Home      Back to Palm Sunday




St Augustine on Matthew 27:1-10
(Book III, Chapter VII in The Harmony of the Gospels in Vol VI, NPNF (1st))
Chapter VII.-Of the Thorough Harmony of the Evangelists in the Different Accounts of What Took Place in the Early Morning, Previous to the Delivery of Jesus to Pilate; And of the Question Touching the Passage Which is Quoted on the Subject of the Price Set Upon the Lord, and Which is Ascribed to Jeremiah by Matthew, Although No Such Paragraph is Found in the Writings of that Prophet.

27. Matthew next proceeds as follows: "When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus, to put Him to death; and when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor."105 Mark's version is to the like effect: "And straightway in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes, and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate."106 Luke, again, after completing his account of Peter's denial, recapitulates what Jesus had to endure when it was now about daybreak, as it appears, and continues his narrative in the following connection: "And the men that held Jesus mocked Him, and smote Him; and when they had blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face, and asked Him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against Him. And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people, and the chief priests, and the scribes came together, and led Him into their council, saying, Art thou the Christ? tell us. And He said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe; and if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And He said unto them, Ye say that I am. And they said, What need we further witness? For we ourselves have heard of His own mouth. And the whole multitude of them arose, and led Him unto Pilate."107 Luke has thus recorded all these things. His statement contains certain facts which are also related by Matthew and Mark; namely, that the Lord was asked whether He was the Son of God, and that He made this reply, "I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." And we gather that these things took place when the day was now breaking, because Luke's expression is, "And as soon as it was day." Thus Luke's narrative is similar to those of the others, although he also introduces something which these others have left unnoticed. We gather further, that when it was yet night, the Lord faced the ordeal of the false witnesses,-a fact which is recorded briefly by Matthew and Mark, and which is passed over in silence by Luke, who, however, has told the story of what was done when the dawn was coming in. The former two-namely, Matthew and Mark-have given connected narratives of all that the Lord passed through until early morning. After that, however, they have reverted to the story of Peter's denial; on the conclusion of which they have come back upon the events of the early morning, and have introduced the other circumstances which remained for recital with a view to the completion of their account of what befell the Lord.108 But up to this point they have given no account of the occurrences belonging specifically to the morning.109 In like manner John, after recording what was done with the Lord as fully as he deemed requisite, and after telling also the whole story of Peter's denial, continues his narrative in these terms: "Then lead they Jesus to Caiaphas,110 unto the hall of judgment. And it was early."111 Here we might suppose either that there had been something imperatively requiring Caiaphas' presence in the hall of judgment, and that he was absent on the occasion when the other chief priests held an inquiry on the Lord; or else that the hall of judgment was in his house; and that yet from the beginning of this scene they had thus only been leading Jesus away to the personage in whose presence He was at last actually conducted. But as they brought the accused person in the character of one already convicted, and as it had previously approved itself to Caiaphas' judgment that Jesus should die, there was no further delay in delivering Him over to Pilate, with a view to His being put to death.112 And thus it is that Matthew here relates what took place between Pilate and the Lord.

28. First, however, he makes a digression with the purpose of telling the story of Judas' end, which is related only by him. His account is in these terms: "Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued, whom the children of Israel113 did value, and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me."114 

29. Now, if any one finds a difficulty in the circumstance that this passage is not found in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, and thinks that damage is thus done to the veracity of the evangelist, let him first take notice of the fact that this ascription of the passage to Jeremiah is not contained in all the codices of the Gospels, and that some of them state simply that it I was spoken "by the prophet." It is possible, therefore, to affirm that those codices deserve rather to be followed which do not contain the name of Jeremiah. For these words were certainly spoken by a prophet, only that prophet was Zechariah. In this way the supposition is, that those codices are faulty which contain the name of Jeremiah, because they ought either to have given the name of Zechariah or to have mentioned no name at all, as is the case with a certain copy, merely stating that it was spoken "by the prophet, saying," which prophet would assuredly be understood to be Zechariah. However, let others adopt this method of defence, if they are so minded. For my part, I am not satisfied with it; and the reason is, that a majority of codices contain the name of Jeremiah, and that those critics who have studied the Gospel with more than usual care in the Greek copies, report that they have found it stand so in the more ancient Greek exemplars. I look also to this further consideration, namely, that there was no reason why this name should have been added [subsequently to the true text], and a corruption thus created; whereas there was certainly an intelligible reason for erasing the name from so many of the codices. For venturesome inexperience might readily have done that, when perplexed with the problem presented by the fact that this passage could not be found in Jeremiah.115 

