Thoughts on Judas’ Field
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 4:01pm
AN INQUIRER HAS ASKED about the field purchased with Judas’ thirty pieces of silver, and how to harmonize the data about it in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19. The following is my reply.
In Matthew, Judas tries to return the 30 pieces of silver which he was paid for betraying Jesus, but the priests (hypocritically) refused it. Judas threw the money into the sanctuary, and went and hanged himself (no details are given). The priests gathered up the money, which technically still belonged to Judas since they had refused to take it back; they used Judas’ money to buy the Potter’s Field. “For this reason” the field became known as the “Field of Blood,” i.e., since the money which bought it was the “price of blood.” I.e., it was the money Judas took to betray Jesus to his death.
In the Book of Acts, the author Luke gives some further details about Judas’ death and about the “Field of Blood.” He says that “this man [Judas] acquired a field with the price of his wickedness” (NASB). The Greek word for “acquired” is “ktaomai,” which is sometimes translated “bought” (NIV). This latter translation leaves the impression that Judas himself actually purchased the field before he died. This is not the intended meaning, however. The word “ktaomai” often means “get, obtain, gain, acquire.” This is Luke’s point. Speaking with heavy irony (and maybe sarcasm), Luke is saying something like this: “Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and all he got for his money was a field where his own death took place” (and maybe where he was buried). He did not actually make the purchase, but his money was used for that purpose. In that sense Judas “acquired” the field. (It’s like this message on many souvenir T-shirts: “My parents went on a cruise and all I GOT [acquired] out of it was this lousy T-shirt.”)
The order of events seems to be this: (1) Judas tried to return the money, was rebuffed, and threw down the coins anyway. (2) In remorse Judas hanged himself from a tree, but his rope broke and he fell onto some rocks, the fall rupturing his stomach. Whether this happened before or after his (attempted) strangulation is not known. (3) The priests took Judas’ money and bought the very field where his death occurred, for the purpose of burying strangers. Perhaps Judas himself was buried there, but we are not told.
Luke adds another detail concerning the name of the field. Matthew says it was called “the Field of Blood” (probably by the priests themselves) because the money used to buy it was “blood money.” But after the details of Judas’ death became known, the general population had another reason to call it “the Field of Blood.” Thus this nickname for the field had a double meaning.