Monthly Archives: December 2014
This is probably the fourth or fifth draft of this. I lost track. This is an enormously important chapter, and I wanted to do it as much justice as possible. I’m still not completely happy, but this addresses the issues raised in the chapter, if not all of their greater ramifications.
The sentiments of the Beatitudes are revolutionary, representing a radical shift in what will become Western thought. In fact, the sentiments expressed here are perhaps one of the foundation stones of Western Civilisation. Of course, many cultures have a code of social justice; such a code is enshrined in the Hebrew Scriptures, and such prescriptions date back (at least) to the Code of Hammurabi. But what we have here is something different. Here we have not so much exhortations to help the needy, but flat-out statements that those in need will receive their recompense. This is to say that their suffering per se is worthy of reward. To the best of my knowledge, this had never been promised before. It certainly was never part of Greek or Roman thought, and even Marcus Aurelius, two hundred years later, had nothing comparable.
In one of his books that I read, JD Crossan said that apocalyptic prophecy was the last refuge of the politically oppressed. As pitiless as the conqueror was, apocalyptic prophecy let the subject peoples think, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re gonna get yours when our G/god comes and straightens things out.” And there is no doubting the appeal. Revenge fantasies against, say, a horrible boss are nearly universal, I suspect. (Or is that just saying something about me?) But this, the idea of those who mourn finding comfort is a different sort of prediction, both in outlook and in those it addresses. This is no longer a promise just to a political or cultural underclass. The poor, the mourning, those hungering for justice were universal classes in the ancient world; and, unfortunately, in the modern world as well. These categories encompass people of all nations, all races, all religions. As such, it’s not addressed to a specific audience in terms of ethnic composition in the way that Jewish apocalyptic writing was addressed to Jews, and couched in Jewish religion and culture the way the Book of Daniel was. Rather, this is the practical application of Paul’s “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free”, etc.
So it is not an ‘us vs. them’ sort of thing the way apocalyptic writing tends to be. And the other aspect—perhaps the more interesting aspect—is that we are not told when this recompense will be received, or when it will occur, Are we to presume that this part of the kingdom? We were told in 4:23 that Jesus was teaching the good news of the kingdom. Of course, we know when all this will happen. It will occur in the afterlife, which is to say the kingdom of God, or capital-h Heaven, when we have died and been judged worthy of eternal life. But where has Matthew said this? Indeed, where did Mark or Paul say this? What right have we to make this inference? And by ‘right”, I mean, where’s our textual support for this conclusion? Even later in this chapter, when Matthew talks about Gehenna, he does not provide an alternative. So what is our proof? From what I recall, the only support for this comes in Mark 9, and again in Mark 10:30. In Mark 9, he talks about “entering the life” rather than being thrown into Gehenna. I found it curious that Matthew omitted the part about the life here, although he will repeat most of this when he recapitulates the content of Mark 9 in this next chapter.
Now, we are told that the poor in spirit and the persecuted will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven, and the meek shall inherit the earth. Is there a contradiction, or at least an inconsistency here? If kingdom of the heavens can be understood as Heaven, what happens to the meek? When do they get the earth? In this life? Or in the next?
This is where we have to stop and ask what Matthew and his community believed at this point. Mark spoke briefly and vaguely about “the kingdom” and “the life”, the latter being opposed to being thrown into Gehenna. Because to this point, we have encountered exactly two references to anything resembling the concept of eternal life. Both were in Mark. One was when Jesus spoke of a sin against the sacred breath as the only sin that would lead to “eternal judgement”, the presumption that the judgement would not be positive. The other is in Mark 10:30, where Jesus says that one of the rewards for following Jesus faithfully will be eternal life. That’s it, More, the idea of eternity is not big in Matthew; he uses the word sparingly.
So are we justified to infer that we’re talking about eternal life? On the one hand, it sure seems like it; OTOH, maybe not so much. But if not eternal life, then what does it mean to be given entry into the kingdom of the heavens, or to inherit the earth? I certainly don’t have the answer, and I’m not sure I even an answer for this. But I don’t know that anyone else does, either; at least, no one has an answer that doesn’t presuppose the way that later generations–ourselves included–came to understand this.
In a nutshell, what I am saying is that the text is rather falling between two stools here. The idea of eternal life exists–perhaps. For the record, we are assuming that the use of the term in Mark 10:30 is not a later interpolation. This is always a possibility, but since the burden of proof is on me to demonstrate this, and I simply cannot, we will work under the assumption that the words date to the author of Mark. So the idea does exist, but I have to suggest that it’s still in a very attenuated form. There is the possibility that by the time Matthew wrote this, the idea of eternal life, and that eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens were synonymous, were so commonplace that it could be taken for granted, However, the burden of proof is to show that this is true, and I do not think any sort of reasonable case can be made to demonstrate this. Use of the term is still too sketchy. Yes, the truth could be somewhere in the middle, but saying that does not solve anything. The exact middle? Because if it’s closer to one side than the other, we’ve gained nothing with the attempt to compromise.
So now what? While I believe we cannot say with any certainty what Matthew meant by “kingdom of the heavens”, or if he believed in eternal life, we have to admit that the idea was around. Its seed had been planted. What I’m saying is this idea–and probably many others, are still developing.
If you agree with that statement, there is a host of very powerful implications that go with that.
In How Jesus Became God, Ehrman suggested that the main theme of Mark was the establishment of Jesus’ identity. That being accomplished, Matthew was free to focus on Jesus’ teaching. Note that what Ehrman is saying, perhaps without being aware of it, and certainly without being aware of the implications, is that the message of Jesus was still developing. Mark had to do part; Matthew did the next part. That means that Mark’s message was incomplete. More needed to be added because the message was still developing. So Ehrman agrees with me on that.
By starting with the birth narrative and adding that Jesus was attended by angels after the temptations have removed all doubt about Jesus’ identity. More, Matthew has established that Jesus was a divine entity, in some meaning of the word. Given this, Matthew then brushes over Mark’s initial exorcisms and healings in summary fashion. As a result, he truly begins Jesus’ ministry with Chapter 5 makes it very clear that Matthew will focus on Jesus’ teaching.
By making this the focus of his gospel, Matthew, for the moment, is not addressing the ways that Jesus’ teaching interacted with his divinity. Matthew has gone back to a human Jesus, a wise man, a wise teacher. Yes, we know that Jesus was divine, but this divinity has become latent, rather than explicit. In fact, the Jesus in Mark is perhaps more explicitly divine than the Jesus of Matthew. The one found in Mark is always casting out demons, healing people, and performing wonders. Since Matthew “goes back” to the teaching of Jesus, this could be adduced as further proof–as if any were needed–for the existence of Q. Matthew “went back” to the human Jesus and his teachings precisely because of Q. Matthew had access to this trove of information on what Jesus said that was not available to Mark, for reason or reasons unspecified.
But we’ll get back to that. How and why Mark missed Q is an elephant in the room that no one is addressing.
