You must believe the Bible right now – Part 2

How did Judas die? Take a look at these two passages from the Bible:

Matthew 27:3-6

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Acts 1:18,19

(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

Which of these is right?

Some people say that he hanged himself and then his body fell down and his guts spilled out in the field, but that seems very strange. Whilst that could be true, another alternative explanation is that there were two alternative myths that grew up amonst the people of Jerusalem about this unimportant detail (the exact nature of the grisly death of Judas), and that the two writers here wrote down the two myths.

Which alternative do you believe, or do you believe something else?

Exactly how Judas died (and who bought the field) will not affect my faith, but my attitude to conflicts like this will profoundly affect it.

Is it wrong to treat the Bible as evidence (rather than instructions)?

15 Replies to “You must believe the Bible right now – Part 2”

  1. More importantly will Judas be in heaven? We could proably find a way of proving both texts are true all I want to know is why did God pick on Judas? I assume God needed someone in his plan to betray Jesus? Did he therefore make Judas do what he did? Was Judas’ actions a confession and therefore entry into eternity? I hope so because I think a one to one chat with Judas would help me understand a lot more!!

  2. Did God need Judas to betray Jesus? What would have happened if he hadn’t?

    (What did Judas actually do anyway?)

  3. Hi Andy and all,

    I haven’t posted at Guilty Expression before, but I’m hoping to get more involved from here on in. It’ll be good to get to know people here, and hopefully contribute something of interest to the discussion!

    > Some people say that he hanged himself and then

    > his body fell down and his guts spilled out in the

    > field, but that seems very strange.

    I’m not sure it’s that strange, when you think about Acts 1.18 for a while. Why did Judas fall headlong in the field? Why would this cause him to burst open? Luke’s account is so short that there’s clearly much

    more to the story than what he quickly recounts, and the idea of a hanging or failed hanging would indeed account for everything.

    > Whilst that could be true, another alternative

    > explanation is that there were two alternative

    > myths that grew up amonst the people of

    > Jerusalem about this unimportant detail (the exact

    > nature of the grisly death of Judas), and that the

    > two writers here wrote down the two myths.

    If we believed that, let’s be clear that we’d be saying that the Bible is at least partially untrue regarding these matters. I’m much more interested in pursuing the idea that the Bible is given to us by God as a trustworthy book; it can sometimes be a struggle to understand how this could be true of a particular passage, but it’s part of my following of Jesus to believe increasingly in what he’s said and believed

    and inspired. In the current passages, I don’t think it’s much of a struggle at all.

    > Which alternative do you believe, or do you believe

    > something else?

    A further alternative is provided by the fluidity of the word ‘hanging’. Hanging sometimes means impaling in the Bible, e.g. Esther 2.23, 9.14, and it’s possible that this is the meaning here. If Matthew is using the word in this broader sense, the two accounts very closely agree. There are some technicalities I won’t go into here about the relevant Greek and Hebrew words, usages in NT, OT and Septuagint, and sources behind Matthew’s and Luke’s texts, but I think the basic argument can be defended.

    > Exactly how Judas died (and who bought the field)

    > will not affect my faith, but my attitude to conflicts > like this will profoundly affect it.

    You’re absolutely right. There are various directions in which we could go: (a) we could ignore the issue, and let it sink in as a creeping doubt that could harm our faith later; (b) we could drop the idea of trusting the Bible in its entirety, with the complications this causes for deciding what God says; or (c) we could struggle with the text, looking for further insights, allowing it to change our minds, and never giving up on God’s ability to speak through it, or God’s intent and honesty in saying it in the first place. All three routes have problems associated with them, but I’m interested in taking the third very seriously.

    > I assume God needed someone in his plan to betray

    > Jesus? Did he therefore make Judas do what he

    > did?

