I was reading Matthew 27 in my Bible. Verse 9 mentions Jeremy [Jeremiah] the prophet, but I noticed that in the center margin there is a reference to Zechariah 11:12, not to a passage in Jeremiah. Sure enough, I looked up the passage, and Matthew indeed quoted Zechariah. What gives?
Matthew 27 covers the trial and crucifixion of Christ. Verses 3 and 4 give the account of Judas, who, in guilt, took back to the chief priests and elders the 30 pieces of silver he had received for betraying the Lord. Verses 5–8 recount the traitor’s self-hanging and burial in the potter’s field purchased with his ill-gotten money. Then verse 9 shows that this event was prophesied in the Old Testament. Those evil religious leaders were unaware they were fulfilling Scripture.
Your question, then, is whether the prophecy came from Jeremiah, who is named in the passage, or if it came from Zechariah instead, since his book contains similar words.
A few plausible explanations exist for this seeming discrepancy. There is no mistake in Scripture. It is unnecessary to believe (as some have suggested) in some sort of typographical error or memory lapse by Matthew. Neither must we accept that the quote came from some apocryphal writing attributed to Jeremiah or that Jeremiah actually might have written Zechariah 9–11, which is virtually impossible if one rightly regards birth and death dates of certain people. Here are some valid possibilities:
1. Matthew actually blended both men’s writings (see Jeremiah 18:1–4; 19:1–4, 6, 11; 32:6–9 and Zechariah 11:12, 13), but he specified Jeremiah since he was the older and more ranking of the two prophets. A similar double reference happens in Mark 1:2 and 3—both Isaiah and Malachi are sources for this prophetic passage, though only Isaiah is mentioned. (Note that not all translations mention Isaiah but instead use a term such as “the prophets.” The New American Standard Bible is one translation that includes the name Isaiah.)
2. Picture the scrolls that Scripture was written upon back then. The minor prophets (including Zechariah) were copied on the same scroll as Jeremiah. So the name “Jeremiah” could refer not only to Jeremiah but to everything else on the scroll. However, there is some question over whether Jeremiah or Isaiah is actually placed first. Nevertheless, we can understand this possibility when we think of terms referring to the Old Testament Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Sometimes the Northern Kingdom was referred to as Ephraim, the principal tribe of that kingdom. This reference did not mean that the Northern Kingdom consisted of only Ephraim. Likewise, the Southern Kingdom was referred to as Judah, the main tribe of that kingdom, though the Southern Kingdom included more than Judah (Benjamin and Levites).
In similar fashion, the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses, were referred to as the Law (Luke 24:44); but the first book, Genesis, did not have the Mosaic law in it. Luke 24:44 also mentions the psalms. Picture “the psalms” including more than what we know today as the book of Psalms (such as the Proverbs of Solomon). Therefore the name “psalms” could include not only the book of Psalms but also the entire third section of the Hebrew canon.
3. In ancient Syriac and Persian versions of the book of Matthew, the name of Jeremiah is omitted.
4. Zechariah’s writings, written later in time, might have been perceived to refer to, or be whetted from, Jeremiah’s writings. Prophets did on occasion reproduce earlier prophecies by other prophets. If this is what happened here, Matthew credited Jeremiah. Or perhaps the scribe writing the gospel by hand knew and recalled that Jeremiah had mentioned the purchase of a field. Thus the scribe tried to place the two Old Testament writings under one more “famous” name, even though Jeremiah’s reference doesn’t have the right amount of money (17 shekels of silver; Jeremiah 32:6–9), compared with Zechariah’s reference to 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:13), the amount Judas paid.
Did you note in reading and studying this passage how blind the religious leaders were? They were scared to death about the money being returned by Judas and didn’t want to put it back into the treasury. But they had no compunction whatsoever about paying the 30 pieces of silver to Judas for the Lord’s betrayal, let alone putting the Son of God to death.
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