Monthly Archives: December 2015

Matthew Chapter 19:1-12

So now we start Chapter 19. Once again, we get material from Mark; this time it’s the discussion about divorce.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, μετῆρεν ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια τῆς Ἰουδαίας πέραν τοῦἸορδάνου.

2 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ.

And it happened that Jesus finished these stories, they left from Galilee and they came to the boundaries of Judea on the shore of the Jordan. (2) And the crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

This is the residual of Mark’s wonder-worker stories. Matthew cannot get rid of them completely, but he can certainly underplay them. A lot. Given that I’m seeing the hand of James–not Jesus–in much of the material that is in Matthew but not Mark, I’m being forced to think very critically about how his earliest followers saw Jesus. Given that so much of Mark up to Chapter 8 deals with the wonders Jesus worked, and only minimally with parables, it’s hard not to conclude that this was a very significant aspect of Jesus’ identity for many early followers. Not all of them, certainly, because we have the Pauline corpus that tells a very different story. 

1 Et factum est, cum consum masset Iesus sermones istos, migravit a Galilaea et venit in fines Iudaeae trans Iordanem.

2 Et secutae sunt eum turbae multae, et curavit eos ibi.

3 Καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Φαρισαῖοι πειράζοντες αὐτὸν καὶ λέγοντες, Εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀπολῦσαι τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν;

And came to him Pharisees testing him and saying, “If it is allowed for a man to release his wife for all reasons. 

Here we have the question about divorce. Since there is really nothing here that we didn’t discuss when reading this in Mark, I’m going to withhold comment until the end; with the possible exception of some minor points.

3 Et accesserunt ad eum pharisaei tentantes eum et dicentes: “ Licet homini dimittere uxorem suam quacumque ex causa?”.

4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ὅτι ὁ κτίσας ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς;

And he answering said, “Are you ignorant that the creation from the beginning male and female he made them?”

4 Qui respondens ait: “ Non legistis quia, qui creavit ab initio, masculum et feminam fecit eos.

5 καὶ εἶπεν, Ενεκα τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ κολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.

And he said, “Because of this a man leaves behind his father and his mother and becomes joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

5 et dixit: “Propter hoc dimittet homo patrem et matrem et adhaerebit uxori suae, et erunt duo in carne una?”.

6 ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία. ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.

 

In this way they are not two, but one flesh. Thus, that which God has yoked together man must not separate”.

6 Itaque iam non sunt duo sed una caro. Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet ”.

7 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Τί οὖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο δοῦναι βιβλίον ἀποστασίου καὶ ἀπολῦσαι [αὐτήν];

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command to give a little book of standing away and releasing her?”

“Little book of standing away is a very, very literal translation for what should be called “a writ of divorce”, or something such. 

7 Dicunt illi: “ Quid ergo Moyses mandavit dari libellum repudii et dimittere? ”.

8 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Μωϋσῆς πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἐπέτρεψεν ὑμῖν ἀπολῦσαι τὰς γυναῖκας ὑμῶν, ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς δὲ οὐ γέγονεν οὕτως.

He said to them that “Moses towards the hard-heartedness of you allowed you to release (= divorce) your wives, from the beginning it was not thus.” 

This is put rather differently than the way it was in Mark. There is no real change in the implication, nor does it show any real development of the concept (as far as I can tell at the moment), but seems more like an expression of editorial independence. It does emphasize that it was the allowance of Moses that was the aberration, rather than the norm. As such, Jesus is not changing anything, but restoring the natural order. This may require additional comment below. 

8 Ait illis: “ Moyses ad duritiam cordis vestri permisit vobis dimittere uxores vestras; ab initio autem non sic fuit.

9 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται.

“I say to you that he who may divorce his wife, unless for fornication (translit = ‘pornia’) and marries another adulterizes”.

“Pornes”, our root of “pornography” in Greek generally refers to prostitution. However, in Christian usage, it comes to be equated with, or used for, any sort of sexual irregularity. Part of the problem is that “prostitution” in English cultural usage is necessarily a bad thing, something that is considered morally reprehensible in all circumstances, and something that is generally banned as criminal behaviour. For many cultures in the ancient world, however, there were often sacred rites connected to what we would call ‘prostitution’. The classic example are those that are called “temple prostitutes”. Far from being sinful behaviour, this was a sacred rite. What we have is the age-old pastoral puritanism reacting against the fertility rituals of the agriculturalists. Among the latter, this sort of sacred sex was not at all unusual, and was certainly not bad. I have resisted translating anything with the “porn-” root as fornication, but there is no doubt that this is what the complex of words based on this root meant for authors of the NT.

Actually, we’re going to go off on something of a tangent in the following verse, so I’ll make my general comments on the divorce decree now.

Since the whole fornication topic is still fresh, let’s discuss this first. If you have ever been through a divorce, or know people who have, you will realize that the real issues of divorce revolve around the property. The concept of fornication, especially by the wife, relate to the knowledge of who the legitimate heir of the property is. In patriarchal societies–most of them in the ‘civilised’ world, especially Greece and Rome and Judea–property was passed from father to son. As such, the father had to be–or wanted to be–damn certain that the son was actually his. In the Middle Ages, this led to the daughters of nobles being socked away in a convent until they were of marriageable age–which generally meant puberty. These poor girls often went straight from the convent to the marriage bed so the nobleman who married them could be certain of her virginity. And this is also the genesis of the custom of a year’s mourning for a woman whose husband died: that way, it was certain that she wasn’t pregnant when the late husband died. Now, men who fornicated could–and often did–produce illegitimate children. In the case of males these could muddy up the lines of inheritance, so the term “bastard” became one of reproach. However, there was not the same level of horror of male fornication that was there was for the wife fornicating. In fact, a queen committing adultery was also committing treason. The idea was she could give birth to a son that would or could be considered legitimate, meaning this son was a rival claimant to the throne on the king’s death. 

So yes, it involves property.

When reading this in Mark, I did not comment on the “restoration” aspect of this passage. It is very important to note that Jesus is not–in his mind, at least–doing anything novel. Rather, he sees this as a restoration of the “natural” way, in which mating was for life. It was only the hard-heartedness of the ancient Israelites that had messed this up. This is a fairly significant change in attitude. First, we need to consider whether this actually dates to Jesus. It’s in Mark, so there’s not a lot of argument that this should be attributed to James. It’s hard to untangle what Paul would have, or did think of this. He wasn’t real keen on marriage, but he wasn’t keen on divorce, either, even as a means to living a celibate life. There is no obvious reason here to believe that it did not come from Jesus. But Paul believed that the end was coming soon, so he saw no reason to consider things like this. His advice was to remain in whatever state you happened to be in, whether single or married. Nor is there is any context, or internal inconsistency to preclude the provenance from Jesus, as there is for more obvious situations that would only have arisen after he died. I cannot think of, or discover, any real objection to attributing this to Jesus. That’s not the same as proving he said it; rather, it’s the argument from either ignorance or silence, which in a case like this are effectively the same thing. We don’t have any evidence one way or the other.

