How Did Judas Iscariot Die?

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).

Solutions:

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. 

Bio:

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.

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13 thoughts on “How Did Judas Iscariot Die?

  1. I wish I could remember ‘someone’ in the past few months wrote that scripture does not prove that Judas actually did commit suicide or that he died in fact. It (scripture) only describes the scene …of his ‘supposed’ death….That threw me for a loop. I wish I could remember where and when I read it

    Any comments?? Diane

    • Hej Diane,

      According to Acts 1:15–19 and Early Christians(e.g. Polycarp(A.D. 65–c.155.), Papias (c. 70-155 A.D)) understanding of this account, it is very unlikely that “someone” 🙂 is correct in stating that Scripture does not prove that Judas actually killed himself.

      Acts 1:16-19 describes more than the “scene”:

      “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.)(ESV)

      I hope I helped 😉 . Thanks again for your good input Diane.

      In Christ,
      Prayson

      • This someone?? used the fact that all it said was ‘his bowels burst open” but that it didn’t necessarily mean he died but that he could have lived and just been in a tortuous condition

        I thought that sounded unreasonable at the time..

        Thanks for confirmation of what I believe to be true..that indeed he did die

        I have come to a peace regarding God having mercy on whom He will have mercy..and resolved that while I don’t completely understand it, it is one of those mysteries I will accept as being beyond my complete comprehension… Thanks for taking time to check in…Diane

  2. HI Diane,

    can i come in here? I have shared your confusions.

    I have thought over this issue of Judas and his condemnation for a very long time. Here are my thoughts.

    The stories of Judas and Peter go along way into the doctrines of predeterminism and freewill. The Church tradition teaches that God gave human beings the freedom to choose and not to choose. The ability to choose makes man responsible for his actions. This is why a murderer goes to jail. And this is why a ‘sinner’, when he dies in the state of their sinfulness will go to hell. If there was no freedom of choice, then God cannot judge us because we would be merely robots remote-controlled by His Will.

    On the question of Judas, I do think he was forgiven for his betrayal of the Lord. He cried and he was repentant: God is UNJUST if He did not forgive him but forgave Peter. Instead, where he got nailed was in his CHOOSING to take his life. His life which was a gift from God. By so doing, he committed a crime before God and society.

    PS: On the issue of mercy and justice given by Prayson above. I do think it is only a crazed God that would have double standards for the human beings he created and made to live in this world. There is no justification on God’s part to favour Mr A and disfavour Mr B. Or to have mercy on one and be merciless to the other. However, it might be argued that God’s mercy is earned. How we could earn it to different degrees could be by the stock of our good works, by how righteously we have lived our lives or by how much we have loved our fellow women and men etc etc.

    • Hej Dante,

      Thank you for good input. I believe you did not understand my comment. I argued that God shows no favor in his justice. All received justice. But to some, this justice did not fall on them but on Christ Jesus at the cross.

      In Exodus 33:19 God told Moses that” I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Paul echoes in Romans 9:15 and add “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”(v.18).

      You said that you might argue that mercy is earned. How do you align this with:

      Romans 3:24 “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

      Romans 9:16 “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

      Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”

      Reading the context of each passages, I believe it is hard to argue that mercy is earned. Well, I might be wrong, I am open to hear your case.

      Thanks you again for your comment.

      In Christ Jesus,
      Prayson

    • Thanks for trying to clarify things for me…I have decided this issue is a complex one …for me…. While I do read the Bible and ponder certain things from time to time…I will consider this issue to be one that I’ll need to just accept to the best of my ability.

  3. As an added thought.. to confuse me more .. I was reading today in Romans 2 and vs 11 “For God does not show favoritism”. I did read the whole chapter so I am aware of it’s context where this is present.

    That must be different than ‘mercy’ I guess.

    Since you have been to Bible College you have therefore studied more and can come to the conclusion (as I must too)..as said before ..there are some things we may not fully understand regarding God’s mercy and how he applies it.

    • Dear Diane,

      My heart delight in enjoy reading your comments and thank you for sharing your first name.

      I can understand you confusion, and honestly I was also there when I was holding a position that theologians called Arminianism. God shows justice to all also those who he chose. The brilliant thing about those he chose, his justice fell upon his Son at the cross. Justice is rightly demanded for all but mercy is not or otherwise it would not be mercy.

