Judas' Betrayal

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Easter (Passion Week), Jesus


One of my high school students mentioned a few weeks ago that he had seen a documentary on the Discovery Channel (I think), which reported that Judas was not a traitor or betrayer of Jesus. The reason given, evidently, was that the word "betrayed" or "traitor" was mistranslated when the King James Version of the Bible was written. I read through the references in the Bible related to Judas and felt that the story of his betrayal was too significant for a single word to have made a difference in the overall translation.

I have emailed Discovery about this, but have not received a response yet. This is not a big deal; however, I do try to follow-up on some of these reports and give a balanced response back to the students. I am aware that the scholastic, literal, material mentality would try to discredit the Bible or rob it of its spiritual import and negate its historical impact on the world. However, I just wondered if you had a response to this or if you were aware of the report and the thrust behind it.
Mindee Spear


I am not aware of the report on Judas on the Discovery Channel. However, the root word used for "betray" is didomi, which simply means "to give or offer." The full word is paradidomi. When it is used with para (as in paradidomi), it means to "hand over, give (over), deliver, entrust" anything to anyone. It is also the word commonly used for passing down traditions, documents, etc. It has a totally benign meaning. When used of a person, it generally means to "hand that person over, turn over, give up (as in hand over into the custody of)." The KJV translates this word as "betray," or "deliver." (The context determines their choice.) Jesus uses paradidomi when he predicts his passion, telling them over and over (in all the gospels) that he will be "betrayed" or "delivered unto" to the authorities.

No one would argue that Judas "handed Jesus over" to the authorities. But a careful reading of the stories raises some questions. Jesus predicts his passion several times to the effect that he would be delivered up to the authorities. When "his hour" comes, he tells the disciples that one of them will paradidomi him to the authorities. They all respond by asking, "Is it I?" -- a rather remarkable response. In both John and Matthew, Jesus identifies Judas as the one, presumably in the presence of all the disciples. The question to be asked is, if this was seen as a "betrayal," why didn't the other disciples attack Judas, tie him down, and prevent him from going out? But no, there isn't a single word of protest, and Judas slips out. To do what? Betray? Hand over? Deliver?

Some scholars now argue that Judas was a radical and zealous follower, that he decided it was time to push the envelope. He was eager to get the revolution started, and neither he nor any of the other disciples ever expected anything less than a full victory. Perhaps it wasn't a betrayal at all. He simply provided the spark that was meant to light the flame toward victory. Of course, things didn't quite turn out that way.

The gospels are clear in their portrayal of Judas. They present him as someone who didn't understand Jesus' true mission and who turned him in, possibly out of frustration. In so doing, he "betrayed" his closest friend. Perhaps. But from a theological point of view, they are also clear that this outcome was always part of God's grand plan. Jesus had to die so that he could rise up. Judas happened to be the one to get the ball rolling. Not that this in any way absolved him from full responsibility for his own actions. Judas alone bore the guilt of what he had done -- hence his untimely death. As for Jesus, well, he knew what would happen to him from the beginning and he let it all play out. He was obedient to God's plan of salvation, telling Judas to "do what you are to do quickly." (John 13:27) Is it any wonder that the actions of Judas have received new attention over the past few years?

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