Matthew Chapter 13:31-43

Now we have several more parables, the connecting theme being the kingdom of heaven.

31 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔσπειρεν ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ:

32 ὃ μικρότερον μέν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων, ὅταν δὲ αὐξηθῇ μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων ἐστὶν καὶ γίνεται δένδρον, ὥστε ἐλθεῖν τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ κατασκηνοῦν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ.

Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is like a seed of mustard, which a man takes to plant in his field. (32) While it is the smallest of all seeds, when it is grown the largest of cultivated plant it is and it becomes a tree, whence come the birds of the sky and build nests in its branches.

The mustard seed. Another extremely familiar parable, too much so to need too much comment. I did run across a website discussing this, and one of the commentors was tying himself in knots to justify the use of “smallest”. Apparently, this is not correct, per current understanding. That such an error should present itself was a problem for him, so that he ended up arguing that << μικρότερον >> was meant as a comparative, rather than a superlative. This just made me sad. I suppose that he couldn’t even argue that the superlative was meant in a rhetorical sense because that would imply that Jesus was knowingly saying something that he knew not to be true.

But botanical discussions aside, what is important, IMO, is that this parable was also in Mark. As such, it was not a part of Q, which makes absolutely no sense. What I said about the Parable of the Sower also, IMO, holds for this: it’s pretty much a brilliant metaphor. Assuming that Jesus was remembered for a reason, and part of that reason was that he was an inspired teacher, this and the Sower should most definitely be considered as highly likely candidates for Jesus’ authentic teachings. As such, how does it make sense to have Q without some of these parables? The Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, those are attributable to Luke and that’s fine. But these that appear in Mark really have to be given serious consideration as authentic. This is doubly true, I think, because Mark does not devote a lot of time to Jesus’ actual teaching. (Although it must be said he devotes a lot more time to this than Paul did. Interesting observation, no?) And the Sower and the Mustard Seed also share an agricultural basis, which, I think, makes it more likely that they came from the imagination of a single individual.

Now, for anyone who knows the Q argument better than I do, my apologies if this is crude. But I have seen nothing in my–admittedly limited–reading of the case for Q that explains away what I’ve just said.

31 Aliam parabolam proposuit eis dicens: “ Simile est regnum caelorum grano sinapis, quod accipiens homo seminavit in agro suo.

32 Quod minimum quidem est omnibus seminibus; cum autem creverit, maius est holeribus et fit arbor, ita ut volucres caeli veniant et habitent in ramis eius ”.

33 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς: Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ ἐνέκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.

Another parable he spoke to them: “The kingdom of the heavens is like yeast, which a woman taking she hides inside three measures of meal until the whole is yeasted.  

This parable and that of the mustard seed carry much the same message: something small that grows big. At first glance I thought there might be some subtle differences between the two–and there are–but any differences do not really constitute a real distinction. The small-to-big overrides whatever else may be dissimilar. And this message, especially as put across by the mustard seed is so familiar as to be meaningless to most of us, I suspect. But they tell us that Jesus (presumably, or his followers) felt there was a certain inevitability about the kingdom. This despite the presence of an enemy, or the seed that fell on the road, or among the thorns. Given the somewhat more optimistic view of these latter two, we are justified in asking whether these two represent some sort of evolution from the Sower. Has the message become more confident? And this is legitimate question to ask, and a necessary one because it may give us some clues about the dating of the stories, to provide some hints about whether any or all of them may date to Jesus himself. Now, the teaching of an individual can develop over time, can deepen and change to some extent, but an entirely different attitude may intimate a development so drastic as to necessitate different authors. Such is the thinking about The Iliad and The Odyssey. They seem to belong to different thought-worlds, so there is a school of belief that they are the product of different authors; indeed, they are likely to be of different generations.

Here, I don’t think there’s enough development, or difference, to warrant a similar conclusion. Based solely on this sort of internal consistency, I believe that the Sower, the Mustard Seed, and the Yeast all could have sprung from the same font of creativity. Whether this is Jesus or not is another story. Which leads to the next point. The Yeast is not in Mark, but it is in Luke. Does that mean it’s in Q? Or it’s from Q? Or did Matthew make it up? Or did Matthew get it from another source that isn’t Q? Per the reconstruction I cited before, it’s not in Q, despite being in both Matthew and Luke and not Mark. I suppose one could argue that, because it has a woman featured, this story was concocted at a time, later, after Jesus, when women had become more prominent in the movement. But Paul mentions several women as prominent among his communities. So it’s not necessary to date the Yeast later based on the female protagonist.

