Matthew Chapter 13:10-23

We are still talking about the parable of the sower. Jesus has just told the parable. We’re back to a fairly long section, but even here isn’t the cleanest break in between.

10 Καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Διὰ τί ἐν παραβολαῖς λαλεῖς αὐτοῖς;

11 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὅτι Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἐκείνοις δὲ οὐ δέδοται.

And coming towards (him = Jesus), the disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables? (11) He, answering, said to them that “To you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given.”

This is a recapitulation of Mark’s “secret teachings”. The idea of a mystery revealed only to initiates was a common feature of Greek and other so-called “mystery” religions. In fact, the Eleusinian Mysteries, held yearly in Eleusis, which is outside of Athens for most of the Classical period of Greece, had a secret like this. And the thing is, the secret was so well-kept that we do not know what it was. Generally, these “mysteries” were part of the ritual, or were a ritual in which only the initiates could participate. Chances are there was nothing terribly deep, and almost certainly nothing sinister about most of these mysteries. Generally, the Eucharist is thought to be the Christian mystery: something that only those on the inside knew about and/or participated in.

So in one sense, yes, the idea of a mystery of the kingdom of the heavens is really not anything especially odd, or remarkable. This is why Christianity was generally viewed as another Eastern (east of Rome) Mystery Religion by the Romans. It was suspicious to the Romans largely because it was new, and so not a known quantity. But there is, I think, a good case that the rites of the initiate are not what Mark and Matthew mean in this context.  We discussed this in conjunction with this passage in Mark. Rather than a secret rite, this sounds more like secret knowledge. This sounds more like Gnosis.

Now, “Gnosis” is a bit like pornography: hard to define, but you “know it when you see it”. Strictly speaking, it is my opinion that nothing actually deserves the label of “Gnosis” much before the early 2nd Century. Valentinus (no relation to he of Valentine’s Day fame) died ca 160 CE. He was the first “successful”, large-(largish-)scale leader of something that could be called a sect in the organized sense. One could argue that formal Gnosticism begins with him. Contrarily, one could argue that it begins before him. I tend to prefer the former idea, but it’s not something that one can really pin down with any accuracy. Suffice it to say that Valentinian was the first Gnostic leader deemed sufficiently important to be formally labeled a heretic by the Christian Church. And by “formal”, I mean where a certain number of tenets that came to be considered hallmarks of Gnosticism are in place. Valentinus, for example was one of the first to attempt a thorough-going union of Christianity with Platonism.

But, like most systems of belief, Gnosticism did not spring full-grown and clad in shining armour from the forehead of Valentinus, There were precursors; at least, there were ideas that, when developed, could and did lead to an idea of Gnosticism. This would be informal Gnosticism, the ideas that led, finally, to the formal state. We noticed Paul making references to knowledge that at least implied proto-Gnosticism; Valentinus claimed to have learned his doctrine from a disciple of Paul.  We also saw it a couple of times in Mark–including his version of this story. Really, from a “mysterion“, a secret ritual, it’s only a short step to a secret knowledge, so that such doctrines developed should not surprise us. After all, sages, magoi, priests of all sorts had long professed a secret (in Latin, occulta) knowledge of the workings of the universe. 

One last point: this is the only time in both Mark and Matthew that they use the word mysterion“, albeit in slightly different forms. Luke uses it in his version of this story. John does not use it, but it shows up several times in Revelation. But Paul uses it eight times in Romans and 1 Corinthians, but some form is used a dozen times in the Deutero-Pauline corpus, especially in Ephesians. So the word went out of fashion after Paul, except among groups that wrote under Paul’s name; they kept the concept alive in traditions that were roughly contemporaneous to, or even after Matthew. Now the word can have a fairly generic meaning, perhaps akin to “secret”; but in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, it seems to imply some sort of knowledge to which those initiated into the assemblies of Jesus were privy.

