companion bibleI received the following question:

What do you think of the Companion Bible notes on Acts 1:18 (Companion Bible page 1577)

“Dr. John Lightfoot writes:–

‘The devil immediately after Judas had cast back his money into the temple, caught him up into the air, strangled him, threw him headlong, and dashed him in pieces on the ground.’ He refers to Tobit 3:8 and adds, “That this was known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem, argues that it was no common and ordinary event, and must be something more than hanging himself, which was an accident not so very unusual in that nation.” Works, viii, pp. 366,367.

This requires that Matthew 27:5 be read, “He was hanged, or strangled,” instead of “hanged himself.”

A few things to keep in mind in reading this passage. One is that the great Dr. E.W. Bullinger, the author of the Companion Bible, died midway through writing John. The Companion Bible was completed by a team of scholars led by his beloved niece, along with (if I remember correctly) her husband. Although she was very close to Dr. Bullinger, she was nowhere near the great scholar that he was. Much of what she used came from his own notes, or previous works he had written. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the notes after he died are much less complete, which is a shame, because some of the books he was just getting to are ones that it would be most helpful to have his insight on (such as the works of Paul.) So, this note was not written by Dr. Bullinger, but put there by others under the direction of his niece. The note on Matthew 27:5 reads,

“hanged himself. Gr. Apagchomai. Occ. Only here. Acts 1.18 describes what took place, in consequence, afterward. He must have been hanging before he could “fall forward.” See note there. Gr. Apagcho. Occ. only here (Matt. 27.5) in N.T. Sept. for hanak. 2 Sam. 17:23, only of Ahithophel, the type of Judas (Ps. 55.14,15). See note on Acts 1.18.”

This note, unlike Acts 1:18, is actually by Dr. Bullinger. There is no way of knowing for certain what he would have written when he got to the note on Acts 1:18 that he promised, but I would wonder if it is what those who finished the Companion Bible ended up writing. He makes no mention of Dr. Lightfoot, and he compares Judas to Ahithophel, who definitely hanged himself deliberately, and was not strangled by the devil. The repeated use of “and”s in that passage in II Samuel shows that he did the things that he did very carefully, and with purpose. That Dr. Bullinger compares that to this event raises a serious question in my mind as to whether or not he meant for the note on Acts 1:18 to be what it actually ended up being. Notice that he also says nothing about this word actually meaning “he was hanged, or strangled,” like it suggests in the notes on Acts 1:18.

Dr. Lightfoot refers to Tobit. The verse in question, in the King James Version (and with the verse before it to clarify) says:

7. It came to pass the same day, that in Ecbatane a city of Media Sara the daughter of Raguel was also reproached by her father’s maids;

8. Because that she had been married to seven husbands, whom Asmodeus the evil spirit had killed, before they had lain with her. Dost thou not know, said they, that thou hast strangled thine husbands? thou hast had already seven husbands, neither wast thou named after any of them.

Now Tobit is not a legitimate book of the Bible, but is a book in the Apocrypha. Most apocryphal books contain references to pointless miraculous events. I don’t know what Dr. Lightfoot thought of it, but this passage seems highly suspicious to me. Although there is certainly demon possession in the Bible, there is no mention of demons killing or strangling anyone, not to mention killing seven men just because they happened to marry a certain woman! Plus, I have trouble believing that after the second or third time a man had been strangled by a demon after marrying a woman and before consummating their union, that there would be one more man who would be willing to take the risk and marry the woman, not to mention five more. Judah blamed his daughter-in-law for his wicked sons’ deaths after only two of them had been killed by the Lord after marrying her (Genesis 38). This story sounds mythical to me…just plain made up. I would look at it more as evidence to be skeptical about any story of such a thing happening to Judas than as evidence that such a thing did happen to him.

Dr. Lightfoot’s comment about the event having to be more than a mere hanging because it was known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem just does not take into account all the facts in the case. What I believe occurred is that Judas, as we learn from John 12:6, was stealing from the Lord and His disciples, embezzling from the funds that were entrusted to him as treasurer. He surreptitiously purchased a field with this stolen money, the “reward of iniquity” as it is called here. This field is not to be confused with the field the chief priests bought with the money given to Judas to betray the Lord, which he later threw into the holy place (Matthew 27:6-8.) This field was bought by the priests, not by Judas. The field that Judas bought was with the funds he had embezzled. No doubt, when the Lord was arrested and His disciples scattered, he thought to retire to this field and live in comfort. The one glitch in his plans was that he did not reckon with the hatred of the religious leaders for the Lord, or that they would actually go so far as to have Him put to death. This was too much for even Judas’ conscience, and so he went to his field that he had valued so much that he was willing to betray the Lord, and hanged himself. However, since no one knew that he had bought the field since he had done it on the sly, no one knew where to look for him, and so he hung there for a long time. So long, in fact, was it before he was found, that he actually started to putrefy while hanging, so much so that he actually got to the point where his chest burst apart from the pressure of the gasses built up by putrefaction and his entrails spilled out on the ground. Thus the name that this field acquired. You see, when one was hanged, he could be taken down and buried, and the place where he was hanged could be considered clean again. Once one had burst asunder and scattered all over a place, however, it could never be confirmed for certain that all of the pieces had been accounted for and buried. Therefore, a faithful Israelite could not tread the ground where such a death had occurred for fear of coming in contact with some part of a dead body and thus becoming unwittingly ceremonially unclean. Any place where a person’s blood had been spilled in a way like this would become forever after an unclean place in the sight of the Israelites. Because of this, it was very important for all of them to know where such a tragedy had taken place, so that they could avoid the place, and turn it into a refuse area or place of uncleanness. This explains why this story would have gotten around to such an extent: it would have been necessary for everyone to know so that they could avoid that field from then on and the uncleanness that would come from entering it. That they named this field Aceldama, the field of blood, shows that this is what the citizens of Jerusalem were concerned about, and why they made such a big deal of spreading the story. They needed to know about it so that they could avoid this field, or else go through cleansing rituals for uncleanness if they had to enter it.

The notes in the Companion Bible, drawn from Dr. Lightfoot, seem to me to be fantastical, unreasonable, and highly unlikely. There is no precedent for Satan acting in any such way, nor is there anything in the text to suggest that this is actually what happened. Every indication seems to be that Judas hanged himself, and that the devil had nothing to do with it.