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A Judas Contradiction?

26 Mar

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 it 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.”

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2 Comments

Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Judas, New Testament History

 

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2 responses to “A Judas Contradiction?

  1. Dean Fraiser

    June 27, 2016 at 13:15

    To the author,

    What exact evidence do you have that, in this specific instance, the subject “Judas” is actually referring to the chief priests? Have you not examined the context in which his death in Acts is being discussed?

    The context is Peter talking with the other disciples about the need for a replacement for Judas. In that context, it seems as though Peter is mentioning Judas directly. Is there any specific evidence in Greek that proves that metonymy-style speech is being used here?

    Also, you seem to not take contradictions such as the Judas account very seriously, given the language of your last paragraph. Any contradiction in the Bible seems to be proof that the book is possibly just another document forged by men (and only men) for man’s purposes. Any contradiction founds in the NT, by default (due to the Bible’s claim of infallibility and divine inspiration) derides the Jesus story. Can you be convinced that this is a contradiction (I can be convinced that the account isn’t a contradiction; this seems to be the only plausible argument in defense of the account), or are you the type of Christian that sticks to their guns no matter what?

    Before you answer my questions regarding the Judas account discrepancy in Acts and Matthew, please understand what I mean by evidence. I do not mean simply echoing claims by other authors (which you seem to have done), I mean some kind of example that shows that, in this specific instance, metonymy-style speech is being used here.

    Thanks very much,

    Mr. Fraiser

     
    • Eddie

      June 27, 2016 at 19:11

      Greetings Mr. Fraiser, and thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment and let readers know your point of view.

      Before you answer my questions regarding the Judas account discrepancy in Acts and Matthew, please understand what I mean by evidence. I do not mean simply echoing claims by other authors (which you seem to have done), I mean some kind of example that shows that, in this specific instance, metonymy-style speech is being used here.

      I’m not certain I completely understand what you are going for here. I know of no one who has taken the position I have taken on Acts 1:15-20. So, which author or authors do you believe I may be echoing? The idea of Judas’ body being dead for some time in hot climate and swelling due to decomposition etc. is probably the understanding taken by most Christian apologists, but clearly this is not the position I have taken here. I stated it as a possibility, but not a probability for my taste. So, I’m just wondering whom you have read that echoes my account here.

      What exact evidence do you have that, in this specific instance, the subject “Judas” is actually referring to the chief priests? Have you not examined the context in which his death in Acts is being discussed?
      The context is Peter talking with the other disciples about the need for a replacement for Judas. In that context, it seems as though Peter is mentioning Judas directly. Is there any specific evidence in Greek that proves that metonymy-style speech is being used here?

      I believe you are referring to Acts 1:18a: “Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness…” (NASB). Actually, two figures of speech are in play here, according to “Figures of Speech Used in the Bible” by E.W. Bullinger. They are metonomy (of the effect) and idiom. I spoke of both in my posting. Now, if you are asking me if I am a Greek scholar, I admitted that I am not in my post. I am often dependent upon the scholarship of others to make my point. Are you implying, by calling me on this, that you are a Greek scholar and have reason to believe this is not the case?

      As I see it, we have only one of two alternatives to take in order to understand the above phrase. Either we understand Judas literally purchased the field (which you seem to want to do), or we compare it with Matthew’s account and wonder how the two fit together. After all, if I don’t do this, surely you will compare Matthew’s account and declare a contradiction. The difference between our two approaches is, I try to understand both in a manner that doesn’t contradict. Whenever one is translating from one language to another, lots of things must be taken into consideration. For example, it may be difficult to explain to a person in a foreign country who knows nothing about baseball that, if you tell him a man “died on third base” you don’t literally mean he died. Do you? That said, I try to find something in the accounts of difficult passages that might show they don’t contradict. It is how the two of us read the Bible. You seem to look for what contradicts, and I look for reasons to believe they don’t.

      Also, you seem to not take contradictions such as the Judas account very seriously, given the language of your last paragraph. Any contradiction in the Bible seems to be proof that the book is possibly just another document forged by men (and only men) for man’s purposes. Any contradiction founds in the NT, by default (due to the Bible’s claim of infallibility and divine inspiration) derides the Jesus story. Can you be convinced that this is a contradiction (I can be convinced that the account isn’t a contradiction; this seems to be the only plausible argument in defense of the account), or are you the type of Christian that sticks to their guns no matter what?

      Let me ask you a question. Suppose you are a member of a jury trying to decide the guilt or innocence of a man on trial for murder. During the trial all the evidence the witnesses offer point to the man’s guilt. The only discrepancy is one witness claims the man wore a light green shirt, while another witness says he wore a light blue shirt. Should the shade of the man’s shirt be a factor in determining his guilt or innocence of murder?

      This is how I see Judas’ death in the overall context of the Bible, which claims God loves us and has saved us from our hell-bent goal of destroying ourselves. How Judas died simply doesn’t matter all that much when considering the overall point of the Scriptures.

      Could I be convinced that the Bible contradicts itself? Of course we are referring to those things that don’t matter all that much. We cannot be speaking of whether or not the Scriptures tell us that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. We are probably speaking of who saw him die, and how many woman saw him alive just after the Scriptures claim he rose from the dead. Let me put it this way. I know of no alleged contradiction that hasn’t a logical answer. I probably am not aware of all contradictions to be found in the Bible, but I’m fairly certain that whatever they may be, they don’t alter the main point of the Bible. If they were serious contradictions, I am certain I would have heard about them, because for quite some time I had discussed things of that nature with folks who don’t like the Bible, and they haven’t been able to show a major contradiction that would affect the main thrust of the Scriptures. Might there be a minor contradiction that has occurred over time due to copy errors, perhaps, don’t know.

      I hope you will find my reply non-evasive. I have tried to be as honest as I know how to be. If you need further clarity, I’d be happy to accommodate in the best way I know how.

       

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