Matthew Chapter 8:14-27

We continue with Chapter 14. The first part told us of two healings that Jesus performed. The first was in Mark, the second a new story.

14 Καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν Πέτρου εἶδεν τὴν πενθερὰν αὐτοῦ βεβλημένην καὶ πυρέσσουσαν:

15 καὶ ἥψατο τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός: καὶ ἠγέρθη καὶ διηκόνει αὐτῷ.

And Jesus coming into the house of Peter he (Jesus) saw that his (Peter’s) mother-in-law was lying down and being feverish. (15) And he touched her hand, and the fever left her and she got up and ministered to them.

The word here for “ministered” to them is “diakonei”. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s (I hope) obviously the root for “deacon”. The deacon’s role is to minister to the congregation.

With this story, we’re back into stuff that Matthew found in Mark. As such, we once again have the physical touching of the sick person, unlike what happened with the servant of the centurion. One interesting and probably insignificant difference between this version and Mark’s is that here, Simon’s mother attends to him, = Jesus. In Mark (and Luke), she minsters to them.  Mark also feels the need to tell us that the sons of Zebedee were there, too. In this detail, and even more so when we get to the Gerasene demonaic, it’s Matthew who shortens Mark’s story. I’m not sure how strongly the case for Matthean priority is, but, as I see it, details like this really argue against Matthew writing first. We are to believe that Mark lengthened tales like the Gerasen demonaic, but omitted the Sermon on the Mount, and most of what Jesus taught. That doesn’t entirely make sense.

In the run-up to this incident, Mark and Luke report the story of Jesus expelling a demon from a man in the synagogue; Matthew omits this. Why? Why does he leave that longer story out, but include this much shorter one? Is that our answer? Matthew didn’t want to dwell on the miracles the way Mark did? If so, why not? Does the fact that the omitted story is about an exorcism have anything to do with its omission? Is this part of the attitude I set out as a conjecture in the last segment; that Matthew perhaps thought that the wonder-worker stories in Mark were, I don’t know, a little bit beneath Jesus? That Jesus had become so much more elevated, that working wonders was sort of a side-show carnival trick? This is a very serious matter, because it gets to the heart of the question of what did the early traditions say about Jesus? If we have some sense of that, then we can see more clearly how these traditions evolved over time. Which, in turn, will tell us how the message of Jesus developed until it became the doctrine expressed in the Nicene Creed. Even a comparison of that and the Apostles’ Creed will show how the doctrine of The Church changed over time.

14 Et cum venisset Iesus in domum Petri, vidit socrum eius iacentem et febricitantem;

15 et tetigit manum eius, et dimisit eam febris; et surrexit et ministrabat ei.

16Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δαιμονιζομένους πολλούς: καὶ ἐξέβαλεν τὰ πνεύματα λόγῳ, καὶ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ἐθεράπευσεν:

17 ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Αὐτὸς τὰς ἀσθενείας ἡμῶν ἔλαβεν καὶ τὰς νόσους ἐβάστασεν.

It having become evening, they brought to him many having demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and all those with illnesses he healed. (17) In this way was fulfilled the writing of the Prophet Isaiah saying, “He received our infirmities and the (= our) diseases he carried.”

 The first thing that jumps out at me is “with a word”.  That is, Jesus, as a divine being, has such power over demons that a word is enough to expel them. A simple “Begone!” is all it takes. No touch or other magical device is necessary. I am reasonably confident that Matthew sets up this chapter the way he does specifically to separate Jesus from the pack of mere wonder-workers. And to get back to one point in the last section, Matthew omitted the story of Jesus in the synagogue–that Luke included. Part of that story was the tension it established between Jesus and the local religious establishment. That is wholly gone here, too. The implication is that Matthew does not feel the need to distance himself from the Jewish establishment. Why not? Is it because the destruction of Jerusalem was a generation in the past? And that, as such, it didn’t have the emotional impact that it still did when Mark wrote? Or is it that Matthew doesn’t want to antagonize the Jewish establishment because…well, I’m not sure why. Was he afraid of them? I find that difficult to believe. After the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish establishment lacked a clear focal point, and doubtless lost some degree of its ability to terrorize the new movement the way Paul had done. Or is it that Matthew simply saw such antagonization as pointless, even gratuitous. The Jewish establishment was a shell of what it had been in Jesus’s day; taking that and that the rebellion was no longer a sore point with Rome, picking on them didn’t seem particularly necessary. Or was it because, as a God-fearer, an outsider, Matthew had a good experience with these authorities, and he was much more sympathetic to them than Mark had been?

