Did Judas Die Twice?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Through the years, the description of Judas Iscariot’s death has been one of the most popular alleged Bible contradictions. It seems as if every skeptical book or Web site that questions the integrity of the Bible lists Judas’ death as one of the most obvious inconsistencies in Scripture. Whereas Matthew records that Judas “went and hanged himself” after betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (27:5), Luke records that “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Because Matthew only mentions Judas being hanged, while Luke mentions Judas falling headlong and bursting open at his midsection, a “real” contradiction supposedly is staring us in the face.
The truth of the matter is, however, like the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection (and many other Bible events) these two verses simply supplement each other. It is not an either/or scenario. Judas, indeed, “hanged himself,” and sometime later, his body fell headfirst, causing his midsection to burst open.
What would cause his “stomach” or midsection to split open? Consider the following. When a person dies, the body begins to decompose. If left to itself (and not acted upon by the attempt to preserve the body, e.g., embalming), bacteria soon begin to break down various tissues. As a result, gases are released within the body, which in turn cause it to swell. A few years ago, the news media reported how a 50-ton sperm whale had beached itself on the shores of Taiwan and died. While on its way to being transported through a Taiwanese city to a particular research center, the swollen whale literally exploded and soaked pedestrians and motorists in blood and entrails. According to one Taiwanese scientist, “Because of the natural decomposing process, a lot of gases accumulated, and when the pressure build-up was too great, the whale’s belly exploded” (“Whale Explodes...,” 2004). In light of such events, it certainly is not difficult to imagine that a dead human body, which may have been swelling for a number of days, could have fallen a short distance (from wherever it was hanging), and easily burst open when striking the ground.
Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18 cannot be accepted as legitimately contradicting each other if it is possible for both to be true—and it certainly is scientifically and logistically possible for both incidents to have occurred. Consider a brawl in which two men are fighting to the death. The larger man strikes the undersized man in the throat, crushing his larynx. For nearly 60 seconds, the wounded man stumbles around trying to breathe, but to no avail. He then goes limp, falls to the ground, and strikes his head on the cement, having died from asphyxia. When the police come to the scene and ask witnesses what happened, one person will likely declare, “James struck John and killed him.” Another person may say, “John suffocated,” while another might add, “Falling headfirst, John busted his skull on the ground, causing part of his brain to ooze out onto the concrete.” Are the witnesses’ statements contradictory? No. They are supplementary. Likewise, neither of the statements concerning the death of Judas is contradictory. Simply put, one does not exclude the other.
According to ancient tradition, Judas hanged himself above the Valley of Hinnom on the edge of a cliff. Eventually the rope snapped (or was cut or untied), thus causing his body to fall headfirst into the field below, as Luke described. Matthew does not deny that Judas fell and had his entrails gush out, and Luke does not deny that Judas hanged himself. In short, Matthew records the method in which Judas attempted his death. Luke reports the end result.
“Whale Explodes in Taiwanese City” (2004), BBC News, January 29, [On-line], URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3437455.stm.