Seidensticker Folly #53: Matthew Cited the Wrong Prophet?

Seidensticker Folly #53: Matthew Cited the Wrong Prophet? September 11, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 52 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.


Bob wrote in his article, “Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible (2 of 3)” (3-1-19; update of a post from 3-10-15):

And is that the best example of sloppy quoting from the Old Testament? Here’s a fun one: Matthew says that the resolution of what to do with the 30 pieces of silver, the “blood money” that Judas threw at the priests, was foretold: “Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled” (Matthew 27:9–10). But the 30 pieces of silver wasn’t a reference to Jeremiah but Zechariah 11:12–13.

Worse, the Zechariah passage is no prophecy. Say that Matthew was inspired by Zechariah if you want, but it certainly gives no fulfilled prophecy. 

It’s true that there are several ways in which Christian exegetes and commentators have tried to explain this, but there are, arguably, one or more plausible solutions among these attempts: not able to be dismissed out of hand.  Christian apologists Dave Miller and Eric Lyons grapple with the question:

[I]n Jesus’ day, rabbinical practice entailed identifying quotations by the name of the first book in a group of books that had been clustered by literary genre. Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra over a half a century ago, Charles Feinberg commented on this point, saying, “The Talmudic tradition [e.g., Baba Bathra 14b—DM/EL] shows that the prophetic writings in order of their place in the sacred books was Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc. This order is found in many Hebrew MSS…. Matthew, then quoted the passage as from the roll of the prophets, which roll is cited by the first book” ([Jan.] 1945 [“Exegetical Studies in Zechariah,” 102:55-73, p. 72). Furthermore, in all of the quotations from Zechariah in the New Testament, no mention is ever made of his name in conjunction with the prophecies (cf. Matthew 21:4; 26:31; John 12:14; 19:37). Thus, it is logical to conclude that Matthew merely referred to this whole division of the Old Testament by naming its first book (Jeremiah), just as Jesus referred to the “writings” section of the Old Testament by the name of its first book, Psalms (Luke 24:44). Jeremiah could have served as the designation for quotations from any of the included books. . . . 

New Testament writers frequently were guided by the Holy Spirit to weave the thought of several Old Testament contexts into a single application. Matthew referred to a series of details in the following order: the thirty pieces of silver (vs. 3); Judas threw the silver down in the temple (vs. 5); the chief priests took the silver and bought the potter’s field (vs. 6-7); and the field is named (vs. 8).

Matthew then quoted from the Old Testament (vss. 9-10). (“Who was Matthew Quoting?”, [link] 2004)

Matthew can be said to have either cited or alluded to Jeremiah 18:2-3; 19:1-2, 11; 32:8-9; as well as Zechariah 11:12-13. Commentator William Hendriksen further elaborates:

What Matthew does, therefore, is this: he combines two prophecies, one from Zechariah and one from Jeremiah. Then he mentions not the minor prophet but the major prophet as the source of the reference The mention of only one source when the allusion is to two is not peculiar to Matthew. Mark does this also. Thus Mark 1:23 refers first to Malachi, then to Isaiah. Nevertheless, Mark ascribes both prophecies to ‘Isaiah,’ the major prophet. And similarly the quotation found in II Chron. 36:21 is drawn from Lev. 26:3435 and from Jer. 25:12 (cf. 29:10), but is ascribed only to ‘Jeremiah’” (An Exposition of Matthew [Baker,1975], p. 948).

The general topic of New Testament citation of the Old Testament is an exceedingly complex and fascinating one. Critics like Bob owe it to themselves and to the principle of intellectual honesty and integrity to at least have a passing familiarity with that topic. See, for example, the 1958 essay, “New Testament Use of the Old Testament,” by Roger Nicole, for an excellent introductory overview and summary.


Photo credit: Jeremiah sits amidst the rubble of Jerusalem, after its siege, by Eduard Bendemann (1811-1889) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]


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