There are no answers to these questions. However, these are questions that must be asked. We have to look at this in its context. The message has changed from Mark. The change is, perhaps subtle, not earth-shattering, but it’s real. We need to take note of this and ask why. One of the great afflictions of NT scholarship is the underlying notion that the gospels are all telling a single, timeless story. As such, the differences don’t matter as much as the ways that they can be put together to form a whole. Yes, that’s true, but it’s only half of it. The differences have to be noted. And an attempt should be made to explain them; all of this reflects back onto what I said in the previous section about the message of Jesus, as expressed by his followers that never knew him or any of the original followers, developed, just as the message and beliefs of The Church developed. I realize that this may be an uncomfortable thought for some, but it’s all part of the process by which what Jesus taught turned into what we believe. The classic case is the Trinity. Based on Mark alone, the Trinity is pretty difficult to derive; Jesus was only ambiguously divine, and by no stretch is there anything to indicate that he was of the same substance (homo-ousias) and co-eternal with the Father, God from God…

No. We need the other three gospels and a few hundred years of thinking to get to that point. But I made the point before: does this represent a changing message? Or a message that relied on continued revelation until we limited humans were, finally, able to work out all the implications? The answer, I suspect, will depend on from what direction one approaches the question.

This may be a bit anti-climatic after the previous paragraph, but there is one additional point that needs to be made about the text. Matthew clearly indicates why he included this little story, while omitting the longer one: to fulfill what was written in the prophet Isaiah. Now, it’s always been taken for granted that Matthew was so concerned with these HS (Hebrew Scriptures; really shouldn’t be using “OT” any more) because, being a Jew, he wanted to set out how Jesus an integral part of the Jewish belief. How Jesus was a fulfillment of, not a break with this ancient tradition. Well, yes, that could be it. What has been almost entirely overlooked is that this continuity of the ancient tradition was important to another audience: pagans. I’ve said it many times, I believe, but it bears to be kept in mind: the pagans were not impressed by innovation. The only true beliefs were the old beliefs.

“Mos maiorum” was the term in Latin. The “ways/customs and beliefs of our ancestors”. “Res novae”, literally “new things” was the Latin term for “revolution”, as in “political revolution“. This was not a “good thing”. So, in order to make a new religion palatable to the wider pagan audience, it was necessary to associate it with the ancient Jewish tradition, which was definitely respected by a lot of pagans–which is why the God-fearers were such a phenomenon. So, by mining the HS for scriptural prophesies that predicted Jesus, whom was Matthew trying to convince? Matthew as a Jew? Or Matthew as a pagan? Yes, the first is the easy answer, and it’s certainly the opinion of the vast majority (upwards of 98%, I’d say) of Christians over the past two millennia, but can we be so certain? IMO, the answer to this is “no”. As we’ve been going along, I’ve been pointing out instances where we seem–possibly seem–to have clues that Matthew was a God-fearer and former pagan. We will never know this with certainty–barring some astonishing archaeological find–but we have to look at all of these clues as a whole. Any one or two or three can be written off as coincidence, or too ambiguous to be relied on, but what do they say as a whole? Does the accumulated weight of all of these clues add up to something too big to be ignored, or passed off as coincidence. I don’t know. This is a pet theory of mine, and if you ask anyone with any knowledge of the NT, they will tell you I’m a crackpot, because nobody believes that Matthew was a pagan. Which is true. But “nobody” believed the earth was round, either. The problem that I see isn’t that nobody believes this; rather, it’s that nobody has asked the question. The former is forgivable, and may actually be right; the latter is one of those unforgivable (academic) sins. 

Then again, maybe this last point wasn’t anti-climatic.

