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By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016








Probing the

Mystery of Judas






Roland H. Worth, Jr.

Richmond, Virginia 23223





Copyright © 2016 by author

Reproduction of this book (and any other book I have online or in print) for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner. 

 If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.



Chapters in Book:


                        Part 1:  Judas as Apostle [In Current Section:]


Chapter 1:  Appointment to apostleship

Chapter 2:  Judas as preacher and miracle worker


Part 2:  The Betrayal Process

Chapter 3:  Judas Volunteers to Betray Jesus 

Chapter 4:  The Deal with the Enemies of Jesus

                                    Chapter 5:  Judas at the Passover Meal:  Repeated

Opportunities to Back Out of Betrayal

                                    Chapter 6:  Betrayal with a Kiss

                                    Chapter 7:  Judas Repudiates His Betrayal and Is Mocked


Part 3:  Judas’ Death

Chapter 8:  Judas Commits Suicide

Chapter 9:  Judas’ Bribe Buys a Graveyard


Part 4:  Understanding Judas--The Man and His Motives

Chapter 10:  Judas’ Background

                                    Chapter 11:  Possible Motives for Betrayal

                                    Chapter 12:  Possible Reasons for Judas’ Repudiation

of His Betrayal










Introduction to the Projected

 “Solving Bible Mysteries” Series



            Biblical “mysteries” come in at least three major forms:

            There are places where the scriptural accounts seem in conflict with each other.  Are the texts being misread?  Have we assumed an inconsistency when actually they should be read as complementary rather than contradictory recountings?

            There are cases where the Biblical narrative(s) are in conflict with surviving non-Biblical accounts.  Again, is the scriptural text being read and interpreted fairly?  For that matter, have the secular texts been utilized in accordance with their own intentions and contexts?  Especially in those cases where the Biblical writers were in a position to personally have access to accurate data, why does the disagreement exist?

            Finally, there are cases where there is clearly more going on than the texts have bothered to tell us.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the motives of Judas in betraying Jesus are but two of the most blatant examples of this.  Do we need to know the answer?  Not really.  Does it affect our faith how we answer it?  In most cases, not.  Yet as human beings--especially as human beings who may have studied the scriptural text for many years--we yearn to “complete the picture” that the scriptures have left so enticingly vague.

            It is the purpose of this series to “solve” various Biblical “mysteries.”  Or, rather, to offer reasonable and responsible solutions than “play fair” by the scriptural texts as well as any secular materials that may be relevant.  In some cases one explanation will be both the most appealing one and the most probable.  In other cases, there will be several that may represent quite responsible options.  Our purpose is to present the possibilities and the evidence so that the readers may evaluate them at their leisure.             

            In doing this three broad guide-lines come into play.  The first is religious or, if you wish, ideological:  when in conflict with outside sources the scriptural narrative is extraordinarily more likely to be right than any external alternative.  (Actually the statement could be made even stronger than that, in my judgment.)  After all, external sources have their own biases and limitations as well and these need to be fully taken into consideration when they do not move in the same direction as the scriptural accounts.  It may well be a case of both having only part of the full picture rather than us having to choose between them.

            This preference for scriptural accuracy assumes that we have a text that is not in doubt and that we are properly discerning its intent and purpose.  If we go astray on either point, the problem lies not in the scriptures but in our use of the scriptures.  On the other hand, candor requires that we admit the limits of our evidence and those cases where fully satisfactory material does not exist to resolve the apparent inconsistencies.

            Then there are two what might be called “practical” guidelines.  First comes in regard to length:  even in my undergraduate days I was open to the accusation of “writing by the ream and not by the page.”  I am still open to that accusation decades later.  On the other hand, the reality is that what enchants me--and specialists in certain areas of the scripture--to such an extent that hundreds of pages would be justified, would bore to tears the non-specialist and non-ideologue.  Hence these volumes were intended to limit themselves to 25-35,000 words in length.  Enough to survey the topic in reasonable detail, but, hopefully, not to lose reader interest where a longer treatment would run that danger.

