Matthew records the prophecy of the Messiah’s betrayal coming from the prophet Jeremiah. The actual prophecy that Jesus fulfilled is from Zechariah.
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.” —Matthew 27:9-10
…And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter. —Zechariah 11:13b
The division for each scroll of the Old Testament into individual books did not take place until much later; after Matthew and Peter quoted from Zechariah and Jeremiah. At the time that the gospel of Matthew was recorded; the writings of Zechariah were included in the larger scroll of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah, being the more important of the two prophets—Matthew simply quoted from the scroll of Jeremiah where Zechariah’s prophecy was located.
When Matthew was trying to remember where the prophecy was written, he was doing so from memory and mistakenly thought it was in Jeremiah’s writing.
Very often as a pastor and Bible teacher, I will make this same mistake without realizing my error while I am teaching from the pulpit. I have often stated that a particular verse of scripture is located in a certain book, when in fact the verse came from a different book of the Bible. The text of the verse I am quoting was correct; I simply described the wrong book.
The fact that we observe this occurring in the gospels gives us a great reason to believe that the New Testament scriptures are genuine.
If a person was seeking to fabricate a lie and write a story to convince us, he would make sure that the details of his accounts were consistent with known sources. However, if a person was simply trying to recount the verse of scripture that he believed were fulfilled—much as I do when teaching on a Sunday morning before the congregation, he might miss quote the wrong book. This tells us that the details, which are written in Matthew 27:9, are a genuine account of what actually took place. This so-called “discrepancy” is not a valid reason to doubt the New Testament; in reality, it is a great reason to believe it.
Another possibility is that this verse does not specifically state that the prophecy was written in the scroll of Jeremiah; it says that it was “spoken by Jeremiah the prophet…” Zechariah may have recorded the words of Jeremiah who had originally spoken them.
When we investigate the New Testament in great detail, we find that the internal evidence which the writers have provided, gives us an abundance of clues to validate the authenticity of their narratives. The differences between Matthew and Peter’s account of Judas death, the mistaken quote of Matthew in describing Jeremiah as the source of Zechariah’s prophecy, all tell us that we have a true account of the events which they describe. We can have confidence that the life of Jesus Christ has been recorded for us—truthfully, by the actual people who saw and heard Him—witnessed His crucifixion and resurrection three days later; and testified that He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.