Contradictions Part 7: Judas

The first post in this series can be found here.

You may already be familiar with this one, but please don’t skip it. There are some serious issues to think about here, and there are probably one or two points you haven’t considered.

Judas’s death is recorded for us in two places. The first is Matthew 27:3-8, which says:

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.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Now, let’s look at the account found in Acts 1:18-19:

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.

On the surface, I think we’d all have to agree that these accounts have almost nothing in common. So the typical answer is to simply put them together into something like this:

When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was sorrowful and hanged himself. At some point, the rope broke, and his bowels burst open and gushed out when he hit the ground.

Taking this approach creates a possibility for explaining the discrepancy in Judas’s death. However, there’s nothing from either account that indicates this was the full picture. Also, I’m not sure how comfortable we should be in accepting a version of his death that can not be found in any account within the Bible. But even if this acceptably answers his death, there are other specifics that aren’t as easily answered by simply putting the two accounts together.

For instance, who bought the field? According to Matthew, the priests bought it. According to Acts, Judas bought it. It’s often said that since the priests used Judas’s money, then it’s correct to say that he bought it. But if I bought beer with your money, would it be correct to say that you bought it? Or if I killed a person with your gun, would it be correct to say that you killed them?

Another problem concerns the name of the field. Both accounts agree that it was called the “Field of Blood,” but Matthew says it was because it was bought with blood money. Acts says that it was called Field of Blood because Judas’s intestines burst all over it. Those are very different reasons.

Why is it that these accounts differ so much on the details? Why do neither of them offer hints at the fuller story (if combining the accounts is the correct version)? If I told you that someone died in a fire, but then you found out that they were actually shot to death and the body was burned in a fire, wouldn’t you be frustrated at me (or at least confused) for not telling you the whole story? There are some real differences in this story, and it should at least make us consider that we might just be reading the opinions of two different people and not the infallible word of a perfect deity.

There’s actually another problem too. Matthew 27:9-10 adds this:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Matthew attributes this “prophecy” to Jeremiah, when it is actually from Zechariah. Yes, you read that right: Matthew attributes it to the wrong guy. Now there are some people who will tell you that this passage is also in Jeremiah. But I encourage you to read Jeremiah for yourself – this prophecy is not there.

Other people have tried to explain this issue by saying that Jeremiah could have said this too, but just didn’t write it down. But this attempt is pretty ridiculous. Matthew offers this attribution as proof that all these things had been foreseen. But if no one can go back and read the prophecy he’s referring to, then it’s not proof at all and there’s no point in referring to it.

Another explanation is that the scroll of the prophets in Matthew’s day often started with Jeremiah. Therefore, he’s just referring to the scroll and not the actual prophet. I could buy that as an explanation if this were just something that Matthew himself was writing. But Christians say that he was inspired by God. Wouldn’t God know which prophet had actually said this? And for the readers in Matthew’s day, wouldn’t they have known where to find Zechariah, if they wanted to read this for themselves? Plus, think of how strange this would sound to us today. All the books of the Bible are contained in one book for us today. So would it be acceptable for me to say “As Abraham the prophet said, ‘There is no temptation that has overcome you except such as is common to man…’”? (Paul said that, if you’re unaware)

Surely we can see that the most likely explanation is that Matthew made a mistake and was not actually inspired by God.

As one final point, let’s look back at Zechariah to see exactly how it was prophesied that Judas would do these things:

And I took my staff Favor, and I broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples. So it was annulled on that day, and the sheep traders, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD. Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”— the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter. Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

Okay, I see the reference to the “potter,” and there’s a reference to “thirty pieces of silver.” Where is the reference to someone betraying Jesus? Or the reference to someone killing himself and bleeding all over a field? In fact, where is there a prophecy in this passage at all?

8 comments

  1. Man, I love reading your posts. You are so knowledgable and back up everything you say so well. The lasts seven posts have been great. I’m learning a ton. Keep ‘em coming. Thanks again for contributing to AtheistConnect.

  2. Wow, thanks for the compliment! And I’m enjoying AtheistConnect. I really appreciate the opportunity to contribute, and I hope it does well.

  3. Thanks for the response, Jerry.

    To all: I’ve replied at his blog, and you can follow the conversation there, if you’re interested.