Bottom line is that, if forced to choose, I would put all three into the same basket, and say that they did indeed spring from the same forehead. The Wheat and Weeds, OTOH, is definitely a later addition. The addition of the enemy, and the presentation of the final judgement are too different from the sensibility of the other three. The Wheat & Weeds is a later addition because it demonstrates the developing complexity of the idea of the kingdom. The thing to note about the first three is that they are all describing natural, organic processes in which the growth of the kingdom is taken for granted. The W&W, however, introduces an outside agent that gets in the way of the process. And note the idea of added complexity. This is consistent with the ongoing evolution of the story of the Baptist, or the 3 Temptations of Jesus. Both stories are more complex in Matthew than they were in Mark; this is very similar to the way the Arthur legend grew more complex over time. And we will see this process at work with another character in the story: Mary Magdalene

33 Aliam parabolam locutus est eis: “ Simile est regnum caelorum fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae satis tribus, donec fermentatum est totum ”.

34 Ταῦτα πάντα ἐλάλησεν ὁἸησοῦς ἐν παραβολαῖς τοῖς ὄχλοις, καὶ χωρὶς παραβολῆς οὐδὲν ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς:

35 ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Ἀνοίξωἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς [κόσμου].

All these things Jesus said in parables to the crowd, and aside from parables he said nothing to them. (35) In this manner was fulfilled the writing according to the prophet saying, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will spew things hidden from the foundation (of the world/universe).  

Interestingly–and perhaps it’s not all that important–this is not a quote from a prophet, but from Psalm 78. But if you want to see the Greek, it’s Ps 77 in the LXX. I looked it up to make sure that it used the word “parable” because my REB didn’t translate it that way. The first five words of the quote here are identical to the first five words of (LXX) Ps 77:2. Secondly, the word I rendered as “spew” is generally translated as “I will utter”. The KJV, NIV, ESB, and NASB all translate it as “utter”. Curiously, the NT dictionary I checked said that the sense of “utter” is “a usage foreign to Classical Greek”. For example, this is the word in Classic Greek that would describe vomiting, or a volcanic eruption. A different Greek word is used in the LXX, one that is often used as “utter” in Classical Greek. Matthew recast the second half of the quote in different words, using a different term for “secrets” than the one used in the LXX. Perhaps he recast this with different words because the Greek of the LXX was archaic, or arcane, or esoteric enough not to be comprehensible to a general audience of his day?

More, does this indicate that, perhaps, the Greek of his pagan audience was sufficiently different from the Greek of the LXX? If we can take it thus, we have yet another clue, or hint, that Matthew was, indeed, preaching to pagans. Does this also explain why he said these were the words of a prophet? First, he realized his audience may not catch the substitution, and second, he made the substitution because “prophet” would carry more rhetorical weight than “psalm”. One point here is that Matthew was either not completely accurate, or he was not completely straightforward. We can go into logical gyrations to prove that the psalms were prophecies, but they were not the writing of a prophet, but (supposedly) of King David.

The takeaway here, I think, is that Matthew massaged the second half of the quote to make it comprehensible for, and more meaningful to his pagan audience. It also ties back to Jesus’ explanation at the end of the Sower, and to Mark’s “secret” identity of Jesus. These are meant as ex-post-facto explanations–or excuses–for why all Jews didn’t become followers of Jesus. If he were indeed the fulfillment of the HS, then why didn’t all Jews recognize this? That’s a question the evangelists had to answer. 

34 Haec omnia locutus est Iesus in parabolis ad turbas; et sine parabola nihil loquebatur eis,

35 ut adimpleretur, quod dictum erat per prophetam dicentem:  “Aperiam in parabolis os meum, eructabo abscondita a constitutione mundi ”.

36 Τότε ἀφεὶς τοὺς ὄχλους ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν. καὶ προσῆλθοναὐ τῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Διασάφησον ἡμῖν τὴν παραβολὴν τῶν ζιζανίων τοῦ ἀγροῦ.

37 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ὁ σπείρων τὸ καλὸν σπέρμα ἐστὶν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:

38 ὁ δὲ ἀγρός ἐστιν ὁ κόσμος: τὸ δὲ καλὸν σπέρμα, οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας: τὰ δὲ ζιζάνιά εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ,

39 ὁ δὲ ἐχθρὸς ὁ σπείρας αὐτά ἐστιν ὁ διάβολος: ὁ δὲ θερισμὸς συντέλεια αἰῶνός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ θερισταὶ ἄγγελοί εἰσιν.

