Did Pastor Greg Locke compare himself to Judas? It’s entirely possible.

As a scholar of early Christian literature, a question that I often ask myself is “What does this text mean?” And by that question, what I generally mean is “What is the author’s point here?” It’s deceptively simple, right? Texts mean what they mean. And authors say what they mean. Sometimes this is the case, but not always. One of the trickiest things about reading ancient texts through this type of lens is that the authors aren’t available to confirm whether our readings are “good.” So, we often deal in the realm of potential and possibility (What could this text mean?) rather than certainty (What does this text mean?).

In approaching any act of communication (an e-mail, a text message, a letter, or a piece of a conversation), whether ancient or modern, we are sometimes faced with potential meanings that the communicator did not intend. Let’s say I am sitting on the couch with my wife, and she turns to me and says “Is there a blanket in here?” There are at least three ways of reading this:

  1. As a simple question: Is there a blanket in here?
  2. As a request: Please could you find me a blanket?
  3. As a suggestion: Maybe we should set the heat a bit higher.

All of these meanings exist within the realm of possibility, although the latter two are clearly the most probable. My wife is likely not asking about the presence of a blanket in the room out of pure curiosity as to whether one exists, and if I respond to this inquiry as if it were simply a question, I will likely find myself in an undesirable place.

Potential meanings that were not intended by an author can sometimes be deeply ironic, meaning that they express a sentiment that is quite different from what an author actually intended. Here’s an example:

Last night, Pastor Greg Locke of “Global Vision Bible Church” in Mt. Juliet, TN tweeted the following:

If you recognize Pastor Locke, it is probably because you have seen one of his viral videos in which he rages incoherently at various establishments that he feels have wronged him. He is a sensitive man who angers easily. So, for example, he once sat in his car in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot and complained for several minutes about how someone in the store told him to wear a mask. The video is pretty easy to find, if you’re interested.

More recently, Locke has become known for his passionate and blind support of Donald Trump. He is among those who insist that Trump won the 2020 election in a landslide (he didn’t), and is completely convinced that he will be president for another four years (he won’t). And while Locke’s “theology” has long been influenced by his nationalism, those two have collapsed more and more over the past four years. He is now at the point where he believes that one cannot be a true Christian without supporting Donald Trump. And that brings us to the tweet noted above.

Here Locke references a story that should be known to anyone with a basic level of biblical literacy: the thirty pieces of silver refers to the money that Judas receives in exchange for betraying Jesus (Matthew 26:15). Let’s explore some potential meanings:

  1. Locke is here referring to the evangelical leaders (like Beth Moore) who have recently compared supporters of Trump (like himself) to cult members, and who have said that blind devotion to Trump (or any political leader) is contrary to the Gospel. Potential meaning number one is therefore that these evangelical leaders, in their betrayal of Trump, have actually betrayed Jesus, Trump, or both, and they will soon discover that this was the wrong decision. It is important to note that in this potential meaning, Trump and Jesus are interchangeable. So, if this is Locke’s meaning, then there is a deep irony in his criticism of evangelical leaders who accuse him (and others) of being part of a cult. Namely: by using the thirty pieces of silver reference, Locke has labeled Trump as a Jesus figure who has been betrayed.
  2. Locke is here referring to himself and other evangelical leaders, and is expressing lament for having betrayed Jesus for blind allegiance to Donald Trump. It is no secret that evangelical Christians in the United States are some of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters. Experts estimate that roughly 80% of evangelicals voted for him in 2016 and again in 2020. Their reasons for doing so are of course varied and sometimes complex, ranging from a desire to outlaw abortion to the establishment of a more socially-conservative judiciary. Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, his evangelical supporters have been criticized for their backing of someone who seems so clearly and publicly opposed to the values that they claim to uphold. This is someone who lies brazenly and incessantly, who is on tape bragging about sexual assault, and whose past extramarital affairs have been quite public. The list goes on. And of course many of these criticisms of Trump were present and public long before he decided to run for president. Potential meaning number two is therefore that Pastor Locke has now seen that in becoming an ardent Trump supporter, he has betrayed the god he claims to worship. And now, about a month away from the end of this president’s one and only term, Locke has realized that the price he and other “leaders” paid was ultimately not worth it.

My guess is that Option One is the more likely of the two. But regardless of which you choose, Locke’s tweet is a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of one of Trump’s most ardent disciples.

Ph.D. in Christian Origins, Associate Prof. of Religion @FerrumCollege. Thoughts on Early Christianity, religion in the US, politics, and teaching.