Written by Paul J. Bucknell on May, 14, 2020
A Contradiction in the Bible? Which Zechariah does Jesus refer? (2 Chronicles 24:20-22 and Matthew 23:35)
The Question on Zechariah
My question is about an alleged contradiction in the Bible, the Word of God. Did Christ misquote the Old Testament scriptures? The formerly good King Joash murdered Zechariah the priest.
“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood over the people, and he said to them, Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you. They conspired against Zechariah the priest and stoned him at the command of the king in the court of the Lord’s house. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had done him, but slew his son. And when [Zechariah the priest] was dying, he said, May the Lord see and avenge!” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)
Christ Jesus, however, spoke of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, in the above passage, not Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada.
“So that upon your heads may come all the blood of the righteous (those who correspond to the divine standard of right) shed on earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Mat 23:35)
So which Zechariah was actually murdered? Is it the prophet Zechariah, whose father was Barachiah (Zech 1:1-2)? Or, does Jesus identify the wrong Zechariah—the son of Jehoiada?
This assumed contradiction arises due to the various references to Zechariah, which is used 46 times in the Bible (44-OT; 2-NT). Jesus, in His teaching, twice refers to Zechariah, quoted both in Matthew and Luke (the two New Testament references).
“So that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35 NASB).
“From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:51).
The contradiction arises from the more detailed Jewish account of Matthew, who refers to Zechariah as the son of Berechiah (or Barachiah). A priest, named Zechariah, bravely stood up against the rogue Jewish King. The Bible identifies this Zechariah as the son of Jehoiada the priest, rather than Berechiah as Matthew speaks.
We should be clear that the issue is, in terms of interpretation and doctrinal matters, irrelevant. Luke doesn’t even mention who Zechariah’s father was. However, the Bible is one book with the Old and New Testaments wonderfully fitting together like a pair of gloves. It’s helpful to see the best way to reconcile this difference.
The Best Explanation
The easiest explanation, in which we have some confirmation, is to identify the Zechariah that Jesus refers to as Zechariah, the prophet, rather than the Zechariah King Josiah martyred. The best explanation remains the most straight forward. The prophet’s lineage is twice mentioned.
“In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying” (Zech 1:1-Nasb).
“The sword of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo” (Zech 1:7).
I suppose our mind might linger on the thought of whether Jesus could make mistakes, such as mistakingly switching Jehoiada with Berechiah. But if this is possible, could not Matthew also have misquoted Jesus, allowing Jesus to be spot on? But I don’t think we need to defend Jesus or accuse Matthew of this typical mistake.
Looking for Confirmation
So what is the confirmation that Jesus refers to Zechariah the prophet (from the book of Zechariah) rather than the priest (son of Jehoiada the priest)?
Jesus’ point is to highlight one from the beginning of the Old Testament (early Genesis with the first martyr) to the end of the Old Testament with the martyrdom of Zechariah the prophet: “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Luke 11:51).
Zechariah, the prophet, a post-exilic prophet, comes as one of the last books to close the Old Testament canon. Check the Old Testament chronological map below.
Zechariah, the priest, lived hundreds of years earlier than the prophet, even before the time of the exiles. His life was not near the end of the Old Testament canon in 400 BC.
Jesus emphasized the totality of the human race, including the Jews who received the Law and relentlessly hardened their hearts and killed their righteous men. God revealed Himself, and yet, men have revolted against God by killing His spokesmen. Abel, in Genesis 4, represents the beginning of the scriptures while Zechariah the prophet represents the closing of the Old Testament. We would say it like this, “The whole Bible (in Jesus’ time) records how hardened men unreasonably murdered God’s righteous spokesmen.”
It is true we have no record of Zechariah the Prophet’s death. Jesus, being only 450 years from Zechariah the Prophet’s time could easily have been acquainted with Zechariah’s brave finish—otherwise, he would not have so exactly used Zechariah’s death as a reference. Jesus could merely have referred to how the Bible records a continuous history of wicked men that persecute God’s righteous ones.
Jesus emphasized the totality of human beings—from the beginning to the end, especially in their response to God their Creator. And so, I feel quite confident that Jesus did not mistake Zechariah father’s name but that we are ignorant of Zechariah the Prophet’s end. After all, both these references affirm Zechariah is the son of Berechiah. Assigning the confusion surrounding the two Zechariahs as a contradiction is wrong. The argument is from silence, holding no true substance. Therefore, we should not count it as a contradiction.