            Second comes the need for a more than adequate cross-section of books and other materials.  Each of these volumes combine the resources of at least a hundred commentaries and other studies of the scriptural text.  These represent the views of every one from hard-line inerranists to extremely skeptical theologians who, in their own way, rarely if ever can find a scripture they believe is correct. 

            In other words, we have attempted to provide a broad based cross section of analyses so that the reader can have in one place the material that would take months of study to dig out on an individual basis.  Due to considerations of length and reader interest, it is impossible to provide every argument ever proposed, but you will find a wide array of representative ones. 

We have not passed by a good argument (even one we disagree with) if it is germane to the topic and a quality representative of a particular viewpoint.  Hence you will find here an introduction to many interpretations on a given subject and, through the footnotes, have a ready guide for further reading on the various approaches if you should wish to pursue them.  

                                                                                    Roland H. Worth, Jr.


            NOTE:  Instead of maintaining the original label for the series, the additional two volumes that were originally begun in this period will be released under the titles “Defending Jonah as History” and “Defending the Ten Plagues as History.”  This sharpens the particular focus of these works as to their intent.  As noted above, the vaguer “Solving Bible Mysteries” is both a good title and a good concept—but for books dealing with different aspects of the Biblical narrative than these.  There may, of course, be more of these as well in the future—God willing.    



Introduction to

Probing the Mystery of Judas


I wrote this analysis for brevity as a prototype for a possible series.  I will leave it that way since it was already fully completed in 2004 and it accomplishes its self-assigned tasks quite adequately .  Perhaps the only additional remark that needs to be made in regard to this particular study concerns material that did not appear in print until two years after the 2004 revision.  I speak of the Gospel of Judas, first published in 2006 from a Coptic manuscript dated to 280 A.D.   (The carbon dating technique utilized carries a plus or minus 50 year figure.)  This Gnostic gospel has Judas betraying Jesus on the Lord’s own instructions and “reveals” that the “true” gospel had been entrusted to him alone and that the other apostles were unaware of its contents.

Its pure audacity of turning things upside down could hardly be surpassed!  It is hard to believe that any Gnostics with any serious desire to cast themselves as within the broader “Christian community” would have so blatantly taken this radical a step.  It does fit with a group of Gnostics that realizes that their attitude is so fundamentally different from every one else’s, that there is nothing lost in establishing the “apostolicity” of their beliefs by rooting them in the “secret truths” known by the one everyone else regards as a hideous. 

They have already ruptured from the “main stream(s)—and all sides now recognize it.  That may be an exaggeration—but unlikely to be much of one.  

One source—an alleged “scientific one”—published an essay on the document and had a section entitled “Authenticating the Gospel.”  Most of us would take that to mean “proving what it said is reliable.”  Actually, they meant verifying that the manuscript was genuine and not a fake.  Important, but not the same thing.

The article is by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor, “Truth Behind Gospel of Judas Revealed in Ancient Inks” (at: and was dated April 8, 2013.  Note how even the title “Truth Behind Gospel” also misrepresents what they have proven!  When the Christian Science Monitor reprinted this piece they wisely changed the title to “CSI: Ancient Egypt?  Investigating the 'Gospel of Judas' -- Scientists reveal how they verified that the text known as the 'Gospel of Judas,' which paints Judas and Jesus as collaborators, dates to about 280 A.D.”           (At: Latest-News-Wires/2013/0408/CSI-Ancient-Egypt-Investigating-the-Gospel-of-Judas)

In this final review of the text I have simply re-read the text and made only the minimum necessary alterations.  Visual changes in the way the text is presented have been made, however, to hopefully benefit the reader.


Now, as to Judas . . . .

            On the short list of the ten worst villains in history, Christians would certainly place Judas at the top.  Indeed, even among those who do not share that religious persuasion, the idea of betraying a Man one has worked with for years is so inherently abhorrent that few competitors would exist.

