The name Zechariah appears dozens of times in the Bible. There is Zechariah the minor prophet, Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, who was stoned to death at the command of King Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20), Zechariah the father of John the Baptizer, as well as some 25 others mentioned by that name in Scripture. Among Bible critics, one particular Zechariah stands out more than all others—the Zechariah recorded in Matthew 23:35, whom Jesus mentioned in His condemnation of the hypocritical Pharisees. Allegedly, Jesus (or Matthew) erred in referring to the Jews murdering “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah...between the temple and the altar” (emp. added). Skeptic Dennis McKinsey says this Zechariah “is actually the son of Jehoiada as is shown by 2 Chron. 24:20.... The name Barachias or Barachiah is not in the Old Testament” (2000, p. 30).
Indeed, 2 Chronicles 24:20 does mention “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada” who was stoned “in the court of the house of the Lord” (24:21). But was Jesus referring to this particular Zechariah when He rebuked the hard-hearted Pharisees? It is possible that He was, and there still be no contradiction. In ancient times, people frequently had more than one name. Moses’ father-in-law was known both as Reuel and Jethro (Exodus 2:18; 3:1). Gideon acquired the name Jerubbaal after destroying an altar of Baal (Judges 6:32; 7:1; 8:29,35). In 2 Kings 15, King Jotham’s father is called both Azariah (vs. 7) and Uzziah (vs. 32). The names are different, but they refer to the same person (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:1-23; Isaiah 1:1). The apostle Peter is sometimes called Peter, Simon, Simon Peter, and Cephas (Matthew 14:28; 16:16; 17:25; John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12).
People have worn multiple names for centuries. In modern times, most people could think of several individuals who are called by various names. Although most of the time my oldest son answers to his middle name, “Bo,” sometimes we call him by his first name, “Elijah.” At other times, we may summon him by his full name “Elijah Bo Lyons.” Is it not possible that Jehoiada also was known as Berechiah? Certainly! One wonders why Bible critics are so certain that Jesus made a mistake when even they themselves are accustomed to calling others by a variety of names.
It may also be that Jehoiada was Zechariah’s grandfather and Berechiah was his father. The term “son” is used in several senses in Scripture. Aside from using it to signify a son by actual birth, Bible writers used it to mean (1) son-in-law (1 Samuel 24:16; cf. 18:27), (2) grandson (Genesis 29:5), (3) descendant (Matthew 1:1), (4) son by creation, as in the case of Adam (Luke 3:38), (5) son by education (i.e., disciple—1 Samuel 3:6), etc. After reading Genesis 29:5, one might think that Laban was the son of Nahor, but Genesis 24 explains that he actually was Nahor’s grandson (24:24,29; cf. 22:20-24). Mephibosheth is called the “son of Saul” in 2 Samuel 19:24, when actually he was “the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul” (2 Samuel 9:6; 4:4). He literally was Saul’s grandson, though Scripture refers to him once simply as the “son of Saul.” These are only two examples where the Bible conveys to the reader that the term “son” was used to mean grandson. One can only wonder how many times the terms “son” or “daughter” are used this way throughout Scripture, and yet unlike the two aforementioned examples, were not explained as such. Indeed, Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, may be just one such example. Concerning this possibility, commentator R.C.H. Lenski noted:
This is possible when we remember the great age of Jehoiada, 130 years, and when we recall his great deeds, making it highly creditable to be called his son. So in Chronicles Zachariah would be named after his illustrious grandfather but in Matthew after his father, the name of the father having been preserved by Jewish tradition or in genealogical records. The Jews also frequently called a man a son of a mighty grandsire, especially while the latter was still living (1961, p. 920).
