Problem: Matthew says Jeremiah when he means Zechariah
Verses: Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:9-10; Status: Serious

Commenting on the death of Judas Iscariot, Matthew 27:9-10 reads:

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." (ESV)

There is no such verse in Jeremiah. Matthew is instead (very loosely) quoting Zechariah 11:13:

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. (ESV)

There are two problems here: the difference between the quotation and the original source, and the fact that Matthew gives the wrong name of the source. This could be another scribal error, but in this case even the NIV, which is normally very eager to resolve contradictions, gives the text of Matthew as above.

The Apologetics Press (link below) suggests that, since the prophecy was "spoken by Jeremiah", this does not actually refer to the writings of the Old Testament at all, but simply to a spoken prophecy that Matthew is somehow aware of centuries later. I suppose it could also be a written text that is now lost. This is at least conceivable.

The strongest solution

Alternatively, they suggest that Matthew refers to the book of Zechariah by naming the first book in the sequence of prophetic books. That book is Jeremiah, and so (it is suggested) one can loosely refer to all the prophetic books by naming Jeremiah. This seems like it would be confusing, but if we find that such a practice was common in those days, then this might be the solution. I find this solution unconvincing for three reasons...

Firstly, Matthew doesn't refer to a book but to a person who is speaking. Even if one could refer to the prophetic books as "Jeremiah", one surely wouldn't say that the prophet Jeremiah spoke those words.

Secondly, the notes to the NRSV say "other ancient authorities read Zechariah or Isaiah". In other words, some of the scribes who copied the book of Matthew were disturbed by what they found and tried to correct it, which argues strongly against the view that it was normal to refer to all the prophetic books by saying "Jeremiah".

The unresolved problem

Finally, even if one accepts that solution, there's still the issue that the quotation by Matthew is his own unique "prophecy" that simply doesn't appear in the Old Testament, which has nothing about purchasing a potter's field for 30 pieces of silver. It has an event where 30 pieces of silver are simply given to a potter (Jeremiah 19:1-13), and it has an event where a field is purchased (Jeremiah 32:6-9), and these events are unlinked and separated by 13 chapters. Is it really legitimate to alter one's sources like this, to conjure prophecies out of nothing? Frankly, I don't think so.

Ultimately, this seems like a more important point than the Jeremiah / Zechariah issue.

Updated: 2015-06-13

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