Acts 1 – Not Buying It

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Today’s PassageActs 1

Having finished Matthew, it’s time to do something I should have done as soon as I finished Luke: start reading Acts. The second of Luke’s two books in the Bible, Acts picks up where Luke’s gospel left off, detailing the development of the early church. And by the time it occurred to me to go from Luke to Acts, I was already in the middle of Matthew. Hindsight is 20/20, better late than never, and other overused adages. It’s Acts time.

Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Judas in his gospel account. Instead, he saves it for the first chapter of Acts, which concerns the remaining eleven disciples selecting a replacement for Judas. Luke tells us that Judas “acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out” (18). The field consequently became known as the “Field of Blood.” Sometimes the Bible is R-rated.

So according to Luke, Judas bought the field in question himself. But Matthew tells us: “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matt. 27:3-4). He flings his blood money into the sanctuary and goes to hang himself. The chief priests, unable to put what is basically a kill bounty into the temple treasury, decide to put it to another use: “And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers” (Matt. 27:7). And, of course, the field gets named the Field of Blood.

Now, I’ve heard it argued that Matthew and Luke differ on how Judas committed suicide. Did he die by hanging or disembowelment? But I find that part easy to reconcile. Judas hanged himself, and then after he died, his body fell from the gallows/tree/wherever-he-hanged-himself-from and burst open from the impact. No, what I find tricky is the question of the money. Did Judas buy the field, or did the chief priests?

I have an answer, but I think the way I approach this sort of scenario can be illustrative. We have two clear options: either Judas bought the field and Matthew is wrong, or the chief priests bought the field and Luke is wrong. But there’s a third option. If it’s possible for both Matthew and Luke to be correct in their accounts, then there must be a sense in which Judas bought the field, and another sense in which the chief priests did.

Think of two people looking at a coffee cup. One person reports, “It has a handle!” But the other tells you, “It has a little cartoon guy on the side.” If the other guy goes on to say that the coffee cup has no handle, there’s an actual contradiction and only one can be right. But it is entirely possible for a coffee cup to have both a handle on one side and a little cartoon guy on the side. The question is: are we dealing with such a scenario with what happened with Judas’ thirty pieces of silver? Can both Matthew and Luke be right, depending on what perspective you look at the money from?

And the answer is: they can. The often-useful has got us covered with two possibilities. But I’ll leave those explanations to them. The point is that, by the Law of Non-Contradiction, the same thing cannot be both true and not-true at the same time and the same place in the same respect. Thus, if two Biblical passages appear to contradict each other, the only way they can both be true is if they are true in different senses. Navigating such situations can be tricky, but if you read this thing long enough, you’re going to run into them. And like a sailor with his navigational equipment, it’s important to be equipped with the logical tools for such scenarios.

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