Summary of the Previous Debate
The disagreement is whether Acts 1:16-18 contradicts Matthew 27:3-10 on the Death of Judas. The passage in question is here:
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:16-18)
The passage in Greek is this:
Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ἔδει πληρωθῆναι τὴν γραφὴν ἣν προεῖπεν τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον διὰ στόματος Δαυὶδ περὶ Ἰούδα τοῦ γενομένου ὁδηγοῦ τοῖς συλλαβοῦσιν Ἰησοῦν ; ὅτι κατηριθμημένος ἦν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἔλαχεν τὸν κλῆρον τῆς διακονίας ταύτης . Οὗτος μὲν οὖν ἐκτήσατο χωρίον ἐκ μισθοῦ τῆς ἀδικίας καὶ πρηνὴς γενόμενος ἐλάκησεν μέσος καὶ ἐξεχύθη πάντα τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ (Acts 1:1:16-18, BibleHub Interlinear)
My argument was that “this man” is more accurately rendered “this.” It refers to both “Judas” and “this share,” but more literally to “the share” in acquiring the field than to Judas.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. If “this” (Οὗτος) refers to “share,” then it must also “fall headlong” (γενόμενος ἐλάκησεν) and “burst open” (ἐκτήσατο) for that to be consistent. We don’t see the share doing that here in Acts.
But wait a minute… That happened!
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” (Matthew 27:3-10)
Note that BOTH Judas and his share in the ministry (30 pieces of silver) acquired a field, fell headlong and burst open. Therefore, it makes the most sense to keep the Greek word “this” (Οὗτος) ambiguous as the original Greek does. The point of Peter’s speech is to show the really strange parallel between Judas himself and the actual money he threw into the temple (note the sound effects in that clip from the Passion of the Christ).
The “Typo” and Fulfillment of the Prophecy
But wait a minute. Matthew 27:3-10 is a little strange. That quote from Jeremiah is fishy because that citation is NOT in Jeremiah. It’s in Zechariah 11:12-13. Is that a typo in our inerrant Scripture? Bart Ehrman thinks so and notes as much in his book titled Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing The Hidden Contradictions In The Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) at pp 50-51.
But no. Remember in my previous post, where I said that the most-obvious Psalm 2 reference is not quoted in the text of Acts 1, but the less-obvious Psalm 65 and 105 references are quoted in the text? The same thing is happening here! There is a quite obvious Old-Testament reference that would be very evident to the Jewish audience:
Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’
“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury.
But here’s where it gets really weird. That passage above was written sometime before 586, when Jerusalem was captured and the Temple was destroyed. The oldest copy of this text that we have is in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s OBVIOUSLY written before the time of Christ.
But do you see “Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury?” Where is that place? From the passage, we see it is “the valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate. But according to modern archaeology, this gate is the same as “the Dung Gate” that still stands today. Take a look at the following screenshot of modern-day Jerusalem I got from Google Maps:
But note the location of where Jeremiah did this and the Akeldama Monastery in Jerusalem. That Monastery marks the location of the death of Judas, and is currently tended by Greek Orthodox nuns. The marker on the map above indicates the location of that monastery. But The shaded regions indicate the topographical features. Dark means a depression. Light means an elevation. As you can see, outside the Dung/Potsherd Gate is a valley. That is same geographic location as “the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate” mentioned in Jeremiah 18 and 19.
Therefore, the place where Judas both hung himself and where his corpse burst open is exactly the same place that Jeremiah broke the flask in front of the priests and elders of Jerusalem before 586 B.C.
And here’s where it gets really, REALLY weird: The field that was prophesied to “no longer be called Topheth” and instead be called “the Valley of Slaughter” was literally renamed “Akeldama,” that is, “Field of Bloodshed” – Ἁκελδαμάχ, τοῦτ ἔστιν Χωρίον αἵματος. That happened in 33 A.D. Exactly 37 years later, the temple was destroyed, just like it was in Jeremiah’s day. According to Jewish tradition, these two destruction events of the Temple of Jerusalem happened on the same day: Tisha B’Av.
Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever read this anywhere else (so it’s not like Bart Ehrman is stupid). I literally came up with this myself. I’ve even tried googling the fulfillment of Jeremiah 19, and I’m coming up empty. Did I just discovery a fulfilled Old Testament prophecy? Please let me know if I’m wrong.