In the chapter, we go from the Beatitudes to the….what? Analogies? Comparisons? Wisdom sayings? How exactly do we classify the statements that Jesus makes about the salt of the earth and the city on the hill? I find it interesting that Matthew inserts the analogies about the salt of the earth, and the city on the hill in here. Contextually, they don’t really fit. They are sort of stuck in here, not relating either to the Beatitudes or to what comes next. Also, this is a case where Matthew did not successfully integrate Triple Tradition material–stuff common to Matthew, Mark, and Luke–into the place where Mark locates it. This is supposed to be a hallmark of Matthew, but he didn’t get it right here. Mark has Jesus saying this to the disciples, in a more intimate setting, rather than to a great crowd. And, honestly, I believe that Mark’s context is more appropriate. This sounds like a pep-talk for his close followers, convincing them that they are worthy of the charge Jesus is entrusting to them. But, that’s an opinion, and worth just about that much. More important is that, perhaps counterintuitively, I think this clumsy context does a lot to establish them as authentic sayings of Jesus. Why do I say this? Because it makes almost no sense to include them otherwise. Why is he telling members of the crowd, as a whole, that they are the salt of the earth, and the city on the hill? As they exist here, they really feel like something culled from a list of out-of-context sayings. Something like Q, IOW.
Then there is the famous bit about how Jesus claims he will not drop a single iota from the Law. This passage is often cited to demonstrate Matthew’s bona fides as a Jew. What is not said, is that, having made this proclamation, Jesus proceeds to do exactly what he said he wouldn’t: he starts editng the Law. No divorce; lust in the heart = adultery; hating your brother = murder; no more eye for an eye. Here we reflect back to what I said about the Beatitudes: these explications of the law feel like Jesus is expanding the scope of those who are subject to the Law. Yes, he’s talking about the lessons of the Law, talking about “our forefathers”, but he is showing how they apply now, and how they are no longer the exclusive prerogative, purview, of Jews. Jesus here, I think, is speaking to ex-pagans. My pet theory is that the author of this gospel was a god-fearer, a pagan who was deeply interested in Jewish traditions and Law, in particular in the Jewish moral code. Even though he says “our forefathers said…” this is an allegorical use of the term. But, this is a pet theory; I don’t have much in the way of concrete proof. Yet. But look at how this all works together, how Jesus is creating a universal message, one whose scope goes beyond the tight constraints of a Jews-only milieu.
Note that I said “Jesus is creating a universal message”. Of course, that is probably incorrect. More properly, Matthew is putting these words into Jesus’ mouth.Why? Because an expanded message, one that is directed as much–or more–to pagans than to Jews is not appropriate for the historical Jesus who lived in the 20s/30s of the Common Era. But such a message to pagans is wholely appropriate for an evangelist writing in the mid-80s CE. And here is where the idea of a developing message is crucial: if the Beatitudes were fixed in the 30s and transmitted via Q, then the message was set and did not change. Matthew simply went back to this older material and merged it with Mark to create a new gospel.
But is that what Matthew did? Is Jesus preaching to primarily pagans? or primarily to Jews here? That is the heart of the matter, If he’s preaching to Jews, then this message most likely dates back to the 30s and was transmitted via Q. If he’s preaching to pagans here, then the message was, likely, created after that, most likely starting some time after the destruction of the Temple. What I believe we have here is a scenario in which Jesus is ostensibly preaching to Jews, but Matthew is in fact writing for pagans.
So, if I’m correct in this, then Q becomes a casualty. That is what is at stake here. Well, it’s one thing. Now I have no illusions that I have constructed a convincing case that Jesus/Matthew is addressing pagans. I have done no such thing. What I hope, however, is that I’ve started. I hope I’ve put the seed in your mind. Now, whether it grows will depend on how well I tend to it from here. But I’ve put my stake in the ground. As always, I reserve the right to eat my words at a later point. I’m hoping I won’t have to do that, but time will tell.
And so we continue with the Sermon on the Mount. This will conclude Chapter 5.
31 Ἐρρέθη δέ, Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον.
32 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται.
It has been said, ‘Who would dismiss his wife, let him give her a standing away from (i.e., an official notification of dissolution). (32) But I say to you that all who dismisses his wife (aside from the cause of fornication) makes her adulterize, and he who dissolves the marriage adulterizes.
First, the vocabulary. The word that I rendered as a “standing away from” is “apostaseon”. I’m guessing we can all see the word “apostasy” in there. And that pretty much means “standing away from”, especially as standing away from a former belief. Hence the emperor Julian the Apostate. (However, if he’d been successful in re-establishing paganism, he’d have gone down in history as “Julian the Restorer”.
What is most interesting about this section is that it agrees with both 1 Corinthians 7:10-14 (appx), and Mark 10:2-12 (appx). I am going to go out on a limb here (not really) and conclude that this is one of the best candidates for something that actually can be traced back to Jesus himself. There is one point I’d like to make about “multiple” attribution. Either Mack or Ehrman (the latter, I believe) said that something attested in the Triple Tradition can be said to have been corroborated by three different and independent sources. Um, no. Given that pretty much everyone agrees that Matthew and Luke used Mark, then Matthew and Luke absolutely cannot be said to be independent sources. They are dependent sources, secondary sources derived from Mark. Now Paul, OTOH, may in fact represent a distinct source tradition. It’s hard to say that for sure, but Mark, in particular, does seem to be more or less unaware of Paul and his message. I will leave it at that. For now. But the point remains, and remains strong: that both Paul and Mark report that Jesus was opposed to divorce presents a pretty strong case that this is an authentic saying of Jesus. Note that.
31 Dictum est autem: “Quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, det illi libellum repudii”.
32 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui dimiserit uxorem suam, excepta fornicationis causa, facit eam moechari; et, qui dimissam duxerit, adulterat.
33 Πάλιν ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, Οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, ἀποδώσεις δὲ τῷ κυρίῳ τοὺς ὅρκους σου.
34 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως: μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ:
35 μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ: μήτε εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶν τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως:
36 μήτε ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ σου ὀμόσῃς, ὅτι οὐ δύνασαι μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ποιῆσαι ἢ μέλαιναν.
37 ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ: τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν.
Again, you have heard it said by the old ones that you will not take an oath, but you will give to God your oath. (34) OTOH I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by the heaven, for that is the throne of God. (35) Nor by the earth, for that is the footrest of his feet. Nor towards Jerusalem, for that is the city of the great king. (36) Nor swear by your (own) head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. (37) Let your word yes (be) yes, (your) no (be) no. That which is in excess of this is from wickedness.
Lots of very interesting stuff in here. The first, of course, is that this is unique to Matthew. He felt that this was very worth saying; Luke and John…not so much. Why? Why was this so crucial to Matthew. And only to him? Can we go so far as to suggest that, perhaps, Matthew inserted this on his own authority? Or can we assume that he had some sort of line from a source on this. Personally, I do not believe that everything in the gospels (or epistles) can reasonably be said to be attributable to Jesus; I fully believe that the authors of the NT often made statements on their own authority, based on the firm belief that, if Jesus had not said this, he would have agreed with it, or he would have said it had the situation arisen. We can even call this divine inspiration; the authors no doubt fully and firmly believed that words were given to them by God, perhaps breathed into (in Latin, lit = in spiro) them by the sacred breath. I suspect this is such a moment for Matthew.
