Resurrection #20: Motivation of Judas’ Betrayal

Resurrection #20: Motivation of Judas’ Betrayal April 30, 2021

Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered  59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review. 

Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.

He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.

To see all the other installments, search “Michael J. Alter” on either my Jews and Judaism or Trinitarianism & Christology web pages. That will take you to the subsection with the series.

I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.


Alter wrote:

CONTRADICTION #80 Satan Being Judas’s Motivation for Betraying Jesus

The gospel narratives present contradictory information regarding Judas’s motivation for betraying Jesus. Mark 14:10 reads: “And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” Consequently, Mark provides no explanation as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. Instead, Mark 14:11 declares that upon receiving Judas’s offer to betray Jesus, then and only then did the chief priests promise to give him money for his action: “And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.” Consequently, a plain reading of the text reveals that Judas did not go to the chief priests with the forethought of receiving money. (p. 445)

Of course, Alter will go on to claim that this is somehow contradictory compared to one or more of the other Gospels, and I will contend that he is incorrect in his cynical interpretation (his hostility and ad hominem attacks against the evangelists being blatantly obvious in this section). Alter simply can’t rule out money being Judas’ motivation, based on this text. It may have been, for example, that Judas said to the chief priests, “if you give me money, I’ll betray Jesus”: whereas the text says that he “went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them” (Mk 14:10).

We don’t know all that was said, since we only have Mark’s summary of what Judas proposed. But what I proposed as a possibility is perfectly plausible and sensible (before we even look at the data in the other Gospels). Whatever he said (and he must have said something), the chief priests were “glad, and promised to give him money” (14:11). Nothing in the text makes it impossible for filthy lucre to have been Judas’ motivation.

There are only so many reasons and motives for immoral people to do what they do. Usually they come down to very few (pride, envy, revenge, financial gain, etc.). Alter can’t logically claim what he claims, in flat-out denying that Judas’ motivation was money (“Judas did not go to the chief priests with the forethought of receiving money”: his italics). It’s one of his many unwarranted “universal negative”-types of statements. 

Matthew 26:14-15 presents important details omitted in Mark: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.” Therefore, unlike Mark, Matthew had Judas specifically going to the chief priests and bargaining for how much they would pay him to deliver Jesus. The amount agreed upon was thirty pieces of silver. As a result, Matthew reports that Judas’s motivation was money (i.e., perhaps covetousness). (p. 445)

This is not a contradiction. Mark simply omits the detail of motive. But as I think I showed, it’s common sense to posit what the motivation was. What is reasonably theorized about Mark’s account (“reading in-between the lines”) is flat-out stated in Matthew’s. Thus, we readily see how the Gospels complement (as opposed to contradict) each other.

Contrary to Mark and Matthew, Luke 22:3 reports that the rationale for Judas’s action was that Satan had entered into him before the Last Supper: “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.” Significantly, Luke omits any preconceived notion of Judas desiring money to betray Jesus or expecting to receive compensation for his deed. The action was seemingly the result of Satan entering Judas. (p. 445)

Both things can be true: 1) Satan entering into Judas, to provoke or encourage him to 2) choose to do wicked things (for which he remains responsible before God): one of which was immoral financial motive (usually when we sin, we think we will “gain something” from it), to betray his master. None of the  Gospels are obliged to mention every single thing that others may have mentioned, in order to prevent people like Alter coming around and seeing a “contradiction!” under every rock. Possibly (it seems perfectly sensible to me), Matthew and Mark didn’t mention the aspect of the devil because, as I said, in Christian theology, we are all responsible for our own actions, whether we are tempted by Satan or not.

Expanding Luke’s narrative, John 13:26-27 has Satan entering into the heart of Judas during the Last Supper. (p. 446)

In fact, according to the NT, Satan had already entered into Judas in a serious sense of profound influence before the time of the Last Supper. John is harmonious with Luke, who also teaches (assuming his passage is intended chronologically in our modern sense) that this happened before the Last Supper. Alter contends that this happened “during” the Last Supper presumably in part because of the KJV rendering of John 13:2: “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (which he cites on p. 448 in a second section). The unfortunate rendering there is the word “now.” Modern translations (KJV derives from 1611) agree almost unanimously that the event had happened earlier:

RSV And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

NIV . . . the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

ESV . . . the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

NASB . . . the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot . . . 

Amplified . . . the devil had already put [the thought of] betraying Jesus into the heart of Judas . . . 

CEV Even before the evening meal started, the devil had made Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, decide to betray Jesus

Good News (TEV) . . . The Devil had already put into the heart of Judas . . . 

ASV. . . the devil having already put into the heart of Judas . . . 

Young’s Literal Translation . . . the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

Confraternity . . . having already put . . . 

