Monthly Archives: January 2015
This will conclude both the Sermon on the Mount and Chapter 7.
13 Εἰσέλθατε διὰ τῆς στενῆς πύλης: ὅτι πλατεῖα ἡ πύλη καὶ εὐρύχωρος ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν, καὶ πολλοί εἰσιν οἱ εἰσερχόμενοι δι’ αὐτῆς:
14 τί στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωήν, καὶ ὀλίγοι εἰσὶν οἱ εὑρίσκοντες αὐτήν.
Enter the narrow gate. That the gate is wide and the road is broad is the one leading to destruction, and many are those entering through it. (14) How narrow is the gate, and constricted is the road leading to the life, and few are those finding it.
Now that I’ve (finally) accepted that a belief in an eternal life, and a judgement to determine those worthy of reward has been firmly established in the teaching of the Christian community, I don’t have to spend a lot of time questioning that. Now we are getting to the point where, instead, we start to spend more time on just how few people will actually make the cut. Of course, this is a brilliant metaphor. We can see the broad gate of iniquity, and those who fall off the narrow road. I picture it like a narrow bridge, with people falling off into the abyss of sin that yawns on either side. We have not read Romans–not yet, anyway. That letter lays the foundation stones of what will become Predestination: only some will receive the initial gift of grace that will allow us to begin to do works pleasing to God. Anyway, in that epistle, Paul talks about a “remnant”. Specifically, this is a remnant of Israel. What he means is that not all Jews will join with the Christ at the Parousia; rather, only some of them, a remnant of the entire nation will do so. Here we see the same principle in operation. It’s not quite the same concept, but it’s the same thought process. Because it’s entirely obvious that there are a lot–an awful lot–of wicked people in the world; so, of course, only the few will enter the life.
14 quam angusta porta et arta via, quae ducit ad vitam, et pauci sunt, qui inveniunt eam!
15 Προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες.
Watch for false prophets, who come in the clothing of sheep. Within they are ravening wolves.
My intent was to include this with the next group of verses, but I wan to comment on this specifically. Apparently, Luke does not repeat this metaphor. Luke repeats Jesus’ warning that he is sending out Apostles ‘as sheep among wolves’, which was present in Mark, but not this one. No doubt the exclusion of ths rightly famous metaphor is one of the reasons that Luke could not have read Matthew. Had h done so, of course he would have repeated it in his own gospel.
15 Attendite a falsis prophetis, qui veniunt ad vos in vestimentis ovium, intrinsecus autem sunt lupi rapaces.
16 ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς: μήτι συλλέγουσιν ἀπὸ ἀκανθῶν σταφυλὰς ἢ ἀπὸ τριβόλων σῦκα;
17 οὕτως πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖ, τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖ:
18 οὐ δύναται δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖν, οὐδὲ δένδρον σαπρὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖν.
19 πᾶν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται.
20 ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς.
From their fruits you shall know them. One does not gather from thorns grapes, or from briers figs. (17) In this way a good tree makes good fruit, but the worn-out tree makes wicked fruit. (18) A good tree is not able to produce wicked fruit, nor can a worn-out tree make good fruit. (19) All trees not producing good fruit will be cut up and thrown into the fire. (20) Therefore from their fruits you will know them.
Remember this follows on the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The idea, of course, is we are known by what we do. In a sense, this foreshadows Existentialism by a couple of thousand years: we are defined by our actions, not our beliefs.
But this has deeper implications; remember that Paul said that we are justified by faith. (He said it most explicitly in Romans.) This passage is a metaphor for right action, for a way to behave, a moral code. We can know good trees because of the fruit they produce. The fruit is not produced faith; it’s the result of acting in a way that demonstrates our internal goodness. This is a different sentiment from Paul. But then, recall that the letter of James says “faith without works is dead”. And recall that I am trying to trace the content of the Sermon on the Mount to James, rather than to Jesus. This heritage would–at least could–bypass Q entirely; or what is known as Q could actually represent the teaching of James. There will never be enough to prove that James is the “missing link” between Jesus and Matthew, but clues like this can point us in that direction.
The thought expressed here will have a long and important future. It will become one of the central props of neo-Calvinist thought. By that I mean, it wasn’t so much Calvin himself, but later followers. And it eventually had a huge impact on American thought, especially as it pertained to business. Recall what I said about Boston, Massachusetts. It became the biggest commercial success of the early colonies. But it was founded by the Puritans, who were derived from the Reformed Church, which is to say, Calvinism. The central doctrine of Calvinism was Double Predestination: from the beginning of time, we were destined for either Heaven or Hell, and there really wasn’t anything one could do about it. How did you know which you were, Elect or Foreknown? Well, the early forays into Predestination, such as St Augustine, said that we couldn’t know. Just as the Heavenly City and the Earthly City were intertwined, and would not be sorted out until Judgement Day, so the Elect and the Foreknown were also intertwined. There were those who seemed Elect that would turn out to be Reprobate, and vice versa. There was no understanding the plan of God. But of course, what’s the point of being Elect if you didn’t know it, couldn’t tell it, or couldn’t revel in it to enjoy the smug satisfaction while here on earth. So this particular passage was trotted out as a means to distinguish the Elect from the Reprobate. The “fruits” by which we were known was material wealth. All God’s friends were rich. This is something that needs to be kept firmly in mind when trying to understand American society in the 21st Century. This notion has never really disappeared.
16 A fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos; numquid colligunt de spinis uvas aut de tribulis ficus?
17 Sic omnis arbor bona fructus bonos facit, mala autem arbor fructus malos facit;
18 non potest arbor bona fructus malos facere, neque arbor mala fructus bonos facere.
19 Omnis arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, exciditur et in ignem mittitur.
20 Igitur ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos.
21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι, Κύριε κύριε, εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἀλλ’ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.
Not all of those saying to me, “Lord, lord” will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my father who is in the heavens.
Just a couple of quick points. First, I believe this is the first time Matthew has Jesus refer to him as “my father”. To this point he has always been “your/our father”, or “the father in the heavens”. Now he is specifically Jesus’ father. Now, of course, we had the whole birth narrative, during which it was revealed that Jesus was the literal son of God, conceived by Mary like so many Greek heroes before her. Zeus and Leda, Zeus and Europa, Zeus and Io, and that’s just a few of them, and for a single god. Anyone with any Greek education would have understood the situation immediately. Is this another clue that Matthew was writing for pagans? I’m not sure I discussed this in conjunction with the birth narrative; now it seems like it may have been so obvious that I didn’t think to bring it up. Now it seems so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t bring it up. Because of this, on the one hand, Jesus saying “my father” is hardly remarkable. And yet, I think it is. It’s a definite step.
The question, in which case, is why is this significant? That’s not exactly easy to answer, but any time an author breaks form, changes the way s/he’s presenting something, it becomes noteworthy. We really ought to ask why the sudden change. So, why? Here’s perhaps evidence that Matthew is merging two sources. one in which Jesus says “your/our” father, and another in which Jesus says “my father”. The merging of two sources, of course, is prima facie evidence for Q. Or for James. Or maybe one of the “sources” is actually Matthew inserting his own opinion, or his own voice after recording information from a source. Or maybe this came from the source, and the bulk of the Sermon on the Mount was written by Matthew.
The use of “lord” poses a question. In Hebrew usage, “lord” was another word for “God”. Adonai. But this is also the word that Greeks would use for the lord of the house. A slave would have called his master “lord”. In Mark, for example, the use of the term was about evenly divided between referring to a secular lord, or to God. Here, it’s perfectly ambiguous, which perhaps makes the part about “my” father even more significant. Is there a connection?
Finally, there’s the issue of doing the will of “my father”, vs saying “lord, lord”. Is this a backhand slam at Paul? He was very wont to refer to Jesus as “the lord”. Is this meant to tell us that believing wasn’t enough? That doing the will of the father was also necessary. This means that actions, a code of behaviour, was needed. Sola fides, faith alone, didn’t cut it. This does come right after “by their fruits”; perhaps if I’d spaced this differently and included this verse with the ones before, that connection would have been even more obvious. And the slap at Paul, and the emphasis on works are hallmarks of the Letter of James. So who were Matthew’s sources? Or did Matthew put the ideas of James into his (Matthew’s) own words? In which case, “my father”, I think, would be Matthew’s term, as consonant with the nativity story that Matthew created. Feel free to disagree.
21 Non omnis, qui dicit mihi: “Domine, Domine”, intrabit in regnum caelorum, sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in caelis est.
22 πολλοὶ ἐροῦσίν μοι ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, Κύριε κύριε, οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δαιμόνια ἐξεβάλομεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δυνάμεις πολλὰς ἐποιήσαμεν;
23 καὶ τότε ὁμολογήσω αὐτοῖς ὅτι Οὐδέποτε ἔγνων ὑμᾶς: ἀποχωρεῖτε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομίαν.
And many will ask me on that day, “Lord, lord, did we not in your name prophecy, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many wonders?” (23) And then I will say to them, “I have never known you. Go away from me, the ones performing this lawlessness.
Boy howdy, there’s some interesting stuff in there. Let’s start with the end. The word at the end is often translated as something like “iniquity”; but, literally, it’s “lawlessness”. A-nomie. It’s even a word in English. Is this another dig at Paul, the one who didn’t believe that non-Jews had to follow the Law? Again, not proof, but are we building a case? But, if so, this may be undercutting my contention about Matthew and the pagans. Paul was the apostle to the non-Jews; Matthew/James seem to be contradicting Paul’s message. But not necessarily. This could simply be Matthew reasserting the position of James that pagans, indeed, had to become Jews. So, we continue with some very ambiguous James-type message.
But why stop at Paul? After all, who is the big proponent of wonder working? Mark, of course. This was most of his argument for Jesus’ divinity: the miracles. If people can prophecy or perform miracles or cast out demons and yet still be on the outside when the Judgement comes, isn’t that taking a sideways swipe at Mark, too? And this gets to one very basic point: why did Matthew write his gospel? Because he felt he had something to say. IOW, Mark’s gospel, by itself, wasn’t enough. Mark got some things wrong, or at least maybe the emphases were in the wrong places. But Matthew obviously felt the need to correct, or explain more thoroughly, aspects that Mark didn’t get quite right. Matthew, perhaps, felt that Mark didn’t pay enough attention to Jesus’ teachings, so he wrote a gospel in which Jesus’ teachings are front and centre. Now, is this because of Q? Possibly. Or it could be due to James. Or maybe much of what Matthew wrote was actually written by Matthew.
What we are seeing in Matthew is the further development of the Jesus story. Mark told what was current to his day; Matthew added what had accumulated since. Mark told the story of a wonder-worker; Matthew told the story of a teacher. Which one is more accurate? Why do we think that Matthew is the more authentic version? Seriously. Why? It defies all logic that the second one written is the “accurate” picture. That almost never happens. Why would a story written another twenty years after the first contain the more reliable picture? Whose stories of WWI would you believe? Those of a man who heard them from his grandfather, who was contemporary? Or the stories of someone born another generation later? Now, of course, when we’re dealing with historical research, perhaps new information–archives, a cache letters, personal diaries–came to light in the intervening period that cast a new light on events of two generations prior. But that is not what we have here. We have a later author telling a different story than the one told by the earlier author. The later incorporates the earlier, but adds layers of information that the earlier author omitted. Or didn’t include. Who is more likely to preserve the more authentic version? The problem is that generations, hundreds of generations of Christians have had a vested interest in believing that Matthew is the more authentic. His version of Jesus is much more amenable to the way we want to think of Jesus. We are moved by Matthew’s Jesus in a way that we are not by the Jesus that Mark portrays. And so we come up with all sorts of reasons why Matthew is the better, more accurate, more factually correct version. When, in fact, the difference is that Matthew’s version is simply more True. It has the ring of Truth, or a higher degree of Truth. Accurate is irrelevant, because we’re concerned with Truth.
Interesting how I can go off at the least likely moment. But this is why this sort of analysis shouldn’t be left to Scripture people. I was really struck by two things in Tabor’s book Paul and Jesus. The first was how novel an interpretation of Paul was presented; the second was how conventional a view of Jesus, and the gospels Tabor has. His ability to challenge only goes so far. But, to be fair, it’s much harder to unlearn things.
22 Multi dicent mihi in illa die: “Domine, Domine, nonne in tuo nomine prophetavimus, et in tuo nomine daemonia eiecimus, et in tuo nomine virtutes multas fecimus?”.