There is an interesting epilogue to this passage, In the Middle Ages, after about the year 1000, there appeared numerous manifestations of individuals and groups who sought to return to the true apostolic tradition of the earliest Christians, thereby turning away from the overly ornate and ritualized Church. One of the hallmarks of several of these groups was the refusal to swear an oath of any kind, solely and completely because of this particular passage. Now, these groups threatened the status quo of the established Church by questioning whether the bishops should be worldly lords, and rich ones, so the groups espousing this return to apostolic tradition were, of course, branded as heretics. They were sought out and Mother Church sought to persuade her errant children to recant such nonsense. And one of the ways to do this was to ask them to swear an oath that they did not hold any heretical teachings. Of course, the refusal to swear was seen as proof that they were heretics. So Matthew’s words were not without repercussions. And I do believe these are Matthew’s words.
One really interesting question is who is the “great king”? Or is it “great King”? This is what the Latin says. Or perhaps “Great King”? Except that the Great King was the King of Persia–Cyrus, Darius, or Xerxes. Jerusalem would not have been his city. That would have been Persepolis, or Susa. The king in Jerusalem would have been, theoretically, David and his descendants. Is that what this means? The commentaries aren’t much help. except to say that this is a cite of Ps 48:2. Aside from that, the commentaries I read didn’t seem to be terribly clear on this. So, like a lot of those passages from Galatians and Thessalonians, this passage is not exactly well-understood, despite a couple thousand years of reading and commentary. Most of the ones I glanced at suggested that this was a reference to the Messiah (capitalized), but I tend to doubt this. Rather, my suspicion is that it meant something to Matthew and his audience that is more or less lost to us.
The other element in here is the idea of the majesty of God. Heaven and earth as throne and footstool, while we’re helpless to change the color of a single hair. God had become more and more majestic and powerful over time, and had become unique. Sort of. At least, God was the unique beneficent power in the universe, aside from those lesser powers–angels, mainly–that served God. Other supernatural beings were not denied; it’s just that they were considered demonic. As such, they weren’t exactly divine; at least, not by some definitions of the word. Overall, however, I still find this whole anti-oath attitude a little peculiar. Perhaps, like the “great king”, this had some implication for Matthew and his audience that is lost. Or, perhaps the meaning here is well-known–to everyone but me!
33 Iterum audistis quia dictum est antiquis: “Non periurabis; reddes autem Domino iuramenta tua”.
34 Ego autem dico vobis: Non iurare omnino, neque per caelum, quia thronus Dei est,
35 neque per terram, quia scabellum est pedum eius, neque per Hierosolymam, quia civitas est magni Regis;
36 neque per caput tuum iuraveris, quia non potes unum capillum album facere aut nigrum.
37 Sit autem sermo vester: “Est, est”, “Non, non”; quod autem his abundantius est, a Malo est.
38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος.
39 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ: ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα[σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην:
40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφεςαὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον:
41 καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ’ αὐτοῦ δύο.
42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.
You have heard it said that, eye against eye, and tooth against tooth.(39) But I say to you do not stand against evil. But the one who strikes you on your right jaw-line, turn to him also the other. (40) And to the one wishing from you (your) tunic by being judged, also give him your cloak. (41) And he who compels you to go a mile, go with him two. (41) To the one asking, give, and what is wanted to be loaned by you, do not turn away.
Recall what “Jesus” said earlier about not an iota of the law being lost? Seems to me that Jesus–by way of the evangelist, is superseding a lot of what has come down to the audience. Note that these things were said “by the ancient/old ones”. One presumes that this is a reference to the Hebrew scriptures. Or was this what Jesus was doing? Is he referring to the OT here? Maybe, but maybe not necessarily. Jesus has contravened a custom allowing divorce, has told his audience to forswear oaths, and now he is undercutting the idea of an eye for an eye. The thing is, divorce was allowable under most pagan law codes; the Romans in particular saw marriage as a legal institution, a legal partnership. So Jesus/Matthew is not necessarily referring exclusively to Hebrew/Jewish custom. Nor is the idea of swearing oaths. This was a commonplace for ancient legal practice, and it’s still at the heart of trial testimony or affidavits, or any number of things. And finally, “eye for an eye” was by no means the sole property of the ancient Hebrews. It dates back to Hammurabi.
So the thing is, there is nothing specific to Judaism here. Any of these could be applicable to people of a wide variety of backgrounds Here is where my contention about the composition of the new converts really comes to be an important consideration.
So exchanging “eye for an eye” for “turn the other cheek” would be something novel for almost anyone. Now, I would say that this represents a major turning point in the development of Western Thought. I would say that because it does represent a significant moment; but the thought here is not necessarily new. Recall that the Buddha lived 400 years before Jesus. Even the Cynic sages, while not exactly pacifists, were non-conformers, non-participants in the macho code of honour practiced by the Greeks and played professionally by the Romans. Many of the Hellenistic schools of thought were inward-looking, seeking to avoid conflict when and where possible. So Jesus/Matthew’s thought here is not exactly novel. But it’s put in a novel manner, one that resonates because it has a certain tone, or a perfect pitch. It’s counterintuitive; it seems wrong; it’s not what most of us would think of when struck.
The priest of one of the churches I attend gave a sermon on this passage a couple of years ago. He explained it in a way that struck (pun intended) me. As he explained it, the idea of turning the other cheek had a social significance. Masters would strike their slaves, or social superiors would strike an inferior with the back of the hand. So, if the slave/inferior “turned the other cheek”, the master/superior would be forced to strike with a fist. What this did was elevate the slave’s status, because using one’s fist was how one struck a social equal. Now think about this in connection with what I said before about Jesus/Matthew’s admonition to settle the lawsuit before getting to court. My conjecture was that this was because the audience was persons of lower status; this seems to be painting the same picture, or strengthening the sense that the audience are low-status individuals. Of course, this reinforcement depends on whether or not this explanation of the use of the back of the hand is accurate. I cannot verify, but there is a ring of possible truth to it.
As for the “extra mile”, my priest explained that this was a reference to the Roman occupation. According to his explanation, a Roman soldier could, legally, compel a subject of the Empire to carry the soldier’s pack for a mile. Think Simon of Cyrene being impressed into carrying Jesus’ cross. So, the admonition here is to do that, and throw in another mile for free, as it were. Again, there is a question of status here; the Roman soldier, even one that was a lower-class Roman still had a social edge on a subject.
So perhaps three references to class status in a fairly short period of time. There is a certain consistency here. But there is also a theme of not making a bad situation worse. Settle the suit, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. This makes me question the idea of the backhand vs. the fist, because that is actually a provocation. But, regardless, the theme of class seems to be running through all of these stories. I just wish I had a better idea of whatever it is that I’m missing in the forswearing of oaths.
