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In common parlance, "thirty pieces of silver" is practically synonymous with "blood money." Does the Bible teach that this amount was the normal price for betraying someone and causing their death?

Matthew 27:6 says:

The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, “It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood."

This leads many Christians of my acquaintance to believe that thirty pieces of silver was the price normally paid for giving evidence of a capital crime or some similar act. However, I have been unable to find a biblical basis for this.

Matthew 27:9-10 explains the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah:

Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet. "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, and they paid it out for the potter’s field just as the Lord had commanded me."

However this not anywhere near being a direct quote. It seems to be Matthew's interpretation of several sections of Jeremiah (Jer 18:2–3, 32:6–9, 19:1–13) together with the Book of Zechariah's mention of thirty pieces of silver (Zec 11:12–13) as the price paid to God's rejected Shepherd. There is also a mention of this price as being the compensation paid to one whose slave has been gored by an ox (Ex 21:32).

So the question is: Was thirty pieces considered "blood money" prior Matthew's report of the conversation of the priests and elders after Judas returned this money to them? Related: what is Matthew's basis for understanding that Jeremiah spoke of this as "a price set by some of the Israelites"?

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QUESTION 1: Source of Matt 27:9's Quotation?

This is an "Old Chestnut" and has been discussed for centuries. Ellicott sums up the situation well:

(9) Then was fulfilled.—Three questions present themselves, more or less difficult:—

  1. The words cited are found in our present Old Testament, not in Jeremiah, but in Zechariah 11:13, and there is no trace of their ever having occupied any other place in the Hebrew Canon. How is this discrepancy to be explained?
  • (a) Are we to assume an early error in transcription? Against this, there is the fact that MSS. and versions, with one or two exceptions, in which the correction is obviously of later date, give Jeremiah and not Zechariah.
  • (b) May we fall back upon the Jewish notion that the spirit of Jeremiah had passed into Zechariah; or that Jeremiah, having, at one time, stood first in the Jewish order of the Prophets, was taken as representing the whole volume, as David was of the whole Book of Psalms? This is possible, but it hardly falls within the limits of Probability that the writer of the Gospel would deliberately have thus given his quotation in a form sure to cause perplexity.
  • (c) May we believe that the writer quoted from memory, and that recollecting the two conspicuous chapters (18 and 19) in which Jeremiah had spoken of the potter and his work, he was led to think that this also belonged to the same group of prophecies? I am free to confess that the last hypothesis seems to me the most natural and free from difficulty, unless it be the difficulty which is created by an arbitrary hypothesis as to the necessity of literal accuracy in an inspired writing.
  1. There is the fact that the words given by St. Matthew neither represent the Greek version of Zechariah 11:13, nor the original Hebrew, but have the look of being a free quotation from memory adapted to the facts; and this, so far as it goes, is in favour of the last hypothesis.
  2. It is hardly necessary to dwell on the fact that the words as they stand in Zechariah have an adequate historical meaning entirely independent of St. Matthew’s application of them. This, as we have seen again and again (Matthew 1:23; Matthew 2:15-18; Matthew 4:15; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:18), was entirely compatible with the Evangelist’s manner of dealing with prophecy. It was enough for him that the old words fitted into the facts, without asking, as we ask, whether they were originally meant to point to them. The combination in one verse, as he remembered it, of the thirty pieces of silver and the potter’s field, was a coincidence that he could not pass over.

For much more discussion about this well-known problem, see https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/27-9.htm

QUESTION 2: Was it Blood Money?

The 30 pieces of silver is called "blood money" for the following reasons:

  • "blood money" is the English equivalent idiom of the Greek phrase, τιμὴ αἵματός = "price of blood" (Matt 27:6) the title given by the priests.
  • When Judas returned the money to the priests, he declared, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” (Matt 27:4).
  • The field the priests bought with this blood money, ie, the "potters field" (Matt 27:7) was called, "the Field of Blood" (Matt 27:8)
  • as a result of Judas' betrayal and his subsequent remorse, he committed suicide and "spilt his own blood". This is the origin of "field of blood" as recorded in Acts 1:18, 19.

I can find no reason for 30 pieces of silver being called "blood money" prior to Judas' betrayal. The closest we get is that 20 or 30 silver coins was the price of a slave, but this is not blood money.

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  • +1 Ellicott indeed summarized it well, and I agree with your concluding sentences. Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 21:38
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Matthew 27:6 needs to be read with Matthew 26:14 where we see Judas negotiating on the bribe he would receive for identifying his Master for them. (We will never know if he had been informed of the plot to have Jesus executed. The leaders may have told him that Jesus would be captured and exiled. That possibility explains Judas' regret on finding Jesus condemned to death). He was not asking for slave money or blood money otherwise due to the owner of the traded/ killed slave. Judas must have asked for a bigger amount citing his Master's public image and the risk to his own life at the hands of Peter and friends who would retaliate the betrayal.

In fact, Judas had no immediate reasons for getting rid of Jesus, for he was, as per John 12:6, dipping into the Group's Funds for a regular income. What he wanted was the 'big fish' and a slave's price was not that enticing. It was in fulfillment of the prophecy that he was unwittingly handed over 30 pieces of silver, that too in full advance! After all, in what capacity was Judas owner of Jesus so as to claim compensation over the capture or killing of the Lord? Jesus himself asks Judas why he needed to betray the Son of Man with a kiss (Luke 22:48), the Lord NOT mentioning the betrayal money involved.

In sum, it was a Betrayal Bribe that Judas received from Jewish leaders, though they would later term it as Blood Money (Is it not possible that they were alluding to the split-open body of Judas after his suicide(Acts 1:18) that in a way, had resulted from his greed for those 30 silver coins?).
Spy Money or Betrayal Money was not a lawful payment and therefore, did not find a mention in the OT laws.

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