How Did Judas Die?

The two accounts of the death of Judas in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19 are often

Judas küsst Jesus (Fresko in der Capella degli...

cited as an irreconcilable, case and point that the bible cannot be true.

Is that so?  Let’s take a look:

Possible death explanations:

1) They are different angles of the same story.  If this is the case, Judas would have hanged himself as in Matthew.  His body would have hung there for while since it was the sabbath and thus could have been swollen, fallen, and burst open as in Acts.  There is an ancient tradition stating this to be the case.  Perhaps.  But there are other details that make reconciliation difficult.

2)  Luke (the author of Acts) is giving a strict, factual account while Matthew is providing his Jewish readers with a theological interpretation of the events based on Old Testament meanings. For example, 2 Samuel 17 and Psalm 49 describe Ahithophel as a trusted confident of David who betrayed the king and hanged himself in sorrow.  Jesus himself uses these verses to describe Judas in John 13:18.  Thus, Matthew is likely painting Ahithophel as a precursor of Judas just as David is a precursor for Jesus.  Again, Matthew’s main concern is that his readers understand the theological importance of the event, not necessarily communicating every gritty detail.

The same holds true with the details of the financial transaction in Matt. 27:6-10.  Matthew is again using Old Testament passages to clarify the event’s meanings for his audience.  His use of the terms blood of the innocent, potter, Valley of Hinnom, and others allude to passages in Zechariah and Jeremiah meaning that because Israel rejects God’s leadership they will suffer under bad leaders.

Additionally, much is also made of the fact that Matthew seems to conflate verses from Jeremiah and Zechariah.  How can he be a reliable source when he can’t even keep books of the bible straight?  We cannot expect however more from Matthew than the literary conventions of his time asked of him.  It was common practice at the time to list only one source when numerous citations were referenced.  Mark does the same thing with Malachi and Isaiah.  Furthermore, both these passages, Jeremiah 19 and Zechariah 11, were likely heavily entrenched in the early church’s views of Jesus’s mission.  Therefore his readers would automatically identify his message.  Something we are unable to do.

In conclusion, it’s definitely true the bible is more complicated than we are often led to believe in the “Sunday school” world.  But to me that makes it even more exciting, and it makes me more humble.  It would be a lot easier if it were all straightforward and clear, but then we would all be arrogant jerks and wouldn’t need God for anything.

Of course I don’t mean its unclear on the big things.  Certainly the overarching story is about Christ, the Gospel, and our need for redemption.  Of that much we can be sure.  But when it comes to some small details and interpretations we need to be careful being dogmatic and accept perhaps that we just can’t be sure.  We need to accept the bible was written to a culture now largely lost to us.  I believe this is the source of many of the so called contradictions.  They are mostly allusions and interpretations of things going on at the time that we just don’t know about very well.  We have to read the bible according to its own genres, expectations, and standards.  Not our own.  It simply isn’t a 21st century news report.  Its a collection of ancient documents and interpretations written to and lived out in

communities long gone, so it’s ok if we don’t know everything about it.

So how did Judas die?  In the end we cannot be sure.  Reading the bible to ask such questions is beside the point.

Peace,

Ben

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6 thoughts on “How Did Judas Die?

  1. Ben,

    Thanks for treating this in such a straightforward manner and not trying to whitewash the difficulties between these two accounts. If you were to run across something like this in another religious text, would you consider it a sign that the text was uninspired? Or when other religious people (Muslims, Mormons, etc) run across difficulties in their own texts, should they try to give those texts the benefit of the doubt and continue to hold fast to their respective faiths? And if so, doesn’t that drastically decrease the likelihood that they’ll ever come to Christianity?

    1. You make good points and I always appreciate your perspective. You may be right about other religions in a sense. But I guess I’ll say it this way: I follow Jesus first and I believe the bible because it tells us about him, not vice versa. What I mean is to me there are plenty of reasons to be a Christian apart from the bible. The message of grace, forgiveness, and the possibility of redemption and sanctification is in my perspective a very unique religious system; one worth following. (As an aside I’m not discounting the bible, just trying to get to the heart of the discussion here. I think I’ve stated my points on it enough elsewhere).

      Take care.

  2. Since you are talking about Judas death …is it ludicrous of me to wonder if he was forgiven before his death… his fate was set ahead of time…he was fated to betray Jesus…could this have been altered …..because he showed remorse and was so sorry for what he had done he went and hanged himself…Just something I’ve always wondered about even though no one has ever suggested such a thing….Diane

    1. Diane, thanks for your comments. I too have often wondered about this. To be honest I don’t know. Certainly throughout church history the dominant view has been that Judas was damned. However, there are also those who say he had good intentions; that he was just trying to goad Jesus into his messiah role and the plot backfired. While I”m certainly not sure of the state of his soul, it doesn’t seem likef he exactly repented. Yes, he was sorry, but he did not go to the disciples and beg for forgiveness. He didn’t do anything to make amends. So in end it seems he still died with his back to God’s grace, however sorry he may have been for what transpired. But then again…who knows.

      1. That’s the only thing that kept me from thinking he died forgiven…in that he didn’t go and ask for forgiveness…He was sorry but that doesn’t exactly get you into heaven I guess…thanks for explaining …Diane

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