23 Et tunc confitebor illis: Numquam novi vos; discedite a me, qui operamini iniquitatem.
24 Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ἀκούει μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ ποιεῖ αὐτοὺς ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ φρονίμῳ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν.
25 καὶ κατέβη ἡβροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέπεσαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἔπεσεν, τεθεμελίωτο γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν.
Therefore all who hear these words of mine, and does them is like the wise man, who built his house upon rock. (25) And the rain fell, and the river came and the winds blew and battered his house, but it did not fall, for it had been founded upon rock.
24 Omnis ergo, qui audit verba mea haec et facit ea, assimilabitur viro sapienti, qui aedificavit domum suam supra petram.
25 Et descendit pluvia, et venerunt flumina, et flaverunt venti et irruerunt in domum illam, et non cecidit; fundata enim erat supra petram.
26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀκούων μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ μὴ ποιῶν αὐτοὺς ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ μωρῷ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον.
27 καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴκαὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέκοψαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ ἔπεσεν, καὶ ἦν ἡπτῶσις αὐτῆς μεγάλη.
And all who hear these words of mine and do not do them are like the foolish man, who built his our upon the sand. (27) And the rain fell and the river came and the winds blew and they battered his house, and it fell, and great was its fall.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much to be said about this little parable. Not much, but not nothing, either. It’s another admonition to doing the right thing. To performing deeds. The one who hears and does, vs the one who hears and doesn’t.
26 Et omnis, qui audit verba mea haec et non facit ea, similis erit viro stulto, qui aedificavit domum suam supra arenam.
27 Et descendit pluvia, et venerunt flumina, et flaverunt venti et irruerunt in domum illam, et cecidit, et fuit ruina eius magna ”.
8 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους ἐξεπλήσσοντο οἱ ὄχλοι ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ:
29 ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν.
And it happened that Jesus finished his words the crowds marveled upon his teaching. (29) For his teaching was as one having power, and not like the scribes.
28 Et factum est, cum consummasset Iesus verba haec, admirabantur turbae super doctrinam eius;
29 erat enim docens eos sicut potestatem habens, et non sicut scribae eorum.
This, OTOH, is right out of Mark: the people are amazed, and he taught with power, unlike the scribes. The latter, in particular, is lifted practically verbatim. So perhaps it’s not that Mark was wrong in Matthew’s eyes, but something more like incomplete, or just with the wrong emphases. Matthew didn’t write because he wanted to copy Mark, but because he had more to say about the topic than Mark did. The question is, where did this “more” come from? From Q? From James? From himself, from his own insights and inspiration?
So we begin Chapter 7. This is still the Sermon on the Mount.
1 Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε:
2 ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧμέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν.
Judge not, lest you be judged. (2) For in the judgement you judge, you will be judged, and in the measure you measure (with), you will be measured.
This feels new. What we are seeing here is the introduction of a certain amount of balance, a cosmic balance, as it were. We are stepping into a realm where there is measure and proportion; he who judges is judged and one is measured the way one measures others. This sort of thinking will, in 1100 years, lead us to Dante and The Inferno. Such proportionate punishment, or where the punishment fits the crime is often described as Dantesque. But then, the idea of “an eye for an eye” has been around for a while, and it may seem that the sentiment here is nothing much beyond that. That does miss the point somewhat, however. Once we get past the actual words, I think there is an underlying admonition to be concerned, perhaps, with mercy rather than with justice. The latter is, without question, “an eye for an eye”. Mercy, OTOH, has a broader purview. Mercy considers extenuating circumstances. Matthew is suggesting that we look upon our fellow humans with mercy, rather than justice, forefront on our minds.
1 Nolite iudicare, ut non iudice mini;
2 in quo enim iudicio iudi caveritis, iudicabimini, et in qua mensura mensi fueritis, metietur vobis.
3 τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκὸν οὐ κατανοεῖς;
Why do you look at the chaff in the eye of your brother while being unaware of the beam in your own eye.
This is another way of expressing what I was trying to get at in the comment to the previous verse. This illustrates the difference between justice and mercy, but in a very metaphorical way. But it’s also the example of how the measure we use matters. All I’m trying to say is that, at either some very fundamental, or some highly abstract level, these concepts intersect and make the same point.
3 Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui, et trabem in oculo tuo non vides?
4 ἢ πῶς ἐρεῖς τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ δοκὸςἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ;
5 ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ τὴν δοκόν, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις ἐκβαλεῖν τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦσου.
Or why do you say to your brother, “Give me leave that I may cast out the chaff from your eye”, and not see the beam in your own eye? (5) Hypocrites, first cast out from your eye the beam, and then look to cast out the chaff from the eye of your brother.
The verb that I rendered as “cast out” is the same verb Mark used for expelling demons. The literal meaning is “throw from”, or “throw out”. As for the content, I’m not sure there’s much more to say about this. Why this runs to three verses when the meaning is clear after one, and certainly after two, is a bit beyond me. Verse 5 is simply redundant, IMHO.
4 Aut quomodo dices fratri tuo: “Sine, eiciam festucam de oculo tuo”, et ecce trabes est in oculo tuo?
5 Hypocrita, eice primum trabem de oculo tuo, et tunc videbis eicere festucam de oculo fratris tui.
6 Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μή ποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.
Don’t give what is holy to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs, so that in time they trample under their feet and turning, tear you.
The last bit is still governed by the pigs; they are the actors that will trample the pearls under their feet and then turn on you, on people. I’m not sure if everyone is aware that pigs are fairly dangerous creatures. Wild boars are extremely dangerous, but even domesticated swine will attack humans under the proper circumstances. I mention this because the sentence, as I translated, may not immediately make a lot of sense; I did check against other translations and I did get it right, but it takes a bit of mental adjustment to make it fall into place.
Now, what does this have to do with beams in your eye? Again, something of a non sequitur here, two thoughts that don’t really go together. And yet, Matthew’s organization of all this is brilliant beyond belief. Only a crank or a madman would dare mess with this, and since Luke was neither, it’s obvious that he had never read Matthew. Otherwise, why on earth would he have broken up this ever-so-tightly constructed piece of writing?
Seriously, this is one of the main arguments for why Luke didn’t use Matthew: because Luke broke up the material gathered into these three chapters and spread it around in two or three other places in Luke’s gospel. And one reads such arch comments about how risible it is even to suggest that Luke would ever even think of committing such a heinous offense against literary standards. But I’m also serious that this really feels like an unrelated collection of sayings; which, IMO, is a much better argument for Q than the ridiculous notion that of course, Luke would never do such a thing.
6 Nolite dare sanctum canibus neque mittatis margaritas vestras ante porcos, ne forte conculcent eas pedibus suis et conversi dirumpant vos.
7 Αἰτεῖτε, καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν: ζητεῖτε, καὶ εὑρήσετε: κρούετε, καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν.
8 πᾶς γὰρ ὁ αἰτῶν λαμβάνει καὶ ὁζητῶν εὑρίσκει καὶ τῷ κρούοντι ἀνοιγήσεται.
Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. (8) And for the one asking receives all, and the one seeking finds all, and to the one knocking it will be opened.
A quick note the nifty grammar of Verse 8. The “all” occurs just once, the first word of the verse, but it gets distributed to both of the clauses. It’s sort of like in the equation 5(6+8), the five is multiplied with both the six and the eight.
And again, we’ve gone from beams to pearls before swine to knocking and having doors opened. My apologies, but I do not see a theme connecting the three segments there.
As for content, the asking and receiving is a bit like the expression “the squeaky wheel gets oiled”. That is, complain enough and you get what you want. Suffer in silence, and you get nothing. Is that what I’m getting out of this? OK, a bit facetious. It seems to me that this ties back to “let tomorrow worry about tomorrow”; the idea is that if we ask for what we need, if we seek what we need–not what we want, but what we need–we will have our needs cared for. Just as God cares for the lilies, or the sparrows mentioned back in Chapter 6. But this, IMHO, brings up the question: why not put these two verses back there, instead of separating them by a dozen or more verses? If this were truly a tightly- constructed piece of writing, shouldn’t we expect these two verses to follow those other? I say this because, at first glance, I didn’t see a connection to anything here. It seemed like another non sequitur, something with little connection to anything else we’ve read.
I have to say, I’m really boxing myself into a corner here by expatiating on the the grab-bag nature of these three chapters.
7 Petite, et dabitur vobis; quaerite et invenietis; pulsate, et aperietur vobis.
8 Omnis enim qui petit, accipit; et, qui quaerit, invenit; et pulsanti aperietur.
9 ἢ τίς ἐστιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος, ὃναἰτήσει ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἄρτον μὴ λίθον ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ;
10 ἢ καὶ ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει μὴ ὄφιν ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ;
11 εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὄντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς δώσει ἀγαθὰ τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν.
12 Πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς: οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται.
Or what person among you whose son asks for bread, instead gives him a rock? (10) Or who to (a son, understood) asking for a fish gives a snake instead? (11) Therefore if you being wicked know to give good gifts to your children, how much better will your father in the heavens give good things to those asking him? (12) So in all things, howso you wish people will do for you, also in this way you do for them; for this is the law and the prophets.
9 Aut quis est ex vobis homo, quem si petierit filius suus panem, numquid lapidem porriget ei?
10 Aut si piscem petierit, numquid serpentem porriget ei?
11 Si ergo vos, cum sitis mali, nostis dona bona dare filiis vestris, quanto magis Pater vester, qui in caelis est, dabit bona petentibus se.
12 Omnia ergo, quaecumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, ita et vos facite eis; haec est enim Lex et Prophetae.
First, I’ve translated “anthropos” as “person/people” rather than as “man”. In both Greek and Latin, there are two words that, technically, mean “man”. In Greek, it’s “anthropos” and “aner”; in Latin its “homo” and “vir”. The second word in each language means “manly man”, or something like this. The former word in each group is much more generic, and in aome ways “person” catches the nuance more effectively; at least, it catches the nuance in our 21st Century attempts to write in a more gender-neutral manner.
Second, I’ve lumped these into a single translation, but I’m not sure that they’re really all part of the same topic. Deciding where and when to break the sections, and how to group within the sections seems to have become more arbitrary in these past few chapters. A decent case could be made that Verses 9 & 10 could have been joined to the previous section about asking and seeking. Or maybe all five verses should have been one section.
Third, let’s take a step back for a moment and take a look at the overall picture here. There is a degree of thematic coherence, if we think about all of this in terms of the kind of treatment we can expect from our father in the heavens. And this ties back to the idea of storing treasure in heaven. So there is a thread running through here, but that thread seems to dive under the rest of the weave from time to time, to resurface more than a few verses later. Whatever. The point is that Matthew is driving home the point of a loving, caring God that will love and care for us. Of course this is an appealing thought, a comforting thought, especially if we are talking to a crowd of the downtrodden, those for whom some comfort would be a novel, as well as appealing, prospect.
Can we be certain that this is the target audience? One of the reasons that later Graeco-Roman critics disparaged Christianity was that it appealed to exactly the downtrodden. Class snobbery in the ancient world was extreme, probably to a degree we can’t really grasp. So here’s a question: did we get the sense from Mark that this was the audience he was writing for? I can’t honestly say that I did. Mark talked about wealth, not in a flattering way, a few times. But that was largely a negative attitude: wealth is a hindrance. What is missing from Mark is the positive message: that being poor in spirit is a good thing, that God will provide the comfort that the downtrodden have been lacking in their lives.
So the point to be drawn here, I think, is that this is a new element, one that wasn’t present before, grafted onto the message being preached. What does that imply? More, if this is what becomes the central core message of Christianity, how is it that was missing from Mark? You see, it’s not just the Q material, that it seems to be a collection of the things Jesus taught; it’s that it’s the whole point of what Jesus taught. At least, in theory. If this is the core message of Jesus, how was Mark unaware of it? That is a huge question, and it’s one that the Q folk do not even attempt to answer. They can’t answer it; they do not even acknowledge that it even exists. There is a tacit understanding that Mark was unaware of Q, but I have yet to see any sort of theory to explain it. As I said, the Q theorists have very adeptly made the Q hypothesis so mainstream, that they assume that it is incumbent on the anti-Q crowd to prove that there was never any document like Q.
