Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Deaths of Judas Iscariot

I'm not sure what the small amount of people who read this blog actually think about Biblical inerrancy. Is the Bible inerrant? What does inerrancy mean to you? It seems to have different definitions for different denominational persuasions.

I've come across a figurative ton of Christians recently who are perfectly comfortable throwing the idea of inerrancy out the window. That is, point out an obvious contradiction in the Bible, and you get a nod of agreement.

That is not, however what most of the Christians I know believe. They believe that the Bible (in its original manuscript) is inerrant; that is, error free. It has literally no contradictions. Point out an obvious contradiction to this person, and you get denial.

So here is why I think the accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot are at odds with each other and that any attempt to reconcile them is simply scriptural gerrymandering.

Here they are:

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.
-Matthew 27:3-8 ESV

Now this man [Judas] 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.
-Acts 1:18-19 ESV

I see two contradictions here:

1. In Matthew's version, Judas dies by hanging himself. In Acts' version,  Judas dies by falling and losing his guts.

2. In Matthew's version, the chief priests buy the field with the 30 pieces of silver. In Acts' version, Judas acquires the field.

Here is how I have seen theologians attempt to square these stories with one another and keep the doctrine of infallibility intact:

First, they say that Judas hung himself, and that his body somehow fell to the ground and burst open, whether because the rope broke, or someone cut him down, or something like that.

Second, they say that the priests bought the field with Judas' money, so they were his proxies, in a sense.

Unless you are completely committed to the reliability of the Biblical accounts, you can see why these two attempts at reconciliation are absurd. Those who are committed to inerrancy would not accept this kind of twisting of the narrative in any other situation.

Here's an example:

Say I have a friend, Betty, and I just discovered today that she has died. My mother calls me up and tells me, and at the same time, a friend of mine posts it on Facebook. My mother says that Betty was in a car accident and was killed instantly. My Facebook friend posts that Betty was shot in a convenience store robbery gone wrong.

Both my mother and my friend are generally reliable people. What am I to make of this? If I were to follow the lead of Christian apologists, I might come up with something like, Betty was driving in her car and crashed into a convenience store where a robbery was taking place. As the car crashed through the front window, the criminal pulled the trigger and shot Betty, killing her instantly. And so, both my mother and my friend are correct in their versions of the story.

Now, is it possible that Betty was killed in this way? Sure. Is it plausible? Do I have any good reason to believe that this is what happened? No. Why? Because there are a few possibilities that are more plausible. My mother is mistaken. My friend is mistaken. They are speaking of different Betty's.

So back to Judas.

Isn't it far more likely that either Matthew or Acts (or both) got it wrong? Or that there were a few stories circulating and Matthew picked one and Acts picked the other?

If you disagree with me, in what way is the Judas story different from the Betty story?

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