Does Matthew quote the wrong prophet? Bart Ehrman on Jeremiah and Zechariah

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Why does Matthew quote the wrong prophet? When Matthew indicates that Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, he notes (as by now we expect of him) that this was in fulfillment of Scripture: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver…and they gave them for the potter’s field” (Matthew 27:9-10). The problem is that this prophecy is not found in Jeremiah. It appears to be a loose quotation of Zechariah 11:3.” [Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing The Hidden Contradictions In The Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: HarperCollins, 2009, pp. 50-51]

Matthew is the disciple chosen by Jesus who was formerly a tax collector (what I’d call an ancient-day IRS employee), but he was consumed with Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures. At every chance he got, he never failed to let his Gospel readers know that Jesus’ action “was to fulfill the words of the prophet” (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:15, 23; 4:14-16).

Thus, when it comes to Judas’s betrayal, his awareness of his wrong, and then his suicide, we read that Judas gave back the thirty pieces of silver that he’d been given by the authorities to hand over Jesus for death. Judas, according to Matthew, asked what amount the authorities would give him to hand over Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16), and the amount they gave him was 30 pieces of silver. When he throws it back, and refuses to take it (once he sees that Jesus was innocent), he goes and hangs himself. We’ve already covered Judas’s death and the exact nature of how he died in an earlier post.

The thirty pieces of silver Judas gives back, the blood money paid to betray Jesus, is then used to buy “the potter’s field.” Matthew, as usual, says that this is to fulfill what was said by an Old Testament prophet — in this case, Jeremiah. And yet, according to Bart Ehrman’s quote above, Matthew “quote[s] the wrong prophet.”

But is this really the case? In order to find out, let’s examine the passages of Jeremiah and Zechariah to find out the whole story.

Ehrman’s Error

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My old university professor has made an error in his own work. He writes that the statement of Matthew 27:9-10 “appears to be a loose quotation of Zechariah 11:3,” but the verse is all wrong. The verse isn’t Zechariah 11:3, but rather, Zechariah 11:12-13.

Here’s what Zechariah 11:3 says:

There is the sound of wailing shepherds!
For their glory is in ruins.
There is the sound of roaring lions!
For the pride of the Jordan is in ruins. (Zechariah 11:3)

 

This is what Zechariah 11:12-13 says:

12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.

13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. (Zechariah 11:12-13)

The potter is mentioned in Zechariah 11:13, not Zechariah 11:3. Ehrman wants to call out Matthew for quoting the wrong prophet (Jeremiah instead of Zechariah; his claim is wrong), but quotes the wrong verse. Methinks hypocrisy is at play here.

The Potter’s Field in Jeremiah and Zechariah

 

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Ehrman has the wrong verse, but we now want to examine whether or not he has evaluated Matthew wrongly. I believe he has erred with regard to Matthew. Let’s look at Matthew’s words alongside of Jeremiah’s and Zechariah’s:

But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” (Matthew 27:6-10)

Now, Jeremiah:

And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you, saying, “Buy my field which is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it.”’ Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LordSo I bought the field from Hanamel, the son of my uncle who was in Anathoth, and weighed out to him the money—seventeen shekels of silver. 10 And I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. 11 So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; 12 and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison.

13 “Then I charged Baruch before them, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.” 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.”’ (Jeremiah 32:6-15)

Now, Zechariah 11:12-13:

11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.

13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. (Zechariah 11:11-13)

In Matthew 27:9, we see the mention of thirty pieces of silver, which we also see in Zechariah 11:12. And yet, Zechariah doesn’t mention buying a field; instead, he mentions that the Lord tells Zechariah to “throw it to the potter.” Again, thirty pieces of silver are mentioned, and giving it to the potter, but no mention of buying a field. For that piece of information, one has to go to Jeremiah 32 to find what’s missing here.

And in Jeremiah 32, we see Jeremiah buys the field that belonged to his cousin Hanamel (the son of his uncle Shallom), and he buys it for 17 shekels of silver (Jeremiah 32:6-9). So, as can best be seen, Zechariah 11 tells us that 30 pieces of silver was earned (as a wage for Judas’s betrayal of Jesus), then Jeremiah’s prophecy kicks in where the field is bought for so many pieces of silver. When Matthew quotes Jeremiah, he quotes him not because his prophecy is the only one to complete the matter, but rather, because Jeremiah mentions buying a field whereas Zechariah does not.

Thus, Ehrman is wrong because the emphasis is on buying the field, not the pieces of silver. And in the end, Matthew combines both the words of Jeremiah and Zechariah to speak of the potter’s field that was purchased with the blood money that had been given to Judas for betraying his Lord. Matthew, then, is not wrong, because he doesn’t use the wrong prophet; rather, he only mentions Jeremiah rather than “Jeremiah and Zechariah.”

Conclusion

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The event at hand in Matthew 27 pertains to buying a field, not to the pieces of silver that Judas earned. Matthew’s statement is not about thirty pieces of silver, but about buying a field. Yes, there is something prophetic regarding Zechariah’s words that 30 pieces of silver was a wage earned (and Matthew does mention this), but Matthew isn’t making that connection; rather, his focus is on buying the field, and that is quoted by the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah not only mentions buying the Potter’s Field, but God gives him much to say in his prophetic book about God being the Potter (Jeremiah 18-19; Lamentations 4), so the connection between the Potter and the field Jeremiah purchases should remind us that the field was the Potter’s Field: Jeremiah purchased it for the Potter (God), who told him to do so.

Zechariah mentions nothing about a field purchase in his prophecy, though he mentions the same wages that Judas earned (thirty pieces). Simply put, Zechariah isn’t in view here in this prophecy, and though his words have some connection to Jeremiah’s, Matthew quotes the prophet that mentions the land acquisition (Zechariah does not mention it).

Bart Ehrman is the one who has erred in more ways than one: 1) by claiming Matthew cites the wrong prophet (he doesn’t), and 2) incorrectly quoting where the Zechariah connection comes from: it doesn’t come from Zechariah 11:3 but rather, Zechariah 11:13. Verse 3 and verse 13 aren’t the same, and this is a major typo that Ehrman should fix before he can (without hypocrisy) accuse Matthew of quoting the wrong prophet. Ehrman should “fix his own typos” before attempting (in vain, might I add?) to call out Matthew for his.