Monthly Archives: April 2015

Matthew Chapter 11:20-30

This will conclude Chapter 11. We left off with Jesus talking about John and the relationship between John and Jesus.

20 Τότε ἤρξατο ὀνειδίζειν τὰς πόλεις ἐν αἷς ἐγένοντο αἱ πλεῖσται δυνάμεις αὐτοῦ, ὅτι οὐ μετενόησαν:

Then he began to upbraid the cities in which came into being the most of his exercises of power, that had not repented.

I’m sure I’ve discussed the word << δυνάμεις >>, which is rendered as “virtutes” in Latin. The latter, of course, is the root of the English “virtue”. The KJV and a couple of more recent translations give this as “mighty works” while the NIV goes right to “miracles”. And this latter is how the Greek is most often translated, or the way it has come to be most often translated. I don’t like this, because the Latin root, “miracula” most properly means “wonders” and not necessarily in the good sense. For example, a magician’s trick could be described as a “miraculum” (singular form), and we would certainly never use the term “miracle” for such an exhibition. As time passed, this came to be the word for “miracle’ in ecclesiastical Latin, supplanting “virtus” which went on to become “virtue”. The root of the Greek word is power, in the sense of having the ability to do something, rather than the power conferred by holding an official position. I do prefer the KJV’s “mighty works” over “miracles”, but that still sounds like it could be describing the construction of the aqueduct of Segovia, or something such. “Works of power” may capture the sense of the Greek.

And is it just me, or is this another abrupt transition? “Then” is extremely minimal, providing no real sense of continuity, let alone causality. There is pretty much no explanation of how this relates to what had gone just before. So why the abrupt transition? Is it fair of me to ask this question, when most of Mark’s verses begin simply with “and”? To some degree the difference is that I haven’t read countless encomia to Mark’s masterful organization of material as I have for Matthew, usually as the sole argument for Q. That is just incredibly short-sighted. Here is a great example where it’s really easy to envision that Matthew had a bunch of separate stories, unconnected and unrelated to each other that he then pieced together in sort of a linear mosaic. (Not a bad metaphor, if I do say so myself…)  If you want to argue that Matthew used other sources, then here you are. And note, this is not said to be in the original stratum of Q. But it sure is in Luke, so it must have been in one of the later iterations of Q, but that means Q loses all purpose. There are two reasons why scholars defend Q unto the death: First (and foremost), it allows the possibility that some of the things Matthew and Luke say could trace back to Jesus (blessed are the poor….) Second, it allows the independence of Matthew and Luke, so Luke can be cited as corroboration of Matthew. Sorry, doesn’t fly. There likely were other sources available to Matthew, some of them even written, but there is nothing to demonstrate effectively that Luke must have been, or most likely was, independent of Matthew.

20 Tunc coepit exprobrare civitatibus, in quibus factae sunt plurimae virtutes eius, quia non egissent paenitentiam:

21 Οὐαί σοι, Χοραζίν: οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδά: ὅτι εἰ ἐν Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἐγένοντο αἱ δυνάμειςαἱ γενόμεναι ἐν ὑμῖν, πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ μετενόησαν.

22 πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως ἢ ὑμῖν.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! That if in Tyre and Sidon had been the works of power that came into being in you, long ago in sackcloth and ashes they would have repented. (22) Except I say to you, Tyre and Sidon will be more tolerable on the day of judgement than for you.

The thing here would be to know the fates of Chorazin and Bethsaida during the Jewish Rebellion. Were they destroyed? A quick Google search tells me that both these cities are in Galilee. Apparently Bethsaida had become fairly wealthy, but then went into decline. I didn’t get the sense that the timing of this decline has not ben entirely nailed down; archaeological dating can be imprecise, plus/minus a decade or two is often considered a good date. So this  will require some additional research. The same will be true for Caphernaum. All were in Galilee; while Galilee had been a hotbed of unrest, I don’t know the subsequent history of the region. Unfortunately, research into this may have become the purview of biblical scholarship; as such, I’m not optimistic about the findings. I was often unimpressed by the approach taken by contributors to Biblical Archaeolgy Review.

And the Malachi quote that we got in the last section was very useful. Now I know that the idea of Judgement Day was sort of in the air. It was a theme, or a motif, or an idea with which people were reasonably familiar. It was the sort of expression that could be tossed around that would be understood, but at the same time not necessarily be taken too seriously. When an idea becomes part of the wallpaper of life, then it starts to lose whatever emotional impact it may have had at one point. As such, I don’t have to worry back and forth about what this means, what sort of development it indicates. It doesn’t necessarily indicate anything, except perhaps that this idea had become part of the background noise of the era. 

That realization, however, presents a new set of problems. If the idea of Judgement Day was sort of there, then any references to it by the evangelists may not have a lot of import. If Jesus was one of many prophets of doom, then he wasn’t necessarily anything special, and his teaching on this isn’t necessarily anything special. As such, how much time and energy do we need to expend trying to work out the implications of what Jesus is said to be discussing? Offhand, I’m not sure of what the answer to that is. What sort of impact does this have on the idea of the kingdom? Was the kingdom this vague concept because it was just kind of a generic thing? 

Think about that for a moment. Was this phrase, or idea, used casually, without necessarily implying dire events? The modus operandi for this sort of utterance is to take it with deadly seriousness, as if every word had been weighed before it was written for theological implications of this sort. This is done because this has been the method used by subsequent readers for the past two millennia. But Matthew may not have done that. He was writing to impart a Greater Truth; absolute precision in every word and sentence may not have been carefully considered in the way theology or philosophy scholars write, or would have written the gospels. We need to think about that possibilitly. And the possibility (probability?) that Matthew was using a number of sources only increases this likelihood, I think. Such cobbling together of source material often leads to conflicting, or even contradictory expessions. Now, of course, this isn’t a consideration if every word is divinely inspired, but that is not my approach.

21 “Vae tibi, Chorazin! Vae tibi, Bethsaida! Quia si in Tyro et Sidone factae essent virtutes, quae factae sunt in vobis, olim in cilicio et cinere paenitentiam egissent.

22 Verumtamen dico vobis: Tyro et Sidoni remissius erit in die iudicii quam vobis.

23 καὶ σύ, Καφαρναούμ, μὴ ἕως οὐρανοῦ ὑψωθήσῃ; ἕως ἅιδου καταβήσῃ. ὅτι εἰ ἐν Σοδόμοις ἐγενήθησαν αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν σοί, ἔμεινεν ἂν μέχρι τῆς σήμερον.

24 πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι γῇ Σοδόμων ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως ἢ σοί.

“And you, Caphernaum, were you not lifted up unto heaven? Down to Hades you will be cast down. That if in Sodom had been the works of power which came into being in you, it would remain even unto this very day. 

Here’s a question: Jesus singles out Caphernaum, where he presumably moved to, but not Nazareth, where he was supposedly born. Why the silence on Nazareth? We haven’t come to the point in the narrative that corresponds to Mark 6, where Jesus can perform no works of power in his (unnamed) hometown. In Matthew’s version, the hometown is unnamed as well. Now, is Nazareth spared the woe because it hadn’t seen any miracles? Because Jesus worked none there? Or because Matthew sort of forgot that this was supposed to be Jesus’ hometown? 

Hades? That’s interesting. The word shows of up six times in Matthew and Luke/Acts, a single time in 1 Corinthians, and in four times more in Revelation. IOW, this is not a common word in the NT. Boy howdy, this sure strikes me as a pretty good indication that Luke had read Matthew, especially since it shows up in Luke’s version of this story, too. To have such an uncommon word show up in Matthew and Luke and almost nowhere else, well, that seems to be a bit more than coincidental. We had Gehenna in Mark, we had Gehenna earlier in Matthew, and now we get Hades. Why the switch? Are there nuances separating the two? Of course, we could explain this 

And while we’re talking about Matthew, Luke, and Q, I went off on the question of sources, of where this came from. This is not in the original stratum of Q, but it is in both Matthew and Luke. If it’s not in Q, then how did it get into both Matthew and Luke, if Luke didn’t read Matthew?

And while we’re talking about Hades, let’s talk a moment about Matthew’s background. In the previous verses I mentioned the banality of the idea of Judgement Day in Jewish cultural thought. Does that indicate that Matthew was, indeed, Jewish? At first glance, I might even be tempted to think so. As I was writing that I had pause to consider how that affected my idea that Matthew was a pagan. Didn’t Matthew’s treatment Judgement Day weigh against that? Well, now we have Hades. As we saw in Mark, Gehenna was specific to Judea, dating back to days of sacrifice to Baal, or Moloch or whichever one it was. Hades, however, is a Greek concept. Now, Matthew we know spoke Greek, read the HS in the Greek LXX rather than in Hebrew, so wouldn’t Hades also be one of those ideas that’s out there in the air? It’s possible. If so, though, that gives us an idea that some aspects of the two cultures were pretty thoroughly intermingled. I don’t know what the implications of that are, but it’s something else to consider as we progress. We’re loading up on those things to consider. 

Now note one thing: In both of these sequences the Israelite towns are being condemned, and the pagan towns are being raised up. It will be better for Tyre and Sidon on Judgement Day, and the people of Sodom–Sodom!–would have repented having seen the wonders that Caphernaum had seen. Hmm. t seems like what we have here is the Jewish towns–and populace–being superseded by pagan towns–and populace. Isn’t this what has been happening in the Jesus movement in general? Hmm.  

I was a bit flummoxed by this section, about what it was supposed to mean, why it was here. My initial reaction was that Jesus was “predicting” the destruction of these places in the “coming” Jewish War. Now I don’t think so. Now I believe this was about the changing of the composition of the followers of Jesus. It’s about how and why the Jews were no longer the prevalent group: they had ignored the evidence before them while erstwhile pagans saw these same signs, understood, and repented. And note that this is not a situation that would have been prevalent during Jesus’ lifetime. It’s not something that would have been true in the 50s, when the earliest stratum of Q would have been written. It’s a situation that would have come into being only sometime after the end of the Jewish War, and even then it likely would have taken time. IOW, it’s a situation that would only have existed some time after Mark, but sometime before Matthew.

So consider that: circumstances that pertained only in the mid-to-late 70s CE. So, IOW, this had to end up in the second stratum of Q, become disseminated, come to Matthew’s notice who included it, and continued to circulate as Q until Luke got ahold of it, and then it conveniently disappeared. Or, Matthew wrote about circumstances in his time, Luke read Matthew and…that’s it. Which of these explanations seems more probable? Or let’s rephrase that to make it a littler easier to decide: which of the explanations is less complex, has fewer working parts? That makes it a bit easier to choose, doesn’t it? No one that I’ve read thinks that all of the stuff in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark was written at the same time. So, what that means is that Q has been created for the sole purpose of having Matthew and Luke as independent writers, not because it really solves any problems. Q may have existed, but it could just as easily not have existed, and we would get to the same point as we are. Q is not necessary; as such, we have to ask if it’s the best solution. I don’t believe it is. 

