Monday, January 15, 2007

The death of Judas

By popular demand, let's talk about the death of Judas. The conflict between Matthew and Acts is well known:

Matthew says:

Mt.27:5 And he [Judas] threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

But Acts says:

Acts 1:18 Now this man [Judas] acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.

The verses indicate that Judas died in two incompatible ways.

In another thread, "Honey" argues that Acts 1:18 is not referring to Judas's death, but that the verse takes place after his death. I think that is a very unnatural interpretation of Acts 1:18. If the author was intending to convey that thought, could he not have expressed himself more clearly? After all, we have seen on this blog where Pastor Al thought this verse is referring to Judas's death. If the writer of Acts wanted Pastor Al to understand that Judas was dead before this verse, why didn't he make it clear so Pastor Al and I would understand it correctly?

Let's look at the verse. First we find that Judas acquired a field. Honey has argued that this event could have occurred after his death, and it could have been the high Priests who did the purchasing, acting as executors for Judas's estate. Well, yes, that could have been, but what an odd choice of words for the author to use. Why didn't the writer of Acts say Judas's executor's obtained the field for Judas? Whenever such transactions are done, it is usually said that the executor buys it for the estate, not that the dead man buys it. I challenge Honey to find one document anywhere where it tells us that a person executed a financial transaction without clearly telling us that the person was dead when the transaction occurred. So I find it extremely doubtful that the author intended us to understand this verse as meaning that Judas was dead when the transaction occurred in his name.

Moving on, Acts immediately tells us that this Judas (who had just acquired a field) fell headlong and his guts burst out. Surely if Judas had died between the financial transaction and this headlong fall, the author would have told us so. And Honey seems to agree that Judas did not die in the middle of verse 18. So we can write that explanation off as unlikely.

So it seems that, according to Acts, Judas was alive at the beginning of the verse, and was alive up until the fall. But even if Honey insists that Judas could have been dead several days before "falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out," this is a most unusual way of saying that. If people come across a body that had been dead for several days, it is invariably referred to as a dead person. Again, I challenge Honey to find any passage in literature where a dead person is referred to as a "he" doing something, without making it clear that the person of interest is dead.

So yes, of course, it is remotely possible that the writer of Acts meant to say that Judas was dead before Acts 1:18, and used extremely unclear words to express that thought. But a much more likely interpretation is that the writer of Acts thought Judas died as described in verse 18. As such, the verse contradicts Matthew.

You decide: Is it really feasible that the author intends Acts 1:18 to say, "Now this [dead] man['s estate] acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong [after he had been dead for a while] , he [or, more accurately, his body] burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out"? I doubt very much if this is the intended meaning of this verse.

Honey may be quite happy to find a possible solution to the problem, even if it is very unlikely. But remember, in order to prove the Bible flawless, she would need to find many similarly unlikely solutions for other conflicts in the Bible. If one must choose between hundreds of unlikely interpretations for each contradiction, or believe that the Bible is errant, is it not more likely that the Bible is errant?


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I made a start on the reply for this when it was first posted, but had other commitments to attend to during the proceeding week. I will finish my reply as time permits.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to do about this at the moment. I have had a response prepared for some time now but have had technical difficulties with its presentation (on a web page), so much so that in frustration I have put it to the side until I have time (or someone) to sort it out. I can't even turn T9 off on my phone by myself!! I think you get the picture :S

Aaron said...

Even if the Bible is errant in places like this one, it does not rattle the fundamental message of Jesus Christ. A genuine believer's faith can handle tensions in the Bible being unresolved.

Anonymous said...

@Aaron well said