Q&A: How Judas Died Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18

How Judas Died Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18

Question

Did Judas die by hanging or by falling on rocks? (Matthew 27:5, Acts 1:18)

Answer

Matthew 27:5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Acts 1:18 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.

If the Bible is true (which it is), then both accounts are accurate descriptions of the same event. Though we do not know all the details, there are many ways to reconcile the passages.

Option 1: Decomposition, Bloat Stage

Judas' suicide happened upon the feast day and the week following was holy week. So, after Judas hung himself (Matt. 27:5) his body could have been left for some time and began the process of decomposition.

A police detective, who investigated some homicides, might instruct us on decomposing corpses. Briefly, once the heart stops beating, blood begins to collect in the most dependent parts of the body (livor mortis), the body stiffens (rigor mortis), and the body begins to cool (algor mortis). Decomposition progresses through these stages: (1) fresh, (2) bloat, (3) active decay, (4) advanced or post-decay, and (5) dry remains. Putrefaction takes place when bacteria begin to break down the tissues of the body and release gases. Particularly, in the bloat stage, gases accumulate in the intestines and abdomen.

So, depending upon the rate of decomposition (which is sped up by heat), Judas could have hung himself and then burst asunder in the bloat stage while hanging.

Option 2: A Falling Impaled Body

If we maintain that Judas' body was removed from its position before stage 2 of decomposition (Deut 21:23; Num. 19:13; Lev. 7:20-21), could Judas have been impaled upon falling, after hanging? For instance, some Jews could have taken his already hung body and thrown it over the wall into the valley of Hinnom (a tradition) and his guts split open. Or, the rope Judas used may have been weak and when he hung himself the rope gave way and he was impaled on the rooks or limbs below.

So, Judas hung himself and he, by some means, fell or was thrown down. So, both options 1 and 2 are possible, and neither negates the possibility of the Matthew and/or Acts account. These two verses simply supplement each other. It is not an either/or scenario, but a both/and one.

Option 3: Figurative Wording

An alternate way to look at this text is to realize Matthew's unique words "departed" and "hanged himself" are found in combination in another place in the LXX (Septuagint):

2 Samuel 17:23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father's tomb.

Some interpret Psalm 41:9 as seeing Ahithophel as the traitor David was describing (2 Sam 15:31; 16:15-17:23). Psalm 41:9 was applied by Jesus to Judas in John 13:18. So, Matthew may have been alluding to the traitor Ahithophel in this passage and is therefore not telling us the mode of his death, but that Judas fulfilled the "type" of Ahithophel; that is, a traitor who died.

Related Links:

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How do we know Judas was really lost?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).