Friday, August 04, 2006

The death of Judas

DS: One of the easiest demonstrations of this problem is in the field of inerrancy. A skeptic may point out what appears (to them) to be a contradiction, say in Judas’ death. They would point out that the Gospel of Matthew has Judas dying by hanging, the priests buying the field, and it being called a “Field of Blood” because it was purchased with “blood money.” (Matt. 27:3-8) The Book of Acts has Judas dying by evisceration, Judas buying the field, and his blood all over the place resulting in it being named “Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19).

To the skeptic, the two different modes of death, two different purchasers, and two different reasons for the name of the Field, all in a relatively short account, add up to a contradiction.


1.Yes, this is one of the easiest illustrations. That’s why Dagood seized upon this illustration. To make things easy on himself.

2.And it’s “one” of the easiest illustrations because, in fact, there is such a paucity of easy examples in Scripture.

So the more intelligent question to ask is why there are so few easy examples to illustrate his point?

If the Bible were uninspired and erroneous, there ought to be far more easy examples.

3.One methodological difference is that a Christian doesn’t take Dagood’s atomistic approach to Scripture.

We judge the death of Judas in Matthew by the entirety of the Gospel. We judge the death of Judas in Acts by the entirety of Luke-Acts.

We judge any given part by the totality.

4.Why would we expect two accounts of the same event by two different writers to be identical?

I would expect them to differ in detail precisely because they’re independent accounts of the same event. Matthew and Luke have different sources of information.

5.Notice that Dagood singles out the differences while ignoring the commonalities.

But in both accounts we have:

a) The purchase of a field.

b) The purchase of a field from the proceeds of Judas’s betrayal.

c) The same name of the field (“the field of blood”).

d) Judas’ untimely and violent demise.

Since no liberal or conservative scholar is arguing for the literary dependence of Matthew on Luke or vice versa, neither Evangelist was making this up—otherwise you cannot explain the points of correspondence. The only explanation for their commonalities is their dependence on a common historical event.

6.Both accounts are distinguished by their extreme brevity.

What we have, then, are two incomplete reports of the same event. They summarize the event.

7.Given their severe selectivity, I wouldn’t expect us to be in a position to precisely correlate the two accounts, for we would need to know more than either account supplies to interrelate the isolated details.

8.If this is an “easy demonstration” of the problems with inerrancy, then it’s just as easy to come up with a conjectural harmonization:

a) The rope broke, then the body tumbled down the cliff and went kersplat!


b) The corpse putrefied in the hot sun and burst—maybe with a little assistance from scavengers, as in “crowbait.” The meaning of the key verb (prenes) is disputed.


c) The corpse putrefied in the hot sun, fell to the ground, and burst—maybe with a little assistance from scavengers, as in as it stray dogs tugging on the suspended body.

For a detailed analysis, cf. D. Moo, “Tradition & Old Testament in Matthew 27:3-10),” Gospel Perspectives 3:157-75.

9.Any proposed harmonization will look a bit suspicious since the harmonist wasn’t there to witness the event. He can only offer an educated guess.

But, of course, his ignorance cuts both ways. The sceptic is just as ignorant. So the sceptic enjoys no epistemic advantage over the harmonist.

DS: For example, (continuing with inerrancy) if the Christian desires the methodology of any possible explanation eliminating the claim of contradiction, I would willingly agree. The question is whether we can stay wedded to it. I could then point out, using the method that “any possible explanation means no contradiction” how we could align any number of accounts. The Gospel of Peter records that Jesus stated on the cross, “O Power, My Power, why have you forsaken me?” Using the “any possible explanation methodology” this is easily aligned as Jesus having said it in addition to the “My God, My God…” Or we could state that the author of the Gospel of Peter was emphasizing how Jesus obtained his “Power” from God.

SH: Since the Gospel of Peter is apocryphal, there is no need to harmonize a mid-2C forgery with Matthew or Mark.

DS: Using any possible explanation, we could eliminate almost all contradictions in all accounts of history. This renders inerrancy as not singular, but rather “designed” by reducing the requirement of determining a contradiction.

Simply put, the Bible would lose its special status of inerrancy, since by this methodology, many more books would be inerrant. It would no longer be a sign of divinity.

SH: Other issues aside (which I’ll get to momentarily), inerrancy and inspiration are two different things. Even an uninspired writing can be inerrant.

DS: At one time, in discussing Paul, I pointed out how he indicated he went to Jerusalem on two occasions, 14 years apart. (Gal. 1:18 – 2:1). However Acts indicates that it was at the initial meeting that Barnabas introduced Paul. (Acts 9:26-27) At least one apologist proposed a 14-year gap between the sentence in vs. 26 and the sentence in vs. 27.

