Bible Contradiction Resolved, via the Commentary on the NT Use of the OT (Logos)

I’ve entered into a cooperative agreement with Logos Bible software recently, as you might have surmised if you saw my recent giveaway blog post. Logos has offered me review copies of some of their products, one of which is Beale and Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

Unlike other books I’ve reviewed, I can’t speak to this one’s overall effect. It’s a reference work, after all. The great thing is to have it integrated with the Bible I read most often, on my desktop or on my phone, using Logos software. I suppose it could be distracting others in church when I do word studies on my iPhone during a sermon. From a distance I’m sure it looks exactly the same as if I was on Facebook. That’s for them to worry about, though, and if my reputation suffers for it, I can live with that. (Besides, I’ve been known to text my kids during church. And check blog comments. But that’s enough confession for one session.)

Anyway, the best way I can comment on this resource is by showing its helpfulness in a particular instance. The other day I was reading near the end of Matthew and came across the confusing passage in verses 3 through 10 of chapter 27 (quoted here in the English Standard Version):

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel,  and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

An Apparent Bible Contradiction

This is a favorite passage among skeptics, who delight in its apparent contradiction with Acts 1:18-19 (helpfully discussed here among other places), and Matthew’s apparent mistake in quoting from Jeremiah.

I’ve wondered about that passage, but this time, reading it in Logos, I was able to click over to a knowledgeable discussion on its allusion to Jeremiah. The first thing I noted was Beale and Carson’s assessment, “Perhaps the strangest fulfillment quotation in all of Matthew is this last one.” That opens up a 10,000-word explication of the NT and OT contexts, the use of the relevant material in Jewish sources (of which there was almost none, actually), the textual background, and the hermeneutical and theological principles behind the quotation.

Checking Our Interpretive Grid

The problem, as skeptics happily point out, is that Matthew’s quotation doesn’t seem to come from Jeremiah as he had said. As Beale and Carson note, “The closest verbal parallels to the Scripture cited in 27:9b–10… appear in Zech. 11:12–13, with its references to thirty pieces of silver thrown to the potter in the house of the Lord.” They go on to add, however,

On the other hand, many commentators point to the fact that Jer. 32:6–9 describes Jeremiah buying a field, which he sells for seventeen shekels of silver. Rabbis at times would create a composite quotation of more than one Scripture but refer to only one of their sources by name, often the more obscure one (though sometimes also the more important one) to ensure that others would pick up the reference. So there is no problem by the standards of the day for Matthew to refer to two texts like this and name only the more obscure prophetic source. In fact, this is precisely what Mark does in Mark 1:2, as he combines parts of Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1 but cites only Isaiah by name (Davies and Allison 1988–1997: 3:569; for conflated quotations in the OT, see Gundry 1994: 557).

Christians (many of us, at least) believe in scriptural inerrancy, the view that the Bible is correct in all that it affirms when it is understood as originally intended. Sometimes that original intent can be fogged over by the passage of time. We read the Bible as though it were modern non-fiction, written straightforwardly to make everything as clear and unambiguous as possible. I suppose if the Bible were being written in the Western world today that’s how it would be done. It wasn’t written originally for us, though, but for other people at another time, who read through different interpretive lenses.

I wonder how many skeptics who insist on a contemporary Western reading of the Bible would also insist on the importance of diversity: recognizing, appreciating, and learning from the differences between cultures, and not foisting our grid falsely upon others.

When Matthew wrote, it was not wrong, either morally or analytically—since analysis wasn’t conducted the same way—to combine two sources and cite just one.

Scholarship Leading To Deeper Insights

Matthew’s allusion may indeed be more far-reaching than what I’ve indicated so far here:

But is Jer. 32 the passage (or the only passage) that Matthew has in mind? It may be that Jer. 19 offers a better cluster of images that Matthew may be citing, especially with its references to “the blood of the innocents” (27:4), the “potter” (27:1, 11), the renaming of a place in the Valley of Hinnom (27:6 [the traditional site of the Potter’s Field]), violence (27:11), and the judgment and burial of the Jewish leaders by God (27:11)

What follows in Beale and Carson is a richly insightful discussion of themes interplaying between Jeremiah 19, Jeremiah 32, Zechariah 11, and Matthew 27: the paltry sum of 30 shekels in Zechariah, the common theme in all locations of a people who will not follow their Lord, and the judgment that follows, for example,

Jeremiah 19 finds the Lord commanding the prophet to buy a clay jar from a potter and then to smash it, as a dramatic object lesson of the nation’s coming judgment. This theme fits much better with Matthew’s emphasis, especially as Jesus’ crucifixion draws near, that the Jewish leaders who resist and condemn him are actually bringing God’s judgment down on themselves and on their land.

