Matthew Chapter 10:16-24

This wasn’t a clean break from the last section. Jesus is still in the midst of giving his disciples instructions as he sends them out to preach about the approaching kingdom.

16 Ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων: γίνεσθεοὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί.

“Look, I’m sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. You must be cunning as serpents and as unarmed as doves.

“Unarmed” should really be “un-horned”, or “hornless”, as in, “not having horns”. It often gets rendered as  “harmless”; but if we’re going to go all metaphorical here, I would prefer “defenseless”. I think that captures the spirit of the original more accurately. And I think it fits the metaphor more effectively.

But the point is that Jesus is “predicting” the tribulations that the apostles would endure. More on this in a moment.

16 Ecce ego mitto vos sicut oves in medio luporum; estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes et simplices sicut columbae.

17 προσέχετε δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων: παραδώσουσιν γὰρ ὑμᾶς εἰς συνέδρια, καὶ ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν μαστιγώσουσιν ὑμᾶς:

18 καὶ ἐπὶ ἡγεμόνας δὲ καὶ βασιλεῖς ἀχθήσεσθε ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς καὶ τοῖς ἔθνεσιν.

“You will come before men. For you will be handed over to the councils, and in the synagogues of them they will scourge you. (18). And before leaders and kings you will be brought before because of me to witness to them and to the nations.

This whole topic of how ferociously Christians, or followers of Jesus were persecuted, and by whom, is a difficult one, especially for me. The first century CE is not my area of expertise; I’ve studied up through the reign of Gaius Caligula in some depth, but that was mostly Roman politics and the western wars. The use of the term “synagogues” and the evidence of Paul tells me that the persecution discussed was led by Jews, and this is certainly not an area in which I’m well versed. Again, given Paul, we have to acknowledge that there was some degree of persecution. But how much? I’ve read great chunks of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, which actually started as a martyrology, and the stories are pretty horrific. I also suspect that they are significantly exaggerated, at least as to the scope of the persecutions, if not the horrible cruelty, for the Romans were more than capable of both perpetrating such cruelty and enjoying it as spectacle. But how common was this?

And aside from Paul’s testimony, that Jesus talks about it the way he does here is also indicative that something happened. People were still alive who would have been able to remember whether or not such persecution happened. It seems a tad bizarre for Jesus to talk about persecutions if they never occurred. But then again, where was Matthew writing, and for whom? The fact of the matter is that pretty much all our sources for these persecutions are “Jewish”, in the broadest sense: Paul and the oblique references–like this– in the gospels. This may indicate that the persecutions took place primarily in the area of Judea/Galilee/Syria–remember, Saul was supposedly going to Damascus—and Matthew was writing mostly for non-Jews somewhere outside that range–say Antioch–and two generations later, then maybe the persecutions were remembered as being more horrific than they were. This is certainly what happened; the stories in the Lives of the Saints are clearly largely fiction. I’m not sure how much evidence there is for some of these saints outside of the hagiography. No doubt some of them are attested, and a number of the stories related are accurate to some degree, but some of the accounts are so implausible that they have to be physically impossible. Of course, that’s rather the point: this is hagiography, not history. The very nature of the genre demands something over the top; otherwise, the point is not made.

The problem is that the evidence from the pagan sources is slender to non-existent. There are a few oblique references to Christians in histories of First Century (or thereabouts) Rome, but the references are made in passing, and do not sound like they refer to a systemic program that encompassed much of the Empire. I forget where I read this–RL Fox is the most likely source–but one modern historian commented that the degree of persecution often depended to a very large extent on the local rulers, whatever the direction–or lack of it–from Rome. For example, the governor of, say, Cilicia may have been very zealous about persecuting Christians, but the governor of neighboring Cappadocia may not have been terribly inspired by the idea. And even then, these are references to the second or even Third Century, well past the time we’re discussing. It’s generally assumed that there was some persecution of Christians by Nero, based on the brief mention by Suetonius, but I’ve really yet to see much evidence to support that assumption, or to indicate that such persecution as existed was anything other than brief and sporadic. Now, it is possible that some followers of Jesus were arrested and executed by the Romans, but based on the letter of Pliny the Younger (ca 112 CE), the question of what to do with Christians was still very much a question. Of course, even if persecution was localized, if one was in the wrong location, it was perhaps horrific enough. Given all of this, and based on what I do know, my sense is that any persecution that did occur in the mid-First Century was largely a Jewish phenomenon that was largely confined to the Judea/Syria region. Given this passage we just read, and similar such passages in Mark, some persecution must have occurred. It would be foolish to deny, or disregard Paul’s testimony. He has no real reason to lie about it. We just don’t know how severe it was.  

