The Money of the Bible - Part 4

The Bible Monthly vol. 1

 

IV.—THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER.

"Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said, What are ye willing to give me, and I will deliver Him unto you ? And they weighed unto him thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to deliver Him unto them."

"Then Judas, which betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. . . . And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary. . . . And the chief priests took the pieces of silver . . . and bought with them the potter's field to bury strangers in. . . . Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the Prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was Priced ...." (Matt. xxvi. 14-16; xxvii. 3-10, R.V.).

In the history of the betrayal of our Lord by Judas to the chief priests and captains of the temple, the sum of money paid to the traitor is specified by Matthew as thirty pieces of silver (arguria). The exact expression used by the evangelist indicates that thirty separate coins were handed over or weighed out to Judas. In Mark xiv. II and in Luke xxii. 5 the same term is used, but in the singular number (argurion), stating that the chief priests promised to give Judas money (silver). In these latter cases the word is used in a collective sense, as now we might speak of paying a person in gold or in silver, in distinction from a payment in notes or by cheque.

The time had come, of which the Lord said to the religious heads of the Jews, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness " (Luke xxii. 53). The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people met in the court of Caiaphas to take counsel together how Jesus might be apprehended and put to death. Their resolution to inflict the extreme penalty was not a sudden decision, but after much deliberation the formal authoritative act of the supreme council of the Jewish nation.

It was at this juncture that Judas Iscariot went to them, and volunteered to deliver the Lord Jesus into their hands —for a consideration. He said, "What are ye willing to give me, and I will deliver Him unto you? " And they covenanted with him, or weighed to him (R.V.) thirty pieces of silver. This was the amount they were "willing to give " to get the Prophet of Nazareth into their custody. Thirty pieces of silver must therefore be regarded as the national valuation of Him who had come to the daughter of Zion as her King.

And as the council of the Jews was prepared to give this sum, so Judas was willing to undertake to deliver his Master up to death for this, compensation. This agreed sum of money could hardly have been named by chance. The members of the Sanhedrin were all familiar with the scriptures. They were all zealous for the law, and thoroughly acquainted with the provisions of the Mosaic economy. They would not therefore have been ignorant that thirty shekels of silver was the compensation prescribed by Moses to be paid to the owner of a male or female slave who had been gored to death by an ox (Exod. xxi. 32). They must also have known that thirty pieces of silver were named in the prophecies of Zechariah (Zech. xi. 13).

Such then was the price that the sons of Israel set upon the Lord Jesus, and such was the price that the apostate disciple was willing to accept. It is only to those that believe that Jesus Christ is the preciousness (1 Pet. ii. 7). To His own nation He was the despised One, whom they esteemed not. In their eyes, their Messiah could be bartered for the price of a bond-servant.

WHAT WERE THE PIECES OF SILVER ?

It has already been pointed out in this magazine (p. 4) that the word translated " piece of silver " in Luke xv. 8, , 9 refers to a drachma, which was a Greek silver coin, and that there is no other occurrence of this word in the New Testament. The word (arguria) used in describing the payment made to Judas is general in its signification, and only indicates that the coins were made of silver, not of gold, copper, or brass, and does not therefore afford any guidance concerning their denominations or values. It is simply recorded that the traitor received thirty " silvers."

Some help however in the enquiry may be obtained from the context. It will there be observed that the priests took the sum of money from the temple funds; for we read that Judas subsequently brought back the silver to the temple and cast it down in the holy place. And the priests thereupon used the cash to purchase the potter's field because of their scruples against putting the "price of blood " into the treasury where the " Corban " or sacred gifts (Mark vii. 11) were stored or banked.

If then these pieces of silver were taken in the first instance from the temple funds, there would be substantial reason for believing them to have been shekels or staters .accumulated from the tax levied by the priests upon the Jewish people for the maintenance of the temple. As was seen in a previous article (pp. 10-15, Feb.), it was a stater or tetra-drachm that Peter took from the mouth of the fish, and paid over to the tax-collector. On the assumption which is based upon substantial numismatic considerations that the pieces were either Tyrian or Antiochian staters, the thirty pieces would be equivalent to something less than 5 of our money.

Some however have regarded these pieces, somewhat hastily, we think, as Roman denarii or silver pennies. It is very unlikely that the bigoted Jewish priests would make the payment in Roman money, bearing the image and superscription of their detested conquerors. The apprehension, of the Galilean teacher was to them a religious matter, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the temple, although they were compelled to refer to the Gentile judge because they were themselves unable to inflict the penalty of death, which, they claimed, was demanded by their law (John xix.7). Money-changers had, as we know, their tables in the temple courts, and it is improbable that the temple treasury contained Roman coins, with such ready means of exchange at hand.

