Matthew Chapter 7:13-27 (Conclusion)

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.

Comment deferred.

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? 

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on January 29, 2015, in gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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