Matthew Chapter 10:25-28

My apologies. This was actually supposed to be part of the previous post, but I somehow managed to publish that post before I’d completed the section below. Then I was going to tack it on the end of the previous post as an update, or include it as the beginning of the next post, but this grew to be too long for either of those solutions. So I have this odd little thing stuck in here on its own. I hope it doesn’t disrupt the flow too much.

Jesus is still talking to his disciples.

25 ἀρκετὸν τῷ μαθητῇ ἵνα γένηται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ δοῦλος ὡς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ. εἰ τὸν οἰκοδεσπότην Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐπεκάλεσαν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τοὺς οἰκιακοὺς αὐτοῦ.

26 Μὴ οὖν φοβηθῆτε αὐτούς: οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστιν κεκαλυμμένον ὃ οὐκ ἀποκαλυφθήσεται, καὶ κρυπτὸν ὃ οὐ γνωσθήσεται.

27 ὃ λέγω ὑμῖν ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, εἴπατε ἐν τῷ φωτί: καὶ ὃ εἰς τὸ οὖς ἀκούετε, κηρύξατε ἐπὶ τῶν δωμάτων.

“It is enough for the disciple in order to be as (i.e., the equivlent) of his teacher, and the slave to be as his master. If they call Beelzeboul the master of the house, how much more his household? (26) And do not fear them, for nothing is overed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be known. (27) What I sat to you in the shadow, speak in the light,  and the thing you hear in the ear, announce upon rooftops.

First, the first part about Beelzeboul. Is it just me, or does that not quite make sense? What we have here is that the Greek is very minimal; there are parts of the sentence that are left out that are meant to be understood. The problem is, what I may think is the obvious implication, what I think should be understood is not necessarily the same thing someone else will understand as implied. Now, what happens in cases like this is that, over time, scholars, clergy, etc. come to a consensus on the most likely way that the passage should be taken. If you’ll recall, we came across several of these in Galatians and 1 Thessalonians, and I termed them “consesus translations”.  Now I admit that the people coming to these consensus (that’s actually the plural; it’s a fifth declension Latin noun, not a second declension noun, the plural of which would be “consensi”) are way more knowledgeable about NT Greek than I am; however, the problem is that most of them are textual scholars, people who read the text for meaning. Now, there are a number of these passages in Greek–and Latin–secular writing as well. In particular, Thucydides and Tactitus pose significant problems in translation. The difference is that the people arguing about the meaning of these texts are historians; as such, their interest is to come up with the best translation they can that will bolster their particular argument. The problem with NT Greek is that the people who reach these agreements often have a theological case to make. The result is that modern translations are often remarkably consistent on how they handle passages like this. I don’t mean to imply that this consensus is wrong, or a bad translation, but it’s important to know, IMO, that what you read in English is not necessarily supported by the Greek. That’s why you want to read the original, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Honestly, though, I have to say that, by and large, the impact that the sum-total of passages like this has on overall meaning, the overall message, isn’t that significant. There have been instances, such a when the Vulgate translated John’s admonition as “do penance” when the better rendering is “be penitent” makes a huge difference, and had an enormous impact on the development of the Western Church, a misunderstanding that was not cleared up until Erasmus made his translation in the late 15th Century. But still, everyone works from the Greek now, so such instances are very rare–I won’t say nonexistent– these days. So if you’ve been meaning to learn Greek but haven’t, don’t feel too bad. You’re not missing that much. However, learning Greek–or any language, really–has its own rewards. You won’t regret it; just beware: it is a bit of a slog.

Now, speakng of language, my understanding of grammar is that pronouns have antecedents. But in V-26, we are told, “And do not fear them…” Who is the “them”? Taking another look, it appears that it may be the same “they” who call Beezelboul the master of the house. But that just takes us back another step: what is the antecedent of the “they”? Really, the most logical plural antecedent is the accumulation of disciples, teachers, slaves, and masters who are all equal. Are these the ones we’re not to fear How does that make sense?  And from there we go into the covered/revealed, dark/light couplets; that is not exactly a smooth transition thematically, is it? So once again, I have a real sense that Matthew is doing a bit of a cut-and-paste here, and is perhaps not doing it all that well. So this is another place where we have to ask about Matthew’s sources. Or just ask what is going on here.

And it’s probably an especially good place to ask this for another reason. Mark 4:22 contains the contrast of things that were secret eventually being exposed to the light. But Mark does not have the parts about–make that the part about whispers and shouting from the rooftops. For the passage here about covered and revealed, hidden and known is actually redundant. I had to go back and come up with some synonyms for “hidden”. And yet the part about overed & revealed is supposed to be part of Q. However, this seems completely unnecessary because it could easily be that Matthew simply elaborated on Mark 4:22. In fact, that is exactly how it appears to me. And so here is, again, where I think the Q people are rather muddled in their argumentation. They’re pulling this section out and sticking it in Q, but they’re not paying much attention to the overall context. Yes, it seems like Matthew is piecing togethe difference sources, but not in the place where they postulate. 

