Monday, July 19, 2010

317: The Deaths of Judas

Acts 1-3
"So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." - Matthew 27:5

"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." - Acts 1:18

The Acts (of the Apostles) starts with the writer addressing Theophilus. The writer tells this Theophilus that he has a former book in which he writes about Jesus. My teen study bible claims that this book was written by Luke, but a little research tells me that this is debated. I'll attempt to draw my own conclusion.

The first story is about Jesus ascending into heaven. After his ascension the disciples are confronted by two men (angels?) who ask them why they are looking up into the sky. These men claim that Jesus will return the way that he has left.

The next story is about the disciples' replacement of Judas. There is no explanation given to why they have to replace him. Is twelve an important number of disciples for some reason? This then launches the writer of Acts into a small side story about how Judas dies. This time, as opposed to being hanged like in Matthew, Judas falls headlong into his field and his intestines spill out.

This story is a pretty famous contradiction in the bible, and there are some pretty hilarious attempted reconciliations. I've read everything from Acts being a metaphor, to Judas both hanging himself (failing) then throwing himself off a cliff (the bible doesn't say a cliff was involved), to the even more absurd claim that he hung himself over a cliff. The actual story in the bible makes it sound like Judas just falls down and his guts explode from within him. I don't see any reasonable way of reconciling Matthew and Acts.

Back to the story of choosing the new disciple. It ends up coming down to two people. The disciples pray for God to show them which one of the men is the best. This should be easy, the Holy Spirit will simply point them to which one they should choose. After all, the Holy Spirit is supposed to be a pocket-Jesus that tells you everything you need to know. Sadly, this is not the case, they end up casting lots to decide God's will. No need for the Holy Spirit, I'll just carry around a coin to flip when I need to know God's will (oops, did I just commit the unforgivable sin again?).

As it turns out, I may have given too much credence to John's account of the Holy Spirit. Because at the beginning of chapter 2 there is a long story about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. First I'll tell you the story, then I'll explain my confusion.

The disciples are together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly the house is filled with a violent wind and "tongues of fire" go into them. All the disciples then start speaking in foreign languages (not the gibberish that people call "tongues" these days). There is, however, the interesting assertion from some in the crowd that the disciples have just had too much to drink. Maybe it did sound like they were just speaking in gibberish?

Here's my confusion. Rewind a day to John 20:20-23:
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
To put this in context, this is directly after Jesus returns. Before his ascension (you know, the ascension that doesn't actually happen in the book of John). This seems to be further confirmed at the beginning of Acts:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
This seems to support at least the claim that the twelve already had the Holy Spirit (otherwise how were they receiving commands through it?) before Jesus ascended. This all seems like someone was very confused while writing Acts.

Moving on. Peter gets up in front of the crowd and tells them that the disciples are not drunk, as they seem to presume, because it's only nine in the morning. This seems to be his only evidence that they're not all completely hammered. Needless to say, it's possible to get drunk at nine in the morning.

Peter goes on an interesting tangent about David's relationship with Jesus. This is a bunch of stuff we've heard before, till near the end:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said...
David didn't go to heaven? Wasn't he one of the most loyal kings of Israel to God? Aside from that little snafu with killing his girlfriend's husband, he seemed to be a God fearing man.

This speech ends up convincing around three thousand people to be baptized. The bible says that the members of this early church sold everything they had and gave it to those in need (sounds like socialism to me). What would the Christians today think of someone that sold everything they had and lived only on the kindness of others? Or maybe a better question, what if everyone did this? We wouldn't have much of an economic system if people's only goal was to sell all their belongings. Who would they sell their things to?

Chapter 3 is all about Peter healing a crippled man. This isn't any more or less convincing than the miracles of Jesus, but it brings up an important question. Why can't we all (or at least faithful Christians) heal on demand? Peter's only new tool seems to be the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is supposed to be freely given to any who believe in Jesus. I've certainly seen completely faithful people unable to heal their ailing loved ones. Maybe Peter has some especially potent Holy Spirit that I don't know about?