The fact, too, that the amount itself was based upon the sum prescribed under the law as compensation for the death of a slave would favour the view of its correspondence with the temple tax which was based upon the ransom money prescribed by the same law. Summing up, the money paid is more likely to have been thirty shekels or staters than thirty denarii or pence.

The latter theory has given rise to the term, " Judas-penny,." a term applied to some coins, which, it is claimed, were actually used in the nefarious transaction, and which still exist. Many coins, gold as well as silver, have on this account been preserved by the superstitious in Christendom and venerated as "holy " relics. These claims cannot be substantiated, and it may be sufficient to say here that more than thirty of such coins have been recorded. The curious and learned reader will find a mass of information on the subject in an exhaustive treatise, entitled The Thirty Pieces of Silver,, by G. F. Hill, M.A., of the British Academy,. (Oxford, 1920).

WHAT PROPHECY WAS FULFILLED?

A few words only can now be added with reference to the prophecy quoted by Matthew, and stated by him to have been then fulfilled : " Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces. of silver, the price of Him that was priced whom certain of the children of Israel did price, and they gave them for the potter's field as the Lord appointed me ' (Matt. xxvii. 9, 10, R. V.).

It will be seen from this quotation that Matthew shews that this prophecy foretold :—

(1) what would be the exact sum of money;

(2) that this sum was the valuation made by the children of Israel;

(3) That this sum was ultimately given for the potter's field;

(4) that this act was according to the Lord's appointment.

The evangelist states that this prophecy is by Jeremiah, but on referring to the Old Testament, no trace of such a prophecy is found in the book of Jeremiah, but we do find in Zechariah one which is similar in general signification, though not in exact verbal correspondence. There we read,, "So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter; the goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them unto the potter in the house of the LORD " (Zech. xi. 12, 13, R.V.).

The chief features of the prophecy of Zechariah are :—

(1) The thirty pieces of silver are regarded as the hire or wages paid to the Good Shepherd for His services to the nation;

(2) Jehovah bids Him to throw it away to the potter;

(3) He speaks of the thirty pieces as a "goodly price in scorn;

(4) The Shepherd throws them to the potter in the house of Jehovah.

Comparing Matthew and Zechariah, we find a general agreement between them (a) in the mention of the thirty pieces of silver ; (b) in this sum being taken to be the value set upon the Lord Jesus by Israel ; (c) in the diversion of this sum to the potter; (d) in the sovereign purpose of God overruling the evil minds of men.

But at the same time there are striking points of distinction. Zechariah presents a dialogue between Jehovah and His Shepherd of the flock concerning the wages offered Him, and then His repudiation of them in the house of Jehovah. On the other hand, Jeremiah, as quoted by Matthew, presents the priests taking the thirty pieces of silver, "the value of Him whom the children of Israel did value," and giving them for the potter's field.

What prophecy then did Matthew quote? We believe he quoted one spoken by Jeremiah as he himself affirms in his Gospel. The First Gospel was written especially to the Jews and abounds in proofs from the Old Testament that Jesus. was the Christ. We do not believe that Matthew was so ignorant that he was unacquainted with the prophecies of Jeremiah and Zechariah. Neither do we believe that he was so blundering and careless as to write Jeremiah in mistake for Zechariah. Indeed the very suggestion of such an error is utterly repugnant to the believer in God's inspiration of the Scriptures.

Not all the prophecies delivered by inspired men were ,committed to writing. Enoch's prophecy is only recorded by Jude (verse 14). The words of our Lord Jesus quoted by Paul are not found in the Gospels (Acts xx. 35). Why may not Matthew quote a prophecy spoken by Jeremiah, but not written in this book, like the one quoted in Matt. ii. 18, which was both spoken and written (Jer. xxxi. 15)?

Zechariah also prophesied about the thirty pieces of silver, but views the coming incident from a different standpoint, as has been noticed above. This prophet laid emphasis upon the contemptuous valuation by the house of Israel of the services of the Good Shepherd, and further foretold that the wages should be diverted from the use originally intended into the hands of the potter, by the Lord's overruling of the evil schemes of His people.

Regarded in this way, the scriptures in Zechariah and Matthew are not contradictory, but supplementary to each other and to the oral prophecy of Jeremiah also.