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Francesco Maddalena wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have a question regarding Judas Iscariot.

Catholic Tradition (and Christian tradition, in general) show Judas as a traitor who killed himself after Jesus' Crucifixion, although some scholars these days challenge this view.

For example 1 Corinthians 15:5 says:

"he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. "

Here Paul says that Jesus appeared to 'the Twelve' after His Death and Resurrection, not
'the Eleven'. Sure, Matthias replaces Judas, but this was only a month after Jesus' Ascension to Heaven, Acts 1:3.

Also, some scholars claim that Jesus appearing to the 'eleven', in Matthew and Luke, includes Judas as John 20:24 shows that the first time, Thomas was not present. So the eleven were
the twelve minus Thomas ... although Jesus appeared later on to the apostles with Thomas present.

Another criticism is the problem of the conflicting ways Judas Iscariot died. Was he:

  • hanged, or
  • disemboweled. Some say this resembles deaths as you saw them in the Old Testament, claiming that Judas did not kill himself but endured an 'Old Testament type of death'.

Also, in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30 Jesus tells the apostles that they will:

“sit on the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

This might be conflicting because it includes Judas, but if Judas was a traitor later on, he would not be able to sit on one of the thrones Jesus speaks of and Jesus does not state any exception in the text.

  • So what is the 'real story'?
  • Did Paul made a mistake when he said 'The Twelve', meaning the eleven apostles without Judas?
  • Are the accounts of Judas' death wrong?
  • Did Judas see the risen Jesus or is the Tradition of the Church correct and, if it is:
    • How can we reconcile it with some difficult and conflicting Scripture passages?

Thank you in advance for your answers,


  { Did Paul made a mistake when he wrote "The Twelve", meaning the eleven without Judas? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Francesco —

Let's address 1 Corinthians 15:5 first. This passage depicts Jesus's appearances to various people. It says that the appearances occurred after he was raised, but there is no indication they all happened before the Ascension. In fact, Paul enumerates himself among the appearances without distinction (except to say he is last), and we know he saw Jesus after the Ascension (Acts 9:1-15). Since, if we take the appointment of Matthias as occurring in chronological order (an arguable assumption, by the way, but I won't go there), he would have been appointed between Ascension (Acts 1:9) and Pentecost (Acts 2:1), a short period of time, so the reference to the "Twelve" could well have included Matthias during this time period of appearances.

Another possibility is that "The Twelve" is being used as synonymous with the group of Apostles regardless of how many happened to be present. You might argue that they clearly use
"The Eleven" elsewhere when they mean to exclude Judas.  

  • Why would they use "The Twelve" when they mean "The Eleven" and use it elsewhere?

It could be that, because twelve is a mystical number symbolizing Israel (the New Israel,
the Church), they preferred to use that, in this context, or perhaps they just weren't that concerned about precision. If you go around assuming that numbers in Scripture are always absolutely exact, you'll go nuts. It's like if you asked me how many people showed up for an event, I might say "a dozen" even though it was really 11 or 13. Let's not quibble over one person.

Frankly, I think it is rather absurd to believe cryptic number mismatches over the very clear statements of Judas's fate.

The ways that Judas died do not necessarily conflict. Suppose he hung himself badly such that he was decapitated and his body fell down the hill and disemboweled itself. That's a scenario in which both are true: one emphasized the manner, the other emphasized the results. Let's not force a contradiction when it can be easily explained.

As for the twelve thrones, I'm not going to worry about it. Either Judas was really saved and will sit on a throne, or Jesus's words were implicitly conditional and Judas ceded his throne to Matthias or maybe Paul. I'm not sure it really matters.

The important thing is not to take Scripture so literalistic that you tie yourself in knots. I can think of a lot more compelling alleged "contradictions" if you're going to take a literalist view of Scripture.


Francesco replied:

Hi, Eric —

Thank you for your answer!

Of course, I understand that numbers in the Bible are often more symbolic than precise numbers. One might argue that this is true in many ancient documents as well. Indeed, I agree one can allow for some degree of flexibility when it comes to numbering the twelve.

I also think it would be quite weird if Judas would be among the 'twelve' after the Resurrection.
It is highly unlikely that a “mass conspiracy” could have been formed against Judas by the other Apostles and there are virtually no historical proofs that Judas was shunned after the Ascension or after Pentecost because Judas would have certainly formed his own "church".

Also the Early Fathers seem to share into Judas 'tragic faith'.

In my opinion, the seemly contrasting testimonies might be derived at by the fact that the news about Judas was scarce; most testimonies agreeing that he met a tragic end shortly after betraying Jesus.

That said, Judas' exact fate might still be murky, but there is very little doubt, he was NOT part of the early Church.

The critiques I mentioned usually come from:

  • modern historians (not all of them)
  • liberal Christians, or
  • non-Christian biblical scholars

which try to understand the 'historical Jesus'. Sadly, many start with a priori supposition that the 'historical Jesus' is not the same as the 'Tradition Jesus'.

I agree with your statements on "Biblical literalism", which is a more a problem for the
‘Sola Scriptura' crowd. Nevertheless, I think it is logical to bring up questions that arise
among the historical books of the Bible.

God bless,


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