(Mt. 27:9-10) Did Matthew misattribute Zechariah 11:12-13 to Jeremiah?

CLAIM: Critics claim that Matthew made a mistake in his quotation here. There is no reference to a “potter’s field” in Zechariah, and the original incident does not seem to deal with the actions of Judas. Some critics of the NT claim that Matthew got his names wrong, when he wrote this.

RESPONSE: Some think that this may have been a scribal error, but “there is little evidence to support these proposals.”[1] Instead of this explanation, a number of responses can be made for Matthew’s handling of the OT.

First, this is a loose quotation. Matthew is not exactly quoting from Zechariah 11. He is conflating two different prophecies together.

Second, Jews would often quote the most important prophet, rather than the less important one. Jeremiah was a more important and famous prophet than Zechariah, so Matthew cites Jeremiah, instead of Zechariah. Mark follows the same method, when he conflates the prophecies of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. He cites Isaiah –even though he quoted from both Isaiah and Malachi (Mk. 1:2-3). Since Isaiah was the more famous of the two prophets, he cites Isaiah –not Malachi –even though he quoted from both of them.

Third, the context of Zechariah is messianic. For instance, notice this passage in Zechariah 11 comes in the context of the Messiah coming on a donkey’s colt (9:9), looking on the one they’ve pierced (12:10), and striking the one near the shepherd (13:7). Moreover, chapter 14 of Zechariah is entirely Messianic.

Fourth, Zechariah doesn’t mention anything about the Potter’s Field, but Matthew quotes this. Where did this imagery of the Potter’s Field come from? It is clear that this imagery of the field was lifted from Jeremiah! Zechariah’s imagery of casting the money to the potter is reviving Jeremiah’s older imagery of buying the potter’s field for a certain number of shekels. We find this in a number of passages in Jeremiah:

(Jer. 18:2 NASB) “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.”

(Jer. 19:1 NASB) Thus says the LORD, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests.

Judas confesses to the chief priests (Mt. 27:3b), and Matthew must have seen a connection between the two.

(Jer. 19:2 NASB) Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you,

Judas’ field was called The Field of Blood. This field was called The Valley of Slaughter.

(Jer. 19:3-4 NASB) ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent

Similarly, Judas confessed that he betrayed innocent blood (Mt. 27:4).

(Jer. 19:11 NASB) and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial.”

Jeremiah predicted that the city and Temple would be destroyed for betraying innocent blood. Likewise, the city and Temple were destroyed for betraying Jesus and his innocent blood.

(Jer. 32:6-9 NASB) And Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 7 ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”’ 8 Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the LORD and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. 9I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver.

For these reasons, Matthew attributed this passage to Jeremiah, because he was the more important prophet from whom we get this imagery of purchasing the potter’s field.

[1] Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: New Testament Objections. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006. 29.