The first post in this series can be found here.
You may already be familiar with this one, but please don’t skip it. There are some serious issues to think about here, and there are probably one or two points you haven’t considered.
Judas’s death is recorded for us in two places. The first is Matthew 27:3-8, which says:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
Now, let’s look at the account found in Acts 1:18-19:
Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.
On the surface, I think we’d all have to agree that these accounts have almost nothing in common. So the typical answer is to simply put them together into something like this:
When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was sorrowful and hanged himself. At some point, the rope broke, and his bowels burst open and gushed out when he hit the ground.
Taking this approach creates a possibility for explaining the discrepancy in Judas’s death. However, there’s nothing from either account that indicates this was the full picture. Also, I’m not sure how comfortable we should be in accepting a version of his death that can not be found in any account within the Bible. But even if this acceptably answers his death, there are other specifics that aren’t as easily answered by simply putting the two accounts together.
For instance, who bought the field? According to Matthew, the priests bought it. According to Acts, Judas bought it. It’s often said that since the priests used Judas’s money, then it’s correct to say that he bought it. But if I bought beer with your money, would it be correct to say that you bought it? Or if I killed a person with your gun, would it be correct to say that you killed them?
Another problem concerns the name of the field. Both accounts agree that it was called the “Field of Blood,” but Matthew says it was because it was bought with blood money. Acts says that it was called Field of Blood because Judas’s intestines burst all over it. Those are very different reasons.
Why is it that these accounts differ so much on the details? Why do neither of them offer hints at the fuller story (if combining the accounts is the correct version)? If I told you that someone died in a fire, but then you found out that they were actually shot to death and the body was burned in a fire, wouldn’t you be frustrated at me (or at least confused) for not telling you the whole story? There are some real differences in this story, and it should at least make us consider that we might just be reading the opinions of two different people and not the infallible word of a perfect deity.
There’s actually another problem too. Matthew 27:9-10 adds this:
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Matthew attributes this “prophecy” to Jeremiah, when it is actually from Zechariah. Yes, you read that right: Matthew attributes it to the wrong guy. Now there are some people who will tell you that this passage is also in Jeremiah. But I encourage you to read Jeremiah for yourself – this prophecy is not there.
Other people have tried to explain this issue by saying that Jeremiah could have said this too, but just didn’t write it down. But this attempt is pretty ridiculous. Matthew offers this attribution as proof that all these things had been foreseen. But if no one can go back and read the prophecy he’s referring to, then it’s not proof at all and there’s no point in referring to it.
Another explanation is that the scroll of the prophets in Matthew’s day often started with Jeremiah. Therefore, he’s just referring to the scroll and not the actual prophet. I could buy that as an explanation if this were just something that Matthew himself was writing. But Christians say that he was inspired by God. Wouldn’t God know which prophet had actually said this? And for the readers in Matthew’s day, wouldn’t they have known where to find Zechariah, if they wanted to read this for themselves? Plus, think of how strange this would sound to us today. All the books of the Bible are contained in one book for us today. So would it be acceptable for me to say “As Abraham the prophet said, ‘There is no temptation that has overcome you except such as is common to man…’”? (Paul said that, if you’re unaware)
Surely we can see that the most likely explanation is that Matthew made a mistake and was not actually inspired by God.
As one final point, let’s look back at Zechariah to see exactly how it was prophesied that Judas would do these things:
And I took my staff Favor, and I broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples. So it was annulled on that day, and the sheep traders, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD. Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”— the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter. Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
Okay, I see the reference to the “potter,” and there’s a reference to “thirty pieces of silver.” Where is the reference to someone betraying Jesus? Or the reference to someone killing himself and bleeding all over a field? In fact, where is there a prophecy in this passage at all?