Q&A: Was Matthew mistaken?

Was Matthew mistaken?

Question

Matthew 27:9-10 is attributed to Jeremiah but it appears to be a reference to Zechariah 11:12-13. Did Matthew make a mistake?

Answer

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me" (Matthew 27:9-10).

In Jeremiah we don’t find such a text regarding "thirty pieces of silver," but in Zechariah 11:12-13 we read:

Then I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, "Throw it to the potter"— the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.

At first glance, this may appear to be a discrepancy. However, there are numerous possible explanations.

First, Matthew uses the phrase, "spoken by the prophet Jeremiah" and not "written by the prophet Jeremiah." It's possible this truth could have been first spoken by Jeremiah and then later written by Zechariah.

Second, Matthew may be using an established rabbinical formula referring to a collection of books by the name of the first book in the entire collection. The collection of the Prophets began with the book of Jeremiah. Jesus did something similar in Luke 24:44 when he referred to the Writings (Ketuvim) portion of the Old Testament as the Psalms, even though the Writings include poetry (Psalms, Lamentations), wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), short stories (Esther) and histories (Ezra-Nehemiah, 1-2 Chronicles).

Third, if one desires to maintain that Matthew is referring to what the prophets wrote, then we need to understand he wasn’t using a direct quote from either Zechariah or Jeremiah. For instance, Matthew uses the third person "they" while Zechariah is using the first person "I". Zechariah states they "threw" the 30 pieces of silver, while Matthew states they "gave." Matthew states they "took" rather than "weighed out" the 30 pieces of silver as in Zechariah. So, though Zechariah is a very Messianic book—Jesus riding on a donkey (Zech. 9:9), looking on the one they pierced (Zech. 12:10), striking the shepherd (Zech. 13:7) (and see Zech. 14)—this isn’t a direct use of Zechariah as many suppose.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may be witnessing the combination of two prophecies, one from a major prophet (Jeremiah) and another from a minor prophet (Zechariah), and then both being referred to as coming from the major prophet. This is not uncommon in Scripture. For instance, Mark 1:2-3 refers to Malachi 3:10 and then to Isaiah 40:3, but then attributes the thought to Isaiah, the major prophet. In the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 36:21 is taken from Leviticus 26:34-35 and Jeremiah 25:12 (cf. Jer. 29:10), but it is attributed to Jeremiah.

This said, Matthew is also definitely using Jeremiah to make his overall point. The word "potter" is emphasized in the book (Jer. 18:2, 3, 4, 6; 19:1, 11; cf. Lam. 4:2). Jeremiah 18:2 says, "Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words." Jeremiah 18 warns of disaster to a nation that turns to evil—Israel rejected the Son of God. Jeremiah 19:11 predicts the destruction of Jerusalem for betraying innocent blood—Jerusalem was overthrown in 70 A.D. and the temple destroyed.

Jeremiah 19:2 states, "and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you." In the Old Testament period, many of the Israelites sacrificed their children to the false gods of Molech and Baal in the Hinnom Valley (Jer. 7:31-34; cf. 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). Judas’ field was called The Field of Blood or The Valley of Slaughter. Moreover, Jeremiah 19:1-4 mentions disaster, forsaking God and innocent blood. Judas confessed that he betrayed innocent blood (Matt. 27:4; cf. Matt. 26:59-60; 27:4, 19; Luke 23:14-15, 41, 47; John 18:38; 19:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Matthew even alludes to Jeremiah 32:6-9, which refers to the potter’s field.

Though much more could be shown here, the context of Matthew 27:9-10 rests heavily on Jeremiah and the potter’s field. Zechariah appears to build and supplement this. So, this isn’t an error. Rather, it reveals that we need to learn how to interpret Scripture with Scripture as did those who went before us.

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).