23 Et tu, Capharnaum, numquid usque in caelum exaltaberis? Usque in infernum descendes! Quia si in Sodomis factae fuissent virtutes, quae factae sunt in te, mansissent usque in hunc diem.

24 Verumtamen dico vobis: Terrae Sodomorum remissius erit in die iudicii quam tibi ”.

25 Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ἐξομολογοῦμαί σοι, πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅτι ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις:

26 ναί, ὁ πατήρ, ὅτι οὕτως εὐδοκία ἐγένετο ἔμπροσθέν σου.

“On that day you will answer,” Jesus said, “I confess to you, father, lord of the heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and the prudent, you have revealed them to children. (26) Yes, father, that in this way it was pleasant before you. 

 “That day” refers to Judgement Day, of course. Hiding things from the wise and revealing them to the foolish is a close paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1:19. Is it close enough that independent derivation–whether by Matthew or someone else–to be impossible? Probably not. I don’t think that Matthew necessarily had read Paul, but I think in some way Matthew became aware of the sentiment through some aspect of the tradition. And here’s the thing. Overall, there is very little reason to suspect that Matthew had direct knowledge of Paul’s writings. As such, I’m willing to consider that Matthew/Mark and Paul do represent independent sources. Given that, I believe there is a better–much better, in fact–chance that the idea here can be attributed to Jesus than can be said of “blessed are the poor”. I think that Jesus may have said that what is hidden from the wise is revealed to children, while I’m very skeptical about the Beatitudes.

Now, having said that, the word here translated as “prudent” occurs four times in the NT. Once here, once in Luke’s version, in 1 Corinthians–which is a variation on this theme–and againg in Acts in an unrelated passage. The same word, repeated in the same context sure does look like there is a written source behind it. What is that source. Q? And yet Paul used it, so it’s much more likely that the written source either was Paul, or was derived from Paul. Then Luke got it directly from Matthew. That would work against Jesus having said this. So what’s my final opinion? Did Jesus use this example? Probably not, but it gets closer–much closer–that “blessed are the poor” which doesn’t show up until Matthew. And the fact that it skipped Mark, I think, makes the derivation from Paul more likely. Matthew wrote 30+ years after Paul, at a time when the movement was increasingly made up of pagans. Matthew wrote outside Judea/Galilee (supposedly). Given all of this, it’s not impossible to believe that some portion, or scraps of Paul were available to him whereas the dissemination of Paul’s writings or words hadn’t spread out sufficiently to reach Mark.

Here’s a thought: the idea expressed here has a certain Zen quality to it. It’s the same underlying concept as the koan; the Truth of Jesus is something that can’t be understood through the rational mind = by the wise. The understanding of a child is much more plastic and much less hidebound by rules. I had never considered that this may be part of what Paul means by “sola fides”. Just a thought.

And speaking of hidebound, I’m being a bit hidebound by insisting on translating it as “pleasing it in front of you”.   But then, that is my purpose here, to help all those poor students taking introductory NT Greek…

25 In illo tempore respondens Iesus dixit: “ Confiteor tibi, Pater, Domine caeli et terrae, quia abscondisti haec a sapientibus et prudentibus et revelasti ea parvulis.

26 Ita, Pater, quoniam sic fuit placitum ante te.

27 Πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐπιγινώσκειτὸν υἱὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ, οὐδὲ τὸν πατέρα τις ἐπιγινώσκει εἰ μὴ ὁ υἱὸς καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν βούληται ὁ υἱὸς ἀποκαλύψαι.

(27) All has been handed over to me from my father, and no one knows the son except the father, and no one knows the father except the son, and the one to whom the son wishes to reveal (it/him).

This, OTOH, is a foreshadow of John’s gospel, which won’t be written for another twenty years (give or take). Here is where we start to see the identification of Jesus with God the Father. The two were distinctly separate in Mark; there was no real attempt to equate them. In Matthew, I believe this is the second time we’ve run into a situation like this, where the evangelist deliberately inserts language to make us understand the unity between the two. And here is probably a good example of how Matthew–or any of the evangelists, save possibly John–were not systematic theologians. A sentence like this opens up an entirely new vista for theological implication and review. And yet, Matthew drops this on us and doesn’t follow up with anything else that would explain, or expand, or even acknowledge what he’s done here. And once again, I wonder if we are not getting the tail end of another tradition, perpetuated by a group that saw Jesus as divine, but perhaps a god himself rather than just the son of a god. That is pure speculation on my part, but it does address the problem a sentence like this causes.

I did a word search through what we’ve read of Matthew and Mark, and I didn’t find anything similar to this. The closest was Mark saying that only the father knew the hour and not the son. But that is the opposite of this, contrasting the two rather than making them equal. In this recent passage the son is given all by the father. “All” of course, is properly vague, but I wouldn’t take it in our absolutist terms. This could, in fact, be a direct response to the passage in Mark, in which the son was not given all.  The question then becomes, who is pushing back against that? Is it another group? Or is it Matthew? While I said that this is the first time we’ve come across this sort of passage in Matthew, he has gone out of his way to establish that Jesus is divine, if not quite stressing his equality with the father. Regardless, the point exists that Jesus is moving up the ladder, closer to the heavens.

Aside from that, the role of the son as the gatekeeper to the father is an interesting innovation. It will, of course, be picked up by John. There is doubtless some significance to this role, to this portrayal of the son, but I’m not entirely sure what it might mean. Both Calvin & Matthew Henry take this passage to be about salvation. Christians are taught to approach Jesus for salvation, but in light of this passage, it seems that Jesus is the conduit, that salvation ultimately comes from the father, not Jesus. If I am reading that correctly (most people will emphatically claim that I am not), what we’re seeing here is sort of a transition thought. Jesus is not the one granting; Jesus is the intercessor for us before the father. Of course, that’s assuming we’re talking about salvation here; the word is never mentioned, nor is ‘the life’. But I think that is the (possible) meaning here. What exactly was taught about salvation remains tantalizingly, maddeningly, just out of reach in the text. I know what later Christians believed and taught, but it’s still not completely clear what Matthew and his crew believed and taught. To be honest, thought, I’m not entirely convinced that they were aware of all the implications of what is written here.

27 Omnia mihi tradita sunt a Patre meo; et nemo novit Filium nisi Pater, neque Patrem quis novit nisi Filius et cui voluerit Filius revelare.

28 Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς.

29 ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν:

30 ὁ γὰρ ζυγός μου χρηστὸς καὶ τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν.

Come after me, all laboring and burdened, and I will refresh you. (29) Take up my yoke upon you, and learn from me that I am meek and humble at heart, and you will find renewal in your psyches. (30) For my yoke is easy and the burden of me (the burden you carry because of me) is easy.  

This is what I mean about sentiments that are conflicting, if not outright contradictory. My yoke is easy doesn’t exactly square with taking up one’s cross. Just recently Jesus was telling us that foxes have holes but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head, and that one must take up a cross to be worthy of the kingdom. Now, the yoke is easy. This is a very comforting passage, with a message that surely provides hope and encouragement, and it’s passages like this that are the true appeal of Christianity to so many people who find themselves oppressed by the circumstances of their lives. But it’s the inconsistency that gives me, that should give me pause. Perhaps this inconsistency is an example of how things are hidden from the wise (not that I count myself in that camp) but are revealed to children. Or maybe it’s the Zen aspect, where we have to reconcile the contradiction by thinking without logic. Or maybe it’s the result of different people repeating different messages that they each believed they heard, however circuitously, however transformed, from Jesus. 

28 Venite ad me, omnes, qui laboratis et onerati estis, et ego reficiam vos.

29 Tollite iugum meum super vos et discite a me, quia mitis sum et humilis corde, et invenietis requiem animabus vestris.

30 Iugum enim meum suave, et onus meum leve est”.

Matthew Chapter 11:7-19

We left off with Jesus talking to the disciples of John, telling them of the fulfillment of the prophesies of Isaiah for the day when the Lord would come with a vengeance. These disciples are the “they” who go away in Verse 7.

7 Τούτων δὲ πορευομένων ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγειν τοῖς ὄχλοις περὶ Ἰωάννου, Τί ἐξήλθατε εἰς τὴν ἔρημον θεάσασθαι; κάλαμον ὑπὸ ἀνέμου σαλευόμενον;

8 ἀλλὰ τί ἐξήλθατε ἰδεῖν; ἄνθρωπον ἐν μαλακοῖς ἠμφιεσμένον; ἰδοὺ οἱ τὰ μαλακὰφοροῦντες ἐν τοῖς οἴκοις τῶν βασιλέων εἰσίν.

9 ἀλλὰ τί ἐξήλθατε ἰδεῖν; προφήτην; ναί, λέγω ὑμῖν, καὶ περισσότερον προφήτου.

They (disciples of John) having gone away, Jesus began to say to the crowd about John, “What did you come out into the wilderness to see for yourself? A reed waving in the wind? (8) But what did you come to see? A man dressed in soft (clothes)? Look, those dressed in soft clothes are in the houses of kings.   (9) But what did you expect to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.

A couple of quick things. Most people dressed in homespun. It wasn’t processed all that much because it cost too much (in labor) to do so. As a result, their clothes were coarse. Kings, however, could afford to pay people to make soft cloth, and then make this into clothes. I believe that most people would have worn wool garments, because sheep were plentiful. Cotton was grown in Egypt at the very least, but I don’t believe it was grown elsewhere to any extent. Cotton is much softer than wool, and the limited production meant it was expensive. So kings could also afford this. The softness, and the lighter weight of cotton was what made it become so wildly popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. That, and the invention of the cotton gin, which made it fast and cheap to separate the seeds out of the raw cotton, which had also been a barrier to widespread use of the material.

But the real point of this is to build up the relationship to the Baptist. The question is, why? This bit is not considered to be part of the original stratum of Q. Therefore, it cannot date back to Jesus. Therefore, it was made up after Jesus’ death. So why would someone, two generations after the deaths of both Jesus and John wish to continue the relationship between the two? Why did Matthew invent this little speech for Jesus? And the most likely explanation is that Matthew did make it up, rather than that Matthew received it from tradition. Well, the first reason would be that there were still followers of John. In fact, there were still enough followers of John that the proto-Christians sought to co-opt them and bring them into the sphere of Jesus’ followers. By calling John “more than a prophet”, Matthew flatters both John and John’s followers. This, most likely, was intended to induce these followers to give the teachings of the proto-Christian community a fair hearing. Because as I’ve said, far from being embarrassed by Jesus’ prima facie subordinate position to John and downplaying it, the evangelists continue to expand on the relationship between the two. This is not the action of people who were embarrassed by Jesus’ relationship with John. Matthew expands it, and Luke expands it even more, by by creating the tale that the two were first cousins. No, the evangelists want to underline and bold the relationship; they do not want to delete it.

