Potter's Field Prophecy
and Thirty Pieces of Silver

Joseph Francis Alward
November 3, 2000

The author of the Bible's book of
Matthew believes that the prophet
Jeremiah prophesied that blood
money paid to Judas would be usedto purchase a potter's field. In fact,there is no such prophecy in Jeremiah; the closest thing to such a prophecy is instead found in the book by Zechariah.

        The Prophet Zechariah


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Matthew Mistakenly Attributes Prophecy to Jeremiah

According to Matthew, Jesus says that Jeremiah spoke of events which would foreshadow the priests' purchase of the potter's field with the thirty pieces of silver Judas obtained for his betrayal of Jesus:

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders... And they... bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 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 (Matthew 27:3-10)

However, there is no "prophecy" like this in Jeremiah; the only thing close is found in the story below, in which a man buys a field from his cousin; it has nothing to do with anyone's blood money paying for a burial field:

Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, `Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.' "Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, `Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.' "I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. (Jeremiah 32:7-10)


The "Prophecy" is Actually in Zechariah

The closest match to the words in Matthew's prophecy-fulfillment claim are found in Zechariah, not Jeremiah ("Jeremy"), as Matthew claimed:

And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter  (Hebrew: yatsar) in the house of the LORD. (Zechariah 11:12-13)

Proof that the Zechariah verse is the one Matthew had in mind is found in the striking parallels between the words in Matthew's verse and the ones in Zechariah; these are shown in Table 1 below.  

     Table 1
           Matthew      Zechariah
"price of him that was valued" "price that I was prised at"
"thirty pieces of silver" "thirty pieces of silver"
"gave them for the potter's field" "cast them to the potter"

The Zechariah passage above is almost certainly the one Matthew had in mind, because it is the only place in the Old Testament where a potter is given silver, and it's also the only passage which parallels the valuing of a man's work at thirty pieces of silver, the blood money received by Judas for turning over Jesus.

Unfortunately for those who believe the Bible is without error,  the Zechariah story concerns a shepherd being insulted by low wages and throwing them contemptuously at a potter; it has nothing to do with a potter selling a field; there's no field, and nobody sold anything. Thus, the Zechariah story clearly is not a prefigurement of priests purchasing a potter's field with Judas' blood money; Matthew was mistaken.

Selling the Righteous

Matthew, or his source, might also have had the following passage in Amos in mind when he invented the story of a righteous man being sold for 30 pieces of silver:

This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}.
They sell the righteous for silver
mos 2:6)

Apologists Attempt to Explain Discrepancy

Some apologists attempt to explain away this obvious discrepancy by claiming that it must have been common practice in those days for one to speak of all prophets collectively as "Jeremy", after Jeremiah, who they claim was the major prophet. Thus, these apologists argue that even though Zechariah was the prophet who actually made the prophecy,  it was proper for Matthew to attribute it to Jeremiah. However, since the apologists offer no evidence that no authors other than Matthew ever said "Jeremy" when they meant some other prophet, one suspects if Ruth, not Zechariah, had been the author of the above passage, inerrantists would have argued that Ruth was a "major prophet" and that her name was commonly used to refer to all of the prophets collectively.  This "explanation" simply doesn't stand the test of common sense.  

Furthermore, Matthew did, in fact, mention Esaias (Isaiah)  four times as the source of some of the alleged prophecies (3:3, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17), and Daniel once (24:15); except for 27:9, where Matthew wrongly identified "Jeremy" as the prophecy source, all of the other prophecy fulfillment claims by Matthew were attributed to "the prophet."  If Matthew, as some apologists claim, wanted to refer to a prophecy without actually giving the prophets name, then why wouldn't he just have said that the words were spoken by "the prophet," as he did on other occasions? 1 

In any case, the Zechariah passage has nothing whatever to do with blood money being spent to buy a potter's field, so Matthew was completely wrong about the source of his alleged prophecy.