Moffatt . . . the devil had suggested . . . 

NEB and REB The devil had already put it into the mind of Judas . . . 

NRSV The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas . . . 

Barclay . . . the devil had already put the decision to betray Jesus into the heart of Judas . . . 

NAB The devil had already induced Judas . . . So during supper,

Kleist & Lilly . . . the devil had by now firmly fixed in the heart of Judas . . . 

Phillips By suppertime, the devil had already put the thought of betraying Jesus into the mind of Judas . . . 

Williams . . . the devil had suggested to Judas . . .

Beck The devil had already put the idea of betraying Jesus into the mind of Judas . . .  

Jerusalem . . . the devil had already put it into the mind . . . 

Wuest . . . the devil having already hurled into the heart of Judas . . . 

Goodspeed . . . the devil having by this time put the thought . . .


Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, comments on this passage:

The devil having already put (του διαβολου ηδη βεβληκοτος — tou diabolou ēdē beblēkotos). Another genitive absolute without a connective (asyndeton), perfect active participle of βαλλω — ballō to cast, to put. Luke (Luke 22:3) says that Satan entered Judas when he offered to betray Jesus. Hence John‘s “already” (ηδη — ēdē) is pertinent. John repeats his statement in John 13:27.

John 13:27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Satan “entered into him” in the sense of a deliberate decision to go tell the authorities where Jesus could be found (the literal act of betrayal), so that He could be apprehended. This parallels Luke 22:3 (“Satan entered into Judas”), which is strongly expressing the thought that Satan directly influenced his decision to offer himself as a betrayer to the Jewish chief priests and scribes. In other words, when we sin in such a wicked  way, the devil is always ultimately our inspiration and influence, and he rejoices.

I don’t believe that the notion of Satan “entering” a person is restricted to a one-time occurrence. We see, after all, multiple possessions by demons of a person in this passage from Jesus:

Luke 11:24-26 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.’ [25] And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. [26] Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

Thus, by analogy, Satan could do the same. Luke shows one satanic “entering” at Judas’ decision to betray (the resolve), and John describes a second, much more evil “entering”: at the time of the actual betrayal (the actual act). In any event, Satan was influencing Judas in a way akin to what Jesus described elsewhere:

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Matthew and Mark don’t mention the devil’s nefarious ends (which is not contradictory), Luke does, in a time frame before the Last Supper, and John also declares that the decision to betray had already occurred before the Last Supper. Thus, the texts are still seen to be clearly non-contradictory. 

Of course, we also know from John that Judas had been a thief long since (thus offering more insight as to why he would be open to being paid to betray Jesus):

John 12:3-6 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. [4] But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.

Jesus also says: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (Jn 6:70)

Alter doesn’t accept any of this, and so he lays it all out and expresses his extreme anti-New Testament bias evident (I do thank him for his transparency):

[T]he gospel narrators probably lied in the modern sense of the word. When a witness in a court of law deliberately excludes, includes, or rearranges material according to his purposes, he is committing perjury. The authors and final redactors of the gospel narratives were liars in a modern sense. (p. 447)

This whole series of replies is intended to show objective, fair-minded, inquiring readers that the Gospels and the New Testament are entirely trustworthy, accurate, and non-contradictory: traits that don’t absolutely prove, but are entirely consistent with, or suggestive of the inspiration of the same books.

In other words, we would fully expect a possibly inspired document not to be self-contradictory and logically chaotic and incoherent. And on the other hand we would expect a non-inspired, non-infallible set of four books about the same general subject matter to contain innumerable actual contradictions.

The problem is not that the four evangelists are “liars”; it is that Alter and skeptics like him are invariably uninformed or misinformed about various important factors of language, genre, history, exegesis, scriptural cross-referencing, hermeneutics, literary techniques (such as compression, hyperbole, ellipsis, and idiom), and different Hebrew  ways of thinking, etc., that I have been bringing up.

Because skeptics are ignorant of those, and often seem to reflexively interpret the Bible with an abysmally wooden hyper-literalism, they arrive at the wrong conclusions, which in turn, confirm them in their errors all the more and lead to yet more mistakes and false conclusions in their analyses (Proverbs 26:11 likens this to “a dog that returns to his vomit”).

However resistant to persuasion and unmoved Michael Alter is or may be, I’m quite confident that many readers of this series will be convinced of the higher level of plausibility of my arguments: in turn either bolstering their existing faith, their confidence in biblical inspiration in particular (hence in the God Who enabled and produced it), or leading them along the road to a conversion to Christianity, if they are of some other belief-system. 


Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]

Summary: Michael Alter again attempts to demonstrate various contradictions where they don’t exist; in this instance, the motives of Judas in betraying Jesus, and when Satan entered into him.

Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, motives of Judas

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