Aside from winning converts, the other thing a solid relationship between John and Jesus cements the latter’s connexion to “mainstream” Judaism. I’ve mentioned this before, so I’ll just recapitulate briefly. By this point, connecting Jesus to Judaism was not an effort to impress Jews as whole–followers of John excepted–but to impress pagans. This connexion set Jesus firmly into the ancient tradition of the Jews, and this long lineage was of great importance as a marketing tool to attract pagans. These latter were impressed by ancient wisdom, not by innovation. This, I think, is the strongest possibility of why the connexion to John was steadily enlarged. If this could attract followers of John, or at least neutralize John as a competing sect, that would have been largely an added bonus. The pagan audience was much larger, and would have been seen as the real point of emphasis.

7 Illis autem abeuntibus, coepit Iesus dicere ad turbas de Ioanne: “ Quid existis in desertum videre? Arundinem vento agitatam?

8 Sed quid existis videre? Hominem mollibus vestitum? Ecce, qui mollibus vestiuntur, in domibus regum sunt.

9 Sed quid existis videre? Prophetam? Etiam, dico vobis, et plus quam prophetam.

10 οὗτός ἐστιν περὶ οὗ γέγραπται, Ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου ἔμπροσθέν σου.

11 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ ἐγήγερταιἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν μείζων Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ: ὁ δὲ μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν μείζων αὐτοῦ ἐστιν.

“He is the one about whom it was written, ‘Behold, I send (apostello) my herald before your face, the one who prepares the way before you’.”  (11) Amen I say to you, there is not one raised up born of a woman greater than John the Baptist. But (de) the least in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than John.”

 This is a very clever echo of the opening of account of John back in Chapter 3:3. Except there the quote came from Isaiah; here it is Malachi 3:1. I deem this clever because it expresses much the same sentiment, and evokes the same sense of expectation for what is to come. I did not realize that Malachi so closely reiterated what Isaiah had said, and here Matthew the clever scholar of the HS* uses the lesser prophet to reinforce what the greater prophet had said. This also gives me, the former Catholic whose knowledge of the NT was spotty, and whose knowledge of the HS was almost–but not quite–non-existent a moment of pause. Like preaching to the poor in Isaiah, the announcement of the herald who comes to prepare the way indicates a level of Messiah expectation beyond what I had suspected. The thing is, in Malachi the forerunner is the herald of the Day of Judgement, just as the signs prophesied by Isaiah that were just noted by Jesus were indications of the coming of the Lord. In vengeance.  But then, that is what the herald presaged in Isaiah 40:3, the verse used about John back in Matthew 3:3.

Naturally, the purpose of this all is to fix both John and Jesus into the context of the HS. It flatters John by making him the fulfillment of prophecy from both Isaiah and Malachi. Of course, it flatters Jesus even more by implying that he is the coming Lord. After all, this is the question that was asked: are you the one who’s coming? Jesus gave his usual cryptic and/or evasive answer by citing the prophesies, but, ultimately, the answer is ‘yes’. 

Now this produces a bit of prestidigitation here. Jesus is the one who’s coming, but in the prophecies the one who’s coming is the Lord, IOW, God, and the coming is a Day of Retribution and/or Vengeance, or even Judgement Day. If Jesus is “the one”, does this equate him to the Lord/God? If so, does this mean it’s Judgement Day? To be honest, these are niceties of logic that really don’t apply to this sort of writing. Matthew is not creating a case; he’s telling us a Truth. By “the one” he of course means the anointed. Just exactly what the implications of this were for Matthew is difficult to say. I would suspect he wasn’t entirely clear on this himself. These were not systematic theologians like St Augustine; they were likely preachers of the word, full of the sacred breath. And the thing about that is, when one is breathed into (in-spired) what comes out as perfectly suited to the moment may not be completely consistent with something you said the week, or the day before. And yet, both are True. This is where Truth and factual accuracy most notably part company, Opposing sentiments can be True, even if they are mutually exclusive. This is the sort of thing that can drive rational people into disbelief.

Our main concern here, however, is what does Matthew believe? Well, we know from the outset of the gospel that he believes that Jesus is the Christ; and this is what he means by ‘the one who is to come’. Does he believe it’s Judgement Day? Probably not. He may be stating, or at least implying, that the kingdom of the heavens has dawned. That it is happening. I’ve read other interpreters say this about Mark: that the miracles were meant to be the sign that the kingdom had indeed arrived. I’m not sure I agree with this, and almost certainly I don’t agree with this about Matthew. He doesn’t stress the miracles, at least not qua miracles. Jesus does point to them as signs that the kingdom was/is coming. But what the actual implications are, it’s not entirely clear. So far, the maddening thing about reading these gospels is that so much is oblique. I’m looking for the foundations of later Christian theology, or at least later Christian dogma, and it’s remarkably elusive. This is especially true if you take each gospel as a discreet unit. Neither Mark, nor Matthew (so far) has set out the sort of catechism I was taught in religion classes. So much of it, from the Trinity on, had to be worked out in subsequent centuries. Clearly, the words in these verses tell us that Matthew believes that something has changed, or will change. But, if the latter, when? That is difficult to say.

One last thing. The existence of the quote from Malachi used here tells us that apocalyptic thinking was by no means restricted to Jesus and his followers. Malachi was written late in the pre-Common Era. As such, it’s a good indication that apocalyptic expectations were not alien to the thought-world into which Jesus was born. If you compare different apocalyptic writings, we immediately note the variances between them. This is the Truth/accuracy dichotomy showing up very clearly. What exactly would happen was not, I think, entirely the point. It was that drastic changes would occur: great upheavals, a time of tribulation, an overthrow of the existing order, perhaps the end times. As such, perhaps we are–or I am–mistaken to look for a programmatic description of what Matthew expected, or what he meant by the kingdom. Paul clearly expected the end times, and soon. But what he expected of the kingdom isn’t entirely clear, either. He taught that certain behaviours would exclude one from the kingdom, but that’s about as good a description as one gets.  Once again, perhaps this is not a topic amenable to rational investigation. Perhaps asking the question indicates that one has missed the point.  

Oops. There is one more last thing: the bit about John being less than the least in the kingdom. However, I’m going to discuss it in conjunction with the next section. 

[ *Matthew’s deep knowledge of the HS does not necessarily imply that he was raised a Jew. I have been making the argument to the contrary. However, it is the most likely explanation for Matthew’s understanding of HS. What this means is that I need to come up with a really good argument to give plausibility to my assertion that Matthew was not Jewish by birth or upbringing. Then I suppose a marriage between a Jew and a Pagan might provide a working explanation for both Matthew’s grasp of the OT and those places where he seems to have an innate sense of the pagan world as well. I need to collect the scattered pieces of my argument and fit them together to see if it comes close to holding water. But then, I need to do this with a number of themes ]

10 Hic est, de quo scriptum est: / “Ecce ego mitto angelum meum ante faciem tuam, / qui praeparabit viam tuam ante te”.

11 Amen dico vobis: Non surrexit inter natos mulierum maior Ioanne Baptista; qui autem minor est in regno caelorum, maior est illo.

12 ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται, καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν.

13 πάντες γὰρ οἱ προφῆται καὶ ὁ νόμος ἕως Ἰωάννου ἐπροφήτευσαν:

14 καὶ εἰ θέλετε δέξασθαι, αὐτός ἐστιν Ἠλίας ὁ μέλλων ἔρχεσθαι.

15 ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω.

From the days of John the Dunker until now, the kingdom of the heavens suffers violence (lit = is violented.  ‘Violence is actually a passive verb here), and the violent ones seize her (her = the kingdom; “kingdom is a feminine noun, so feminine pronouns are used). (13) For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (14) And if you wish to accept, he (John) is Elijah, the one willing to come. (15) Let the one having ears hear.

The antecedent for the “he” in “he is Elijah” is most logically John. That’s what all the rules tell us, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet. I say this because it’s critically important to the meaning of the passage.

The first part of this presents an interesting existential statement. The kingdom suffers violence, and has been seized by violent ones. This is not a description of something that is to be experienced in the afterlife, or something that is approaching. It is here. Now. In fact, it’s been here since the time of the prophets. The only possible way to understand this is that the kingdom of the heavens is actually the world as we know it. How else could it have been hijacked by violent ones? S0 what does this do to all our musings about the kingdom? And why did John tell us that the kingdom was approaching?

I suppose the most obvious interpretation is that the current order, in which the kingdom was seized by violence is to be overthrown. The violent men will be cast off, and the true nature of the kingdom will become manifest. But by virtue of this statement, we are not to expect the kingdom in the afterlife, but in this life. Remember, Matthew has not used psyche to mean anything but physical life, other than in the passage about killing the body but not the psyche. Nor has he mentioned “the life”, which Mark talked about. Perhaps those are implicit, that the audience for the gospel would read the existence of those two things into the text to this point, just as later Christians did. But I doubt that. Really, the only way this passage makes sense is if the kingdom is to occur here in this life, on this world. This will be the ideal state that is to occur after the overthrow of the current order.

And the reference to Elijah came in Mark’s story of the Transfiguration. At that point, Jesus told those followers who had witnessed the Transfiguration that Elijah had already come. Per my limited understanding of HS, it seems that Elijah was to come (return?) before the fulfillment of the prophecies. In Mark 9, when Jesus said Elijah had come, the implication–as I read it–was that Jesus referred to the Elijah who had indeed come, back in the days before the fall of Israel. Here, however, Matthew is making the direct connexion of Elijah and John. There is nothing in Mark to note the equation John = Elijah, IMO, this statement of Matthew making the equation explicit is an idea, or an interpretation that came along later, between the time Mark and Matthew wrote. And this makes sense given the overall context of the chapter so far. It’s all been about setting the identities and the roles of Jesus and John. The latter has been elevated to the one foretold by Isaiah and by Malachi; here, he is elevated further into the role of Elijah. 

But then there’s the bit from the last section, that John is the greatest of those born of women, but less than the least in the kingdom. How does that jibe with a) the idea of a kingdom of this world; and b) John = Elijah? As for the first, I’m not entirely sure it does. How can both of these be? How can the kingdom be seized by violent ones, and yet be approaching, and yet John is lesser than the least in the kingdom? Logically, I’m not sure you can. Eve in the realm of mythic Truth, this becomes difficult. So what do we make of this? How do we square the circle?