So let’s assume this did come from Jesus; indeed, that it’s such a break with Jewish tradition may be evidence that it did come from Jesus. Why would he make this pronouncement? Why make this break, when he made so few others? I’m not sure I have an answer for this. Offhand, it seems like a puritanical reaction, an attempt to return to a more pure state when the law, or The Law, did not interfere with the natural order. Is this something that came, ultimately, from the Baptist, or from the sort of puritanical minds that created this sort of “pristine-state” thinking? That is a possibility. Really, the more I consider this, the odder it seems. And since many people still point to this passage as an absolute prohibition of divorce, this oddity has real-world implications. 

So, given my lack of imagination on this, I am forced to leave the topic. Perhaps more ideas will have occurred to me by the time I’m writing the summary for this chapter..

9 Dico autem vobis quia quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, nisi ob fornicationem, et aliam duxerit, moechatur”.

10 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ [αὐτοῦ], Εἰ οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ αἰτία τοῦ ἀνθρώπου μετὰ τῆς γυναικός, οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι.

His disciples said to him, “If it is thus, the cause of men with his woman, one should refrain to marry”.

Two things. First, this is not a question. The disciples are drawing an inference and stating it. Second, the disciples are presented as intelligent enough to draw this inference. Since this is not in Mark, this seems to be another attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the disciples. They are not the dullards that we met in Mark.

But the real issue is that it’s very tempting to read this an not see Paul behind this. Let’s face it: Paul was much more concerned about this sort of thing in general, and with sexual morality in particular, that we’ve found in the gospels so far. With the exception of the passages about causing others to stumble, or recommending self-mutilation, Jesus is pretty much silent on sexual morality. So yes, the influence of Paul seems very prominent. 

That leads us to a decision: is it more likely that this came from the influence of Paul, or was it simply something deduced independently? First, let’s specify that this almost certainly does not trace back to Jesus given the oddity of the situation and it not being part of Mark. Second, it is highly unlikely that this one aspect of Pauline teaching entered the stream of general teaching by itself. Most often, when an earlier source influences a later source, there are multiple clues pointing to the earlier source. That we seem to have a one-off would weigh against the inclusion of Paul. But, OTOH, maybe we just haven’t noticed the other instances of influence. This one seems fairly obvious because of the way it’s stated. The question of whether it’s better to marry (than to burn with lust) is couched in language very similar to the way Paul addressed the question, so the possible affiliation is obvious. 

So once again, the evidence is ambiguous. Really, there’s no reason that this could not have been arrived at independently, but the way it’s put makes affiliation seem likely. As a result, I defer judgement, or a final conclusion, for the moment. If I see no other indications of fairly obvious debts to Paul, I will have to infer that this was an independent development. But then, I haven’t considered the possibility that Matthew got this–and this alone–orally, from someone who had been exposed to Paul to some degree. That would account for the way the inference is put in Pauline terms, without requiring that Matthew knew the Pauline corpus in whole, or even in part.

10 Dicunt ei discipuli eius: “ Si ita est causa hominis cum uxore, non expedit nubere ”.

11 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ πάντες χωροῦσιν τὸν λόγον [τοῦτον], ἀλλ’ οἷς δέδοται.

He said to them, “Not all ****** [this] idea, but to those (to whom) it is given.”  

I am having trouble rendering <<χωροῦσιν >>. In classical usage, it’s sort of a synonym for “to go”, especially as in “to leave”. Yet my NT dictionary, all my crib translations, and even the Latin render this as “receive”. One thing that disturbs me is that all the commentaries just swallow “to receive” without, well, comment. Here once again I have to question NT scholarship. For all the noise made about going back to the Greek, here is an instance where it appears a lot of translators stopped at the Latin. Realize that the unabridged Liddell & Scott give cites for unusual uses of a given word. For example, I was puzzled by something in Herodotus (I, 31), and lo! there it was, cited in the L&S. And even if we take this as “receive”. the passage then reads “not all receive this, but (‘only’ implied?) those to whom it is given”. That’s basically a contradiction. How can one receive it, unless it has been given? Think of it this way: “not all to whom it is given receive it, but only those to whom it is given”.  The “to whom it is given” is logically necessary if one receives it. Yes, the meaning is “obvious”, but only because we believe it to be so. We’re taking St Jerome’s word for that.

11 Qui dixit eis: “ Non omnes capiunt verbum istud, sed quibus datum est.

12 εἰσὶν γὰρ εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς ἐγεννήθησαν οὕτως, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνουχίσθησαν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. ὁ δυνάμενος χωρεῖν χωρείτω.

For there are eunuchs, those from the mother’s womb born this way, and there are eunuchs who were eunuchized by men, and there are eunuchs who eunuchize themselves on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let the one who is able to receive it, receive it.

Again with the <<χωροῦσιν >> in the last sentence. This time, I just conceded and let the consensus translation stand.

Because, really, the more interesting part of this is the first bit about eunuchs, whether congenital, created, or self-made. The last is interesting: are we to take this literally? Were men literally castrating themselves because of the kingdom of the heavens? I know that one of the patristic thinkers did, but which one I don’t recall. I do recall Norman Cantnor’s assessment: he found sexual continence a problem, so he castrated himself, “an eminently logical solution”. In actuality, the literalness of this is only a problem for fundamentalists; for, if we take this as figurative, what else are we to take as figurative? “I am the vine, you are the branches”?

I think the point here is to go back to our question about “better not to marry”. This whole idea of self-eunuchizing really ties back to that. And both of these are very Pauline in their outlook. Paul spent a lot of time discussing things like this. The fact that we have both the “better not to marry” and this bit makes me lean towards an overall awareness of at least part of the Pauline corpus. Perhaps 1 Corinthians, if not other works. So perhaps our question has been answered, because I believe this is the only–or one of the very few–places in the gospel in which sexual continence is considered necessary for entrance into the kingdom of the heavens; that is, the sole example excluding the passages that recommend self-mutilation. 

