Questions About Scripture #1: What about the different stories of Judas’ death?

Last night one of the questions we didn’t get to was “How do you explain the different stories of Judas’ death?”

It’s a good question and one that will open the door to speak about a larger principle. First, look at the two different accounts, one from the book of Matthew and the other from the book of Acts.

Matthew 27:3-10, “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. 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.”

Acts 1:15-19, “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (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.)”

While there are differences in the account, don’t miss the similarities. Both show Judas’ was remorseful. Both reference the field that was acquired with the betrayal money, both mention that the field became known as the Field of Blood, and both record Judas’ death. What of the differences? Are they contradictory?

Here’s the bigger principle that this question opens up for us, namely that difference doesn’t necessary mean contradiction. For example, if my wife and I went to a football game, and came back and gave you a report, the reports would be very different. I would tell you about the game, the big plays, the score, etc. Lynn would tell you about the fans, about what the people in front of us were doing or wearing. I like football, so that’d be my focus. Lynn likes people-watching, that’d be hers. Our different accounts wouldn’t be contradictory but complimentary. They’d give you a fuller picture of the what happened at the game.

The same thing happens in the gospels (and other portions of Scripture). So how do you reconcile the two Judas stories? First issue is who bought the field. That’s pretty easy. Both. The Pharisees bought it with Judas’ money, the money he threw back at them. The ESV Study Bible sums up, “Judas brought the 30 pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders. The chief priests then purchased the potter’s field with Judas’s money, with the same effect as if Judas had himself made the purchase.”

The second issue is whether or not Judas hung himself or fell headlong into the field and burst open. Again, the answer is both. The Acts passage assumes Judas fell from some height, maybe off a cliff or from a tree – no one who trips and falls in a field burst open. Matthew’s account explains this. Judas was hanging from a tree when he fell into the field. It is possible that he had been hanging there for some time in, exposed to the elements, and was in an advanced stage of decomposition when he fell (either the tree branch broke, the rope broke). The bloated, decomposed body burst open. Gross, but it’s reality. Read this disgusting story of a dead bloated whale exploding in Taiwan!

So while the stories are different, they are not contradictory. Actually, the story in Acts doesn’t make a lot of sense without the details given by Matthew. Remember, difference doesn’t equal contradiction!