Apologetics Mat-23.30-34-POxy4405-II-III

Published on August 10th, 2010 | by Gary DeMar

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Who is Zechariah the Son of Berechiah?

When I first became a Christian and started reading the Bible, I found that there were passages that were hard to understand. This was natural since I didn’t know much about the Bible. When I would come across one of these difficult passages, I would set it aside until I could study it further. As I grew in my knowledge and understanding of Scripture, many of these tricky passages became clear. But there were still some passages that were “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). Part of the problem was trying to make them fit into a preconceived interpretive box, and when they didn’t fit neatly, all types of cooking and trimming were applied to make them fit.

So over the years I have tried to think outside the restraints of the interpretive boxes that were built to protect interpretive systems. One such difficult passage is found in Matthew 23:34–35: “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and 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, 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.”

“Interestingly Jesus attributed the killing of Zechariah to the scribes and Pharisees, for He said he was one ‘whom you murdered’ (εφονεύσατε). Jesus accused them of directly committing the murder of Zechariah.”(1) It’s quite obvious that the use of “you” refers to Jesus’ present audience made up of scribes and Pharisees (23:2, 13, 14, 15, 25, 26, 27, 29). The claim is made that “you” refers to a past audience in verse 35. If this is the case, then it’s the only exception in Matthew’s entire gospel where “you” refers to some other audience. But even here I believe Jesus had His present audience in mind. The use of “whom you murdered” is chosen by Jesus to reinforce “the solidarity in guilt with the fathers.”(2) This makes perfect sense by reading what Jesus says earlier: “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers” (Matt. 23:31–32).

Futurists try to minimize the importance of the use of “you” as an audience indicator by pointing out that those in Jesus’ immediate audience could not have murdered Zechariah the son of Berechiah since he had been killed centuries before. Here’s how Norman L. Geisler explains this view:

Another argument for the preterist(3) view is that “you” in many texts must refer to the immediate first century audience . . . . They cite Matthew 23:35 as proof: “On you may come all the blood shed on the earth . . . .” Ironically, that very verse proves the contrary since “you” is used in it of the people who slew Zechariah in the Old Testament who was long dead. So, “you” can be used historically to refer to “your ancestors” just as it can be used proleptically [by way of anticipation] of “your descendants.”(4)

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Geisler is right and “you” in Matthew 23:39 is being used historically to refer to their ancestors. It does not follow that any of the other uses of “you” in chapters 23 and 24 refer to people in the past or future.

The question is not how it can be used, but how is it being used. Actually, the argument for the use of “you” as an audience determiner is based on the way it is used consistently throughout Matthew’s gospel, including the Olivet Discourse. Who is the audience in Matthew 24? It’s the disciples: “His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him” (24:1). Who are the “you” of 24:2? The disciples: “And He said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” The descendants of the disciples were not the ones seeing “all these things,” that is, things right before their eyes. In 24:4, Jesus says to “them,” “See to it that no one misleads you.” When the use of “you” is followed from 24:2 to 24:34, it consistently refers to the audience that is present with Jesus.

A comment in Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible claims that the use of “you” in Matthew 24:15 “must be taken generically as ‘you of the Jewish nation.’”(5) Who says? There is no evidence offered by the editors to substantiate this shift in audience reference from the disciples to Jews living at a time far removed from Jesus’ day. If Jesus had wanted to refer to a different audience, He could have said, “When they see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).” But even if the “you” in 24:15 does refer to the “you of the Jewish nation,” the reference is to the Jews of the Jewish nation of that first-century generation.