The most obvious suggestion, and explanation, I think, is that we are dealing with multiple threads of belief. There are multiple threads because the meaning of all of this was not entirely settled among the various groups that followed and professed Jesus as their…lord, I guess would be the most generic term. I hesitate to use anointed because I’m not entirely convinced that this was a universal belief. The other thread out there was the belief in Jesus as a divine being, which I think was even further from being universal. Given this, I would suggest that this lack of universality was a major impetus behind Matthew writing. I think he was trying to establish what we would call an orthodox position. I suggested the same about Mark, that he was trying to merge the wonder-worker with the anointed one. In this, I would suggest that Mark was largely, but not completely successful. Or perhaps, in Matthew’s eyes, Mark hadn’t gone far enough; he hadn’t convincingly demonstrated Jesus’ divinity.

In addition, perhaps Matthew was trying to nail down just what was meant by the kingdom. But because he didn’t want to sort out and validate–or invalidate–certain segments, he sort of included them all. This results in an aphorism stuck into a passage where it doesn’t really seem to belong. This results in sections like this, where several (at least potentially) contradictory statements are put together in an attempt to create a unity. Really, what this needs is a finer comb, to go back to those places where it seems that things don’t quite fit together, to collect them, and to sort them to see if there is any coherent pattern. To the best of my (admittedly very limited) knowledge, this has never been done before, because no one has ever approached it from the perspective of the historical development of the text. At least, it hasn’t been done successfully enough to leave a distinct footprint in the scholarship. 

In the end, the message is that I’m not sure what Matthew believes in when he says ‘the kingdom’. Perhaps he didn’t know himself? And by “know”, I mean he hadn’t completely arrived at a semi-consistent notion of the kingdom. And it occurs to me: if I am correct that a number of things Jesus said went into circulation between the time of Mark and Matthew then the latter’s incomplete conception makes sense. I am suggesting that Jesus followers increased significantly after Mark, but they did so in isolation from each other. So this led to different interpretations, that were bolstered by different quotes “from Jesus”. This is exactly the sort of thing that occurs when the master passes and the different followers remember different things, or even the same things in different ways. So yes, much of the Q material may have come from other sources, but, IMO, not all of it was actually from Jesus. Some of it came from other places, and one major source was likely James the Just.   

12 A diebus autem Ioannis Baptistae usque nunc regnum caelorum vim patitur, et violenti rapiunt illud.

13 Omnes enim Prophetae et Lex usque ad Ioannem prophetaverunt;

14 et si vultis recipere, ipse est Elias, qui venturus est.

15 Qui habet aures, audiat.

16 Τίνι δὲ ὁμοιώσω τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην; ὁμοία ἐστὶν παιδίοις καθημένοις ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς ἃ προσφωνοῦντα τοῖς ἑτέροις

17 λέγουσιν, Ηὐλήσαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ οὐκ ὠρχήσασθε: ἐθρηνήσαμεν καὶ οὐκ ἐκόψασθε.

18 ἦλθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης μήτε ἐσθίων μήτε πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Δαιμόνιον ἔχει:

19 ἦλθεν ὁυἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, τελωνῶν φίλος καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς.

But to what do I liken this generation? It is like children seated in the agora, who calling forth each other (17) say ‘we piped for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not smite your breast’ (as in grief). For John came neither eating nor drinking and you said ‘he has a demon’. (19) The son of man came, eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look at the man gluttonous and wine-drinking, friend of tax collectors and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her works’.”

Here, IMO, is another example of a non-sequitur. “Wisdom is justified by her works”. How does that really relate to what came before? Or what will come after, when he starts to say woe unto the various towns. Even more, what does that mean? Are we supposed to personify wisdom, as in Wisdom? None of my translations do that, and I’m not surprised. Wisdom, Sophia, was a…divine creature of independent stature for Gnostics and within some of the groups that wrote the Pseudographa. Needless to say, even the latter group wasn’t entirely orthodox, so commentators and translators might be reluctant to reify wisdom as Wisdom to avoid adding any non-orthodox meanings here. Better to leave it as a head-scratcher. And please, if anyone can see where this connects to the rest of the passage, please fill me in.

And the transition from John/Elijah to this generation isn’t exactly smooth, either. Are the two related? Sure, I can come up with half-a-dozen ways to connect the two, but none of them are particularly compelling. Think about it this way: have someone read the text to you aloud, and see if you don’t feel a dull thump when we go from s/he having ears, her into ‘to what do I compare this generation’. So the next time you hear about the brilliant organization of Matthew’s material, feel free to question the writer’s judgement, or even her/his bona fides.

In the same way, I get how we go from the children speaking in the agora to the compare & contrast of John and Jesus. But really, think about it: the two are not analogous situations. And why children in the agora? Because they lack discretionary thinking skills? OK, that’s fine, but that’s where the analogy ends. Each of these sections sounds good in and of itself. It’s just that they don’t entirely hang together. The whole is somehow less than the sum of the parts, in my opinion.

One thing I do get out of this is the bit about Jesus calling himself a glutton and a wine toper. Of everything in this section, and perhaps in the chapter, this, I think, has the best chance of actually dating back to Jesus’ time. Not so much that Jesus said this, but perhaps that it was said about him. Or, at least, that he wasn’t an ascetic the way John was. That may just be an authentic detail. Can’t prove it one way or the other, but why would anyone invent something like that? Of course, if we accept this as factual, what does this say about Jesus’ view of the coming apocalypse? The most obvious thing is that his approach to the coming…apocalypse was rather different from John’s, as this passage points out. Generally, talk thatx the ‘end is near’ inspires sackcloth and ashes sort of behaviour, asceticism more on the lines of John. So if we accept this bit as reflecting the real person, we need to come up with an explanation of how the two themes fit together.

The two extreme, opposite explanations are: it’s not an accurate reflection, or Jesus wasn’t into apocalypse, but his subsequent followers were. Now, if it’s not factually correct, how does this story get invented? Because it’s meant to reflect badly on Jesus that he wasn’t more like John. As such, it seems unlikely that his followers would have invented this contrast with John, especially if they were trying to woo John’s followers. The other possibility that Jesus himself wasn’t a preacher of apocalypse has to be considered. Then where did that come from? There are two possible sources. The first is Paul, who clearly expected the end-times. The second is that apocalypse is a distorted interpretation of Jesus’ talk about the kingdom. Because the relationship–if any–between the kingdom and the apocalypse/end times is very important to understanding Jesus and his teaching. There are a number of references in standard Q to the kingdom. Is this a code for the apocalypse? The answer to this question will color a lot of our understanding of what Jesus taught, or what his later followers taught that he taught. Clearly the message taught by Matthew was different–to some, to whatever degree–than the actual message of Jesus. But were the differences fundamental–apocalypse vs no apocalypse–or more cosmetic–apocalypse now vs apocalypse later? Or even the kingdom in this world, vs the kingdom in the afterlife? 

A big part of the answer to this question depends, I think, on Paul. Why did he believe that Jesus was soon to return? Was this something in Jesus’ teaching that made him think so? Before answering that in the affirmative, one really has to consider Paul’s attitude towards Jesus’ teachings as a whole: he ignores pretty much everything Jesus taught. Given this, I think we are justified to suggest–at the bare minimum–that we need to ask the question if Paul didn’t make up the imminent return. That is, if this isn’t an idea that came to him in a flash of insight, or inspiration, much like the way he “saw” the resurrected Christ. This is, by his own description, how he came to most of the things he taught. There was little, if any, connexion to what the other groups taught. In fact, in significant ways, he taught the exact opposite of what the Jerusalem community taught. As such, I do not think we can simply take it on faith that Paul’s expectation of a quick return of the Christ was based in any way on what Jesus had said when he was still alive.

So that brings us (back) to a couple of our previous questions, First, what was the relationship between the teaching on the kingdom and the idea of the return of the Christ? We asked this earlier but it bears repeating because it is given additional significance if Paul did not get his certainty of the end times from anything Jesus taught. Second, did Jesus preach the end times? Did Jesus preach the kingdom? It would be very easy to answer this latter in the affirmative because so much of our source material tells us that he did. But we’ve caught Matthew making stuff up. How much else did he make up? How much did Mark make up? Personally, I suspect Mark was the more faithful reporter, largely because his work is so much less detailed. Generally, details aren’t remembered; they are created after the fact. Look at King Arthur, or the Song of Roland. The details accrued to the bare bones of the stories. A good story attracts embellishment; it doesn’t shed embellishment. The exceptions are some of the set-piece stories: the lowering of the paralytic, the bleeding woman and the daughter of Jairus, and, my favorite, the Gerasene demoniac. (Have I been spelling that rong this entire time? All too possible, I fear.) Those feel like they came down to Mark as blocks, as a finished product. Matthew shortened them. But Matthew added a wealth of other detail, namely detailed descriptions of Jesus speaking. The question, still, is: where did this new information come from? Not all of it came from Q, at least not from the original stratum as reconstituted by Burton Mack. But even that is said to date no earlier than the 50s. 

So the point is, material is coming from a number of different places. Which leads to a number of questions. Such as, is it consistent? Can we expect consistency? Is consistency probable, given a number of different sources? And what did Matthew do with this variety of sources? Was he able to integrate them smoothly? Or do the seams and welds show through? What all this leads to is that we have some different questions to ask as we go through this gospel, and the other ones we read. 

16 Cui autem similem aestimabo generationem istam? Similis est pueris sedentibus in foro, qui clamantes coaequalibus

17 dicunt: “Cecinimus vobis, et non saltastis; / lamentavimus, et non planxistis”.

18 Venit enim Ioannes neque manducans neque bibens, et dicunt: “Daemonium habet!”;

19 venit Filius hominis manducans et bibens, et dicunt: “Ecce homo vorax et potator vini, publicanorum amicus et peccatorum!”. Et iustificata est sapientia ab operibus suis ”.

 

Matthew Chapter 11:1-6

Once again, finding logical break-points was not easy here. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The problem was trying to break in places that would provide sections of reasonably uniform length. So the result is that this section is too short, and the next one will be too long. Apologies.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς διατάσσων τοῖς δώδεκα μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν καὶ κηρύσσειν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐτῶν.

And it happened that when Jesus finished making arrangements with his twelve disciples, he then transitioned to teach and preach in their towns.

The antecedent of “their” seems to be the disciples; however, that doesn’t especially make sense, so I would take this to mean that it refers to a sort of collective grouping. “Their”, as in, “the towns of the areas from which Jesus and the disciples came”. But honestly, it doesn’t make much difference.