38 Audistis quia dictum est: “Oculum pro oculo et dentem pro dente”.
39 Ego autem dico vobis: Non resistere malo; sed si quis te percusserit in dextera maxilla tua, praebe illi et alteram;
40 et ei, qui vult tecum iudicio contendere et tunicam tuam tollere, remitte ei et pallium;
41 et quicumque te angariaverit mille passus, vade cum illo duo.
42 Qui petit a te, da ei; et volenti mutuari a te, ne avertaris.
43 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου.
44 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν διωκόντων ὑμᾶς,
45 ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους.
46 ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;
47 καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ ἐθνικοὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;
48 Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. (44) But I say to you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute (lit = ‘pursue’) you. (45) In this way you will become children (lit = ‘sons’) of your father in the heavens, that the sun rises upon the wicked and the good, and it rains on the just and the unjust. (46) For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax-collectors do the same thing? (47) For if you greet your brother only, what benefit (lit = ‘excess’) is there? Do not also the nations (traditionally = ‘Gentiles’) do this same thing? (48) So be completed like your father the heavenly one is completed.
43 Audistis quia dictum est: “Diliges proximum tuum et odio habebis inimicum tuum”.
44 Ego autem dico vobis: Diligite inimicos vestros et orate pro persequentibus vos,
45 ut sitis filii Patris vestri, qui in caelis est, quia solem suum oriri facit super malos et bonos et pluit super iustos et iniustos.
46 Si enim dilexeritis eos, qui vos diligunt, quam mercedem habetis? Nonne et publicani hoc faciunt?
47 Et si salutaveritis fratres vestros tantum, quid amplius facitis? Nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt?
48 Estote ergo vos perfecti, sicut Pater vester caelestis perfectus est.
This bit about hating your enemies could be addressed to any number of different ethnic groups. Even the Psalms brag about how God will smite our enemies and make them into footstools and such. From this, it’s really impossible to tell what group Matthew may be addressing here. Now, there is the bit about the “nations” greeting their brother, that sounds like we’re addressing a Jewish audience. But why? Because “ethnoi” has been rendered as “gentile” for a very long time. Now, I don’t know what the Aramaic word may be that lurks behind this–if there is one. The thing is that, as generally used, ‘gentile’ pretty much corresponds to ‘barbaros’ in Greek in the sense that it’s an ‘us vs. them’ distinction. But that connotation simply is not present in ‘ethnoi’, at least not to the extent of ‘gentile’. The latter means non-Jew, and it’s as much religious as it is ethnic. As I understand ‘gentile’, the corresponding Greek term would be ‘barbaros’, and not ‘ethnikos’. It’s a matter of degree. The KJV sidesteps this by rendering both words as ‘publican’; the NASB and the ESB prefer ‘gentile’; the NIV chooses ‘pagan’. While this has explicitly religious overtones, I’m not sure it’s not the best translation of the lot.
Then there’s the “telios” which often gets translated as “perfect”. At root it means “end”, as in teleology the branch of philosophy dealing with the ultimate end of things. The idea is that if something is complete, it’s perfect, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with “perfect”. The connotation feels very different. I’ve often wondered about the part about “you” (the audience) being perfect. How are we supposed to pull that one off? Let’s talk about setting people up to fail. That, part, is why I’ve often questioned the translation here, and prefer something other than “perfect”.
Notice that Matthew uses the verb ‘agapao’. This is the same stem as ‘agape’, which we saw in 1 Corinthians is the justifiably famous passage about how love is patient and kind. Now back when we read that passage, I mentioned that this is not a word really found in the Classical writers. That is true for “agape”, but it’s not true for the verb form used here. The point though, is that Paul did change the course of the word to some extent, especially in the noun form. The verb, as here, is common enough among the Classical writers that it pretty much maintained its meaning of “greet with affection”. That’s basically how it’s used here. So if I mislead anyone on the word back in the commentary on 1 Cor 13, my apologies. Not having the biblical background, I’m going to make mistakes like that. This is truly a voyage of discovery for me, too.
A few verses ago, when discussing “turn the other cheek”, we were more or less talking about a (quasi-) pacifist attitude. This part about loving your enemies is related to this, but not at all identical. Again, this idea is not exactly new, but it’s not exactly been expressed either to this point in Western Civ, at least. I can’t really speak to what the Buddha may have said about this. And it’s running alongside the Stoic attitude of a universal siblinghood (believe I coined the word a while back). So, even though it’s novel in some sense, it’s not completely without precedent or precursor, either. It is through Christianity, of course, that this idea gained traction in the west, at least to the point that people realize they should pay lip-service to the idea, even they don’t believe in it enough actually to practice it.
The Sermon on the Mount continues, and it will for much, much longer. Once again, the tone and the form have changed from the structure in the last section we did. This further enhances the sense that this is a collection of sayings, but it also imparts a sense that this may be a collection of groups of sayings. I’m still not sure what this says about the likelihood of this stuff being from Q. The thing is, I would say that, the longer Q supposedly was as a document, the less likely it is that the document would have become “lost”. The more content it contained, the more valueable it would have been, and hence, the more likely it would have been preserved.
21 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, Οὐ φονεύσεις: ὃς δ’ ἂν φονεύσῃ, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει.
22 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει: ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ, Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ: ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ, Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.
“You have heard that it was said by the ancients, ‘Do not kill’; one how has killed is subject to judgement”. I say to you that he who is angry with his brother is subject to judgement. For one who may say to his brother, ‘Raka, let him be subject to the Sanhedrin. But he who says, ‘Fool’, let him be subject to Gehenna of the fire.”
First, ‘raka’ seems to be a more or less untranslatable expression of contempt. Per Wikipedia, it seems like there really isn’t a lot of agreement on origin or specific meaning. As for contextual meaning, it seems a lesser crime than calling your brother a fool; the one is punishable by human agents; the other is worthy of the fires of Gehenna.
Which brings us to the key feature of this passage: Gehenna. Like “raka”, what does this mean? Why is it fiery? The word was not used at all by Paul. Mark used it three times, all in the same passage in 9:43-47. Luke uses it once, and James once. Matthew uses it seven times, more than all the others put together. After another Google search, I find that Someone told me that this is a reference to a valley outside Jerusalem where children had once been sacrificed to Baal or Moloch in the bad old days. The sacrifice consisted of burning the children in a fire. Only gradually did it become associated with the eventual Christian concept of Hell. Given the origin, one can see the development of the word; it started as a sort of generic place of punishment–perhaps not dissimilar from the way English nannies tried to scare their charges into behaving by telling them that “Boney” (Napoleon Bonapart) was going to get them–into a very specific place of punishment with deep theological resonance.
The question thus becomes “how did Matthew intend the word in this context?” Seeing that the word has about a dozen uses in the entire NT, I’m not sure if we can say with confidence that the transition to hell-fire has been made. That being said, however, a glance at the way fire is used, especially by Matthew, the concept of fire-as-punishment is very strong. Are we turning the corner? Consider that Paul did not use the concept of fire-as-punishment at all, and Mark only used it in the one place, so some development of the concept has likely occurred. OTOH, the subsequent uses in Luke don’t seem to develop the idea further, and John only uses the word once. But the thing with Matthew is that his became the “standard” gospel, especially of the early church. This “preferred” status gave Matthew outsized influence and impact on patristic thought. As such, any further development of the idea of hell-fire is probably based on Matthew.