This chapter is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. As such, it should be read in the context of Chapter 5, and we should consider what is said here in relation to both this previous chapter and the one to come. That being said, there are more or less two separate themes running through this chapter. If they are not quite identical with themes in Chapter 5, they represent a development of the ideas presented in that chapter.. The first is the idea of doing one’s good acts in secret, rather than ostentatiously like the hypocrites. The other is the “leave tomorrow for tomorrow” idea of non-materialism. I suppose we could count a third if we separate out the Lord’s Prayer. This latter is, really, a complement to one of the themes, I think, instead of something on it’s own. Now, whether this actually traces back to Jesus is a huge theme, but it’s not one that really is suitable for the current forum.
The idea of doing good in secret represents a big step forward in Western thought. I say “forward” relatively; it’s a big step on the road to what Christianity became, so it’s “forward” in the sense of moving down that path. Saying “forward” can also imply a value judgement. That, of course, is subjective, but I happen to think that it is a good thing. This sets up the mindset that we need to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, and not just because everyone will praise our action. Without this mindset, we get a situation in which we can try to get away with as much as possible, and that we’ll skate so long as no one finds out. Personally, I don’t find that sort of morality all that appealing; heaven knows we get enough of that with the interior-guilt mindset. It’s basically the motivation of a criminal. Whatever he does is fine, unless he gets caught.
The significance of this step isn’t so much that it’s novel; it really isn’t. This is where generalized morality was heading, and some groups in different parts of the world may or may not have gotten there first. It’s important because it hereby becomes embedded in proto-Christian thought (more on that at some point), and so it would have a very prominent future before it. This will play a role in the way the West is supposed to think, even if we all too often fall so very short of the ideal.
But there is also more to this. It ties in with the Beatitudes; it’s the idea that we will be rewarded by the father in the sky. Now, the idea of being rewarded for proper behaviour by God or the gods is as old as the idea of gods. What is novel is that, now, the reward will not come, necessarily, here on earth. Rather, we are storing up our treasure in the sky. I’ve been a bit uncertain about how developed the idea of an afterlife was, and how developed was the idea of a final judgement in which the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Turns out, this judgement dates back to the book of Daniel, perhaps two or three hundred years prior to Matthew. The idea is also present in Paul, and to a lesser extent in Mark. Plus, we have the idea of the coming wrath in both Paul and here in Matthew. So, putting all these separate pieces together, I think that, with this chapter, we can take it that this idea was now firmly embedded into the proto-Christian thought-world.
[ As an aside, I’d like to point out that I’m still pretty ignorant about a lot of the cross-connections in the books of the NT. The result is my inability to be sure that we have a developed doctrine on the afterlife and other things. Reading the NT the way I am, getting down into the details and getting granular (as was the term in the business world) sometimes makes it easy to lose sight of the big picture. Reading some of the secondary literature has helped me in this. My current book, James Tabor’s Paul and Jesus has been immensely helpful. ]
Back to the topic, given the beliefs set out in the previous paragraph, and given the Beatitudes, I think it’s probably accurate to speak of Christianity. This is, I think, no longer the Jesus followers, or the Jesus movement, or even proto-Christianity. With this combination of good behaviour, a reward in the sky–presumably after death–and Jesus’ divinity, I think we have enough of the pieces in place that we have attained an actual Christian faith. True, we haven’t come to the sine qua non of the Resurrection, but we know that this part is coming, so this cannot be taken as a point against. The community that Matthew is addressing is a Christian community in all but the name. That, of course, won’t happen until later. Suetonius, writing in the 90s CE, still refers to them as the “followers of Chrestus”, so the term Christian had not attained widespread acceptance a decade or so after Matthew wrote. But, for our purposes, I suggest the term is absolutely appropriate, and I shall use it from the this point forward.
That alone is a pretty big deal. We have Christians. Tied in with this is another concept that became a foundation stone of Christian theology: the omniscience of God. In church this past Sunday, the priest giving the sermon was talking about a book/idea put out by some militant atheist whose name I don’t particularly remember. Now, I can respect someone who has concluded in their heart that they are a sincere atheist. What I can’t abide is a militant atheist who uses all kinds of pseudo-arguments to “prove” their case. They can no more prove there is no God than a believer can prove there is. That’s the whole concept of faith. If God could be proven, then where is the virtue in believing? I believe that the office of President of the United States exists, but I don’t get any points for that. So if God could be proven, then…it’s just another fact, and the whole basis for faith goes away. But back to the point, this gentleman was going on about how horrible the God depicted in the OT/Hebrew Scriptures was. The details are not necessary; we’re probably all familiar with them. Then think of the words of the First Commandment. “I am the Lord thy God and thou shalt not have other gods before me.” As a kid in religion class, we were always told to take the “other gods” as symbolic: money, fame, or the other allures of the world. But when written, it literally meant “other gods”. Such as Baal, or Marduk, or Assur. The point is that the idea of God developed with time, and in this chapter we get another such step: God is omniscient. I don’t wish to debate whether the Hebrew Scriptures depict God in this way simply because I don’t know. But I do know that other gods were not. They could be fooled or tricked. But since God can know what you do in secret, we are entering the world of the later Christian God that was (eventually) considered omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. This is another prop to the argument that we have a Christian community before us.
The other prominent theme in this chapter is the non-, or anti-materialist attitude being promulgated. Don’t worry about physical needs, for God would provide. Don’t worry about tomorrow; it can take care of itself. This practically borders on “hakuna metata” a phrase anyone familiar with The Lion King knows very well. As someone who observed the 60s without actually participating, it was, sort of, one of the hippie ideals; Jesus as hippie was a very common theme back then. It’s also the attitude of the Buddha, and the Cynics. So again, it’s not like it’s being invented for the very first time here, but it’s still significant. Once question I don’t see being asked much is “where did this idea come from?” Did Jesus pick it up from the Cynics, as Burton Mack dearly believes? Did he take a trip to India and learn it from a disciple of Siddhartha Gautama? Did he come to it on his own? Did he get it from John the Dunker, who lived on wild honey and locusts? Did he arrive at it independently? This is the ideal of apostolic poverty, that Jesus was a small-c communist who eschewed personal possessions. And since we’re talking about being poor, we really need to ask how this ties in with those who are “poor in spirit” if perhaps not poor in monetary terms? Is there a connection?
Of course, I have been hatching a theory. Recall the Synod of Jerusalem, as described by Paul in Galatians. Do you remember the condition James imposed on Paul when the former gave official sanction to the latter’s message? It was that Paul was to “remember the poor”. At the time I mentioned a group that came to be called the Ebionites. This group was at least semi-Christian, had some overlap with the more mainstream version. The term, supposedly–according to one theory at least–was derived from a Hebrew/Aramaic/Other word for “poor”. One of the main tenets of the Ebionites was an insistence on what people in 1250 would call “apostolic poverty”. And, oddly, the name of James the Just has been associated with this group for centuries. This is all fascinating, and very much a tease. One thing that needs to be considered is the length of Jesus’ ministry. Traditionally, it’s said he preached for about three years. From 30-33 CE. James was the leader of the community after Jesus’ death. He was executed, if we can believe Josephus (and I’m not sure there’s any great reason to doubt him) sometime around 62. Now if we do the math, we notice that James was in charge of the Jesus movement for about 30 years, vs. 3 for Jesus. IOW, James was the leader of the Jesus movement for approximately ten times longer than his more famous brother. Is it possible to think that, in this long tenure, James did not shape the ideas of the community to some large extent? He must have had an enormous impact on the beliefs of the community if only by sheer longevity. You hang around as the leader for 30 years, some of the stuff you say sticks. Heck, by hanging around for 20 years some rock-n-roll bands (cough, Pink Floyd, cough) have moved into the realm of not-so-lesser deities. Their words have taken on a level of seriousness, and been treated with a level of respect that would never have happened if they had come and gone in a decade. After twenty years, James would have become venerable, and no doubt venerated. Of course he had an enormous impact on the thought of the community, and left an indelible mark.
My point? Given James’ association with the poor, which is corroborated by Paul, at least to some extent, what if the ideas about non-/anti-materialism originated with James? Isn’t that a sensible conclusion to draw? Of course, there’s precious little evidence for this, but there’s even less (like, exactly zero) evidence for Q.
It goes beyond this, however. Since a lot of these sayings are considered an integral part of the Q material, attributing much or most of it could eliminate the need for Q. And it has the added advantage of explaining how much of this bypassed Mark. Mark was interested in what Jesus did, and was not particularly interested in what James said. When Mark wrote, probably within a decade of James’ death, the perceived differences between the brothers was still, probably, fairly sharp. Ten or fifteen years after Mark wrote, however, some of these distinctions probably started to blur, if not disappear. By the time Matthew wrote, the message had evolved beyond the message reported by Mark. The wonder-worker that Mark described was being superseded–literally; he was being sat upon by the newer composite message that included the James material. Tabor provides a list of topics contained in James’ epistle and the correlating passage in Q. There are half a dozen matching passages; of course. It is interesting to note that a good third of what is generally considered to be the earliest stratum of Q is closely related to the theme of poverty/wealth, let tomorrow worry about tomorrow, or something such. Of course, there are problems, too. There is far from a consensus on whether the Epistle of James was written by James. And a Q proponent would doubtless say that the author of the epistle also had a copy of Q. For a document that has left absolutely no trace–none, zero, nada–behind, it sure did “sell” a lot of copies.
I can’t leave this without saying something about the Pater Noster. In the comment, I described the prayer as all over the place. By that I meant that it does not have a tight thematic cohesion. But then, how many prayers do, aside from the Creed? And the thematic cohesion is pretty much the point of the Creed. Overall, though, this is a tough piece of writing to see with fresh eyes. It’s something I learned probably before, or only shortly after, I learned to read. As a result, it’s buried down there. Much of it is boilerplate. Holy be your name, give us our daily bread, lead us not into temptation; those are hardly remarkable for a prayer, which is a supplication of the deity to provide, and means of flattering the deity by hallowing it’s name.
But it does have one absolutely astonishing a line that advocates social social revolution. That’s something. And boy howdy, that sure does tie in with advocacy for the downtrodden. I really need to stress just how big a deal that is. The cancelation of debts–known as the Seisachtheia–under Solon was the most significant event of Athenian history in the 7th/6th Century BCE. As such, the common rendering of “forgive our trespasses” really, really changes the entire tone and meaning of the prayer. And frankly, I can completely understand why the change happened; calling for social upheaval of that magnitude is not something that the later, more established Church would have favored. This is the goal of a lower class movement, one that was made up of debtors, not creditors. But the Church Establishment that changed the word to “trespasses” is one that was more or less in cahoots with the creditors. In fact, the Church itself became a major creditor by the time Constantine legalized the religion. The Vulgate was created about 70 years after that, in a time when the Church had become a significant political power in the West, as well as a spiritual one. So the original wording of this was truly astonishing.
I do not have a true sense of how revolutionary the idea of “our father” was. Growing up the intimacy of this was pressed upon me, that it reflected a new and more meaningful relationship with God than had been known prior, when God or the gods were vengeful, requiring propitiation, not something that could be approached on such familiar terms. But I’m not so sure of that any longer. Zeus was the sky-father, after all. Neither Latin nor Greek have the familiar/formal “You” the way French, German, Spanish, and probably other languages do. So it’s hard to determine just how familiar the tone is here. In KJV English, God is addressed in the familiar “thee/thou/thy” forms. These correspond to tu/du/tu rather than vous/Sie/Usted. But the KJV is a millennium and a half later. And Zeus Sky-Father certainly resided in the sky, which we also term “the heavens”, and both Greek and Latin do the same. So maybe this doesn’t represent a large step forward in the annals of Western thought.
OK. time to publish this. I feel like I haven’t done the topic justice, but we’re still not done with the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps I will have more words of wisdom and a deeper analysis by the end of the next chapter.
This will conclude Chapter 6.
25 Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν τί φάγητε [ἢ τί πίητε,] μηδὲ τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν τί ἐνδύσησθε: οὐχὶ ἡ ψυχὴ πλεῖόν ἐστιν τῆς τροφῆς καὶ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ ἐνδύματος;
Because of this I tell you, do not care for your soul/life what you will eat, [ or what you will drink ], neither for your body for what you will wear. Is not your life/soul (made) full by meat, or your body by clothing?
The first words are extremely interesting. “Because of this”. If you have forgotten, the verse before was that no one can serve two masters. And so how does this have any influence on not worrying about food and clothing? Frankly, I don’t see the connection. So this goes back to whether this chapter is a tightly-constructed piece of rhetoric, or a grab-bag of disconnected sayings. I suppose that, if we assume “mammon = money”, then not serving the latter would mean that one may have more concern about such physical necessities as food, clothing, and shelter. So this interpretation would buttress both the idea that, indeed, mammon = money and that this is a tightly-constructed piece of writing. In which case, I should not have broken when I did. It’s just that when I was looking for a break point, I didn’t immediately see the flow between Verses 24 & 25. I’m still not sure I do.