    It’s interesting how the passages see the betrayal as Judas’ responsibility, and Satan’s, and yet also see the plan of God behind it (see e.g. Lk 22.48, Jn 13.27, Acts 1.16). It’s hard to put into words how all three things could be true, but it’s also notoriously difficult to show that they’re incompatible. I’m happy to hold them next to each other as right ways of talking about Judas (and other wicked people in history), without understanding the ins and outs of

    it.

    Cheers,

    David

  4. Welcome David, thanks for joining us!

    OK, interesting points about how it could well be sensible to trust these passages as both true. You make a convincing case that this could be a rational viewpoint.

    >If we believed that, let’s be clear that we’d be saying

    > that the Bible is at least partially untrue regarding these

    > matters.

    Yes, absolutely – I’m trying to explore that possibility.

    > (b) we could drop the idea of trusting the Bible

    > in its entirety, with the complications this causes

    > for deciding what God says;

    You need to be careful here that you’re not doing what I described in “Part 1” (or be able to argue that what I said in Part 1 was wrong!).

    What I mean, for those who haven’t read it, is that we shouldn’t reject a line of argument just because it makes our lives more complicated.

    Regarding option c), certainly it seems like a good idea to take this attitude, but I find it difficult to find any _guarantee_ from God that the Bible is inerrant, so I’m asking what happens when you look at other possibilities.

    As for the responsibility for what people do wrong, how about an article from someone, it’s too difficult and complicated for a little thread on the end of this one!

    Andy

  5. Hi Andy,

    > You need to be careful here that you’re not doing

    > what I described in “Part 1” (or be able to argue

    > that what I said in Part 1 was wrong!).

    > What I mean, for those who haven’t read it, is that

    > we shouldn’t reject a line of argument just because

    > it makes our lives more complicated.

    That’s right; here I’m simply pointing out that life would indeed be complicated. I’ll post some thoughts on Part 1 in a minute under your Part 1 article.

    > Regarding option c), certainly it seems like a good

    > idea to take this attitude, but I find it difficult to

    > find any _guarantee_ from God that the Bible is

    > inerrant, so I’m asking what happens when you look

    > at other possibilities.

    Good, it’s extremely important for us to think through these sort of issues. What sort of guarantee would be convincing to you and others? There are several possibilities to explore – (a) the ‘internal consistency’ point that the Bible claims to be entirely God-breathed and true (which becomes powerful in combination with others); (b) the philosophical issue of expecting a truthful God to speak the truth; and (c) the discipleship issue of growing to believe in what Jesus believed in, which appears to include the entire Old Testament and the future inspiration of his disciples. Maybe you can think of more. It’d be interesting to discuss all this in detail.

    Cheers,

    David

  6. > What sort of guarantee would be convincing to you

    > and others?

    Well, I don’t think there could be one since the Bible has been mistranslated several times in the past, so we can’t guarantee the accuracy of our translation whatever else we think.

    It doesn’t seem _like_ God to interfere in this way (to make the Bible inerrant) – he doesn’t do this in other ways.

    What do we claim is inerrant?: God’s thoughts before he passed them on to the writer, or the writers’ intentions, or the writers’ original words, or the writers’ original words allowing for reasonable interpretation of cultural issues, or the translation you have in your hand, or what?

    > (a) the ‘internal consistency’ point that the Bible claims

    > to be entirely God-breathed and true (which becomes

    > powerful in combination with others)

    But obviously doesn’t stand on its own as the kind of guarantee I’m asking for. Also this doesn’t cover all of the New Testament.

    > (b) the philosophical issue of expecting a truthful God to speak the truth;

    Yes but see above – God allows untruths to propagate in loads of ways: why do we think this is different?

    > (c) the discipleship issue of growing to believe in what

    > Jesus believed in, which appears to include the entire Old

    >Testament and the future inspiration of his disciples.

    2 points here:

    1) Jesus didn’t say anything about the New Testament, obviously. If we say we are following his example by believing the NT, that would require us to justify the specialness of the NT over, say, the other accounts of the Gospel (some by `disciples’ I think) which we would claim Jesus would not believe.

    2) I’m not sure Jesus claimed the OT was inerrant – he definitely learned what God is like from it, but you can do that by treating it like you treat any historical document.