30. How, then, is the matter to be explained, but by supposing that this has been done in accordance with the more secret counsel of that providence of God by which the minds of the evangelists were governed? For it may have been the case, that when Matthew was engaged in composing his Gospel, the word Jeremiah occurred to his mind, in accordance with a familiar experience, instead of Zechariah. Such an inaccuracy, however, he would most undoubtedly have corrected (having his attention called to it, as surely would have been the case, by some who might have read it while he was still alive in the flesh), had he not reflected that [perhaps] it was not without a purpose that the name of the one prophet had been suggested instead of the other in the process of recalling the circumstances (which process of recollection was also directed by the Holy Spirit), and that this might not have occurred to him had it not been the Lord's purpose to have it so written. If it is asked, however, why the Lord should have so determined it, there is this first and most serviceable reason, which deserves our most immediate consideration, namely, that some idea was thus conveyed of the marvellous manner in which all the holy prophets, speaking in one spirit, continued in perfect unison with each other in their utterances,-a circumstance certainly much more calculated to impress the mind than would have been the case had all the words of all these prophets been spoken by the mouth of a single individual. The same consideration might also fitly suggest the duty of accepting unhesitatingly whatever the Holy Spirit has given expression to through the agency of these prophets, and of looking upon their individual communications as also those of the whole body, and on their collective communications as also those of each separately. If, then, it is the case that words spoken by Jeremiah are really as much Zechariah's as Jeremiah's, and, on the other hand, that words spoken by Zechariah are really as much Jeremiah's as they are Zechariah's, what necessity was there for Matthew to correct his text when he read over what he had written, and found that the one name had occurred to him instead of the other? Was it not rather the proper course for him to bow to the authority of the Holy Spirit, under whose guidance he certainly felt his mind to be placed in a more decided sense than is the case with us, and consequently to leave untouched what he had thus written, in accordance with the Lord's counsel and appointment, with the intent to give us to understand that the prophets maintain so complete a harmony with each other in the matter of their utterances that it becomes nothing absurd, but, in fact, a most consistent thing for us to credit Jeremiah with a sentence originally spoken by Zechariah?116 For if, in these days of ours, a person, desiring to bring under our notice the words of a certain individual, happens to mention the name of another by whom the words were not actually uttered,117 but who at the same time is the most intimate friend and associate of the man by whom they were really spoken; and if forthwith recollecting that he has given the one name instead of the other, he recovers himself and corrects the mistake, but does it nevertheless in some such way as this, "After all, what I said was not amiss;" what would we take to be meant by this, but just that there subsists so perfect a unison of sentiment between the two parties-that is to say, the man whose words the individual in question intended to repeat, and the second person whose name occurred to him at the time instead of that of the other-that it comes much to the same thing to represent the words to have been spoken by the former as to say that they were uttered by the latter? How much more, then, is this a usage which might well be understood and most particularly commended to our attention in the case of the holy prophets, so that we might accept the books composed by the whole series of them, as if they formed but a single book written by one author, in which no discrepancy with regard to the subjects dealt with should be supposed to exist, as none would be found, and in which there would be a more remarkable example of consistency and veracity than would have been the case had a single individual, even the most learned, been the enunciator of all these sayings? Therefore, while there are those, whether unbelievers or merely ignorant men, who endeavour to find an argument here to help them in demonstrating a want of harmony between the holy evangelists, men of faith and learning, on the other hand, ought rather to bring this into the service of proving the unity which characterizes the holy prophets.118 

