His death… however it happened, since the scriptures don’t match.
Matthew 27.3-10 • Acts 1.15-26
Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether St. Francis or St. John Paul, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of a meditation for Good Friday. Although we should study him some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.
So Judas came up when he turned Jesus in to the cops… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the apostles started Jesus’s kingdom. But that’s a whole other discussion.
Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.
Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest to sync them up, and I’ll get to how they’ve tried it. But first things first: The passages.
Matthew 27.3-10 KWL
- 3 Then Judas, who turned Jesus in, seeing the Senate condemned him,
- feeling greatly sorry, returned the 30 silvers to the head priest and elders,
- 4 saying, “I sinned; I turned in innocent blood.”
- They said, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.”
- 5 He threw the silver back into the shrine, left, and hanged himself.
- 6 The head priests took the silver, saying, “It’s wrong to put it in the offering,
- since it’s a payment for blood.”
- 7 Taking it, the Senate bought a field with it from a potter, for the burial of foreigners.
- 8 Thus this field was called Bloodfield to this day.
- 9 This fulfilled the prophet Jeremiah’s word, saying, “They took 30 silvers.
- The penalty payment which they paid for Israel’s children.
- 10 They gave it for the potter’s field, as the Lord instructed me.”
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
- 15 In those days Simon Peter stood in the middle of the family.
- He said, “The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
- 16 Men, family: We have to fulfill the scriptures the Holy Spirit foretold through David’s mouth
- about Judas, who became the guide of those who arrested Jesus.
- 17 Judas was counted among us.
- He received a place in this ministry.
- 18 He thus got himself a plot of land from his unrighteous reward,
- and was found face-down, burst open, his innards all spilled out.
- 19 All Jerusalem’s dwellers came to know it,
- so the plot’s called in their dialect Khaqal-Dema” (i.e. Bloodfield).
- 20 “It’s written in the book of Psalms: ‘Make his house desert, and don’t let settlers in it.’
- And ‘Another person: Take his office.’”
Where the stories match. And don’t.
For your convenience I’ve put together a chart of where the stories line up, where they don’t, and how inerrantists typically try to explain away the descrepancies.
|Judas killed himself.||Judas died.||Kinda!||Score one point.|
|Judas hanged himself.||Sounds like Judas exploded. (That, or he fell on a sword and seriously botched the job.)||Less so.||He hanged himself. His body wasn’t found for days. By the time it was, the corpse had bloated, the rope broke, the fall popped it open, and all that was left was a gory mess.|
|There’s a field involved, called agrós aímatos/“Bloodfield.”||Even got its name in Aramaic: Khaqal-Dema/“plot [of] blood.” (Greek Akeldamáh, which is close enough.)||Yep!||Another point.|
|The field’s called Bloodfield because the Judeans bury foreigners in it.||The field’s called Bloodfield because Judas’s bloody corpse was found in it.||Nope.||The name Bloodfield got attached to it, and some people justified it one way, others another. What’s it really matter?|
|Judas threw his money into the shrine. The Judean Senate bought Bloodfield with it.||Judas bought Bloodfield himself.||Nope.||Well, either way Judas’s money did go towards the purchase. Who cares whether he purchased it directly?|
I read three different bible-difficulties books which dealt with the discrepancies, and it’s interesting how much apathy there was in their explanations. Feels to me like they personally don’t like Judas (which is true of a lot of Christians, to be fair) and for that reason they really didn’t feel like sorting out his story: Judas died, yada yada yada, to hell with him; let’s get back to bible difficulties which matter.
Two other problems are the bible quotes. The bit Matthew claims Jeremiah prophesied? It’s not actually in Jeremiah. Jeremiah talked about pottery from time to time, like when the L
Jeremiah 32.6-9 KWL
- 6 Jeremiah said, “This is the L
ORD’s word to me.
- 7 ‘Look, Khanamél ben Shallúm, your uncle’s son, comes to you to say,
- “Buy my field in Anatót from me, because you have the redeemer’s duty to buy it.”’”
- 8 Khanamél, my uncle’s son, came to me like the L
ORD’s word said.
- He told me, “Please buy my field in Anatót, in Benjamin’s land,
- because you have the redeemer’s duty to buy and own it.”
- So I knew it was the L
- 9 I bought the field in Anatót from Khanamél, my uncle’s son.
- I weighed the silver for him: Seven sheqels. Ten silvers.
Wasn’t a potter’s field, but Khanamél’s. Wasn’t 30 silvers, but 10. (Although most translators mix up the weight of the silver, 7 sheqels, with seven extra silvers. Hence the
If wanna talk pottery and 30 silvers, you’ll get slightly closer with a passage in Zechariah. After working for a month as a shepherd, Zechariah quit and demanded his pay:
Zechariah 11.12-13 KWL
- 12 I told them, “If it’s good to your eyes, give me pay. If not, don’t.”