God shows himself in mysterious (read "trivial") ways:
With the exception of a copy of the Holy Bible, all other items, including paints, chemicals, electrical gadgets and personal belongings, were destroyed by fire at the Ark Paint ventures, a paint company at Takoradi on Friday morning. The opened Bible was not touched by fire, even though it was on a suitcase which was burnt.
First of all, this is a vague anecdote at best. We have no way of confirming where the bible actually was. Has someone tried, say, a lighter? Is this bible's paper somehow miraculously immune to fire? Or was this just, as any reasonable person would assume, a coincidence?

For the moment, let's roll with this and say that God himself came down and prevented the fire from consuming this bible. What does that say about God? Let's hear some details about this story:
Mr. Archibald Deman, owner of the company said owing to accommodation problems, he had packed a lot of goods, including his personal belongings into one of the office, intending to transfer them to a house on Sunday. Unfortunately, he said all the belongings, together with the paint chemicals for the production of paints and furniture, were consumed by the fire.
So God, presumably, allowed this fire to start in the first place. Then proceeded to allow the fire to consume not only this man's source of income, but all of his belongings. But when the flames reached the bible, that's when God stepped in. If the bible were burned that would've been a true tragedy.

But surely nobody actually thinks this was an act of God. Only a morally repugnant God would would do such a terri... Wait, *Scrolls down to the comments*:

Comment #2: that is the power of God.this is a lession to allnot to play games with the mighty God.i rest my case.

Comment #3: God is good.
Well I guess trying to make a logical point after that just seems a bit silly. I guess I'm done for the day.


  1. David didn't go to heaven? Wasn't he one of the most loyal kings of Israel to God?

    The best anyone's been able to reconstruct, in first century Judaism people generally didn't go to Heaven when they died. They went to Sheol - the righteous and unrighteous alike. The only folks who went to Heaven were folks like Elijah who were physically picked up and taken into Heaven instead of dying. Which is what's up with the imagery of Jesus flying into the sky at the start of Acts - he was physically resurrected and now he physically goes to join God in Heaven.

  2. God didn't just allow this fire to start and spread - he intentionally lit it, so as to lead people to believe. That's how he does it in the Gospels. For the same reason, God causes hundreds of thousands of people to die in natural disasters every year so that the few survivors can credit him with having spared them.

  3. Acts 1

    Bryan,even most critical scholars think Luke wrote Acts, largely on the basis of writing style. I'll call the author of this Gospel "Luke," regardless of whether he is the same person who wrote the 3rd Gospel.

    Acts 1:2. There's some question about whether Luke here means to include the Ascension itself in this statement, or whether he means only that the 1st book contains the events leading up to, but not including, the Ascension. This is because there are some versions of Luke without the Ascension at the end. Was it omitted by some scribes, perhaps because of inconsistencies with Acts 1, or did some scribe add the Ascension to Luke, perhaps based on a misunderstanding of Acts 1:2?

    Acts 1:3. Acts has a period of 40 days between when the disciples met Jesus after the resurrection and the Ascension, whereas in Luke it appears to have all occurred without a couple of days: In Luke 24:13-24, 2 disciples depart Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, after hearing reports of the empty tomb, and meet Jesus along a 7-mile trip to Emmaus. After realizing who he is they "immediately" return to Jerusalem (24:33-34), thus they must've arrived back on that Sunday evening. Thereupon Jesus appears to them, shows them some proof of his corporeality, gives them some instructions, and takes them out to Bethany for the Ascension, all in one sitting (Luke 24:36-51) (Note that verse 50 says, "leading them out to Bethany, he...," i.e., there's no sense that this may have been on a later occasion.

  4. Acts 2

    Acts 2:14. Why is Luke still talking about the Eleven when Matthias has already been added to the group? Note also that Xians still considers themselves Jews, unlike in the Gospel of John.

    Acts 2:22. Once again, the Greek text says, "Jesus the Nazorean," not "Jesus of Nazareth," an expression which is not found in Acts. (Even "Jesus the Nazarene" doesn't appear in Acts.)

    Acts 2:36: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

    A smoking gun - a witness to a time when Xians thought that Jesus became Lord and Christ upon his resurrection. As we'll see, this is not the only time, either. Thus the whole idea that Jesus would've claimed to be the Messiah (or was thought to be the Messiah) during his lifetime must be a later invention.



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