A Judas Contradiction?

22 Feb
David Ewert

from Google Images

How did Judas die, and who actually purchased the “field of blood” with the thirty pieces of silver that was paid to Judas for delivering Jesus into the hands of the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem? I have spoken with several people who believe there is a contradiction between Matthew’s account of Judas’ activities and Luke’s account of the same in the book of Acts. Notice how the Scriptures describe the account:

Matthew 27:3-10 KJV  Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,  (4)  Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.  (5)  And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.  (6)  And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.  (7)  And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.  (8)  Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.  (9)  Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;  (10)  And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.

Acts 1:15-20 KJV  And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)  (16)  Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.  (17)  For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.  (18)  Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.  (19)  And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.  (20)  For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. (emphasis mine throughout)

First, in Matthew’s account of Judas’ death we are told that he went out and hanged himself, but in Acts, Luke tells us he fell headlong so that his body burst open and his bowels gushed out! Which account is true?

There is a lot we aren’t told in both accounts. For example, if Judas fell and burst open, was he alive when he fell? If he were hanging from a tree and already dead both the hot climate and the length of time he was hanging would be factors to consider for the whole picture. A swelling dead body which fell due to the breaking of the rope or the cutting of it by those who found him would easily be the cause of Luke’s description of Judas’ death, and, of course, there would be no contradiction between it and Matthew’s account once we are told the whole story.

On the other hand, could we be trying to understand the idea of his “bowels gushing out” as a literal expression when it may refer to a Hebrew idiom? Notice this quote from “A General Introduction to the Bible” by David Ewert:

“The vividness of Hebrew style can be seen also in the use of nouns, where we might use adjectives. Instead of saying “a beautiful garden,” the Hebrew prefers to speak of “a garden of beauty.” Instead of “holy mountain” it is a “mountain of holiness.” Naughty boys are “sons of Belial.” This had definitely influenced the NT Greek, where expressions such as “the Father of glory,” or “sons of disobedience,” betray a Semitic background.

“The psychology of the OT is concrete and very physical. Bodily organs stand for emotions. Fear and distress may be described by such expressions as: “my liver is poured out,” or “my bones melted.” The fulcrum of life (thought, emotion, will) is the heart. When God searches the deep recesses of a person’s life, he investigates the kidneys (the reins in the KJV English).

The Hebrew of the OT is rich in metaphor and simile. Israel is described as a “wild heifer,” “a crooked bow,” “a cake unturned.” “[1]

Perhaps this is a Hebraism carried over into the Greek and simply means Judas became overly depressed (bowels gushed out). According to Robertson:

“Falling headlong (prēnēs genomenos). Attic form usually pranēs. The word means, not “headlong,” but “flat on the face” as opposed to huptios on the back (Hackett).”

I am not a Greek scholar, but I wonder if Luke could mean Judas was expressionless. That is, he became inward over what he had done and “cracked” and his despair came gushing out in the form of suicide—his hanging himself.

Secondly, in the matter of the purchase of the field, neither is there a contradiction here. The Bible is a great literary book, having many authors, and it uses many literary modes of expression such as parable, metaphor and simile to reveal to us what God wants us to know. One such figure of speech is metonymy, which has to do with something used to stand for the thing itself, such as “brass” for “military” or “Washington” for the American government or the President. In the matter in Acts the person of Judas is used for the activity of the priests. Peter uses this same figure of speech in Acts 2:23 where he says the people with whom he spoke actually crucified Jesus when it was actually the chief priests who did it.

Another literary devise used is the idiom: “This man purchased a field…” Actually, it was the priests who did the act of purchasing, but Judas was the cause of the act. The idiom is also used in 1Kings 14:16 “…he made Israel sin.” That is, the activity of Jeroboam, the king of Israel, was the vehicle through which Israel was brought into sin. Likewise, the regret of Judas, and his subsequent return of the 30 pieces of silver brought about the purchase of the field, because the chief priests could not put “blood money” back into the Temple treasury.

Not every supposed contradiction can be explained as easily as this, but we need to remember that we are not told the whole story. What we are told is enough of the story to help us decide whether or not the accounts are true—if God is faithful and if he loves us. This is what is important, but often this is cast aside, simply because of a single supposed discrepancy between two or more accounts of the same event, which, more often than not, doesn’t have anything to do with the main message of the testimony. How odd is that?

[1] A General Introduction to the Bible; by David Ewert; chapter 3 Languages of the Bible, p.43 “C. Its Character.”

1 Comment

Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Apostles, New Testament History, Religion


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One response to “A Judas Contradiction?

  1. meetingintheclouds

    February 22, 2011 at 15:43

    Good explanation for supposed contradictions. Thanks.


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