Some wonder what exactly it meant when the bible attributed Judas’ death to suicide (Matthew 27:5) and to accidental death (Acts 1:18). This is quite confusing.
What can you make of this, and are there any symbolism since the Bible says that Judas hung himself and it also says he fell and his guts split open?
Yes, there are two references that seem to contradict each other as to how Judas died.
Matthew: “And casting the pieces of silver [forward] into the [holy place of the sanctuary of the] temple, he departed; and he went off and hanged himself. But the chief priests, picking up the pieces of silver, said, it is not legal to put theses in the [consecreted] treasury, for it is the price of blood.”
Acts 1:18-19: “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. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem, insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.”
There are at least three explanations for this contradiction. And although there are thousands of people who have written about it, it still boils down to these three explanations.
The first explanation is the most commonly held.
In this explanation, Judas hung himself, and the part about him falling and his guts splitting open would refer to what happened after Judas hung himself. This means that as he hung there in the hot Mideast sun, the rope broke and his bloated body hit the ground and burst.
An author went as far as to suggest the actual timeline that caused Judas to drop from the tree. His explanations were that it happened during the big earthquake that followed the death of Jesus on the Cross. That could be possible.
The second explanation is a doozie.
The third explanation is interesting.
In this explanation, the whole ‘gut spilling’ thing is a metaphor that people of that time would have understood and not been the least bit confused. The first passage about hanging is about how Judas died in the flesh and the second is about how Judas died in the spirit.
To figure out the symbolism of the third explanation, you have to understand that the Jewish people equated compassion with the gut or bowels, the way we equate the heart with feelings of love. In this case, you have an image of Judas “falling” from God and losing his compassion on a field of blood. This would explain why Judas’ death would be discussed in such a manner. To me, this makes sense, but I don’t think it is a particularly widely accepted explanation.
My favorite thing about the Bible in general and the New Testament, in particular, is how every part of it works as both history and metaphor.