The problem with Geisler’s view, and those who follow it, is that there is no record in the Old Testament of a Zechariah son of Berechiah being murdered. Many scholars believe Jesus was referring to the Zechariah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:20–21. “It might seem natural to see in Abel and Zechariah the first and the last martyrs of the OT Scripture (Gen. iv and II Chron xxiv 20ff.).”(6) If Jesus meant this Zechariah, who was killed “in the court of the house of the LORD” (2 Chron. 24:21), then why didn’t He say “the son of Jehoiada”? He didn’t say it because He had a different Zechariah in mind. This shouldn’t surprise us since there are many people in the Bible named Zechariah,(7) and “prophets and priests were not infrequently murdered by their rivals.”(8)

Gleason L. Archer represents the view that Zechariah is “the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah” (Zech. 1:1, 7). This interpretation has the advantage of not having to explain why Jesus used Berechiah rather than Jehoiada. But there is no record of this Zechariah being killed in the manner described by Jesus. According to Jewish tradition, he “died peacefully at a great age (Liv. Pro. 15:6).”(9) Even so, Archer writes, “we can only conclude that the later Zechariah died in much the same way the earlier one did, as a victim of popular resentment against his rebuke of their sins.”(10) Archer’s view does make the point that Jesus tells us that there was a Zechariah who was murdered that the Bible does not record for us. We only have Jesus’ word—a good word at that—that it happened. So if it’s possible that the Zechariah son of Berechiah from the book of Zechariah was murdered, then it’s possible that there was a Zechariah son of Berechiah in Jesus’ day who was murdered. We can take what Jesus said literally. Like Zechariah, Berechiah is a common Hebrew name (1 Chron. 3:20; 6:39; 9:16; 15:17; 15:23; 2 Chron. 28:12; Neh. 3:4, 30). He was murdered by some of those who were standing before Jesus. James Burton Coffman takes this most logical and straightforward view that some see as “a well known difficulty”:

Why should there be a difficulty? It is obvious that Christ here referred to some secret murder perpetrated, not by the ancestors of those men, but “by them. Whom ye slew!” This could not be an indictment of their ancestors but plainly refers to a murder those wicked men had committed themselves. Christ tried with that one last lightning stroke of truth to get through to them, but even that failed. That no such murder was recorded in either the Old Testament or the New Testament, and that there was no general knowledge of it in the days of Christ, and that no traditions were developed with reference to it—these things present no difficulty at all, but point squarely at the Pharisees and show their effectiveness in covering up their evil deeds and hiding them from popular view. (It was precisely this ability they relied upon when they decided to make away with Jesus. See Matthew 26:1–4). It is further evidence of their depravity that none of them ever confessed it, even after he who knew their thoughts revealed it publicly! Their guilty secret went to the grave with them, except for this ray of light from the lips of Christ who made it known on the occasion of their being sentenced to hell for their wickedness.”(11)

It might be claimed that this is an argument from silence. True enough, except that Jesus states that His present audience had a hand in killing someone named Zechariah son of Berechiah. There are a number of historical events mentioned in the gospels that are not recorded elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Luke 13:1–4). In addition, killing a priest isn’t beyond the actions of the scribes and Pharisees considering that they wanted to kill a woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) and Jesus (Matt. 12:14; 26:4; Mark 9:31; 14:1; Luke 22:2;  John 5:18; 7:1, 30; 11:53; Acts 2:23).(12) A reading of Acts will show a similar willingness to kill their religious opposition. Stephen is a perfect example (Acts 7:54–60). Notice how the death of James the brother of John “pleased the Jews” (Acts 11:3).

If “son of Berechiah” is an interpolation or a scribal addition, as some suggest, then Matthew 23:35 would read similar to the way Luke 11:51 reads: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” So any contemporary person named Zechariah would fit. If we say that this Zechariah refers to any OT personage with the name Zechariah, then it does not add up. There would be hundreds of years after his death that would not be applied to “this generation.” Consider what Jesus says in Luke 11:49: “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation.’” You see, prophets had been sent to their generation (“this generation”: Matt. 23:36). The wisdom of God says so, and some of those prophets had been killed by them, one of which was named Zechariah. It makes no sense to argue that “Jesus was referring to the wicked people of all time, those before the Messiah and those after.”(13) The “apostles” and “prophets” were killed in Jesus’ day and in the period that lead up to the destruction of the temple that took place in A.D. 70. Why indict future generations when it was the generation of Jesus’ day that would “fill up the measure of their fathers” (Matt. 23:32). The “filling up” is a past event (1 Thess. 2:14–16).Endnotes:

