Saturday, July 14, 2012

If St. Augustine is going to be used carelessly (or dishonestly) to impugn the integrity of Scripture, then he should be allowed to speak fully

In exploring the possible use of "Iscariot" as an epithet for Judas (the name can mean "man from Kerioth," like Leonardo "da Vinci"), I stumbled upon a discussion of the two apparently-conflicting accounts of Judas' death recorded in the New Testament. But it's not whether he died from hanging or his body fell and burst that is at issue (the Scriptures state that Judas hanged himself and that his body fell and burst; the two are not incompatible)' it's whether or not Matthew erred in citing Jeremiah when quoting Zechariah.

In an article on Judas Iscariot, a contributor notes that no less than Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Luther consider Matthew's citation an "error." Here's the passage in question:
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" (Matthew 27:3-10).
The best-informed and most rational explanation for this apparent contradiction is offered by the Lutheran Study Bible in a text note on Matthew 27, verses 9-10 (p. 1645) and the subsequent essay on the reliability of Scripture, "God's Reliable Word" (p. 1646). The text note states that the passage:
"Quotes Zechariah 11:12-13, but adds phrases from Jeremiah 19:11 (a potter's field is used for burial) and an allusion to Jeremiah 32:6-11 (Jeremiah's purchase of land)."
So, did the Evangelist err (at least partially)? Was St. Matthew careless? The essay explains further that (emphases mine):
"critics overlook a number of points on this issue. First, at a time when manuscripts were very rare and expensive, readers resorted to a variety of ways for studying and remembering key passages. Scribes often prepared collections of texts on a topic as a means for exploring and learning the teachings of Scripture. In The Harmony of All Sacred Scripture, Michael Walther provided numerous examples of this practice and the writers' habit of merging quotations (Harmonia Totius S. Scripturae [Strasbourg: Eberhard Zetzner, 1626], 416). Below is Walther's list with some additions:
Matthew 21:5 contains Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9

Matthew 21:13 contains Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11

Mark 1:2-3 contains Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3

Acts 1:20 contains Psalm 69:25, 109:8

Romans 3:10-18 contains Psalms 14:1-3, 53:1-3, 5:9, 140:3; Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1

1 Peter 2:7 contains Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14
The example from Mark 1:2-3 is especially helpful for understanding Matthew 27:9-10. Mark ascribes his quote to Isaiah, but the full quote is actually a mixture of Malachi and Isaiah -- and Malachi gets quoted first. When we carefully consider Matthew 27:9-10, we see that the first words of the text come from Zechariah 11:13. But there is also wording from Jeremiah 32:6-9. It appears that both Matthew and Mark named their lists by the larger prophetic books cited in the lists. (Zechariah and Malachi were perhaps less likely to suggest themselves for the titling, since they stood in the scroll of the minor prophets.)
And if St. Augustine is going to be used carelessly (or dishonestly) to impugn the integrity of Scripture, then he should be allowed to speak fully:
"If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood . . . For the utterances of Scripture, harmonious as if from the mouth of one man, commend themselves to the belief of the most accurate and clear-sighted piety, and demand for their discovery and confirmation the calmest intelligence and the most ingenious research . . . So that, if any one is perplexed by the apparent contradiction, the only conclusion is that he does not understand" (NPNF 1 4:180).
So, it turns out St. Augustine was right after all. Not about the Evangelist erring, but about our lack of understanding and our need for "the calmest intelligence and the most ingenious research" in our study of Scripture.