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”.


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 28, 2015, in Chapter 11, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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