SH: I and another commenter devoted a lot of time to this issue.

DS: Another example—I may point out I believe the Gospel of Peter is historically accurate.

SH: Except that Dagood doesn’t believe the Gospel of Peter to be historically accurate, now does he?

So why is the burden of proof on a Christian to disprove the historical accuracy of a document which Dagood personally regards as historically inaccurate?

Either there’s a burden on both of us, or else there is no onus on the Christian to disprove something which his opponent equally disbelieves.

So this is a completely disingenuous hypothetical.

DS: An apologist may claim, “No, that was written too late.” Bam! We have our methodology. In order to determine what is historically accurate, apparently we are to use a cut-off date. It is timing that will determine historical accuracy.

SH: That oversimplifies the issue.

DS: But this presents two problems:

1) How does timing have anything to do with historical accuracy? What date does one use for our cut-off date? 100 CE? “Within the lifetime of eyewitnesses”?

Can we reasonably state that no person could lie prior to that date, and no person could be accurate after it? What if I had heard some tales about Jesus, and thought, “What a great character! I will write a fancy story about him” and completely make it up. Yet I write in 80 CE. Does that mean, under this method, we must determine it to be accurate?

SH: Dagood is conflating two distinct issues. The fact that an early source may also be inaccurate is a separate question from the probability that a later source is less accurate.

DS: Or we have another poor author that obtained his information directly from a Disciple. It is confirmed by Mary’s granddaughter. It is reiterated, in exact form, by another friend of another Disciple. But he has the gall to write in 150 CE. Too late? Can’t be true?

SH: Dagood likes to toy with hypotheticals. This is a diversionary tactic. The point at issue is to sift through the extant evidence.

Since Dagood doesn’t believe that such a document exists, a Christian is under no obligation to disprove the accuracy of a nonexistent counterexample.

Dagood resorts to pseudoproblems in the absence of real problems.

DS: 2) Can one stay consistent in this methodology? What about the Torah? It records events long before it was written. It is (I believe) a universal consensus that some of the stories were passed by oral tradition over at least 400 years. Is that too late? Within our “cut-off” date, why does the Tanakh get a pass, yet the New Testament adheres to such strict time-constraints?

SH: Dagood doesn’t say what, exactly, he’s referring to. Is he alluding to Genesis? But other issues aside (which I’ll get to momentarily), Genesis is clearly exceptional. It is bringing the Exodus generation up to speed, going all the way back to the creation of the world, as well as the flood, which would destroy any prediluvian records—excepting, possibly, for whatever Noah brought on board.

DS: Further, we have books written within this time frame. The Gospel of Peter could have been written prior to 100 CE. 1 Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas beat 2 Peter. Why are they excluded? Even within the timing method some “oops” occur.


i) The Gospel of Peter “could” have been written before 100 AD? Notice the weasel word. The only relevant question is what concrete evidence we have for the dating of this apocryphon. Dagood presents no evidence for a 1C date.

ii) Many things were written in the 1C. The writings of Seneca were written in the 1C. Why were they “excluded”?

Timing was never the only criterion. Genre is another criterion. What does a writing claim to be? What does a writing claim to be about? What does a writing claim about itself?

1 Clement doesn’t claim to be Scripture. Quite the contrary. And the Epistle of Barnabas is pseudonymous.

Does Dagood believe that the Epistle of Barnabas is authentic?

Once again, Dagood likes to throw frivolous roadblocks in front of Christians. Dagood is a like a juvenile delinquent.

DS: Besides, these are alleged to be inspired by an eternal God. He could write history at any time, and be accurate. Why is the New Testament limited to such an exacting time-frame? If God inspired an author to write of Joseph accurately over 400 years later, could he not do the same with Jesus?)

SH: Yes, in principle, you could have an inspired Gospel written 500 years after the fact.

But what you couldn’t have is a Gospel by Peter which was penned 50, or 100, or 500 years after he died.

If a mid-2C gospel claims to be written by a mid-1C figure, then you automatically know it’s spurious.

One of Dagood’s problems is that he’s unable to keep more than one idea in his head at a time.

But the criteria of authenticity often involve a “relation” between two or more data points.

DS: Further, if we are to rely upon the Church fathers, what else do they tell of that within this method, we are to include as historical? Papias wrote that Judas was killed by a chariot. If we accept Church tradition, then Matthew and Acts are incorrect. Unless we hold to the earlier account. (Ah-ha! That “timing” method again. Did you catch it?) In which case Acts must be incorrect.


1.Yet another example of Dagood’s simple-minded line of attack. Different church fathers have different credentials. They were born at different times and places. Some were better connected that others. Some were better educated than others. Some were better traveled than others. Some are closer to the events in time and/or place.