And here again we have to decide the translation of “psyche”. As you can see, my knee-jerk reflex is that this is ‘soul’, but that then I had second thoughts about this, so I waffled. Here, I think, it has to be “life”. Because note the distinction: food is for “psyche” and clothing is for “soma”. The latter is clearly and obviously “body”, in that clothing is a physical covering for a physical entity. Food, OTOH, is what is needed to keep us alive, to support our life-force, as it were. Of course, there is the life as represented by the word “bios”, but that I think has a much less refined, or much more generalized meaning for “life”. Which is why we study “bio-logy”. Then too, the Latin is “anima” rather than “vita”. But the distinction between ‘blunders’ and ‘sins’ we ran into in Verses 14 & 15 should teach us that the Latin is not always a reliable guide. It can provide useful clues, but it has already been coloured by a few centuries of developed Christian dogma. In any case, this passage illustrates just how fluid the line between these words is. Given this, how justified are we in reading “soul” in other places?
For example, this is only the second time we’ve encountered this word in Matthew. The first was back in 2:20, when it clearly meant “life”. We won’t encounter it again until Chapter 10. We will have to take a close look at the implications there.
25 Ideo dico vobis: Ne solliciti sitis animae vestrae quid manducetis, neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca, et corpus quam vestimentum?
26 ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰτοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁοὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά: οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν;
Look at the birds of the sky, they neither sow nor do they reap, nor do they gather in(to) barns. Yet your father in the heavens feeds them. Do you not matter more than they?
For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism. This, of course, is the work that gave us the idea, if not exactly the phrase “Protestant work ethic”. One of the blurbs was that the book describes how certain Protestant thinkers, especially Calvinists and their Puritan progeny, were able to use Scripture to justify the idea of work, of gain, of being wealthy as a sign of God’s favour, and then to ascribe this success to Predestination, so that this wealth was the sign that you were one of the Elect. A bloody convenient way of rationalizing greed and a complete indifference to one’s fellow humans. After all, if they’re Reprobate, why bother? They’re all going to Hell, so why try to alleviate their lot? And then we come to this passage.
Now, especially if we assume that we are still operating under the God/mammon dichotomy, and that mammon means “wealth”, I have a really hard time figuring out how Scripture can be used to justify the accumulation of material wealth. In fact, this is one of the more anti-materialistic passages in the NT if I recall correctly. And it’s not just a negative pronouncement, like the camel going through the eye of the needle; rather, it’s a positive lifestyle admonition. As such, this pretty much represents the genesis in Western thought of the sort of call of active renunciation of wealth that the Buddha made popular in India and points East.
This attitude, and the idea/ideal of “apostolic poverty” became a big thing in the Western Church after the year 1000. Most of the movements that came to be deemed heretical professed this ideal, and this made the Church establishment very nervous. By the year 1000, the Church had become an enormously wealthy institution, and many bishops were great landowners and so were secular military powers. So the Church started to condemn these movements as heresies, even though there was little wrong with the doctrine preached. The most popular, and the most endemic, was the Waldensian movement, which survived underground for three centuries and eventually merged with the Reformation. Another dangerous–to the Church, anyway–heresy was the Cathar movement of southern France. In many ways, the Cathars were really a separate religion rather than a Christian heresy. They were thoroughgoing dualists who condemned the material world outright. But their priests truly lived the ideal of apostolic poverty, as Matthew is establishing the concept here. Eventually, Urban III preached a Crusade against the Cathars, and they were more or less exterminated. But their ideal lived on.
This was the ideal that Friedrich Engels called the desire for an “église à bon marché“. Which is often so charmingly translated as “a cheap church”. The idea was that the bourgeois wished to divert much of the wasted capital tied up in golden chalices into capital that would be useful for industry. Eventually, enough of the bourgeoisie banded together to make this work; this is usually called The Reformation. Max Weber thought that the Protestants then created a work ethic, but he’s got it exactly backwards. The work ethic, and the desire to engage in profitable business, created Protestants. In America, the most commercially successful of the early Colonies was Massachusetts, which was founded by Puritans. That is, English followers of the Dutch Reformed Church. That is, the Dutch branch of the Calvinist Church (if ‘church’ is the proper word). As such, this Calvinist outlook is still very much alive in the attitudes of the business culture in the USA. Much of the near-sacred veneration of the free market is traceable back to the backlash against the attitude Matthew is setting forth in this passage.
26 Respicite volatilia caeli, quoniam non serunt neque metunt neque congregant in horrea, et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis?
27 τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα;
Who among you, worrying, is able to add upon your stature a single cubit?
This is interesting. The KJV translates this as I do. The idea is that one cannot make oneself taller. That is the literal meaning of this. However, it has come to be read as “an hour upon one’s life”. Sure, the conceptions are not wholly dissimilar; the idea is that we haven’t the power to make changes to our physical selves, whether it’s about height or about the length of our lives. So why does the metaphor get changed from height to length of life?
While the sentiment expressed isn’t exactly new–humans were powerless against such things, and against the gods from time immemorial. What’s different is that it’s turned to the idea that “God will provide”. But this is only new in what will become the West.
27 Quis autem vestrum cogitans potest adicere ad aetatem suam cubitum unum?
28 καὶ περὶ ἐνδύματος τί μεριμνᾶτε; καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν: οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν:
29 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.
And about clothes, why worry? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: they do not toil nor spin. (29) But I tell you that not Solomon in all his glory was dressed (as finely) as one of them.
So we’ve had birds and now lilies. I don’t know if there is some symbolism behind the choices of these examples; this may be a great example of how not having a background in the Bible is a real detriment. Aside from that, the meaning here is clear enough. And I’ve not often thought too highly of Burton Mack as a scholar, but these references to nature are the sort of thing that we can point to when we want to consider whether Jesus had something of the Cynic Sage in his approach. Such an appeal to nature was in keeping with that tradition. This is part of the reason they were ‘kyniko’; which literally means canine.
28 Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt: non laborant neque nent.
29 Dico autem vobis quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis.
30 εἰ δὲ τὸν χόρτον τοῦ ἀγροῦ σήμερον ὄντα καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέννυσιν, οὐ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι;
If the grass of the field being today and tomorrow is being thrown in the fire God in this way dresses, not in more so you, little faith ones?
This time, I’m going to let that stand. I have give a very literal translation. I think the intent is more or less clear enough, but I’m going to leave it as is because this is a great example of a passage that needs a lot of massaging to get it into workable English.
This attitude of “God will provide” is the sort of thing that is consistent with an attitude that holy people begging is acceptable behaviour. And you know, it wasn’t just the Buddha who did this; the Cynics also took this kind of attitude, and they also engaged in begging for subsistence. So Burton Mack is perhaps not wholly ridiculous about the possible influence of the Cynics on Jesus.
30 Si autem fenum agri, quod hodie est et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos, modicae fidei?
31 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε λέγοντες, Τί φάγωμεν; ἤ, Τί πίωμεν; ἤ, Τί περιβαλώμεθα;
32 πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα τὰ ἔθνη ἐπιζητοῦσιν: οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων ἁπάντων.
So do not worry, saying “what shall we eat? What shall we drink? Or, “how shall we be dressed? (32) For all the pagans seek these things. For your father in the heavens knows that you need all of these things.
This reflects back to the idea of God’s omniscience. But something else just occurred to me. We are seeing here a corner being turned on the attitude of, or towards, God. The gods of the Greeks were often petty, jealous, and spiteful. They required propitiation if one wished to avoid being blasted. And this could probably be said about a lot of the gods of the ancient world. Now, the Greeks may not have quite been all that fearful any longer, but the point remains. And let’s face it: the God of the OT wasn’t exactly all sweetness and light. He did a lot of smiting of evildoers, whatever their race, creed, or national origin.
“God will provide”. I said that so easily, with scarcely a second thought, because it’s an expression to which I am accustomed. I am accustomed to the thought behind it. But this wasn’t exactly the prevailing attitude in the ancient world. To receive, one first had to give. “Do ut des” is the Latin phrase: “I give so that you give”. Here, we’ve got a different attitude. What has happened is that the idea of God the Father has started to sink in; more, he’s not just the Father, but he’s a loving Father. One who will provide. Matthew is not even really putting any preconditions on this. He’s expecting receiving without admonishing the giving that, according to most ancient thinkers, must precede the receiving. So a change of perception does seem to be occurring, if it hasn’t occurred.
Here I go again. Why did Matthew write a gospel, when Mark had already done so? In all the discussion of Q and sources and that sort of stuff, no one much stops to ask what it is that motivates someone to write a gospel. Why did the evangelists write a gospel? Why does anyone write anything? Because they believe they have something important, or novel to say. Why did Matthew write a gospel? Because he had stuff to add to Mark. Why did Luke and John write gospels? Because they felt they had things to add that were not covered by their predecessors. Matthew, I think, has a novel conception of God. That is part of what the new stuff he has to say.
So as not to be accused of ducking the issue, let’s talk about what the pagans do. At first glance, this would seem to undercut my theory that Matthew was a former pagan writing for former pagans. But to say that this does undercut my contention, we have to come to some sort of definition of what Matthew means by “the peoples”. Remember, this has traditionally been translated as “Gentiles”, which correlates more or less to the Greek “barbaroi” in the sense that they both set up an us/them dichotomy. There were Greek-speakers, and there were non-Greek speakers. There were Jews, and there were non-Jews. The problem with this is that this sort of dichotomy is not necessarily present in the Greek as it was written. This is a meaning that was loaded into the word later. For example, the Latin “gentes” is a neutral term, not much different from the English “peoples”. Sure, anytime you talk about “peoples” there is the potential sense of meaning other peoples, with our own in-group excluded, of course. But that is a contextual thing, something added on to the word, rather than something definitely within the word itself. And really, at root, the Greek means something like “a number of people living together, company, body of men, a band of comrades…(copied & pasted directly from the Liddell & Scott unabridged).
So there is no intrinsic sense of “otherness”. As such, I don’t know if we’re justified in rendering this as “Gentiles” at all. I did so for a very long time, but then I stopped to think about it. Once again, we see how the stuff “everyone knows” can completely distort our ability to see the meaning that is actually in the Greek.
33 ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.
34 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον, ἡ γὰρ αὔριον μεριμνήσει ἑαυτῆς: ἀρκετὸν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἡ κακία αὐτῆς.
Seek therefore the kingdom [of heaven–not present in all mss.] and it’s justification, and all will be provided for you. (34) So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow may worry about itself. On each day is enough of it’s own bad things.
31 Nolite ergo solliciti esse dicentes: “Quid manducabimus?”, aut: “Quid bibemus?”, aut: “Quo operiemur?”.
32 Haec enim omnia gentes inquirunt; scit enim Pater vester caelestis quia his omnibus indigetis.
33 Quaerite autem primum regnum Dei et iustitiam eius, et haec omnia adicientur vobis.
34 Nolite ergo esse solliciti in crastinum; crastinus enim dies sollicitus erit sibi ipse. Sufficit diei malitia sua.
So instead of worrying about trivialities like food and clothing, seek the kingdom. I’m pretty certain that I’ve never explained that words in square brackets are words that are not found in all manuscript traditions. The question is whether Matthew wrote “the kingdom”, in which case “of the heavens” was added later, or if Matthew wrote “the kingdom of the heavens” and the last three words were dropped accidentally by some copyist along the way. Given that most of the times Matthew uses the word “kingdom”, he appends “of the heavens”, so I’m going to go with the latter scenario.
The next point of interest is the word that gets translated as “righteousness”. This word did not appear in Mark at all. It occurs seven times in Matthew, once in Luke, four times in Acts, and twice in John. It occurs more than all those combined–by about a factor of two–in Romans. This is Paul’s word. We saw it in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians. Now, Romans is the magnum opus of Paul, setting the framework for what became the doctrine of Predestination. Made especially famous by none other than Calvin, whom we discussed recently. What seems to have happened is that this idea that was so prominent in Paul sort of went underground. It never disappeared, but it never reached a central point in the theology of the evangelists. Why? There is probably no answer to that, but it’s important to ask the question. For Paul, justification came through sola fides, faith alone, faith in the Christ. What seems to have happened is that this message became de-emphasized as time passed. It fit with Paul’s emphasis on the Christ, but it didn’t work as well with the evangelists’ message about the living Jesus. Which is interesting, since Matthew here is telling us to have the faith that God will provide, but that’s not the same direction for one’s faith that Paul was preaching. Since we haven’t read Romans, it’s hard to get the full impact of that epistle, which is the summary, the climax, the apex of Paul’s theology.
