Difficult Passages Series — Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:18 for Mar. 31, 2010

1.     Why are these passages listed among difficult passages?

During the Easter season it might be helpful for us to consider a couple Bible difficulties that arise in passages that we usually read in this season.   One of those questions concerns the demise of Judas Iscariot.   There seem to be differing accounts of the manner of his death in Matthew and Acts.   The details regarding who bought the “Field of Blood” seem to differ also.  Did Judas buy it (Acts) or the priests with Judas’ money (Matthew).

2.     How do we deal with the difficulties in these passages?

One consideration in comparing these two accounts of the end of Judas’ life is the purpose of the author in each case.   Matthew seems most interested in OT prophecies.   However, this itself presents a difficulty since Matthew says he is referring to Jeremiah while the text he seems to quote looks like it is very close to Zechariah 11:12, 13.  Some have suggested that he may have been thinking of Jer. 32:6-12 where the text speaks of buying a field or of Jeremiah 19:1,7,8 where Jeremiah buys a jar from a potter and then describes the disaster that awaits the wicked in terms that could be correlated to what happened to Judas.   Meanwhile Luke is interested in showing the shamefulness of Judas’ end, just as he later relates the disastrous end of Herod’s life (Acts 12:21-24).    

According to F. F. Bruce, the common way to harmonize the accounts as to who bought the field is that the chief priest considered the money to be legally Judas’ and bought it in Judas’ name.   This sounds like something the priests might do to try to avoid becoming entangled in what had happened.  

As for the disparate descriptions, one possible reconciliation that has been suggested is that sometimes when people hang themselves by jumping from a tree, the body does burst open.  We have insufficient textual evidence to know for sure, but if something like that happened to Judas, it would completely reconcile the two accounts.  That is how the Latin Vulgate harmonized the two accounts.  Another possible solution comes from a tradition going back to Papias suggesting that Judas “swelled up” and his body burst, presumably after he hung himself.  Textually, the suggestion would be that “fell headlong” should be translated “swelled up.”   So this idea may originate at an even earlier date.

3.     What are the key truths or inspirational messages of these passages?

Both writers want us to see that Judas’ life did not end well.  Jesus had predicted that it would be better for the one who betrayed him if he had not been born.  One of the key concepts in the entire book of Matthew is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  If he is thinking of Jeremiah 19,  his relating of Judas’ death continues this theme.  Luke is also showing Jesus’ words beginning to come true. We are reminded once more that the events surrounding Jesus’ life fit the predictions of the OT.  These sections use the terrible end of Judas to remind us of the absolute truth of God’s words.

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