12 Sunt enim eunuchi, qui de matris utero sic nati sunt; et sunt eunuchi, qui facti sunt ab hominibus; et sunt eunuchi, qui seipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum. Qui potest capere, capiat”.

 

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Christmas 2015

 

I posted the quote below back in 2013 because this piece of poetry always moves me. I have always loved “sore afraid”. This time, I found the video, and, I hope, successfully embedded it

Aside from that, though, it’s such a message of hope.

Merry Christmas.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Summary Matthew Chapter 18

The bulk of the material in this chapter was also found in Mark, with the exception of the parable of the Wicked Slave at the end. But there are some siginificant developments. The first concerns Jesus’ answer to the question of who is the greatest in heaven. In response, he uses the example of the child, stating that we must be like the child; unless we do this, we will not enter the kingdom of the heavens. So far, that’s pretty much a reflection of Mark. Matthew then takes this in a new direction.

The new direction is based on the change of direction from being a child to being one of the least of the believers. These two categories could certainly overlap, but they are not synonymous. And I must confess here that I misunderstood or misinterpreted the term “least of those believing in me”. I was taking this as similar to Paul’s usage in 1 Corinthians, where he was talking about those who were not strong in their faith. Rather, this should be taken as a class ranking; those who are the lowest ranking in society. Children would certainly fit this description, but it does not have to apply, nor should it only apply, to children. It would include people like resident aliens, those living in a community who would not have citizen rights, day labourers–whose status was actually lower than slaves–and the poor, destitute, those with disabilities, lepers, and prisoners. Since this is a class, or social ranking issue, the message takes on a somewhat different meaning. It’s not about the weak of faith, but about those who are overlooked and under-represented in the considerations of any community.

As such, I’m not sure the message conveyed is fully consistent. At the very least, it’s not fully consistent with the message as related by Mark. That was about children; this is about a larger group of people. Now, what I am about to suggest here is an excellent example of building a large edifice on a slender reed. Recall James’ one condition to Paul when the two of them came to their agreement in Jerusalem was the admonition to “remember the poor”. And tradition has long associated James, brother of Jesus, with the sect known as the Ebionites, a group that appears to have practiced voluntary poverty, who considered Jesus the Messiah, but did not consider him divine. Given that Matthew was writing well after the period of James, when the tenets of his leadership had been fully absorbed and incorporated into the doctrines of the Jesus followers, it’s not a stretch to see the change in emphasis in this story as the result of the teachings of James regarding the lower strata of society. Note that I am suddenly willing to credit tradition, when usually I don’t. In this case I’m willing to consider tradition because there’s no real benefit to anyone in creating this tradition. It’s not like the situation where later bishops of Rome had a real vested interest in claiming Petrine primacy, and that they were the successors of Peter. The most reasonable motive for ascribing the association of James with the Ebionites is that the latter movement came to be considered borderline heretical, so attaching James to this movement would have discredited him as a potential rival to the bishop of Rome.

So, is this suggestion realistic? There is nothing that makes this internally inconsistent. Nor is there anything that flagrantly contradicts anything close to an actual known fact. Rather, it incorporates at least one known fact that is generally ignored–that James was the leader of the group for almost thirty years. From this we infer that it’s impossible that, in thirty years, James did not have an enormous impact on what subsequent Christians subsequently believed. And part of this impossibility is that James faithfully and dutifully repeated everything his brother had said without addition, alternation, or omission. James was later written out of the picture, probably at the behest of the bishops of Rome. One of the Protestant commentaries I read was very emphatic that we have no proof that Peter ever went to Rome. This, of course, undercuts Petrine primacy and the primacy of the bishops of Rome; to get to their position of primacy it was necessary to remove the fingerprints of James. One of the aspects of James’ teaching that was treated especially roughly was the insistence on poverty.

In all, the most likely explanation for the change of emphasis in this story between Mark and Matthew is the incorporation of the teachings of James into mainstream of proto-Christian beliefs.

The parable of the hundred sheep, I believe, is fully consistent with this. The story of forgiveness is very Jewish; this, in a nutshell, is the story of the entire HS: apostasy followed by forgiveness when the apostate returns to the fold. If James’ held more closely to the Jewish mainstream than Jesus had (which is by no means a given), this tale of forgiveness fits into that tradition very nicely. It feels like the idea of forgiveness has progressed somewhat from the older tales in the HS, but that could easily be simple prejudice on my part. Or perhaps just my Christian filter and my relative ignorance of the full range of Jewish teaching. This is also Q material; allegedly. It’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. It’s also possible that it entered the mainstream of proto-Christianity by way of James. In my opinion, it is more likely that it entered this stream by way of the teaching of James and his followers that by way of an hypothetical document for which we have zero evidence. We have evidence of James and his leading role. It’s scant, but it’s much greater than any evidence for the hypothetical Q.

The last bit of this chapter is the story of the Wicked Slave. (Note: the proper translation of “doulos” is “slave”, not “servant”.) This was not in Mark; it’s not in Luke. It’s unique to Matthew. And more, there is a qualitative difference about this parable. It is the one story told in which the main character is used as an example of what not to be. Yes, Mark has the tale (which Matthew repeats) of the Wicked Tenants, but they are the direct object that will receive the wrath of the owner. And Matthew will give us the tale of the talents, in which different slaves will receive different amounts, and the one who got the least is held up as a bad example. But in that case, you have a culling process; here, it’s the one and only. Now, as such, it’s tempting to relate this more to, say, one of Aesop’s fables, in which various animals come to bad ends by virtue of their own wicked behaviour. And once we’ve gone down that path, the kinship to a Greek story opens the door to my pet hobbyhorse of Matthew-as-pagan.

What do we make of that?

Let’s start by pointing out that this is the sort of argument I would find less than convincing were I on the other side of it. This is true largely because there really is no “argument”; at best, what is presented is an opinion based on not much more than the fact that it agrees with what I want to believe. So why believe it? Once again, it’s the sort of thing that, on its own, amounts to nothing. Its value comes in the accumulation of these little clues. If you get enough individual bones, you can re-assemble the dinosaur. Mind, you don’t need all of them, but enough. So the real question is whether these clues that I’ve been pointing out comprise “enough” to reconstruct the skeleton of the dinosaur.

It should also be pointed out that this parable may not really be qualitatively different from other parables. While it doesn’t feel like the Sower, is it that far from The Wicked Tenants? Or even the Wheat and the Weeds/Tares? Those are judgement calls, and ones better left to those with more of a literary background. There may be some way to dissect the various stories and compare them using some sort of literary formula. This is, after all, not all that much different from what historians do: ask if the equation truly is equal–or can be made equal–on both sides of the equal sign.

