Comparing Matt. 27: 3–10 and Acts 1: 16–20, how could Judas hang himself in a field that the chief priests would not be able to purchase until the Sabbath was over? Isn’t this proof of the historical unreliability of the Bible?
The answer to the first question is that Judas couldn’t! It is clear from the words used by Matthew that on returning the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests in the temple Judas went and hanged himself without delay: “And having cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, he left the place, and went away and hanged himself” (Matt. 27: 5). That day (14th Nissan) was the preparation for the first day of the feast of unleavened bread (see Lev. 23: 5–8) which was a Sabbath (see Matt. 27: 62 and John 19: 31). The 30 pieces of silver could not have been used to but the place where Judas hanged himself since the chief priests had not as yet bought the potter’s field and Jewish scruples would prevent their doing so until the Sabbath was over. Even if Judas had waited until the Sabbath was past and the chief priests had bought their field (a purchase that would be unknown to Judas), it would have been a remarkable coincidence if Judas had chosen that very field in which to hang himself! The difficulty arises from the similarity of expression between the “blood field” of Matt. 27: 8 and the Aceldama (“field of blood”) of Acts 1: 19 and the assumption that they are one and the same. This mistaken assumption is further aided by the thought that the phrase “with [the] reward of iniquity” (Acts 1: 18) refers to the payment Judas got for betraying the Lord.
Let us look with care at what is said in the two Scriptures. What the chief priests purchased was just a field and the word used in the Greek (s) is is the normal word for “field” (Matt. 27: 7), but when we look at Acts the word translated there as “field” (Acts 1: 18) is a totally different word in the Greek. There the word is , which while it can also be translated as “field”, carries the sense of “estate”, “landed property” or “place”. Again, the chief priests purchased their field and the word used for “bought” (Matt. 27: 7) is the normal word which means to but in the open market place—and, as I have already said, they could not do this until the Sabbath was over. Yet again, it is not even said that Judas purchased his place. The word used is “got” (Acts 1: 18) which in the Greek is and simply means “to acquire possession”. So how did Judas acquire this place if he did not use the 30 pieces of silver? We are told in John 12: 6 that Judas “had the bag”—that is he was the treasurer for the Lord and His disciples. This verse also tells us that he was a thief, indicating that he had already spent that which was not his. (probably not in the public market place, where such a matter might become common knowledge, but privately—hence the use of the word rather than .) This is what I would understand the phrase “with [the] reward of iniquity” (Acts 1: 18) to mean. The phrase is a Hebrew idiom equivalent to our English “ill–gotten gains”—what Peter refers to as “[the] reward of unrighteousness” in 2 Pet. 2: 15. Judas acquired his field (or estate), not with the betrayal money of the Lord, but with the proceeds of his thieving.
So what about the almost identical names for the two places? The field purchased by the chief priests was originally known as the “field of the potter” but afterwards became known as the “blood field” which in the Greek is s s. Why did it become known as the blood field? Simply because it was “[the] price of blood” (Matt. 27: 7)—not because Judas shed his blood there. The chief priests secured their field by paying for a man’s murder—it was the price of blood. Now the place that Judas acquired through his thieving is described by Luke in Acts 1: 19 as the “field of blood” which is a transliteration of the Aramaic . However, while this field was thus given a very similar name to the “field” in Matt. 27, it was for a very different reason. The priest’s field acquired its name because it was bought through a man’s murder but Judas’ field was called “field of blood” because Judas shed his blood there. The words of Scripture are “(This [man] then indeed got a field with [the] reward of iniquity, and, having fallen down headlong, burst in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that that field was called in their own dialect Aceldama; that is, field of blood”.) (Acts 1: 19, 20).
Hence, as ever there are no discrepancies in the Word of God. The answer now to the second question is that the Scriptures are absolutely reliable, including their historicity. What is unreliable is the superficial impressions of godless men “professing themselves to be wise” (Rom. 1: 22)!