But regardless, facts are facts, and that is NOT a contradiction. It is a freakishly-specific 600 year old prophecy coming true. Thanks to that monastery, it is STILL true today.
The Debate Between Me and Bart Ehrman
As I said I would, here is the full content of the facebook debate between myself and Bart Ehrman. It took place on my Facebook page over the course of a few days:
Bart D. Ehrman:
It’s embarassing my Greek isn’t better?? OK then!!
It’s embarrassing that you cite Acts 1:18 as “this man” according to the English translation of the Greek rather than accurately saying “This” as it actually says in the Greek.
That fact is embarrassing because I assume you speak Greek. If not, then I apologize, and I understand mistakes happen.
Bart D. Ehrman:
You evidently don’t read Greek. Is that right? Do you know how demonstrative pronouns work? I’m happy to discuss translation issues with you if you like, but you would have to know the basic rules of grammar for it to help much.
Bart D. Ehrman Correct. I don’t speak Greek, but I do know the basic rules of grammar, which helps me pick apart Greek and Latin (Hebrew is much harder for me) when I have parallel passages in front of me. (I’ve become very interested in the inherent limitations of the English language in translating things.) Here’s the Interlinear Text: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/1.htm
And as I show in this post, when you quote the English “This Man” in Acts 1:18, you miss the fact that it’s just the singular masculine Greek pronoun οὗτος, which means “this.”
Now even Bible translators are misled by this fact, but you’re not saying Bible Translators made an error, you’re saying that the authors of Scripture — Matthew and Luke — made an error. But you’re pointing out an error in the ENGLISH TRANSLATION of their Greek text.
When you go to the Greek (See interlinear above), the last singular masculine noun in the text is not “Judas” but “share.” Therefore, there is a better way to read the text than the way you think is a “contradiction.”
Bart D. Ehrman:
Caleb. OK, thanks for the exchange. I appreciate it. But if you can’t read the Greek it’s very hard for me to explain in just a brief sentence. The reason Bible translators do not translate it the way you think they should involves an understanding of how demonstrative pronouns work in Greek and how one determines their antecedent. In this case that would involve, in part having an understanding of what κληρος means. Short story: the antecedent is not always simply the closest noun of the same number and gender as the pronoun; it is also the closest one that makes contextual *sense*. The verb is εκτησατο; the subject is the one who engages in that action; and a κληρος does not perform that kind of action. Therefore the antecedent of ουτος is the subject of the previous transitive verb ελαχεν, i.e. Judas. If you did not follow this “it has to make sense rule” then on the same logic you would have to say that the subject of ελαχεν is Jesus, rather than Judas, since it is the closest preceding substantive to it. As you note, this is not a disputed point among translators. Every one of these many, many translators has spend decades of his or her life studying and reading Greek. If you can’t read Greek, you really shouldn’t think you can read it better than they can! Or call them stupid for not seeing what seems obvious to you. They too have noticed that κληρος is masculine singular!!
Bart D. Ehrman The rule I’m following is not “closest noun wins.” Not at all. Instead, my rule is (as you stated) that pronouns are matched to the noun that makes the most contextual sense. In fact, that’s the same rule we have in English.
What confuses me is why you think the noun that makes the “most contextual sense” is also one that creates a contradiction in scripture. That doesn’t seem to make sense. Why isn’t what actually happened a part of the “context”?
And I do think that οὗτος CAN be translated as “this man” because I think that the whole point of this speech is to show the metaphorical and visual similarity between Judas, the bag of money he threw at the Temple, and the broken pottery vessel of Jeremiah 19 (which happened at the same location, btw.) The speech is about the fulfillment of prophecy. In Jeremiah 19, he prophesies that it will be called “the field of slaughter” which happens to match up with “field of bloodshed.” I’m not calling everyone stupid. (I tried to avoid that word.) Instead, I’m reserving my criticism for you alone.
The criticism I have against your Judas-death-contradiction claim is that you should have an open mind when it comes to what scripture means. I think it’s not very wise to pick ONE interpretation out of at least three that Acts 1:18 could mean (οὗτος means “Judas”, οὗτος means “both Judas and his share”, οὗτος means “his share”) and then use the ONE that doesn’t make sense to you to say “Well, that’s a contradiction!”