The time has probably come to start counting up all these “clues” to see what they look like presented in a single place.

Matthew Chapter 18:21-34

21 Τότε προσελθὼν ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ποσάκις ἁμαρτήσει εἰς ἐμὲ ὁἀδελφός μου καὶ ἀφήσω αὐτῷ; ἕως ἑπτάκις;

22 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐ λέγω σοι ἕως ἑπτάκις ἀλλὰ ἕως ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά.

Then approaching, Peter said to him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Until seven?” (22) Jesus said to him, “Not, I say to you, seven times, but seventy-seven times”.

Note that this does not say “seventy times seven”. Apparently that was a convention of the KJV, and it stuck for several hundred years. It appears some more recent translations are rendering this as “seventy-seven” now. That’s a whole lot less than 490 times. But of course the point is not to affix a specific number to the forgiveness, but to indicate that, well, you should be forgiving a lot.

Did Jesus say this? I see, prima facie, no reason why he didn’t. Nihil obstat, as it were. This was printed in books that had the Vatican seal of approval; it means something like “nothing stands in the way”. And so here. There is really nothing that overtly precludes Jesus saying this. The exact set-up may be fictional, but the words themselves–or at least the sense behind them–could easily be authentic. Whether they are or not is a different matter, but I don’t think the possibility can simply be dismissed.

As for the thought behind the words, once again the sensibility is easily derived from Judaism. Stephen A Gellar, in the quotes found in Religion in Human Evolution, argues that the transformation of Judaism occurred when the covenant was seen to be between God and the individual Jews, rather than between God and Israel. And God was endlessly forgiving towards Israel; as such, it’s but a step to forgiveness extended by God to individual Jews. From there, it’s only another short step to forgiveness extended between Jews, or between people in general. Between siblings, whether of blood, culture, or religion. So once again, the thought expressed may have a novel twist, but it’s not especially revolutionary. As such, it could easily be something that Jesus actually did say. Nihil obstat.

21 Tunc accedens Petrus dixit ei: “ Domine, quotiens peccabit in me frater meus, et dimittam ei? Usque septies? ”.

22 Dicit illi Iesus: “ Non dico tibi usque septies sed usque septuagies septies.

23 Διὰ τοῦτο ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ ὃς ἠθέλησεν συνᾶραι λόγον μετὰ τῶν δούλων αὐτοῦ.

“In this way the kingdom of the heavens resembles to a man who comes before a king to give an account with his  slaves.

This is the opening to a parable, which will take up the rest of the chapter. Comment is deferred until the end. Unless something that demands immediate attention should appear.

23 Ideo assimilatum est regnum caelorum homini regi, qui voluit rationem ponere cum servis suis.

24 ἀρξαμένου δὲ αὐτοῦ συναίρειν προσηνέχθη αὐτῷ εἷς ὀφειλέτης μυρίων ταλάντων.

“And he having begun to take up (the matter),  (a slave) was brought to him regarding owing ten thousand talents. 

The word is “myriad”, which literally means 10,000. The Latin agrees, and all of my crib translations render it as ten thousand. This is an incredibly enormous amount of money; on the order of millions of dollars. It’s such a large sum one wonders if it shouldn’t just be translated as “an enormous amount of money”, or something such.

24 Et cum coepisset rationem ponere, oblatus est ei unus, qui debebat decem milia talenta.

25 μὴ ἔχοντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἀποδοῦναι ἐκέλευσεν αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος πραθῆναι καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ πάντα ὅσα ἔχει, καὶ ἀποδοθῆναι.

“But he not having it, the lord ordered him to be handed over to be sold, and his wife and all his children however many he had, and he was given over.

As I said, this was a huge amount of money; I’m not sure that selling the whole family would recoup the debt, so this was to a large degree punitive. 

25 Cum autem non haberet, unde redderet, iussit eum dominus venumdari et uxorem et filios et omnia, quae habebat, et reddi.

26 πεσὼν οὖν ὁ δοῦλος προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων,Μακροθύμησον ἐπ’ ἐμοί, καὶ πάντα ἀποδώσω σοι.

“Falling therefore the slave groveled before him (the lord) saying, ‘Have mercy upon me, and I will give everything over to you (will repay the debt)’.

As stated, selling the whole family would not recoup the full monetary loss, so this is a tempting offer.

26 Procidens igitur servus ille adorabat eum dicens: “Patientiam habe in me, et omnia reddam tibi”.

27 σπλαγχνισθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἀπέλυσεν αὐτόν, καὶ τὸ δάνειον ἀφῆκεν αὐτῷ.

“Taking pity upon this slave he released him, and the debt was removed from him.

A tad curious, since the slave bought his freedom by promising to pay the debt. But, this is Truth, not realism. Oddly, the NT Greek dictionary I use does not have << δάνειον >> in it. Liddell & Scott provide this as an Hellenistic form.

27 Misertus autem dominus servi illius dimisit eum et debitum dimisit ei.

28 ἐξελθὼν δὲ ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος εὗρεν ἕνα τῶν συνδούλων αὐτοῦ ὃς ὤφειλεν αὐτῷ ἑκατὸν δηνάρια, καὶ κρατήσας αὐτὸν ἔπνιγεν λέγων, Ἀπόδος εἴ τι ὀφείλεις.

“Exiting, the slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed to him a hundred denarii, and he seizing him, he choked him saying, ‘Give me what you owe’.   

“Denarii”, plural for “denarius” is the root of the English word “penny”. Which is why you purchase 10 d (ten penny) nails. The point is, this is not a large sum overall, and it’s a trifle compared to 10,000 talents.

28 Egressus autem servus ille invenit unum de conservis suis, qui debebat ei centum denarios, et tenens suffocabat eum dicens: “Redde, quod debes!”.

29 πεσὼν οὖν ὁ σύνδουλος αὐτοῦ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν λέγων, Μακροθύμησον ἐπ’ ἐμοί, καὶ ἀποδώσω σοι.

“Falling, the fellow-slave beseeched him saying, “Have pity on me, and I will give to you”.

29 Procidens igitur conservus eius rogabat eum dicens: “Patientiam habe in me, et reddam tibi”.

30 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἤθελεν, ἀλλὰ ἀπελθὼν ἔβαλεν αὐτὸν εἰς φυλακὴν ἕως ἀποδῷ τὸ ὀφειλόμενον.

“But he did not wish this, but going out he threw him into gaol until he might give over the debt.

