“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.”
The above heading will perhaps evoke but little interest to those who are not acquainted with the problem which the text presents. Nor will the reading of the text and the context arouse much curiosity. The context, relates how Judas returned to the temple and cast the thirty pieces of silver, his traitor’s reward, at the feet of the chief priests and elders. And these latter, considering it unlawful to put the money in the treasury of the temple because it was the price of blood, decided to buy a field to be used as a cemetery for strangers. And then we read in the verse following* the text quoted above, “And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord had appointed me.” Although this is still a part of the quotation which we have in the text (Matt. 27:9), it is evident that this was literally fulfilled by the chief priests, for we read in the verses 7 and 8 of the same chapter, “And they (the chief priests) took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.” The problem. . . .
Aceldama. . . . . .the field of blood!
We all know the story. We have read it many times. Yet, even so, we have perhaps never realized that there was a problem of any kind here. If, however, we have taken the time and pains to look up this which “was spoken by Jeremy the prophet,” we will also be aware of the problem that exists here. The fact is that one looks in vain for the above quotation in the writing of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 18:2 we read of the “potter’s house” and in chapter 19 of “the valley of the son of Hinnom.” We are told that this valley, which was near Jerusalem, is to be identified with the potter’s field which was purchased with the traitor’s thirty pieces of silver. Apart from, this we find nothing in the prophecy of Jeremiah that seems to bear any relation at all to the above mentioned quotation.
Now, what is remarkable is that we do find a passage, that is somewhat similar to this quotation in the prophecy of Zechariah. A comparison betweenand will show that if the former is a quotation of the latter, it is by no means literal. Yet, the similarity is so great that one can hardly escape the conclusion that Matthew must certainly have had the prophecy of Zechariah in mind when he interpreted the purchase of Aceldama as the fulfillment of prophecy. The passage in Zechariah, to which we have reference and which we mentioned above, reads: “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 priced at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” I think we may, in this connection, safely dismiss the contention on the part of some that “unto the potter” in the above quotation of Zechariah is incorrect and that it should read “into the treasury.” We do so upon the basis, that if Matthew had this passage in mind, which we have every reason to believe, then he also must have been mistaken when he spoke of “the potter” instead of “the treasury,” as is the contention of those who hold this view.
In the light of the above the question naturally arises, how must it be explained that Matthew interprets the purchase of Aceldama as the fulfillment of that “which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet?” If he had said, “Zechariah the prophet,” we would have no difficulty since from all appearances he seems to have had the passage of Zechariah in mind and simply quoted it in his own words since he was interested not so much in the words as in the idea expressed by Zechariah. However, Matthew speaks not of Zechariah but of Jeremiah and therefore the problem, how this is to be explained, presents itself.
Various Explanations Offered. . . .
As is to be expected, Bible expositors give many and various solutions to this problem. It will not be possible in this article, nor is it necessary to present and refute all the explanations that have been offered. We call attention therefore to only a few of the more commonly accepted ones.
Perhaps the most simple of all the explanations is that Matthew had in mind a certain prophecy of Jeremiah which was never written or, if written, was lost. This, of course, is no solution at all. It amounts to simply an easy way to avoid the difficulty. It is at most an assumption for which there is no basis except that one cannot find this quotation in the prophecy of Jeremiah.
According to others we have here a slip of the memory on the part of Matthew. He really intended to write Zechariah instead of Jeremiah or simply forgot that the quotation was that of Zechariah. But also this is no solution. Moreover, it is a view to which we can never subscribe if we hold to the Divine and plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, It is very well possible that Matthew may have made a mistake but it is not possible that the Holy Spirit should be mistaken.
Upon the same ground we must also reject the view which holds that the Jews may have deleted this passage from the book of Jeremiah. Besides one naturally wonders when this could have been done and why it should have been done with this particular passage.
Finally there is a popular view that contends that this apparent enigma is the result of a transcriber’s error. According to this view Matthew did write “Zechariah.” However, instead of writing the full name, he wrote the Greek abbreviation of it, which is “Zriou.” Now, in the course of rewriting someone wrote “Iriou” which happens to be the abridged form of “Jeremiah.” Thus through the simple change of a Z to an I, what was originally Zechariah became Jeremiah. One feels immediately that this is also merely an attempt to get rid of the dilemma. Besides there is no basis at all for this contention.
Correct View. . . .
Since all the above views and all similar views, which attempt to explain Matthew’s reference to Jeremiah as an error, are either untenable or fail to give a satisfactory solution to the problem, there seems to be but one alternative and that is to explain Matthew’s statement as it stands. Then we must hold first of all that Matthew wrote exactly what he intended to write and that he actually regarded the purchase of Aceldama as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah. In the second place we must hold that Matthew had in mind the words of Zechariah and purposely quotes in a free way this prophecy of Zechariah when he declares that the purchase of the potter’s field by the chief priests is the fulfillment of that which was spoken by Jeremiah.
In this connection we may quote Alfred Edersheim, a well-known writer of sacred history. He says, “And The potter’s field’—the very spot on which Jeremiah had been Divinely directed to prophesy against Jerusalem and against Israel; how was it now all fulfilled in the light of the completed sin and apostasy of the people, as prophetically described by Zechariah! This Tophet of Jeremiah, now that they had valued and sold at thirty shekel Israel’s Messiah-Shepherd—truly a Tophet, and become a field of blood! Surely, not an accidental coincidence this, that it should be the place of Jeremy’s announcement of judgment: not accidental, but veritably a fulfillment of his prophecy! And so St. Matthew, targuming this prophecy in form as in its spirit, and in true Jewish manner stringing to it the prophetic description furnished by Zechariah, sets the event before us as the fulfillment of Jeremy’s prophecy.” Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, Vol. II, p. 576.
According to this interpretation, Matthew sees in the purchase of the potter’s field the fulfillment of both the prophecy of Zechariah and that of Jeremiah.
It is not difficult to see that we have here the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. This is especially plain when we understand what took place at that time. Zechariah goes to the princes of Israel and says, “If you think it is right, pay me what I’m worth and if not, forbear.” And the princes of Israel pay him thirty pieces of silver, the price of a common slave. That was Israel’s valuation of the servant of the Lord and therefore of the Lord Himself, as is clear from what the Lord says to Zechariah. How clearly then was this prophecy fulfilled when Israel pays thirty pieces of silver to get rid of its Prince! The Lord had tested Israel and Israel in the blindness of its sinful heart had valuated the invaluable One and found Him worth thirty pieces of silver! Truly a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah.
However, the question still remains, why does Matthew speak of the prophecy of Jeremy? What place does the prophecy of Jeremiah have in the picture?
The connection must undoubtedly be found in “the potter’s field” of which both Zechariah and Jeremiah speak, According to Zechariah, the money was “cast to the potter.” According to Jeremiah 18 and 19, the prophet went to the potter’s house and then to the “valley of the son of Hinnom.” Here in this valley he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. Assuming now that the potter’s field was located in this valley, we find that Israel buys the very spot where Jeremiah had many years before predicted its downfall.
Now the point to be noticed here is that it was by means of the price with which Israel had sold the Christ that it buys this field. Through its sale of the Messiah, Israel sealed its doom. And it completes the transaction when, by the price of the sale, it buys the field where its doom was foretold. Yes, Israel buys its cemetery by selling the Prince of Life! And for Israel, spiritually, there is nothing left but a burying ground. How clearly then also the prophecy of Israel’s doom, as spoken by Jeremiah, is fulfilled through the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah.
And thus we can understand that Matthew, although he quotes the prophecy of Zechariah, can truly say, “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet!”