Is the Death of Judas Iscariot a Bible Contradiction?

Critics of the Bible will often point out discrepancies between different Scriptural accounts to be evidence of contradictions in the Bible. A classic case involves differences between Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of the death of Judas Iscariot. In a 2019 debate, critical scholar Bart Ehrman presses the contradiction claim against evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Williams.

Peter Williams’ explanation of what might have happened, in reconciling these accounts, parallels the answer given by Answers in Genesis’ Georgia Purdom. While the standard Williams/Purdom explanation does have a measure of plausibility, I must admit that Bart Ehrman has a point here. Given enough range of possibilities, you can pretty much resolve just about any contradiction.

But some attempts to harmonize the text do not always convince everyone. In Matthew, Judas hangs himself before any mention of the purchase of a field. In Luke-Acts, Judas dies in the field, after he had just bought the field. It is possible that Judas acquired the field, in some manner, before hanging himself, and then afterwards, the chief priests repurchased the field. But the events still seem a bit disconnected. Furthermore, it seems strange that Luke would not have reminded his readers that Judas had hung himself.

I would not want to totally dismiss the Williams/Purdom explanation, but it does border on being ad hoc. Might there be a better resolution to this discrepancy, that has better explanatory power? I think there is, but you have to think a bit “out of the box” to get there.

New Testament scholar Michael Licona has written about the use of compositional devices, that were commonly characteristic of the Greco-Roman bios genre, typical of 1st century literature. Some of those compositional devices would not sound typical for modern readers, particularly those compositional devices that have a more metaphorical understanding behind them. But if we consider the Gospels as examples of such bios literary genre, this might resolve the Judas death discrepancy more satisfactorily. Licona’s critics have accused him of undermining biblical inerrancy, but it is ironically more likely that the supposed defenders of a more strict view of inerrancy, have made it more difficult for the Bible to be defended.

YouTube apologist Michael Jones, a.k.a. Inspiring Philosophy, brings Licona’s insights to bear on the death of Judas conundrum. In the days of King David, Ahithophel deserted David and plotted against the king, in support of Absalom. But when Ahithophel realized that the plot against David would fail, he hung himself (see 2 Samuel 17, especially verse 23). It is possible that Matthew might have used the hanging of Ahithophel as a metaphorical way of saying that Judas was yet another Ahithophel.

This would have been consistent with the practice of Greco-Roman bios to use figures of speech, that may not be obvious to the modern reader. In other words, perhaps Judas did not actually hang himself, but he could have committed suicide in a manner more like it is described by Luke, early in the Book of Acts. This idea is supported by evidence in the Gospel of John, where John alludes to Judas’ betrayal as being like the betrayal of Ahithophel (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18).

If you liked that video, you should review some of the hundred(s) of other YouTube videos at Inspiring Philosophy, that addresses supposed “Bible contradictions.” Michael Jones is one of the new brilliant “Young Apologists” (my way of saying it), that some are calling the “Apologetics Empire.”

New Testament scholar Michael Licona goes at it himself from a slightly different angle, suggesting that Matthew is actually describing a hanging here, and that it is Luke instead who is using a figure of speech, of Judas “falling headlong,” as a metaphorical way of saying that Judas’ career was “going downhill” at that point.

What I would conclude here is that there are a variety of possible resolutions to this classic Bible discrepancy, but that allowing for the use of metaphor and figure of speech, where something has been traditionally interpreted in a non-metaphorical sense, might actually be a better, more plausible and even probable way to resolve such difficulties.

Any thoughts Veracity readers?

 

 

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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