What happened to Judas?

  • Question from JM, United Kingdom:

    “Hey Jon, I was wondering why in Acts 1:18 it says that Judas purchased a field with the money that he got for handing Jesus over, he fell there spilling his intestines, while in Matthew 27 it says that Judas threw the money back into the temple and then went and hung himself?”

    Nobody really knows Judas’ motives in betraying Jesus. In John’s gospel “Satan entered his heart” (John chapter 13); other theories include a desire to force Jesus to declare himself openly as the messiah and instigate the holy war that would free Jerusalem from the Roman oppressors. In Matthew’s gospel the authorities pay him thirty pieces of silver upfront, in Luke and Mark they promise to pay him after the event.

    Whatever his motives, we know that Judas didn’t live long after Jesus. But there are two questions here – what happened to the money and how did Judas die?

    In situations where gospel stories seem to diverge on the details, it’s important to remember the things that are common to both passages – in this case that Judas died and that his death was somehow linked to ‘Akeldamar’ (‘the field of blood’).

    In Acts, Luke is not interested in Judas’ demise. In fact he references it only in his account of the ongoing ministry of the disciples, in the passage where Matthias is chosen to fill the vacant twelfth slot in the leadership team. In many translations this aside on what happened to Judas appears in square brackets. What Luke has done is shorten the story. “Judas died, field of blood, let’s get on with it!” Luke is already looking ahead to the first big story of Acts – the coming of the Holy Spirit.

    Matthew’s account is built into the dramatic events of the crucifixion, adding emotional impact to the whole scenario. Here we are told that Judas rejects his payment, hangs himself and the priests use his money to buy a ‘field of blood’ to use as a cemetery.

    There is no reason why the two accounts can’t be harmonised. Regarding the two different modes of death, J. W. Packer in the Cambridge Bible Commentary on Acts (CUP, 1973) suggests that Judas’ hanging corpse (the Matthean account) was then torn down and ripped open by wild dogs (the Lukan Acts account).

    The high priests could have used the tainted ‘blood’ money to buy the now cursed field where Judas committed suicide (this being against the Law). In this respect whether Judas bought it himself, or the high priests did it with his unwanted silver is immaterial.

    Matthew’s purpose in relating the story of Judas is to show that Hebrew Scripture is being fulfilled. It must also be remembered that Matthew’s gospel is the product of a Jewish community, many of whom would have known Jerusalem and the ‘field of blood’. His story has more of a point to it. Luke, writing mainly for Gentiles who have never been to Jerusalem, isn’t pushing the same agenda. There’s no point him emphasising fulfilled prophecies or mentioning places people would know in any great detail and so he doesn’t.

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