The patristic thinkgers also believed it was the first written, which is why they placed it first in the canon. Unfortunately, this lack judgement betrays, I think, a certain amount of wishful thinking on the part of the fathers. They wanted Matthew to be first. Given this, I have a very difficult time giving credence to statements of Pappias and Eusebios about the very early history of the Jesus movement/Christian church. But we’ll pick this up again shortly, when we get to Matthew’s repetition of the use of gehenna/fire from Mark.
21 Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: “Non occides; qui autem occiderit, reus erit iudicio”.
22 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui irascitur fratri suo, reus erit iudicio; qui autem dixerit fratri suo: “Racha”, reus erit concilio; qui autem dixerit: “Fatue”, reus erit gehennae ignis.
23 ἐὰν οὖν προσφέρῃς τὸ δῶρόν σου ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον κἀκεῖ μνησθῇς ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἔχει τι κατὰ σοῦ,
24 ἄφες ἐκεῖ τὸ δῶρόν σου ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, καὶ ὕπαγε πρῶτον διαλλάγηθι τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, καὶ τότε ἐλθὼν πρόσφερε τὸ δῶρόν σου.
So should you proffer your gift upon the altar, and there you should be reminded that your brother has something against you (24), leave your offering before the altar, and first go and be changed (as in, ‘change your mind’) toward your brother, and then go to offer your offering.
This is kind of interesting. The word here is ‘brother’. The NIV renders this as “brother or sister’. And this brings us to the perpetual question about translation: do you remain faithful to the original–slavishly so, in my case–or do you put it into terms for the new languages, and contemporary for the time?
Now this strikes me as a new attitude, a change from the way people generally thought. The Greeks bragged about how they were a scourge to their enemy; both of those behaviours are decidedly not Christian. And that is precisely the point. We are introducing new standards of behaviour into mainstream thought. Now, to be fair, Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures present a very strong moral code that provides the basis–and much, much more–for what we call “Christian” morality. Hence the term “Judeo-Christian”, because the latter really stands on the shoulders of the former. The innovation here is that this “new” moral code is being introduced on a wide scale to a pagan and Graeco-Roman audience. That is a huge step.
Now, as we have noted, synagogues attracted the so-called ‘god-fearers’, pagans interested in Judaism, largely for its moral code. I have suggested (without a shred of evidence) that Matthew was such a god-fearer. One thing we have to remember is the timing; at the time Matthew wrote, the new proto-Christian message was being put out largely divorced from its Jewish heritage. The Temple had been destroyed, probably close to a generation previously. This had become a distant memory for a lot of people, for pagans who were not directly affected by the tragedy. This had removed an alternative focal point for the spread of this morality. More, those spreading the “new” code no longer required that those joining the group follow any of the Jewish dietary restrictions–not eating pig was a major hardship for some–or undergo a painful adult circumcision. So the traditional Jewish morality has come unstuck from its restrictive Jewish practices, giving it an appeal it may not have had a generation prior.
By the time Matthew wrote, I think, the tipping point had been passed, was in the past. By the time Matthew wrote, most new converts were likely to be of pagan background, and this had probably been true for some time, perhaps as long as a decade. Long enough for a new sensibility to take root, a sensibility that provided Matthew with a strong incentive to wrote a new gospel for a new time.
Note one thing that is missing in Matthew that was prominent in Mark: the secret. Mark was big on Jesus instructing people and demons not to reveal his identity. We shall see, but I don’t think we’re going to run across that in Matthew. Keep your eyes peeled–a lovely American expression for “be watchful”.
23 Si ergo offeres munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te,
24 relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare et vade, prius, reconciliare fratri tuo et tunc veniens offer munus tuum.
25 ἴσθι εὐνοῶν τῷ ἀντιδίκῳ σου ταχὺ ἕως ὅτου εἶ μετ’ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, μή ποτέ σε παραδῷ ὁ ἀντίδικος τῷ κριτῇ, καὶ ὁ κριτὴς τῷ ὑπηρέτῃ, καὶ εἰς φυλακὴν βληθήσῃ:
26 ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, οὐ μὴ ἐξέλθῃς ἐκεῖθεν ἕως ἂν ἀποδῷς τὸν ἔσχατον κοδράντην.
(25) Be quickly well-disposed to your legal adversary, while you are with him on the road, lest your legal adversary hand you over to the one judging, and lest the judge should (hand you over) to the bailiff, and you be thrown into prison. (26) Amen I say to you, go there until you have paid the last penny.
First, I specified “legal adversary” because that is compacted into the Greek word. Simply using “adversary” or “opponent” would miss this legal sense. I do not know if there is an English legal term for “adversary at law”. I believe that is what “adversary” technically means, but, in English, the term has become diluted and whatever legal connotation it may have has been lost in general usage. I wanted to get that across since the Greek is very specific.
There are a number of anachronisms in my translation as well. “Judge” probably works, but “bailiff” and “prison” really don’t fit. But, they get the point across, I think. What I rendered as “prison” is probably most technically “be put under guard”. And “penny”…that would be, literally, ‘denrius’, but that’s Latin, and the Latin doesn’t even say that. But rendering it as “smallest unit of coinage in your particular country in your particular time” is a bit cumbersome, don’t you think?
Finally, Jesus here has a pretty dim view of one’s chances at law. I suspect, but cannot say for certain, that this is perhaps a reflection of one of two things. The first is that Jesus is speaking mainly to people of lower stature. Such people in the ancient world (or the modern world) would have been at a decided disadvantage going to law against an adversary of higher social status. As such, chances were that the judge would, indeed, find against the lower-status individual who would then find him/herself dragged away and put under guard. I consider this the more likely possibility, but it is also possible that this is a reference to a time when followers of Jesus may have found themselves at a legal disadvantage because they were followers of Jesus. It is very difficult to be confident about this given the very sporadic nature of persecution. A year could make a difference, one place vs. another could make a big difference. The disadvantage of a lower-status individual was pretty much a constant; the status of a follower of Jesus was very random. As such, most likely Jesus–or Matthew–is speaking to lower-status individuals.
25 Esto consentiens adversario tuo cito, dum es in via cum eo, ne forte tradat te adversarius iudici, et iudex tradat te ministro, et in carcerem mittaris.
26 Amen dico tibi: Non exies inde, donec reddas novissimum quadrantem.
27 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Οὐ μοιχεύσεις.
28 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.
You have heard that it is said, “Do not adulterize”. (28) But I say to you, the one who looks at a woman towards the desiring of her already adulterized her in his heart.
We’ve run across this before. In Greek, one doesn’t commit adultery; the latter is a verb, so one ‘adulterizes’. And in the final clause, the feminine pronoun is in the accusative case which is the case used for direct objects. So a man ‘adulterizes’ a woman.
