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 ”.

 

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About James, brother of Jesus

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

Posted on April 6, 2015, in Chapter 10, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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