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Question and Answer

Jeremiah/Zechariah Resolution


I'm an OPC member interested in the Q&A with regard to Jesus' alleged mis-citation of Jeremiah. I came to faith in a Calvary Chapel, and as I recall, their argument was that Jesus said Jeremiah because the Jews' papyri containing Zechariah started with Jeremiah, and thus Jesus was referencing a set of books, not the author per se. Is this a made up story? I have had similar experiences where things have had to be unlearned, and I will gladly throw aside any red herrings, if need be.


You may be glad to hear that you don't need to "unlearn" anything. The account on the OPC Web site is brief but accurate. Perhaps, however, the information that you mention would be a worthwhile addition to what is already there.

Although some of the authors of the following quotations are broadly evangelical rather than necessarily specifically Reformed, they all have a reputation for being responsible scholars.

Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., has served as President of (and Old Testament Professor at) Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has contributed to the Westminster Theological Journal. Here's what he has to say:

Matthew probably attributed the text to Jeremiah because Jeremiah, in many Hebrew manuscripts, headed up the collection of the prophets and his name was used to designate all in the collection. Our book titles with those chapter and verse divisions are a fairly recent innovation. Also Matthew may have attributed this quotation to Jeremiah because this text was paired with Jeremiah 18:1-4; 32:6-9. Thus he used the name of the better known and more prominent prophet. In fact, not one of the four other places where the New Testament quotes from Zechariah dos it mention his name (Mt 21:4-5; 26:31; Jn 12:12-14; 19:37).
    --Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 242.

Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., has served as Old Testament Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Like Dr. Kaiser, Dr. Archer is greatly respected in the area of Old Testament studies and has published significant books in that area. Here's what he has to say:

Matthew is therefore combining and summarizing elements of prophetic symbolism both from Zechariah and from Jeremiah. But since Jeremiah is the more prominent of the two prophets, he mentions Jeremiah's name by preference to the minor prophet. A similar procedure is followed by Mark 2:1-3, which attributes only to Isaiah a combined quotation from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. In that case also, only the more famous of the two prophets is mentioned by name. Since that was the normal literary practice of the first century A.D., when the Gospels were written, the authors can scarcely be faulted for not following the modern practice of precise identification and footnoting (which could never have become feasible until after the transition had been made from the scroll to the codex and the invention of the printing press).
    --Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 345.

One more quote, this one from the Lutheran scholar Dr. William Arndt:

Jeremiah is a far more prominent Prophet than Zechariah, and hence it is not surprising that a prophecy which can be traced to both of them is called a prophecy of Jeremiah, even though the greater part of it is taken from Zechariah. The other explanation is that there is good evidence for the assumption that the Jews, in their arrangement of the books of the Prophets, placed that of Jeremiah first. Now, we find that in all ages people have often designated a collection of writings by the name of the first one, which in such cases usually is one of importance.
    --William Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself? (Concordia Publishing House, 1976), pp. 52-53.

There is also a good (and fairly lengthy) discussion of the question by the late Dr. E.J. Young, Old Testament Professor at Westminster Seminary and a Reformed scholar, in his book Thy Word Is Truth (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), pp. 172-175. I'll restrict myself to one brief quote, so that you can be assured that you don't need to "unlearn" anything:

In the Babylonian Talmud ... Jeremiah is placed at the head of the prophets. It is possible that this tradition of the priority of Jeremiah was far older than the Talmud. Thus, when the disciples reported to the Lord what men said concerning Him, they mentioned 'Jeremiah or one of the prophets' (Matthew 16:14). It may be that the name Jeremiah was in this instance singled out inasmuch as his work was commonly regarded as standing at the head of the prophetical books. In mentioning Jeremiah, therefore, Matthew may have in mind the entire prophetical section of the Old Testament. A similar parallel is found in Luke 24:44 where Christ designates the third part of the Old Testament canon by the term Psalms. As a matter of fact, the book of Psalms was only the first book of this division, but evidently the Lord thought it sufficient to name only the first book as a suitable identification of the entire third section. Possibly this is he procedure which Matthew also is following. If so, he is simply doing what the Lord Himself, on another occasion, saw fit to do. (p. 173)

I hope that that additional information is helpful to you. Thank you again for your note. If you have more questions in the future, please do not hesitate to ask them.

P.S. Well, perhaps there is one thing that you need to "unlearn." It was Matthew, not Jesus, who in Matthew 27:9-10 cited Jeremiah (and Zechariah). True, in some instances in the Gospels it is difficult to definitively identify the speaker. (For example, are the words in John 3:16 said by Jesus or by John? Commentators differ, since there are no quotation marks in the original Greek.) But the words in Matt. 27:9-10 seem clearly to be not from Jesus, but from Matthew. (Well, since Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, ultimately all New Testament revelation comes from Him through the Holy Spirit - see John 14, 15, and 16 - but you know what I mean.)

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