Blood Money

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.

Matthew 27: 6 & 7

Blood money. It’s a term you would more readily expect to discover in the script for The Godfather than in the pages of the gospels. But there it is. The chief priests apparently have a “no refund” policy.

An interesting little phrase caught my eye as I read this and I could think of nothing else until I had figured it out: “It is against the law…” Naturally, we ask: What law?

Good question. There is no specific law covering this situation (not surprising). The closest we get is Deuteronomy 23:18:

“You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.”

Now a modern western reader might look at this passage and extrapolate. You might say the underlying principle is that money earned through an act detestable to the Lord should not be used in the temple. Reading these verses this way is pretty confusing as it seems like the chief priests are admitting their guilt. Matthew is pointing us toward that, but in a less direct way.

A good principle comes from Deuteronomy but it is interesting that is not how Jewish Rabbis interpret this verse. They, in fact, limited the application of this verse, long before Jesus’ time. So it seems unlikely the priests had it in mind.

A better explanation comes in comparing their statement with 1 Chronicles 22:8, which is a record of God speaking to David when he desires to build a temple for God in Jerusalem:

But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.

Solomon is tasked with the building of the temple, because David is ceremonially unclean. So the inference here is that the blood money is ceremonially unclean. To the priests minds’, this is not an admission of guilt so much as a statement of fact. By their strict adherence to the rules, they can continue to be the caretakers of the temple.

But Matthew is seeking to undermine their position. He still thinks them guilty and he is exposing it by showing us their blind spots. This is precisely the sort of behavior for which Jesus took them to task back in chapter 23. They do not think through the significance of what they are saying.

These coins came from them, so they are likely temple coins. If there is such a thing as holy money, this is it. They then pass it on to Judas to betray Jesus. He does so, but then returns the money. It is now unclean. But what has made it unclean? They would say the betrayal of Jesus. But Matthew’s point here, is that actually Judas has not done anything according to the law that would make him or the money unclean. If anything has done it, it is the actions of the priests. And if they have made it unclean, it can only be because they themselves are unclean.

The purchase of this field is the purification of the outside of a cup, the whitewash on dead men’s tombs. If they want to cleanse the temple, they must leave. Jesus also warns them of this coming reality, the coming destruction of Jerusalem which takes place in 70 A.D.

Judas is a much maligned person in Scripture. But let’s not make the same mistake as the priests, let’s not get so fixated on his guilt that we miss our own.

Lord, search me and know me. See if there is any wayward path within me and cleanse me.

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