Scripture in Question: Matthew 27:9-10
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’
The problem with these verses, according to many sceptics, is that the words quoted from Jeremiah do not appear anywhere in that book, but seem to appear in the Book of Zechariah. If the Bible is inspired, so the argument goes, why did the biblical writer incorrectly state the book from which the quotation is taken?
First, we can say that there is no confusion as to what Matthew says – the Greek text of his Gospel clearly does say “Jeremiah” and not “Zechariah,” so there is no issue of mistranslation. But when we look closely at the so-called “source” of Matthew’s quotation – in Zechariah – we find that the wording is quite different:
I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord (Zechariah 11:12-13).
Nevertheless, although this prophecy cannot be found in the Book of Jeremiah as we presently have it and it is similar to what is found in Zechariah, we have no reason to suspect that the words quoted by Matthew were not spoken by Jeremiah at some point. We must always remember that the Old Testament and New Testament are both alike in that they represent the final culmination of many years of selection and editing by the Jews and early Christians, respectively. We know that many other books were written by the biblical writers – and others – that were not included in the Bible as we have it today.
The Bible itself refers to a number of other books not included within the established Scriptures, but which are directly quoted or alluded to within them. To give only two examples, the biblical epistles of 2 Peter and Jude both refer to the “Book of Enoch” (2 Peter 2:4, 3:13; Jude 4, 6, 13–15) which was apparently known to the New Testament apostles, but is not extant today, and Paul’s epistle to the Colossians mentions an “epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16), which is not otherwise known.
There are numerous other instances where biblical writers quoted or alluded to other works that were not included in the Bible itself and have become lost through the course of history. So there is no reason to find it surprising that Matthew was able to quote specific words from Jeremiah that are not found in the Book of Jeremiah in the form that we now have it.
Jeremiah doubtless uttered the prophecy recorded by Matthew, even if we do not have the actual source in which the prophecy was made. Zechariah may have been inspired to make a similar prophecy, though it is also possible that Zechariah was inspired to allude to Jeremiah’s prophecy in his own writings, without actually quoting it directly.