    By believing in the absolute correctness of the NT, we are choosing to trust some scholars who decided that God was telling them that these works were `God-breathed’. I’m not even sure they did say it, but if they did claim that they were inerrant, I’m not sure I trust them.

  7. > 1) Jesus didn’t say anything about the New

    >Testament, obviously.

    Of course this depends on your interpretation, but I take these words of Jesus as referring to the NT:

    “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”( John 14: 25-26)

    “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16: 12-13)

    >If we say we are following his example

    > by believing the NT, that would require us to

    >justify the specialness of the NT over, say, the other

    >accounts of the Gospel (some by `disciples’ I think)

    >which we would claim Jesus would not believe.

    Let’s do some more research on this before we set them up against the ones we have. The only one I have heard of is a supposed gospel of Thomas, I think, which involves some rather strange wonder-working and is quite possibly much later dated.

    > By believing in the absolute correctness of the NT,

    >we are choosing to trust some scholars who decided

    >that God was telling them that these works were

    >`God-breathed’. I’m not even sure they did say it,

    >but if they did claim that they were inerrant, I’m not

    >sure I trust them.

    Well, Peter seems to have regarded some of Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). That’s fairly good early evidence that they were seen as special in their time. I’m willing to believe that God did speak to “some scholars” – both at particular councils of the whole church, and via traditions about writings which had been weighed and tested early on. Because I *do* think it is “like God” to give us a reliable way of knowing about him and his dealings with us. Untruths are, of course, propagated in this world. God allows an extraordinary degree of deceit and rebellion. For the moment the father of lies holds sway. But this is all the more powerful a reason for God to give us something we can depend on to tell us about him.

    Personally I’m impressed with the way the Bible hangs together – the arc which makes the end of Revelation relate to the beginning of Genesis, with our restoration to eating from the tree of life. And I’m impressed by little “coincidences”, for example that a book/personality which attracts a lot of debate and doubt, such as Daniel, is one of the ones that Jesus refers to by name (Matthew 24: 15).

  8. > Untruths are, of course, propagated in this world. God allows

    > an extraordinary degree of deceit and rebellion. For the

    > moment the father of lies holds sway. But this is all the more

    >powerful a reason for God to give us something we can depend

    > on to tell us about him.

    But why would he make that huge out-of-character exception? When did he tell us that he had? I’m still not convinced that the Bible makes the claims for itself that people do.

  9. Hi Andy,

    Great to see you at the weekend (as I just said on the other board – isn’t cyberspace strange? Not only does the nonlinearity mean I feel the need to say this in two places, but also the anonymous nature of the space makes it feel odd to imply that I know you in real space!)

    Good comments you’ve posted. Please bear with me, as there’s rather a lot to get through here!

    > Well, I don’t think there could be one since the

    > Bible has been mistranslated several times in the

    > past, so we can’t guarantee the accuracy of our

    > translation whatever else we think.

    It’s very true that mistranslations exist; these are indeed a minor limit to the accuracy with which we hear the Bible’s message. However, I think this is at a rather different level to a belief that the Bible intrinsically contains untruths. A slightly inaccurate translation still gets the message across; this is different to saying that we can’t believe the pre-translated message.

    > It doesn’t seem _like_ God to interfere in this way

    > (to make the Bible inerrant) – he doesn’t do this

    > in other ways.

    There are important issues you’re raising here – for instance, God doesn’t suddenly convert us all to his way of thinking, does he. But I’d say that it’s very ‘like’ God to speak the truth, when he actually wants to say something – I believe in a God of pure, unsullied truth. So if the Bible is God’s message, it would be highly surprising if God didn’t supervise its fundamental truthfulness. Also, of course, if the Bible is God’s message, the idea of God ‘interfering’ would not appear to be the best way of looking at it – one doesn’t interfere with one’s own message, one propounds it as one wishes. Is it reasonable to see the Bible as God’s message? More on this below. But I’d want to say as strongly as possible that truthfulness in speech is as far as imaginable away from out-of-character for God.