31. I have also another reason (the fuller discussion of which must be reserved, I think, for another opportunity, in order to prevent the present discourse from extending to larger limits than may be allowed by the necessity which rests upon us to bring this work to a conclusion) to offer in explanation of the fact that the name of Jeremiah has been permitted, or rather directed, by the authority of the Holy Spirit, to stand in this passage instead of that of Zechariah. It is stated in Jeremiah that he bought a field from the son of his brother, and paid him money for it. That sum of money is not given, indeed, under the name of the particular price which is found in Zechariah, namely, thirty pieces of silver; but, on the other hand, there is no mention of the buying of the field in Zechariah. Now, it is evident that the evangelist has interpreted the prophecy which speaks of the thirty pieces of silver as something which has received its fulfilment only in the Lord's case, so that it is made to stand for the price set upon Him. But again, that the words which were uttered by Jeremiah on the subject of the purchase of the field have also a bearing upon the same matter, may have been mystically signified by the selection thus made in introducing [into the evangelical narrative] the name of Jeremiah, who spoke of the purchase of the field, instead of that of Zechariah, to whom we are indebted for the notice of the thirty pieces of silver. In this way, on perusing first the Gospel, and finding the name of Jeremiah there, and then, again, on perusing Jeremiah, and failing there to discover the passage about the thirty pieces of silver, but seeing at the same time the section about the purchase of the field, the reader would be taught to compare the two paragraphs together, and get at the real meaning of the prophecy, and learn how it also stands in relation to this fulfilment of prophecy which was exhibited in the instance of our Lord. For [it is also to be remarked that] Matthew makes the following addition to the passage cited, namely, "Whom the children of Israel did value; and gave them the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me." Now, these words are not to be found either in Zechariah or in Jeremiah. Hence we must rather take them to have been inserted with a nice and mystical meaning by the evangelist, on his own responsibility,-the Lord having given him to understand, by revelation, that a prophecy of the said tenor had a real reference to this occurrence, which took place in connection with the price set upon Christ. Moreover, in Jeremiah, the evidence of the purchase of the field is ordered to be cast into an earthen vessel. Inlike manner, we find in the Gospel that the money paid for the Lord was used for the purchase of a potter's field, which field also was to be employed as a burying-place for strangers. And it may be that all this was significant of the permanence of the repose of those who sojourn like strangers in this present world, and are buried with Christ by baptism. For the Lord also declared to Jeremiah, that the said purchase of the field was expressive of the fact that in that land [of Judaea] there would be a remnant of the people delivered from their captivity.119 I judged it proper to give some sort of sketch120 of these things, as I was calling attention to the kind of significance which a really careful and painstaking study should look for in these testimonies of the prophets, when they are reduced to a unity and compared with the evangelical narrative. These, then, are the statements which Matthew has introduced with reference to the traitor Judas.

105 Matt. xxvii. 1, 2.
106 Mark xv. 1, 2.
107 Luke xxii. 63-xxiii. 1. [That Luke's account gives in detail the formal meeting of the Sanhedrin at daybreak in altogether probable, since Matthew and Mark distinguish this assembly from the night examination.-R.]
108 The text gives: ut inde caetera contexerent quousque perducerent, etc. Seven Mss. read perduxerant, = as far as they had drawn out their account, etc.
109 Matt. xxvi. 59-xxvii. 1, 2; Mark xiv. 55-xv. 1, 2. 
110 Adducunt ergo Jesum ad Caiapham.
111 John xviii. 28.
112 In his 114 Tractate on John, Augustin again attempts to grapple with the difficulty created here by the reading which was before him, namely, to Caiaphas, instead of from Caiaphas. [The Greek text is "from Caiaphas." The other reading is probably harmonistic error, of early origin.-R.]
113 The text gives filii Israel, instead of a filiis Israel = they of the children of Israel.
114 Matt. xxvii. 3-10.
115 [It is refreshing to find this exhibition of critical judgment and candour. The critical canon respecting the lectio difficilier is virtually accepted. The easier reading was suggested by Origen.-R.] 
116 [The simplest explanation is that the name "Jeremiah" was applied to the collection of prophetical books, in which it was placed first by the Jews.-R.]
117 Reading a quo non dicta sint. Most of the Mss. omit the non.
118 [This explanation is at variance with many of the healthy expressions regarding inspiration which abound in Augustin's expository writings.-R.] 
119 See Jer. xxxii.
120 Reading delineanda. Four Mss. give delibanda = proper to touch upon.