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Does Matthew 27:9 Contain Error?

A reader refers to Matthew 27:9-10: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me." He then writes, "Matthew attributes the saying to Jeremiah but it is quite clearly from Zechariah. I thought ... that maybe Jeremiah is mentioned because Jeremiah pictures God as the potter. But it seems like a stretch, and it will be claimed to be such by those who argue against me who try to show the fallibility of the Bible."

The problem arises from the fact that no such text can be found in Jeremiah, while in Zechariah 11:12-13 a passage similar to what Matthew writes appears: "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord."

The question is, quite obviously, Why does Matthew refer to Jeremiah when a more fitting passage seems to be the verses in Zechariah that I quoted above? Did Matthew make a mistake? And, if he did, does this mean that Scripture is not infallibly inspired?

Before I answer the question, one point needs to be made. It is necessary to underscore this because the reader, correctly, points out that the enemies of Scripture’s infallibility are accustomed to refer to this passage among many others in an effort to prove mistakes in the Bible.

The remark that needs to be made is this: The truth of Scripture’s infallibility does not rest on our ability to solve problems created by this passage—and others like it. The proof of Scripture’s infallibility rests on the testimony of Scripture itself and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (John 10:35; 17:17).

Thus German Lutheran Johann Andreas Quenstedt (1617-1688) rightly states, "The canonical Holy Scriptures in the original text are the infallible truth and are free from every error; in other words, in the canonical Sacred Scriptures there is found no lie, no falsity, no error, not even the least, whether in subject matter or expressions, but in all things and all the details that are handed down in them, they are most certainly true, whether they pertain to doctrines or morals, to history or chronology, to topography or nomenclature. No ignorance, no thoughtlessness, no forgetfulness, no lapse of memory can dare be ascribed to the amanuenses of the Holy Ghost in their penning of the Sacred Writings."

Thus we are not going to examine the text to find out whether Scripture is infallible or fallible. We are going to assume, before even beginning to examine the text, that Scripture is infallible and contains no mistakes. Whether we find a satisfactory answer or not makes no difference. After all, the Holy Spirit wrote Scripture and His knowledge is perfect; we merely study Scripture and our ability is extremely limited.

Having said that, let us look at the text. Many different solutions have been proposed by men who adhere scrupulously to Scripture’s infallibility. One can find these attempts at solving the problem in any good commentary, such as, for example, William Hendriksen’s commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew. I will not repeat them here. Some are more satisfactory than others.

There is an explanation offered by James Montgomery Boice, which seems to me to be the true solution. Boice writes, "The verses [inZechariah] are not about a person who betrays the Messiah, and they say nothing about buying a field. On the other hand, Jeremiah 19 describes a symbolic action in which Jeremiah buys and then breaks a potter’s jar, symbolizing the destruction of the nation, and chapter 32 describes the purchase of a field ... The best explanation is probably that Matthew was putting together a number of passages that seemed to add significance to the death of Jesus’ false but well-known disciple Judas. The reference to Jeremiah 19 seemed appropriate because it refers to ‘innocent blood’ and because the place where the prophet broke the jar would eventually be used as a burial ground for those who were to die in the siege of Jerusalem. The reference to Zechariah and his role as a shepherd of the people adds the ideas of the rejection of Jesus as the true shepherd of the flock, his being valued at the price of a mere slave, and the betrayal money being cast into the temple" (Matthew, vol. 2 [Baker,2006], p. 601).

This is a likely explanation and I agree with Dr. Boice, except for his use of the word "seemed" in the above quotation: "The reference to Jeremiah seemed appropriate ..." It is more correct to say, "The reference to Jeremiah was appropriate ..."

William Hendriksen adds that such use of the prophets was not at all uncommon in New Testament writings: "What Matthew does, therefore, is this: he combines two prophecies, one from Zechariah and one from Jeremiah. Then he mentions not the minor prophet but the major prophet as the source of the reference The mention of only one source when the allusion is to two is not peculiar to Matthew. Mark does this also. Thus Mark 1:2, 3 refers first to Malachi, then to Isaiah. Nevertheless, Mark ascribes both prophecies to ‘Isaiah,’ the major prophet. And similarly the quotation found in II Chron. 36:21 is drawn from Lev. 26:34, 35 and from Jer. 25:12 (cf. 29:10), but is ascribed only to ‘Jeremiah’" (An Exposition of Matthew [Baker,1975], p. 948).

With these observations I agree. God’s word is eternal in the heavens. Before it we bow, for it is the rule of our faith and our life.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 13
  • Issue: 1
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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