The fallacious 'paradidomi'

Today I want to speak about the verb 'paradidomi' since there have been a number of discussions about this verb left in the comments of previous posts. What can and can't it tell us about Judas?

I want to say up front that my reading of Judas and this verb has nothing whatsoever to do with the angst between so-called liberal and conservative scholars. In fact, I resent this sort of labeling because it is nothing more than theology rearing its head in the academy. Scholars aren't "liberal" or "conservative". In our field, whether a scholar is "liberal" or "conservative" is not an academic designation, but a theological designation (is the person in favor of progressive, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc. Christianity).

When I read internet perspectives on my work, particularly my views on the Gospel of Judas, I am stunned how often I am labeled a conservative, when all I am is a historian doing her job recovering the best history possible given the sources with no apology for Christianity. My views on the Gospel of Judas are actually "liberal" by strict definition, since they go completely against the status quo and the established tradition that scholars have held for hundreds of years - that Judas in the Gospel of Judas should be a Gnostic and a hero. He is not.

Nor can the arguments about the term 'paradidomi' exonerate him from the biblical sources. What is the argument? That 'paradidomi' means only "hand over" and not (necessarily) "betray."

How is this argument made? By turning to NT references to the word such as Paul's use of it in 1 Cor 11:23-24 (where Paul says: "For I received from the Lord that which I also handed over to you"); Rom 8:32 (God "handed over" Jesus for us all); etc. Once it is established that 'paradidomi' means 'to give or hand someone or something over to someone else' the coast is clear to make the argument that Judas may not have been such a bad guy historically, especially since the NT gospel writers each portray the reason for Judas' 'handing over' of Jesus quite differently. Guess no one really knew and they were just scapegoating a good guy (or a guy that didn't exist at all).

Now here is the problem. 'Paradidomi', like most words, has a range of acceptable meanings and uses. You have to know the context of most words to know which meaning is intended. In fact its several definitions across Greek literature include: 1. to transmit or impart as a teacher, or hand down legends or information; 2. to give a city or a person into another's hands, such as surrender and treachery; 3. to allow or permit someone to do something.

So how do the NT gospel writers use the verb contextually in their telling of Judas' story? Mark 14 has Jesus say to the twelve at the table, "one of you will hand me over." The disciples begin to grieve ('lupeô') when they hear this statement. Then Jesus damns the man who will hand over the Son of Man: "Damn that man by whom the Son of Man is handed over! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Mark's story clearly uses the word in its treacherous sense. Judas is doing a terrible thing by turning Judas in. He is a disciple who is a turncoat.

Matthew's version (c. 26) isn't any better. Relying on Mark's story, he transmits the same use of 'paradidomi': The disciples grieve when they hear that one of them will hand Jesus over; this man is damned, better not to have been born. And - here is the difference - verbally identified as Judas!

Luke's version (c. 22) is equally scathing. He begins by telling us that Satan entered Judas who then went to talk to the high priests about how he would 'hand over' Jesus. So the word is now connected to the action of the chief demon and ruler of this world. Jesus later says at the table that one among them will hand him over. He damns the man who will turn him in.

John's version doesn't rely on the synoptics. He tells us as early as c. 6 that Jesus knew when he choose the twelve that one of them was a devil. This one is identified by John as Judas who would hand him over. Thus in c. 13 we learn that the devil had already put into Judas' heart the plan to hand over Jesus. Jesus predicts Judas' plan to hand him over as fulfilment of scripture that "He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me." Once Judas eats the morsel served by Jesus, Satan himself enters Judas and he goes out to do the deed. Judas' connection with Satan the ruler of the world is even more pronounced during the Farewell Discourse when Jesus says that he has run out of time to talk to them because "the ruler of this world is coming" in reference to Judas' plan to come to the garden and hand over Jesus to the authorities. This is all portrayed by John as part of God's plan to overthrow the ruler of this world.

My point is that in every one of these Judas cases, 'paradidomi' means treachery and betrayal. The contexts could not be more explicit.

The fact that each author gives a different motivation for Judas' betrayal says nothing more to us than all our authors knew that Judas had done something so bad that they felt the need to explain why he would have done such a terrible thing. So they suggest money, demon possession, and "it was part of God's plan" as answers.

As far as the Sethian Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas - they were very faithful to scripture. Judas Iscariot was identified by them with Satan, the ruler of this world, whom they also called Saklas and Ialdabaoth.

So the next time you read about how 'paradidomi' exonerates Judas, think again, because it is a fallacious argument.