The Case of Judas - Article 2
"It had been good for that man if he had not been born."—Matt. 26:24.
These words are supposed, by many professed religionists, to teach the endless perdition of Judas. How could it have been said of Judas, it is asked, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born," if he is finally to be saved? If he is to reach heaven at last, it certainly was good for him to have been born.
Many erroneous ideas have arisen in regard to the meaning of this passage by supposing that it had reference to the condition of Judas in the immortal state of existence. This language had not the least reference to the final condition of Judas. It was a common proverb among the Jews in our Savior's day, to indicate any severe calamity to befall an individual, without any reference to the future world. It had special application to events connected with this life. When any fearful calamity or judgment was to come upon an individual, it was common to say, "It were good for that man if he had not been born." It was a proverbial expression, or an expression in common use among the Jews, to denote any severe chastisement or great misfortune, or terrible calamity. The Savior, knowing its use, and aware of the fate of Judas, very appropriately applied it to him. Similar expressions had long been in use. Job cursed the day of his birth, and said: "Let the day perish wherein I was born." Job 3:1-3. Solomon said: "If a man live many years, and his soul be not filled with good; and also that he hath no burial: I say that an untimely birth is better than he." Eccles. 6:3. This is the same as saying, "It had been better if he had not been born." It was a common proverb to denote any great misfortune coming upon an individual; and as Judas would be overwhelmed with sorrow and smitten with grief and anguish, plunged into the greatest distress by a vivid sense of his sins, it was very properly applied to him without any reference to his immortal condition.
Kenrick says, in his Exposition, the expression—
"'It had been good for him, if he had never been born,' is a proverbial phrase, and not to be understood literally: for it is not consistent with our ideas of the divine goodness to make the existence of any being a curse to him, or to cause him to suffer more, upon the whole, than he enjoys happiness. Rather than do this, God would not have created him at all. But as it is usual to say of men who are to endure some grievous punishment or dreadful calamity, that it would have been better for them never to have been born, Christ foreseeing what Judas would bring upon himself, by delivering up his Master into the hands of his enemies, applies this language to him."
We call the reader's attention to the following from Dr. Adam Clarke, the Methodist commentator, upon this subject. He enters into a labored argument to show that Judas may be saved, and that his repentance was sincere, genuine, and acceptable to God. After mature deliberation, he thinks that "there is no positive proof of the final damnation of Judas in the sacred text." This is the opinion of one of the most learned and distinguished divines of the orthodox church. Dr. Clarke shows clearly that the language that stands at the head of this article was a proverbial expression to denote the state of any flagrant transgressor without regard to the future world. But we will let this distinguished commentator speak for himself. He says:
"Judas was indisputably a bad man; but he might have been worse: we may plainly see that there were depths of wickedness to which he might have proceeded, and which were prevented by his repentance. Thus things appear to stand previously to his end. But is there any room for hope in his death? In answer to this, it must be understood,—first: That there is presumptive evidence that he did not destroy himself; and, second: That his repentance was sincere. If so, was it not possible for the mercy of God to extend even to his case? It did so to the murderers of the Son of God; and they were certainly worse men, (strange as this assertion may appear), than Judas. Even he gave them the fullest proof of Christ's innocence: their buying the field with the money Judas threw down, was the full proof of it; and yet, with every convincing evidence before them, they crucified our Lord. They excited Judas to betray his Master, and crucified him when they got him into their power, and therefore St. Stephen calls them both the betrayers and murderers of that Just One, (Acts 7:52), in these respects they were more deeply criminal than Judas himself; yet, even to these very betrayers and murderers, Peter preaches repentance, with the promise of remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 3:12-26). If, then, these were within the reach of mercy, and we are informed that a great company of the priests became obedient to the faith, (Acts 6:7), then certainly Judas was not in such a state as precluded the possibility of his salvation. Surely the blood of the covenant could wash out even his stain, as it did that more deeply ingrained one, of the other betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus.
Should the 25th verse be urged against this possibility, because it is there said that Judas fell from his ministry and apostleship, that he might go to his own place, and that this place is hell. I answer,—first: It remains to be proved that this place means hell; and, second: It is not clear that the words are spoken of Judas at all, but of Matthias: his own place meaning that vacancy in the apostolate, to which he was then elected.