I mean. . . Really?
Also, likewise, thank you for the exchange. I more than appreciate it. This is the highlight of my month.
Bart D. Ehrman:
OK, thanks. But really, you shouldn’t argue about how to translate a language with an expert when you don’t actually know the language — or, in particular, comment on how the expert has stupid views about it. I learned Greek when I was 20 and have been studying it for the 44 years since then; I have taught it since I was 29; and I ave published numerous translations of ancient texts in Greek. I’m not saying this to brag, it’s just part of what I’ve done for a living for over four decades. You might not think there is a contradiction in this text, and that’s your right. But you shouldn’t say someone has made an embarrassing mistake about translation when that person actually is an expert in the language and you aren’t even starting studying it. If you want to reconcile the discrepancy, you need to do it on other grounds.
Bart D. Ehrman You say that I “shouldn’t argue” with an expert like you when I don’t actually know the language. Well, I know I don’t “know” Greek (I took exactly 1 week of Attic Greek in undergrad, and then quit before I learned how to pronounce diphthooooongs-tho-tho-tho-thongs.). To me, the embarrassing part is that even with such little knowledge and credentials, I seem to have gotten you on this one!
I’m a litigation attorney. It’s literally my job to argue with experts who are way more experienced on a topic than I am. If I took your advice about experts, I’d starve.
I also have a blog. While it’s obviously a mistake to critique the English-version of a Greek-language “contradiction,” if I took your advice about not describing it as a click-bait “embarrassing” mistake, then I’d have no readers.
Regardless, you are correct that it is usually bad to call an expert’s choice in a matter “embarrassing” when you are not an expert. I would never do this on a witness stand.
Yet, I’m having this conversation with you right now, in public, expecting and bracing for you to knock me out of the park with some rule about Greek Demonstrative pronouns or ancient handwriting in manuscripts, or who-knows-what that will show that the “embarrassing” mistake is mine, and the “stupid” (a word I never used) person here is me.
Instead, you just cited rules I already know and listed off your credentials. That’s why I think I’m onto something.
I don’t “want” to reconcile the discrepancy, I HAVE reconciled the discrepancy, and I proved you wrong in the process.
I think I beat you, Bart. It stinks, and no hard feelings. I know the feeling in Court, and I hate it. But I really think I beat you here.
Bart D. Ehrman:
The world will become scarier and scarier as people who don’t know what they are talking about insist they are right. Sorry about mentioning my credentials; my point was NOT that I’m an expert and therefore I’m right. It was simply to show that I”m an expert on something that you want to argue with me about even though by your own admission you know almost nothing it (as you say here, in your attempt to learn Greek you never got past how to pronounce dipthongs; for people reading this exchange, who may not know it, that normally happens on day one or two). But even so, I completely agree that because an expert is an expert does NOT mean he is right about something. And so, let”s get to the rubber on the road. Now that you think you have knocked that ball out of my park by showing that I don’t understand the Greek correctly, can you tell us how you interpret the verse, based on your view that the demonstrative pronoun does not in fact refer to the antecedent that it does refer to?
Bart D. Ehrman Bart, it’s clear that you’re not reading carefully. I did not say that I knocked the ball out of the park. I said I was expecting YOU to knock ME out of the park (and you haven’t).
But I can explain how to interpret the verse:
The way to understand this verse is in its context. As we can see, Peter is trying to tell the significance of Judas’s death. He is connecting it to Old Testament prophecy. I’ve identified one prophecy that connects to the gospels (Psalm 2) and two other Psalms (65, 109) are also directly quoted. Not quoted, but clearly relevant is the prophecy of Jeremiah 19, where the exact-same geographic location was prophesied to be named “the Field of Slaughter” after a piece of pottery is thrown and broken in the exact same manner as Judas’s corpse was broken. It was also renamed the “Field of Bloodshed,” when we’re talking about Greek, as is mentioned in both Matthew and Acts. (We know this is the same location because the Potsherd Gate is the same as the Dung Gate, according to archaeology, and you can just google the location).
