The Bible presents two conflicting
Judas Hangs Himself
How Did the “Field of Blood” Get Its Name?
Faith-building stories that were fictional adaptations of Old Testament tales, and that were in circulation long before they reached the ears of the gospel writers, had a Judas betray a Jesus, the long-awaited savior, then repent and give up his blood money to buy a field. Hence the name, "Field of Blood."
Matthew says that Judas hanged himself, while Luke (the author of Acts) says that he fell and his guts spilled out. Both of these accounts cannot be true. Either one is, or neither is. No matter which is the case, at least one account is wrong, and this means that the Bible is not error-free.
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:1-5 NIV)
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus--he was one of our number and shared in this ministry." With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. (Acts 1:15-18 NIV)
Post to errancy on January 2, 2003:
Post to errancy:
Matthew says that Judas hanged himself, while the writer in Acts seems to indicate that Judas fell and his guts spilled out. Here are the relevant verses:
Since my last post I’ve located Turkel’s apologetic for Judas’ death. It’s at
However, my preference is for the solution offered [in the book] Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil , [where the author] notes that the phrase translated "becoming headlong" (prenes genomenos) is a mere transcription error away from being "becoming swollen" (presthes genomenos). The latter may well be what was originally written, and as such might describe Judas' body swelling up after hanging for a while.
This explanation raises a question more important than the one which it attempts to answer: If the Acts author wanted his audience to understand that Judas’ swelling was the result of his hanging himself and being left to rot on the tree for days, then why in the world did he not have the good sense to say so? It makes no sense for the author to tell us that Judas’ guts burst without telling us why it happened. One's guts bursting out is such a rare event that surely if Luke believed that this extraordinary thing is what actually happened to Judas, he would have made certain to provide the extraordinary explanation for its occurrence. The fact that he didn’t do this is strong evidence that Luke didn’t believe Judas’ guts literally burst open. In an earlier post I explained why I think Luke wanted his readers to believe that the “guts bursting” description was just Luke’s metaphor for a spiritual death suffered by Judas, who like the old wineskin was unable to contain the new “wine” (teachings) of Jesus.
The key to understanding what Luke wanted us to understand is found in the following passage:
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” (Luke 5:37)
Old skins cannot expand to accommodate the gases released from still-fermenting new fine, while new ones are still elastic enough to accommodate the release of gas. Luke was expecting his readers would see that Judas was holding on to the old law, the old way of thinking, and was unable to accommodate the new teachings of Jesus; thus, the Judas with the old ideas burst open just as does an old wineskin filled with new wine. Luke clearly never meant for his readers to take his description of Judas literally.
The only place in the New Testament (NIV) where the words "burst" are used are in the three parallel verses dealing with wineskins, and the one place in the rest of the New Testament where the word is used to describe what happened to Judas. Here are the references:
Matthew 9:17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
Mark 2:22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."
Luke 5:37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.
Acts 1:18 Acts 1 Acts 1:17-19 (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
This is not a coincidence, I believe; Luke is telling us in Acts that just as old wineskins burst when new wine is poured into them, so did the one with old ideas and beliefs (Judas) "burst" when new teachings (from Jesus) tried to enter him.
Post to forum on February 13, 2003:
The Matthean author tells his readers that Jesus' blood paid for the field, and that's why the field is called the Field of Blood. However, in the Acts passage below, the writer gives us a completely different reason for the name of the field. This author tells us that the field is called the Field of Blood because Judas's blood and guts were spilled over it:
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:18)
Which is it? Jesus' blood paid for the field, and that's why it's called the Field of Blood? Or, Judas's blood was spilled on it, and that's why it's called the Field of Blood? The contrast between the two different explanations is much too stark to imagine that they are compatible. Thus, there seems to be a contradiction here.
The notion that the Acts author knew that Judas burst after the tree branch broke, but didn't think his readers needed to know about the hanging, is just too silly to take seriously. The ultimate cause of the death was the hanging from the tree. If there's no hanging, there would be no bloating, and no falling. Thus, the hanging is the crucial element of the story, but yet the Acts author doesn't think he should mention it? That's just too far-fetched to be believed.
March 4, 2004:
Some apologists argue that the "falling headlong" in Acts actually was originally "swollen."
According to this theory, then, we have Luke in Acts 1:15-18 saying that Judas' swollen belly burst open, spilling his blood. It think it is quite likely that this is exactly what the Lukan author was saying, but I do not think this is actually what happened. How likely is it that Judas really did become so swollen that he burst open while walking across his field? With the "falling headlong" replaced by "swollen," we do not even have the falling down on sharp rocks to explain how Judas burst open. Surely, we are not supposed to imagine that he spontaneously popped open in the field, like a balloon overfilled with air. Furthermore, how come the Acts author doesn't bother to tell us how Judas became swollen, if it really happened?
I believe the bursting story is a totally fictional one based on the wineskin in Jesus' parable:
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.' " (Luke 5:37; see also, Matthew 9:17).
Jesus is saying that those who have lived by the old law cannot accept the new one, just as the old wineskin can hold only old wine, not new wine. This would have been the case with Judas, who could abide the old teachings, but not Jesus' new teachings, else he wouldn't have betrayed him. Thus, in the Acts verse, we have a Judas whose belly was like a wineskin swollen by the gases of the fermenting new wine. Just as an old wineskin cannot swell enough to accommodate this new wine, and therefore bursts open and spills its red liquid, then so did the swollen Judas burst apart because he could not adapt to the new law, and his blood spilled to the ground.