There is also the possibility that some of the persecution of Christians was tied up with the Jewish Rebellion of the late 60s and its aftermath. I tend to suspect that this was a major cause for Mark’s gospel, so he could separate his group from Jews in general. By the time Matthew wrote, this may no longer have been necessary, either because the passions had died down, or because Christians had pretty much distinguished themselves from Jews. In which case this passage was retained because it was in Mark, the memory of persecution had been incorporated into the Christian myth, and Matthew–like Mark–wished to portray Jesus as prescient about what would happen.

17 Cavete autem ab hominibus; tradent enim vos in conciliis, et in synagogis suis flagellabunt vos;

18 et ad praesides et ad reges ducemini propter me in testimonium illis et gentibus.

19 ὅταν δὲ παραδῶσιν ὑμᾶς, μὴ μεριμνήσητε πῶς ἢ τί λαλήσητε: δοθήσεται γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τί λαλήσητε:

20 οὐ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ λαλοῦντες ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τὸ λαλοῦν ἐν ὑμῖν.

“When they hand you over, do not be anxious how or what you will say. For you will be given at that hour what you will say. (20) For you are not the ones speaking, but the spirit of your father is the one speaking in you. 

Again, this will have a long history among heretical movements. Or, rather, it will resurface among heretical movements of the 12th – 15th Centuries. Accused heretics, when brought before ecclesiastical courts, would launch into speeches that were the spirit of the father speaking through them. This, of course, annoyed the Church officials to no end.

But the more interesting aspect is the “spirit of your father”. That is a new phrase. Why not the Sacred Breath? Again, Matthew read Mark, so it’s not like he’s never heard that term; he’d rather use his own. Now, Matthew did this with “kingdom of the heavens”, too, but it was pointed out in a commentary that this is consistent with Jewish practice of not writing out “God”. That hadn’t occurred to me, and I have to incorporate this into my theory of Matthew as a former pagan. But why “breath of the father”? And this is exactly the sort of situation when “Holy Spirit” would be expected. The Church officials running those heresy trials would have expected “Spiritus Sanctus”. If nothing else, this is a great example of how the “Holy Spirit” in the sense that we mean it, the Third Person of the Trinity, had to be constructed. This usage indicates very clearly that Matthew did not think of the the sacred breath as something that represented an entity somehow separate from, and yet an integral part of, God the Father. Rather, that understanding of “Holy Spirit came later. Much later. 

And, btw, we haven’t really had any sort of Christology from Matthew as yet. We know that Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath; in fact, the first few times that Matthew uses “pneuma” it’s associated with “hagios”, which equals “holy/sacred”. But we haven’t heard anything about how Jesus relates to the Father.

And this is the sort of detail that makes me suspect that this is really a reference to something that occurred in the past. Why do I say this, or how to explain why I interpret the statement in that way? Because this feels more like post-facto reassurance that God had indeed taken care of those brought before the councils than it feels like actual advice given out that was meant to be followed in a real-life situation. Think about it: this sounds great as a story; but would you really tell your followers that this is how it will go down? Now, if you believe that Jesus is a divine being, and if you believe that he actually said these words a decade or more before the predicted events occurred, then, yes, all of this is possible. And that’s exactly my point: it all works as Truth, as a myth. It describes the situation as it should happen. But think about it: Peter, Paul, and James were all–supposedly–executed. How did the idea of the spirit of the father providing their words actually work out? Maybe not so well. The writer of the gospel knows that (presumably). And yet he tells us these were Jesus’ instructions. This seems to be more the description of an idealised setting in which Jesus is prescient than a legitimate accounting of what happened. Of course, if Jesus didn’t send out apostles–which I don’t believe he did–then this whole discussion is moot.

Here’s the thing: I cannot prove the Jesus did not send out apostles, nor that these weren’t the instructions that he gave if, on the off-chance, he did send them out. Now, if this were an actual historical document, written by someone who was making a sincere effort to record history, it would be bad form to reject the story without good evidence, or a decent argument. But this is not history. Part of doing history is developing what was called historical judgement in my Methods class. My judgement tells me this story is, well, just that. A story. But just want to be up=front about my lack of a legitimate case for my position. It just doesn’t smell right as history.

19 Cum autem tradent vos, nolite cogitare quomodo aut quid loquamini; dabitur enim vobis in illa hora quid loquamini.

20 Non enim vos estis, qui loquimini, sed Spiritus Patris vestri, qui loquitur in vobis.

21 παραδώσει δὲ ἀδελφὸς ἀδελφὸν εἰς θάνατον καὶ πατὴρ τέκνον, καὶ ἐπαναστήσονται τέκνα ἐπὶ γονεῖς καὶ θανατώσουσιν αὐτούς.

22 καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου: ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

23 ὅταν δὲ διώκωσιν ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ, φεύγετε εἰς τὴν ἑτέραν: ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ τελέσητε τὰς πόλεις τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

24 Οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρτὸν διδάσκαλον οὐδὲ δοῦλος ὑπὲρ τὸν κύριον αὐτοῦ.