There is no modern equivalent for the word I translated as “gaol”, which is a Briticism and an anachronism. “Under guard” would probably be the best, simply because “jail” is just too misleading. “Into the dungeon” might capture the sense. And this is an extreme course of action considering the paltriness of the debt.  

30 Ille autem noluit, sed abiit et misit eum in carcerem, donec redderet debitum.

31 ἰδόντες οὖν οἱ σύνδουλοι αὐτοῦ τὰ γενόμενα ἐλυπήθησαν σφόδρα, καὶ ἐλθόντες διεσάφησαν τῷ κυρίῳ ἑαυτῶν πάντα τὰ γενόμενα.

“Seeing these events, the (other) fellow slaves were exceedingly sorry, and coming they told their lord all the events.

31 Videntes autem conservi eius, quae fiebant, contristati sunt valde et venerunt et narraverunt domino suo omnia, quae facta erant.

32 τότε προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ λέγει αὐτῷ, Δοῦλε πονηρέ, πᾶσαν τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἐκείνην ἀφῆκά σοι, ἐπεὶ παρεκάλεσάς με:

33 οὐκ ἔδει καὶ σὲ ἐλεῆσαι τὸν σύνδουλόν σου, ὡς κἀγὼ σὲ ἠλέησα;

34 καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν τοῖς βασανισταῖς ἕως οὗ ἀποδῷ πᾶν τὸ ὀφειλόμενον.

35 Οὕτως καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ οὐράνιος ποιήσει ὑμῖν ἐὰν μὴ ἀφῆτε ἕκαστος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν καρδιῶν ὑμῶν.

“Then calling him his lord said to him, ‘Wicked slave, all this debt I removed from you when you beseeched me. (33) It was necessary for you be compassionate to your fellow slave, as I compassioned you’. (34) And the lord having waxed wroth, gave him to the torturers until he should pay the entire debt. (35) Thus my father heavenly will do for you unless you don’t take away each to your brother (dative of possession: of your brother’s) from your heart.”  

The irony here is too plain to require any comment. What about the theology? If you think about this the right way, this could be a proof text for Purgatory: the sinner is held until the debt is paid. That’s pretty much the definition of Purgatory. Of course, no one believes in that any more except the Roman Rite, but tell me I’m wrong. Against the Purgatory reading, one could argue that the slave will never pay off the debt because he’s in the dungeon; how can he work to make the money back to repay the debt? In which case, we’re talking about eternal damnation rather than Purgatory.

 The point is, God will forgive us anything, no matter how enormous, but we have the obligation to do the same for our fellows. That is how this ties into the 77 iterations of forgiveness to our brother. And this certainly doesn’t seem to sit well with sola fides, but that’s an entirely different conversation. Depending on your definitions, the faith creates the works (by their fruits…). Of course, that’s not the only way to understand sola fides, but this isn’t the time nor place for that debate. Offhand, I don’t know how this fits with Jewish morality; I suspect it does, because social consciousness is a big part of Jewish belief, and there is a lot of it in the HS. So this doesn’t have to be seen as revolutionary.

Then there is the question of provenance. This was not in Mark, and it’s not in Luke, so we can’t ascribe it to the hypothetical Q. My sense is that Matthew composed this. It’s not the most eloquent story; it certainly does not have the elegance of Luke’s solo material. It feels a little forced. I’m not sure that lyrical storytelling is a strong point for Matthew, so I’m going to come down on the side that Matthew did compose this. Most of the Matthew-solo material has this unpolished feel, or this bit about not quite being literary quality. Could it trace to Jesus? It could. The content of the story contains no internal inconsistencies or anachronistic attitudes. The only real problem is that most of these kinds of stories aren’t found in Mark, and Luke will have a whole passel more of these: think Divus and Lazarus, for example, or Zacchaeus.  Think back to the stories in Mark; the Gerasene demonaic; the bleeding woman; Jairus and his daughter; there is nothing even remotely like this. The parables that Mark gives to Jesus are short: the sower, the mustard seed; the possible exception being the parable of the vineyard owner who sends his son against the wicked tenants, only to have the tenants kill him. If we stop to consider the arc from Mark through Matthew into Luke, what we have is a steady increase in the sheer number, the length, and the complexity of the parables told by Jesus. In Mark, we get the Sower and the Wicked Tenants; in Matthew we get those, plus this one and the Lost Sheep; in Luke, we get the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and the Good Shepherd.

As we progress through the Synoptic Gospels, the parables have a different feel, different symbolism. These may be very subjective observations, but that doesn’t mean they lack validity. But think about that observations: more parables in the latest of the Synoptics; and not only more, but perhaps the most memorable, the “titles” of which are aphorisms in English language and culture. We can talk about a prodigal son and expect that the allusion will be understood. If these parables actually trace to Jesus, where were they for the 70 years between Jesus’ execution and the point Luke wrote? The answer, of course, is that they hadn’t been written until Luke came along. This is a classic example of how legends grow over time.

In the meantime, a comparison of the content, the style, and the message of the parables told by Mark and then by Matthew would, I think, be, fruitful. 

32 Tunc vocavit illum dominus suus et ait illi: “Serve nequam, omne debitum illud dimisi tibi, quoniam rogasti me;

33 non oportuit et te misereri conservi tui, sicut et ego tui misertus sum?”.

34 Et iratus dominus eius tradidit eum tortoribus, quoadusque redderet universum debitum.

35 Sic et Pater meus caelestis faciet vobis, si non remiseritis unusquisque fratri suo de cordibus vestris ”.

Matthew Chapter 18:11-20

Chapter 18 continues. Note that most versions of the NT show Verse 11 as blank. In cases like this, the Greek text I use moves the first word of the next verse back into the “empty” verse. This would matter only if one is quoting, so I will follow the convention and leave Verse 11 as empty, and I will adopt this convention going forward. My apologies for any confusion caused by not doing this earlier.

11/12 Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; ἐὰν γένηταί τινι ἀνθρώπῳ ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ πλανηθῇ ἓν ἐξαὐτῶν, οὐχὶ ἀφήσει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη καὶ πορευθεὶς ζητεῖ τὸ πλανώμενον;

13 καὶ ἐὰν γένηται εὑρεῖν αὐτό, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι χαίρει ἐπ’ αὐτῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα τοῖς μὴ πεπλανημένοις.

14 οὕτως οὐκ ἔστιν θέλημα ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μικρῶν τούτων.

“How does it seem to you? If it happens to a man (having) a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders off, does he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountain and go out to seek the one having wandered? (13) And he happens to find it, amen I say to you that he will be pleased about it more than upon the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (14) Is it thus the will before our father in the heavens, in order that should perish one of these little ones?”

