Matthew 27:5 (ESV)

And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

The greek of that verse which is translated into the bold part above is the word "ἀπήγξατο" which is the reflexive middle form of Strong's 519 "ἀπάγχω".

I am trying to understand if there is any possibility for the "hanging" to be understood as a figure of speech akin to the modern idiom of "getting all choked up". As evidence, it appears that the Aristophanes play Wasps uses the same root word in a figurative sense on line 686. Macdowell translated the line:

you run about at their beck and call, a thing which infuriates me.

Henderson translates it:

It really lifts my gorge when...

Both of these readings suggest that the term can be read idiomatically.

The Liddell Scott 1996 Greek Lexicon also seems to suggest this:

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And Volume 1 of the Expositors Greek New Testament likewise seems to suggest that there might be some ambiguity insofar as this verse is concerned.

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Can one (using the reflexive form of this word) conceivably "anguish oneself" or "get oneself choked up"? Is such a reading possible given the greek and the seeming rarity of this word in ancient literature?

Note, this question was originally asked over in the Christianity Stackexchange, but has been moved over here at someone's suggestion.

  • 1
    Can I ask if there is a greater Biblical context to nailing this down as idiomatic? Because Luke relaying the same event in Acts 1:18 describes what seems to be a description of someone who had been hanging in the sun entered into putrefaction, due to water loss, slipped out of his noose being top-heavy hit head first and his guts spilled. Not what you expect with a non putrefied fall, much less someone who “choked themselves up”. Basically I’m saying Luke’s medical account seems to indicate a literal hanging in Matthew. So I’m curious how this phrase came into question in the first place. Jan 12, 2019 at 4:46
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    @MrConstantin My NIV Study Bible takes the opposite view that the description in Acts needs some detail supplied to reconcile it with Matthew. Their suggestion is that he was hanging "far above the ground" and that Luke just omitted the hanging and skipped to the falling. Of course, as you said, since falling doesn't usually have this effect (citation needed :) ) Luke is probably omitting the primary means of death however you slice the pie, including the version proposed here where he's only choked up and finds some other way to die than by hanging... Jan 12, 2019 at 13:45
  • I’ll try to find you a medical journal article or coroner’s summary report but here is just a regular article. m.ranker.com/list/what-its-like-to-fall-to-your-death/… What you need to consider is that a non putrefied body has no swelling from displaced water coming out of dead cells and the ligaments and muscles are still holding everything into place. There are times when such a victim doesn’t even have a blood splatter but it’s all internal bleeding. Jan 12, 2019 at 15:20

4 Answers 4


Spoiler alert - I do not agree. The reasons that I believe ἀπήγξατο should be understood only literally are as follows:

  • The cited use of this verb in the play by Aristophanes is not reflexive middle voice but rather present indicative active which is far more amenable to figurative use. The construction in Matt 27:5 makes a figurative or metaphorical use almost impossible.
  • The language is not immediately comparable anyway. Aristophanes used a far more classical Greek while Matthew is written in Koine Greek; this makes extrapolation from Aristophanes to Matthew less likely.
  • BDAG lists only a single meaning of this word, "hanged himself", along with numerous other references suggesting a similar meaning.
  • I could not find any Bible version or translation that offers any alternative to either "hanged himself" or "strangled himself". The message of the translators of the last 500 years appears to be (at least here) uniform.
  • Lastly, just how Judas hanged himself is not described except that two more details are added in Acts 1:18 where Judas bought a field to do the deed. He presumably rigged a noose from something (perhaps a branch??) and then jumped. In any case, as a result his intestines spilled. This does not sound in any way figurative nor metaphorical!

Therefore, the evidence appears to be strongly in favour of a literal and simple understanding of Matt 27:5, namely, "hanged himself" or perhaps, "strangled himself".

  • Fully agree. Up-voted +1. I was wondering what would be proposed for και πρηνης γενομενος ελακησεν μεσος και εξεχυθη παντα τα σπλαγχνα αυτου - and falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out ?.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 12, 2019 at 13:53

About a literal understanding of ἀπήγξατο we do have other verses in the new statement clearly arguing against this. I will be short in my demonstration but clear enough, crystal clear I would say. Let's start:

Consider Luc 24 : 1-36; from there verse 1 (confirms it is the Sunday of the resurrection); verse 33 mentions there were 11 disciples (Judas would have killed himself on the day Jesus was condemned as per Matthew 27:3) and verse 36 states Jesus appeared to those 11 disciples on the Sunday of the resurrection;

Now John 20 : 1 - 31; again verses 1 and 19 refer to the Sunday of the resurrection; verse 19 mentions also that Jesus appeared to the disciples then verse 24 refers to 12 disciples (not 11 suggesting that Judas is alive) and in fact it continues to say that the missing disciple was Thomas (justifying why Luke said 11 disciples were there: it was because Thomas was absent not because Judas was dead).

I hope you enjoy all enjoy this quite simple demonstration showing Judas did not hang himself literally: same time, same story, Luke said 11 disciples were there, John said the missing was Thomas: conclusion: Judas was there and alive (the so called suicide should been happened before that Sunday on the day of the condemnation of Jesus).

  • user50638 - I agree. Judas was alive and was on the boat with Peter and five other disciples in John 21. He did hang himself at a time after Jesus appeared to them as an act of what I believe was love to Peter. He gave his life to ease the great pain his action caused Peter and the others. God created Judas Iscariot to do what he had to do, and Jesus made provisions for Judas. Jesus said in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." All Judas had to give to Peter and the others was his life.
    – Ray
    Oct 23, 2022 at 1:18

ἀπάγχω appears only once in the New Testament, and only twice in the Old - always in the middle aorist. But the Old Testament usages make it pretty clear that in this particular usage at least it refers to suicide:

καὶ Αχιτοφελ εἶδεν ὅτι οὐκ ἐγενήθη ἡ βουλὴ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπέσαξεν τὴν ὄνον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀνέστη καὶ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν πόλιν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐνετείλατο τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπήγξατο καὶ ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἐτάφη ἐν τῷ τάφῳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ.

And Achitophel saw that his counsel was not followed, and he saddled his ass, and rose and departed to his house into his city; and he gave orders to his household, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father (2 Kingdoms LXX/2 Samuel 17:23, Brenton)

ταῦτα ἀκούσασα ἐλυπήθη σφόδρα ὥστε ἀπάγξασθαι. καὶ εἶπεν Μία μέν εἰμι τῷ πατρί μου, ἐὰν ποιήσω τοῦτο, ὄνειδος αὐτῷ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γῆρας αὐτοῦ κατάξω μετʼ ὀδύνης εἰς ᾅδου.

When she heard these things she was very sorrowful, so that she thought to have strangled herself; and she said, I am the only daughter of my father, and if I do this, it shall be a reproach unto him, and I shall bring his old age with sorrow unto the grave (Tobit 3:10)


There is still ambiguity

But this is what gives me pause, these quotes Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation. (St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 186, 1994)

What is more, it darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Mt 27: 3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God. (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Oct. 18, 2006)

For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin [of Judas] to be too great for the succour which is brought to us from repentance. (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)

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