In case it’s not obvious, my position on Q may be evolving. Maybe I’ll end up somewhere around the idea that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by different people who were both named Homer. Maybe I’ll end up saying Matthew had anothe source that wasn’t Q, but was also named Q (which stands for Quelle, which is German for “source”. Bit of a pun there.)

25 Sufficit discipulo, ut sit sicut magister eius, et servus sicut dominus eius. Si patrem familias Beelzebul vocaverunt, quanto magis domesticos eius!

26 Ne ergo timueritis eos. Nihil enim est opertum, quod non revelabitur, et occultum, quod non scietur.

27 Quod dico vobis in tenebris, dicite in lumine; et, quod in aure auditis, praedicate super tecta.

28 καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποκτεννόντων τὸ σῶμα, τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν μὴ δυναμένων ἀποκτεῖναι: φοβεῖσθε δὲ μᾶλλον τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ.

And do not fear from those who kill the body, but the soul they are not able to kill. Rather, fear the one who is able both the body and soul to destroy in Gehenna.

This passage presents two major problems: “soul” (psyche) and “Gehenna”. As for “soul”…I am not completely sure we can accept that as a translation. Funny, just after saying how there are very few times when it doesn’t matter if you read the Greek or not, we run into this a few verses later. Matthew has only used this word a couple of times so far, and in all of them it really meant “life”. As in, losing one’s life = dying. Here…there is an obvious distinction between psyche and soma, the latter meaning the body. So is Matthew saying, “can kill the body but not kill the life”? That really doesn’t work in English. The Latin is “anima”, which is generally translated as “soul”, but the match between the English and Latin is not all that good, let alone exact. “Anima” is obviously the root of “animal” and “animate”. Here, it would mean something like “animating principle”. And this isn’t too far from what we mean by soul; the only thing is that it doesn’t necessarily have the idea of individuality that we often mean by “soul”.

Well, just took a little digression into Aristotle’s On The Soul* to try to get some idea of  what the educated opinion, or definition of the term psyche might be. It was, and it wasn’t helpful. Yes, I realize that the evangelists would not necessarily have read Aristotle; in fact, I would guess that they hadn’t. However, educated opinion has a way of percolating outward to influence popular thought, if in an attenuated and/or altered form. What I found was that Aristotle’s “the soul is the essence of one’s being” kind of did, but didn’t really fit here. The thing is, the way the word is used here is in obvious distinction to the physical body. This at least implies that the soul is perhaps immortal and that it has something to do with the individual personality. That’s where “anima” falls short, at least in its original sense in Latin. So we are getting some intimation of the immortal soul that survives the death of the physical body. And we’ve had that idea before, too, in Mark. What I am finding frustrating is how diffuse these ideas are; it’s like there are a lot of assumptions made, like we’re expected to know some of the underlying concepts when, in fact, they’ve never really been defined for us. But then, that may be because I’m more accustomed to stuff like Aristotle, where the first task is to set out and define terms. However, the fact that the term “psyche” is also used to mean something like “life”–or animating principle–as in “saving one’s life” indicates that the idea is still in flux; Matthew himself may not have been clear on exactly what he meant. That, however, leads to some other really interesting questions about Jesus’ message, the sources, and how the message may have changed over time.

Connected to the idea of “psyche” is the idea of Gehenna. Matthew says that Gehenna can kill the psyche as well as the body. This is not exactly orthodox Christian doctrine which says the soul cannot be killed. And we are talking about “killed”, I think. Otherwise, the contrast between those who can only kill the body doesn’t quite work. So this is another reason to be wary of simply translating psyche as “soul” and going our merry way. It doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t fit with mere physical life, but it doesn’t quite fit with later Christian ideas of the immortal soul. We are in a transitional phase.

As we go along and come across things like this, the conclusion we should be drawing is that the concepts of the NT more resemble and onion than a unitary whole. That’s a cliché, of course, but ideas become cliché because they are appropriate to so many different situations. So the next time you’re tempted to illustrate Mark by referencing to Matthew, bear in mind that the two evangelists may be using similar, or even the same words with very different intentions. The words change, the concepts develop. We’ve seen that with Jesus himself. We’re seeing it with the term “psyche”. I am going to have to do a special topic assessment of the words psyche and pneuma to see where we stand at this point as far as meaning.

*BTW: I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of Aristotle’s Greek. In some ways, it was easier to understand than the English, largely because the English terms got so convoluted, which resulted in some tortured syntax. The English was convoluted because it often required three or four words to translate a single word in Greek. Had to do a bit of dictionary-jumping, but once I got past some of the basic terms, it went fairly easily. 

28 Et nolite timere eos, qui occidunt corpus, animam autem non possunt occidere; sed potius eum timete, qui potest et animam et corpus perdere in gehenna.


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 30, 2015, in Chapter 10, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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