And says YHWH, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15 NASB
Weeping – Now read Matthew 2:18. It reads almost the same, doesn’t it? But there are some changes, and the changes are real problems. We get the general idea pretty quickly, but the details are significantly altered. As if that weren’t enough, Matthew seems to completely ignore the context of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah describes Rachel’s grief after her lifetime, weeping over her descendents who will go into captivity. But Matthew alters the context so that it is present tense. Furthermore, Jeremiah’s statement is about the captivity, not about death (as in Matthew). R. T. France observes, “This is one of Matthew’s most elusive OT quotations, and few claim with any confidence to have fathomed just what he intended, . . .” Of course, none of these exegetical nightmares prevent Christians from claiming the prophetic authority of Matthew’s citation of Jeremiah. Matthew certainly intended to use this Old Testament reference as a proof of Yeshua’s role. But it does raise a very thorny question: if Matthew is able to play fast and loose with the words and the context, what does this imply about our concept of Scriptural inspiration?
A careful reading of Matthew’s use of the Old Testament reveals that he often alters the quotations in order to meet his needs. So, this isn’t an isolated example. In fact, similar problems occur throughout the New Testament. Almost every author alters Old Testament references. But we still claim that these men were “inspired” and that the text they wrote is “without error.” How is that possible when they make such obvious changes? We might get away with claiming that the changes were also “inspired,” but that implies that God said something to the prophets and then changed what He said when He assisted Matthew or Mark or John or Paul. It’s not too terrible when the quotation is about some human meditation, but it’s pretty difficult when it is a quotation of God’s own words. What we notice is that none of this seems to bother the authors of the New Testament. They still consider the Tanakh the inviolable Word of God. They just don’t have any problem fiddling with it.
Might I suggest (gently) that the issue is not with Matthew, Mark, John or Paul. The problem is on our side. We have formulated a doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration that does not match the actual use by the authors we claim are inspired. Our doctrine doesn’t come from Scripture (in spite of 2 Timothy 3:16). It comes from another source – the Greek concept of perfection. The Greek idea of perfection is “exactly correct.” That’s the way we treat plagiarism today. This Greek ideal is embedded in our thinking and it affects our treatment of Scripture. Our doctrines attempt to force-fit a Hebrew view into a Greek box, but as Matthew demonstrates, it just doesn’t work. Without causing any more headaches, perhaps it’s time to recognize that how we read the Scriptures is also part of our worldview. It’s not just what the text says. It’s the framework we use to even consider the text. This is an exegetical earthquake. The ground we have been standing on is shifting under us. It’s time to ask: Were we relying on a doctrine about the Bible, or were we relying on the Bible itself?
Topical Index: inerrancy, inspiration, Matthew 2:18, Jeremiah 31:15
Here is a list of all the changes: Matthew uses the first four words from the LXX, omits the first of the three verbs for “crying,” changes the form of the next two, adds the adjective “great,” changes the verb form of “weeping,” restores the MT first instance of “for her children,” deletes the second use of the same phrase and uses a different Greek verb for “comforted.”
 R.T. France, Matthew (NICNT), p. 88.