Just a word or two about the last verse: Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow can care for itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own. That borders on the “what, me worry?” philosophy of Alfred E. Neuman (he of Mad Magazine fame). Can you think of anything that Paul is less likely to say?
14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, ἀφήσει καὶ ὑμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος:
15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν.
For if you take away the mistakes of (other) people, your father in the heavens will also take away yours; (15). If you do not take away (the trespasses) of other, neither will your father in the heavens take away your missteps.
The word in Classical Greek means “blunder” or “misstep”. It has more of a connotation of an error rather than something done wrong deliberately. The Vulgate, however, uses “peccata” and that does mean “sins”. Taking the base of the Greek word, “mistake”, we’re actually dancing pretty close to the Platonic ideal that knowledge = virtue. To know the good is to do the good. Have I mentioned that I think that Matthew’s audience is mostly pagan? And that I think that Matthew began his life as a pagan? This is the sort of quasi-, or semi-Freudian slip that helps nudge me in the direction of believing this. When we come across things that betray a different sensibility than what we would expect from a Jewish milieu, this helps buttress the idea that Matthew had a way of looking at things that was different from the way Jews did. As a Classicist, I’m prone to understand the code words where someone trained biblically might miss the nuance. OTOH, there have been dozens of instances, no doubt, where an implication of a word, or a thought would be blindingly obvious to someone trained in Scripture, but that totally goes over my head. That’s the beauty of crossing disciplines. And here is another reason I like to use the Classical Greek dictionary; an NT dictionary renders this as “trespasses”, which, of course, many/most of us are used to from the Pater Noster. But this betrays a thousand years of Latin theology, in which the word is, unequivocally, “sins”. And St Jerome only chose this word after three hundred years of Latin theology, during which time the idea of forgiving sins took deep root in the Christian psyche while, simultaneously, reading Plato became an ever-rarer thing.
As for the content of the idea expressed, it’s a fairly straight quid pro quo based on the idea of the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated by the father in the heavens. I don’t think this is terribly remarkable, but it’s not particularly Greek, either. This is not a sentiment one comes across in Thucydides, or Herodotus, or even Plato. This is how and why it’s so easy to gloss everything into a Christian mould. Upon seeing a part that’s Christian (or what would become Christian), it’s easy not to notice that they other half maybe isn’t, especially if one is using a dictionary of NT Greek and one is not particularly versed in Plato. Which I think is a bit of a…well, I think it’s unfortunate. It’s been said that all Western philosophy is footnotes to Plato, and that’s not completely far-fetched. But it’s also true that Plato, eventually, had a huge impact on Christian thought. The leaders of the Church for about 600 years, from 50o CE until the revival of Aristotle were Platonists to the core. This led to their almost complete focus on the other world, the next world. The real world, they would have called it, and not the current world of deceit and corruption. To make sense of much of Mediaeval thought, it’s crucial to view it through a Platonist lens. And since Western thought took a decidedly Aristotelean turn starting in the 16/17th Centuries, Plato is not as familiar to us as he once was. As a result, some Mediaeval art, like the penchant for allegory, seems bizarre to a modern mind. Hence the derogatory term “Dark Ages”. Even “mediaeval” has a decidedly negative overtone. Honestly, it’s actually the period that I find most comfortable. I get the whole Realist thing. I took a detour into Classics, but the truth is, I’m really most at home in the Middle Ages. Give me a Gothic cathedral over a Greek temple any day.
14 Si enim dimiseritis hominibus peccata eorum, dimittet et vobis Pater vester caelestis;
15 si autem non dimiseritis hominibus, nec Pater vester dimittet peccata vestra.
16 Οταν δὲ νηστεύητε, μὴ γίνεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταὶ σκυθρωποί, ἀφανίζουσιν γὰρ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν ὅπως φανῶσιν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύοντες: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν.
And when you fast, do not be like the gloomy-faced hypocrites, for they hide their faces so that they appear to people as ones who are fasting. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.
Once again, we seem to be slipping into the shame/guilt dichotomy. The purpose of fasting is to have everyone know you’re fasting. Believe it or not, there’s really nothing wrong with that in many cultures. Now, I don’t know if this is a shot at Jews or pagans. My sense is that fasting was more valued as a religious practice by Jews, but it’s not an exclusive thing. Given my education in the Roman Rite, in the time and place I received it, the tendency was to see this as directed at Jews more so than pagans. But, let’s face it, for two thousand years we all assumed that the early part of the Jesus movement was a Jewish affair. But if that had ceased to be true, if the Jesus movement had become predominantly pagan, then I don’t think we can just make this assumption. We can make an argument that this demonstrates a Jewish, or anti-Jewish mentality, but we have to make the case. We cannot just assume this as a matter of course, without making the case. But overall, the sentiment expressed is another point emphasizing that what matters is the internal attitude, not the outward action.
The question is just how much of a change this represents from the status quo at the time of Matthew, whether that status is pagan or Jewish. Admittedly, the bulk of my reading was historical writing, but thinking back to The Golden Ass, perhaps the mindset Matthew advocates is not so far from that described by Apuleius. I think the difference is the social class of the audience. For Apuleius, the audience was the educated elite; for Matthew, the audience was lower on the socio-economic scale. As a result, the significance of this is that the audience for this internalized behaviour is moving further down the socio-economic scale.
16 Cum autem ieiunatis, nolite fieri sicut hypocritae tristes; demoliuntur enim facies suas, ut pareant hominibus ieiunantes. Amen dico vobis: Receperunt mercedem suam.
17 σὺ δὲ νηστεύων ἄλειψαί σου τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ τὸ πρόσωπόν σου νίψαι,
18 ὅπως μὴ φανῇς τοῖς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύων ἀλλὰ τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυφαίῳ: καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυφαίῳ ἀποδώσει σοι.
So you fasting, anoint your head and wash your face, (18) so that you do not appear to people (as) fasting, but to your father in secret; and your father seeing you in secret will give over to you (reward you, presumably).
To start, “in secret” isn’t a wonderful rendering because it contravenes my intention of translating very literally. Better would be “in a/your secret (“place”, being understood)”. The definite article in Greek can be a bit confusing, or maybe ambiguous. A lot of time in situations like this, the best sense is that of a possessive pronoun, in this case “your”. Honestly, I’m not always big on trying to untangle the intricacies of the Greek, because more than 80% of the time it really doesn’t matter all that much. In fact, that’s probably more like 90% of the time. When I get concerned is when we have a neologism peculiar to the NT like we had above, a word that doesn’t have a lot of Classical usage, or when the NT Dictionary translation seems to depart too sharply from the Classical usage in order to obtain a particular sense in the translation. We had that with “sins/blunders”. And in those cases, it’s a matter of making sure that the problematic nature has been pointed out to allow everyone to draw their own conclusions.
Getting away from the technicalities, here is where implications of the shame/guilt distinction start to take on a life of their own. If we’re going to do things in secret, how will anyone know? Answer, no one will. So why do them? Well, because God will know. The father, looking down from the heavens–which is a great vantage point, will see these secret things. He will know that you are doing them. How? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Here’s how things develop. How they change. How they evolve. Don’t be like the hypocrites who trumpet their good works so that all know. Rather, do them in secret. Now, there is no questioning about whether giving alms or fasting are good things. That is assumed, taken as points given, not to be questioned. Now, obviously, in giving alms, you will know and the person receiving will know. That, really is all that is necessary. But God will also know, because it’s a semi-public event; at least two people know about the act. But fasting, that is truly private. How does God know?
We had a discussion about God coming to be viewed as omniscient. This is how God came to be considered so. If we are to do things in secret, to be rewarded, God has to know about what we do. If he knows about secret things, then he almost necessarily has to be omniscient. Q.E.D. This is how an awful lot of standard Christianity–that cuts across Catholicism and most Protestant denominations–came to be. To cite a few examples, that is how the doctrines of grace and the Trinity and the Divine Omnis–omniscient, omnipotent–came into being. A line of Scripture has implications, and the working out of those implications is pretty much what theology is all about. These implications accumulated, and so the edifice of Christian doctrine was slowly erected. Note the difference between the way Mark started his gospel from the way Matthew started his; the latter had to add sort of a prequel to explain how we got to the place where Mark began. There are very different Christologies attached to these different beginings, but that is something for another topic. I should have dealt with it when I was doing Chapter 1 for each of the gospels, but it’s a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. More on that later.
17 Tu autem cum ieiunas, unge caput tuum et faciem tuam lava,
18 ne videaris hominibus ieiunans sed Patri tuo, qui est in abscondito; et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi.
19 Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅπου σὴς καὶ βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, καὶ ὅπου κλέπται διορύσσουσιν καὶ κλέπτουσιν:
20 θησαυρίζετε δὲ ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐν οὐρανῷ, ὅπου οὔτε σὴς οὔτε βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, καὶ ὅπου κλέπται οὐ διορύσσουσιν οὐδὲ κλέπτουσιν:
Do not treasurize your treasure upon the earth, where moths and corrosion make (your treasure) bad in appearance, and where thieves break in and steal (it). (20) Rather, treasurize your treasure in heaven, where moths and corrosion don’t disfigure (your treasure), and where thieves do not break in and steal (it).
First, the Greek does say something like “treasurize your treasure”. Normal English would say something like “create your treasure”, but the goal here is not normal English. And the verb is the same for both verses. In 19 I chose “make bad in appearance” because that was as close as I could get to the Greek verb. The root is “to appear”, usually as in the sense of “to seem”, or “to look like”. In both verses the negative prefix << α >> is attached. We use this in English, too, as in “a-moral”. But in Greek, this negation doesn’t mean “not make it seem”, but has a more active sense as in “to disfigure”.
But the more interesting aspect here is in V-20: treasurize your treasure in heaven. And it’s singular here. And our father will reward us. We are inching ever closer to an afterlife, but we’re still a long way from there. The idea exists; sort of. In my reading, I keep coming across a lot of different descriptions of the Jewish and Greek conceptions of the afterlife, of what happens after we die. I am thoroughly confused and uncertain about what the folks of the First Century believed, which tells me that we don’t entirely know what the vast bulk of the people alive at that time actually believed. Even today, asking a hundred people what they believed would probably elicit dozens of ideas, so to expect that the vast majority of the people held one view or another, and to expect that we can tell what this belief was at a remove of 2,000 years seems a bit optimistic. What I have gleaned is that, for the vast majority of the OT, the idea of the afterlife was very similar to that described by Homer in The Odyssey. The Jewish locus of the afterlife, Sheol, was very similar to Hades; a land of shadows populated by shadows, where all went, regardless of the quality of their life.
But then, the book of Daniel and other pieces written in the hundred years on both sides of the turn of the Common Era imply a very different notion of what happens after death. The ideas are neither uniform nor consistent, but The Book of Daniel includes ideas about a raising of the dead at the end of time, at which point the good will be eternally rewarded and the malefactors will be eternally punished. At the turn of the Second Century CE, the Didache has language that assumes or implies some sort of sorting-out after we die. So the idea of this was in the air; since Pythagoras by way of Plato introduced the idea of an immortal soul into the conversation, and Greek ideas spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean, it’s hard not to see these Greek ideas mingling with Jewish apocalyptic thinking to come up with a hybrid concept that put us well on the way to mature Christian doctrine. But here, we’re only at the beginning of that journey.
19 Nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in terra, ubi aerugo et tinea demolitur, et ubi fures effodiunt et furantur;
20 thesaurizate autem vobis thesauros in caelo, ubi neque aerugo neque tinea demolitur, et ubi fures non effodiunt nec furantur;
21 ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρός σου, ἐκεῖ ἔσται καὶ ἡ καρδία σου.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
This could have been attached to the preceding section, but perhaps it’s worth a look on it’s own. Here’s the thing: this is a pretty obvious statement. In fact, one could suggest, and probably argue, that “heart” and “treasure” are de facto synonyms. The result is that, used as they are here, this is pretty much a tautology. But, obvious as this idea is to us, it had not reached general awareness at the time Matthew wrote this. The Stoics would have agreed with this wholeheartedly even if they would have formulated it differently. The Stoics believed in a detachment from this world, as did all Greek dualist thinkers. Or possibly all dualist thinkers. So again, the idea here isn’t exactly new, but it’s put in a novel form, I think. And the other thing is that Stoicism, and most Hellenistic philosophies in general, really only appealed to the educated elite. This was a fairly small fragment of the general population. And the surviving Stoic writings obviously have thus audience in mind. What this verse here represents is the time when these ideas of Hellenistic philosophy and Greek dualism were being transmitted to the general population. Matthew, and the Christians in general, had the gift of putting these messages of a focus on the other world into a form that was readily digestible by a mass audience.