  1. Susan M. Rieske, “What is the Meaning of ‘This Generation’ in Matthew 23:36?,” Bibliotheca Sacra,165 (April-June 2008), 214. Rieske does not agree with my conclusions.()
  2. John Nolland The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 947.()
  3. A preterist believes that certain prophetic texts refer to events that have been fulfilled based on audience reference (“you”) and time indicators such as “this generation,” “near,” “shortly,” “quickly,” and “at hand.”()
  4. Norman L. Geisler, “A Review of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code: http://preteristarchive.com/CriticalArticles/geisler-norman_07-01.html()
  5. Tim LaHaye, ed. Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 1038, note on Matthew 24:15.()
  6. W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Matthew (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1971), 282. Chronologically, the last Old Testament prophet to be murdered was most likely Uriah (Jer. 26:20–23).()
  7. Archer identifies “about twenty-seven different individuals mentioned in the Old Testament bearing the name Zechariah” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 338) while R. T. France says “there are thirty of them in the OT” (The Gospel of Matthew, 881).()
  8. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 247.()
  9. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 880.()
  10. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 338.()
  11. James Burton Coffman, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1974), 375: http://www.searchgodsword.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=023()
  12. An early church tradition holds that Zechariah son of Berechiah is the father of John the Baptist. For a full list of the literature on this identification, see Robert Horton Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel With Special Reference to the Messianic Hope (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967), 86–88.()
  13. Rieske, “What is the Meaning of ‘This Generation’ in Matthew 23:36?,” 226.()
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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



8 Responses to Who is Zechariah the Son of Berechiah?

  1. Neil Thielke says:

    Well said. Another way of determining the accuracy of what Jesus said is examining the response of the Pharisees. There is no record that they denied killing Zechariah son of Berekiah. They were “caught”. Jesus did not make mistakes with his words. As far as a scribal slip from “Jehoiada” to “Berekiah”… that would be a stretch. Jesus had miraculous ways of exposing underlying issues. This could be attributed to a “word of wisdom” similar to the words used to confront the accusers of the woman caught in adultery.

    • JewishHeart says:

      I believe that this was a word of knowledge about “righteous Zacharias” or Zachariah from Jesus as well. In fact, I think he might be referring to John the Baptist’s dad. (Speculation, but with what I think is good evidence.)

      Lk. 1:5 – “They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”
      He sure seems to fit the title of “righteous Zacharias”.

      Also, when Herod sent out the proclamation,
      Mt. 2:6 “he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”,

      I think John the Baptist would have been a prime target for Herod, and perhaps for the religious leaders (who Herod seemed to have influence over Mt. 2:4).

      John was born in the hill country of Judea (Bethlehem is also in Judea Lk. 2:1-7). I believe that when Herod and the chief priests couldn’t find John, who everyone in Judea hill country knew was a miracle child. (Lk.1 65-66 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.).

      Zachariah would have gone to the temple to give and offering for his new born son during that first year (as he seemed to do everything right as was stated earlier. Jesus was 6 months younger that his cousin John – so Zacharias must have done this sometime after the 6th month. If you give the Maji time to find Jesus, give offering, hang out and worship, start heading back home, and for Herod to realize the Maji’s had not obeyed him, perhaps it was closer to 11-12 months…but I don’t know Jewish history enough to know the requirement he would have adhered to regarding this offering to the Lord).

      When the temple guards and chief priests inquired where his son was, Zacharias, like any good papa wouldn’t tell them…so they “murdered (Righteous Zacharias) between the temple and the altar”.

      Herod and the religious leaders (who probably thought that Zacharias had betrayed them somehow) went looking for his son, they would not have found him, probably as God would have told him to get Elizabeth and John out of there and raise him in the wilderness…which she did. (Lk. 1:80 ”And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”)

      Again, just my speculations…but seems more logical for Jesus to be saying they would be responsible for the death from Adam (or actually Adam’s son Abel) to the present, Jesus’s uncle Zacharias, than some random range of murders in the Old Testament.