    > What do we claim is inerrant?: God’s thoughts

    > before he passed them on to the writer, or

    > the writers’ intentions, or the writers’ original

    > words, or the writers’ original words allowing for

    > reasonable interpretation of cultural issues, or

    > the translation you have in your hand, or what?

    Well, to start with, I expect we’d consider God’s thoughts to be inerrant. Then, if the Bible is God’s message, it would be surprising if he only afforded the writers the right intentions, and not the power to put those intentions into words. There may well sometimes be important culture-specific aspects to what God is saying, in the same way that there are important stylistic aspects of the authors present in what God is saying. But in my view, it would be extraordinary if this ever made what was said false; however, it will mean that on occasions we have to work hard to see what God’s message, originally to them, means for us.

    An interesting analogue to the divine/human aspects of the Bible may well be found in Jesus himself (and this may tend to answer your point about whether it’s ‘like’ God to act like this). Here there’s a man who we believe to be God. Does this mean that there is a tension in Jesus, with the human nature being sinful, misleadable, or incorrect about certain matters? No, I certainly don’t believe that. Does it mean that Jesus is culture-bound? I don’t think so, but he is dressed in his culture’s clothes, expressing himself in ways understandable to that culture. Can we, outside that culture, understand and follow him? Yes, but we may have to get used to his culture to ‘get’ certain jokes, ways of putting things, and the point of particular commands. Jesus the Word of God, and the Bible the Word of God, may have much in common regarding matters of truthfulness and comprehensibility.

    >> (a) the ‘internal consistency’ point that the Bible

    >> claims to be entirely God-breathed and true

    >> (which becomes powerful in combination with

    >> others)

    > But obviously doesn’t stand on its own as the kind

    > of guarantee I’m asking for. Also this doesn’t

    > cover all of the New Testament.

    You’re certainly right that it doesn’t stand on its own. But if we look at the Bible, wondering if it’s God’s authoritative message, and find that it consistently claims to be, then that is an important claim which we should take most seriously. Rejecting the claim of our faith’s scriptures to be God’s voice is clearly a highly significant move.

    I think this claim may cover more of the New Testament than one might initially suppose. (You may want to look up the verses I mention; I think they’re important data for our discussion.) Jesus and Paul claim that scripture is true and authoritative (eg Mt 5:17-19, John 10:35, 2 Tim 3:16). But then Peter, the rock on which Jesus builds his church (Mt 16:18), says that Paul’s letters are scripture (2 Peter 3:16) and that distorting them will lead to destruction. Paul quotes Luke as scripture (1 Tim 5:18), putting it on the same level as Deuteronomy. Jesus claims that his apostles will be guided into all truth and will recall his words by the Holy Spirit (John 14:23-26, 16:12-15). He says that his followers are to obey the apostles’ teaching (John 15:20). Paul claims to write by God’s authority (1 Cor 2:13, 14:37, 2 Cor 13:3, Gal 1:8-9, 1 Thess 2:13, 4:8, 2 Thess 3:6, 14). Peter claims that God commands his church through his apostles (2 Pet 3:2). The book of Revelation claims to be sufficiently authoritative that it deserves damnation if it’s changed (Rev 22:18-19).

    Using this approach, the only parts of the NT which don’t have any authorisation from within the text itself are Mark, Hebrews, James, and Jude. Reasons can be suggested for the belief that these books are themselves closely connected to the apostles. There are important reasons for debating all this, but it’s worth us noting what the surface evidence is.

    >> (b) the philosophical issue of expecting a

    >> truthful God to speak the truth;

    > Yes but see above – God allows untruths to

    > propagate in loads of ways: why do we think

    > this is different?