This apparently bifurcated tradition is significant because it seems to demonstrate that there were separate traditions still in existence. The question is, were Mark, Matthew, Luke and John aware of the Pauline corpus? When did these traditions finally merge? There is little doubt that most of the various books (and some additional ones) that we recognise as the NT were known to “The Church” by te middle of the 2nd Century. A letter of Clement, supposedly written by the third bishop of Rome, mentions 1 Corinthians. Some would put this letter as early 75 CE, or at least in the range of 75-110. However, there is a strong incentive among biblical scholars–especially Christian ones, which is most of them–to date these texts as early as possible. Moving the last date back by a decade seems reasonable, and by two seems plausible. This latter puts us closer to the middle of the 2nd Century than to the beginning. My biggest problem with an early date is that you end up with the Pauline corpus known by “The Church”, but not perhaps the later gospel writers. And this could include even Matthew.

The passage here is from Mark, slightly altered by Matthew and Luke. The latter two seemed to know nothing beyond what Mark did, so the question is whether Mark knew about Paul. There is a definite school of thought that answers this affirmatively, but this is not the majority opinion as far as I can tell. Ergo, this leaves us with two separate traditions

10 Et accedentes discipuli dixerunt ei: “ Quare in parabolis loqueris eis? ”.

11 Qui respondens ait illis: “ Quia vobis datum est nosse mysteria regni caelorum, illis autem non est datum.

12 ὅστις γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ καὶ περισσευθήσεται: ὅστις δὲ οὐκ ἔχει, καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

“For he who has, it will be given to him, and in abundance. But he who has not, even (kai) what he has wll be taken from him.”

The thought expressed here has always bothered me. It seems too close to “the rich will get richer”. However, looking at the context here, what we are talking about is knowledge, or perhaps understanding, so it makes a bit more sense. A lot more, in fact. It is necessary to know something about a subject in order to learn about it in depth. It’s hard, for example, to understand a period of history until you (or I, anyway) know a certain amount about it. Then, once a certain threshhold has been crossed, acquiring additional understanding gets easier. So, I think, it is here. Having certain secret information will allow the understanding of even deeper mysteries.

12 Qui enim habet, dabitur ei, et abundabit; qui autem non habet, et quod habet, auferetur ab eo.

13 διὰ τοῦτο ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λαλῶ, ὅτι βλέποντες οὐ βλέπουσιν καὶ ἀκούοντες οὐκ ἀκούουσιν οὐδὲ συνίουσιν:

“Because of this in parables to them I speak, that looking about they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand.”

This, OTOH, makes no more sense here than it did in Mark. What, after all, is the point of teaching in a way so that those who hear do not understand what they hear? IMO, that’s pretty much the definition of a bad teacher, isn’t it? I probably should have held off on some of the dicsussion of Gnosticism until now, because it seems more pertinent here than it did before. This sure sounds like Jesus is holding something back that will be revealed only to the inner circle. But if that’s the case, then why bother with public teaching?

My solution to this, well, mystery when we discussed it for Mark is that he was doing what he could to explain why more Jews hadn’t become followers of Jesus. Indeed, why hadn’t all of them? Because Jesus was keeping some of the most important parts secret. He wouldn’t let the demons tell who he was, he kept secret from the Jews. Matthew swallows Mark more or less whole, and adds basically nothing to the message. As such, there’s nothing to compel me to change my explanation. That’s not to say I’m necessarily correct, but it seems to make the most sense. 

As always, feel free to disagree. 

13 Ideo in parabolis loquor eis, quia videntes non vident et audientes non audiunt neque intellegunt;

14 καὶ ἀναπληροῦται αὐτοῖς ἡ προφητεία Ἠσαΐου ἡ λέγουσα, Ἀκοῇ ἀκούσετε καὶ οὐ μὴ συνῆτε, καὶ βλέποντες βλέψετε καὶ οὐ μὴ ἴδητε.