But the other point that needs to be recognized is that the timing of spreading these ideas to the general populace was fortuitous. Yes, life in the Roman Empire was hard for a lot of people. But it was also much easier for the vast majority of the population than it had ever been, and would be for centuries to come. The Pax Romana provided a trading area that allowed grain to be shipped, easily, cheaply, and safely from areas with a surplus to areas of scarcity. So famine was at a low point. And most of the Empire was in a state of relative peace and security. There was fighting on the German frontier, and fighting with the Parthians, but this was intermittent and fairly limited in scope. It did not affect the vast majority. So for people living in Southern France, Italy, much of North Africa, the Balkans, the Anatolian peninsula and environs, Spain, and much of the Near East, there was no real or sustained danger from marauding armies. The chance of a foreign army coming through, burning your village, killing all the men and enslaving all the women and children was much, much lower than it had been for, well, pretty much forever. This was no Golden Age; far from it, but it was an OK Age for lot of people. What this means is that a large number of people had the security and the leisure to contemplate the other world to an unprecedented degree.
I say this because if you look at the religious history of the Western Christian Church as compared to the Eastern (Byzantine) Christian Church in the five centuries after the fall of Rome, one glaring distinction in the experiences of the two different churches is that the Eastern Church was riven and nearly torn apart by heresies. The Western Church was almost heresy-free until the turn of the millennium, Why? Because the West was fighting for it’s life, buffeted by foreign invasions, a collapsing economy, and a host of other problems. Religion was a fifth, or fifteenth priority after all the requirements of mere survival. In contrast, life in the Eastern Empire continued on, so that many people still had the security and the leisure to worry about defining the nature of Christ. And so here, during the heyday of the Roman Empire, people had the time and the physical security to think about the non-material world. This was the time of the fluorescence of a number of “Eastern Mystery Religions”, and a revival of many pagan temples and cults. Christianity came into being in this environment, along with many other belief systems.
As a result, wonderful little maxims like this found a wide audience, and wide acceptance.
21 ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi erit et cor tuum.
22 Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός. ἐὰν οὖν ᾖ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸνἔσται:
23 ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται. εἰ οὖν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶσκότος ἐστίν, τὸ σκότος πόσον.
The lamp of the body is the eye, so if your eye may be straightforward, the whole body of you will be lighted; but if your eye may be wicked, all is (in) shadow.
This hearkens back to the idea that lust in the heart is the same as the act of adultery. It reflects the dichotomy of healthy/wicked that we saw in previous metaphors, and it continues the “light of the world” motif. It does sort of play off the previous verse of the heart being where the treasure is. The point is that, as individuals, as humans, we are all of a piece, and so to be truly good, we have to be thoroughly good. One can’t commit adultery in the heart and be good; so the lustful eye, the covetous eye, the malignant eye will poison our whole person. It continues to build on the notion that what matters is what is inside us. Here, though, we get the twist that what is inside is affected–or even determined–by the filter we choose as a viewpoint onto the world.
22 Lucerna corporis est oculus. Si ergo fuerit oculus tuus simplex, totum corpus tuum lucidum erit;
23 si autem oculus tuus nequam fuerit, totum corpus tuum tenebrosum erit. Si ergo lumen, quod in te est, tene brae sunt, tenebrae quantae erunt!
24 Οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν: ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει: οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.
For no one can serve two masters; for he hates the one and loves the other, or he clings to one and scorns the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
24 Nemo potest duobus dominis servire: aut enim unum odio habebit et alterum diliget, aut unum sustinebit et alterum contemnet; non potestis Deo servire et mammonae.
Is it me? When reading this, doesn’t it seem like this is supposed to be connected to the ideas presented in the verses immediately preceding? But, when you stop to think about it, doesn’t it seem like there really is no conceptual connection? That the one does not follow from the other?
This is going to be a theme for the summary, and probably more. I mentioned this earlier, but this section of the gospel does read like a pastiche of sayings that were collected without any thematic relationship. I say that this is going to be an issue because part of the argument used by proponents of the Two Source Hypothesis (2SH) is that these three chapters of Matthew are so tightly constructed and well-written that only a numbskull or a chucklehead would even dream of breaking all of this up. And since Luke was neither a numbskull or a chucklehead, he had obviously never read Matthew before composing his own gospel. If they want to use Matthew’s organization as an argument, it seems more compelling to me to say that much of the content of these three chapters seems so disjointed that the material obviously came from a collection of mostly-unrelated sayings.
Per Wikipedia, “mammon” may ultimately derive from a Mishnaic Hebrew word for “money”. But there are other theories, too. IOW, no one really knows what this word means. It’s so easy to read it as “money” because, well, because that’s how it’s been read for centuries. Apparently, it does not refer to any sort of Canaanite or Syriac deity, which is how this would make the most sense. In which case, this would be a deity with qualities overlapping Ploutos, which is “wealth”. But there is no evidence (still per Wikipedia) for such a god.
Given that, I think it’s time to face the fact that we really do not understand exactly the distinction Matthew is trying to make here. We simply don’t know. That this is meant as a distinction, of course, is perfectly clear. But one cannot serve God and…what? Because, if you skim back, we have not been discussing wealth at all in the last dozen verses. IMO, it would make more sense if this were to represent a generalized “wickedness”, since that is what the previous set of verses is discussing. But that assumes that this is related to those verses, and there is no real indication of that, especially if this is meant to be understood as “money”. So if there is no connection between the verses, we have no context to use as a basis for understanding this as “money”, or anything else. And that also strikes a blow against this being such a tightly-constructed piece of religious writing; but that argues for the possibility of a Q-type document.
I actually am hatching a pet theory, under which understanding “Mammon” as “money” would make a lot of sense. But, that’s for a later date.
This was intended to be part of the previous post. I don’t like to have too many short posts because I believe it may have an adverse affect on the continuity. However, this grew to be much larger than I had anticipated, so I decided to make it a stand-alone topic. Hope that works for most of you.
10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλείασου, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς.
11 Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον:
12 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν:
13 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
So pray like this:
Our father in the heavens, let your name be holy. Let your kingdom come. Let your will become as in heaven also on earth (let it be the same on earth as in heaven). Our bread of existence give us today. And take away our debts, as we take away the debts owed to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but draw us away from wickedness.
Of course, this is the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, or the Pater Noster, or even the paternoster. If you glance down at the Latin, you will see that the first two words are, indeed, Pater noster, which translates directly as “our father”. It is very important to realize, or remember, or bear in mind that this did not occur in Mark. That means that if this can be attributable to Jesus, it had to be transmitted either via Q, or via oral tradition that circumvented Mark. It also bears mention that the version in Luke is significantly shorter, and leaves out many clauses, such as “who is in the heavens”. This has led to the inference that Luke’s version is more “primitive”, which leads to the further inference that Luke’s version is more like the version that was in Q. This is “true” because the version in Q was older, so it had to be shorter, because the shorter version is, necessarily, more primitive. Notice that the logic in the first part of that seems eminently reasonable; but once you try to go backwards, to the inference that shorter, necessarily, is more primitive, some of the force seems to leak out, like air from a football (of whichever variety). I fully admit that shorter = more primitive is generally the way that it goes. I have been saying all along that legends and stories grow with time, rather than shrink. As an example, I have cited the Arthur legend many times because that is exactly what happened.
But, while true in most instances, it is not always true, and not necessarily true under all circumstances. I’m not really going anywhere with that–for the moment–but I do want to point this out. The arguments for Q rely to some degree on extending logical implications where perhaps they should not always be extended. It is the statistical fallacy: because something is true 90, or even 99% of the time, there are times when it is not true. In informal logic, this is known as as the fallacy of composition: what is true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. This is the “logic” of racism. One member of a group is bad, so all are.
So let’s look at what this actually says. I’ve been meaning to address the “father” part. I have pointed out many times that having God as “our father” means that we are all sons and daughters of God. And yet, when Jesus is called the son of God, this is taken to be a special designation. I’ve wondered about this ever since I wrote an essay on Alexander the Great’s trip to the temple of Ammon-Ra in Egypt. Alexander, at least in one interpretation, came to understand this “son o (a) god” concept in the very literal sense. And there is a plethora of literature on how the Hellenistic kings, and their Roman successors came to understand this term. And as I have said before, “son of a god” was a very comprehensible expression for pagans as a whole. They would have taken it, generally speaking, quite literally, in the way that we do. But if god/God is “our father”, what does this do to the way this term is interpreted? It changes significantly. What does it do to the understanding of Jesus as the “son of God”? How is that affected? Is it affected? To us, we have no trouble sort of taking a double-tracked approach. It means one thing for us to be the sons/daughters of God, and quite another when applied to Jesus. But we have come to this understanding after…some period of time. It’s hard to say when this double-tier meaning truly took root. The question is whether it had taken hold, had become commonplace by the time Matthew wrote these words? I’m not sure. But worse, I’m not sure that enough people are asking this question.
Who is in the heavens. First, how is this conceptually different from Zeus Sky Father? Then look at the whole expression “Our father in the heavens”–which could just as easily be rendered as “our father in the sky”–and tell me how this is conceptually different from “Zeus Sky Father”. And I am asking this question seriously; it is not at all a rhetorical question. Yes, theoretically, it refers to the Hebrew God and not the chief Greek god, but that’s not much of a difference. Not really. And here’s another question: instead of Luke being a more primitive version of this, did he leave off the “in the heavens” specifically because it is thematically so close to Zeus Sky Father? Is that such a ridiculous question? Perhaps it is for theologians and biblical scholars living a couple of millennia from the event, but what about a pagan living at the end of the First Century? And remember, Zeus Sky Father, in Greek, would be something very similar to << Πάτερ ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς >>. We can make it look different in English, but in standard Greek the two would have been pretty much identical. Now add in that the audience may have been largely, if not predominately, pagan, and you have a real situation on your hands. The first thing someone brought up on Homer would think when hearing “father in the sky” would probably have been Zeus. Not the God of the Jews. Again, this is where a textual analysis of these books really misses a lot of issues.
Just as a final note, the term “son of God” is very common in Matthew, gets used fairly frequently by Paul, and is almost wholly absent from Mark. That is odd. This sort of thing does lend credence to the idea that Mark may have been off the beaten path, or something, somewhere outside the mainstream traditions. Of course it’s a truism that Mark prefers “son of man”. I have never read a good explanation for why Mark uses this term so frequently, and “son of God” so seldom. I’ve read all sorts of explanations for what the term might mean, but nothing about why it gets used in the first place.
Let your kingdom come. Let your will become as in heaven also on earth. I have come across various discussions about the coming of the kingdom. I have seen it suggested that, for Mark, the miracles were meant to serve as signs that the kingdom had come. Here we get a contradiction of that. The imperative to let it happen, which can also be read as a subjunctive, “may it come”, pretty much states flat-out that this is still an anticipated event rather than something that has occurred. I don’t know if that’s any specal revelation, but it seems worth pointing out if just for the confirmation.
Just started a new book called Jesus and Paul, by James Tabor. And I mean “just”; as in I’m still reading the introduction. He says that Paul was expecting a heaven-on-earth outcome; but since it’s the introduction, he doesn’t explain how that expectation relates to this passage, and whether or not he thinks it traces to Jesus. Regardless, I don’t think that is what this means. The fact that there is a distinction between the sky and the earth tells me that Matthew saw the two as separate entitites. That he is asking that the earth be conformed to the way affairs are ordered in the heavens. Now, of course the key question is what Matthew meant when he said “the heavens/the sky”. We must keep in mind that, to a First Century speaker of Greek, as to a 21st Century speaker of English, “the heavens” = “the sky”. For Greeks, the term had this connotation since the time of Homer.