    I think I’d say: because this claims to be God’s words, upon which people’s lives depend (eg John 5:24, Gal 1:8-9, 1 Thess 4:8). It would make a lot of sense if it was indeed God speaking; it seems to me that an authoritative written record of what he thinks and wants would be likely if one believes in a speaking, truthful God. If we believe in Jesus as God’s ultimate message, then a truthful record of Jesus’ words and actions would be particularly expected; a reliable interpretation of Jesus such as the NT gives would be expected; and a run-up to Jesus such as the OT may well be expected.

    >> (c) the discipleship issue of growing to believe in

    >> what Jesus believed in, which appears to include

    >> the entire Old Testament and the future

    >> inspiration of his disciples.

    > 2 points here:

    > 1) Jesus didn’t say anything about the New

    > Testament, obviously.

    As Kathy points out, I think that we should consider John 14:23-26 and 16:12-15 seriously in this regard. Jesus is claiming that the Holy Spirit will guide his disciples into all truth, which is what they claim later as they write the NT (again, it’s very instructive to look at the Bible references I mentioned under (a) above in this regard). He claims that the Spirit will remind them of all he has said, thus affording a reliable record of his words. He claims that the Spirit will teach them all things. Crucially, in John 15:20 he expects future disciples to obey his apostles’ words as much as obeying his. In Matthew 24:35, he believes that his words will never pass away, which assumes a reliable means of conveying these words. These are strong things for Jesus to say. Jesus directly commands John to write Revelation, too, it would appear (Rev 1:19).

    > If we say we are following his example by

    > believing the NT, that would require us to

    > justify the specialness of the NT over, say, the

    > other accounts of the Gospel (some by `disciples’

    > I think) which we would claim Jesus would not

    > believe.

    I wonder which accounts you’re thinking of? There are several 2nd century writings claiming to be gospels, but none which could be plausibly ascribed to apostles or other eyewitnesses that I know of.

    > 2) I’m not sure Jesus claimed the OT was

    > inerrant – he definitely learned what God is like

    > from it, but you can do that by treating it like you

    > treat any historical document.

    It would appear that Jesus believes that the OT is thoroughly reliable and God-breathed, from Mt 5:17-19 (especially), 19:5, 26:53-56, Mark 9:13, Luke 18:31, 24:25, 24:44, John 5:45-47, 10:35 (especially). It’s also clear that he believes some of the more incredible parts of the OT in Mt 12:40-41, Lk 4:25-27, 17:29, John 3:14. If that’s his belief, it does seem right to me to move towards believing it myself.

    > By believing in the absolute correctness of the NT,

    > we are choosing to trust some scholars who

    > decided that God was telling them that these

    > works were `God-breathed’. I’m not even sure

    > they did say it, but if they did claim that they

    > were inerrant, I’m not sure I trust them.

    Do you mean the church councils which officially recognised the canon? I certainly wouldn’t want my belief in the NT to rest on those alone. I’m mainly interested in basing it on Jesus’ beliefs, and those of his apostles.

    > Just found an interesting link:

    > http://www.religioustolerance.org/inerran2.htm

    I’m not sure that there’s much on that webpage that I find convincing regarding the Bible’s authority or truth, although there are some important points about its propagation and interpretation. If you or others are particularly struck by any of that webpage, it’d be good to voice it here and we can think about it futher – it’d be tedious for me and everyone reading this for me to comment on the whole webpage!

    I hope this makes sense. Sorry to ramble on. I’m off on holiday now, but I’ll look forward to chatting more about this in a week’s time.

    Cheers,

    David 🙂

  10. Can someone actually tell me what Judas did ? What it was that was such an evil crime, that he is labelled forever as one of the top ten sinners ?

  11. This is an extremely tricky question – it’s not at all obvious why they needed Judas to get Jesus, is it?

    Have you read `Who moved the stone?’ – that has some ideas about this.

  12. By the way, I think the stuff Jesus said about the Holy Spirit guiding us strengthens my case about being able to take account of our personal, possibly supernatural, revelation of God, rather than dismissing it if it seems to conflict with the Bible.

  13. For a site called “Religious Tolerance”, they don’t seem to be very tolerant of a belief in inerrancy…

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