“And brother will hand over brother to death, and a father (his) son, and a son will stand over against his parents and they will kill them. (22) And there will be hatred over all because of my name, the one enduring to the end (is) he to be saved. (23) And when they judge you in that city, flee to a different one. Amen I say to you, you will not finish the cities of Israel until may cone the son of man. (24) The student is not greater than the teacher, nor (is) the slave over his lord.

This is interesting. What we have here is sort of a conflation of stuff from the apocalyptic section of Mark mixed in with tales of persecution. This, I think, buttresses my point about this being something inserted by later authors. The most obvious meaning of the apocalyptic utterances from Mark is the “foretelling” of the Jewish War and the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem. That is where the “brother vs brother” & such fits in best. So the fact that this is mixed up with predictions of persecution is a pretty strong indicator, I think, that from the added distance of another generation, the two events kind of lumped together in the minds of those for whom those events were simply part of an undifferentiated past. Sort of like mixing up WWI with the Roaring 20s. The other tell-tale sign here is the use of the term “son of man”. Of course, this was Mark’s preferred term, but it’s a rarity in Matthew. I think this is also a pretty good indication that Matthew plucked this stuff out of Mark but maybe got his notes muddled, mixing the apocalypse with the predictions of persecution. Not that the two were necessarily separate events, but they were kept much more distinct in Mark. A generation later, Matthew didn’t have quite the keen sense of the differences between the two. Of course, the coup de grâce is the prediction of the coming of the son of man. This is very clearly and very obviously part of the apocalyptic material, and really is somewhat out of place in a “prediction” of  religious persecution. Then for good measure we get the aphorism about the student and the teacher. This is almost a complete non sequitur. This, I think, makes it pretty clear that Matthew has really mixed up his source material, and perhaps didn’t understand it all completely. That is an interesting thought, and one that deserves further attention, but not here.

So yes, I think my contention that this material does not trace back to Jesus is pretty well founded after all. At the very least, it’s an idea that has to be taken seriously and debated on its merits; it cannot be dismissed out of hand.

You know, the muddle of source material that we find here–and elsewhere–is starting to make me wonder. We know that I’m not impressed by the non-existent case for Q. But maybe the Q proponents are barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the case for Q isn’t to be made based on supposed aesthetic interpretations of Matthew’s order. I’ve mentioned once or twice before–in the Sermon on the Mount–that it sure seemed like Matthew was sort of cramming together things that didn’t exactly mesh. What it felt like then was that he had a compendium of the sayings of Jesus (Q, anyone?) and he was just sort of fitting them together almost willy-nilly. They were sayings that really had nothing to do with one another. Sayings don’t have to relate, with narrative in between. Usually sayings, aphorisms, and such are meant to stand by themselves without narrative connexion. Here, I have the sense that Matthew has at least two written sources that he has sort of fit onto a Procrustean bed: he made them fit, one way or another, and the result was something that doesn’t entirely congeal into a unified whole. So maybe this is the approach that the Q proponents should think about taking: make note of the many seams in the work, the places where pieces are stuck together, whether the placement makes sense or not. My gut is telling me there is an argument to be made. Of course, the problem is then that Matthew is no longer the masterwork of organization. Rather, he’s someone who muddled his sources because he doesn’t quite understand all the implications of what is being said. This in turn takes us too far away from Jesus; Matthew is no longer a direct pipeline–through Q–to what Jesus said and taught. He’s just someone trying to piece together the disparate source material that’s come down to him, not all of it fitting together properly.

But, if we’re going to consider this historically, that is exactly the situation that Matthew inherited. Most likely, he was given a collection of different materials, some of it conflicting, some of it downright contradictory, much of it bewildering. And he, more so even than Mark, was trying to make sense of it all, while preserving the most that he possibly could. And that meant sticking in aphorisms like the student not being greater than the teacher into a context where it doesn’t quite fit. It was the best he could do. Mark had two traditions, Matthew probably had more. I would suggest that Mark was largely responsible for creating a mostly-unified group, which may have helped spread the word via a written document. Mark was the basis for further preaching, and he was successful enough to spawn other stories. And then about the time Mark was unifying the myth, stories that originated with or from James were entering the popular lore, which confused the picture that Mark had been able to straighten out, at least partially. The result was that, a generation (or a bit more) later, Matthew had two or three or more additional streams to work with, to integrate into the basic narrative that Mark had left behind. 

21 Tradet autem frater fratrem in mortem, et pater filium; et insurgent filii in parentes et morte eos afficient.

22 Et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum; qui autem perseveraverit in finem, hic salvus erit.

23 Cum autem persequentur vos in civitate ista, fugite in aliam; amen enim dico vobis: Non consummabitis civitates Israel, donec veniat Filius hominis.

24 Non est discipulus super magistrum nec servus super dominum suum.

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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 March 28, 2015, in Chapter 10, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel, Q and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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