In Matt. 23:35, Jesus refers to, “Zechariah the son of Barachiah…murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” This murder is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24, but Zechariah’s father is there named Jehoiada, not Barachiah. The O.T. records another Zechariah whose dad is Barachiah (see Zech. 1:1), but does not record his murder. So…was Jesus wrong about the name, or was He wrong about the murder?…or is there another option?
First, unless a clear contradiction exists, it would be the height of arrogance for modern readers to assume an ancient writing to be incorrect when: (1) we don’t speak the language, (2) we don’t live in the culture, (3) we are 2,000 years removed from the event, (4) we have so little information on the ancient world, (5) we are studying a piece of literature that has been scrutinized for centuries and found to be trustworthy by many brilliant men and women, (6) in this same passage, Jesus says, “my words will not pass away,” …shouldn’t we at least give Him the benefit of the doubt?
Second, only a few verses before Matt. 23:35, Jesus says a striking statement: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous.” Did you catch that? Jesus and Matthew (the writer of the gospel) both lived amongst people who were so well-acquainted with the deaths of martyrs that they built tombs and decorated monuments for them. Furthermore, Jewish writings of that period showed particular interest in the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 24 (who I believe Jesus referred to, as shown below), even claiming that blood still bubbled in the place he died hundreds of years later (see John Lightfoot’s commentary, here). All this shows that a mistake on the history of this martyr would have been pounced on by Jewish antagonists of Jesus’ and Matthew’s day, and a fairly unlikely error for anyone to make.
Finally, though many suggestions have been offered that show Jesus and Matthew did not err in the text (see here, for instance), I am most persuaded that Jesus is referring to the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles. The murder recorded in 2 Chronicles 24 perfectly matches the murder described by Jesus in Matt. 23:35. Also, since the Jewish Bible has 2 Chronicles as its last book, and this murder is the last martyrdom recorded in 2 Chronicles, it is all the more likely that Jesus would have cited Zechariah along with Abel as “bookends” of martyrs recorded in the O.T. Even more, his dying words were, “Jehovah look upon it and require it,” which correlate with Abel’s blood crying out, and Jesus’ own words in this chapter and the next.
Having pinpointed the person, we still have to explain why Jesus would call his father “Barachiah”, when it lists his name as Jehoiada in 2 Chronicles. I suggest 3 solutions to this:
- Berechiah and Jehoiada are alternate names of the same man. This is a common practice in Old and New Testaments, and seems even more plausible when considering that Berechiah means, “Jehovah blesses,” which would’ve been a fitting nickname to give Zechariah’s father, because he faithfully defended true worship of God. A similar example would be found in the nickname “Barnabas,” given to Joseph, as one who encourages (see Acts 4:36).
- One of the names refers to the father and the other name refers to the grandfather. This practice also occurs multiple times in the Scriptures, even as a different Zecheriah is called in one place the son of “Berechiah,” his father, and in another place called the son of “Iddo,” his grandfather (compare Ezra 5:1 and Zech. 1:1). If this was the case, it seems fitting that Jesus would identify Zechariah with “Berechiah”, since the name means “Jehovah blesses,” and He wanted to highlight the fact that though the Jews martyred him, He still is blessed of God.
- It is a copyist error that Jesus never said and Matthew never wrote. Though believers should be very cautious in ascribing copyist errors unless they have very good reason, there may be potentially very good reason in this particular verse. Consider that Jerome (writing around 400 AD) said that he knew of manuscripts of Matthew that calls Zechariah, “son of Jehoiada,” and were possibly closer to the original than the manuscripts that say “son of Berechiah.” Additionally, there are other manuscript copies of Matthew in various places that exclude, “son of Barachiah.” Along these lines, respected commentators (such as John Calvin and Alexander MacLaren) have no problem in ascribing a copyist error to this particular verse under the same grounds. I know that in the ESV Bible I have next to me, they list a footnote saying, “some manuscripts omit the son of Barachiah.”
Perhaps this is a longer post than many would desire regarding such a seemingly small point (though not nearly as long as other treatments of the subject, see commentaries here, for instance), but I wrote it to organize my own thoughts on the subject, and, even more, to give needed ammunition to the saints in recognizing that God’s Scriptures are truthful in every single statement they make.
If you’ve read this far, please feel free to share additional thoughts on this, or related, subjects.