Acts 1:15-19 (ESV)
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “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. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Matthew gives a parallel account.
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. – Matthew 27:3-7
At first glance, the two versions don’t seem to agree. However, a couple of clues join them together to paint a complete picture. For starters, they describe different time periods. Matthew tells us specifically about Judas’ death, which occurs before Jesus’ trial. Then he explains that the field was bought, using Judas’ money, as a burial place for strangers.
The account in Acts is about a later event. Note that this speech by Peter is more than forty days after the resurrection. Sometime after the field was acquired, Judas is apparently brought to the field and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. His corpse may have been rotting by this point, which would explain why he burst open in the middle. Alternatively, the field could be where he hanged himself and he was merely cut down, instead of being brought there.
Secondly, the Greek word translated as “falling forward” is “praynase,” which can mean “swollen” or “distended.” While this translation of praynase is less common, it fits the rotting corpse motif perfectly.
Judas is the ultimate horror story. In the end, he sees the error of his ways and is totally despondent about it. The gory details give the account a horror-movie feel, but the reality is much worse. Hell awaits.
That grotesque ending is what we’re always afraid to talk about. We want the people we love to escape damnation but fear that talking about hell would just alienate them.
And it probably would. Unless the Lord opens that door, best just leave it alone.
The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here: