The Death Of Judas
This page attempts to illustrate various problems concerning the bible's account of Judas' death. Almost all of what is on this page appears elsewhere (see links), but the author thought it worth while to have a single page dedicated to all of the problems concerning Judas' death.
The relevant verses in Matthew are:
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me." RSV Matt 27:3-10
The relevant verses in Acts are:
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16 "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. 18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel'dama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and `His office let another take.' RSV Acts 1:15-20
Judas' Cause Of Death
This is the most obvious contradiction. In Matthew Judas hung himself, but in Acts he fell headlong and his bowels gushed out. Attempts to reconcile this contradiction, such as this one typically assume that both things happened: Judas hung himself, the rope broke, and Judas fell headlong with his bowels gushing out on impact. Also, there is the assumption that Matthew was concerned with the original cause of death whereas Acts was concerned with the ultimate cause of death.
First, it should be noted that Judas fell headlong. So, an explanation is needed as to why Judas' body rotated 180 degrees upon the rope breaking. Judas could have hung himself from a tree branch that protruded over a cliff in order to all the fall sufficient distance so that his body could flip, but that seems odd as it would not have contributed to the hanging unless Judas meant for the rope to break. In fact it would have made it needlessly difficult as Judas would have had to climb out onto the protruding branch. It could be that as Judas fell he crashed into something, such as another tree branch, that caused his body to flip. This is possible, but it would make more sense for Judas to simply choose the lowest branch that he could find that was sufficiently high. A branch with a branch underneath it would have only gotten in the way.
Various assumptions can be made about the organization of Matthew and Acts in order to justify placing the hanging part of the death in Matthew and the falling part of the death in Acts. Perhaps Matthew preferred to talk things in the air whereas Acts preferred to talk about things on the ground. Such assumptions seem arbitrary and contrived unless they are vindicated by the rest of the text.
Regardless of what is assumed about the organization of Matthew and Acts Judas died only once. Either Judas died when he hung himself and then later fell, or he was still alive when he fell and died when he hit the ground. In either case either Matthew or Acts neglected to mention how Judas actually died. Appeals to the idea that the authors of Matthew and Acts each knew what the other would write and wished to not be redundant are difficult to defend in light of the amount of repeated material in the rest of the Net Testament; particularly the synoptic gospels.
Purchaser Of The Field of Blood
Another contradiction has to do with the purchaser of the field of blood. In Matt 27:7-8 the priests purchased the field. In Acts 1:18-19 Judah purchased the field. Attempts to reconcile this contradiction, such as this one, often quibble over the verb by which Judas came into possession of the field In Acts 1:18. The verb is translated in various ways:
|purchased||AKJV KJV YLT|
The Greek verb is "ktaomai." It seems that it means to come into possession of something. So, "acquired" is a reasonable literal translation. When money is the means by which the thing was acquired, as in this case, "bought" seems like a reasonable translation. So, all of the translations are reasonable.
It may be tempting to think that what is meant in Acts 1:18 is that Judas acquired the field in some abstract sense by indirectly giving the money to the priests who then bought the field. But in Matt 27:5 Judas threw the money down in the temple, so we can't assume that Judas was concerned with what happened with the money after he departed. Also, according to Matthew, Judas died before the priests bought the field. So, in no sense did Judas acquire the field in his lifetime.
Finally, notice that Acts 1:20 (" ... Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it ..." RSV) reinforces the idea that Judas purchased a field which neither he, nor anyone else, got to live in. It seems awkward to apply the "his" in Acts 1:20 to the priests in Matt 27:7, who used the field as a graveyard.
How The Field Of Blood Was Named
In Matt 27:7-8 we see that the field of blood was named because it was purchased with blood money. In Acts 1:18-19 it seems likely that the field of blood was named as a result of Judas' bloody death as Acts 1:19 immediately follows the bloody description in Acts 1:18. There is no mention of "blood money" in Acts.
How Judas Is Portrayed
One of the more striking differences between Matthew and Acts is the overall way that Judas is portrayed. It Matthew Judas is portrayed as being filled with remorse upon realizing what he had done, returning the money that he presumably felt he did not deserve, and then committing suicide. In Acts Judas is portrayed as buying a field with the money that he kept, and then dying a humiliating and grotesque death. The only adjective that is clearly applied to Judas in Acts 1:15-20 is "wicked" (RSV), which is found in Acts 1:18.
In other words, Matthew systematically portrays Judas in a more favorable light than Acts. If one were only to read either Matthew or Acts one would end up with a very different impression of Judas' character.
Let me suggest a possible reason why there may have been a motivation for some of the bible's authors to portray Judas in a more favorable light than others. There may have been some debate as to how evil Judas was. On one hand Judas was chosen by Jesus in order to help fulfill Old Testament prophecy and make salvation possible, but on the other hand Judas betrayed Jesus for money. If this is the reason why Matthew and Acts portray differently it is consistent with the major themes of Matthew and Acts.
Matthew is interesting in the law, particularly in how prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus as can be seen by searching for "fulfil" and "prophet." Consider when Judas betrays Jesus in Matthew:
46 "Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." 47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him." 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Hail, Master!" And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, why are you here?" Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca'iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. RSV Matt 26:46-57
Note that Jesus refers to Judas as "friend", and that Jesus could have intervened but didn't so that "the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Compare this to Acts which has Christians selflessly martyring themselves for Jesus as one of it's themes:
58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. RSV Acts 7:58-60
So, it seems likely that Matthew, who greatly values prophecy fulfillment, would have been more partial to Judas than Acts, which greatly values unwavering loyalty to Jesus. Consequently the difference in the way Judas is portrayed in Matthew and Acts is what one might expect.
Matt 27:9 implies that Judas' death fulfilled a prophecy that Jeremiah gave:
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, RSV Matt 27:9
But there does not seem to be such a verse anywhere in Jeremiah. By far the closet verses are in Zechariah:
12 Then I said to them, "If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. 13 Then the LORD said to me, "Cast it into the treasury"--the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the LORD. RSV Zec 11:12-13
Note that the above combines several relevant elements. Someone is payed thirty shekels which he then casts into the treasury in the house of the LORD. Also, the Septuagint (the questionable Greek translation of the Old Testament that the New Testament authors quoted) has a "potter" in the house of the LORD receiving the thirty shekels. So, it seems likely that Matthew quoted the wrong book.
But the larger problem is that Matthew had a tendency to find prophecy fulfillment in Old Testament verses, such as Matt 27:9, in spite of there being no indication that the original author intended it as a prophecy of something in the distant future. For more on this see "Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled" The prophecies mentioned in Acts 1:20 are also questionable
As far as biblical problems go the ones presented in this article are not the most insurmountable. What is difficult to explain is the number of problems in relatively few verses. In other words, even if it is determined that the problems presented in this article are only apparent problems, as opposed to actual problems, there is still the issue as to why there are so many apparent problems in so few verses.