Whether a patristic claim is reliable or not can only be judged on a case-by-case basis. Was that particular church father well-positioned to be a trustworthy historical witness for that particular claim?

2.There is also an obvious difference between what makes an inspired writing reliable and what makes an uninspired writing reliable (or unreliable, as the case may be).

DS: Or does one use doctrine to determine what is historically correct? Can one exclude the historicity of a book, simply because it is Gnostic?

This is a particularly revealing method. If the book makes claims as to Jesus’ statements which are unwelcome to the Christian, is it excluded, NOT on the basis of its accuracy, but on the doctrine contained therein. Doctrine the Christian does not like. This demonstrates a bias.


1.You can’t have two inspired writings, of which one is Gnostic while the other is anti-Gnostic.

2.In any event, there are no 1C Gnostic candidates for inclusion in the canon.

3.Dagood doesn’t believe that any of the Gnostic gospels is authentic. If he did, he’d be a Gnostic.

DS: Reasonable to an inerrantist? Why is this helpful? They have already committed to the position of inerrancy, and do not need an explanation. As long as there is any conceivable way in which the two or three passages could possibly align, even to the point of having events occur over and over (Peter denying Jesus nine times, for example) the inerrantist, presuming non-contradiction, will accept such an explanation as “reasonable.”

If our inerrantist is the “whom” in the “reasonable to whom?” this quickly deteriorates to an “any possible explanation” as being “reasonable.”

SH: Throughout this thread, Dagood constantly assumes, without every bothering to document the claim (as usual), that inerrancy commits a Christian to proposing some harmonization, however unlikely, for an apparently discrepancy.

It does nothing of the kind. Given our distance from the events, along with the summary character of the record, I’d expect us to run across a number of obscurities in the record of Scripture which, by the same token, defy a confident reconstruction of events

I’m quite content to leave the obscurities obscure if I lack the supplementary information to fill in the blanks.

DS: Yet to an inerrantist, committed to inerrancy, because it is possible it becomes “reasonable.”

SH: This disregards the basis of one’s commitment. It’s not an arbitrary commitment.

DS: Or the Mormon of the Book of Mormon?

SH: Yet another simple-minded comparison. Unlike the 1C, we know a great deal about the 19C. We know a great deal about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. About their character and conduct. About their methods and sources.

DS: Or the Christian Scientist on Science and Health with a Key to Scriptures? This will, again, mean many more books are inerrant, and just as Divine as the Bible.

SH: We also know quite a bit about Mary Baker Eddy, such as the fact that—despite the purely “illusory” nature of evil—she had to wear glasses and eventually died of old age.

DS: What (sadly) starts to emerge as we discuss this is that other religions are not given the same courtesy as Christians. The methodology (whether stated or not) is that Christians get to decide what is “reasonable” and what is not. If Muslims say their explanations are reasonable, they are ignored—they aren’t Christians. If Mormons say their explanations are reasonable, they are ignored—they aren’t Christians. If an atheist scratches his head, and says, “What? That is not reasonable” they can be ignored—they aren’t Christian.

SH: This statement is either a bald-faced lie or else a tacit admission of pig-ignorance.

The cults and alternative religions are by no means ignored in Christian apologetics. There is, to the contrary, a vast apologetic literature on comparative religion and countercult missiology.

Likewise, it’s balderdash of the purest distillate to claim that atheistic arguments are simply ignored.


  1. Has this guy never read a Christian work on the canon of Scripture? These questions have been answered numerous times (Reinventing Jesus, The Books the Church Suppressed). No wonder he left the church, he's ignorant.

  2. Saint and Sinner...

    So, can people "choose" to be Christians, or not, based on their own reasoning, or "ignorance?"

    You seem to be implying that if people are 'not ignorant' they will not only choose to become, but also remain, Christians.

    Is this biblical?

  3. Martin Luther8/04/2006 4:54 PM

    John (Calvin) Loftus,

    When people hear the Gospel, they either receive Christ as Lord and Savior, or they reject Him. If they reject Him they are "ignorant" of their utter sinfulness and of their need of a Savior. They are in darkness with regard to who God is, who they are as sinners, and to the fact that they are under the wrath of the Almighty. If they were not "ignorant" of this they would become and remain Christians. That is biblical. At some point in your life you stopped walking with the Lord, that's why you started doubting and questioning. And over time you didn't think your sins were so bad, or that they were even sins at all really. Then your conscience became dull and you hardened your heart in your sin. Eventually, you have become what you are as an apostate and have forsaken Christ. It all probably started with your prayers dropping off, becoming dull, then stopping all together, right? Anyway, there's your answer....

  4. Mr Luther,

    Can a person "choose" to be saved, of their own volition?

    If God has not "chosen" a person, can they "choose" on their own?