Another Apology Fails

In desperation, some apologists claim that the words to which Matthew was referring were spoken by Jeremiah, and are not to be found in scripture. This claim is really too unbelievable to pursue, since the parallels shown in Table 1 are just too striking to be coincidental. Furthermore, all of the prophecy fulfillment claims made by Matthew in which he uses words like "had been spoken" correspond to written passages in the Old Testament.  Why should we believe that the Jeremy reference would be the ONLY one which didn't have to have a written antecedent in the Old Testatment?  A list of these correspondences is shown in Table 2.

   Table 2
Matthew's Prophecy
Fulfillment Claims

Introduced with the
word "spoken"
Old Testament Source
Matthew 1:22 Isaiah 7:14
Matthew 2:15 Hosea 11:1
Matthew 2:17 Jeremiah 31:15
Matthew 2:23 Judges 13:5
Matthew 3:3 Isaiah 40:3
Matthew 4:14 Isaiah 9:2
Matthew 8:17 Isaiah 63:9
Matthew 12:17 Isaiah 42:1
Matthew 13:35 Psalm 78:2
Matthew 21:4 Zechariah 9:9
Matthew 24:15 Daniel 11:31
Matthew 27:9 Zachariah 11:12-13
Matthew 27:35 Psalm 22:8

Was There No Potter in the Zechariah Story?

Another reason to doubt Matthew's potter's field story comes from the Hebrew word for paymaster or treasurer:  atsar, which is suspiciously close in spelling to yatsar, the Hebrew word for potter.  It's not hard to imagine that Zechariah's words were incorrectly transcribed, because it makes far more sense for an man insulted by his low wages to toss them back at the paymaster than for him to cast them to a potter.  The editors of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible probably got it right when they translated it as "treasury".  So, if there never was a potter in Zechariah's story, then Matthew probably made up the whole thing.

How Could Matthew Have Made Such an Egregious Error?

The reason Matthew thought there was a story in Jeremiah about a man buying a field for thirty pieces of silver may have been that  he didn't have the scripture at hand when he wrote his book and was relying on his memory.  If he had had the scripture to refer to, it's hard to understand why he wouldn't have realized that there was nothing in the Old Testament to back up his prophecy-fulfillment claim.  If Matthew was basing his claim on his recollection of verses, he may not have realized that part of it came from Zechariah where thirty pieces of silver is thrown at a potter, and the other part from  Jeremiah where a man buys a field for seventeen shekels of silver from his cousin.  Thus, perhaps without realizing it, Matthew came up with his prophecy-fulfillment claim by unknowingly blending the thirty pieces of silver and potter in Zechariah, with the purchase of a field with silver in Jeremiah, and the statement in Amos about selling the righteous for silver, and then attributed the whole prophecy to "Jeremy".  He thus made two mistakes:  the "prophecy" wasn't actually a prophecy at all, and the source of his "prophecy" wasn't where he remembered it was.  

An Alternative View of the Meaning of Matthew 27:3-10

It seems clear that Matthew blended some of the elements of stories from three different parts of Scripture, and, just as he did with the virgin-birth story, expected his readers to see in those stories the parallels to the elements in his potter's field story. 

Matthew evidently expected his audience to recall that Scripture speaks of thirty pieces of silver given to a potter in Zechariah 11:12-13, the purchase of a field with silver in Jeremiah 32:7-10, and the selling the righteous for silver in Amos 2:6, and then to see that these elements are the parallels to the elements in the potter's field story. 

Just as with the virgin-birth story, Matthew saw the existence of the parallels elements in Scripture as an indication that Jesus' life was preordained, even though the stories corresponding to the matching elements were generally unrelated, except for Amos 2:6. Thus, Matthew is not saying that the prophets predicted that Judas would give up his blood money to pay for a field. He is only saying that the events that occurred in Old Testament times, that were spoken of by the prophets, were vague foreshadowings or prefigurements of the potter's field purchase, and to Jesus this was evidence that Jesus was the son of God.


1.  Ray Briggs, private correspondence, May 23, 2001.