The Jeremiah-Zechariah Connection

Question

In Matthew 27:9-10, Jeremiah is mentioned as being the prophet that is being referred to. But isn't it actually Zechariah 11:12-13? Is this not a grievous error?

Answer

Interesting question. The text states:

Matthew 27:9-10 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

I read Matthew 27:9-10 as an adaptation of Zechariah 11:12-13:

I told them, "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the LORD.

And I read with a combination reference to Jeremiah 19:1-13:

This is what the LORD says: "Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal - something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.' "Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter's jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the LORD. I will make this city like Topheth. The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth - all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.'"

I think the Spirit of the Reformation Bible helps us a great deal here:

The bulk of the words in the citation (vv. 9-10) are from Zechariah 11:12-13, but the content is also closely related to Jeremiah 19:1-13, which is a prophecy of judgment for the shedding of innocent blood (Mt. 27:4) that describes Topheth as the "Valley of Slaughter" (Jer. 19:6), a burial ground (Jer. 19:11). Matthew reveals in Judas's and the priest's actions a fulfillment of the prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah, inasmuch as Judas's betrayal represents the betrayal of the Good Shepherd by the nation of Israel - especially that of its leadership, who handed him over (v. 26; the same Greek word translated "betray") to be crucified. This betrayal by the nation is in turn the ultimate expression of the pattern of apostasy, unbelief, and rejection of God's sovereign claim that characterized Israel throughout its history and was expressed in the days of Jeremiah and Zechariah. Judas's "Field of Blood" (v. 8) thus stands as a warning of the coming judgment on the house of Israel.

So, Matthew clearly had both Jeremiah and Zechariah in mind when writing this portion of sacred Scripture.

Why didn't he mention both? There have been many suggestions why the citation (not word for word in either book, third person versus first person wording, the exact order different - see Contradictions in the Bible) is said to come from Jeremiah, and Zechariah is not even mentioned (for a list see: Donald A. Hagner, vol. 33B, Word Biblical Commentary). However, it is my opinion that a reasonable explanation is found in the ancient custom of the Jews to divide the Old Testament into three sections: (1) the Law, (2) the Writings, and (3) the Prophets. In the rabbinical order of the prophetic books, Jeremiah was normally listed first. For this reason, the entire prophetic category was sometimes referred to as "Jeremiah." A similar parallel is seen in Luke 24:44. Here Christ designates the third section of the Old Testament canon by the term "Psalms." However, the book of Psalms was only the first book of this section. Evidently, Christ thought it sufficient to name only the first book as a suitable identification of the entire third section. So in effect, "spoken by Jeremiah the prophet" is the same as saying, "recorded in the Prophets." We can add to this the fact that in the four other places where the New Testament quotes from Zechariah it does not mention his name either (Matt. 21:4-5; 26:31; John 12:12-15; 19:37).

Another way of viewing the text is to look at a reference from Mark. In Mark 1:2-3 Mark cites both Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, but Mark does not mention Malachi. He uses the better known prophet only. So, this appears to be a common literary practice of that era.

In our own era we do something similar by sometimes referring to only major people. If I say the name of the now deceased "Steve Jobs," the corporation "Apple" would come to mind for most. However, Apple consists of more than just Steve Jobs; their new campus alone is to house over 13,000 people, which does not include the thousands who assist in the manufacturing process for the various units sold by them. So, we have a major computer geek (meant as a compliment) and all the other geeks. So, when I mention the name Steve Jobs, I may be referring to only one person or a complete corporation.

In both cases of Matthew and Mark above, by using thoughts of more than one prophet it reveals the unified progress of revelation of the Lord of redemptive history. Thus, Matthew was not in error, but merely employing a custom of writing for his day, while at the same time understanding the unifying nature of all Scripture.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).