When was Judas paid?

Posted on Dec.12, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke. Average rating: 5.5 / 10 (Rate It).

Judas’s reward for leading the Jews to arrest Jesus was thirty pieces of silver. The gospels contradict each other, however, concerning when Judas was paid for his betrayal.

According to Matthew, when Judas agreed to betray Jesus, he was paid in advance:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. [Matthew 26:14-16, NRSV]

Luke describes an agreement to pay Judas, but unlike Matthew doesn’t state whether the money changed hands immediately:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present. [Luke 22:3-6, NRSV]

Mark’s account is clearer than Luke’s, with Judas receiving only a promise of money:

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. [Mark 14:10-11, NRSV]

So did Judas receive payment as soon as he agreed to betray Jesus?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Matthew doesn’t actually come right out and say that Judas was paid up front. They might have set it aside for him to show him what he would receive if he delivered. The NRSV and ESV do suggest payment up front. The rest of the translations are more ambiguous.

    My preferred NASB says that they weighed the money out to him. The weighing out terminology is one close translation of the Greek. But it might as easily have said that they weighed it out for him rather than to him. There is no preposition “to” or “for” in the original. There is simply a personal pronoun in the dative case. If you say they weighed the money out to him it sounds more like up front payment. If you say they weighed it out for him, it sounds more like they established the price and set that sum aside for when Judas delivered on his side of the bargain.

    So is it “to him” or “for him”? Here is an extremely literal translation of Matthew 26:16 that I cobbled together from the online interlinear and lexical parser at “what are you willing to have given to me and I will deliver him to you, but they weighed out (to/for) him 30 silver pieces”

    It looks like Judas was asking for upfront payment. He asks what they are willing to have already given him. But the conjunction that follows is the adversative “de” (meaning “but”) rather than the simple conjunction “kai”. This suggests that perhaps the priests refused an upfront payment and instead weighed the money out for him. They showed him the money, but they did not give it to him.

    The KJV and its contemporary revisions take a completely different direction on the translation of “Histemi” (rendered as “weighed out” in the NASB). The KJV says that the priests covenanted with Matthew for 30 pieces of silver. The verb “Heistemi” could mean “establish”, “fix” or “make firm” and have nothing to do with weighing. On this reading, the Priests fixed a price for Judas, but did not actually pay him. That would happen when he honored his end of the bargain.

  2. 2

    In Matthew’s gospel, Judas has to be given the money early, because in Matthew, and only in Matthew, Judas returns the money out of guilt (Matthew 27:3).

    It seems likely to me that this is the whole cause of the discrepancy: Matthew wanted to report that Judas returned the silver, and therefore had to report that Judas was paid at once. Hence he altered the account in his source, Mark.

  3. 3

    Did Judas return the silver, Amtiskaw?

    Or did Matthew make that up? Do we have here an example of the truism that when you tell one lie, you’ve got to tell a second to cover it.

    Or are you claiming that he correctly reported the return of the silver and then inferred the up front payment?

    These questions fall under the category of “Just Curious”. I’m not sure that anything about inerrancy really turns on the answer. I suspect that errantist Christians, like Errancy, will be more sympathetic toward option 2.

    Either way, I don’t think Matthew is quite in the narrative bind you think he is in here.

    For starters, I don’t think there’s any requirement that Judas return the money on the night he betrayed Christ (or that Judas hang himself that night). There is at least one event that Matthew describes that I will guarantee you did not happen exactly in sequence where Matthew places the vignette of Judas’ return of the money: The purchase of the potter’s field. The priests did not buy it with Judas’s silver at the crack of dawn on the way from the temple to Pilate’s court. That happened days or weeks later. So the events at the end of the story about Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, arrest and the trial in the temple take us well past the events a the beginning of the story of Jesus trial before Pilate and subsequent crucifixion.

    Matthew notes, in any event, that Judas returned the money after Jesus was condemned. In context you might think he meant “condemned by the priests”, but it isn’t clear, and he might have meant “condemned by Pilate”. He might even have meant that it happened sometime after Jesus had died.

    No matter when Matthew intended to say that Judas returned the money, there was ample time for him to first receive it in payment. That would probably have happened in the garden, and at any rate, no latter than when Jesus was delivered to the priests…well before he was actually condemned by them.

  4. 4

    I’m not sure what you’re driving at. Regardless of when or if Judas returned the money, Matthew found it convenient to alter Mark for the sake of a coherent narrative.

  5. 5

    You were arguing, weren’t you, that Matthew describes an up front payment because he has Judas return the money. I inferred, though perhaps I was mistaken, that the reason you thought the up front payment in Matthew was necessary was because there would not be time for Judas to receive payment, regret his betrayal and then return the money.

    I was arguing that even if he received payment only upon completion of his end of the bargain, there was still ample time, hours and perhaps days, for him to regret his betrayal and then return the money. So the proposed reason for Matthew to alter Mark does not exist.

    Was there some other reason that you thought that Judas’s returning the money required an up front payment?

    Now all of this is relevant to the main topic, presumably, because if Matthew had a strong incentive to describe an up front payment, then that counts as some evidence for the claim that he really is describing an up front payment.

    I was saying that I don’t think Matthew does have a particularly strong reason to describe an up front payment. And, as I noted in my first post, he may well not have been describing an up front payment.

  6. 6

    It’s not that there wouldn’t be time for Judas to betray Jesus, collect the money, then return it, but from the point of view of the narrative this would be clumsy at best.

    Anyway, yes, the question is: is Matthew in fact describing an up-front payment?

    I think he is: he mentions the priests weighing out the money, and later mentions Judas returning the money. He surely expects his readers to understand that the “weighing out” was the actual payment.

  7. 7

    I was misunderstanding your initial contention. It was not about timing, but about a form of narrative symmetry.

    I don’t really feel the force of it, but I get what you’re saying now.

    This word Histemi is translated as weighed out exactly once in the NT NASB: Matt. 26:15. Everywhere else it is translated as “set”, “stand” or “establish”. Obviously, the translators know what they’re doing, but I can’t help thinking that Matthew is only telling us that they fixed the price of the betrayal.

    Perhaps part of it is that I find it difficult to believe that the priests would hand out that much money to someone on the promise that one day he might betray his friend.

  8. 8

    Oh! I see. Matthew is alluding to Zechariah 11. In that passage Zechariah is paid by having thirty pieces of silver weighed out to him. And he throws it to the potter in the house of the LORD.

    The translators are being ‘helpful’ by using histemi which means “set” or “place” or “establish” and translating it as “place (in the balance)” or “weigh”.

    That gives your narrative symmetry argument more force. Still not enough that I’m going to give it a high rating, but perhaps a higher rating than it would otherwise have gotten.

  9. 9

    I hadn’t considered Zech 11; thanks for pointing that out.

  10. 10

    BTW-In the LXX when the term “Shaqal” (weighed) is used, it is translated to Greek as “Histemi” (placed, set or established). As such, it probably does make sense to translate “Histemi” in Matthew 26 as “weighed”, even though it is not used in that way anywhere else in the NT.

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