Problem: Accounts differ over when Judas was paid
Verses: Mark 14:10-11, Matthew 26:14-16; Status: Serious

Judas was famously paid 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. But Mark and Matthew seem to differ over when he was paid. This is Mark 14:10-11:

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. (ESV)

By contrast, this is Matthew 26:14-16:

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (ESV)

The surrounding verses in Mark and Matthew are exactly the same, so this is clearly the same incident. But Mark says the priests only promised to pay him, whereas Matthew has them pay immediately. (Luke's account is ambiguous, and John doesn't mention the money.)

I can think of two inerrantist responses, neither of them very satisfying:

  1. The priests gave him some money and promised more.
  2. Matthew is describing a later payment, but mentioning it now.

But I think neither of these is too likely - the natural readings of both texts are clear enough.

Matthew, of course, based his gospel on Mark's. Why change this bit? The answer becomes clear when we get to Matthew 27:3, at which point Judas returns the silver to the elders. Obviously, to make this work Matthew has to have Judas paid before this point, hence the alteration.

Translation issues

It's been pointed out to me that the ESV's translation of Matthew 26 is slightly non-literal, and a more literal translation would look like this:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?" And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. (NASB)

This seems to open up the possibility that Judas was merely shown the money at this point. Still, given that Matthew later mentions Judas returning the money, it seems to me that he expects his readers to infer that Judas was paid at this earlier point. Also, these events in Matthew are a strong allusion to Zechariah 11:12-13, in which a payment definitely occurs when the money is "weighed out". So Matthew's meaning seems clear.

Updated: 2009-12-13

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