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.

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    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. – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 12 '19 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... – Luke Sawczak Jan 12 '19 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. – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 12 '19 at 15:20

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 '19 at 13:53

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