February 12, 2023
“The Living Bible” and the movies about Jesus tell the traditional story of Judas Iscariot as follows: In Matthew 27:4-7, Judas tries to return the 30 silver coins to the priests, and they refuse to accept them. Then Judas goes to the temple and he “threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself. The chief priests picked the money up. ‘We can’t put it in the collection,” they said, “since it’s against our laws to accept money paid for murder.’ They talked it over and finally decided to buy a certain field where the clay was used by potters, and to make it into a cemetery for foreigners who died in Jerusalem.”
All other English translations say essentially the same thing. After my study of this passage and the prophecies concerning this event, and the account in the Acts of the Apostles, I have concluded that the traditional story is not accurate.
First of all, this is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:13, NRSV:
Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it into the treasury’—this lordly price at which I was valued by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the Lord.”
This is the rendering of several other good translations as well, following the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). But the NASB and NIV following the Hebrew say this: “Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”
When Judas went to the temple at that time of night, was there a potter in the temple? No, but there was a donation pot for the treasury, see Mark 12:41; Luke 21:1.
I believe Judas deposited the 30 pieces of silver in the donation pot in the temple. The word ῥίπτω, which all translations are rendering as “cast” or “throw” or “hurl,” did not always mean a throwing or casting. It also had a less violent meaning, like in Matt. 15:30, where people “laid” the invalids at Jesus’ feet. They certainly did not throw the invalids down. Similar is how Jesus used the word βάλλω in Matt. 9:17 for merely “putting” wine into wineskins, even though the word generally means “throw.” In the very next verse here, the priests say it is not permissible to βάλλω the silver in the temple treasury. In Mt 25:27, βάλλω is used for “deposit my silver with the bankers.” Nobody translates those verses as throwing wine into wineskins, or throwing silver with the bankers, or throwing silver into the temple treasury. Both these Greek words for “throw” ironically also meant “to carefully place” or “deposit.”
Secondly, some translations render the Greek verb λαμβάνω as “pick up,” as if the coins were scattered on the ground or floor. This is not generally the meaning of λαμβάνω. When Matthew means someone “picked up” something, he uses the verb αἴρω as in Matt. 15:37 where the disciples picked up the left over pieces of bread. The priests λαμβάνω “received” or “took” the money in the pot, and said, No, it is not right that it go to the treasury. So they used it to buy the Potter’s Field. They bought it in Judas’ name, in his honor. The account in Acts 1:18,19 says Judas himself bought the field, but I don’t see how, as he had hung himself. This is how I dealt with this conflict between this passage in Matthew and the Acts account in my Palmer’s Diatessaron.