What Is Akeldama in the Bible?

Contributing Writer
What Is Akeldama in the Bible?

If it were not for Judas, none of us would wonder about Akeldama.  But there was an apostle, one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot. He followed Jesus, participated in the ministry, managed their money, and eventually betrayed Jesus. He sold Jesus out to the religious leaders for 30 pieces of silver. In the end, he died in a plot of land known as Akeldama, or “the Field of Blood.”

Judas Iscariot is not to be confused with the other disciple named Judas, son of James (sometimes called Thaddaeus). In case you’re now running the names of the disciples through your head, here’s one reference from Luke 6:12-16 about the day Jesus chose His apostles:

“… He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.” (ESV)

Akeldama became the burial place of that traitor.

Did Judas Repent and Go to Heaven when He Died?

Judas is one disciple that everyone knows. His story has been retold countless times in everything from o Broadway musicals to TV shows based on the Bible. His motivations and actions have generated much debate. To imagine that a chosen apostle, one of Jesus’ inner circle, would choose to betray Jesus is mind-boggling. It’s very puzzling after all he’d seen—healing, deliverance, the forgiveness of sins, miracles, but especially, the heart of Jesus.

That Judas returned the money in the heat of regret and then died in the Field of Blood… well, that’s been a source of endless fascination for Bible students. Many compassionate Christians have wondered if Judas returning the money and subsequent death show signs of repentance. Could he have received forgiveness and been allowed into heaven?

While it’s important to remember it’s never too late to repent, several Bible passages would indicate that Judas’ end was not heaven, which indicates he did not repent. In Acts 1:25, we find Peter leading the apostles to choose another to take his place, “to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

Jesus calls Judas “the devil” in John 6:70-71. “Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)”

We know from Luke 22:3 and John 13:27 that Satan “entered into Judas” after he shared bread with Jesus. Jesus knew what had happened and after Judas took his bread, Jesus said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’”

And in Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17:12, Jesus prays these words. “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”

Judas betrayed Jesus. He sold him out to those who wanted to kill Him for 30 pieces of silver. While he tried to reverse his decision, it may not have indicated repentance. It could have been the “worldly grief” Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:10, the worldly grief that produces death.

What Does the Word Akeldama Come From?

The name, Akeldama, is Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken. The New Testament was originally written in Greek (the Old Testament in Hebrew). But, some words (including place names like Akeldama) were retained in Aramaic even though the gospel writers were telling the story in Greek. The writers used the Greek alphabet to spell the words, retaining the words’ original sound. This is a process known as transliteration.

The field in question appears in the gospel of Matthew and is also referenced by Luke in Acts.

First, in Matthew 27:3-10:

“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. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.’” (ESV)

Second, in Acts 1:18-19:

“(Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)” (ESV)

One obvious question arises from these two passages: how exactly did Judas die? There is also a less obvious question concerning prophecy and the mention of “the potter’s field.”

Did Judas Hang Himself in Akeldama?

Note: This section describes suicide by hanging. Graphic details and medical references are included. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

Does the Matthew passage contradict what Luke recorded in Acts 1? Matthew writes that Judas hanged himself. Luke, having interviewed eyewitnesses but not being an eyewitness himself, wrote that Judas fell “headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.”

It’s not likely that Luke’s passage was inaccurate, even though he wasn’t an eyewitness. Luke wrote during a time when eyewitnesses would have corrected any inaccuracies, and he was a careful historian.

Matthew may have simplified the description because he doesn’t feel details are necessary. Being a doctor, Luke would have found the medical details more important.

Much has been written that provides reasonable explanations for the different wording of these accounts. Here are some common explanations:

1. Judas may have hung himself from something that became less secure after his death, and his body then fell, causing his insides to burst out.

2. As his body rotted in the sun, gasses could build and create the same result.

3. We don’t know that Judas hung from a tree. It may have been a building or a cliff. The rope may have frayed, and before he died of strangulation, he fell from a height, with ensuing injuries contributing to his death.

4. The description in Acts may have been after his death by hanging. Perhaps when he was cut down, his body fell, and eyewitnesses saw the disturbing damage as his body burst open.

It’s often true that reasonable people can find explanations for supposed contradictions in Scripture, which is true here. What’s important to note from these passages is that

1. Judas regretted his choice and returned the money

2. He ended his own life

3. The Pharisees purchased land on which he could be buried (The land would have been purchased in Judas’ name, so, in a sense, he “purchased the field”).

What Bible Verse Talks about A Potter’s Field?

There has been much discussion through the years about the fulfilled prophecy of the potter’s field.

In Matthew 27:9-10, Matthew attributes the words of the prophecy to Jeremiah. Problematically, there is no evidence in the Book of Jeremiah that he is the prophet who made this statement. There is, however, a passage in Zechariah 11:12-13 that is similar. Was Matthew mistaken?

There are some possible and reasonable explanations.

It wasn’t uncommon then for shorter Old Testament scrolls to be attached to longer ones. It may have been that Zechariah (a minor prophet regarding length) was attached to Jeremiah (a major prophet regarding length), so Jeremiah’s name would have designated the entire scroll.

Perhaps Mathew considered it a combination of the Zechariah prophecy and Jeremiah’s experience at the potter’s house in Jeremiah 18.

Or, he may have been referring to Jeremiah 32, a prophecy of Israel regarding buying a field.

There are many reasons suggested by different scholars as to why Matthew attributed this prophecy to Jeremiah. Most agree that the prophecies concerning the condemnation of Israel for her rejection of God and the promise of a remnant who would one day receive the Messiah are bound up in this message.

Judas betrayed the promised Messiah. Jesus was received by only a portion of the Jewish people but rejected by most of Israel’s religious leaders.

The religious leaders paid blood money, Judas received it, and the field was purchased with it. They purchased death with their blood money—the “field of blood.”

What Jesus purchased with His blood was eternal life.

What Does Akeldama Have to Teach Us Today?

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (ESV). That is the primary message of Akeldama, the field of blood.

We don’t know what thoughts in Judas’ mind led to his decision to betray Jesus. We do know he relied on his own thinking and followed his own devices rather than following Jesus.

The shedding of Judas’ blood was a waste. He was given the opportunity to be one of the twelve, to know Jesus, and to have eternal life. Instead, he traded it for what the world values. In the end, his blood was poured out for nothing, and the blood money went to waste on a field for his body.

Jesus’ blood was poured out for many. There was no need for a burial place for His body because He lives.

To choose Jesus is to choose life. To choose to reject Jesus and follow our own way is to choose death—spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical death.

Jesus came that we should have life. Eleven other apostles chose that life, and many disciples after them chose Jesus. His death and resurrection secured abundant and eternal life for all who believe.

The Field of Blood, Akeldama, cries out as a testimony that those who reject Jesus as Messiah choose the way that leads to death.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/leolintang

Lori Stanley RoeleveldLori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits. She’s authored six encouraging, unsettling books, including Running from a Crazy Man, The Art of Hard Conversations, and Graceful Influence: Making a Lasting Impact through Lesson from Women of the Bible. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com

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