I took a glance at 1 Enoch recently. In 2:1 the author talks about the heaven, and the orderliness of the heavenly bodies. More, there is an astronomica treatise later in the work. 1 Enoch is pseudographica, and the date is uncertain, but it’s probably after the end of the 2nd Century BC, so it’s not entirely removed from the general thought-world of Matthew. The temporal relationship is close enough that we ought to ask if Matthew had something similar in mind here.
Anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of astronomy knows that the movemenst of the stars, planets, etc. are incredibly predictable. Eclipses can be predicted thousands of years into the future, and dated thousands of years in the past. Herodotus mentions that a battle between Medes and Lydians was interupted by an eclipse; that battle can be dated to May 28, 585 BCE. Astronomy was a very old science in Mesopotamia; the ability to predict the coming seasonal flood of te Tigris and Euphrates rivers gave the priest-caste enormous influence. The Magi of Matthew’s birth narrative were magoi; that is, they were astronomers. The regularity of the movements of the planets & c is what gave rise to the belief in astrology. OK, the magoi were astrologers; well, the point is that there was no real difference between the two back then. Even more recently, Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion were discovered as he tried to make his astrological forecasts more accurate. (At least, that’s the urban legend.)
So, given this, we are completely justified to ask what Matthew means here. Is he asking for a regularity like that of astronomical bodies to exist on earth? But that is not far-fetched. Thinking metaphorically, Matthew could easily be asking for a world in which affairs are ordered. That is, affairs should be ordered so that those who hunger for justice are satisfied, those who mourn are consoled, where the meek inherit the earth. In such a realm, the meek could inherit the earth and the poor in spirit would find that the kingdom of the heavens was “theirs”. IOW, heaven and earth have merged.
Is this what Matthew means? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But, for the moment, that is my working hypothesis. At least, this idea of “the kingdom of the heavens” being a well-regulated place where all get their desserts begins to make some sense. It’s not our understanding of Heaven, but maybe we can see where/how the idea originated.
Our bread of existence give us today. I don’t expect this needs much explanation. The petition for enough to eat dates back as long as religion. The possibly new wrinkle is that this may relate to the idea that we should “consider the birds of the air” and how the “father in the heavens” cares for them. But, on second thought, I’m not sure that this is a new wrinkle after all. We’ll discuss that more when we get to that passage.
And take away our debts, as we take away the debts owed to us. The base meaning of the word is “debt”. It’s not the more generic “trespasses” that we use in English. Now, of course, “debt” can have a meaning more generic than “money owed”. But if we’re going to use that less specific meaning, we need a very good reason to prefer it. The fact is that the bald Greek refers to monetary debts. As a result, we find ourselves being propelled into the world of social justice, social engineering, social reconstruction…society and social and monetary arrangements. Naturally, those with the most to lose in a general cancelation of debts are those to whom the most is owed. I’ve read about this extensively in re Athenian politics. The upper classes, those with the most money have the most to lend, and so are the ones, most often, to whom the most is owed. As such, they generally resist a cancelation of debts tooth and nail. This is true even today. If Matthew is calling for a cancelation of debts, he has become a social revolutionary, or a populist politician at the least, someone who would be (incorrectly) called a socialist.
So what is this all about? Is this part of a social program? It’s hard to deny that, especially when we recall that Matthew has apparently been addressing the underclass for most of this sermon. They are the audience, they are the ones who hunger for justice, who mourn, who are persecuted. They are the ones most likely to get hauled off to gaol (sorry, couldn’t resist) if their lawsuit goes badly. They are the ones most likely to be debtors, owing money to wealthy individuals. Debt can be a very corrosive problem for society. In those days, often the choice was debt or starve. Farmers in particular were subject to the whims of fate and a bad crop, which often required borrowing in order to have enough seed for the next season. And if that next season was less than stellar, then the debt easily compounded and debtors could find themselves facing being sold into slavery as a means of paying the debt. This is debilitating for the society as a whole. As mentioned, Athens faced this problem in the 7/6th Century BCE, and there was a “seisachtheia”, a “shaking off” (as in a earthquake) that resulted in the cancelation of these debts. Due to this, Athenian society was put on a firmer footing, allowing it to prosper as time passed.
Here is a question. Farming has a seasonal demand for capital. The farmer must have seed, a lot of it, at a specific time of the year. This requires reserves of either seed–usually left from the previous harvest–or of money to purchase seed. Either of these represents a capital investment. Now, given a bad harvest, farmers often faced the dilemma of eating their grain, or saving to plant. The former may get you through a tough spot, but at the cost of your long term prospects. As a result, debt has very often been a problem for agrarian-based societies. This is what happened in the American middle west during the 1920s and 1930s: many farmers lost their land when harvests were not enough to pay their mortgage. Farmers, and farming societies are prone to debt crises. As such, whom is Matthew addressing here? Farmers were certainly not the only ones to face debt problem, but it’s a situation and an occupation in/to which debt is endemic. Galilee was not particularly noted as a farming area; is this a clue to the area where Matthew was writing? As a legitimate inference, this is bordering on rank speculation. But it would solve a couple of issues. We don’t know where Matthew wrote; Antioch is often suggested. Was Antioch surrounded by farmland? I don’t think so. Does this indicate a different location? And this may help explain why–or corroborate that–Matthew was writing for non-Jews. Again to stress that this is a reach, but it’s based on something that may be present between the lines of the text.
I mentioned Tabor’s Paul and Jesus. It’s interesting to note that he seems to be validating some of the things that I read into Paul’s text. He also brings up James, brother of Jesus (where have I heard that before?); Tabor reminded me that James was in charge of the Jesus movement for a duration of time measured in decades rather than individual years. Given that the traditional reckoning is that Jesus’ public ministry lasted perhaps three, James could easily have been the leader of the group for ten times–IOW, an order of magnitude–as long as Jesus was. James’ leadership must have had some lasting impact on the direction of the nascent movement. If nothing else, things that James inaugurated–like, perhaps, the Twelve–must have filtered out into the wider milieu of the movement. Seriously, it would be impossible to imagine otherwise. He is also referred to as “James the Just”. As in, the sort who might hunger and thirst for justice? Or someone with a special inclination towards those who do? There is also the possibility that James was associated with the Ebionite movement, which was later determined to be heretical. From what we know, this group was particularly concerned with the poor. And we have Paul’s account of the Synod of Jerusalem, in which James, perhaps grudgingly, gave sanction to Paul’s mission to the non-Jews, on the stipulation that Paul “remember the poor”. Does this concern with debt trace to James, rather than Jesus? Was he the non- or anti-materialist? These are intriguing questions. And it would explain why Paul and Mark were unaware of the Sermon on the Mount material: because it came from James and not Jesus. This is something that has to be considered, I believe.
And do not lead us into temptation, but draw us away from wickedness. And we end with an imprecation, a request for God’s help. But it’s rather an odd one. It’s not asking to be spared sorrow or sickness, but to be delivered from evil by being spared…what, exactly? This is more or less an NT word, which means it means what NT people think it should mean. The Latin is fairly clear, but largely because we in the West were discussing this concept in Latin for a thousand years before going back to the Greek. Of course St Jerome presumably knew what the word meant, and he gave us a Latin meaning that we can, sort of, be reasonably certain about. But these NT consensus translations make me a little nervous. I don’t use an NT dictionary; I start from the Classical meaning. Why? Because I don’t entirely trust NT translations; there is an inherent conflict of interest, I think. It can benefit NT studies to agree that certain words mean certain things, especially when we don’t have much Classical material for comparison. Yes, these words can be compared to other usages in other koine texts. But what happens when we come across a word like this that doesn’t provide a lot of other examples? That’s when I get nervous.
Anyway, I don’t think “temptation/trial” are too far off. After all, we end with an imprecation to be delivered from evil. But what kind of evil? If we take this in conjunction “temptation”, the type of evil becomes quite clear: it’s the evil of sin, brought about by temptation. But this feels really anachronistic to the time the text was written. This idea feels like a 7th Century understanding of the text. I’ve done a fair bit of reading about the early Middle Ages, and “lead us not into temptation so that we don’t sin” has the fingerprints of Augustine and Gregory the Great all over it. And in Latin, this can possibly be rendered as “an attack”. So we could be attacked by wickedness, or by pain or toil. In which case, this could have the sense of “lead us not into a trial, but deliver us from toil” or perhaps “worry”. IOW, don’t try us/our faith through worry and toil. That is not at all the same thing. The way we normally interpret this is as a moral imprecation. Perhaps it could be taken as something more prosaic. Or perhaps I’m full of it. But what I am trying to do is look past the way the meaning of these words have become ossified, especially when dealing with an NT consensus translation.
The thing about the Vulgate is that the translation was made only after several hundred years of interpretation had occurred, so it’s questionable how deeply St Jerome understood the circumstances of the writing. No doubt he understood the languages better than I could ever hope to; he was a native speaker of Latin. But he came at this with an agenda, and looking at this through a very distinct lens that certainly constricted the range of meaning he could–or would–bring to the translation. I do a lot of statistical analysis in my day job, and I make a lot of charts. Choosing between a bar, or line, or pie chart has a major bearing on how data is interpreted. So too, with translation: choosing the word is to set the tone of the theology. The Vulgate leaves no doubt: deliver us from “malo”. As in mal-iyygnant, mal-icious, mal-adjusted. As in, bad. Or maybe Bad. Or just plain evil.
Sic ergo vos orabitis:
Pater noster, qui es in caelis, / sanctificetur nomen tuum, 10 adveniat regnum tuum, / fiat voluntas tua, / sicut in caelo, et in terra. 11 Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie; 12 et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris; 13 et ne inducas nos in tentationem, sed libera nos a Malo.
Our father in the heavens, let your name be holy. Let your kingdom come. Let your will become as in heaven also on earth (let it be the same on earth as in heaven). Our bread of existence give us today. And take away our debts, as we take away the debts owed to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but draw us away from wickedness.
Bottom line: this prayer is all over the place. God in heaven, praise him, let his name be holy. And let the kingdom come, but in the meantime feed us, and let’s have a social revolution to cancel debts. And, don’t let us be tried by worry or toil, or maybe keep us away from evil. The theme of one of these sentences is not truly related to any of the other sentences. Maybe that’s normal for a prayer; but the Hail Mary, and the Creed hold together as units more effectively, I think. There is probably no significance to this, but I suspect it bears being noticed. One could say that it starts in flattery (holy be…thy kingdom/thy will) and ends in the request. Do ut des is the Latin phrase to describe the formulaic construction of most religious veneration: I give, so you give. So maybe this falls into standard parameters after all.
Other than that, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I’ve been repeating these words since I was very small, so it’s difficult to look at them with fresh eyes, or hear them with fresh ears. Mostly it seems to be what it is; only the last sentence raises any doubts. To be honest, for 95% of what we’ve read, there hasn’t really been a pressing need to be all that fussy about the translation; most of the time, the meaning is reasonably clear. However, in the last sentence, temptation vs. trial, hardship vs. evil, those are meaningful decisions that have to be made.
I had to break this either before or after the Pater Noster. This is a little short as it is, but with the Lord’s Prayer it was turning into a monster. So, I apologize for any lack of continuity caused by short posts. I am going to put the Lord’s Prayer into its own section.
1 Προσέχετε [δὲ] τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑμῶν μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς: εἰ δὲ μή γε, μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν τῷ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.
Hold out (hold back) your righteousness so as not to do (it) in front of people to be seen by them; if you don’t do this, you will not have a reward from your father that is in the heavens.
Of course, this calls to mind the story of the Pharisee and the Publican that Luke will tell. Here is where humility starts to be emphasized. And I have to emphasize that humility was not a Graeco-R0man trait; one didn’t want to brag too much and slip into hubris, of course, but one was not generally loathe to blow one’s own horn. So we’re getting a change in attitude. Why? Think back to the last chapter, when Jesus enjoins the audience to settle lawsuits on the way to court. That was, I suggested, advice for a lower-status individual. Is this part of the same message? Be humble, because you are humble? Be humble, because you lack social status? I know there has been a lot of talk over the decades about the appeal of Christianity to the underclass, and that it first became popular with slaves and other members of the underclass. Is this part of the message? Is this how one is to be “poor in spirit”? I tend to suspect so. Given that, it does not have to be directed to the actual underclass, because anyone can be poor “in spirit”. Still, the general idea seems to be to act like someone from the lower-status groups.