Having said that, this brings us to an interesting point: it doesn’t much matter. Why? Because the evangelist has no real interest in pinning this down into real-life, brick-and-mortar towns of any locale. It’s just sort of a passing thing: Jesus went about preaching in some town or another. Which is to say, Matthew didn’t really know where Jesus went, nor did he much care. What this really indicates is the lack of interest Matthew had in writing anything that we would consider history. It has a sort of story-telling feel, “and so he went about preaching and teaching into vague, unknown places. Recall that in Mark’s version of the story, we go right from the sending of the Twelve into the arrest of John the Baptist. We were told that the disciples went out and did many things, but we get nothing about what Jesus did. Then Mark inserts the story of John’s death, and immediately on the other side of this, the disciples return. Jesus? Who knows what he did. Mark apparently didn’t, but Matthew isn’t quite content to leave it blank, so he adds this piece. No, I don’t think this can be attributed to Q; therefore, Matthew most likely made it up himself. So this tells us that Matthew is not averse to creating his own bits of narrative; what else did he create, or originate? This passage pretty much tells us he did it; we just don’t always know exactly where. How much of “Q” is actually Matthew’s creation? 

But speaking of Mark, I realized that he set this story immediately after Jesus was not honored as a prophet in his home town–the name of the town not having been mentioned. Is Matthew alluding to this with his lack of specificity about who the “their” refers to? Is this a case of Matthew assuming something that was in Mark, that’s not in his own story? It seems possible. Then this might give a clue as to the towns that Matthew had in mind where Jesus preached and taught. These would be the towns of the area where Jesus grew up, which is what we surmised about this above. But notice how Matthew sort of made this assumption in his own head while neglecting to put it into his narrative. Regardless, the point remains that this is, essentially, fiction.    

1 Et factum est, cum consummasset Iesus praecipiens Duodecim discipulis suis, transiit inde, ut doceret et praedicaret in civitatibus eorum.

2 Ὁ δὲἸωάννης ἀκούσας ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ Χριστοῦ πέμψας διὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ

But John, hearing in his prison (about) the works of the annointed sent (word) by way of his disciples.

The institution of prisons in the ancient Roman world has always been a bit baffling to me. On one hand, they were obviously (?) horrible places; OTOH, people seem to come and go between the prisoner and the outside world without a lot of restriction. It’s not a topic I’ve ever researched, mainly because I’ve never cared to do so. I’m sure it would be fascinating. Well, maybe. Or perhaps this is another detail like Jesus going about preaching: it’s very vague, very non-specific. Maybe it’s another situation where Matthew crafted the details necessary to make the story work? Necessary to give it context? This isn’t in Mark; it’s not usually citied as part of Q, at least not the original Q. Which means it’s a story of unknown provenance. Which means it could have come from anywhere. Like, say, Matthew.

More importantly, however, is the fact that Matthew uses the term “Christ”. This is the first time he’s used the term since way back in Chapter 2, after the genealogy and birth narrative. Is this to imply that people were starting to think of Jesus as the anointed at this point? Or is this meant to imply that this is how John perceived Jesus? Or is this an editorial slip on Matthew’s part? Or perhaps an insertion by some copyist? My hard-copy Greek text doesn’t note any textual variants, any mss traditions that leave out “the Christ”, so any insertion must have been very early. There is really no answer to this; but it really feels awkwardly out of place. In some ways, I think that, assuming this is how Matthew wrote it, the intent was to indicate that this was John’s opinion. Remember, Matthew had John demur from dunking Jesus; this could be the follow-up to that, so that we have John as the first one to refer to Jesus as the anointed. This would both tie Jesus and John more closely together while simultaneously letting everyone know that Jesus was the superior one.

It occurs to me that I probably owe you all a better explanation of why Jesus’ later followers wanted to be associated with John I’ve made some statements about this, but I’ve honestly not constructed a methodical argument. I will try to get back to that. At some point, I need to sit down and come up with a sort of framework for a lot of this, an overall narrative. John, and the treatment of John by the evangelists will be a part of that narrative.

2 Ioannes autem, cum audisset in vinculis opera Christi, mittens per discipulos suos,

3 εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἢ ἕτερον προσδοκῶμεν;

He (John, through the medium of a disciple) said to him (Jesus), “Are you the one who is coming, or should we expect another?”

This fits in with the preaching we are told John did at the beginning of Chapter 3. Recall that John predicted another one coming, whose sandal strap John was not worthy to loosen. So this is actually consistent. However, these two pieces are not entirely consistent with the use of the term ” the anointed” in the previous verse. John using that term would imply that he had already answered that question in his own mind.  

3 ait illi: “Tu es qui venturus es, an alium exspectamus?”.

4 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰωάννῃ ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ βλέπετε:

5 τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, καὶ νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται:

6 καὶ μακάριός ἐστιν ὃς ἐὰν μὴ σκανδαλισθῇ ἐν ἐμοί.

And Jesus answering them said, “Going, announce to John what you hear and see. (5) The blind recover their sight, and the lame walk about, lepers have been cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead rise and the poor are evangelized. (6) And blessed is the one who is not caused to stumble by me.

<<σκανδαλισθῇ>> is the verb I have rendered as “caused to stumble”. This word transliterates to “skandalizo” (in base form), and is pretty obviously the root of scandal, or in verb form, scandalize. This word in its various forms is largely a Christian word, so it’s really difficult to do much cross-referencing among various authors. The root of the Greek seems to be “skandalon”, which supposedly means “stumbling block”. Hence my translation. An alternative translation is “to offend”. Now, in this particular context, these two meanings are not exactly interchangeable. The KJV renders this as “offended by me”. I bring this up because this is the word used when Jesus enjoins against those who would cause one of the children to stumble in 9:42. Except the KJV rendered it as “offend” there, too. I hope you see the different shade between the two ideas. Perhaps the passage about plucking out one’s eye if it offends you– vs if it makes you stumble–is the best example of the difference there. Honestly, though, I’m not sure that either one exactly fits. How would Jesus be the reason someone goes off the straight-and-narrow?

But to more substantive matters. This passage about the blind seeing, etc. interestingly was not in Mark. It is in Luke; and yet it’s not in the version of Q that I’ve been using (Burton Mack’s reconstruction, which I’ve found on a couple of websites, so I’m inferring that it’s fairly well accepted). These are all wonders; as such, it seems that they would more properly fit in Mark. And if this passage was not in Q, whence did it come? It’s not the M material, because it’s not only in Mark. Another source? The one I’ve been feeling just under the surface of some of these other passages? Or is this Matthew once again?

These are references to Isaiah, to two different sections of Isaiah, to be exact. The first bit is Is 35:5; the last bit about the poor having the good news preached is from Is 61:1. These are signs that the time of the Lord is coming, that the world is being set right in preparation of the Lord’s arrival, and the Lord will come with a vengeance according to Isaiah. So we’re back to apocalyptic imagery here, which kind of settles some of the questions I had in the previous chapter. It perhaps doesn’t settle all of them, but it lets us know that end-times expectations hadn’t died out completely.

The part about the dead rising is interesting, too. Unlike all the other things, this is not a citation from Isaiah. How should we understand it? First, in the story so far, we have encountered one person being raised from the dead. This was the daughter of the leader of the synagogue (which title Matthew omitted). And I’m not sure I commented on this in the last chapter, but raising from the dead was one of the powers specifically granted to the Twelve by Jesus. Why was it added? Of course, that’s a difficult question.  Is it related to the preaching of Paul? That this was going to happen? Was it related to the writing of Mark, who maybe sort of said this was part of the new order, perhaps part of the kingdom that was coming. One place it isn’t found is in the reconstituted original Q. There is nothing about the blind seeing, and there is certainly nothing about the dead being raised. What does that tell us? It tells us that there were multiple strands and traditions of beliefs about Jesus. Which is earlier: the belief that the dead would be raised, or that the dead would not be raised? The former. Remember that this was a debate between the Pharisees (yes to raising) and the Sadducees (no to raising). So the idea of the dead being raised did not originate with Jesus; however, I think that the idea that it was happening, or it would soon be happening was given a major impetus by either Jesus, his followers, or both. I think that is what this passage, in conjunction with the power that Jesus gave the Twelve to raise the dead, is a pretty strong indication that Jesus’ followers believed that the circumstances that Isaiah had foretold in 35:5 were coming, or had come to pass. 

The question then becomes, what, if anything, did the dead being raised have to do with the kingdom? From a mythical, or mythological, or metaphysical sense the answer to this is very simple: the dead rising is perhaps the most forceful sign possible that the current rules, the current order of life was passing away. Death is the ultimate enemy; and that is to take “ultimate” in both its senses: that there can be nothing greater, and that it is the final enemy one will face. So the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, these are signs indeed, but they are but small forebears of the dead rising. That is the ne plus ultra, that which cannot be exceeded. 

Or can it? I find it very curious that Jesus does give another sign to John’s disciples. What could surpass the rising of the dead? Offhand, I would say nothing. But Jesus adds Isaiah 61:1, that the poor are having the good news preached to them. Is this possibly a sign even greater than raising the dead? Or is it at least on par? Otherwise, why is it tacked on at the end like that? It’s surely meant to be another powerful symbol that the old order is passing away, is giving way to the coming kingdom. And here, with this emphasis on the poor, I see again the hand of James. Or perhaps the voice of James, the spiritual father of the Ebionites and, much later, St Francis. Looked at one way, preaching to the poor does not defy the laws of physics, or biology, or of the natural world in general. There is no natural barrier to preaching to the poor as the destruction of the optical or aural apparatus will create a physical barrier to seeing or hearing. And yet, it’s put on par with such “miracles”. Does this perhaps indicate the level of scorn and dismissiveness with which the poor were cast out of polite society? That preaching to them seemed as physically impossible as the blind seeing once again.

To some non-trivial degree, the idea of the signs of the end-times and the idea of preaching to the poor are connected. This whole concern for the poor, first and best expressed in the Beatitudes, is a new theme, appearing in Matthew after being largely, but not completely absent from Mark, and after being pretty much nonexistent in Paul. It’s used four times in the Pauline corpus; twice in Galatians, one of which was James’ injunction that Paul remember the poor as a condition of gaining James’ approval for the mission to the pagans. A third use comes in Romans, when it’s used again to refer to money that is collected for the poor. The point of this being that concern for the poor as we see here wasn’t part of Paul’s ministry. It wasn’t a big part of Mark’s story, either. And yet it’s a non-trivial part of Matthew’s message. IOW, it’s a bigger part of Matthew’s message than it was for Mark, where it was a bigger part of Paul’s message. IOW, it’s become more ingrained into the message of what has become Christianity. So the question we have to ask is why has it become more important?

If this was actually part of Jesus’ message, that means that this idea sort of went dormant, that it skipped over Paul, most of Mark, to land in Matthew. Or it means that this became added to the message after Jesus died. Which is more likely? That it hibernated for the better part of two generations, to re-awaken during Matthew’s lifetime? Or that it gradually accreted into the message being preached, becoming more significant as time passed? And then let’s note that the idea of preaching to the poor is not an innovation; in fact, it’s something rooted very deeply in the Jewish tradition, all the way back to Isaiah (granted, Deutero-Isaiah). And, keeping that deep Jewish origin in mind, let’s recall that the man in charge after Jesus’ death was also very deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, as Paul’s eye-witness testimony tells us. As such, is it not more likely that this emphasis on the poor did come from James? That is not to say that Jesus necessarily neglected this theme; only that James emphasized it more. And it was this increasing emphasis of James that was responsible for the ministry to the poor lodged firmly in the message of what became Christianity.