Then again, maybe this one will be. The other thing that needs to be noticed is the rest of the story that Matthew omits. In fact, he omits it twice. Both in the exorcism in the synagogue, and in the wrap-up at the end of the section, Mark tells us that Jesus commanded the evil spirits to be silent, to tell no one who he was. For the spirits recognized him; the first called him “the holy one of God”. This is gone completely from the story here. Again, we must ask why. Assuming that Matthew didn’t just leave things out for no reason, and since he used virtually all of Mark, then he most likely made a conscious decision to leave out what he did. The messianic “secret” is a recognized theme of Mark. It has given birth to Gnostic teachings, and I have used it as Mark’s attempt at explanation of why Jesus was rejected by so many Jews. The first would not raise many eyebrows; it’s an understood feature of Mark. The second, well, it’s a theory of mine based on an historical reading of the text–which has been sorely lacking to date. The truth is, I don’t know why Matthew chose to omit these passages; in fact, I don’t even have a theory at this point that would, possibly, explain Matthew’s motive. But it’s worth paying attention to. Part of it, I think, is that Matthew is particularly eager to de-emphasize the exorcisms. I’m not entirely sure why, but this is what has been left out to this point. We’ll pay more attention to that as we go along. What else did Matthew eliminate?

16 Vespere autem facto, obtulerunt ei multos daemonia habentes; et eiciebat spiritus verbo et omnes male habentes curavit,

17 ut adimpleretur, quod dictum est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

“ Ipse infirmitates nostras accepit / et aegrotationes portavit ”.

18Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁἸησοῦς ὄχλον περὶ αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσεν ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὸ πέραν.

19 καὶ προσελθὼν εἷς γραμματεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, ἀκολουθήσω σοι ὅπου ἐὰν ἀπέρχῃ.

20 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις, ὁ δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ.

Jesus, seeing the crowd around him, commanded t0 go away to the other side (of the Sea of Galilee, presumably). (19) And coming up, one of the scribes said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you when wherever you may wish to go.” (20) And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have their dens, and the birds of the heavens (have their) nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere that he may lay his head.”   

First, the staging of this is a little odd. He’s pressed by a crowd in one place, so he goes away across…it’s not entirely clear where, exactly. I’m thinking that they’re in Caphernaum, which is on the Sea of Galilee, so it would make sense to embark and cross the sea. But that’s reading a lot into this, because there’s no verb for “embarking”, which is pretty common when getting into a boat, and the “across” is terribly ambiguous. Which is worsened by the apparent circumstance that he no sooner than gets wherever it is he went, than he is set upon by a scribe. So it’s all rather confusing and unclear. This is a hallmark of Mark: very little narrative to put anything in context. And you know, that’s something that doesn’t get enough attention; at least, not from the books that I’ve been reading (the list of which is hardly comprehensive in re: NT scholarship): Mark is not, not truly, a narrative gospel, either. It’s a bunch (albeit a very large bunch) separate episodes with no clear connexion between them. Guess I’m going to have to do some research into that…

Second, this is another Q story. Which means, it’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. More, the Greek of Matthew and Luke are virtually identical, at least in the significant sections that include what Jesus and the scribe said. Of course, this is due to the fact that Matthew and Luke both took this from identical copies of Q. Or, it’s because Luke copied Matthew, and changed some of the setting words. What are the odds of two people copying the same source at different times, without knowing of the other? And ask this again bearing in mind that there are numerous places where this occurs. Of course, there are numerous places where each tells the story somewhat differently. So which is it?

I was having a discussion with a friend, who will recognize this. Hope I recount it accurately. There are all sorts of possibilities in historical thinking. We can conceive all sorts of ways to put the same facts together in different ways. But the key question is about probability. How likely is the construct to be true? How many rules of logic does it break? Is it internally consistent? History is not a science. In physics, it’s possible to calculate the likelihood of a given event fairly accurately. It’s possible to be very precise in calculating how likely one is to draw the card needed to fill an inside straight. In history, we can weigh likelihoods, but we can’t properly calculate them. As such, it’s an art rather than a science. It’s judgement, based on experience. And experience from a broad range of historical occurrences helps hone this judgement. The likelihood that the assassination of John Kennedy was the act of a lone gunman is very low. But when you consider the odds of any other set of circumstances, you realize that, in comparison with all the conspiracy theories, the official report is suddenly not so unlikely.

