Contradictions – The Potter’s Field

Number 11 on the list of contradictions takes issue with the two accounts of what happens to Judas and his money after his betrayal of Jesus.  Specifically, does Judas buy a field with the money or not?

The two Biblical texts allegedly in contradiction with one another are Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:6-8.  However these are not the complete verses that are relevant, so I find the author’s technique to be questionable, at best.  Matthew’s full treatment of the topic includes 27:3-10.

Acts 1:18-19 just says that “this man” – Judas – acquired a field with the money he received from betraying Jesus.  That’s a pretty general statement.  Must it mean that Judas was active in this process, or could it mean that he was passive – that the action happened on his behalf, even after his death?  I understand that generally I would read theses verses in the active sense, as though Judas was personally the agent of this activity.

Unless I had a particular reason for believing the words could be interpreted differently.  These words could be understood in a passive sense, even though  that’s not necessarily how we expect them to be understood.  If someone in my congregation dies and leaves money for something at the church, we talk about how they purchased that item or contributed towards that project.  Did they actively do it?  No, it was done after their death, on their behalf.  Perhaps it was at their explicit direction but not necessarily so.  They may just leave an amount of money to utilized at the congregation’s discretion.  If they decided to update the sound system, we would still talk about how so-and-so made that possible.  They paid for it, despite the fact that it was done on their behalf after their death.

So although I acknowledge that the words in Acts would typically be understood in an active sense, as though Judas himself is purchasing this field personally, with the proper context and explanation, the words read just as naturally in the passive sense.  Matthew provides the context and explanation for why I should read Acts in the passive sense on this topic.  What is important to take into account in Luke’s account (Luke authored the book of Acts as well as the Gospel with his name) is that this was a well-known story.  Everyone in Jerusalem knew about Judas’ demise.  So Luke may not have felt the need to go into greater depth on the details the way Matthew does.

Matthew explains the fuller story.  Judas is wracked with remorse, it would seem.  Or else he didn’t think that Jesus would actually be condemned, that He would be declared innocent or would defend himself or would convince his accusers of his identity as the Messiah.  Whatever the case, things apparently don’t play out as Judas envisioned, or else he comes belatedly to the realization that his actions are sinful.  The commentator R.C.H. Lenski interprets the Greek to mean that only upon seeing the consequences does Judas repent.  He doesn’t necessarily think his actions were wrong, but he regrets the consequences.  His act of returning the money may be an attempt to offer a sacrifice for his sin, except it’s not the appropriate sacrifice.  So the leader’s reject it and direct him to make the appropriate sacrifices for his sin.

Instead, Judas hurls the money into the Temple, where it is picked up by the leaders who had dismissed him so callously.    He then goes and hangs himself.  Seeing no need to further incriminate themselves (or believing their actions in arresting and convicting Jesus to be truly righteous), the High priests collect the money.  They might be thinking of Deuteronomy 23:18 which indicates that some money is inappropriate to enter the treasury, so they need to find an alternate use for the money.  They purchase a field wherein to bury “strangers” – perhaps poor Jews that move to Jerusalem for their final days, or for Jews who die in Jerusalem while on pilgrimage.  Their were rules determining what land could be used for this purpose, and an appropriate field happens to coincide with where Judas hangs himself.  The connection between the field and Judas’ body is well known, even as Matthew is writing several years after the fact.

So, as with most of the alleged contradictions thus far, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.  And I’d argue that a reasonable, objective person, knowing the full story, would not find this to be a contradiction.  Judas is the means by which the field is purchased.  The fact that it happens after his death does not contradict the assertion that ‘he’ bought it.

As a postscript, the compiler of these ‘contradictions’ thinks that there is a contradiction in why the field is referred to as the Field of Blood.  He sees Acts as linking the name to Judas’ death there, which I think is correct.  But he interprets Matthew as linking the name of the field to Jesus, which I think is a misinterpretation.  Matthew does not clearly indicate why it becomes known as the Field of Blood.  Perhaps he finds the details unnecessary to convey at this point, as inhabitants of Jerusalem would already know them and others might not care about this detail.  I don’t see Matthew linking the name to Jesus in any way, though he does link the purchase of the field itself to Jesus and prophecy.  That will lead us into the next alleged contradiction!


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