Does Matthew conflict over Judas?
In my post about Judas and the last supper, Colin Maxwell, a Calvinist responded to my post, although not responding on this blog, but on his twitter account @weeCalvin. He wrote that Luke’s account that listed Judas as being at the first celebration of the covenant in Jesus’ blood should be considered as a disputed passage. He considers Luke disputed not because he doesn’t believe that it is God-breathed, but because he doesn’t believe that it is written in chronological order. He also said that Matthew’s account where Jesus’ words show that Judas could not have been present, should be trusted as the chronological wording of Jesus so that Judas was not offered the wine and the bread representing Jesus’ death on the cross.
Let’s take a look at this issue carefully, trusting that God’s Word does not contradict itself.
How was the book of Luke written?
Let’s look at the testimony of Luke.
Luke 1:1–3 (NASB)
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
Luke’s purpose was to write out a consecutive, ordered account of the events that happened concerning Jesus and the gospel. That is his testimony.
How was the book of Matthew written?
The book of Matthew was not written in chronological order, but written as an arranged order of similar events. Although this is a different style, this does not mean that either account is in error, or should be discounted. Both gospels are true because they were written by the Holy Spirit who moved different people as authors, yet the result was inspired and without error. Matthew starts his gospel in this way:
Matthew 1:1 (NKJV) The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
Matthew 1:1 (NASB) The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
The Greek term “biblos” for “book” or “record” means a compilation of the known facts regarding something or someone. It is not necessary for the facts to be in chronological order. Let’s look at four witnesses who agree that Matthew does not list his events in chronological order.
The first witness shows Matthew is a topical source.
It has been noted previously that Matthew has arranged his account of the life of Christ in a topical fashion, giving a series of miracles, sermons, or controversies without presenting them in the order in which they occurred. Luke’s Gospel appears to be more chronological in nature, Redford, D. (2007). Vol. 1: The life and ministry of Jesus: The Gospels. Standard Reference Library: New Testament (142–143).
The second witness identifies that Matthew is not chronological but uses events out-of-order to set the stage.
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT THE COST OF FOLLOWING HIM /(Matthew) 8:18–22 / 122 According to the Harmony of the Gospels (found at the back of this commentary), this crossing of the lake didn’t actually occur after the events just recounted. Matthew chose to include it here to set the stage for the events in the remainder of the chapter. Barton, B. B. (1996). Matthew. Life Application Bible Commentary (158).
The third witness is a Calvinist source which confirms the uniqueness of Matthew’s style.
In ordering his literary material the method of Matthew is unique. As he tells the story of redemption he does not consistently follow the order of time, but he groups similar events or teachings which may be logically related, and so heightens the effects. Thus we find collected in a single chapter seven of the fourteen parables which Matthew records, and in the same way in one group ten of the twenty miracles. So too the unique feature of the Gospel consists in five great summaries of the teachings of Christ; the Sermon on the Mount, the Instruction to the Disciples, the Parables of the Kingdom, the Woes Against the Pharisees, and the Discourses Relative to the Return of the King. Luke, by way of contrast, follows the order of time. He has been compared to a botanist who likes to follow a stream and to examine each flower in its native home; but Matthew prefers to gather the blossoms and to arrange them according to kind or color in great clusters of beauty. Erdman, C. R. (1921). The Gospel of Matthew: An Exposition (12). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
The last witness, is an old scholarly source, showing that Matthew’s dislocation of events is not something that is known only through recent scholarship but has been known by scholars through the centuries.
MARK and Luke do again confirm the order: but Matthew’s dislocation of the same story, doth breed some scruple. Lightfoot, J. (1822). The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, Volume III
The words of Jesus are true
Jesus’ words are not in dispute. Jesus only told the truth, and His witness can be believed. Let’s look at the actual words of Jesus recorded in the accounts to see that there is no discrepancy at all when we consider the style of writing.
Luke 22:20–21 (NASB)
20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.
Luke’s account is orderly and in the ordered telling of the events, Jesus establishes the covenant in His blood, saying it is for “you” plural, and then establishes the place of Judas with Him at the table. Jesus Himself said both that the cup is His covenant in His blood, poured out for you (plural), and that the one who is betraying Him is there with Him, his hand being on the table with Jesus. The statements are in order, and true.
The words of Jesus in Matthew are true and connected to the next action
In Matthew, we have the words of Jesus correctly quoted, but words that are topically connected and not in a saying of Jesus’ in the immediate context of Judas.
Matthew 26:28–32 (NASB)
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’
32 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
There is no doubt that Jesus said that words in verse 29, but it is obvious that these words were not said at the time that Judas was there but some time later. The words of Matthew are absolutely correct, and they are not in doubt. But Matthew’s placement of Jesus’ promise that He will drink the fruit of the vine with “you” in His Father’s kingdom, is a word of comfort to the rest of the disciples whom Jesus said in verse 31 would be scattered. Judas wasn’t scattered, but the eleven were. Jesus assures them that although He says they will be scattered when He is struck down, they will not be lost or abandoned. In verse 29 He assures the eleven that make up this little flock that He will indeed drink the fruit of the vine with them in the kingdom. In the very next verse, verse 32, He assures the eleven that He will indeed go ahead of them into Galilee so they will not be left alone.
Matthew’s writing with Jesus’ word of comfort is connected for assurance to the soon-to-be scattered flock. Matthew’s account is different from Mark’s and Luke’s account, not because one account is in question, as the Calvinist who challenged me has stated, but because the words were stated at a different time then the words quoted in Luke because they were words for a different reason. In Luke 22:18, Jesus’ words are about the ending of His earthly life and the coming of the kingdom of God, that is certain even though the hand of His betrayer is with Him on the table. The betrayal will not stop the kingdom from coming, but will be a part of fulfilling the act that is necessary for the kingdom to come.
Luke 22:18 (NASB) for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”
Jesus could not say at the time that His betrayer was with Him, that He would be drinking wine with Judas in the kingdom, for He had already said His woe to the one who would betray Him. This one who would be lost forever, and would not be in the kingdom.
Can you accept Jesus’ words as true in their correct order, even if they conflict with Calvinist theology?
Those who believe Jesus’ words in the ordered account of Luke, must accept that Judas was there at the time of the last supper. But for Calvinists, the words of Jesus brings them to a crossroads. If they believe that Jesus told the truth and that the Bible is faithful to record Jesus’ words in chronological order in the book of Luke, then Judas becomes a stumbling block to Calvinism. If you hold Calvinism as a doctrine to love, you will have to choose whether a doctrine is more important than holding to the inerrancy of the Bible and holding to the words of your Lord and Saviour. For if Jesus, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life said that His death was for all of them, and all should partake, then there is at least one person that Jesus died for that was not saved.
If you are a Calvinist, I would like for you to consider these questions:
1. If Jesus died for Judas as His words in Luke 22:20-21 and Matthew 26:26-28 show that Judas was also commanded to drink and partake of the bread and wine, and Jesus said His death was for “you” plural, can you call Jesus a failure as a Saviour, because Judas was not saved? I use the term “failure” here because Calvinists have a habit of challenging non-Calvinists with the thought that if Jesus died for someone in hell, then Jesus was either a failure or an imperfect Saviour.
2. Will you consider that Jesus was the true Saviour of the world which includes specifically the Saviour of Judas and that His death on behalf of the sins of Judas was an act of perfect love, but that the act of dying for Judas did not necessitate the salvation of a hardened or unwilling soul?
Your thoughts and comments are welcome. Please remember to keep your words gracious and kind as though speaking in the presence of our common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We may not all agree, but if you are a true Christian, we are brethren in Christ.