So it is here. Yes, it seems possible that Matthew and Luke copied the same source in the same way. However, this is a contingent probability. First we must ask how likely it was that the copies of Q that Matthew and Luke separately used would be exact copies of each other. To say that Matthew and Luke copied Q in almost exactly the same way requires that their respective copies of Q were identical. If this latter circumstance did not happen, then the likelihood of such exact copies as Matthew and Luke produce plummet. If you bear in mind that there was no central publisher of Q, a scriptorium that was cranking these out from the same fair copy, then the probability of numerous passages being identical enough to show up in both Matthew and Luke the way they do is, I think, very low. This seems much, very much more unlikely than the idea that Luke would have messed with Matthew’s organization. And recall, Matthew and Luke were separated by time as well as distance, which drives the probability down even further. Then compare this with the likelihood that Luke copied Matthew, and the probability goes way, way up. There are half-a-dozen passages like this, at the least. In my considered judgement, as both someone with more than a passing understanding of how probability works (I crunch numbers in my day job) and how history works, I think the most likely explanation is that Luke used Matthew. My apologies to those trained in textual analysis. 

I had hoped that my post on Q would keep me from digressions like this; unfortunately, new reasons why Q doesn’t make sense keep popping up. At some time in the future, I need to cull through these rants and put together a coherent argument, and set it down in a single place.

To conclude on this, the sentiments about foxes and holes and the Son of Man having nowhere to lay his head is supposedly in the earliest stratum of Q. And yet, neither Paul nor Mark have anything even remotely close to expressing a similar sentiment. Why is that? How does it work that this is one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus, and yet it left no trace on Paul or Mark. Someone really needs to explain that. This is part of the counter-culture motif, the, Jesus-the-Cynic, or Jesus-the-hippie theme.

(Note: the nuns at my socially conservative, backwater Catholic elementary school in a socially conservative, backwater part of the American Midwest were not really at all averse to that sentiment. In their opinion, Jesus would most definitely have been marching with Dr ML King Jr, and he may well have been protesting the Vietnam War as late as 1967. And he would have been campaigning for Bobby Kennedy in 1968. They were dead certain about Jesus’ participation in the Civil Rights movement even if they were not quite sure on war protesting. The point is, they at least recognized that it was entirely possible, even probable that Jesus would have been sympathetic to the anti-war cause. They flatly refused to reject this possibility out of hand, as I think a number of Christians would do today. They would have been appalled at the notion of Jesus saying something like “the only good Red is a dead Red”, or advocating increased bombing of North Vietnam, or pretty much anywhere. And note, I’m talking about how these nuns felt and thought back in the mid-1960s.)

Anyway, this counter-culture, poverty is a state of spiritual enlightenment, very different from Mark. It’s a dimension the wonder-worker almost completely lacked, aside from the “eye of the needle” comment, and the admonition to the rich young man to sell his goods, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. I don’t think two examples are sufficient to show this was part of Jesus’ teaching, I think it is more likely that this is an attitude that only expressed itself well after Mark wrote. It may have been latent in Jesus’ teachings and outlook, but I don’t think it was fully developed until after the communities had absorbed the teachings that I’m ascribing to James. This is another one where I need to do a tally and see where I fall when I look at the evidence as a whole. 

One last thing: note that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. And Luke also uses this term. Of course, this was Mark’s most common epithet for Jesus, but it’s much rarer in Matthew and Luke. Now, if this was something that was in Mark, and the latter had used the term, it would be easy enough to conclude that they copied Mark’s term. But they didn’t. So why did they use the term? Is this meant to convey a feeling of being an anachronism, was Matthew using a deliberately archaic term to demonstrate its historicity. Then why not do it more often? Of course, here the simplest solution is to conclude that Q had this as “Son of Man”, so of course Matthew and Luke both got it there. But Q didn’t really use the term “Son of Man”. Or, if Q did, why isn’t the term found more often in Matthew? And if it wasn’t in Q, then why does Luke use it, too? The thing is, this is an anomaly. Now either the anomaly was in Q, or it was in Matthew. If Q used the term frequently, why do Matthew and Luke use it so seldom? There is a glaring inconsistency here. Or somewhere. If the anti-Q people have to explain every variation from Matthew’s order by Luke, then the pro-Q people have to explain this situation. Was this in Q? Then why doesn’t it show up more often in two sources that both supposedly relied heavily on Q. It’s things like this that really make me question the bona fides, or the academic rigour of the pro-Q group. They insist on their themes, but ignore too many other questions that are just as valid. Or more so. 