More important, however, is the content of this passage. It’s no longer enough to refrain from doing something; even the desire is a transgression. Now notice, the 10 Commandments enjoin against coveting a neighbor’s possessions, or his wife. And this passage essentially is about coveting your neighbor’s wife. However, this sort of thing was not really considered a transgression among pagans. Here, this new standard of behaviour is being introduced to the pagan audience, as happened above in the passage about reconciliation. Again, I believe this reflects that Matthew is aiming this at a pagan, not a Jewish, audience.
Finally, any Americans old enough may remember that this passage got Jimmy Carter into a bit of trouble in 1976. During the campaign for US president, he did an interview with Playboy Magazine, in which he admitted to having “committed adultery in my heart many times”.
27 Audistis quia dictum est: “Non moechaberis”.
28 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, iam moechatus est eam in corde suo.
29 εἰ δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ὁ δεξιὸς σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔξελε αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου βληθῇ εἰς γέενναν.
If your right eye causes you to stumble, rip it out and throw it from you. For it is better for you that your body parts should be destroyed and not your complete body be thrown into Gehenna.
This is really interesting. What happened here? Recall that we ran across this idea in Mark. Except there we had an alternative. There is nothing here about “the life” as there was in Mark. The choice is simply a body lacking parts…doing…something…vs. a complete body being thrown into (presumably the fires of) Gehenna. What happened to entering the Life? That was my initial question. However, after a bit more research, I discovered that Matthew actually more or less repeats this concept, with the idea of entering the life, later on in the gospel. What does that mean?
Historians are accustomed to talk about “twinning”, in which the same event is duplicated and told as if it had been two separate events. This was my initial theory about the Feeding of the 5,000/4,000 in Mark: that it was the same event that got told in different ways, or by different groups so that eventually it came to be seen as two separate events. This is similar, I suppose. One group told the story as we found it in Mark: better to enter the life with one eye, etc., than to be thrown into Gehenna with all your parts intact. (I did not consider what that said about the idea of the Resurrection Body at the time; will have to remember to do that when we reach the appropriate place in Matthew.) But another group told it as we see it here: minus the part about entering the Life. These two streams then reached Matthew as separate entities so he recorded each as distinct from the other.
Sounds great in theory; the problem is…well, there are lots of problems. The first is sources: what were the different sources? Was one of them Q? Which one? Well, it would have to be this one, since Q supposedly is wisdom stuff and does not include material about the/an afterlife. But then, what about the Gehenna part? That seems to be implying an afterlife. Or was being thrown into Gehenna something that the secular authorities did? Was this sort of Jerusalem slang for being exiled from the Temple community? Interesting thought, isn’t it?
So if it wasn’t Q, then what? How many other sources were floating around? Perhaps quite a few, although we have to ask if the destruction of the Temple increased or decreased the number of sources available to Matthew. On the whole, I would say it increased the number. One possible outcome of the destruction of Jerusalem is that a lot of Jesus’ followers may have been scattered to be absorbed into different communities. There, lacking contact with the scattered communities, the stories started heading down different paths. They started evolving into different tracks that would have begun diverging from each other, perhaps to converge again as two different episodes. Is that what happened here? I have no idea. It’s possible, but that’s about all that we can say about it.
29 Quod si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum et proice abs te; expedit enim tibi, ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum mittatur in gehennam.
30 καὶ εἰ ἡ δεξιά σου χεὶρ σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτὴν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου εἰς γέενναν ἀπέλθῃ.
And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you. It is better for you to destroy your body parts and not with your body whole go into Gehenna.
30 Et si dextera manus tua scandalizat te, abscide eam et proice abs te; expedit enim tibi, ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum abeat in gehennam.
There really is nothing more to be said about this that wasn’t said in the comment to the previous verse. Once again, self-mutilation is preferable to going into Gehenna whole.
The Sermon on the Mount continues.
11 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ’ ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι]ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ:
Blessed are you when they reproach you and persecute you and say all evil against you [ falsely ] on account of me.
It’s pretty much impossible that Jesus said this. The conditions described are those of the decades following his death. It is important to realize that there is no tradition that any of Jesus’ followers were arrested immediately after Jesus’ execution. That should be taken as very strong evidence that, for the Romans, Jesus was a one-off sort of execution, an individual transgressor and not the leader of any kind of following that posed any kind of problem for Roman occupation. Otherwise, Jesus would have been tortured for names of accomplices, suspected followers would have been tortured to give up more names, and there would have been some kind of effort to root out and destroy the threat. Tiberius–or possibly those operating in his name (depends on how far you believe Tacitus/Robert Graves)–were employing exactly these tactics at the time of Jesus’ death to root out real or imagined enemies of the emperor. The Romans had no concern for civil rights, public opinion of the governed, or any niceties at all. As rulers they were brutal and ruthless–but only when provoked. For peoples who went along, things were pretty good: you got roads, settled conditions, security, and trade in as your reward for giving up your local ruler in exchange for an emperor. But this is a digression.
Anyway, the point is that those who followed Jesus’ in the latter’s lifetime were not unduly harassed, and so any reference to persecution almost certainly dates to the time after Jesus’ death. As such, references like this cannot trace back to Jesus. Now, this brings up another interesting question. When was Q written? It had to be some time before Matthew wrote; that’s known as the terminus ante quem. It had to be available for Matthew to use. And both Mack and Kloppenborg claim it was the earliest gospel. But how early? Immediately after Jesus’ death? If so, any references to Jesus’ death were inserted later, perhaps a decade or more later. But if it was written so early, and was so important to the early followers, why didn’t Mark use it? How did it remain unknown to Mark? Or if known, why wasn’t it used? This is the problem when you build a textual case without sufficient reference to how this all fit in with events in the outside world. There has to be a merger of the two.
And if this was added to the Q text, what else was? Just the stuff we want to think was added? If stuff like this verse was added, how can we be sure that stuff like “blessed are the poor” is authentic? Because it sounds like Jesus? Or because it sounds like what we want Jesus to say? When we start going down that road, matters get very subjective. They are value judgements, without a lot of historical validation. From the historical point of view, it would be difficult to construct an argument that this was not something added a decade or two after Jesus’ death.
11 Beati estis cum maledixerint vobis et persecuti vos fuerint et dixerint omne malum adversum vos, mentientes, propter me.
12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς: οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.
Rejoice and exult, that the reward of yours is great in the heavens; for in this way they persecuted the prophets that were (i.e. came) before you.
This, I think, represents another milestone in the development of what came to be Christian belief. This seems to be a point–the point?–when the rewards of the afterlife were the truly important part of the doctrine. You are persecuted now; you will be rewarded then. Naturally this ties back to “seeing God” and “inheriting the kingdom of the heavens/earth”. So we can see here that Matthew is using this section to lay out the groundwork of what the followers of Jesus believed. In fact, I’m sorly tempted to start calling then “Christians” at this point, because I think this is the formulary for what certainly became Christianity. This is why Matthew’s gospel comes first: when the Church set out the official contents of the NT, Matthew’s gospel was put first because they believed it was written first. They believed it prior to Mark because it has all of the Christian doctrines, most of which are absent in Mark.