And it also means that “blessed are the poor (in spirit)” probably should be, or at least possibly could be attributable to James. This has the incidental effect of making Q, as currently understood, unnecessary. 

4 Et respondens Iesus ait illis: “Euntes renuntiate Ioanni, quae auditis et videtis:

5 caeci vident et claudi ambulant, leprosi mundantur et surdi audiunt et mortui resurgunt et pauperes evangelizantur;

6 et beatus est, qui non fuerit scandalizatus in me ”.

 

Summary Matthew Chapter 10

While I was going through the chapter, it struck me that this was a combination of stuff that was in Mark and stuff that’s supposedly in Q. Then I realized that this would be true for pretty much every chapter in Matthew. That’s kind of what Matthew is: a combination of stuff re-written from Mark and stuff supposedly in Q, which is, by definition, stuff that’s not in Mark. Except for the Q stuff that is in Mark. Guess it helps to have flexible definitions or parameters. The other thing I hadn’t quite realized is that almost the entire chapter is Jesus speaking. I have a red-letter edition as well as an all-black text edition; I generally use the latter, but I opened up the former and it was very graphically clear that, aside from a few stage directions, this chapter was pretty much all Jesus talking.

The main topic of the chapter is the sending out of the Twelve. Pretty much the whole “action” revolves around this event. We are introduced to the Twelve by name; after that, we have Jesus giving them their instructions, and this latter act fills the bulk of the chapter. I have expressed my suspicions about the historicity of this event. Or, I have been openly dubious that it was Jesus who appointed the Twelve, but I am also very suspicious that he sent out “apostles” at all. IMO, these are both actions that should be attributed to James. What is my evidence for this? There isn’t much, I’m afraid. And what does exist is largely negative.

There is at least one thing the positive side. Paul, of course, talks about apostles; in fact, he claims to be one. Now, that alone should make us take note. In standard Christian thinking, the Twelve Apostles are the group that Jesus gathered about himself, whose names Mark and Matthew list. As such, Paul could not have been one of these. Given this, the immediate implication is that we need to re-think our definition of “apostle”.  And, if this is the group that Jesus gathered around him, by definition they are not apostles, because they were not “sent out”. Of course, there is a very short segment in Mark describing Jesus sending out the Twelve. And it’s very short. This alone is not suspicious, because everything in Mark is short–except for the half-a-dozen (so far) stories in Mark that are longer than Matthew’s versions of them.

Now by happenstance (or not, it being the Easter season), today’s second reading was from Acts 4:32-35. It described how the early believers were Communists. And I mean that literally: they held their goods in common. Interesting as that is, the point here is it made me think about the, well, acts of the apostles. The book describes how they went about proclaiming the good news. That is, they were “sent out” to proclaim the good news. If there is a point in the history–especially the early history–of the Jesus movement when members of the movement were sent out (apostellein, in Greek) to preach, it was in the period after the Resurrection. Jesus was no longer there to hold them together. There is a tendency for the followers to remain gathered about the teacher while the teacher is alive. A great example is Plato and Socrates. It was only after Socrates died that Plato started his Academy, and wrote his Dialogues. The followers of the Buddha did not begin to spread his message until he had died. The exception, of course, is Mohammed, but Mohammed had married a wealthy widow; as such, he had money and influence and would have been able to attract a following. And Mohammed also wrote his own teachings, which neither Jesus, Socrates, nor the Buddha had done.

All of this is arguing from analogy. This is useful, but it’s the same as arguing from probability. Maybe the situation we’re examining follows the pattern, maybe it doesn’t. For me, the analogy provides the most plausible explanation for the events suggested. I consider it much–very much–more likely that the sending out of the Twelve occurred after Jesus death.

As for the negative evidence, we have the fact that Paul does not mention any of the “Apostles” named by Mark or Matthew, with the obvious exception of Peter. Recall in Galatians, he talks about meeting with James and Cephas and such members of the group that seemed important. He doesn’t mention any of the others: neither the Sons of Thunder/Zebedee, who would be James (the Greater) and John (supposedly the evangelist), nor Peter’s brother Andrew, nor Philip, Thomas…or any of the others named here in Chapter 10. The other negative bit of evidence is that none of the others, aside from the sons of Zebedee, Andrew, and Judas Iscariot are named even in the gospels. And mostly they are named: they accompany, but nothing really else until we get to Acts and John. Then, of course, after the turn of the Second Century, they start to turn up in various legends; Thomas, IIRC, went to India, Philip was martyred in some city that I read about in Biblical Archaeological Review a while back, that sort of thing, This reminds me an awful lot of how the Round Table became populated as time passed: Launcelot, Bors, Percival (Parzifal), Galahad, Gawaine, and all the others came later, and they were assigned their own adventures and stories. And none of it was factual.

Of course, I am relying here on the argument from silence. And, as I read any number of times, this is a dangerous tool when applied to ancient history. There is simply not enough source material to provide any sense of security about the silence. If an aide to, say, FDR is not mentioned in any of the sources, there is a pretty good chance that the aide did not exist. We can’t have that degree of certainty with Biblical personages because there are so few sources. There is too good a chance that a relevant source has been lost, because so many records were lost. It’s also just possible that at least some of the names listed are “factual” in the sense they were actual apostles; but they weren’t named as such by Jesus.

So if you see my point that, historically speaking, chances are the apostles–which, for the sake of argument, originally numbered twelve–were not named by Jesus, then by whom? Well, it would make sense that the leader of the movement after Jesus’ death would have done this, no? And who was the leader of the movement after Jesus? Well, according to an eyewitness, the only primary source in the entire NT, this was James, brother of the Lord as Paul calls him. Does this make sense? Well, there’s little reason to doubt Paul’s testimony. Paul and James didn’t exactly hit it off, so Paul would have no reason to inflate James’s status. We do not know if James assumed leadership immediately after Jesus died, but he is in charge ten or twenty years later. Paul does not mention anyone in the interim, but that’s once again the argument from silence. Anyway, the result of all of this is that I believe that the apostles date to a time after Jesus’ death, which means they were likely originally commissioned by James.

Which leads to the next point. Note that Jesus enjoins the apostles not to preach to either pagans or Samaritans. This struck me as odd. Or is it? Again, from our eyewitness, we know that James was wont to insist that pagans become full-fledged Jews in order to be full-fledged followers of Jesus. As such, was it James who issued the injunction against proselytizing Samaritans and pagans. Boy, that sure is a nice and tidy little package, and each aspect sure seems to support the other one, helping to create a coherent narrative. The problem with such narratives is that, while each additional piece of the narrative seems to reinforce the other, making the narrative more likely, it works just the opposite: every additional piece of “evidence” makes the narrative more complex and so less likely. Here, with these two pieces we may be safe, but we need to make sure we know when we’re drawing a valid inference, and when we’re departing on a flight of fancy. A lot of reputable scholars have come to grief on shoals of the complex condition.

Because the other question we have to ask concerns the probability of Matthew knowing about the instructions.  Now these instructions are said to be part of the earliest stratum of Q, which are the most authentic; however, if the probability is that Jesus didn’t give these instructions because he didn’t commission the apostles, then putting this in Q is problematic because Q then stops being what it’s supposed to be: a collection of the sayings of Jesus. If it stops being such a collection, then it’s no longer Q, but a different source with a different name. Coming into this gospel, I was reasonably certain that a lot of the alleged Q material was actually material that Matthew composed on his own. While I do believe it likely that Matthew did compose a certain amount of this new material–and that Luke got it from directly from Matthew–the number of non sequiturs that have shown up seem to indicate that Matthew did have another source besides Mark. It just wasn’t Q–as Q is generally thought to be composed. In whatever form this other source may have been, there are two important differences from the proposed Q as currently envisioned and reconstructed. The first is that it almost certainly did not date back as far as Paul, let alone Jesus; the second is that it was not the source held in common between Matthew and Luke.

That’s the first part of the chapter. The rest of the chapter–the bulk of it–consists of the instructions given to the apostles. There is one very interesting quirk about this: some of the material here is also found in Mark. The thing is, it’s not found in the section of Mark where Jesus is sending out the Twelve. Rather, the common parts are found in Mark 13; this is Mark’s chapter that has his description of the coming apocalypse. The parts about being hauled in front of councils, of not worrying about what they should say, are all used to describe the time of tribulation that Jesus is “predicting”. However, this feels much more like an account of the period of the Jewish War. Josephus has some pretty vivid stories of treachery and betrayal in The Jewish War (as the title is rendered on my Penguin edition).

So why did Matthew change the context? Why did he merge it with the commission of the Twelve, especially when he will have a prediction of the coming time of tribulation later on in his gospel? The answer to this question, I think, would give us a really keen insight into how the beliefs, and perhaps especially the expectations of the Jesus movement had changed over the course of the generation or so between Mark and Matthew. Many would describe Jesus as primarily a preacher of apocalypse; I’m not one of them. As we saw, Paul seemed to be expecting Jesus’ return daily, if not momentarily; however, I’m not sure that we should equate his end-times expectations with true apocalyptic thinking. There are, or can be, links between the two, but they are not entirely synonymous. In fact, there are actually three separate elements that are often melded together into a single event: there is the time of tribulation, the overthrow of the existing (bad) order, and the end-times, or the End-Of-Time. Mark 13 has all three conjoined, as does the Book of Revelations. Here, though, we have only the time of tribulation.

This is often seen as the prelude, the opening act of the other two. This is shown by Mark’s line that those enduring (in faith) till the end will be saved. This line is repeated here, but the context gives it a rather different meaning. First of all, “saved” in Matthew almost exclusively refers to the physical person. The bleeding woman is saved; Peter cries out to be saved when he can’t walk on the water; the hundredth sheep will be sought and saved. The sole (possible) exception is Mt 19:25, which is the recapitulation of Mark 10:26, the disciples’ wonder about who can be saved if the rich cannot be. So in this context, does Matthew mean that their eternal souls will be saved–as most Christians would understand this sentence–or does it mean that their lives will be saved? On balance, given all the uses for the word “saved”, I would hazard that Matthew means the latter: their physical lives will be saved.