Then dismissing the crowd, he went home. And approached him his disciples saying, “Make clear to us the parable of the zizania of the field. (37) Then, answering them, he said, “The one sowing the good seed is the son of man. (38) The field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom. The zizania is the sons of evil. (39) The enemy who sowed this is the devil. The harvest is the completion of this age, the harvesters are the angels. 

Not much that’s surprising here. Technically, << ὁ διάβολος >>, the diabolos, is the “slanderer”, but I think it’s well-enough established that this term had come to mean “devil” by this point. At least, the idea of the slanderer/devil as the enemy of God. It was the slanderer/devil that we met as the tempter of Jesus back in Chapter 3. As such, I’m reasonably comfortable using the term “devil” when I see <<ὁ διάβολος>>.

The idea of the angels as the harvesters is a bit novel. More, it doesn’t really fit with Paul’s notion that the faithful would rise up to meet the lord coming down. Paul is not explicit, but the implication does seem to be that this would occur spontaneously and unaided. Nothing Paul says would contradict the idea of harvesting angels, but nothing he says supports it, either. Here, I would judge that the silence implies that this was not part of Paul’s vision. Ergo, this is a new addition to the End Time scenario.

Now, this means one of two things. It could mean that this had become part of the eschatology, that angels would be sent out to harvest the souls of the good. Or, it’s possible that this is just sort of a throw-away line necessitated by the extended metaphor. If it’s the former, the non-inclusion of this story in Luke becomes more curious. Personally, I suspect that this is a detail that Matthew made up to fit the needs of the story. And the implications for the long term are significance. Later theologians would have to collect all of these one-off lines and try to connect them into a coherent story about the End Times, the Trinity, and all the other theological constructions that were added. The problem with this is that, too often, many of these one-off lines don’t add up into a systematic, consistent picture. The same is true with the HS, too. It’s a commonplace that there are two creation myths recorded that overlap, but aren’t exactly the same. There is a cottage industry in trying to piece together the Apocrapha and the canonical books into a coherent picture of The Fall and any number of other topics. It is a difficult task to reconcile these accounts for various reasons, the first of which is that the accounts are not consistent.

36 Tunc, dimissis turbis, venit in domum, et accesserunt ad eum discipuli eius dicentes: “ Dissere nobis parabolam zizaniorum agri ”.

37 Qui respondens ait: “ Qui seminat bonum semen, est Filius hominis;

38 ager autem est mundus; bonum vero semen, hi sunt filii regni; zizania autem filii sunt Mali;

39 inimicus autem, qui seminavit ea, est Diabolus; messis vero consummatio saeculi est; messores autem angeli sunt.

40 ὥσπερ οὖν συλλέγεται τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ πυρὶ [κατα]καίεται, οὕτως ἔσται ἐν τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος:

41 ἀποστελεῖ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ, καὶ συλλέξουσιν ἐκ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα καὶ τοὺς ποιοῦντας τὴν ἀνομίαν,

42 καὶ βαλοῦσιν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν κάμινον τοῦ πυρός: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

43 Τότε οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν ὡς ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν. ὁ ἔχων ὦταἀκουέτω.

As when the weeds are gathered together  and and thrown into the fire, in this way it will be in the end of the age. (41) The son of man will send his angels, and they will gather together  (and take out) from his kingdom all wicked and those doing lawlessness. (42) And they will throw them to the oven of fire; there it will be wailing and the gnashing of teeth. (43) Then the just will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their father. The one having ears, let him hear.   

First, in V-40, some gymnastics were required to get the English to resemble the Greek. The problem is the verb is the same in both V-40; it’s the verb for “to collect/gather” with the prefix “with” affixed to the beginning. This is to add double emphasis to the action. So, in both cases, the weeds/the wicked are gathered together. But in V-41, they will “gathered together out of the kingdom”. That’s a bit ambiguous, or misleading in English. So a verb like, “to pull from” the kingdom would be more appropriate. Or, “they will be gathered together and plucked from the kingdom” would convey the sense intended.

I love “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, even if  “weeping” is actually more appropriate. The KJV used the first phrase to such great poetic effect that it’s difficult to imagine it otherwise. It’s like “they were sore afraid”. Anything else feels a tad weak.