They are absent in Mark because they had not been fully formulated yet. It took an extra decade or so for this all to be worked out.
And just a word about the “prophets before you”. Here we are getting the fixing of Jesus into the epic of Israel, explaining his death in terms of the way prophets were (mis)treated according to the legendary history. This helps situate both Jesus and the persecuted followers in this “pantheon”. Now, the fact that Matthew is taking pains to associate Jesus and the followers with the Jewish tradition might seem odd if I am correct and the audience–and bulk of converts–was pagan. Just remember that, for most of the people of the day, these two formulas held: antiquity = good; and innovation = bad. Connecting the Jesus movement to something as ancient as the Jewish legend would have given the movement a significant level of appeal.
12 Gaudete et exsultate, quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in caelis; sic enim persecuti sunt prophetas, qui fuerunt ante vos.
13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω κατα πατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt becomes dull (loses its flavour), in what (way) is it salty? It is worth nothing, except to be thrown out to be trampled under by people.
This is an interesting bit here. It’s the sort of wise, pithy analogy that most would trace back to the living Jesus. But what makes it interesting is that it’s in Mark, too, in slightly different form. This is one of those awkward Mark/Q overlaps that cause a certain amount of hemming and hawing and staring at the shoes among the Q proponents. They have to explain how something in Q can also be in Mark, when Mark didn’t know about Q. Honestly, the answer is not difficult: I have been saying right along that there were a number of traditions about Jesus that could easily have made their way to Mark’s hearing as well as being part of the tradition that created Q. As such, this could be something attested by two independent sources. The first is the one Mark heard, and the second is the one represented by Q. And, as such, I think that the likelihood of this dating back to Jesus becomes very strong.
As an aside, we talked about “salt of the earth” when it occurred in Mark. The Latin is “sal”, which is the root of our word “salary”, because Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. That is how valuable it was as a commodity. This is slightly ironic, because nowadays salt is so common that most of its price is incurred from the cost of packaging. But the point being, “salt of the earth” is a valuable commodity; calling someone by this moniker is quite a compliment. But one aspect of this that doesn’t get much attention is, what does the second part actually mean? Salt losing it’s saltiness? How does that happen? Can that happen? I’m really not at all sure about the science of this. But it does sort of fit in context with the subsequent verse. The two are similar in construction, a direct address rather than a general statement. And they both refer to the audience as something good, but only this one has the negative ending.
Back to the main point, if I’m basically conceding that this does–or at least could–trace back to Jesus, the question becomes whether this is typical of Jesus. I’m still sort of going through the stuff that’s supposed to be in Q verse-by-verse, so the jury is still out on that question. No doubt that this is the thing that the Q people believe is typical of Jesus. This is something that will be looked at as we go along.
13 Vos estis sal terrae; quod si sal evanuerit, in quo salietur? Ad nihilum valet ultra, nisi ut mittatur foras et conculcetur ab hominibus.
14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη:
You are the light of the cosmos. A city cannot be hidden when it lies on a hill.
“Kosmos” is a funny word. Obviously, it’s the root for “cosmos”, and the base meaning in Greek is something like “organized” or “arranged” or “in order”. As such, it’s not exactly a synonym for “the world” the way “the earth” and “the world” are in English. However, it most often simply does function as a synonym for “the earth”. The Latin is “mundus”, which is “the world”. But then, Latin doesn’t have a word like “cosmos”; even though “universe” comes from a Latin root, it’s a recent coinage, not something the Romans would have used.
One thing to think about here is whom Jesus is addressing. Per the narrative, Jesus is still addressing the crowd, but don’t these give the sense of being directed towards a smaller group? Like perhaps the disciples? Regardless, the sense I have here is that Matthew has taken some disparate maxims and strung them together into a single “sermon”. The question becomes, does this stringing together of distinct pieces argue for Q, or against Q? The point of Q, after all, is that it’s just a collection of such sayings, basically on the format of the Gospel of Thomas. In fact, the discovery of the latter made the existence of Q seem all that much more likely. And the fact that G-Thomas fits the mold of what Q was supposed to be has been used as an argument for an early date for G-Thomas, perhaps as early as Q. Never mind that this is pretty much circular: how do we know that Thomas is early? Because it’s the same form as Q. How do we know that Q is early? Because it’s the same form as the Gospel of Thomas.
14 Vos estis lux mundi. Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita;
15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ.
Nor do they burn a lamp and place it under a measure(ing basket), upon the lampstand, and it lights the whole of the house.
More of this pithy wisdom. This is the sort of stuff that makes Burton Mack consider Jesus something on the lines of a Cynic sage. No, of course one does not do this.
But does anyone else see a disconnect between the content of verses 3-10 and 11-15 (and perhaps beyond)? The form is different, the sort of thought expressed is very different, and it feels like the audience might even be different.
15 neque accendunt lucernam et ponunt eam sub modio, sed super candelabrum, ut luceat omnibus, qui in domo sunt.
16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.
In this way your light illuminates before people, just so they might know your good works and might glorify your father that is in the heavens.
The first part is very literal; something like “lighting the way for everyone” is probably closer to a more idiomatic English translation. And again, who is he addressing. Is this directed towards the large crowd gathered? Or was this said in a more intimate setting and spoken mainly to his disciples? The “light of the world” is similar to “the salt of the earth” that will come up shortly. These are high terms of praise. What do they mean? Or maybe, what do they imply? And to whom are they applied? This is why I ask if they don’t seem more appropriate for a small group setting. And perhaps another interesting question is, why “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”? Why not “of the kingdom of the heavens”? Is it merely editorial variety? That is certainly a possibility. Questions like this, IMO, are why it’s so hard to base an entire theory of Christian origins on comparisons between texts. Sometimes authors say something because they like the way it sounds.
16 Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus, ut videant vestra bona opera et glorificent Patrem vestrum, qui in caelis est.
17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας: οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.
Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill (them).
Seriously. There is no thematic coherence here. I will have to consider this and evaluate how this affects my position on Q; for this truly is a collection of sayings. Now, just to be clear, just because this really feels like collected sayings does not in any way corroborate the existence of a written collection. Nor does it provide any guarantee that any of these sayings were first spoken by Jesus.
This one in particular strikes me as a later addition, something that more likely originated with one of his followers. In fact, I would suggest that Matthew is the author. So far, we’ve seen Matthew tie Jesus to the Hebrew scriptures and deepen his identificatio with John. Both of these were meant to connect Jesus to the ancient Jewish tradition. Given the level of paganisation that we saw already in Paul and probably in Mark, it would not be surprising to see Matthew taking a stand to make sure that the nascent religion did not come totally unmoored from a Jewish heritage.