            Judas both intrigues and horrifies us.  Qualified to be an apostle.  Blending in without any outward indication of having become disgruntled and discontented.  Yet he strikes a covert deal with Jesus’ enemies.  He not only does that but even goes to them and leads them to where they will be able to find Him.

            What caused him to act in such a manner? 

            In answering that question we need to take into consideration all that is known about Judas.  Unfortunately that represents only a very modest amount of data.  Since these details were not required by the New Testament writers in order to produce a coherent account of Jesus’ life and death, this is not surprising.  Especially when we consider that each of the four gospels is a short narrative and that an incredible amount of data has been crammed into those brief confines.

            In studying Judas we will divide our study into two sections.  First, the Biblical data on Judas.  In short chapters dealing with each of the incidents in which Judas appears as an actor, we begin with a quotation of the parallel accounts describing the incident.  (We utilize the New King James Version for this purpose.)  After that we analyze the texts concisely as to their broad meaning.

            In the second section of this study, we attempt to weave a synthesis of this material in order to answer three important questions:

            (1)  What was Judas’ background?

            (2)  What were the motives for the betrayal?

            (3)  Why did he repudiate his own betrayal by returning the money to those who bribed him?

            The scriptures offer hints but little more.  Those hints and how they have been analyzed by different individuals, however, will hopefully offer us some insight into “the crime of human history.”    







Part 1:

Judas as Apostle

(chapters 1-2)



Chapter One:

Appointment to Apostleship



-- In Matthew the appointment is only mentioned in connection with being sent out on a preaching tour rather than as a distinct act (see chapter two below).


-- Mark’s account of the appointment:  13 And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him.  14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  16 Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.  (Mark 3)


--  Luke’s account of the appointment:  12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.  13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:  14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.  (Luke 6).


--  John alludes to the appointment but does not describe it:  66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?   68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. (John 6)




            A “disciple” is simply a follower or learner.  An “apostle,” however, is “one sent” on behalf of another.  The apostle represents the person doing the sending.  Hence, it is a word that carries a connotation of authority and position that is not present in the broader word “disciple,” from whose ranks the apostles were selected.[1]   

            In retrospect, the appointment of apostles seems one of the most important actions of Jesus’ ministry.  Yet to contemporary believer, their importance was looked upon significantly differently than later generations:  they were viewed as Divinely ordained tools to assure proper leadership in the church rather than as “exalted” office holders.  In other words, they were important because of the role they played in service, leadership, and providing teaching rather than because of the formal position they held.

            This view of the apostleship--as far more leadership work rather than leadership office--seems to best explain the total silence of Matthew in regard to the appointment.  Even in John, only the fact of appointment is alluded to (6:70), but the decision itself goes undescribed.

            In Luke the context puts the emphasis on the selection being done after an entire “night in prayer to God” (6:12).  However humbly they were supposed to serve in their office, the reality remained that there were only twelve to be selected out of potentially hundreds.  Even weeks after the resurrection and the return of most of the disciples to their homes, there remained about 120 who stayed with the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15).  Hence it was important that the right individuals be selected and that their skill and wisdom be prayed for in the exercise of their office. 

            In Mark the emphasis is on the fact that their position derived from Jesus:  Jesus “called to Him those He Himself wanted” (3:13).  They were not imposed on Jesus nor was any one else responsible for their choice except Jesus personally.  Whatever previous periods of temporary service they had performed with Jesus, they were now to be in His permanent company (“with Him,” i.e., wherever He went [3:14]). 

            Their rights are not stressed but their function and duty is.  First all they were selected so Jesus could “send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14).  A cadre of specially trained and trusted individuals was needed to assure that the message of Jesus was communicated both adequately and accurately.  With a personality and distinctive doctrine as controversial as that of Jesus this was doubly important.

How were they to convince others that they were faithful and reliable expositors of Jesus’ teaching?  Their message was to be given credibility by the fact that they were given the “power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (Mark 3:15).  They did not serve as idle marvel workers:  whatever “wonders” they performed had an underlying purpose far beyond that of the immediate good it did--that of making it a rationale act to embrace teachings and convictions that defied the demands of the religious leadership of the day.    

