Contradictions – The Potter’s Field II

The next in this list of contradictions regards Matthew 27:9-10, where Matthew quotes Jeremiah as prophesying 30 pieces of silver purchasing a potter’s field.  However the author of the list alleges that this comes from Zechariah 11:12-13, not Jeremiah.  At stake is again the reliability of Scripture.  If Christians claim (and we do, historically!) that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, how is it that Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, flubs up his reference?

There are several approaches to resolving this alleged problem.  Some point out that Zechariah’s text actually has nothing to do with a field at all, and so Matthew can’t possibly be thinking of Zechariah but mistakenly crediting it to Jeremiah.  Rather, Jeremiah deals a great deal with the purchase of a field, though there isn’t a single verse or verses that are identical to what Matthew quotes.

Others point out that Matthew indicates what Jeremiah said, not what Jeremiah wrote.  In other words, of course it isn’t in the written prophesy of Jeremiah because that’s not what Matthew claims.  Perhaps Matthew is referring to a different writing of Jeremiah that is not canonical, or to a traditional saying attributed to Jeremiah as having been spoken, but that was not included in his written prophetic book.  Perhaps that Holy Spirit is inspiring Matthew by directing him to something Jeremiah said but didn’t write that nobody else knew about.  While all of these are possible, most skeptics are going to find them equally problematic.  If Matthew is thinking of another writing by Jeremiah, what was it, and why is there no record of it elsewhere?  While this is not itself a complete rebuttal of the explanation (there are other writings we know are referenced in the Bible but we don’t have copies of them), it’s not unreasonable.

The explanation I find more compelling is that there is a rabbinic tradition of referring to an entire section of writings in the Old Testament by only the first book, or by citing the first book of a section of Old Testament writings even though the particular quotation you’re using comes from a later book in that same section of writings.  The Jewish tradition groups the prophetic writings into two sections, a greater and lesser section.  The entire prophetic section together began with the prophet Jeremiah, not Isaiah as it is in the Christian Old Testament.  Jesus does a similar thing in Luke 24:44, where He refers to the entire Hebrew writings section simply as the Psalms, because Psalms is the first of the books in that section of the Old Testament.

The assertion that Matthew is mistaken is not necessary – there are other explanations that are reasonable.

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