The Gospel of Matthew says that the temple leaders took the “blood money” that Judas Iscariot had returned to them and used it to buy a potter’s field to bury strangers in. Their action was a fulfillment of prophecy: “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’” (Matthew 27:9–10). However, the prophecy that Matthew alludes to regarding 30 pieces of silver is most likely from Zechariah 11:12–13, which reads, “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.” Is this a case of an error in the Bible? Why would Matthew appear to attribute the prophecy of the 30 pieces of silver to Jeremiah instead of Zechariah?
The most likely answer is found in the structure of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections called the Law, Writings, and Prophets. Jesus refers to these divisions in Luke 24:44. The collection of the Prophets began with the book of Jeremiah. The scrolls were sometimes referred to by the name of the first book, which in the case of the Prophets would be Jeremiah. So, when Matthew says that “Jeremiah says,” he means that the prophecy was found in the “Jeremiah Scroll.”
Others have suggested the possibility that Matthew alludes to a composite of prophecies that included those of both Zechariah and Jeremiah. This is also possible, and Jeremiah did pay a visit to a potter’s house (Jeremiah 18), yet it is difficult to find a particular prediction in Jeremiah that would fit the reference to 30 pieces of silver.
Another theory is that the name Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9 was ignorantly inserted by a later scribe or that a copyist inadvertently wrote “Jeremiah” instead of “Zechariah”; the latter is more likely if the scribes were using abbreviated forms of the names: in that case, it would be a simple matter of mistaking Ιριου for Ζριου. If a copyist transcribed an iota in place of a zeta, the error is explained.
Still another suggestion has been that perhaps other writings from the prophet Jeremiah existed in Matthew’s time, and those writings mentioned the 30 pieces of silver. However, this is an argument from silence, since no such information is known or is elsewhere alluded to in Scripture or in history.
The best solution is probably found in the understanding of how the Jewish people spoke of the parts of Scripture. It is also interesting that the one gospel writer to note this event was Matthew, who had previously worked as a tax collector. He would have been very familiar with monetary transactions and likely well aware of the purchase price of the Field of Blood, which he immediately connected with Zechariah’s prophecy of 30 pieces of silver. Matthew used this connection to show one of the ways the coming of Jesus fulfilled numerous predictions in the Old Testament, affirming Jesus as the true Messiah.