The Death of Judas Iscariot

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 60 3

The Gospel of Matthew says that Judas Iscariot died by hanging himself (27:5). However, when we read Acts 1:18 Peter says something different: “…he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.” One passage says that he hanged himself, while the other says that he fell to his death.

This is a passage that many skeptics point to prove that the Bible contradicts itself.[1] The popular interpretation of the differences is that Judas hanged himself, and after he had died the rope broke.[2] His body hit the ground and burst open. Bible critic Bart Ehrman rejects this interpretation since falling and bursting open is not the same thing as hanging.[3] But he seems to misunderstand that both of these descriptions (hanging and falling) can be true at the same time.

Researcher Georgia Purdom, when discussing these verses, starts out by speaking of a pedestrian getting hit by a car. As someone actually witnessing the accident, you may say that the person died because they were hit by the car. However, this description of the death of the pedestrian may differ by the coroner who comes on the scene later and goes into gruesome detail on what killed the person. He will describe what happened inside the body of the pedestrian in his official report. Both descriptions would be accurate, even though one is more detailed than the other.[4]

Purdom uses this example to describe the different accounts of Judas’ death. Matthew and Luke are giving us two different viewpoints on what happened. Matthew just gives us the minute details: Judas died by hanging himself. Luke (a physician), by contrast, gives us a point of view by a doctor. First off, we must remember that a person’s organs do not normally spill out when that person has fallen. Even when someone is cut by a blade, our internal organs typically do not fall out.[5]

“Gruesome as it is, Judas’s dead body hung in the hot sun of Jerusalem, and the bacteria inside his body would have been actively breaking down tissues and cells. A byproduct of bacterial metabolism is often gas. The pressure created by the gas forces fluid out of the cells and tissues and into the body cavities. The body becomes bloated as a result. In addition, tissue decomposition occurs, compromising the integrity of the skin. Judas’s body was similar to an overinflated balloon, and as he hit the ground (due to the branch he hung on or the rope itself breaking) the skin easily broke and he burst open, with his internal organs spilling out.”[6]

There is no contradiction in the account of Judas’ death. Matthew and Luke are simply giving different viewpoints on the event. Judas died by hanging and his body eventually would fall bursting open. Matthew gives us the cause of death, while Luke tells us the aftermath.

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[1] See for example Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Pg. 45-47.

[2] Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. (Grand rapids: Zondervan, 1982. Pg. 344.

[3] Ehrman, 47.

[4] Georgia Purdom. “How Did Judas Die?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Ed. Ken Ham. Green Forest: Master Books, 2010. Pg. 121.

[5] Purdom, 121.

[6] Ibid. 122.

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3 thoughts on “The Death of Judas Iscariot

  1. Terre McClellan Dickerson

    I love how simply it is to understand the contradictions in the gospels if you think about how two different people would have differences in their version of an incident. Thank you for clearing this up. It only makes sense that two (or more) people telling their version of an incident would focus on different facts. Great article!

  2. mmcclellan2

    Thanks. I’m planning on writing a series soon on how to understand the various “contradictions” in the Gospels. It will clear up why so many modern people tend to view the Gospels as being inconsistent with each other.

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