In our last post we covered how the Gospel of Luke portrayed Judas Iscariot. The Lukan Judas was possessed by Satan himself and so the betrayal of Jesus by Judas is couched in terms of a demonic possession and a demonic attack on Jesus. Today we will look at the book of Acts, the second volume of Luke-Acts, and see how it portrays Judas Iscariot.
JUDAS ISCARIOT IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
The only place where we read of Judas Iscariot is in the first chapter of Acts. Following Jesus’ ascension (1:6-11), the disciples return to Jerusalem where they gather together for prayer with Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well as Jesus’ brothers (1:12-14). Luke records the names of the apostle’s: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James (1:13). This list includes all the names from the list of disciples in Luke 6:14-16 with the exception of one missing: “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:16). Nowhere in Luke’s Gospel are we told what happened to him. Now we are about to find out.
The Fallen Disciples
The book of Acts records that Peter took it upon himself to initiate the replacement of Judas Iscariot as disciple. But why would Judas need to have been replaced? Was he kicked out of the fold for betraying Jesus? No, it was because Judas was dead. Peter tells the group of one hundred and twenty believers,
Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – for he was numbered among us and was alloted his share in this ministry. (1:16-17)
Peter doesn’t quote any specific passage of scripture and it isn’t clear to what he is referring. However, this may be a Lukan echo of the words of Jesus: “For the Son of man is going as it has been determined” (Luke 22:23). Whatever the case may be, Peter emphasizes that Judas served as a guide for the religious authorities that arrested Jesus and that he was part of the Twelve.
Luke then interjects as narrator and tells us exactly what happened to Judas.
(Now this man acquired a field with the reward for his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (1:18-19)
So we already knew that Judas received payment for betraying Jesus (Luke 22:5). But what follows is like nothing we read in the other account of Judas’ death recorded in the New Testament. Luke records that after Judas purchased the field, he fell “headlong” which subsequently caused him to burst open in the middle turning his insides into outsides.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the events are entirely different. Upon seeing Jesus “condemned,” Judas feels remorse and decides to return his money to the chief priests (Matthew 27:3) telling them, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They are unimpressed and retort, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (27:4). Judas throws the silver into the temple, leaves the priests, and then hangs himself (27:5).
So whereas in the book of Acts Judas buys a field with ill-gotten money, in Matthew’s Gospel he returns the money. And whereas in the book of Acts Judas falls headlong into the field which leads to his gruesome death, in Matthew’s Gospel Judas dies by hanging himself. These are entirely different explanations for Judas’ demise.
Field of Blood
Now, some apologists will try to reconcile the two accounts by merging the two stories together. For example, pop-apologist SJ Thomason wrote in a post entitled “And Babylon Will Never Be Inhabitable,”
Biblical scholars note that Judas’ body likely decomposed after his death by hanging, which is why his body burst open when he fell onto the ground. Only a decomposed body would burst in such a way that one’s intestines would spill out. Furthermore, Judas symbolically “bought a field,” as the silver coins he returned to the chief priests ended up being used to purchase a potter’s field.
This is a clever attempt to reconcile the obvious contradiction but it is ultimately unsuccessful. The reason it is not successful has to do with the Field of Blood.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the “Field of Blood” got its name because blood money was used to purchase it. It is the field purchased by blood. But in the book of Acts the field got its name because of Judas’ bloody death in it. It is the field covered in blood. These are two different explanations for the same field. And they are different because each author has Judas die in different ways.
Let Another Take His Position
Following the narrator’s interjection, we read the words of Peter as he quotes the book of Psalms: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer'” (Acts 1:20). Both quotations from the Psalms are taken out of context but they serve their purpose in the narrative: Judas was rejected as a disciple and punished for his betrayal of Jesus. Consequently, the disciples choose to replace him with Matthias (1:21-26).
In the next post in the series we will examine the role of Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of John.
Featured Image: By © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52229160
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