Matthew used Mark. We can be more than 90% sure of that. So Matthew could have gotten the term there. Why did he choose to use it in a context of something that wasn’t in Mark. We don’t know if it was in Q. (We don’t know if there was a Q.) But in the reconstructed Q, I believe this is the only time the term is used. Why only here? Why not elsewhere? The point is, even if this can’t be answered from a non-Q perspective, what’s truly damning is that it can’t be (at least, hasn’t been) answered from a pro-Q perspective. Since it is incumbent on them to prove that Q existed, it’s enough for the non-Q position to throw enough reasonable doubt into the argument to make the proposed existence of Q seem pretty dicey. I can’t prove a negative. If the Q people want Q, they have to prove their case. Stuff like this makes that really hard, I think.

18 Videns autem Iesus turbas multas circum se, iussit ire trans fretum.

19 Et accedens unus scriba ait illi: “ Magister, sequar te, quocumque ieris ”.

20 Et dicit ei Iesus: “ Vulpes foveas habent, et volucres caeli tabernacula, Filius autem hominis non habet, ubi caput reclinet ”.

21 ἕτερος δὲ τῶν μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ] εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι πρῶτον ἀπελθεῖν καὶ θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου.

22 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι, καὶ ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς.

Another of [his] disciples said to him (Jesus), “Lord, let me be entrusted first to go away and to bury my father. (22) But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead”.

Now here’s a really obviously created situation, scripted to allow Jesus to speak this aphorism. Here’s the thing: Jews bury immediately. They don’t embalm, so burial must be quick. Is this disciple actually coming out to see Jesus the day his father died? I suppose it’s possible, but this just has a really artificial feel to it.

Or, is this disciple a pagan? That is a very interesting question. Now we’ve gone across (something), and we’re in an area where scribes can be found. Have we crossed a border, into an area where Jews and pagans mingle freely? Was this man perhaps a God-fearer? And note that this was not someone from the crowd. Matthew calls him a “disciple”. This is the same word used by Mark to describe Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee. So this is presumably someone familiar to the group. I suppose he could have been following along and just now got news that his father has died. But he says he will follow, if only he can go bury his father. Again, a bunch of little things that don’t seem to add up.

But this is another of the sayings that are supposed to be in the original stratum of Q. And yet, the whole thing seems awfully contrived. But yet, we’re to take this as something that Jesus actually said. That strikes me as very odd. As if there are two pieces that don’t quite fit together. And then, since it’s another of the “let tomorrow worry about tomorrow” sentiments, could this have been something that James used? Or is it flatly something Matthew made up? It has the earmarks of something written in a room, late at night, away from the hustle and bustle of the actual ministry. It has the feel of, well, scripting, as I said before. Something invented by a writer removed from the scene where it supposedly occurred. In form, and meaning, it’s very similar to “let tomorrow worry about tomorrow”.

But then this raised the question of, if it wasn’t in Q, then why is it in both Matthew and Luke? And in almost identical wording. Well, one possibility is that Luke copied it from Matthew.

21 Alius autem de discipulis eius ait illi: “Domine, permitte me primum ire et sepelire patrem meum ”.

22 Iesus autem ait illi: “ Sequere me et dimitte mortuos sepelire mortuos suos ”.

23 Καὶ ἐμβάντι αὐτῷ εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

24 καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, ὥστε τὸ πλοῖον καλύπτεσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων: αὐτὸς δὲ ἐκάθευδεν.

25 καὶ προσελθόντες ἤγειραν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Κύριε, σῶσον, ἀπολλύμεθα.

26 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί δειλοί ἐστε, ὀλιγόπιστοι; τότε ἐγερθεὶς ἐπετίμησεν τοῖς ἀνέμοις καὶ τῇ θαλάσσῃ, καὶ ἐγένετο γαλήνη μεγάλη.

27 οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι ἐθαύμασαν λέγοντες, Ποταπός ἐστιν οὗτος ὅτι καὶ οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ ἡ θάλασσα αὐτῷ ὑπακούουσιν;

And he having embarked onto the boat, his disciples followed him. (24) And behold, there was a great shaking on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves; but he (Jesus) slept. (25) And coming to him they raised him, saying, “Lord, save us, we are perishing. (26) And he said to them, ‘What is this fear, you-of-little faith?” Then he got up and he rebuked the winds and the sea, and there became a great calm. (27) The men marveled, saying, “What sort is he, that both the winds and the sea obey him?”

