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.


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 20, 2015, in Chapter 10, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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