a number of prominent naturalist thinkers: the British
zoologist Richard Dawkins; the American paleontologist Steven Jay Gould;
the Canadian mind scientist Steven Pinker, and others. All the time he
probes the logical structure of their arguments, tracing inconsistencies
back to the faulty initial assumption that one may explain the world
without reference to the Creator. A better basis for scientific study,
Johnson argues, is belief in intelligent design: that the world reflects
a rational purpose which derives from the mind of a Creator.
I was not trained as a scientist, but I found this book easy to follow
and convincing. I recommend it particularly to BTW readers who have a
scientific training. I would be interested to know if they find
Johnson's arguments equally persuasive. And even if you are not a
scientist, this book may well help you understand and respond to what is
one of the most imposing non- or anti-Christian systems of thought in
the world today: the edifice of scientific naturalism. Happy Christmas!