The idea of the just “shining like the sun” is, I think, a new image for the NT. This is the only incidence of this verb in the NT. It’s obviously part of the basis for our idea of the dead in heaven being radiant beings like angels. But while this may be a new image for Christianity, it’s actually very old, an echo of Zoroastrian dualism, where the Good is identified with Light. This is a great example of non-conscious syncretism, in which religious ideas are passed back and forth between different thought-worlds, pulling them closer together. The Greeks and Romans did this consciously; Tacitus claims that the chief god of the Germans is Mercury. This is because Wotan/Woden/Odin was more a god of wisdom, like Mercury/Hermes, rather than the storm god like Zeus or Jupiter. He made the comparison with a fully conscious rationality. Taking over the idea that Good = Light is much more subtle. It’s really just a metaphor, and it gets picked up by a new group and brings a new wrinkle into the way this new group thinks. And the new group may be completely unaware of many of the tenets of the group that invented the metaphor. It’s just this one aspect that made a lot of sense. This is why it’s so tricky when we discuss the affiliation of religions, or sects, or heretical groups. One or two metaphors may be borrowed, but that isn’t really enough to prove a direct affiliation. The second group may only have used those one or two things, without intending to imply the rest of the dogma of the first group. Take Gnosticism. Many Gnostic groups were dualists, but it was possible to be a dualist but not be a Gnostic, or a Gnostic without being a dualist. Plato is implicitly dualistic; Zoroastrianism is extremely so. Christianity is implicitly dualistic; did the latent dualism in Christianity come from Plato? Or from Zoroastrianism? Or did Plato, in fact, get his dualist ideas from Zoroastrianism? Or did both Plato and the Christians come to there flesh/spirit distinction independently? Was it possible to come up with ideas independently in the great melting pot of the eastern part of the Roman Empire?

These questions have no answers. Wc can never know with certainty, so it’s best to hold theories only tentatively; theories should be changed when additional evidence makes the old one untenable. Unfortunately, too many scholars hold a theory until death does them part. This is why theories change one funeral at a time. This was said about…physics, I believe, but it’s so true in so many academic fields, where the old-timers hold onto the theories of their youth, to the point of becoming (almost) a self-parody.

I have neglected to discuss the use of the term “Son of Man” by Matthew. We associate this term with Mark. In fact, it was my impression that the term was nearly exclusive to Mark. As such, it was revealing to go back and count occurrences of the term in both Mark and Matthew. Surprisingly, Mark used this expressions a bare dozen times; we’ve run across it now seven times in Matthew, and there are more to come. OK, so we figure that Matthew took over the term when he included a story from Mark. Again surprisingly, so far this has been true only three times. In the other four, as in this one, Matthew used this expression in stories that are not taken from Mark; that is, Matthew has inserted this term on his own accord, rather than because Mark used it in the same context. And the term will be found more often in Matthew than it was in Mark. IOW, the term has lodged into the vocabulary of the followers of Jesus at this point. It will be used by Luke as well; however, most of the usage in Luke is in stories from Mark. There are those who claim that “son of man” is another phrase for “yours truly”. The problem is, this author (Mack, I believe), provides no citations from other authors who use this term in or around the First Century CE. As such, it is difficult to give credence to this assertion. Rather, it seems as if something specific is meant by the expression, to the point that it’s inclusion in the gospels carried on well past the time of Mark.

Finally, I love the part about hearing if you have ears. Recall that this comes after a series of proclamations that the messenger of God speaks in parables, and after Jesus has said that he speaks in parables specifically so that people do not understand. There’s a bit of irony there. Given that, I think that the “he who has ears, let him hear” may actually trace back to Jesus himself. Mark put this expression into Jesus’ mouth. As such it possibly bypassed intermediaries, such as James the Just. Recall that I have posited much of the eventual Christian message to James. But James’ influence had not spread far enough to affect Mark, I think. As I see it, the material in Mark is much more likely to trace back to Jesus than anything supposedly recorded in Q. The alleged Q material could too easily represent later accretions. And the emphasis on poverty in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere is something that I would suggest is more likely to be something from James than Jesus. So with the “let the one having ears hear”, we have something recorded in the period before the James influence had become part of the tributary stream of what eventually became Christianity.

Or something like that.

40 Sicut ergo colliguntur zizania et igni comburuntur, sic erit in consummatione saeculi:

41 mittet Filius hominis angelos suos, et colligent de regno eius omnia scandala et eos, qui faciunt iniquitatem,

42 et mittent eos in caminum ignis; ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium.

43 Tunc iusti fulgebunt sicut sol in regno Pa tris eorum. Qui habet aures, audiat.

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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 July 5, 2015, in Chapter 13, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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