15 ἐπαχύνθη γὰρ ἡ καρδία τοῦ λαοῦ τούτου, καὶ τοῖς ὠσὶν βαρέως ἤκουσαν, καὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῶν ἐκάμμυσαν: μήποτε ἴδωσιν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς καὶ τοῖς ὠσὶν ἀκούσωσιν καὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ συνῶσιν καὶ ἐπιστρέψωσιν, καὶ ἰάσομαι αὐτούς.

And he supplied to them the prophecy of Isaiah which is saying, “Having heard they hear and do not understand, and looking they see and the do not know. (15) For the heart has been thickened of this people, and to them their ears are weighed down, and their eyes they closed. Never the eyes see nor the ears hear, nor in their hearts (do) they know, nor do I heal them.”   

A note about the Greek. A couple of the words are peculiarly NT forms. These are the words rendered as “weighed down” and “closed”, as in the eyes. The meaning or sense of the root has not been changed, so there’s no real issue with translation, so it’s really not significant. But it does show how NT Greek is unstable to a point. We can only know what a word truly means by seeing how it is used in different contexts. When the NT starts coming up with unique formations, we are justified in wondering if we’re really catching what the author is throwing, or if we’re just making it say what we want it to say. We’re not in that realm here, but it happens. Second, the last words I rendered as “nor” are actually “kai”, which means “and”. This is an example of the flexibility of this word, which is used in a lot of different ways. Really, “nor” = “and * negative”. So it’s simply a matter of carrying the negative from the previous clauses forward while conjoining with “and”. This is something one sees in Classical authors as well, so it’s a recognizable use. Ergo, it’s not at all problematic. But it does demonstrate how NT authors both knew their basics and maybe didn’t know some of the less common stuff.

Secondly, we spoke about this quote with Mark, but this may be a new insight on my part. Take this together with the previous verse, in which it’s Jesus’ stated intention to obfuscate his message. Here, Isaiah is saying this is the way the Israelites are, not the way they should be, or the way God is making them. For example, recall Pharaoh? How God hardened his heart? I’ve always wondered how Pharaoh could be blamed, or held accountable, when it was God who was making him that way?

But back to Isaiah. Actually, I think “Isaiah” was attempting to do something very similar to what Matthew was doing here. We just talked briefly about how the wicked kings of Israel kept chasing other gods. My suspicion is that the fire and brimstone bombast of Isaiah and the other prophets sent to Israel was latter-day projection into the past to explain why Israel had been conquered by Assyria, and why Judah was the proper successor to the territory that had once been Israel; but that had never included Judah. In the same way, Matthew is trying to explain why pagans are the proper successors to the Judeans as the subjects of the kingdom of heaven.  So it seems that the two passages may, after all, be very similar in both content and intent. 

14 et adimpletur eis prophetia Isaiae dicens: “Auditu audietis et non intellegetis et videntes videbitis et non videbitis.

15 Incrassatum est enim cor populi huius, et auribus graviter audierunt et oculos suos clauserunt, ne quando oculis videant et auribus audiant et corde intellegant et convertantur, et sanem eos”.

16 ὑμῶν δὲ μακάριοι οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ὅτι βλέπουσιν, καὶ τὰ ὦτα ὑμῶν ὅτι ἀκούουσιν.

17 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ προφῆται καὶ δίκαιοι ἐπεθύμησαν ἰδεῖν ἃ βλέπετε καὶ οὐκ εἶδαν, καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ οὐκ ἤκουσαν.

“Blessed are your eyes that see, and your ears that hear. (17) For amen I say to you, that many prophets and justified ones longed to see what you see, and they did not see, and to hear what you hear and they did not here.  

16 Vestri autem beati oculi, quia vident, et aures vestrae, quia audiunt.

17 Amen quippe dico vobis: Multi prophetae et iusti cupierunt videre, quae videtis, et non viderunt, et audire, quae auditis, et non audierunt!

18 Ὑμεῖς οὖν ἀκούσατε τὴν παραβολὴν τοῦ σπείραντος.

19 παντὸς ἀκούοντος τὸν λόγον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ μὴ συνιέντος, ἔρχεται ὁ πονηρὸς καὶ ἁρπάζει τὸ ἐσπαρμένον ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ: οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν σπαρείς.