Therefore, the proper way to interpret the text is to make it just flexible enough to fulfill Peter’s purpose: First, to show the connection of the Old Testament to what just happened to them in that previous month. Second, to be TRUE as opposed to your interpretation, which is to make it FALSE.
Therefore, the singular masculine Greek pronoun οὗτος does not ONLY mean “Judas” and it doesn’t ONLY mean “his share in this ministry.” It means BOTH of them, as both are singular and masculine. That is the point of using the ambiguous demonstrative pronoun οὗτος instead of being specific. It is also a rather poetic choice to use the singular masculine instead of the plural masculine because to use the plural masculine would make the connection literal, while the singular masculine lets the connection be prophetic and a little poetic. That’s how I say it should be interpreted.
So Dr. Bart Ehrman, Ph.D, (expert in Greek for 44 years, author of over 30 books, best-selling NYT author, and professor at UNC, Chapel Hill), I’ve identified what you got wrong. What do you think J. Caleb Jones (a guy who does this in his free time) got wrong?
Feel free to show that I’m an idiot in your next post, and I’ll display it as a correction on my blog.
Bart D. Ehrman
Caleb Jones: Thanks. It’s an interesting interpretation. The question, of course, is always whether the interpretation of words in a particular sentence makes sense of the way the words are used in a sentence — that is, does it actually work grammatically. That returns us to your claim that the demonstrative pronoun does not refer just to Judas but to “his share of the ministry.” You’re saying the pronoun, ουτος, encompasses both antecedents. OK, so, first question: if the demonstrative has has two antecedents, why it is singular (ουτος) instead of plural (oυτοι)? Second question: taking it the way you do, how do you explain the grammar? The pronoun of course is nominative, making it the subject of the transitive verb εκτησατο (a deponent verb).
That means that the substantives you are positing as the antecedents are the ones that are engaged in the action of the verb. For that to be true, the antecedents both need to be capable of engaging in that action. Can you cite anywhere in ancient Greek (you don’t need to restrict yourself to the NT; any examples from any ancient authors will be fine) where κληρος governs a transitive verb such as εκτησατο (i.e. with a direct object)? Where a “share” is said to have purchased or otherwise obtained something? I’ve never heard of such a thing (for fairly obvious reasons) but if you have some examples, it would be worth knowing them. On the other hand, if that grammatical construction never occurs , then you will be saying that, so far as you know, the most natural grammatical construal of this passage is one for which there is no precedent or parallel in any other text. As you probably have discovered κταομαι occurs 7 times in the NT (three in Acts), and in every other instance, it has only a human subject (in this case, it would be Judas). κληρος occurs twelve times (six in Acts), and (unlike what you are proposing here) is never as the subject of a verb. Those patterns of usage, so far as I know, are consistent with what one finds throughout the Greek language; if there are exceptions, that would help us interpret the passage. If you don’t know of any, that would mean that what you are saying is the most *probable* and *sensible* reading is one without any precedent or parallel, even though taking ουτος with just Judas coincides with many thousands of such grammatical constructions that can easily be cited in the NT, Christian literature generally, and the entire literature of the ancient Greek world. I really don’t see how that can be right. But if there is a flaw in my reading of the grammar, I’d be happy to engage your thoughts further.
As for the singular vs. plural, I agree. This issue is that it’s a choice of poetic language. Of course a plural CAN work, but there is a different quality for the singular.
As you’ve noted, the field was acquired after Judas died. That means that if Judas AND his share in the ministry are EXPLICITLY put together as acquiring the field with the plural oυτοι, then that seems to more explicitly suggest the historical sounding reading which goes to a contradiction. Because yes, both of these actors acquired the field, but the Priests were involved, too. Instead, it is left singular with a vague antecedent to show the strange quality of this prophecy fulfillment.
As to your other questions, those are great academic questions, and I won’t pretend to be able to answer them. But I can point out a few flaws.
It seems to miss the point to ask if there is any other place where a “share” (κληρος) is said to have purchased or obtained something. Instead, I think I need to show how a Greek pronoun (ουτος) is said to obtain something. And that answer is an obviously yes.