Recall that almost none of the material attributed to Q deals with souls whether immortal or otherwise, salvation, damnation, eternity, nor any of the other Christian metaphysical ideas. Now let me hasten to add that the nonexistence of Q does not affect that statement. “Q”, at root, simply means “stuff that’s not in Mark but is in Matthew and Luke”.  Or perhaps it would be best to call it the “material of the alleged Q”; but rather wordy, no? So the stuff that Matthew and Luke add to Mark does not include salvation theology (I may eat those words later, but this is a voyage of discovery for me). This bit about remaining steadfast was in Mark, so Matthew is, at best, importing any theological overtones. He is not adding to them, nor even reinforcing them. As such, I think we are justified in reading this as “save their lives” rather than “save their immortal souls”.

There are some significant theological implications in that conclusion. And it is a conclusion, and not a fact. It’s a reasonable conclusion, IMO, but nothing more. But because of this, I think it’s safe to say that at least some of the apocalyptic thinking had been transferred from the future to the past by the time Matthew wrote. Perhaps the immediacy of the expectation had been blunted slightly. Yes, Matthew will repeat much of Mark 13 at a later point, but that is–or at least may be–a repetition; here we have an interpretation. It’s this latter that gives us better insight into Matthew’s mindset, and the status quo of the time he wrote. Jesus’ return, or the apocalypse, or even the time of tribulation were, perhaps, not expected daily as they had been for Paul. That is a significant development of belief. We will need to keep an eye on this as we go progress towards Revelations.

What does this tell us about Jesus attitudes, especially towards “the kingdom”? What does this tell us about the attitudes of later followers towards “the kingdom?” What do the evangelists have in mind when they talk about “the kingdom”? The concept does go back to Paul, who already mentions it in Galatians 5:21. Paul was describing, seemingly, a prophecy of end times, of what would happen after the Lord comes down from the sky. Mark did talk about the coming (not the return) of the Son of Man. This also sounds like end-times. But Q is conspicuously short on talk about stuff related to apocalypse, or end-times. The kingdom is present, at least by implication, in the original stratum of Q, as reconstituted by scholars of today, but I’m not sure you could call it “prominent”.

What are the implications of that? Of course, this could be a glass that half-full/half-empty; I don’t grasp all the iterations because I don’t want to.

Regardless, I’m not going to try to answer the question about Q and apocalypse/end times at this point. This summary  has gone on long enough, and I need to wrap it up. Just keep the question in mind, because I will be coming back to it.

 

Matthew Chapter 10:29-42

This will conclude Chapter 10. We are still in a section where Jesus is sending out the Twelve, giving them instructions on how to go about their mission. Really, Jesus has been talking for most of the chapter. If you have a Bible with Jesus’ words in red, you see a lot of red here. Of course, the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount are almost entirely red…

29 οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται; καὶ ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐ πεσεῖται ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν.

“Do not two sparrows sell for an as? And one of them does not fall to the earth without your father.

An as is a copper coin of small denomination; often translated as “penny” or “farthing”, but that word is too loaded for our use. It distorts the implications, IMO. Now, what’s interesting about this is that it says that an as is a tenth of a drachma. Well, the problem is that an as is a Roman coin, while a drachma is Greek. When I went to Greece too many years ago, the drachma was still the basic unit of coinage in Greece; the coins had pictures of Socrates and Aristotle on them. Now, coinage is not a specialty of mine. I can usually get a rough idea of what is meant regarding value, but I’m not up on the finer details of ancient coinage. What I wonder here is that Matthew is using a Roman coin, rather than something more local. Remember the money changers that Jesus (supposedly) chased out of the Temple; they were there to change things like drachmas and asses (plural form of as) into…shekels, I believe. So coinage was not standard throughout the ancient Mediterranean; the Romans did not establish a Euro zone (or one based on the denarius, either. But coinage was based on the weight of the metal, so it wasn’t hard to set up rough equivalents. And, FYI, the big Lewis & Short Latin lexicon gives a whole list of equivalencies; the as was a very small coin so it was very often combined into ten-as and twenty-as pieces–and other denominations–so I feel somewhat comfortable that I’m not going off the rails here. And this is another spot where the NT Greek dictionary really doesn’t do the situation justice; it never mentions that this is a Roman coin.

I go into all of this for a reason. We know that Matthew read his Torah in Greek, and here he is using Roman coins. Where was he from? For whom was he writing? Was he writing for people more familiar with Roman coins than coins from the Eastern Mediterranean? If so, where did Matthew reside when he was writing this? Was he writing for a local audience, or did he intend this to be sent abroad after publication? The upshot is that there are a number of non-Jewish things going on here. Does it add up to a pattern? That’s not definitive yet. But it’s one more pebble on the side of the scales weighing out whether Matthew may have been a pagan. It’s not necessary; plenty of Jews read the Septuagint HS, and plenty more used Roman coins. But sometimes it’s the little things that tell. Especially if they start to add up.

29 Nonne duo passeres asse veneunt? Et unus ex illis non cadet super terram sine Patre vestro.

30 ὑμῶν δὲ καὶ αἱ τρίχες τῆς κεφαλῆς πᾶσαι ἠριθμημέναι εἰσίν.

31 μὴ οὖν φοβεῖσθε: πολλῶν στρουθίων διαφέρετε ὑμεῖς.

“And all the hairs of your head are counted. (30) Therefore do not fear: you matter more than sparrows. 

The first question is what does the hairs on your head have to do with sparrows? I mean, sure, this is all metaphorical, that God loves us so much that he’s counted each and every hair on your head, so you know that you are more valuable than a sparrow. And since not one of them falls from the sky without God’s knowledge, you must be much more valuable. And I realize that breaking these chapters up into smaller sections like this isn’t ideal for flow and continuity; recall that we ended the last section with the discussion of how to beware of those that can kill the body. That sort of flows into the part about sparrows dying. But regardless, this seems a little clumsy as a metaphor, and it has a certain cobbled-together feel to it, no? I mentioned places that felt like the welds, or the seams in the two narratives that Mark was welding, or weaving together, but those were at a much larger scale. It never felt like there was a line-by-line switching between the different sources or traditions the way it does here in Matthew. This, IMO, continues to support the sense I get that Matthew had a number of sayings at his disposal, and that he made a concerted effort to piece them all together at something like a molecular level. The thing is, the piecing together that I am seeing, or sensing, or imagining goes way beyond Mark and a written Q. If you read the reconstructed Q, there isn’t that much in there. What I’m seeing here is much more multi-faceted, or more varied than what I would expect from a single source

Assuming that I’m not imagining this, the question then becomes “where did this other material come from? Or perhaps, “how did this other material reach Matthew?” There is a certain amount of overlap between these two questions, but they are also distinct. One possibility is that the apostles sent out by James sort of developed a lot of this material, which got back to Matthew as “Jesus said…” stuff. It bypassed Mark because it hadn’t had time to take root until the period after Mark wrote. Think about it: I have suggested that part of the reason Mark wrote was that he felt the need, or felt it was necessary to sort of get a handle on these different traditions. That it was embarrassing to have these two traditions floating around that, on the surface, didn’t seem to have all that much to do with each other. One was a collection of stories about a wonder-worker, and the other was the myth of the divine Christ. Some overlap–at least potentially–existed, but not that much, either.

Then, as the movement became more popular, it became more diverse. It’s reasonably easy to keep a tight rein on the message when the group is small; as it expands, however, new interpretations, even entirely new thoughts start to creep in. Anyone familiar with the development of Communism will have an appreciation for what likely started to happen. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848; the first volume of Das Kapital was published in 1867. Lenin was born in 1870 and became involved in Marxism and revolutionary thought after his brother’s execution in 1887. So that’s about 40 years, which is a bit less than the span between Jesus and Matthew. By the time Lenin got involved, Marxism had begun to splinter and evolve. Lenin believed in fomenting revolution where Marx believed that the overthrow of the bourgeoisie had to be more or less a spontaneous affair; this represented a major re-interpretation of the basic doctrine. There is absolutely no reason to think that a similar process was not at work with Jesus’ teaching. Success and popularity mean a whole lot of new ideas come into the tent, and that breeds diversity of opinion. So it is very possible that Matthew had several written sources available to him, and that these sources were not necessarily consistent with each other.

30 Vestri autem et capilli capitis omnes numerati sunt.

31 Nolite ergo timere; multis passeribus meliores estis vos.

32 Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ὁμολογήσει ἐν ἐμοὶ ἔμπροσθεντῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὁμολογήσω κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς:

33 ὅστις δ’ ἂν ἀρνήσηταί με ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀρνήσομαι κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρός μουτ οῦ ἐν [τοῖς] οὐρανοῖς.

 “Therefore all who will agree with me before men, I will agree with him before my father who is in the heavens. (33)  But whoever may deny me before men, I will deny him before my father who is in the heavens.

To start, we have a slight disagreement between the Greek and the Latin, and it’s the latter that has influenced our English translation of the word. The Greek, <<ὁμολογήσει>> is more on the idea of “to agree with”, or even “to concede (as in a point of debate)”. The Latin is <<confiteor>>, the base meaning of which is “to acknowledge”, and it’s also the root for our word “confession”. So this gets translated in the KJV as “whoever confesses me”, and that has taken us down a theological road that wasn’t exactly present in the Greek. I should note, however, that an NT Greek lexicon is apt to render this as “to confess”.  Now, it’s not a big deal. There is a fair bit of overlap in the semantic fields of the two words, but they are not identical. In fact, it’s overlap, they are not true synonyms. Of course, we then have to ask ourselves if “agree with me before men” makes sense. It does. Sort of. So maybe this is a situation where maybe we have to consider that the word has changed in meaning between the Classical and the NT usage. 

See? I’m not unreasonable.

Aside from that, the topic is another that had a long tail, one that could not have been anticipated. During the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian in the last half of the Third Century, some Christians denied their faith in order to survive. Then, after Diocletian died, and the persecutions ended, a Bishop named Donatus declared than any priest or bishop who abjured his faith to save his life was not fit to be a priest or bishop. Donatus’ position was based largely on this passage.

32 Omnis ergo qui confitebitur me coram hominibus, confitebor et ego eum coram Patre meo, qui est in caelis;

33 qui autem negaverit me coram hominibus, negabo et ego eum coram Patre meo, qui est in caelis.

34 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν: οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν.

35 ἦλθον γὰρ διχάσαι ἄνθρωπον κατὰ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ θυγατέρα κατὰ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφην κατὰ τῆς πενθερᾶς αὐτῆς,

36 καὶ ἐχθροὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οἱ οἰκιακοὶ αὐτοῦ.

Do not consider that I have come to throw peace into the world; I have come not to throw in peace, but a sword. (35) For I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (36) And (there will be) enemies of a man within his own household.  

