Monday, January 28, 2013

"Killed Himself," or "Suffered Woe"?

The Inconsistent Portrayals Of The Death Of Judas
The underlined words in the passages below have been understood as portrayals of the death of Judas Iscariot. Taken as such, some readers consider the portrayals to be inconsistent with one another.

Matthew 27:3-5
(3) Then Judas, which had delivered him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
(4) Saying, I have sinned in delivering the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
(5) And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:16-18
(16) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.
(17) For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
(18) Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

Explaining The Inconsistent Portrayals
One way to explain the inconsistency of the portrayals is to discover in them the use of figurative language. Thus Matthew's, “went and hanged himself,” is not to be taken literally, but figuratively; and the same holds true for Act's, “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”

“Hanged Himself,” Or “Choked Up”?
In Matthew, the word translated “hanged himself” is apanchomai. Figuratively, it means choked up, as with grief.

Matthew 27:5 might be translated something like, “And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, withdrew himself, and departed all choked up with grief.”

Matthew, in this manner, leaves us with a word picture of Judas suffering the woe which Jesus foretold: “woe to that man by whom the Son of man is delivered.” (Matthew 26:24)

Others Have Discussed Figurative Translations Of Matthew 27:5
According to Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, “The word used in the original, here, has given rise to much discussion, whether it means that he was suffocated or strangled by his great grief, or whether he took his life by suspending himself.”

According to The Expositor's Greek Testament, “[Hugo] Grotius suggests the verb [apanchomai] points to death by grief,” but death is not implicit in the verb. The same holds true for Gilbert Wakefield's interpretation in Translation of the New Testament: “Then he threw down the pieces of money in the temple, and withdrew: and, after his departure, was choked with anguish.”

“His Bowels Gushed Out,” Or “He Wept”?
In Acts, the word translated “bowels” is splanchnon. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is always translated figuratively. The bowels were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections (compassion, for example).

An Example From The Hebrew Bible
Consider the reunion of Joseph with his younger brother Benjamin, whom he had not seen since before he was sold into slavery:

Genesis 43:29-31
(29) And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said [to Judah and his other brothers], Is this your younger brother, of whom you spoke to me? And he said, God be gracious to you, my son.
(30) And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
(31) And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.

The expression, “his bowels did yearn,” means that he experienced feelings which the Hebrews associated with the bowels. Joseph made haste because sometimes expression of those feelings can not be refrained, but bursts forth suddenly and, sometimes, uncontrollably (into weeping, for example).

Judas Saw That Jesus Was Condemned
Judas' bowels yearned upon seeing the condemnation of Jesus. As the events of the last day progressed, his grief overwhelmed him.

Acts 1:18b might be translated something like, “falling prostrate, he burst into weeping, and he wept himself into a state of exhaustion.”

Acts, too, leaves us with a word picture of Judas suffering the woe which Jesus foretold: “And truly the Son of man goes as it was determined, but woe unto that man by whom he is delivered!” (Luke 22:22)

Not only does discovering figurative language in our texts explain their inconsistency at the literal level of meaning, it also does away with the idea that Judas killed himself, even the idea that he died in some other way.

It seems that every participant in the discussion of apanchomai has believed that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. That belief made it easier for them to believe that Judas killed himself, or died some other way. No participant in the discussion has believed that Jesus responded successfully to the trespass against him. None has believed that Jesus raised up Judas at the last day, as he said he would. (John 6:39)

This blog joins the discussion with the belief that Judas served Jesus with a kiss, that Jesus was successful in his response to the trespass against him, and that Jesus raised up Judas at the last day of his life, as he said he would. These beliefs make it more difficult to believe that Judas killed himself, even that he died some other way.

Still, I offer these beliefs only in my own name.

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