Question from a Site Viewer
You know about the death of Judas, I assume. I’ve always thought that the two different accounts of his death could be put together—but now I’m beginning to doubt that. One says he was hanged, and the other says he fell headlong. How can you fall “headlong” from a hanging position?
My question is this: is this errant, or not?
Thank you for your question about Judas Iscariot. In Matthew 27:5, we are told that Judas went out from the temple and hanged himself. In Acts 1:18, as some translations record the account, Judas fell headlong and burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. The problem with the accounts is not that they directly contradict each other, but that they seem to record entirely different endings for the life of Judas. Stated another way, neither account says that the other is wrong. I believe that the perceived problem, which is what I see it as being, resolves solely around the choice of words our English translators have used to bring into English what was written in Greek.
Matthew provides no details except that Judas went out and hung himself. Matthew does not tell us how Judas did this, where he did this, the instruments used, or any other detail. But the strong implication, and the meaning I think Matthew intended us to take from this account, is that Judas died from hanging.
When we come to the book of Acts, we are faced with an immediate difficulty. Everyone seems to translate Acts 1:18 as if Peter was saying that Judas fell headlong and his guts burst out of his belly. But the Greek words are the following: “kai prenes genomenos elakesen mesos kai exechuthe panta ta splagchna autou.” (Acts was written originally by the author Luke—in Greek.) The basic definitions of these words in English are “and prone being split middle and spilled all the guts his.” The key words for our purposes are “prenes genomenos.” The word “prenes,” when used with a verb meaning “to fall” carries the meaning “to fall forward” or “to fall headlong.” See Liddell and Scott which is the standard Greek lexicon for ancient Greek. But when used without a verb meaning “to fall,” it carries the basic meaning of being face-first on the ground, or being prone, literally a posture with one’s face downward.
In Acts 1:18, there is no word meaning “to fall.” Rather, the word appears with the Greek participle, “genomenos” which has generally the same meaning as our English participle “being.” This very participle appears in Acts 4:11 translated as “has become”; 7:32 translated as the idea of “being in the state of” speaking of Moses being in the state of trembling; 7:38 translated as “was”; 10:4 translated as “was” speaking of being frightened; 12:11 translated as “had come”; 12:23 translated as “was” in the phrase “was eaten by worms”; 16:27 translated as “being” in the phrase “being aroused from sleep”; 16:29 translated as the idea of “being in the state of” speaking of the jailer being in the state of trembling; and 24:25 translated as “was” in “was afraid. It does not have the sense of falling. Accordingly, the way I translate this portion of Scripture is “and being face down he burst in the middle and all of his guts spilled out.” I suspect, rather, that after his hanging his body was thrown face down in the midst of the field that was bought with the wages of iniquity and there his body bloated, split open, and the intestines spilled out.
You might ask why would Peter say this and why would Luke record this. There is a simple explanation. What happens to the body after death in Scripture is often a picture of God’s favor or disfavor on a person. Those who were honored were buried. Those who were not were often consigned by God to rot in the open without being buried. A great illustration of this is found in 1 Kings 14. The house of Jeroboam was wicked before God. God therefore pronounced judgment on the family and stated, “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat . . .” (1 Kings 14:11). They would not be buried. But, God said that one son would die and come to the grave because there was found something good in him (1 Kings 14:13). The same thing happened to the next dynasty of Israel’s kings (2 Kings 9:9-10). In particular, it was said of wicked queen Jezebel that her corpse would be as refuse on the surface of the field (1 Kings 9:37). God prophesied the same fate for the people of Jerusalem who forsook Him (Jeremiah 16:4). Thus, for Judas to have his body dumped in the midst of a field and not to be buried reveals graphically his cursed state. It is a great contrast to the burial of Christ, who also hung to his death, but then was buried with the rich in his death, as Isaiah 53:9 had prophesied (see Matthew 57:1-61).
Thus, I do not see a conflict between the two accounts. I see Matthew as describing how Judas Iscariot died. I see Acts as describing what became of his body.
I hope this helps. May the Lord bless you as you seek to build your life on the Rock.