    That was my question.

    - John "confused in death" Calvin

  5. "So, can people "choose" to be Christians, or not, based on their own reasoning, or "ignorance?" You seem to be implying that if people are 'not ignorant' they will not only choose to become, but also remain, Christians."

    I did word that badly.

    The fact that he did not even bother to seek out these answers before he left shows his true unregenerate nature (1 John 2:19).

    The "problems" that he posed are easily answered, and the fact that he (and other atheists) keeps recycling these stupid objections like the ones he posed above shows that their hearts have been darkened (Romans 1:21).

    To answer your question: no, just throwing evidences at unbelievers will never bring them to repentance. It is, however, amusing to watch the unbeliever interpret the evidence in such a way that destroys all historical and psychological analysis. It serves as proof of their foolishness as a result of their depravity (Rom. 1:22).

  6. John Calvin, the question you are proposing, that is if predestination and personal responsibility are in direct contradiction, has been answered multiple times on this very blog by Gene. Did you not like his answers?

  7. And the proof that this isn't the real John Calvin is that Calvin would never ask such a bone-headed question.

  8. Truth to tell, of course, we know exactly why the apocryphal Gospel of Peter has 'God' replaced with 'power'. And it is that the author believed that Jesus' power came from God. So yes, I'm prepared to agree, but since said book is not canonical and blatantly pseudonymous, say no more. Yes, I'd also suggest reading a book on the canon on this.

    And yes, inerrant is not the same as inspired. I have many books that are accurate records of what happened, I hope my newspaper is inerrant, too. That does not mean that I want to add the Daily Telegraph to the Bible.

    Again, I'm left wondering just how much reading these wallahs did before stomping off in an apostate huff.

  9. Getting back to the original post, I love all the verbal tap-dancing these Biblical scholars do on the many contradictions found in Scripture. There must be no such thing as a contradiction, in fact.
    No matter what passages are shown, there's always some "explanation" to make them reconcile.

    Was Ahaziah 42 or 22 when his rule started? It was both! Why? Because God can do anything, including making a man 42 and 22 simultaneously.

    "... I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." -- Genesis 32:30
    "No man hath seen God at any time..."-- John 1:18

    "And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's is a wicked thing...." Leviticus 20:17
    But what was god's reaction to Abraham, who married his sister -- his father's daughter? See Genesis 20:11-12

    So, these aren't contradictions. Okay. Name something that you WOULD consider a contradiction. Maybe something like "God tempts people" and then seeing something like "God DOESN'T tempt people".

    Oh wait ..
    "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham." (Gen 22:1)

    "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." (James 1:13)

    Now, I know what you're going to say ... "Well, the Genesis passage means that God ALLOWS men to be tempted."

    So, if someone asks me if I went to the store, and I say "Yes, I did go to the store" when really, I had someone else go for me, this wouldn't be a lie?

    - Todd

  10. Todd, laddie, on the question of Abraham, one notes that is occurred PRIOR to the giving of the book of Leviticus, so that one can be safely ignored.

    For Ahaziah's reign, we are looking at an error in the documents used by the translators of the Authorised version. More modern Bibles recognise this and the error is not present. He was twenty-two (might help if you looked that one up, lad). Translators are not inspired of God, they just do the best they can.

    On seeing God, shall we finish the verse? '...the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the father, he hath declared him.' It is made quite plain in the NT that appearances of God before the incarnations were pre-incarnate appearances of the Son ('God' in this verse referring to the Father), for example, Isiah's seeing God in the Temple. So, no contradiction there, then.

    On God's tempting, we make the same distinction as between occurences of the word 'evil' in the AV. Evil can refer to moral evil (what we mean when we use the word 'evil') or physical disasters )'is there evil in the city and the LORD hath not done it?') So, temptation to sin and testing of obedience are both referred to as temptation in the Bible. Again, you are wrenching verses out of context, James DOES NOT say that God does not test people, but that God does not tempt people to commit sin. The operative words in James are 'to evil'.

    I hope this helps.By the way, I sincerely recommend you get a good modern translation of the Bible (NASB, ESV) so you can get a good idea of what the original languages actually say. The AV is written in Elizabethan English and can sometimes give a false indication to moderns (viz. 'He that will let will let until he is taken away.' Let, in this case, meaning prevent, and prevent in Elizabethan English meaning allow).

  11. And I love to see these old difficulties being rehearsed by atheists, as if Biblical scholarship was still in the 1900s. And we evangelicals are accused of being stuck in the past.

    Trouble is, atheism, being an individual matter, oftentimes atheists are unaware of the engagement between Christianity and unbelief since the eighteenth century. And some, I fear, can join with the immortal shnozzle in declaring: 'I'll never forget the day I read a book...!'