silver coinI received the following question:

I’d be interested to hear your take on the controversy over Matt 27:9-10.

An interesting question. Happy to oblige.

Matthew 27:9-10 reads,

9. 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.”

This prophecy is found nowhere in the book of Jeremiah. There is a prophecy in Zechariah 11:12-13 that some suggest is the prophecy referred to.

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.

This sounds very similar to the quote in Matthew 27. Notice, however, that Zechariah says that he threw the thirty pieces of silver into the house of the LORD for the potter, whereas in Matthew 27 it quotes Jeremiah as saying that “they” gave the thirty pieces of silver “for the potter’s field.” There is no mention of a field in Zechariah.

Suggesting a copyist’s error is a cop-out, particularly when there is no evidence of it. There are standard errors that one can look for…like skipping a line when it starts with the same word as the previous line…but there is no evidence of such an error in either passage. And there is no reason why “Jeremiah” would refer to all of the prophets.

One solution that some suggest is that the passage in Jeremiah referred to is Jeremiah 32:6-9. That passage reads,

6. And Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 7. “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.”‘ 8. 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 LORD. 9. So 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.

We can immediately see several glaring problems with claiming that this passage is the one quoted. First of all, the sum of money is wrong. “Seventeen shekels of silver” is not the same thing as “thirty pieces of silver.” Secondly, there is no mention of Jeremiah’s cousin being a potter. And thirdly, nothing in this passage sounds even remotely similar to Matthew 27:9-10.

So what do I believe is the solution to this difficulty? Was Matthew in error when he quoted Jeremiah as saying this? I believe the answer lies, as it usually does, in a closer examination of the text. Notice that Matthew says that this was “spoken” by Jeremiah the prophet. It does not say that it was written by Jeremiah. Something that a prophet spoke, he may also have written down, and many of the prophecies mentioned in the Scriptures as having been “spoken” were also written by the prophet in question in their respective books in the Word of God. However, there is no law that everything a prophet spoke, he also wrote. Sometimes, he did indeed only speak it.

There is the opposite phrase, saying that a prophet “wrote” something as well. The same thing can be said of this phrase. A prophet who wrote something could also have spoken it, but he need not have. He may have only written it. An example of this phrase is in Luke 3:4. “as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’’”

Mixing up the idea of a prophet “speaking” a prophecy and “writing” it is the same difficulty many get into when it comes to the quotation of Enoch in Jude 14, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints,’” Many have looked for the “book” in which Enoch must have written this. Some find the book in the apocryphal “Book of Enoch.” However, this book is laughable in its abundance of error. But there is no need to look for a book at all when we note that Jude speaks of Enoch “saying” this, and not of him writing it at all. There need be no book referenced in this passage. The Holy Spirit through Jude is telling us that Enoch said this, not that he wrote it. And, since He is the same Spirit Who inspired Enoch’s words in the first place thousands of years before, He is certainly able to quote Enoch correctly.

The same thing as in Jude regarding Enoch can be said, I believe, about Matthew quoting Jeremiah here. The quotation Matthew gives was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. This exact quotation, however, was never written down by any of the prophets. Zechariah wrote a similar prophecy, but only Jeremiah spoke this important prophecy as Matthew quotes it. Thus, those who look for a quote like this in the book of Jeremiah are looking for something that need not exist. It is not necessary for Jeremiah to have written this prophecy, only to have spoken it. I believe he did speak it, and the Holy Spirit was able to remember him speaking it and let Matthew know about it and that this event was the fulfillment of it. Time, after all, means little to Him, when it comes to remembering events of the past, whatever they might be.