Although it is possible that Zechariah was the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Jehoiada, and though it may also be that Berechiah and Jehoiada were the same person, the fact is, Jesus may not even have been referring to “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada” (2 Chronicles 24:20) in Matthew 23:35. Truly, no one can prove that “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada” was the same Zechariah that Jesus mentioned in his reprimand of the Pharisees. A reasonable case can be made that the prophet to whom Jesus referred was actually Zechariah the minor prophet, who preached during the days of Ezra (Ezra 5:1), some 400 years after Zechariah, son of Jehoiada. In fact, contrary to McKinsey’s comment that “the name Barachias or Barachiah is not in the Old Testament” (2000, p. 30), Zechariah, the minor prophet, actually is called “the son of Berechiah (spelled Barachias in the Septuagint—EL), the son of Iddo” (Zechariah 1:1; cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Although the Old Testament writers did not record his death, Jesus would have known how he died, and it also could have been known by Jewish tradition.
One must keep in mind that the Old Testament is not the only source for New Testament data concerning what took place from Creation until the coming of Christ. The New Testament writers were inspired by God (cf. 2 Peter 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:37; John 16:13). How did Paul know that “Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses” (2 Timothy 3:8, emp. added) when the names of Pharaoh’s magicians are not given in the Old Testament? How did Jude know that Michael the archangel and the devil “disputed about the body of Moses” (Jude 9) when no Old Testament writer mentioned such an event? Paul and Jude either knew of these facts from tradition and recorded them by inspiration, or God miraculously revealed this information to them. Similarly, in Matthew 23:35 Jesus could have simply been referring to the death of one of the last Old Testament prophets, which was not recorded in the Old Testament, but known both by God and Jewish tradition.
At the risk of belaboring the point that several reasonable explanations exist for Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 23:35 (and that skeptics are being intellectually dishonest when they assert that this passage is errant), two more logically possible explanations need to be noted. First, many assume that Jesus was referring to a martyr named Zechariah from Old Testament times. However, a closer look at Jesus’ comments may reveal otherwise. He rebuked the Pharisees, saying:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” 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. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation (Matthew 23:29-36, emp. added).
Notice that Jesus spoke to His first century enemies, saying, “you murdered” Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Matthew 23:35, emp. added). A straightforward reading of this passage, without assuming that Zechariah was one of the more than two dozen Zechariahs of the Old Testament, leads one to the conclusion that the Pharisees themselves had murdered a righteous man named Zechariah. It may be, as Burton Coffman concluded,
...that Christ here referred to some secret murder perpetrated, not by the ancestors of those men, but by them.... 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 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” (1974, p. 375, emp. in orig.).
Finally, considering the fact that God’s spokesman occasionally spoke of things yet to come as if they had already occurred (commonly known as “prophetic perfect”; cf. Isaiah 53; 21:1-10), it may be (however unlikely) that Jesus was speaking about the death of a future Zacharias. According to Josephus, about 35 years following Jesus’ death, two zealots slew Zacharias the son of Baruch in the middle of the temple simply for being rich, hating wickedness, and loving liberty (1987, 4:5:4).
Whatever the answer to the question, “To which Zechariah was Jesus referring?,” one thing is beyond any doubt: skeptics such as Dennis McKinsey do not have a shred of evidence that Matthew 23:35 is an uninspired, errant passage. Truly, the only proven contradiction regarding this matter lies, not in the Bible, but in McKinsey’s own book titled Biblical Errancy. On page 30, he insisted that the Zechariah of Matthew 23:35 “is actually the son of Jehoiada.” However, later in the book, he wrote (immediately following a quotation of Matthew 23:35): “The Zecharias mentioned was killed in Jerusalem in 69 C.E.; so that Matthew makes Jesus refer to an event that occurred forty years after his death. This is the same Zecharias Barouchus who, according to Josephus, was slain in the temple a short time before the destruction of Jerusalem” (p. 195). What evidence does McKinsey have for this last accusation? None whatsoever. Indeed, McKinsey—not the Bible writers—gives contradictory answers to the same question. Simply because we may not know for certain the identity of the Zechariah Jesus mentioned, does not mean we have the right to label Him and the Bible writers as erroneous.
Coffman, James Burton (1974), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Josephus, Flavius (1987 reprint), The Wars of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whitson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
McKinsey, C. Dennis (2000), Biblical Errancy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).