The old English couplet says“Still, as of old, man by himself is priced; for thirty pieces, Judas sold himself, not Christ.”¹ Have you ever wondered how Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus who was a thief(John 12:6), a traitor and a man better off unborn, died?
We have seemly contradictory accounts of his death:
Account 1: Matthew’s in Gospel: Judas hanged himself
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into 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 it is blood money.” (Mt 27:3–6 ESV).
Account 2: Luke’s in Acts of Apostles: Judas fell and his body burst open.
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (Ac 1:15–19 ESV).
Historical: Church Father’s Solution
Commentary on the fragments of Papias (c. 70-155 A.D)
Apollinarius. ‘Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before he was suffocated. And the Acts of the Apostles show this, that falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. This fact is related more clearly by Papias, the disciple of John, in the fourth (book) of the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord as follows:—
Judas walked about in this world a terrible example of impiety; his flesh swollen to such an extent that, where a waggon can pass with ease, he was not able to pass, no, not even the mass of his head merely. They say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all, while as for his eyes they were not visible even by a physician looking through an instrument, so far had they sunk from the surface …’
Complied from Cramer Catena ad Acta SS. Apost (1838) p. 12 sq. and other sources.²
Apologetic: Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe’s Solution
These accounts are not contradictory, but mutually complementary. Judas hung himself exactly as Matthew affirms that he did. The account in Acts simply adds that Judas fell, and his body opened up at the middle and his intestines gushed out. This is the very thing one would expect of someone who hanged himself from a tree over a cliff and fell on sharp rocks below.³
It important to notice that Geisler’s solution presumes that Judas died by hanging or at least in that process of hanging himself , which Matthew account does not explicitly spill out. while “Apollinarius” does not.
1. Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (450). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
2. Lightfoot, J. B., & Harmer, J. R. (1891). The Apostolic Fathers (534–535). London: Macmillan and Co.
3. Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (361). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.