      I would encourage you to read reformed view of salvation either for St. Aquinas, Agustin,Martin Luther, John Calvin or Jonathan Edward. When I were an armninian I was repelled by tags like Reformed( the doctrine of Grace, a.k.a Calvinism) but I discover after a long time wresting with that this position removed all my confusion completely.

      Credo Magazine just posted an article which I believe dealt also with what we are dealing with: Is God Unfair?

      We will never fully understand God’s way but we can find so much joy wrestling with his words and asking him, O Lord, open my eyes that I may see understand your things that are chose to reveal about yourself in Scripture.

      In Christ,
      Prayson

  4. I too find it harsh. We are taught that God wants all to be saved, even the harshest of sinners. When the one man on the cross admitted he deserved to die as he was but Jesus didn’t..Jesus said..”Today you will be with me in Paradise”.

    Yet when Judas realizes what he has done..betraying the Lord..and is sorry for doing so..he is not forgiven ?? I guess that is the crux of my confusion.

    I will as I probably should accept the fact that we shall not understand fully all of God’s ways.

    BTW my first name is Diane

  5. Something that occasionally I think about is that is was a foregone conclusion that Judas was the one that was going to betray Jesus. It seemed that it was his fate to do this. And sometimes I wonder if that was indeed the case…this was all part of God’s plan ..then was it fair that he …was (at least we assume) since he denied Christ and betrayed Him…that he then go to Hell….

    I know this sounds way out and I feel uncomfortable with this thought…but sometimes it just pops into my mind.

    Do you or have you ever considered such a thing. I keep meaning to ask my Priest about this but keep forgetting. I must do so.

    • Dear Writewannabe,

      Thank you so much for a wonderful question. I am going to give a short answer here and I would do a follow up article to which I would go deeper (See also God hardening Pharaoh’s heart).

      None is Innocent (Many Christians presumes that we are good by nature)

      After the fall(Genesis 3) it is our “fate”(nature) to betray God. Judas’, Peter’s and our daily betrayals (lording our own lives) show that “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”(Ephesians 2:3 ESV).

      In Roman 1:20-32, Paul says we know God but we do not honor him as God, we worship everything else but Him, and what God does to some is give them up into the lusts of their hearts to impurity, and to dishonoring passions. Amazing is that God said “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”(Roman 9). In his love and mercy he does not give everyone up to the lust of their desire.

      Both Judas and Peter betrayed him but somehow Jesus prayed for Peter ” I(Jesus) have prayed for you(Peter) that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”(Luke 22:32) but shun Judas “It would be better for him if he had not been born.”(Matt 26:24)

      Judas did freely what fallen men without God’s mercy would do; go after the lust of his heart. We Christian ought to give praise to God that he does not give us up to the passions of our heart but to the passions of Christ Jesus his Son.

      Answers your question, we were all going to hell. Everyone deserve hell, none is innocent without God’s mercy we would all head to hell, but because of his loving mercy, he does not give all into the passion of our hearts but give Christ Jesus to die on the Cross, getting what we deserve, hell, at the Cross in our place that those who God have mercy would look at the Cross and be saved.

      I hope I tried to answer your question.

      In Christ Jesus,
      Prayson

      • Thank you for your response. I guess it is futile or folly for us to question who God chooses and who he doesn’t to extend mercy to. I imagine it has to do with where the person’s heart is at the time of his denial of the Lord.

        Maybe there are some things we cannot know for sure. Maybe I need to accept that.

        • Hello Writerwannabe,

          Thank you again. I do not imagine it “has to do with where the person’s heart is at the time of his denial of the Lord”. If you remember the Israelite story, when they were about to get into the promise land Moses told them “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”(Deut. 9:5).

          I do not imagine that God chose Peter because of something in himself (heart at the time of his denial) but solely out of his own mercy. It is this reason that Paul goes on to say that everything that we have, including our faith, is a gift out of God’s loving mercy thus we have nothing to boast about.

          The Doctrine of Election (those who God chose before the foundation of the world to show mercy, Ephe. 1:3-11) is the most difficult teaching I still dance with. There are so many things we will never know for sure and God showing mercy to some and not the other, I believe, is one of them.

          Our questions are not new, Paul had to answer the same question in Romans 9:9-13-29 ESV:

          For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
          What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
          You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
          “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
          and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
          “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
          there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
          And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,
          “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
          we would have been like Sodom
          and become like Gomorrah.”

          In Bible college, I found Paul’s answer too harsh but slowly the Holy Spirit worked with my heart and help me understand the meaning of mercy, love and holiness to which help me rejoice in his words.

          In Christ,
          Prayson

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