20 ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων καὶ εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνων αὐτόν:

21 οὐκ ἔχει δὲ ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιρός ἐστιν, γενομένης δὲ θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ διὰ τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζεται.

22 ὁ δὲ εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων καὶ ἡ μέριμνα τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου συμπνίγει τὸν λόγον, καὶ ἄκαρπος γίνεται.

23 ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν καλὴν γῆν σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων καὶ συνιείς, ὃς δὴ καρποφορεῖ καὶ ποιεῖ ὃ μὲν ἑκατόν, ὃ δὲ ἑξήκοντα, ὃ δὲ τριάκοντα.

Thus now hear the parable of the sower.” (19) All hearing the word of the kingdom and not understanding, but the evil one comes and seizes that which has been planted in the heart of him (the one who heard the word and did not understand). This is that which he sowed upon the road. (20) That which was sowed on the rocks, he is the one hearing the word and immediately with happiness he receives it. (21) But he does not have roots in himself, but he is temporary, and becoming afflicted or the persecution on account of the word he quickly stumbles. (22) The one having been sown among the thorns, he is the one hearing the word, but the cares of the age and the fraud of wealth strangle the word, and he is/becomes unfruitful. (23) But the one being sown on good ground, he is the one hearing the word and understanding, indeed he is the one bearing fruit and makes on the one hand a hundred, or another sixty, or another thirty, 

Again, I don’t think this requires a lot of comment–but I said that earlier, too, and that didn’t stop me. But this is a very famous theme in Christianity, and it’s a brilliant metaphor, or analogy, or allegory, or whatever you want to call it. How about a parable? It’s basic, and it’s earthbound, and yet it’s subtle and packs a wallop for a message.

One thing I do want to touch on (oh boy, here we go) is the mention of the affliction of persecution in Verse 21. To start, let us point out that this is a verbatim plagiarism right out of Mark. Now, writing in the early 70s, Mark would have been addressing many who had either heard about, or experienced, the persecutions of Nero, or the horrors of the Jewish Revolt. Fifteen or twenty years later, those were but a faded memory, or the stories of old men for the bulk of those hearing Matthew. This, I think, is how the legend of the persecutions grew: Paul claimed to have perpetrated them, Mark mentioned them, Matthew repeated the story, and Acts 8 talks about a “great” persecution. As such, to the later Church Fathers it seemed like this was a constant state of affairs, that Christians had always been persecuted. The result, I think, were the “Lives of the Saints” as told by Butler in all their horrific and gory details. Now, I’m not as versed on the later Roman Empire, but in the First Century, there is precious little evidence (read, almost none) from the Roman side that Christians were considered a problem. Indeed, that they were considered at all. That letter of Pliny Minor really drives that point home.

Also, the phrase “deceit/fraud of wealth” is lifted pretty much verbatim as well. No, there is no way around it: Matthew had not only read Mark, he had a copy of Mark. Did he have a copy of Paul, too? That is a much more interesting question.

18 Vos ergo audite parabolam seminantis.

19 Omnis, qui audit verbum regni et non intellegit, venit Malus et rapit, quod seminatum est in corde eius; hic est, qui secus viam seminatus est.

20 Qui autem supra petrosa seminatus est, hic est, qui verbum audit et continuo cum gaudio accipit illud,

21 non habet autem in se radicem, sed est temporalis; facta autem tribulatione vel persecutione propter verbum, continuo scandalizatur.

22 Qui autem est seminatus in spinis, hic est, qui verbum audit, et sollicitudo saeculi et fallacia divitiarum suffocat verbum, et sine fructu efficitur.

23 Qui vero in terra bona seminatus est, hic est, qui audit verbum et intellegit et fructum affert et facit aliud quidem centum, aliud autem sexaginta, porro aliud triginta ”.

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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 June 28, 2015, in Chapter 13, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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