How Did Judas Die? What Are the Controversies about His Death?

Judas Iscariot is one of the most infamous characters found in all the Bible. As one of the trusted disciples, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then Judas killed himself. Theories about the reasons for Judas’ actions and the circumstances surrounding his death are numerous.
Chad Napier
How Did Judas Die? What Are the Controversies about His Death?

Judas Iscariot is one of the most infamous characters found in all the Bible. As one of the trusted disciples, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then Judas killed himself. 

Theories about the reasons for Judas’ actions and the circumstances surrounding his death are numerous.

Judas Betrays Jesus

Matthew 26:14-15 wrote that Judas “went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.”

Because of Fear

Many accounts believe the betrayal was based not on financial gain, but because of a worry that Jesus would become ruler of Judea.

Because of Greed

John wrote greed was the root of Judas’s actions. In referring to the expensive perfumes Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus, Judas said, “‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12: 5-6).

Judas Commits Suicide

Why?

The account for Judas’s death in Matthew 27 began when Jesus was led away to the cross. Judas saw the result of his actions and “was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priest and elders,” (Matthew 27:3).

Judas confessed, but the chief priests and elders didn’t care. “What is that to us?” they replied in verse 4. “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5).

Where?

In Acts 1:18 says it was Judas who was referred to as the man who “bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.” But in Matthew 27:6-7, we see the priests were the true purchasers of the field. Because they used the blood money (the 30 pieces of silver), the field was indirectly purchased by Judas. This field was even referred to as “the Field of Blood” because of the tainted resources which were used to make the purchase.

“Most church traditions from at least the fourth century place this in the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem, although it is difficult to confirm the precise location,” according to the ESV Study Bible.

How?

Another controversy about the accounts of Judas’ death are how he died. Did he hang himself or fall headlong? Are the two biblical accounts conflicting or can they be reconciled? 

Plausible Reasons

Theory 1: Some Bible scholars say the accounts don’t conflict but are two events occurring in sequence. This point of view believes Judas hung himself, but because of the belief that his body was unclean and impure, he was left to hang there long enough to decompose and fall to the ground, thereby causing the eruption of “all his bowels.”

Theory 2: Other commentators believe Matthew merely referred to a general death of dishonor and not specifically the act involving a tree and a noose when he wrote, “went and hanged himself.”

The story of another traitor is detailed in 2 Samuel 17:23, “When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.”

Therefore, Matthew’s account in the New Testament could have used the traitor Ahithophel as a parallel to the demise of Judas.     

Less Likely Accounts

Theory 3: In his “Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord,” Papias wrote Judas was cursed because of his actions in betraying Jesus. In this version of Judas’s demise, Papias wrote Judas’s whole body was swollen to such a degree that “he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, so that his bowels gushed out.”

His writing originated early in the first century and interestingly noted he was not a first-person witness but received the insight from those close to the apostles. He was of the belief that the head of Judas was so enlarged his eyes could not be seen.

Theory 4: In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, Judas was so depressed over his actions that he went home to inform his wife he was going to kill himself. When he arrived home, his wife was cooking a chicken over an open charcoal fire. Judas believed Jesus would indeed rise from the dead and he would be punished accordingly. Judas’s wife thought it was so funny and quipped that the chicken had a better possibility of being resurrected. The chicken, then, arose and crowed. As a result, Judas fled and hanged himself.

Controversy in the Prophecy

Many readers encounter confusion by Matthew 27:9-10 which states,

“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

The Book of Jeremiah does not explicitly contain this reference. The Book of Zachariah, however, does contain a similar reference. The prophet wrote,

“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” (Zachariah 11:12-13).

Many study Bibles and commentators reason the discrepancy with the common Jewish practice of citing a Major Prophet to refer to group of works which included books of Minor Prophets.

Suicide Isn’t an Unforgiveable Sin

There is no doubt suicide is selfish and sinful for the believer. When we become a Christian, we commit our lives and our bodies to Christ. Therefore, our bodies are not our own any longer.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Suicide is sometimes oversimplified by society, and the victim is overly condemned. Many Christians have been handed down the unbiblical thought that believers who commit suicide go straight to hell. But if a person has been saved by repenting of his/her sins and placing faith in Jesus Christ, there is nothing the person can do to lose his/her salvation.

Romans 6:23 confirms this: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Further, Ephesians 2:8 iterates that salvation is from God’s works, not ours: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

If the act of fatally injuring oneself were an unforgiveable sin, the salvation of other believers who engaged in behavior which diminished his/her physical condition to the point of death would also be in doubt. 

The only black and white line for who is rescued to heaven and who continues into hell is the blood of Jesus Christ. If a person accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, they go to heaven. If the person has not, hell is the destination.

The person who commits suicide dies while sinning but is not necessarily unsaved.

Sources:

Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard (1992). “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.” Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. Pp. 406-407.

James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy,” Bethany House Publishers (2009) p. 213-215, 316.

Chad is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Adarsh Kummur


Originally published July 05, 2019.