To say the repentance of Judas was merely the effect of his horror; that it did not spring from the compunction of heart; that it was legal and not evangelical, etc., is saying what none can with propriety say but God himself, who searches the heart. What renders his case most desperate, are the words of our Lord. (Matt. 26:24). "Wo unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born!" I have considered this saying in a general point of view in my note on Matt. 26:24, and were it not a proverbial form of speech among the Jews to express the state of any flagrant transgressor, I should be led to apply it, in all its literal import, to the case of Judas, as I have done in the above note, in the case of any damned soul; but when I find that it was a proverbial saying, and that it has been used in many cases, where the fixing of the irreversible doom of a sinner is not implied, it may be capable of a more favorable interpretation than what is generally given to it. I shall produce a few of those examples from Schoettgen, to which I have referred in my note on Matt. 26:24.
In Chagigah, fol. 2, 2, it is said, 'Whoever considers these four things, it would have been better for him had he never come into the world, viz.: That which is above; that which is below; that which is before; and that which is behind. And whosoever does not attend to the honor of his Creator, it were better for him had he never been born.'
In Shemoth Rabba, sect. 40, fol. 135, 1, 2, it is said, 'Whosoever knows the law, and does not do it, it had been better for him had he never come into the world.'
In Vayikra Rabba, sect. 26, fol. 179, 4, and Midrash Coheleth, fol. 91,4, it is thus expressed; 'It were better for him had he never been created; and it would have been better for him had he been strangled in the womb, and never have seen the light of this world.'
In Sohar Genes, fol. 71, col. 282, it is said, 'If any man be parsimonious towards the poor, it had been better for him had he never come into the world.' Ibid, fol. 84, col. 333. 'If any performs the law, not for the sake of the law, it were good for that man had he never been created.'
These examples sufficiently prove that this was a common proverb, and is used with a great variety and latitude of meaning; and seems intended to show that the case of such and such persons was not only very deplorable, but extremely dangerous; but does not imply the positive impossibility either of their repentance or salvation.
The utmost that can be said for the case of Judas is this: he committed a heinous act of sin and ingratitude; but he repented, and did what he could to undo his wicked act: he had committed the sin unto death, i. e., a sin that involves the death of the body; but who can say, (if mercy was offered to Christ's murderers, and the gospel was first to be preached at Jerusalem, that these very murderers might have the first offer of salvation through him whom they had pierced), that the same mercy could not be extended to wretched Judas? I contend, that the chief priests, etc., who instigated Judas to deliver up his Master, and who crucified him—and who crucified him, too, as a malefactor, having at the same time, the most indubitable evidence of his innocence — were worse men than Judas Iscariot himself; and that if mercy was extended to those, the wretched penitent traitor did not die out of the reach of the yearning of its bowels. And I contend farther, that there is no positive evidence of the final damnation of Judas in the sacred text.' —Clarke in loco.
This learned commentator contends that the repentance of Judas was genuine, and that "there is no positive evidence of the final damnation of Judas in the sacred text." Why, then, are we gravely asked, did he go and hang himself, as Matthew affirms? (Matt, 27:5) We would here state, that Luke gives a somewhat different account of his death. See Acts 1:18: "And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out." How, then, are we to reconcile this apparent discrepancy between the two evangelists? One affirms that he hanged himself, the other that he fell headlong and burst asunder. The difficulty in question arises from an incorrect translation of the Greek word apegzato, here rendered "hanged himself." It does not necessarily have this meaning, and may be rendered, "was suffocated, as with grief or anguish." Eminent critics, as Dr. Clarke says, believe that Judas was suffocated with excessive grief. "Wakefield (he adds), supports this meaning of the word with great learning and ingenuity." Dr. George Campbell, an eminent Scotch Presbyterian divine, says that "the Greek word plainly denotes strangling, but does not say how, by hanging, or otherwise. It is quite a different term that is used in those places where hanging is mentioned." He also adds, that it may be rendered, "was suffocated." Wakefield renders it, "was choked with anguish." This rendering of the original is supported by high authority, and is evidently correct.
Judas was overwhelmed with a sense of his sin, and sincerely repented before God, carried back the ill-gotten gain, and died of excessive grief, "was chocked with anguish," or "was suffocated." His grief was most intense; his anguish so burdensome, that he reeled beneath the oppressive load of guilt and sorrow, and fell prostrate to the earth, being suffocated with grief. He gave every evidence possible of deep sorrow for sin, and of genuine repentance.