            There is every reason to believe that Judas was regarded as being on the same moral and ethical level as the rest of the apostles.  In Mark’s account of the last Passover, Jesus asserts that one of the apostles is going to betray Him.  Mark notes that “one by one” each asked whether it was he himself (14:20):  they regarded their own betrayal of Jesus as being just as probable as one by Judas.  (Or, perhaps we should say, just as improbable.)[2] 

            They knew each other as others did not.  “They were thrown together in such intimate relationship for three turbulent years and each one of them knew the strengths and the weaknesses, the loves and the hates of every other man in the group.  Yet each man suspected himself, rather than Judas, to be the betrayer.”[3]  Hence there could have been nothing external in Judas’ behavior to make them suspect that he was the logical turncoat.  

            Judas’ appointment as treasurer of the group--the one who held their collective money bag--argues that his skill, intelligence, and good judgment was generally accepted.  No one appoints as the treasurer of a company or movement or church (or anything else) someone whose good judgment, honesty, or integrity is questionable.  Since there is not the least evidence that the apostles were skeptical of his handling of the finances until after his death, these duties must have been carried out in an efficient manner and one that at least superficially appeared honest in all ways.[4] 

            This leads us to the question of why a future traitor was chosen in the first place to be one of the apostles.  Some have suggested that Jesus (due to His limitations in going from fully Deity in heaven to deity in human form on earth) did not have all the abilities that He had previously exercised.  To be blunt, Jesus made a mistake.  Although this has a certain appeal, it also opens a very large can of worms in the process:  On how many other subjects did He make a mistake?[5]  And how are we to detect them?  Not to mention, why didn’t the Father intervene to stop or reverse them?

            Others have preferred the explanation that Judas had to be chosen because a betrayer was needed.  That Judas was to be that traitor, however, was something that was only known in retrospect.  The fact of betrayal had to be met, but the specific identity of the betrayer was left up to human will and individual decision.  Usually statements along this general line are followed by an emphasis on the fact that Judas was a man of immense potential for good or evil.  Jesus gave Him the opportunity to go either way.[6] 

            There is, of course, a vast difference between the two statements that Judas was the betrayer and that Judas had to be the betrayer.  Yet even the first way of saying it--which only implies omniscience and not predestination or any form of supernatural compulsion--admittedly still seems a bit odd.  Why let some one that close for that many years knowing what the outcome was likely going to be?   

            We can postulate why Caiaphas acted the way he did.  He was blinded by prejudice and preservation of his personal power, but we can at least easily understand how such things blinded him.  The same is true of Pilate.

            But when it comes to Judas, though we may “explain” (more or less) the rationale for his actions, yet he seems the type of person who should have the least excuse for such hostile conduct.  He had worked with Jesus.  He had seen Him for several years “close up.”  He had heard the preaching, he had observed the miracles over disease, nature, demons, and even death.  As one of those sent out to preach under the Limited Commission (chapter two, below) he had performed such himself.  The appointment to the apostleship assured that the individual most to blame for Jesus’ death had the least excuse for it.    







Chapter Two:

Judas as Preacher and Miracle Worker



--  The preaching commission as described in Matthew:  And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:  “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.

11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  12 And when you go into a household, greet it.  13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.  (Matthew 10)  [Matthew makes no mention of their return nor their report.]


--  The preaching commission is presented in Mark 6:7-11 but without any mention of Judas.  The success of the apostles (including Judas) is presented in these terms:   12 So they went out and preached that people should repent.  13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them. (Mark 6)


--  The preaching commission is also described in Luke 9:1-5 without any mention of the betrayer.  Their success (including that of Judas) is described afterwards:  So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.  10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.  Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.  11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.  (Luke 9)





            The choice of twelve subordinates spread the workload out among trusted followers.  One or two or three and it might be too much burden to be carried; a larger number than twelve and the group might easily become too large to be effectively controlled.  Hence an element of practicality surely entered into the decision as to how many to choose. 

