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 ”.
Posted on April 21, 2015, in Chapter 11, gospel commentary, Matthew's Gospel and tagged Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's gospel, New Testament, NT Greek, religion, St Mark, St Matthew, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.