There seems to be a little bit of what is now charmingly called a mash-up here. In the last section we were discussing the little ones. Then we jump to the lost sheep, and we’re back to the little ones. First, this seems to support my contention that the “little ones” are not, in fact, children. The way they are equated with the lost sheep, I think, demonstrates that these are not children pretty conclusively because the idea of a child as a wandering sinner is not entirely consistent within itself. That Luke separates this from the story of the little ones is the final and conclusive evidence for this, I think.

The lost sheep is part of what would be called Q; it’s not Mark, but it’s in Matthew and Luke. And, to be honest, the fact that this is a bit of a mash-up probably supports the argument for Q; Matthew took separate aphorisms and tried to fit them together into a single narrative, and he failed about as badly as he did in the so-called “masterful” handling of the Sermon on the Mount material. So once again, I’m undermining my argument that Q existed. Or not necessarily. I do not doubt that Matthew had sources that Mark did not have. What I don’t believe is that any of these sources dated back to Jesus, except in a few isolated instances. For the most part, material in the sources that Matthew had and Mark didn’t was material that came about in the period between the two writers. Or, more likely, that the material hadn’t fully diffused when Mark wrote; for the most part, I would suggest this material came about probably sometime after Paul wrote. Or, even further, I would date this material to the period after James, brother of the lord, died. The second thing about the Q hypothesis I don’t believe is that Luke had Q, but hadn’t read Matthew. There were probably things that Luke got that Matthew got and Mark didn’t, but I don’t believe for a moment that Luke wasn’t aware of Matthew when Luke wrote. I suspect Luke was fully aware of Matthew. There are too many passages where the language is verbatim, and it contains things that should not have been in Q if Q was based on sayings of Jesus. The prime example is the story of Jesus’ baptism. 

But to return to the task at hand, what does this passage say? This is a doctrine of forgiveness. And, the thing is, having been brought up in the Christian part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this passage had always seemed to be a summary of Christian teaching. The problem is, having been spending some time reading about Torah and the HS in general, forgiveness is intrinsic to the Judeo-part as well. In fact, that is the theme of the HS: Israel sins, God forgives. I suppose what is different is the emphasis on the individual, but even this was intrinsic to the HS. In fact, in a book I’m reading called Religion in Human Evolution, the author, Robert Bellah, cites a scholar of the HS named Stephen A Gellar. Professor Gellar’s point is that the revolution in Judaic thought came when the covenant between God and Israel came to be seen as a covenant between God and each Israelite–or Judean, given the timing of this. The upshot of all this is that the thought expressed is not so different from Judaic thinking; the break between Judaism and Christianity in this passage is not nearly so sharp as I had been led to believe. Now, perhaps I’m a bit slow on the uptake on some of this, but that was the lesson the good Dominican nuns of Maple Grove St Michaels imposed upon me.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Judaism and Christianity expressed here is the way the shepherd actively goes out to seek the lost sheep. That is not an analogy that I have encountered in the HS, although I suppose one could argue that all the prophets were just that: shepherds trying to gather in the lost sheep. Perhaps it’s the emphasis on the individual here that may take us further into Christianity; the prophets, after all, were seeking the nation as a whole. But that is a difference in emphasis rather than in meaning or intent. Now here’s the kicker: recall the debate between Paul and James as described in Galatians. The core of the disagreement was the degree to which new converts had to become Jews. James took the Jewish line, Paul took a novel one. My suspicion is that the analogy of the lost sheep may belong to James, not his more famous, (presumably) older brother. My suspicion is that a lot of the more “Jewish” elements of Jesus’ teaching should actually be traced to James.

But that leads to the question of what did Jesus teach? Of course, if he were a wonder-worker, he may not have taught all that much. Except that certain demons can only be exorcised through prayer. That, I believe, does trace to Jesus. Puts sort of a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

Finally, there is the last verse. And this is a very deep, and very difficult problem. Does God intend for any of the little ones–those of small faith–to perish? At first glance, I thought that we were crossing into what is called theodicy: the explanation of the role of God in overtly “evil” things. Except that’s not the intent of this passage at all. Because the little ones are not perishing in the flesh, as it were, but spiritually. They perish by not entering the life, which was discussed a few verses back, when Jesus was advising self-mutilation. So the topic here is spiritual death, the death of what we would call the soul. Now, it bears remembering that Josephus told us that the Pharisees believed that the righteous would experience resurrection of the body. The implication is that not everyone would. So, by failing to enter the life, the little ones would not be experiencing that resurrection into a new life. Again, this seems very Christian, and it is, and maybe the emphasis on this teaching by those who became Christians caused this line of teaching to lose favor among those who remained Jews. Or, Josephus explains that Pharisees believed in this Resurrection, but Sadducees didn’t. Since Paul was a Pharisee, he introduced this teaching into the Jesus movement, and those who did not follow Jesus and remained Jews chose to follow other lines of teaching that did not emphasize the life.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure what the orthodox Jewish teaching is on the afterlife. I have a sense it’s different from what Christians believe, but what that difference is, I cannot say. So I did a quick Google search and found one site that said while an afterlife is a fundamental aspect of Jewish teaching, it’s not really discussed per se in the the Torah does indicate an afterlife. This was inferred by the Pharisees, who were the intellectual forebears of rabbinical Judaism. Essentially, I’m not far off; it’s part of the teaching, but it’s not very explicit. But then, what do we know from what we’ve read so far? Of the books covered to date, 1 Thessalonians 4 is the only text that provides any kind of real description of what will happen. And that is what is to happen when the Lord returns, coming down from the clouds. Truly, much of the geography and iconography of “Heaven” will not be made explicit until the writing of Revelations. That is perhaps another 30 years in the future from the time Matthew wrote. So, while the NT teachings are becoming slightly more explicit in speaking openly of “the life”, it’s all still a very vague concept. I don’t think the details had truly been worked out.

One very important question is whether “the life” and the “kingdom of the heavens/God are actually the same thing. These have been synonymous concepts at least since the Third Century, if not before. But were they the same when put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists? Interestingly, there are maybe a dozen or fifteen uses of the word in the Synoptics; it’s not until John that the idea of the life really takes hold, apparently, because he talks about it more than the other three combined, and by a wide margin. But the idea of “eternal life” is already present in Paul, who also uses the phrase “kingdom of God”. Given this, it’s probably safe to conclude that this topic requires investigation beyond what can be done in the context of a comment. More on that at some point.

