The previous post in this series examined the references to Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of Mark, particularly with how the Markan author connects the verb paradidómi to Judas. I began with Mark because it was the first of the four Gospels to have been written and I want to see how the character of the Great Betrayer developed over the course of time. Today’s post will cover references to Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of Matthew, the second of the four Gospels to have been written.
JUDAS ISCARIOT IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Matthew’s Gospel generally follows the order of events laid out in the Gospel of Mark and so the first time we see Judas Iscariot mentioned it is the list of disciples that parallels Mark 3:13-19. The Matthean list of disciples clearly differentiates with the Markan but on Judas Iscariot they both agree: Judas was ho kai paradous auton – “the one who also betrayed him.” As I discussed in part 1 of this series, the verb paradidómi is the term used to describe what happened to Jesus by both Judas and the chief priests and scribes.
Meeting with the Chief Priests
Judas does not appear again by name in the Gospel of Matthew until the Passion narrative where, after the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, Judas goes to the chief priests to betray him (26:14-16). But Matthew adds details Mark doesn’t have. If you look in all of the Gospel of Mark, Judas never says a single word until he actually betrays Jesus and there he only says but a single word – “Rabbi!” But in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Judas has some additional lines! So while Mark tells us that Judas “went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them” (Mark 14:10), Matthew records the words of Judas to the religious authorities: “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” (26:14)
This is an interesting change because, whereas in Mark the motivation to betray Jesus is not clear, in Matthew it is apparently out of greed: “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” And whereas in Mark the payment is unspecified and only promised, in Matthew we are told that Judas is given the payment right then-and-there and that it is exactly thirty pieces of silver. Matthew’s Judas is greedy.
The Passover Meal
The next time Judas’s name appears is at the Passover meal. In Mark, all the disciples had gathered together and started to eat when Jesus tells them that one of them would betray him (Mark 14:18). One-by-one they ask Jesus, “Surely not I?” but he doesn’t answer them individually. Instead, he tells them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me” (14:20), a wholly unhelpful statement since all of them were dipping bread into the bowl with Jesus.
But in the Gospel of Matthew, things go a bit differently. As in Mark, Jesus tells the disciples, “One of you will betray me” (26:21; cf. Mark 14:18). As in Mark, the disciples become “greatly distressed” and begin asking Jesus if it is they who would do it (26:22; cf. Mark 14:19). As in Mark, Jesus responds by saying, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me” (26:23; cf. 20) and even talks about how the betrayal was foretold but it would have been better if the betrayer had never been born (26:24; Mark 14:21). But whereas the Markan narrative moves on to what has become known as the Lord’s Supper, Matthew has added a piece of dialogue.
The Gospel of Mark gives the impression that each of the disciples ask Jesus if they were to be the one who would betray him. Then Jesus tells them it is one who is eating with him and the pericope concludes. But in Matthew, after the disciples have asked him who it would be that will betray him, we read this exchange:
Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, You have said so” (26:25).
Notice how Matthew frames this story. We already know that Judas has agreed to aid the chief priests in their attempt to take Jesus. And we know he asked to be paid to do it. But the greedy Judas is also the deceptive Jesus. Judas knows what he has done and yet he asks, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Rabbi? Isn’t that what he calls Jesus right before he kisses him before the religious authorities? It is.
“Rabbi” is a transliteration of the Greek word rhabbi and it only appears four times in the Gospel of Matthew. The first two appearances are in the same context, namely Jesus’ denouncement of the scribes and the Pharisees. He tells them that the scribes and Pharisees
love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. (23:6-8)
In other words, while the scribes and Pharisees enjoy being elevated in society, among those who follow Jesus there is to be no one person greater than the rest. Their only teacher is Jesus and they are all still students (literally, “brothers”).
So why does Judas, a man who approached the religious authorities of his own volition, asked for payment to hand over Jesus, and then began scheming how to do so, call Jesus “Rabbi”? Notice how the other disciples asked Jesus if they were the culprit: “And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” (26:22) The disciples all address Jesus as “Lord.” But not Judas. Instead, Judas refers to Jesus as “Rabbi,” a term that Jesus had said the scribes and Pharisees love but one that shouldn’t exist among his followers. Judas has shown his hand: he is no longer a true disciple of Jesus. Jesus is not his lord.
As in Mark, we are not told exactly when Judas leaves the group to go to the chief priests to lead them to Jesus. Jesus has told Judas that he is the one who will betray him (26:25 – “You have said so”) so it seems odd that he would stay with Jesus through the ceremony of 26:26-30 or the collective affirmation that they would all die for Jesus (26:35). Perhaps Matthew intends for his readers to think that Judas continued his ruse in order to fool his fellow disciples even though Jesus is well aware of what is going on. Whatever the case may be, the betrayal of Jesus happens in the same narrative space that it did in Mark. Jesus has gone to Gethsemane to pray, finds Peter, James, and John asleep three times, and then finally tells them to get up because “my betrayer is at hand” (26:46).
Judas arrives with the religious authorities and an armed crowd. He then says to Jesus, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kisses him. The word “rabbi” in Mark doesn’t have the stigma attached to it as it does in the Gospel of Matthew. In Mark, Jesus is called “Rabbi” by Peter twice (Mark 9:5, 11:21) and so it appears that the title was not out-of-place. But as we already saw in the Gospel of Matthew, for Judas to use it to describe Jesus is a slap in the face. Here it is accompanied by a kiss of death.
Jesus is led away and on the following morning he is brought before the chief priests and the elders who then decided to hand him over to Pontius Pilate (27:1-2). Then Matthew inserts a scene that appears in no other Gospel.
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in 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 they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me” (27:3-10).
This scene should be seen in parallel with 26:14-16. Just as he had of his own volition betrayed Jesus to the religious authorities, so now Judas returns to the religious authorities to express his regret. Just as he had asked for payment and received it for betraying Jesus, so now Judas returns that payment by which he had betrayed Jesus. Finally, just as Judas upon receiving payment took action to end Jesus’ life, so now Judas, after returning payment, took action to end his own life.
Recall that the last time we hear from Judas is after the scene in Gethsemane. But Matthew offers his readers some semblance of closure. The betrayer took his own life, but not before realizing what a terrible thing he had done. So then Judas the greedy and deceptive betrayer becomes Judas the repentant.
In the next post in this series, we will examine Judas through the lens of the author of the Gospel of Luke.