Did Matthew mistake to quote Jeremiah?

Posted by on May 21, 2020

In the Gospel, it appears that Matthew made a mistake by quoting Jeremiah in his account of the betrayal of Yeshua. But can he make such a mistake in the first place?

All the chief priests and rulers took counsel against Yeshua to put Him to death. And having bound Him, they delivered Him to Pontius Pilate. Then Judas having seen that He had been condemned to death, repented, and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests. And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple he left, and went and hanged himself. The chief priests took the silver pieces and took counsel to buy the potter’s field, for the burial of strangers. (Mat 27:1-8)

And according to KJV, Matthew wrote this,

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; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me”. (Mat 27:9-10 KJV)

We should realize that we have a very serious problem here. We can read all 52 chapters of Jeremiah and we will find nowhere anything like the quote attributed to him like the quote in Matthew.

Is this a mistake Matthew made by not having known what the prophet had written, or there is a fault in the English translation?

But, if check in translation other than English, we will find the same reference to the prophet Jeremiah. Or, perhaps, the fault is in the “original” Greek text.

Most definitely, the apostle could not have possibly misquoted Jeremiah, but still the “original” Greek text does say “Jeremiah the prophet”.

So, how could we solve this problem: on the one hand, Matthew (let us not forget he was a Levite trained to serve in the Temple) could not have misquoted Jeremiah, because everyone knew that Jeremiah had never written that prophecy.

On the other hand, there are a lot of folks in the Christianity who will swear that the Gospel is the infallible Word of God, which is incapable of having a single error. By this they mean the Greek text of the “New Testament“.

So, where seems to be the problem?

But, how many people know that there is ancient Hebrew texts of Matthew preserved for us by the Rabbis, which in the last decades started coming back to life.

One of them is the Hebrew text of Matthew aka Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew translated by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995.

If we read the Hebrew text of Matthew, which the linguists are confident that it is the original language of Matthew, we find something that will capture our interest in seeking the truth, not to mention that it will lead us to the answer of our question.  

In the ancient Hebrew text of Matthew aka Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew (shem tov, Hebrew for “good name”), on page 143 we read thus,

Then was fulfilled the word of Zechariah the prophet: ‘And I said to them if it is good in your eyes, multiply my wages, but if (not), forbear. And they weighed for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord* said to me: Cast it unto the potter. This is from the man who forms clay+, as the Lord commanded.

* The Hebrew has it, “YHVH”

+”This is from the man who forms clay” appears to be a gloss by the Hebrew copyist to explain the word “potter”.

As we see the apostle was rephrasing the quote from Zechariah the prophet.

And I said unto them: ‘If ye think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear.’ So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me: ‘Cast it into the treasury, the goodly price that I was prized at of them.’ And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the LORD. (Zec 11:12-13 JPS)

Therefore, we conclude that Zachariah, not Jeremiah, is the source of the prophecy and rightly so. The words quoted in the Greek Matthew are not found in Jeremiah, but in Zechariah, and a variety of suppositions were made, in order to reconcile this discrepancy.

The most probable opinion seems to be, that the name of the prophet was originally omitted by the apostle, and that the name of Jeremiah was added by a copyist. “Zechariah” is omitted in two manuscripts of the twelfth century, in the Syriac, later Persic, and in some Latin copies.

But what renders this opinion probably is that Matthew had omitted the name of the prophet in his quotations in Mat 1:22 Mat 2:5, Mat 2:15, Mat 13:35, and Mat 21:4, as these omission appear in the Hebrew text, as well.

But here the apostle explicitly quoted the name of the prophet: Zechariah. Why? Probably to emphasize the importance of the fulfillment of the prophecy.

However, the present author has another opinion, namely, that Matthew indeed did not quote the name of Zechariah in Mat 27:9 (being consistent with his style of recording), supported by the Syriac, Persic, and Latin copies. But later the Hebrew copyist or Rabbi had added “Zechariah” to counter the blunder in the Greek text of the account. And this blunder is not the only one in Matthew, but for the time being it suffices to mention another one in the genealogy of the Messiah.

Therefore, the problem is in the Greek text. But why Jeremiah? Well, we cannot speak for the Greek translators, nor for those theologians who have not even noticed the discrepancy.

But the reader may wonder as to why the Jews would preserve the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew. Why would they do that? Did they not reject “Jesus”?

The truth of the matter is that they have not. But this controversial topic is quite complicated, that is why we have studied in the articles “Did Israel Reject the Messiah?” Part 1 and 2, and “Revealing the Name of Yeshua Secretly Guarded by the Rabbis“.


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.