Yet it is also likely (as often speculated) that Jesus parallels the traditional number of tribes of Israel in the number of apostles He selected.[7]  As evidence of this (though not quite as clear cut as one would like) are such indications as the fact that they were to be witnesses to all of Israel (Acts 2:36) and would have judgeship over the twelve tribes that constituted Israel (Luke 22:29-30).[8]

            In Matthew 28:18-20 we read of Jesus commissioning His disciples to take their message throughout the entire known world of their day.  During Jesus’ personal ministry, however, there was both a geographic and ethnic limitation.  The physical boundaries targeted were those of geographic Palestine and the closely adjacent region.  The ethnic boundary was that of their fellow Jews. 

Because of the differences with the Great Commission of Matthew 28, and what we are examining in the current chapter, this more limited mission can properly be called the Limited Commission.  It would test their talents and skills and prepare them for the far broader challenges that lay in the future.

            Luke calls their activity “preaching the gospel” (9:6).  Mark describes the content of their teaching as that of “preach[ing] that people should repent” (6:12).  Matthew brings out the related theme of teaching that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7).  Hence, in these passages the “gospel” (literally “good news”) consisted of the opportunity to repent and the fact that, by repentance, one prepared oneself for the coming kingdom. 

            Both subjects certainly fell into that category of "good news:"  the fact that repentance was possible argued that God was still willing to have mercy and that their human hearts had not become so hardened by an evil lifestyle that they could not be changed for the better.  The kingdom being near was certainly “good news” as well since it had long been hoped for but only now was on the verge of coming.




            Implicit in the instructions appears to be the idea of normally remaining not only within greater Palestine but within Galilee in particular.  Robert H. Gundry reminds us that, “Gentile territories bounded Galilee on all sides except the southern.  There, Samaria hemmed it in.  Consequently, the prohibitions against departure to Gentiles and entry into any city of Samaritans initially limits the disciples to Galilee.”[9]     

            Their targeted audience was Jews, bluntly described as “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).  God’s people, yet “lost” from the ways God wanted them to live and act.  Since the “lost” have no idea how to find their way to where they want to be, individuals like the apostles were needed to provide them that assistance.  We might think of them in terms of being “living road maps.”

            Both Gentiles and Samaritans were to be avoided (Matthew 10:5).  This was not out of hostility to either, but Jesus was born a Jew and to His fellow Jews the message needed to go first.  Furthermore the general animosity toward Samaritans and Gentiles--fully reciprocated by most of them--meant that any general mission to them at this point would raise issues of social and religious interaction that were best left until the Jesus community had set down its own firm roots in the Jewish environment. 

Once the opportunity for extended growth in the Palestinian Jewish milieu had occurred, enough time would have gone by for the development of a spiritual maturity that would far more easily allow for the recruitment of disciples from the broader world as well.   









[1] J. Dwight Pentecost,  The Words and Works of Jesus Christ:  A Study of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 170.   


[2] Cf. Bernard C. Clausen, Pen-Portraits of the Twelve (New York:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924), 25-26.      


[3] Gaston Foote, The Transformation of the Twelve (New York:  Abingdon Press, 19[ ? ]), 110.     


[4] Cf. Ibid., 112.     


[5] Samuel H. Bradley, The Glorious Company of the Apostles or A Character Study of the Disciples (Ph.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary [Richmond, Virginia], 1935), 149.    


[6] For example, Asbury Smith, The Twelve Christ Chose (New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1958), 144.


[7] Darrell L. Bock, Luke,  in the IVP New Testament Commentary series (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1994), 119, and F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts,  Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 44.     


[8] Robert C. Tannehill, Luke, in the Abingdon New Testament Commentaries series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Abingdon Press, 1996), 113.  


[9] Robert H. Gundry, Matthew:  A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 185.