I was recently asked about a potential contradiction between two accounts of the same story in the Bible. While Peter commands we always be ready to give a defense for our hope in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15), one of the ways we stay prepared is be prepared to address claims of Biblical contradictions. So let us take a look at one about who truly purchased the Field of Blood where Judas Iscariot committed suicide.
Matthew’s account of the suicide of Judas in Matthew 27:1-10 seems to contradict Luke’s account in Acts 1:18-19 in one specific area, who purchased the Potter’s Field or Field of Blood?
I believe the surface level contradiction can be resolved when one looks just slightly below the surface by focusing on the point the author was making by including this story. Matthew’s account explains in more detail the steps leading up to Judas’ suicide, but Matthew’s focus of the story is I think secondary on Judas and primarily on the wicked response of the chief Priests.
When one considers that Matthew’s Gospel treatise is primarily focusing on how Jesus was the long awaited, prophet-fulfilling Messiah of Israel, it also is clear that he issues an indictment on how the Jewish religious leaders had high jacked the Messianic Jewish religion from the Old Testament and turned the people away from the truth of God and God Himself. Even if they did so unwittingly.
Matthew, even in this account of Judas’ suicide, gives us more historical point-by-point details as to how the chief priests were conducting themselves wickedly. Matthew notes that Judas went and hung himself, then the chief priests took the thirty pieces of silver and went and purchased a field. I believe Matthew’s account would be the literal historically accurate one.
So who purchased the field directly? The chief priests did. Matthew focuses on how they were even being wickedly pious with the money Judas threw back at them (i.e. They said it would not be lawful to put it back in the treasury of the Temple…as if they were being holy).
The difference between Matthew’s account and Luke’s in Acts is answered by saying that in Mathew’s account he shows us the chief priests, and not Judas, directly purchased the field. They literally directly used the money to acquire the field.
Then in Luke’s account his focus is not on the chief priests as they are not even mentioned here. Rather Luke’s focus is on the Apostles’ recounting how they were minus one Apostle, Judas. So he notes that Judas was gone, because he acquired this field with blood money and hung himself.
I believe Luke’s version is showing us that while in Matthew’s version the chief priests directly purchased the field, Luke puts the focus on that it was Judas’ wickedness that indirectly purchased the field.
The difference I think we could say another way is when we think of a direct cause of something versus an indirect cause of something. The direct cause is what primarily and even literally at that moment caused something to happen. The indirect cause is the more higher level or secondary overarching reason why something happened.
Example I think of like this is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. The debate is did God divinely turn Pharaoh’s heart to wickedness. No, I think is the answer. God was the indirect cause of Pharaoh’s hardening of the heart. Meaning that God knew when he performed these certain plagues it would lead to a certain outcome, Pharaoh’s hardening (he was already a wicked guy that thought he was divine).
God is indirectly hardening his already evil heart through other direct means (the specific plagues). This is why in Exodus you see the language interchange between, “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and “Pharaoh hardened his heart.”
Matthew says it was the chief priests who specifically purchased the field. While Luke says it was Judas’ wicked acts that lead to this field being acquired with blood money.
So who then purchased the Field of Blood (or Potters Field) you may ask? Answer, depends on the sense in which you ask the question. Do you wish to know who literally bought the field with money? This was the chief priests who conducted themselves wickedly as Matthew catalogs in his Gospel. Do you wish to know how it was though the field came to be purchased? This was due to Judas Iscariot’s wickedness and betrayal of Christ as Luke catalogs in his treatise.
This is not a contradiction, it is rather two witnesses of the same event focusing on two different subjects and their actions which both lead to the same outcome (the purchase of the Field). Judas is the purchaser of the field as Luke shows us in Acts, but Judas bought it with his wickedness. So Luke shows us the action that lead to the Field being purchased, which was Judas’ remorse and throwing the money back at the chief priests. Then Matthew shows us the literal transaction of the Field which was the chief priests using Judas’ blood money to purchase it.
In closing let me add one final thought to this answer. You could say both Judas and the chief priests purchased the field and be right in both senses. How? Because the money can both be said to be Judas’ and the chief priests. The money was given to Judas for his services in leading Jesus to be arrested. So it was payoff that belonged to Judas. Yet Judas gave it back to the chief priests in remorse, so then it also belonged to the chief priests.
This is not a contradiction, it is a two angles of the same story being given by two different writers of Scripture that had two different focuses in how they shared the story. Both are true, and both have different lessons to show from the one story.
Hope this helps.