      I welcome other views though, as mine is not definitive. That being said, my view requires much less speculation than others mentioned above.

      (When I say mine, it is the view I have settled on after reading about the subject, and weighing the evidence. I did not come up with this view, but have settled on it as the most likely viewpoint…thus…I consider it “mine”. :-)

  2. Gary DeMar says:

    The OT does not say Zechariah the Prophet was executed (see article), and Jesus says "whom YOU murdered" (see article).

    • Chris Patterson says:

      You are correct, Mr. DeMar, that the OT doesn't say that Zechariah the son Berachiah was executed, and that Jesus says it was the Pharisees who executed Zechariah; however, as stated previously, Jesus says of the Pharisees, "So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" (Mt. 23:32).

      Wouldn't Jesus' statement indicate He is applying the guilt of the sin committed by the Pharisees' forefathers (i.e., the murdering of the prophets) to the Pharisees themselves, thus making it possible for the Zechariah Jesus spoke of to be the Zechariah of the OT?

  3. Sebastian says:

    To Chris et al:

    If Jesus is ascribing the blood, or guilt, as you say, don't forget that it isn't because they are without guilt of their own. Filling up suggests adding to, & since they should have known better, they are held to a higher standard of judgment. They were testifying against themselves that they knew better. As I suggested in my earlier post, perhaps, they implicate themselves spiritually by condoning such behavior by either word or deed, which makes them doubly guilty. They not only do such things but heartily approve of or justify those who do them. They are certainly feigning a righteousness that they don't actually have. (Ps.4: 2; 49: 13, 18 – 20; 62: 4; Prov.2: 14; Is.5: 20 – 24; 65: 12; 66: 3, 4; Jer.3: 10; 9: 6) It seems to me to be suspicious for someone to claim to follow the theology of somebody but not their behavior. I think the behavior is a direct reflection of their theology. I have heard people say something similar about communism: they generally agree with it, but they don't like the way in which it has been practiced. Well, perhaps, the reason it has been practiced as it has is because the belief system fosters that behavior. By extension, if Christians are behaving badly, perhaps it is due in part to their theology. If people want to justify the bad behavior of Luther & Calvin, it probably has to due to their own sin, but it also has to due with the fact that their theology permitted them to go to war, use violence, persecute other & their own, & to sin without losing their salvation. Of course, today's Evangelicals would never do such things as they did, but somehow I doubt it, especially since they have in fact done such things, excuse such things, & believe that such things will not cause them to lose their salvation.

    • Chris Patterson says:

      No disagreement with the statement that if Christians are behaving badly, it is due in part to their theology.

      My point is that since Jesus made reference to the forefathers of the Pharisees, it isn't unreasonable to conclude that the Zechariah Jesus referred to is the one whose OT book is name after, and not an hitherto unnamed contemporary of Jesus.

  4. Chris Patterson says:

    Thank you, Mr. DeMar, for American Vision. I truly appreciate the biblical insight and truth that helps me in addressing issues in the marketplace of ideas.

    With that said, I do have a question regarding your conclusion regarding Zechariah. In Matthew 23:29-32, Jesus states, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the day of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”

    Wouldn’t Jesus’ statement here indicate that He is applying the guilt of the sin committed by the Pharisees’ forefathers (i.e., the murdering of the prophets) to the Pharisees themselves?

    Thank you again, for the blessing AV has been to me.

    God’s blessing to you!

    Chris Patterson

  5. Sebastian says:

    Good job, but would it be fair or a stretch to say that, even if someone didn't actually commit a murder, but only agreed with the murders committed in the past that they too would be condemned & be considered to have participated with the acts of their ancestors or predecessors? Could justifying the murder, torture, & persecution committed by one's religious ancestors count as hateful & identify them with such acts spiritually?

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