Thirty Pieces of Silver

I recently had a student ask me if Jesus had free will.  It was a rather interesting question if dug into.  Yes, the short answer is easy – He had free will.  Otherwise the struggle at Gethsemane makes no sense.  Jesus had the choice, but He also had a mission.  He chose to “lay down His life for His friends.”

But this lack of choice question intrigued me, as I have often heard reference made to the fact that the “price paid” for Jesus to Judas was the legal  compensation liable for the loss of a slave – 30 pieces of silver (See Exodus 21:32).

To follow this line of thinking might suggest that Jesus was “bound” to His path.  Let’s examine the Matthew account.

“3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 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 (chapter 27).”

This passage offers three reflections: The first is that it supports the view that Jesus was not a slave, as Judas was His disciple, and He was the master, so no payment would be due to Judas.

The second is that it presents a two-fold fulfillment of prophecy:  i) that the 30 pieces of silver would go to the potter, ii) and that the silver transaction would be linked to the House of the Lord (the Temple).

Some cite this fulfillment as a biblical contradiction as the passage comes from Zechariah not Jeremiah: “12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord (Zech 11).”

This is not a problem, however, as in rabbinic tradition there was an accepted formula of referring to a set of books by the name of the first book in the collection. In the Tanakh, the Jewish scriptures, the prophetic books  begin with Jeremiah, not Isaiah, and the collection in Matthew’s time would all be known as Jeremiah.

There is a lot that 30 pieces of silver can teach us.




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