What became of Judas Iscariot.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 March 2024

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 we’re using St. Francis or St. John Paul’s list, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of meditation. Although we should study Judas some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we really 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.

Judas came up when he handed Jesus over to the authorities… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we ever 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 Holy Spirit and apostles started Jesus’s church. 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 Upon seeing Jesus is condemned,
a repentant Judas his betrayer returned the 30 silvers
to the head priests and elders,
4 saying, “I sin by betraying innocent blood.”
They say, “What’s it have to do with us?
It’s your problem.
5 Throwing the silver into the temple, Judas leaves,
and goes off to hang himself.
6 The head priests, taking the silver, say,
We can’t put this in the treasury,
since it’s the value of blood.”
7 Convening, they decide to buy with it the potter’s field,
for burying strangers.
8 Thus that land is called Bloodfield to this day;
9 then the saying of the prophet Jeremiah is fulfilled,
saying, “They take the 30 silvers,
the value of the one they valued,
who was valued by Israel’s sons.
10 They give it for the potter’s field,
just as the Lord directed me.”
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
15 In these days, Simon Peter gets up
in the middle of the family to say,
“The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
16 Men! Family!
We have to fulfill the scripture
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.’ Ps 69.25
And alternately, ‘Another person: Take his office.’” Ps 109.8

Where the stories match. And don’t.

For your convenience I put together a chart of where the stories line up, where they don’t, and how inerrantists typically try to explain away the discrepancies.

Judas killed himself.Judas was found dead. Kinda!Score one point.
Judas hanged himself. Sounds like Judas exploded. (That, or he fell on a sword and seriously botched the job.) Meh. So after Judas hanged himself, his body wasn’t found for days. By that time the corpse had bloated, the rope broke, the fall popped him open, and all that was left was a disgusting gory mess.
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 the land. 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. It’s interesting how much apathy there was in their explanations. Felt to me like none of the authors personally liked Judas (true of most of us; myself included) so for that reason they didn’t care enough about him to sort out his story. Judas died, yada yada yada, he totally deserved it; to hell with him. Now let’s get back to bible difficulties which matter.

Two other bible difficulties 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 LORD compared his will to that of a potter, Jr 18.1-11 or when Jeremiah broke a pottery bottle to demonstrate Jerusalem’s destruction. Jr 19.1-13 But the closest Jeremiah ever got to talking about buying a field was when he once bailed out his cousin.

Jeremiah 32.6-9 KJV
6 And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 7 Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. 8 So Hanameel mine uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. 9 And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.

Not a potter’s field; his cousin Hanameel’s. Not 30 shekels; 17. Now if you 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 KJV
12 And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.

In fact various Christians, hoping to fix the obvious 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 added the passage to Jeremiah 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 nobody ever noticed the fact Peter quoted contradictory verses?

Psalm 69.25 KJV
Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.

Since Judas utterly botched his job, the position doesn’t merit a successor; leave it empty. But then again—

Psalm 109.8 KJV
Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

—since Judas utterly botched his job, let’s get him a successor.

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, Pr 26.4-5 just like this bit here. I’m pretty sure it’s because Peter was trying to say, “Y’know, we could go either direction on this.” After all Jesus hadn’t told them any other guys were gonna be among the Twelve. So they were in uncharted territory, figuring it out for themselves, and 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 they had 12 apostles again.

Judas and repentance.

I already discussed Judas’s motive for leading the authorities to Jesus: He was demonized. Lk 22.3, Jn 6.70-71, 13.2 He wasn’t in full control of his actions. It’s entirely possible he didn’t think he quit Jesus; he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s the thing about being demonized: It’s a lot like insanity. Mk 5.15

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 μεταμεληθεὶς/metamelitheís, “changing his tune”; the KJV has he “repented himself.”

Various commentators like to insist the verb metamélo isn’t as strong a word as μετανοέω/metanoéo, “repent.” Therefore Judas didn’t really repent; he just felt really bad. What they’re looking for is actual repentance. They don’t want sinners to merely feel bad. They want us to quit sinning and don’t do it again. This, they insist, is also how God feels. They’re not wrong. God wants our obedience, not the feels.

Thing is, the reason bibles translate metamélo as “repent” is because it does mean that. It’s a synonym for metanoéo; it’s as if we said “did an about-face” instead of “repented”; it means the very same thing! He wanted to undo his crime. He sought grace… but didn’t find it from the priests, who answered his guilty confession with, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.” Mt 27.4 They didn’t think Jesus was innocent, and couldn’t care less what anguish Judas was going through. They got what they wanted.

And he likely wasn’t gonna find grace from Jesus’s other followers, who’d all gone into hiding, or were betraying Jesus in other ways. Even if Judas could find any of ’em, they’d probably ignore everything Jesus taught us about forgiveness, and take a machete to him for what he did to their teacher.

He would get grace from Jesus. He got a glimpse of it when Jesus let him go without getting him in trouble with the other students. Jn 13.26-30 But Jesus’s forgiveness is so unlike the responses we see from any other human being, it stands to reason Judas didn’t figure he was gonna see any grace from that direction. Nor from the Father. The devils still plaguing him, likely made him feel horribly, absolutely alone in the universe. Nothing left but to end it all.

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.