    Edit: My reply isn’t showing there yet. Here it is, in case you’re interested:

    Hi Jerry,

    Thanks for responding to my post. I also appreciate that you quoted the entirety of it here.

    At one point, you referenced my complaint that the accounts of Judas’ death differ in almost every detail. And you took my example of two different accounts of the same murder, and you said, “I would assume that Nate did not have all the information when he made his report.” That’s exactly right. And that’s why the differences with Judas are significant. The two accounts apparently didn’t have all the information — how is that possible if they’re inspired?

    But my main problem is that Matthew attributed the prophecy to Jeremiah when it was really Zechariah. You seem to think that since Jeremiah spoke many things that aren’t recorded, then he easily could have said this. But that’s not the real problem: the real problem is that Matthew is using Jeremiah’s prophecy of this event as proof that it was part of God’s plan, etc. Yet this is proof that no one can verify… therefore, it’s no proof at all.

    For instance, if I wrote a research paper and attributed a quote to Albert Einstein, that quote should exist in some verifiable source for it to be useful. But if it’s something that I claim Einstein said, and there’s no record of it at all, then does it work as proof? Not at all. Matthew could have easily solved this problem by referencing Zechariah, where the prophecy actually occurs, but he didn’t do that. Referencing the wrong prophet is an easy mistake to make, but not for God. If “Matthew” had really been inspired, this mistake would not exist. It’s really as simple as that.

    You also mention that Zechariah was often spoken of as Jeremiah, but could you reference where? As far as I can tell, the name Jeremiah never even appears in the book of Zechariah. I also can’t find a single passage in the Bible where the two names Jeremiah and Zechariah appear near each other. If you could provide a source for that, it would be very helpful.

    Finally, your point at the end about prophecies not being very specific is one of my main concerns. If they weren’t specific or detailed, then they probably weren’t really prophecies. In fact, if you look at the prophecy of Rachel weeping (which I deal with here), it’s obvious that the original passage was never meant as a prophecy at all. It was talking about the Israelite captivity. We should see that as a real problem. It points to “Matthew” being a manipulative writer who was trying to make connections wherever he could to further his agenda.

    It seems very clear to me that the Bible has errors. I think the problems surrounding Judas’ death are some clear examples, but they aren’t the only ones. And while I can understand the compulsion to find any possible way of explaining these things away, I wonder if we’d all be so willing to accept explanations for the problems in the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

    Thanks for taking time on this.

  4. This is an interesting Bible question. Matthew is the gospel writer who quotes from the Old Testament the most. Because he is quoting so much (probably from memory) some scholars argue that he may have said one prophet when he meant another.

    However, that doesn’t have to be the case. There is no doubt that Matthew had a lot of scripture memorized, and therefore he is also able to make some connections that are not initially seen on the surface. When you read Matthew 27.6-10 it also talks about buying the Potters Field and using it as a burial place. There are two specific sections in Jeremiah that talk about buying the potter’s field. (Jeremiah 19:1-13, 32:6-9). This is definitely part of what Matthew is thinking about as he is writing.

    This doesn’t mean that Zechariah didn’t also prophesy about something similar, or that Matthew didn’t have both in mind. But he mentions Jeremiah directly and there are some connections.

    Lastly, the original greek does not have quotation marks so Matthew may not have been trying to make a direct quotation. He is simply telling the story and being careful to point out the connections that God brings to his mind.

    Hope this helps,
    GODBLESHYA

  5. Hi Dennis, thanks for the comment!

    Honestly, I have trouble connecting these passages to Matthew 27. It’s true that both passages talk about fields, but neither is called a “potter’s field.” Jeremiah 19 talks about a “potter’s earthenware flask,” but it’s still hard for me to find a real connection. Even in chapter 32, when Jeremiah buys his cousin’s field, it’s for 17 shekels of silver, not 30.

    Some of those differences might seem minor, but by the same token, I don’t really see a connection between these two passages and Matthew 27 other than the fact that all three talk about fields. But everything else seems different. And as I mentioned in the post, it’s hard to see how either of these passages or the one in Zechariah actually contains any kind of prophecy. And it still seems that the closest link to what Matthew refers to as a prophecy comes from Zechariah.

    I really appreciate the extra information you’ve provided — I had kind of forgotten about these two passages. But I do still think this is a pretty glaring error.

    Thanks again!

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