The other question to ask then, is what hints this might provide on the composition of Jesus’ followers. Does it provide any? Probably not. We know that Paul was preaching to pagans for the most part. He tells us that. And since he uses both “the life/life eternal” and the “kingdom of God fairly frequently, I think we have to conclude that this was a foundation tenet of the earliest teaching about Jesus. Whether it was a teaching of Jesus, however, is entirely another matter.

11) 12 Quid vobis videtur? Si fuerint alicui centum oves, et erraverit una ex eis, nonne relinquet nonaginta novem in montibus et vadit quaerere eam, quae erravit?

13 Et si contigerit ut inveniat eam, amen dico vobis quia gaudebit super eam magis quam super nonaginta novem, quae non erraverunt.

14 Sic non est voluntas ante Patrem vestrum, qui in caelis est, ut pereat unus de pusillis istis.

15 Ἐὰν δὲ ἁμαρτήσῃ [εἰς σὲ] ὁ ἀδελφός σου, ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν μεταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου. ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ, ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου:

16 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀκούσῃ, παράλαβε μετὰ σοῦ ἔτι ἕνα ἢ δύο, ἵνα ἐπὶ στόματος δύο μαρτύρων ἢ τριῶν σταθῇ πᾶν ῥῆμα:

17 ἐὰν δὲ παρακούσῃ αὐτῶν, εἰπὲ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας παρακούσῃ, ἔστω σοι ὥσπερ ὁ ἐθνικὸς καὶ ὁ τελώνης.

18 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ.

19 Πάλιν [ἀμὴν] λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν δύο συμφωνήσωσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς περὶ παντὸς πράγματος οὗ ἐὰν αἰτήσωνται, γενήσεται αὐτοῖς παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς.

20 οὗ γάρ εἰσιν δύο ἢ τρεῖς συνηγμένοι εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα, ἐκεῖ εἰμι ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν.

“But if your brother should sin [against you], go, question him between you and him alone. If he hears (i.e. listens to) you, you have won your brother. (16) If he doesn’t listen to you, take along with you yet one or two, so that upon the mouths of two of witnesses, or three the whole story will be stood. (17) If he should disobey them, tell the assembly. If indeed he should disobey the assembly, let to you be as among the peoples, and the publicans. (18) Amen I say to you, whatever so if you give upon earth shall be given you in heaven, and whatever so you loose upon the earth will be loosed in heaven. (19) Again, [amen] I say to you that if two of you sound together (transliterated = “symphony“;  so >> “speak together”, or “agree”) upon the earth about all matters about which they might inquire, it will be for them by my father in the heavens. (20) For where two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the middle of them”.

The translation of Verse 19 is, to put it mildly, a bit rough; it is, however, pretty much how the Greek works. The idea is that if two agree about something on earth, the father will do what they ask, because where two or three are gathered…

This is very interesting. The last verse, “where two or three are gathered” is one of the most comforting lines in Christianity. The use of it in The Wedding Song by Paul Stukey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, was borderline brilliant. He follows it by “…there is love.” I’ve always found this a beautiful and reassuring sentiment. But that is not what the sentiment is here. This is about the disciples being in control, being the gatekeepers of the kingdom to some extent; to a large extent, in fact. We are all so familiar with the scene in which Peter is the rock, and how he can bind and loose, but I for one am not at all familiar with this passage, in which the disciples as a group are given–or or being told they have the authority, or the power to make arrangements on earth that will come about through the efficacy of the father. But notice that, while the father brings about what the disciples ask, it is “I”, the speaker, who is between the two or three. The implications of this are very impressive.

To begin, assuming we can trust that Matthew put this together deliberately, this would be the first time we’ve come across an identity of the father with Jesus. This is a cornerstone of Trinitarian theology, but the Trinity was not fully developed for two or three hundred years. There is nothing like this in Paul, and perhaps a few oblique allusions in Mark, butt this is easily the most explicit equation so far, which makes it a major step forward theologically.

But to get back to the point about the disciples vs Peter. At first glance, it is very tempting to see this as something of a contradiction of the more famous passage about Peter and the rock.  There (16:17-18), Peter is told he has power to bind and loose on earth and that it shalle be so in heaven. This power is not given to the other disciples, but specifically and solely to Peter. Here, Jesus seems to be speaking to the whole group, no one has been singled out, and he grants the power to bind and loose to all. Indeed, this goes a step further. Here he says that whatever they agree to will be granted by the father in the heavens, and this is the context of the two or three gathered in his name. What to make of this?

First let it be said that there is no inherent contradiction, per se. There absolutely no reason the power to bind and loose that was granted to Peter previously could not now be granted to the group severally. That’s not the problem. The problem is the idea of Petrine primacy. Interestingly, over at Bible Hub all the comment seems to revolve around tying this to what has come immediately before, which is the treatment of those who have transgressed against the disciples. And of course, the connexion back to this is certainly valid. But it seems to be a very narrow reading of this. Part of the issue, of course, is that no Protestant commentator will agree that the Peter = rock passage in any way grants or concedes that Peter–and certainly not his successors, if Peter was ever in Rome, which Matthew Henry doubts–had any claim to primacy based on Jesus’ words. My problem is that I was raised in the Roman Rite made this claim, and in which it was simply taken for granted that this was the intent of the rock passage. As such, it is nearly impossible for me to read 16:18 and not see it as a grant of primacy. It’s a bias that is buried too deep; I don’t believe that primacy was granted intellectually, but I can’t push that meaning from my mind. 

Now, if the Protestant opinion is correct, then there is no real conflict with this passage. But that feels wrong. It feels wrong that the power to bind and loose was given first to Peter alone and then here to the disciples as a group. And that the power to bind and loose was given first to Peter alone seems to be the plain-sense reading of 16:17-18. And even disregarding the intent of Peter = rock, it seems very odd that Jesus would make this grant of power in two different circumstances. Why would he do this? We could come up with a theory that Peter was the first to see Jesus’ true identity, so it was given to him first; then, later, when the other disciples understood the Truth about Jesus, they were given the power here. But there is a lot of supposition and inference in that theory. Or, we could be seeing the merger of two separate traditions regarding the granting of the power to bind and loose.

But given the latter, the  simplest explanation is that the rock passage was inserted later, by the bishops of Rome, to establish their claim to primacy at some point after the tradition came into being that Peter had been the first bishop of Rome. And it would be perfectly credible to believe that the bishops of Rome had started that tradition as well. The passage here has to be considered in the context of the rock passage; the words are too similar to do otherwise. If the words were lifted from here and placed there with the confession of Jesus’ identity, that would make a lot of sense.