First, “throwing” peace is needlessly literal, but again, that’s the point of this translation. Second, this strikes me as more after-the-fact sanctioning of something that had happened earlier. This is more about the “troubles”. the persecutions that no doubt led to betrayals within a household. This, unfortunately, is all-too-human nature; we have seen this sort of behaviour of people betrayed by family members time after time in periods of distress. The thing about this “prediction” is that it sounds like it’s describing a situation that was very intense. For example, it sounds more like what would happen under, say, the persecutions of Diocletian rather than under any barely-attested persecutions of the First Century. Now, having said that, if we read Josephus’ “Jewish War”–specifically if you read the cover of the Penguin Edition of this book that I happen to own, you will see a quote from the work that sounds remarkably like what Matthew has just said. Josephus describes the sort of internecine, intra-family betrayals and downright murders that Jesus is “predicting”. Now, the situation in Judea was complex, as it often is during periods of internal strife exacerbated by an external enemy. Thucydides has some truly penetrating analyses of situations like this during the Peloponnesian War.

So, given that there is hardly any evidence that the pagan Romans persecuted followers of Jesus specifically because they were followers of Jesus, my speculation is that a lot of these dire warnings put into the mouth of Jesus were actually reflections back on what happened during the period leading up to and including the crushing of the revolt by the Romans. The Romans were merciless and ruthless, and they exploited every internal weakness they could. And there were a number of Jews–the Herodians and their followers, for example–who were perfectly willing to collaborate with the Romans if they benefited personally from doing so. So my question is, were the followers of Jesus caught up in thus maelstrom? This seems a reasonable enough assumption given the ferocity of the event. So we are justified to ask if the Jewish War is the template for what Mark–and Matthew following the lead–used for the description of the End Times? There were the persecutions of Saul, but, note that Paul lacked the end-times sorts of harrowing details we found in Mark that are echoed here. In short, Paul was the Parousia without the Apocalypse. Here, Matthew is the persecution without the Apocalypse. Paul wrote before the Jewish War; Mark wrote shortly after; Matthew wrote a generation or more after. The details from Mark that Matthew repeats here were part of the “little Apocalypse” of Mark Chapter 13. Is that a coincidence? Have the two events begun to conflate? Or have they conflated even more than they had by the time Mark wrote?

Interesting questions, I think.

34 Nolite arbitrari quia venerim mittere pacem in terram; non veni pacem mittere sed gladium.

35 Veni enim separare hominem adversus patrem suum et filiam adversus matrem suam et nurum adversus socrum suam:

36 et inimici hominis domestici eius.

37 Ὁ φιλῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος: καὶ ὁ φιλῶν υἱὸν ἢ θυγατέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος:

38 καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου, οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος.

The one loving father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and the one loving son or daughter more than me. (38) And the one who does not accept his cross and follow me wherever, is not worthy of me.

The sentiments expressed here are very intense. All the scholars put this in Q, because it’s here and in Luke, but not in Mark. The only problem with this is that I am pretty much dead certain that Jesus never said any of this. First, this requires that Jesus knew that he was going to die on the cross. That is completely anachronistic. “Taking up one’s cross” is a very, very Christian sentiment. But there weren’t any Christians until about 40 years after Jesus died. There is a very high likelihood, IMO, that Jesus did die on the cross. Here I agree with the overall scholarly opinion (at least for the moment) that there is no reason to make something like this up. That alone puts the probability at something around 50%. [ Note: even though it’s an either-or situation, yes-or-no, heads-or-tails, that does not mean that the probability starts at 50%. No. The probability of any event in isolation starts much lower. Some possibilities are all-but zero–that Jesus’ body was stolen by aliens, let’s say–but any “realistic” occurrence likely starts with a probability around 10%. These numbers are not based on any recognized principles of statistics or actuarial science; they’re more ‘rule-of-thumb’ estimates based on experience. ] So if the reporting of the fact puts us at, say 55%, the fact that our earliest source Paul tells us this repeatedly, IMO, moves us to at least 80%*.

Assuming that Jesus did die on the cross–and I firmly believe he did–what is the chance that he knew about this ahead of time? And by that I mean, before the point he was actually arrested. Once that even occurred, the likelihood of crucifixion went up to close to 100%. The chance that he knew he would be crucified prior to being arrested is close to zero. But the thing is, understanding whether Jesus said this does not depend on whether he could foretell his fate. Rather, it’s a question of would this aphorism have made any sense to his contemporaries, who certainly did not know how Jesus would die. The aphoristic quality of ‘taking up one’s cross’ depends on Christians understanding that this referred to something that had happened, to something that Jesus had done in the past; it would be meaningless if it referred to something that may, or even will, happen in the future. Without the past reference, the aphorism refers to nothing. Christians are urged to take up a cross because Jesus has already done so. Ergo, it’s almost a certainty that Jesus did not utter these words.

And yet, they are considered to be part of Q. By this point, I hope we all see the problem with this. Q, supposedly, are the authentic sayings of Jesus. But it includes this saying which Jesus almost certainly did not say. From the perspective of logic and plausibility, the inconsistency requires that we either rethink the contents of Q, or rethink the necessity of Q, or rethink the reliability of Q. By contents, I mean that this example tells us that just because something is in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark, does not suffice as evidence that it should be included in Q.  Or, if it is in Q, then perhaps we need to reconsider the claim to authenticity, whether the material in Q actually does trace back to Jesus. This particular passage about the cross seriously undermines one or both of these claims. Actually, the necessity of Q is really a corollary here; Q is not in the least necessary, unless one tries to argue that Luke is independent of Matthew. We won’t really be able to look at that until we get to Luke; however, if either of these other two propositions–the content or the authenticity of Q–are mistaken, then the necessity of Q is pretty much a dead issue.

And really, the rest of the passage strikes me as something that Jesus probably never said, either. “You are not worthy of me”. Repeated three times. Jesus was certainly given credit for not pulling punches on how difficult it would be to follow him. Paul never quite put it like this; he talked about not being worthy for the kingdom; is this the same thing? Probably, but OTOH, this has a different feel to it. There is an exclusionary feel to it, but then not everyone will inherit the kingdom because the road and the gate are both narrow. I suppose, put in that light, it’s all the same.

Epiphany moment. I just realized what makes me catch on this one is that Jesus is not saying these people are not worthy of the kingdom. He is saying that these people are not worthy of him. That is a big difference. This is the first time that he–or anyone–has equated Jesus with the Kingdom. The kingdom to this point belongs to God, or is “of the heavens”. It is never the kingdom of the Son of God, or Son of Man. Ergo, I think we are justified to conclude, or infer that this represents a development in thought. If it wasn’t there in Paul or Mark, but it is in Matthew, we have a development. As such, it is almost necessarily ex-post-facto, pretty much by definition. Being not worthy of Jesus is the attitude of followers who have become accustomed to look at the founder as someone divine and elevated, not as someone who was human, at least until the resurrection.

So to conclude, none of this can be credited to Jesus, IMO. So what do we do about Q?

[Note #2: This isn’t a blanket rule. For example, nearly all of the NT reports that Jesus was the Christ, and Paul reports this, too. Does not increase the likelihood that Jesus was the Christ? This is a compound event. First, you have to estimate the probability that being the Christ is at all possible. Then, multiply that by the probability of Jesus, out of everyone who lived, being the Christ. It’s sort of like getting the correct two numbers–in sequence–from a set of numbers between one and…let’s say 1 million. Those are very long odds. ]

37 Qui amat patrem aut matrem plus quam me, non est me dignus; et, qui amat filium aut filiam super me, non est me dignus;

38 et, qui non accipit crucem suam et sequitur me, non est me dignus.

39 ὁ εὑρὼν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, καὶ ὁ ἀπολέσας τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν.

40 Ὁ δεχόμενος ὑμᾶς ἐμὲ δέχεται, καὶ ὁ ἐμὲ δεχόμενος δέχεται τὸν ἀποστείλαντά με.

The one finding his life will lose it, and the one losing his life because of me will find it. (40) The one receiving you, receives me, and the one receiving me receives the one having sent me.

First, Verse 39 feels like a rather awkward insertion. Verse 40 more or less continues the thought from the previous section, as it expands on the equation Jesus = kingdom. Now we get Jesus = the one sending, which presumably = The Father. All this via the transitive property of math, or the principle of equivalence in logic. This will reach its logical conclusion in John 10:30: the father and I are one. Now, we started this gospel with Jesus being conceived by the sacred breath. That implies divine status, certainly, but it’s not exactly equating Jesus with the sacred breath. So did something happen in Matthew’s thinking? As he wrote, did he begin to elevate Jesus in his mind? To the point that he makes these statements? Or is this Matthew trying (not entirely successfully, IMO) to integrate the ideas of another source? Again, this is not the sort of thing Jesus said, for all the same reasons as the previous section. So if it didn’t come from Jesus via Q, whence did it come? 

I’m going to hold fire on Verse 39 for the moment. We will come across a very similar sentiment in Mt 16:25, so I will discuss there. The two points are the similarity to something expressed in Mark, and the use of psyche to mean “life”. At least, everyone translates it as “life” here. And “the life”, as in “eternal life” is translated from a different word, “zoé”.

39 Qui invenerit animam suam, perdet illam; et, qui perdiderit animam suam propter me, inveniet eam.

40 Qui recipit vos, me recipit; et, qui me recipit, recipit eum, qui me misit.

41 ὁ δεχόμενος προφήτην εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου μισθὸν προφήτου λήμψεται, καὶ ὁ δεχόμενος δίκαιον εἰς ὄνομα δικαίου μισθὸν δικαίου λήμψεται.

42 καὶ ὃς ἂν ποτίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ποτήριον ψυχροῦ μόνον εἰς ὄνομα μαθητοῦ, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ.

 The one receiving the prophet in the name of the prophet will accept the reward of the prophet, and the one receiving justice in the name of justice will receive the reward of justice. (42) And the one so that one of the least of these may drink a single (cup of) cold water in the name of the disciple, amen I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

That translation is a bit rough, but the Greek is not entirely pellucid. Well, actually, it’s clear enough–in a way, or sort of; the problem is rendering it into English in a way that reflects the Greek. I mean, it’s easy enough to clean it up, but then we lose the effect of how the Greek works. Remember, the translation is intended to be a cheat sheet. I wonder of anyone in an intro NT Greek class will stumble across this site and find it useful? One can hope. I wouldn’t mind giving a helping hand.

As for the content, really we’re getting into that radical notion of social equality. Even by helping one of the least, you are helping all, and you will be rewarded for this. That’s a very lovely thought, and one of the reasons I find Christianity an appealing belief system. And it’s especially radical for the time and place. Let’s face it: a lot of the Stoic profession of universal brotherhood referred to educated upper class males; it’s a great step in the right direction, but the idea here goes much further.

41 Qui recipit prophetam in nomine prophetae, mercedem prophetae accipiet; et, qui recipit iustum in nomine iusti, mercedem iusti accipiet.

42 Et, quicumque potum dederit uni ex minimis istis calicem aquae frigidae tantum in nomine discipuli, amen dico vobis: Non perdet mercedem suam ”.