Then the idea of reward from your father in the heavens. Note that your reward is not in the heavens, but from the father who is in the heavens. Again, a sort of a tantalizing clue, or hint, or suggestion. It’s enough to allude to the reward of eternal life, but it stops well short of that. What sort of reward are we to expect? Will the reward come during this life? Will God make us rich? What is it to be? When is it to be? We simply don’t know. So does this go along with inheriting the earth, or the kingdom of the heavens being ours (assuming we are poor in spirit)? Again, we face the choice of the answer to this being such common knowledge for the audience, or in a situation where perhaps Matthew himself was not entirely clear on the implications.
1 Attendite, ne iustitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut vi deamini ab eis; alioquin mercedem non habetis apud Patrem vestrum, qui in caelis est.
2 Οταν οὖν ποιῇς ἐλεημοσύνην, μὴ σαλπίσῃς ἔμπροσθέν σου, ὥσπερ οἱ ὑποκριταὶ ποιοῦσιν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς καὶ ἐν ταῖς ῥύμαις, ὅπως δοξασθῶσιν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸναὐτῶν.
3 σοῦ δὲ ποιοῦντος ἐλεημοσύνην μὴ γνώτω ἡ ἀριστερά σου τί ποιεῖ ἡ δεξιά σου, 4 ὅπως ᾖ σου ἡ ἐλεημοσύνη ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ: καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπωνἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι.
When you may do alms-giving, do not trumpet before you (i.e., announce your intention as if you were blowing a trumpet), as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they are glorified by everyone. Amen I say to you, they have had their reward. (3) do not allow your left hand to know what the right hand does, (4), in this way your alms-giving will be in the crypt (i.e., in secret); for your father who is seeing into the hidden place will hand over (your reward) to you.
Overall, it’s hard not to read this as a description of Jewish practice. Of course the reference to “synagogues” is a dead giveaway. In addition, given that I know that giving alms was an important aspect of Jewish custom, if not Law, and being less aware of pagan practice, it seems that this is doubly directed at Jews. What does this do to my idea that Jesus/Matthew is addressing a primarily ex-pagan audience? At first glance, it may seem to pose difficulties, but I’m not so sure. To begin, the reference is disparaging. They are hypocrites (Note that the English word is a direct transliteration of the Greek.) I do think Matthew had training in Judaism to some extent, whether as a cradle religion, or as an ex-pagan who became a god-fearer. Given this, what we may have here is an instance where Matthew is starting to put more distance between his Jewish background and his current status as a follower of Jesus.
And this brings up a really interesting question. I have mentioned many times that there was a “tipping point” at which most new converts came from a pagan background. I don’t think that point had been reached at the time when Mark wrote; I believe it had been reached and passed by the time Matthew wrote. But there is another continuum that we have to consider. When did the Jesus communities stop being an offshoot of Judaism, or just followers of Jesus, and become what we can justifiably call “Christians”? Offhand, I don’t know if there is a consensus, or a majority opinion about this. But my suspicion is that we have probably crossed that line with Matthew’s gospel. I started down this road in one of my failed attempts to summarize Chapter 5. Given the attitudes expressed in the Beatitudes, and the admonition to secrecy here, I think we are now operating in a Christian milieu. I have the impression that this is somewhat earlier than what the majority opinion may be, especially given the emphasis placed on Jesus’ Jewish roots. But we are not talking about Jesus here. We are talking about Matthew and his audience, and the two are not at all synonymous. But this is too big a topic to discuss here. For the moment, just be aware that my position here is that we are now talking about Christians.
Also, the fact that Matthew distinguishes the hypocrites in the synagogues from the hypocrites on the street could be an indication that he is talking about two separate groups. The first being Jewish, the other–those giving on the streets–being pagan. As such, he would be covering both parts of his audience. However, this may be reading too much into what could easily be a rhetorical construction, a distinction just made for the way it sounds, or as a way to soften the blow being struck against Jews.
Going back to the point about the Jewish/Christian continuum, the part about giving in secret may actually be the most significant aspect of this passage. Please forgive me if I’m beating a dead horse, but I don’t think it’s possible to read this without thinking of the distinction between shame-cultures and guilt-cultures. In a shame culture, what matters is how one is regarded by others. So in a shame-culture that values alms-giving, the giving of alms should be done ostentatiously, in front of as many witnesses as possible. In such an environment, a trumpet or two announcing the gift is not in the lease to be scorned. A guilt-culture, OTOH, emphasizes the inner person. Are you doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, or only for the social status of it? Giving in secret falls into the latter category.
Now it’s difficult to determine where Jesus/Matthew’s audience would have fallen on the shame/guilt scale. The Oresteia trilogy, by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, dealt with the transition of Greek society from a shame culture to a guilt culture. This is the story of Orestes, who killed his father Agamemnon, only to be pursued by the Furies, the representatives of public opinion. In the final play, he effectively does penance and so the guilt is removed from him. This had been written 400 years before Jesus, so the thought expressed here by Matthew was by no means innovative. But one should doubt that the transition had been made by all ethnic groups, in all parts of the Roman Empire. The admonition to give in secret, to do what is right because it’s right, and not for the social reward, is certainly meant to further the transition. Now the Jewish Law had been formulated under the expectations of a shame culture, so this could easily be seen as another attempt to separate the older Jewish tradition from a new tradition. Can we say a Christian tradition? This is not meant to render a value judgement; at the time of this writing, there may have been such distinctions. It’s no different from Paul accepting slavery, or stating that women should not speak during worship. Beliefs are influenced by time and place.
One other thing about this struck me. At first, I was thinking that since the topic was alms-giving, that perhaps this might indicate that the audience wasn’t quite so lower income as I’ve been suggesting. But on second th0ught, I’m not so sure. Think about the situation. Who are the people giving ostentatiously in the synagogues, or in the streets? The poor, or the not-quite-poor? Probably not. And what would be the effect if someone stands up in the synagogue and donates the equivalent of $1,000 0r Euros, or pounds? Of course, all would be impressed, at least to a point. Then there would be others who might look into their purse and find nothing. Or maybe they don’t even carry a purse because they have nothing in it. How would someone like that feel? I’m thinking it might be a shaming experience. If so, who are the beneficiaries of the injunction to give secretly? Those who might not be able to give all the time, or to give as frequently or as much as someone of substantial means. So it is quite conceivable that this is directed to persons of lesser means, which is consistent with what I’ve been suggesting.
A couple of etymological notes. First, what I rendered as “in secret” was the word “krypton”, which really means “hidden”. Once in a footnote of a Superman comic, the editors noted that Krypton, Superman’s home planet, was a Greek word meaning “the hidden one”. I don’t recall how this was relevant to the story, but that doesn’t matter. And this is also the source of the English word “crypt”, which is a place where the dead are hidden. But the one that got me is the left/right distinction. If you look below at the Latin, the distinction is “sinistra/dextera”. IOW, left = sinister, and right = dexterous. In Greek, however, the root for left is “aristeros”, while right is “dexia”. The connection between “dexia” and “dextera” is pretty obvious. But the root of “left” is “the best”. And given that in French, left is “gauche”, which also is used to mean “socially awkward”, calling the left side “the best is a very different take on the distinction. Could you guess that I’m left-handed?
2 Cum ergo facies eleemosynam, noli tuba canere ante te, sicut hypocritae faciunt in synagogis et in vicis, ut honorificentur ab hominibus. Amen dico vobis: Receperunt mercedem suam.
3 Te autem faciente eleemosynam, nesciat sinistra tua quid faciat dextera tua,
4 ut sit eleemosyna tua in abscondito, et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi.
5 Καὶ ὅταν προσεύχησθε, οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί: ὅτι φιλοῦσιν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς καὶ ἐν ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν ἑστῶτες προσεύχεσθαι, ὅπως φανῶσιν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν.
6 σὺ δὲ ὅταν προσεύχῃ, εἴσελθε εἰς τὸ ταμεῖόν σου καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου πρόσευξαι τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ: καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, (they) that love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the and on the corners of the streets, so that they appear to people. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. (6) Rather, when you pray, go into your room and lock your door (and) pray to your father in secret. And your father will see in the hidden place (and) he will reward you.
This is a bit more curious than the injunction to give in secret. What is the purpose of praying in secret? Well, maybe not so curious after all. The idea here is to be sincere. Don’t pray so that you gain a reputation for piety that, perhaps, is not warranted. The purpose is to pray from your heart, alone, when and where only you and God will know that you have done so. This is related to the idea of the guilt culture, but part of this is a transition from a religion of pro forma actions to a religion based on what is in your heart.
Now, I don’t want to push that too far. Too often as a kid I was told that Jewish practice in the time of Jesus had become formal and legalistic, a matter of form rather than of content. And RL Fox cited any number of previous authors who said pretty much the same thing about pagan rites: they were all about the external form and lacking of interior emotional appeal. Then he does a pretty thorough job of demolishing this idea. And I have the impression that others have done the same for Jewish practice of the time. To cite RL Fox once again, Christianity took root in a period of time that saw a florescence of pagan religious expression rather than a period of pagan decline. The latter half of the first century was one of those times when religion becomes a generalized phenomenon. The same has happened a couple of times in American history as well. And part of the reason for this renewed outpouring of religious feeling was that, for the most part, the Empire was at peace. The horrific civil wars that ended the Roman Republic were distant memories belonging to old persons who had been young back then, or even had only heard the stories from the grandfathers who were the last to witness them. This was actually a good time in the history of the ancient Mediterranean. Yes, there was a lot of suffering and poverty, but the endemic wars that periodically killed thousands, ruined thousands more, and saw further thousands forced into slavery were largely non-existent, at least in the heart of the Empire. There was fighting in Britain, and on the Rhine frontier, but those were but distance experiences that would have barely registered to most people. Yes, the Jewish Rebellion of the late 60s was truly awful, but it was a localized event. In such circumstances, people have the leisure to think about the other world. Nascent Christianity took its place in this world.
5 Et cum oratis, non eritis sicut hypocritae, qui amant in synagogis et in angulis platearum stantes orare, ut videantur ab hominibus. Amen dico vobis: Receperunt mercedem suam.
6 Tu autem cum orabis, intra in cubiculum tuum et, clauso ostio tuo, ora Patrem tuum, qui est in abscondito; et Pater tuus, qui videt in abscondito, reddet tibi.
7 Προσευχόμενοι δὲ μὴ βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, δοκοῦσιν γὰρ ὅτι ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν εἰσακουσθήσονται. 8 μὴ οὖν ὁμοιωθῆτε αὐτοῖς, οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὧν χρείαν ἔχετε πρὸ τοῦ ὑμᾶς αἰτῆσαι αὐτόν.
Praying, don’t babble on like the nations, for they think that in their many-wordedness (loquacity) they will be heard, Do not be like them, for your father knows your needs before you request them.
OK, we got the negative contrast with the Jews, and now we’re getting one with the pagans. This sort of echoes some of the things Paul said about the Corinthians and their desire to listen to polished rhetoric and slick speech. Here, their fault is that they go on and on, as if they could wear the gods down by sheer persistence.
It’s also interesting to note the end bit about God knowing our needs before we ask. Again, we in the 21st Century are accustomed to think of God in terms of being omniscient, but this was not necessarily the way God was viewed in the ancient world. This version of God only came about after several centuries of philosophical and theological speculation and argumentation. St Anselm came up with, the definition, the being greater than which nothing can be conceived*. But the gods were not seen as infallible, or omniscient, and even YHWH went through a period of development. I don’t know if he was conceived of as being God in the sense we understand the term.
The important thing to take away from this is, once again, the personal intimacy this implies. God knows us, knows our wants. This is very different from, say, the Homeric world where the gods had their favorites. Of course, the Homeric world was some 800 years prior; we don’t quite see the world, or religion the same as they did in 1215. This is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
* Here is the whole thing, courtesy of St Anselm.
God is the being greater than which nothing can be conceived.
If God didn’t exist, it would be possible to conceive a greater being.
Therefore, God exists.
This is known as the ontological argument for the existence of God, and it wasn’t until Kant that someone was able to find the weakness in the argument. I cite this to point out how the term “God” came to be understood as the peak, the pinnacle, the most complete. It is very important to realize that this understanding was a development. It is not something to be understood, a priori, from the very word. “Omniscient” cannot be understood as inseparable from the term “God”, the way that “three sided” can be understood from the term “triangle”. Or, rather, while “omniscient” can be understood as part of the term “God” in the 21st century, this was not true in the First Century.
7 Orantes autem nolite multum loqui sicut ethnici; putant enim quia in multiloquio suo exaudiantur.
8 Nolite ergo assimilari eis; scit enim Pater vester, quibus opus sit vobis, antequam petatis eum.