And, oddly enough, I still suspect that Matthew may have started life as a pagan who became a god-fearer who steeped himself in Jewish tradition before becoming a follower of Jesus. I have absolutely no proof of this; rather, it’s the sense I get from the zealousness of Matthew’s adherence to the Hebrew tradition at a time when the Temple had been gone for almost a generation. So why not a Jew from birth? I’m not sure yet, just as I’m not sure about the content of this chapter so far.
As far as that goes, it almost seems to make more sense that Matthew was collecting these sayings exactly because they had not been collected prior. Just as Mark wrote, I think, to merge the various traditions into a single doctrine at a time when many of the original followers were dead or dying, so Matthew wanted to collect all the aphorisms that had accumulated among Jesus’ followers in the time since Mark. Some of them not doubt were intially said by Jesus, but certainly not all of them, and almost certainly not this one in particular. This fits too nicely in with what Matthew has been doing so far: accumulating the evidence for how Jesus is the fulfillment of “prophesies” from the Hebrew scriptures. Think back to Chapter 1, with the cite from Jeremiah tied to a fictitious slaughter of the Innocents, or to Jesus being the son that God called from Egypt. Given this as Matthew’s intention, it’s hardly surprising to see him have Jesus assure us that he’s not destroying the Law, but fulfilling it.
Because that must have been something that was being discussed by this point. The Temple was gone; Mark had taken steps to distance Jesus from the Jewish tradition. The Pauline tradition stressed Jesus’ similarities with Greek pagan thought. Over time the links of the Jesus movement to Judaism were breaking. Matthew saw the need to step in and re-establish them.
17 Nolite putare quoniam veni solvere Legem aut Prophetas; non veni solvere, sed adimplere.
18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται.
For amen I say to you, until the sky and the earth pass away, one iota or a single [tittle] will not pass away from the law until it shall all come to pass.
“Tittle”. The word rendered so does not really exist in Greek. As it is, the word here is a homophone for the Greek word for “horn”, as in, “horn of a goat” or such. The bit about the “one iota” refers to the letter “iota”, which more or less corresponds to the Latin “i”, so it’s the smallest letter. Sometimes iota/Latin i at the beginning of a word is rendered as an English ‘j’ (but pronounced as an ‘i’), so “iota” can become “jot”, a not uncommon translation for “iota” here. (The Latin i >> j is amply demonstrated by the Latin ‘iustus’, the root of the English “just”, “justice”, & c. A Latin ‘i’ between two other vowels also became written as a ‘j’. Sorry, can’t think of an example at the moment. And note that Italian did not follow this convention; as a result, the Italian alphabet has only 22 letters, lacking j/k/w/y.)
I find it very interesting that here Matthew uses “sky” in the singular. This is telling, I think. It may indicate that he has already begun to see a distinction between “the sky” as the big blue thing up above us, and “the heavens” which apparently has become a place. This is not completely novel; this implication had been implicit in Greek since the time of Homer. But the distinction of singular and plural is an innovation, I believe, one indicating that the words had begun to separate.
The comment to the previous verse also stands for this one.
18 Amen quippe dico vobis: Donec transeat caelum et terra, iota unum aut unus apex non praeteribit a Lege, donec omnia fiant.
19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.
He who may loosen one of the least of the commandments, and may teach people in this way, he will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens. He who will do this (keep the commandments) and may teach this, he will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.
OK, the thing is, we have a section of three verses dealing with Jesus’ adamant insistence to preserve the law without dropping a single letter from it. None of this in any way traces back to Jesus; these are the sorts of things that someone would only say after the fact. Now, this is in Luke, too, which presumably means it’s supposedly part of Q. However, it doesn’t appear to be in the reconstruction of Q that I got from Mack’s “The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins”. At least, it’s not in the original stratum; Mack and Kloppenborg both posit three layers of Q, but it’s apparently in one of the subsequent layers. Just about the time that the sense that we are reading a collection of sayings that Matthew has collected, and just as I’m starting to wonder if, maybe, there may be some case for the existence of Q, we run into something like these past three verses. Again, these do not trace back to Jesus; Mack tacitly admits that by not including it in his original stratum. So where did they come from? When did they come from? This question, as far as I can tell, is not addressed. Now, Mack’s book cited here is the first I read on the topic, and it may be that I’ve forgotten that he addressed this, but Kloppenborg certainly didn’t.
Really, as far as I can tell, these verses are considered to be part of Q because they are both in Matthew and Luke. Isn’t the simpler explanation that Luke took them from Matthew? I need to address this in a separate post, but, for now, just let me say that Luke either changed the wording and/or order of parts of Matthew or parts of Q. This is an either/or, black and white, yes or no situation. Luke changed one or he changed the other one. How does it make more sense to claim that Luke changed a source for which we have no proof, aside from the fact that Luke changed the wording that we find in Matthew?
19 Qui ergo solverit unum de mandatis istis minimis et docuerit sic homines, minimus vocabitur in regno caelorum; qui autem fecerit et docuerit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno caelorum.
20 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness abounds more that (that) of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.
20 Dico enim vobis: Nisi abundaverit iustitia vestra plus quam scribarum et pharisaeorum, non intrabitis in regnum caelorum.
Well, here the scribes and Pharisees are actually a positive example. The implication is that, while they are righteous, they’re not sufficiently so. And what are the Scribes and Pharisees known for? Their integrity in fulfillment of the law. This despite what Paul said. Now, the other interesting thing about this passage and Paul is that the word “righteousness/justice (= iustitia in Latin)” occurs very frequently in Paul, not at all in Mark, only once in Luke, twice in John, four times in Acts, and like every other word in Romans. And it’s the third time we’ve run across it in Matthew. Why is that? Well, one really obvious possibility is that Matthew was familiar with at least some of Paul’s writing. How this happened, or which letters he’d read, is impossible to say. Another is to say that it’s a common-enough theme, but then how to explain its relative scarcity outside of Paul and the seven uses in Matthew? But then why is Matthew more or less contradicting Paul on the value of the Law?
I don’t have answers for any of these questions. At least, not at the moment. But these are questions that need to be asked, and this is another topic of discussion that I’ve never run across. To my mind, this sort of topical correlation will tell us more about the historical Jesus, the links between the authors of the NT, and the way that the followers of the historical Jesus gradually–but only gradually–transformed into Christians by sometime in the last two decades of the First Century. The important thing to remember is that the influences and development were not simple, and certainly not linear. Ideas combined and re-combined, influenced each other, mutated, and then came back again in somewhat different form to start the process all over. To think that we can trace all this by straight textual analysis, by comparing differences in word choices, or the order in which the material is presented is, I believe, naive.
Another facet of this discussion is understanding why Matthew and Luke and John wrote a gospel. They wrote it because they had something they felt needed to be said. They believed that they had an additional contribution to make, something new to say. So when Matthew wrote, after becoming aware of Mark’s gospel, Matthew felt he had something to add to Mark. As such, he did not just slavishly repeat Mark. Why bother? That had been done. And in the same way Luke felt that he had something to say beyond what Matthew and Mark said. So of course he changed things he found in Matthew (or Q), he re-arranged, reorganized, reworded. Why do you write a new gospel if you’re not going to change things?
Keep that in mind as we proceed.