Contradictions 2

This follow up to our previous series continues debunking even more supposed contradictions in the Bible.

The “Problem”

In Matthew 23, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He concluded His rebuke with some especially strong statements.

“Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:31–35)

Jesus clearly stated that Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, was murdered between the temple and the altar.

2 Chronicles reveals that Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was stoned “in the court of the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:20–21). So was Zechariah the son of Berechiah or the son of Jehoiada? How can we answer this supposed Bible contradiction?

A Popular Answer

Many Christians have attempted to address this alleged contradiction by claiming that the Hebrew word for “son” (ben, and its Greek counterpart huios) can refer to both immediate and distant descendants. In other words, perhaps Jesus referred to the father of Zechariah, whereas the writer of 2 Chronicles referred to Zechariah’s grandfather. While it is true that the Hebrew language permits such a usage for this word, I do not believe this is the best solution in this case.

The Solution

Study Bibles often provide verses for the purpose of cross-referencing passages. In this case, several Bibles link Matthew 23:35 and 2 Chronicles 24:20. However, while there are several similarities in these accounts, the Bible provides the details to show us that these are two separate accounts. Remember, similarity does not necessarily equal “same-ness.”

In this particular case, we know the name of the grandfather of Zechariah (the son of Berechiah). Jesus referred to the prophet whose prophecies have been preserved for us in the book of Zechariah. The first verse of that book states, “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet” (Zechariah 1:1). So the man to whom Jesus referred was the grandson of a man named Iddo (not Jehoiada), and his ministry as prophet began in the second year of Darius. This places the start of Zechariah’s ministry around 520 BC.1

The events in 2 Chronicles 24 took place during the latter years of the reign of Joash, king of Judah (ca. 835–796 BC). This means that Zechariah the son of Jehoiada lived roughly three centuries earlier than the son of Berechiah.

So the solution to this supposed contradiction is that Jesus did not refer to the events of 2 Chronicles 24. Instead, He was speaking about the murder of the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo. This makes sense in light of the context. Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that they were guilty of all the righteous blood that had been shed on earth, “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Matthew 23:35). Abel was the first person to be murdered, and both Jesus and the writer of Hebrews identify him as righteous (Hebrews 11:4). Zechariah the son of Berechiah lived near the end of the Old Testament.

By citing the first and last martyrs of the Old Testament, Jesus essentially assigned guilt of the murder of every prophet to the scribes and Pharisees. If He had referred to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, then Jesus would have missed out on another 300 years of history in which several prophets were martyred.

Once again, we see that there is no contradiction. We just needed to dig a little bit deeper to find the solution.

A Modern Example

This solution might raise the following objection from the critic: Do you expect me to believe that two people with the same name were both killed in a similar fashion? Actually, it is not uncommon for two people who share a name to experience similar events in life.

Consider, for example, that President George Bush of the United States of America led his nation into war in Iraq in 1991. Wait a minute! That can’t be true, because President George Bush of the United States of America led his nation into war in Iraq in 2003. Actually, both are true. President George H. W. Bush led the U.S. in the Gulf War in 1991. His son, President George W. Bush, led the U.S. in the Iraq War in 2003. These two men share both first and last names and both led their same nation into war with Iraq during their presidencies.

So maybe it isn’t too difficult after all to believe that two people with the same name can experience similar events.

Conclusion

This supposed contradiction can easily be answered when one studies the contexts of the relevant passages. This case also brings up an important point. The footnotes, text notes, and cross-reference notes provided in study Bibles are not inspired. Though these marginal notes are often very helpful, we must never forget that they are merely study aids developed by men, and they are far from inerrant and infallible. In this case, certain Bibles have, through cross-reference notes, misled readers to think that these two accounts referred to the same person and events.

Jesus was not mistaken when He claimed that Zechariah was the son of Berechiah. Nor was the writer of 2 Chronicles mistaken when he stated that Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada. Both were accurate because both Zechariahs were murdered in or near the temple. And both Bible passages are accurate, because they are inspired by the God of truth, who never contradicts Himself. That’s why we can always trust Him and not cave in to skeptics.

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Footnotes

  1. Dates for Zechariah and Joash from John C. Whitcomb, Chart of Old Testament Kings and Prophets. Available on certain versions of Logos Bible Software. James Ussher in The Annals of the World places Joash's reign from 878 BC and his death at 825 BC, but agrees that the later Zechariah's began his ministry at 520 BC. Either date for Joash shows these are clearly two different people separated by hundreds of years. Back