Did Judas Hang Himself or Did He Fall?
The Bible is a textbook so its information is not either/or but both/and. Everything fits together though scattered about.
According to the New Testament, after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, he felt remorse so he killed himself. We have two accounts of this action, which were written by (or attributed to) Matthew and Luke. Skeptics often point to the two accounts of Judas’ death to claim the New Testament contains conflicting information, yet instead the two accounts are easily reconcilable and provide us with an undesigned coincidence. Accordingly, this article reconciles the passages and offers responses to skeptics’ likely opposition.
“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.”
“Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”
Akeldama is a hilly area with rough terrain, as can be observed in the following modern photo:
Notice that the account by Matthew says he hung himself, while the account by Luke says he fell to the ground. The reconciliation is that he hung himself before falling to the ground. It is likely that Judas hung himself from a tree and after his body began to decompose, either the tree limb broke or someone cut the branch from which he was hanging down to remove his body, causing Judas to fall to the ground. Since his body had likely decomposed, his body would have burst open as described by Luke.
Opposition 1: He fell headlong
Skeptics will note that Judas fell “headlong,” which is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as either (1) falling with “great speed or without thinking;” (2) head-first or (3) very quick or quickly without considering what you are doing. Given Judas’ condition at the time of the fall, the options are reduced to either or both a quick fall or one which was head-first.
Judas could have hung himself in several ways. He could have: (1) drop hanged himself, which he could have done by securing a rope to his neck from a branch and dropping from (or jumping off) for a quicker and less painful and death; (2) suspended himself from a branch, which he could have done by hanging the noose from the tree, wrapping it around his neck, and kicking away whatever he used to elevate himself; or (3) hung upside down, which is known as inverted hanging. Inverted hanging may be the most painful because the death would be prolonged. Judas could have fastened the rope to his feet and suspended himself from a branch. The weight of his lower body organs would eventually crush his heart and collapse his lungs, leading to death.
Given the hilly terrain of Akeldama, Judas may have fallen or landed headlong using any of the three options. Strong’s Greek translation of the verse that says “fell headlong” in the NIV comes is “prenes [headlong] genomenos [having fallen],” which suggests he either fell headlong, landed headlong, or fell and landed headlong. The Greek translation could be interpreted several ways. In other words, this so-called contradiction can easily be reconciled in multiple ways.
In fact, the two passages give us a much more vivid picture of Judas’ suicide. Only taken together do we come to understand that Judas hung himself and eventually fell, with his body bursting open, likely due to its decomposition. Without Matthew, we would not have learned of the fate of the 30 pieces of silver and what it meant when Luke indicated in Acts that Judas “bought the field.” Without Acts, we would not have learned of Judas’ final moments following his death. This is an example of an undesigned coincidence.
Opposition 2: Matthew says the Pharisees bought the field, while Luke says Judas bought the field.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah (11:12-13) prophesied as follows:
“I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.”
This account parallels the accounts from Matthew, where the Pharisees used the 30 pieces of silver to purchase a potter’s field, and Acts, where Judas symbolically “bought” the field. In both cases, the money Judas had “earned” by betraying Jesus funded the Field of Blood where he committed suicide. In other words, we again have reconciled the passages, resulting in no provable contradictions.
Thank you for your time.