First, “y0u-of-little-faith is all one word. Second, when we talked about him going across back in V-18, I said that I wasn’t sure if they crossed the sea or not, since there was no mention of him getting into a boat. Usually, Mark was very clear about this; since the first part of this was not in Mark, and the second part was, we get the explicit statement about entering the boat in the second. Yes, this is probably trivial, but it seems worth mentioning.

Now, this story is part of the triple tradition, which means it’s in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each tells the story slightly differently, but Mark’s version is the longest, and Matthew’s is the shortest. Mark has additional details that are missing here, as well as the disciples’ question to Jesus about whether he cares that they are perishing. So again, Matthew has shortened Mark, even though it’s supposed to be the other way around in the view of some scholars.

One thing that I find very interesting is that Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s, as well as Mark’s version. In the verses above, we have something close to verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke; here, there are differences. The differences are neither substantive nor substantial, but it’s a marked distinction between the way Matthew and Luke agreed for the verses above. What are we to make of this? As I see it, this another reason to suppose that Luke was aware of Matthew; when Matthew summarizes Mark, Luke feels free to make his own changes. In stories that are not in Mark, Luke follows Matthew much more closely. Of course, this hypothesis is based on this one incident; we’ll pay more attention to it as we go along.

Why does Matthew choose to omit the question the disciples ask Jesus? The consensus on the topic is that Matthew didn’t find it appropriate, or seemly, or whatever for the disciples to ask this. Of course Jesus cared whether or not they perished. How could they think otherwise? And this is another reason to believe that Mark wrote first: Jesus gets sanitized to a certain degree. This is one instance. There are others. IOW, Mark’s Jesus seems more human; he gets annoyed, he’s in the situation here where people may doubt him. This seems like it would be more…authentic. Which makes us ask if this is historical. Of course, we can’t accept–as historians–that Jesus had the ability to still the waves and calm the waters. As such, we cannot believe that the story is factually accurate. And I don’t have a problem with that. So the question becomes, when was this story composed? It can’t date to Jesus, since Jesus didn’t perform the miracle. So when? How early? Does it originate with Mark? Or did Mark get it from some oral tradition?  

This takes us to the question of  how much did the evangelists make up, and how much was part of an earlier tradition? If you read the scholarship, everything came from an earlier tradition. The stuff only Matthew has is called “M”; the stuff only Luke has is called “L”. These are supposedly earlier traditions that came to their ears and their’s alone.

Except I doubt this. I am pretty certain that Matthew and Luke and John composed stories themselves. These guys were authors, remember? And why did they choose to write a gospel? Because they believed they had something to say. Something novel. Something unique. So we have unique stuff in these other gospels; what about Mark? Who composed this story? I find it difficult even to come up with a gut feeling on this one. I do believe that Mark, much more than the others, used oral traditions, received wisdom, as it were. He shaped them, and arranged them, and added to them, but maybe did not create them. For example, in this story, Mark may have heard about the way that Jesus was said to have calmed the storm. But the details about Jesus sleeping on a cushion, or the disciples asking him if he cared whether they lived or died are most likely Mark’s contributions.

So what about Matthew? He shaped the story to suit his own needs. He eliminated the detail of the cushion, and the impertinent question asked of him. But what about the previous story, the one that was not in Mark, and that Luke copied so closely?  

Once again, this is a question that cannot be answered to any realistic degree. The reasons for Matthew trimming this story are pretty easy to understand. The reasons for inventing the story of the centurion, I think, are also pretty clear–on one condition: that we recognize that circumstances had changed between the time Mark wrote and the time Matthew wrote. As such, we have to recognise that the story of the centurion fit the conditions of the 80s, but not so much the conditions of the 40s, or even the 50s. The story reflects the new prominence of pagans in the movement. As such, I think we can give Matthew credit for the story of the centurion and his mortally ill servant. 

23 Et ascendente eo in naviculam, secuti sunt eum discipuli eius.

24 Et ecce motus magnus factus est in mari, ita ut navicula operiretur fluctibus; ipse vero dormiebat.

25 Et accesserunt et suscitaverunt eum dicentes: “ Domine, salva nos, perimus! ”.

26 Et dicit eis: “ Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei? ”. Tunc surgens increpavit ventis et mari, et facta est tranquillitas magna.

27 Porro homines mirati sunt dicentes: “ Qualis est hic, quia et venti et mare oboediunt ei? ”.

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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 February 20, 2015, in gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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