- They weighed my pay: Thirty silvers.
- 13 The L
ORDtold me, “Throw it at the potter”—the magnificent, precious prize I received from them.
- I took the 30 silvers. I threw them into the L
ORD’s house—to the potter.
And in fact various Christians, hoping to fix the problem, swapped “Jeremiah” with “Zechariah” in some medieval copies of Matthew. Or dropped the name of the prophet altogether, so all it reads is, “This fulfilled the prophet’s word”—and you get to figure out which prophet he meant.
But we don’t find Matthew’s quote in any of the Prophets. We don’t know where he got it. Commentator Adam Clarke said some Hebrew-speaking Christians once showed St. Jerome this passage in an apocryphal copy of Jeremiah, but Clarke figures they inserted the passage in order to make it jibe with Matthew.
As for Simon Peter’s quotes from the Psalms in Acts 1: No problem there. Peter quoted his bible properly. But here’s the thing: If Peter was trying to describe Judas’s situation with these verses, has anybody ever noticed the fact Peter quoted contradictory verses?
Psalm 69.25 KWL
- Lay their perimeter waste. Let no one sit in their tents.
Since Judas utterly botched his job, the position doesn’t merit a successor. But then again—
Psalm 109.8 KWL
- May his days be few, and another ruler supervise him.
Or as the Septuagint had it, “another take his office.” Since Judas didn’t last at his job, we need another guy to take his place.
Yeah, you’d be surprised how often Christians never notice this contradiction. I suspect it’s because inerrantists have conditioned us to deny there are any contradictions in the bible. Thing is, sometimes there are. Sometimes they’re right next to one another, in plain sight,
Hence Peter followed up with the direction he thought sounded best.
Acts 1.21-26 KWL
- 21 “So we have to choose between those men who were together with us
- during the whole time Master Jesus started and finished with us,
- 22 beginning with John’s baptism to the day he was raptured from us:
- This one must be a witness of Jesus’s resurrection with us.”
- 23 They stood up two: Joseph (called both “bar Chava” and “Justus”), and Matthias.
- 24 Praying, they said, “Master, knower of all hearts, reveal which one of these two
- you chose 25 to take the position of this ministry,
- the mission from which Judas turned away to go to his own position.”
- 26 They drew names for them, and the name drawn was Matthias’s.
- He was counted among the 11 apostles.
After all, 12 is probably God’s favorite number, so it’s best to stick to 12 where possible. Jesus picked 12 apostles; now, once again, they had 12 apostles.
Judas and repentance.
I already discussed Judas’s motive for leading the authorities to Jesus: He was demonized.
But after Jesus was sentenced to death, Judas seems to have regained control—temporarily at least—and was horrified by his actions. According to Matthew, he wanted to take it all back, and pathetically tried to do so by returning the money. He was metamelitheís/“feeling greatly sorry.” (
Various commentators like to insist the verb metamélo isn’t as strong a word as metanoéo/“repent.” Therefore Judas didn’t really repent of what he did, but just felt really bad. What they’re looking for is actual repentance. They don’t want sinners to merely feel bad; they want ’em to stop sinning and never do it again. This, they insist, is also how God feels.
They’re not wrong. God likewise wants us to stop sinning, and not just feel bad… but go out and commit those sins all over again. He wants obedience, not penitence. The purpose of his grace is to put us back on the right path, not keep bailing us out as we keep screwing up.
Thing is, the reason Christians regularly take God’s grace for granted is because he does keep bailing us out. He’s not a three-strikes-you’re-out kind of God, but a seventy-times-seven kind of God.
So was Judas’s repentance enough for God to forgive him? Of course it was. God’s forgiven far worse stuff than Judas committed. The only reason Christians insist otherwise is ’cause we wanna see Judas eternally burning in hell for what he did. ’Cause we lack grace.
Well, Judas sought grace. But he didn’t find it from the priests, who answered his guilty confession with, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.”
And he wasn’t gonna find it from Jesus’s other followers, who’d all gone into hiding, or were betraying Jesus in other ways. Even if he could find any of ’em, they’d probably ignore everything Jesus taught ’em about forgiveness, and take a machete to him.
He would get grace from Jesus; he sorta did when Jesus let him go without getting him in trouble with the other students.
So he did.
Yeah, there are those who insist Judas’s suicide totally sent him to hell, and again it’s due to their own lack of grace. When depressed or demonized people kill themselves, is there no room for God to accept them anyway? Of course there is. There always is. And either we believe this—or we believe there are unpardonable sins, that Judas’s is one of them, and that anybody else could commit one of them, ’cause grace only extends so far. It’s not all that amazing.
Like I said, this isn’t a meditation on Jesus’s suffering. But it’s still a serious idea to meditate upon.