There is textual history. Concerning the Zechariah 11:12-13,

A variant reading substitutes “treasury” for “potter.” If Matthew knew this, it would afford another link with the events of Judas’ betrayal, since the Jewish leaders refused to put the returned money into the treasury (see Hagner 1995: 813–14).

And there is their helpful conclusion, including this:

Clearly, Matthew is employing typology here rather than any kind of single or double fulfillment of actual predictive prophecy. The very fact that even after he has combined quotations and allusions to two or more OT texts, the fit with the actions of Judas and the Jewish leaders is still quite loose demonstrates that he is not inventing history to match prophecy. But there is enough “analogical correspondence” (recall above, p. 8) for him to be convinced that God is in fact sovereignly at work, even in the tragic events of Jesus’ betrayal and Judas’ death, just as he had been in the highly symbolic ministries of the prophets Zechariah and Jeremiah.

It is interesting that the noticeably different account of Judas’ death in Acts 1:18–19 is nevertheless also interpreted as the typological fulfillment of prophecy, this time with reference to two psalms believed to be by David, who is describing his archenemies (Acts 1:20, citing Ps. 69:25; 109:8). Because money is paid to secure Jesus’ death, Matthew may also be suggesting what Matt. 20:28 states more clearly: Jesus’ death is a ransom, the price paid to secure a slave’s freedom. That this “blood money” was subsequently used to buy a burial ground for foreigners may hint at what Matthew will explicitly highlight in his closing verses: Jesus’ death makes salvation possible for all the peoples of the world, including the Gentiles, to whom the disciples are commanded to go and preach (28:18–20).

Truthfully I had no idea when I clicked on this resource in Logos that I would land on so much information. It’s going to be a major asset to me in Bible study from this point forward.

Valuing Our Teachers, Including Teachers In Print

A final word on this, if I may. There is a tendency among some Christians to think it’s just “me and my Bible;” that it’s better for us to hear directly from God through his word and not from man, and that commentaries can get in the way of our direct connection with God’s word. This is, ironically, unbiblical. Commentaries are nothing but the recorded words of teachers. Logos counts about 1,000 instances of words related to “teacher” in the Bible. Sheer numbers mean nothing—and some of those references are warnings against false teachers (e.g., 2 Pet. 2:1), so of course we need to be discerning, but many of them emphasize the value of good teaching (2 Tim. 1:11, Heb. 5:12, Eph. 4:11, 1 Cor. 12:28, Acts 2:42, and many more). I thank God for scholars who can open up the meaning of the Bible the way Beale, Carson, and many others have done.

Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos; via Logos.com

Comments

  1. Anthony

    This book has been on my wish list a while…maybe I need to complete that purchase. Thanks for the review.

  2. Jenna Black

    Tom,

    Thank you so much for your review of this valuable resource for Bible study.

    I take particular notice of this remark of yours since IMO, it strikes at the very core of the polemics that atheists generate around the Bible, most particularly the Old Testament.

    TG: “I wonder how many skeptics who insist on a contemporary Western reading of the Bible would also insist on the importance of diversity: recognizing, appreciating, and learning from the differences between cultures, and not foisting our grid falsely upon others.”

    There is, undeniably, a large dose of what CS Lewis calls “chronological snobbery” as well as cultural snobbery in atheists’ critique of the Bible, and therefore, of the ancient Hebrews’ and everyone else’s understanding of God. Their message is that “You are all wrong about God” since they deny God’s “existence” as the basis for their view of the Bible. Beale and Carson’s work will help clarify the need for understanding context in studying and interpreting the Bible.

    Thanks. JB

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