And it’s not important to show another example in Greek that a word is used EXACTLY as it is used here in this sentence. It breaks no rules of grammar to have a sentence that is unique. Therefore, I can’t see why it matters that “share” (κληρος) has never been paired with “acquire” (κταομαι). Instead, the only question is “Does this make sense?” The answer is yes. (Also, the direct object is the field itself, of course.)
For instance, “Bart Ehrman is a better dancer than the chupacabra” is probably the first time we’ve ever seen those words together in the English language in text. However, the sentence still makes perfect sense and is true (I hope). We don’t need other examples of you and “chupacabra” in English to find the meaning of this sentence, and we don’t need to argue about the difference between “the” chupacabra and “a” chupacabra (though such an idea is possible). I bet that never in all of English (or Spanish) will you see “chupacabra” connected to “dancing” as it is here. But that doesn’t matter. The sentence makes sense. We don’t need any outside examples. Uniqueness is not a flaw.
And that is a very interesting way to phrase it that “the most probably and sensible reading is one without any precedent or parallel.” But I’ll take it, that’s how I’d frame it if I were on the opposite side of this debate.
But I will frame your side similarly by saying that you believe: “the most probable and sensible reading is one that is an absolute contradiction with the facts among writers who had first-hand-knowledge of the facts.”
Bart D. Ehrman
As to your last point, maybe so. There is a very big question about any writers with first-hand-knowledge of the fact, but that’s a whole other question. Even if the text does contradict those who knew better — well, that sort of thing happens. Thousands of times every day. In our own newspapers! By people who should know better. And as you as a trial lawyer must experience simply as a part of your daily life!Caleb Jones
First, thank you for this very good exchange. I tend to disagree with a lot of what you say, but thank you. (Also, off-subject, but thank you for your good work on inserting at least some sanity into the idea that Jesus of Nazareth never existed).
Second, I bet I come across pretty weird in this medium, and I hope my snark is seen in good faith and fun, and not out of disrespect. I know that your background knowledge is waaaaaaaay bigger than mine on Greek and ancient languages (if it wasn’t, I’d never say some of the things I’ve said). But in this circumstance, I think that on these particular subjects which I’ve really looked into (and had your and others’ exploratory work to guide), I can hold my own. Thank you for your participation, and I really mean that.
Third, I acknowledge your point about the whole first-hand-knowledge thing, and you are right that this is a whole other question. I tend to believe that the writers did have first-hand-knowledge for the reasons that Peter J. Williams has described in some of his debates with you. I’m also skeptical of what you call “oral tradition” because it seems that “interviewing a person about what he lived through” falls under your definition of “oral tradition.” That seems off-base, but yes, that’s another topic.
Fourth, I acknowledge that being a lawyer gives me a perspective here. Every day, my job is to take random situations and figure out what is ACTUALLY happening. It’s surprisingly difficult, even when people are telling you the truth. Even when I ask direct questions, the people’s words are limited by what they think is already known. They don’t give ALL details, and only give the details that are significant to the point they wish to make. Sometimes, they don’t know things, and therefore, they don’t share it. These are the problems of finding the truth that I have with MY CLIENTS. I’m not even talking about people who lie.
That’s the approach I’m taking with scripture. Just like my clients, I assume the writers know the story better than I do. If there’s something I don’t understand, I assume that I don’t understand before I assume they’re wrong or lying. As soon as I find out that they’re lying, I try to make them not-my-client.
Next, what you say about people writing writing things in contradiction to the facts is certainly true, except I also believe that the Author behind all of the things I read in scripture is ultimately God. I know I can’t “prove” that, but I’ve seen enough supporting evidence to know that it’s true. This means that unclear details are not oversights due to a lack of knowledge (even if they may have been the result of the particular writer’s lack of knowledge). That’s why I think I take a very different perspective on these things.
Finally, I think we’ve done a good job in this discussion, because now I don’t know if there are any additional “FACTS” that we could share to be persuasive to each other. About my particular question above, maybe, but about the general “truth” of scripture, I’m not so sure.
Instead, the outcome of our beliefs depends on our assumptions, like who/what is/isn’t trustworthy. At a certain level, reason and logic meet their end, and even Euclid had to merely “assume” certain postulates to be “PURELY” rational in his geometry. I think you and I have gotten to the end of the rational discussion. We’ve merely got competing postulates.