I say this bearing in mind the story of the Donation of Constantine. For those unfamiliar with the term, in the 8th (?) Century, the Roman pontiffs caused a document to be forged that stated that the Emperor Constantine had granted temporal power in the West to the bishop of Rome whe the Emperor moved the capital of the empire from Rome to his refounded city of Constantinople. The forgery wasn’t exposed until 15th Century. The point is that the bishops of Rome–and many others, were not above the creation of documentation that would support their claims. It must be said, however, that they would not have seen this as deceit; they would have understood this as revealing something they truly believed to be true. It’s the idea behind all the apocryphal gospels and revelations that continued to be written well into the third and even fourth centuries. The authors did not understand their work as a forgery, but as a new revelation. The Gospel of Judas is perhaps the most recent example.

That would be how I would understand Matthew 16:17-18. I believe that theory is supported by the existence of the power to bind and loose given here. More, the emphasis on the assembly throughout this passage, I believe, supports this contention. Based on the overall context of the material here, it seems that the idea  was to create a corporate structure of authority.

That, in turn, leads to a single, enormous question: Did Jesus ever say this, or anything like this?

It will come as no surprise that I have my doubts. This constitution of authority does not fit into to movement of Jesus’ day. Like the sending out of “those being sent out” (i.e., apostles), this fits with a period of development when the movement was congealing into the proto-church. As time passed, problems occurred, and so the leaders of the movement “discovered” words of Jesus that solved the problems faced by these later followers. Jesus here is clearly anticipating the time when he would not be among them any longer.

Now, looked at that way, the commission to Peter actually gains more plausibility. If Jesus did not say this, then the rock passage could be the earlier occurrence of the bind and loose authority. But the idea that Jesus told Peter he would be the rock on which the ekklesia was built is still specious. So the Roman claim to primacy is almost very certainly based on a later interpolation; Jesus almost certainly did not say those words, just as he did not say the words here granting the power to bind and loose. However, the “where two or three are gathered” could be authentic. It could be something that came down, and Matthew chose to set it into this context. More likely, though, that also was a later addition, because it seems to anticipate the divinity of Jesus much to clearly. 

Alas.

15 Si autem peccaverit in te frater tuus, vade, corripe eum inter te et ipsum solum. Si te audierit, lucratus es fratrem tuum;

16 si autem non audierit, adhibe tecum adhuc unum vel duos, ut in ore duorum testium vel trium stet omne verbum;

17 quod si noluerit audire eos, dic ecclesiae; si autem et ecclesiam noluerit audire, sit tibi sicut ethnicus et publicanus.

18 Amen dico vobis: Quaecumque alligaveritis super terram, erunt ligata in caelo; et, quaecumque solveritis super terram, erunt soluta in caelo.

19 Iterum dico vobis: Si duo ex vobis consenserint super terram de omni re, quamcumque petierint, fiet illis a Patre meo, qui in caelis est.

20 Ubi enim sunt duo vel tres congregati in nomine meo, ibi sum in medio eorum ”.

Matthew Chapter 18:1-10

Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες, Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν;

2 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν

And at that time (lit = “hour’), the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens?” (2) And calling a child he stood him in the midst of them.

Let’s think about this for a moment. First, where are they? We are told that the disciples came to him. Did they come to his house? That would not be an unreasonable way to understand this. It’s reasonable, but it’s not the only way we could read it. Perhaps Jesus is sitting in the market square, or some such public place in Caphernaum. That would help the next part make more sense. Because the way the child is described, it rather sounds like he sort of grabs some random passerby. I ask this because, if they are at Jesus’ home, are we to assume that this is his child? We do not have to read the passage in that way, but that’s not unreasonable. Who else’s child would be in Jesus’ home? Maybe a niece/nephew? That’s possible. 

These are questions we have to consider if we’re to take this seriously as a description of something that actually happened. I would suggest that the vagueness of the scenario argues against historical accuracy. This feels like a stand-alone story, gracelessly shoe-horned into the narrative by “at that hour/time”. And what would that tell us? It would suggest that the stories of Jesus grew up independently of each other. Different people or groups told different stories. Some of them got aggregated, some were forgotten. We will never know about them, barring the discovery of a new manuscript with new material. This, in turn, would tell us that there was not necessarily a central unity to the text as a whole. We’ve seen that with Mark; I’ve suggested the two separate traditions that Mark wove or welded together. But there were probably more than two traditions. There may have been a dozen. More, it could tell us that people were still making up stories for decades after Jesus died, or even decades after Mark wrote. In fact, we know this is true. There are a dozen or more Gospels of “xxx”, or Apocalypses of “yyy”. These are the mss that were later determined to be non-canonical, written too late to be traced to a genuine apostalic origin. 

Now, as it turns out, this story is also in Mark. So we know this wasn’t created in the interim the way the story of the coin in the fish’s mouth was created in the interim But it provides, I think, a useful reminder that Mark and Matthew were not working from unitary sources.

Because let’s be honest, this is another of those circumstances where the set-up by the discuiples is just too perfect. It may not be unrealistic to accept that the disciples were concerned about order of precedence; we are, after all, talking about a kingdom. Still, there are several layers of artificiality about the whole situation that strongly, IMO, suggests fabrication.

1 In illa hora accesserunt di scipuli ad Iesum dicentes: “ Quis putas maior est in regno caelorum? ”.

2 Et advocans parvulum, statuit eum in medio eorum

3 καὶ εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε ὡς τὰ παιδία, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

4 ὅστις οὖν τα πεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὡς τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.

5 καὶ ὃς ἐὰν δέξηται ἓν παιδίον τοιοῦτο ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐμὲ δέχεται.

6 Ὃς δ’ ἂν σκανδαλίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ, συμφέρει αὐτῷ ἵνα κρεμασθῇ μύλος ὀνικὸς περὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ καταποντισθῇ ἐν τῷ πελάγει τῆς θαλάσσης.

And he said, “Amen I say to you, unless you turn (about) and become like the child, you will not come into the kingdom of the heavens.  (4) Whoever thus lessens himself as this child here, he is the best in the kingdom of the heavens.  (5) And if someone receives such a child in my name, he receives me. (6) But he who makes stumble one of the smallest of those believing in me, let him be carried in order that a large millstone be hung around his neck and he be cast down into the depth of the sea.”

I have heard more than one sermon regarding the children exalted by Jesus. A common theme is that, in those days, children were not even to be seen, let alone heard, that they were the lowest of the low. I’ve also read that this was because, in olden times, when children may not live to maturity, parents were not as invested in their kids as parents are today. Whatever. The point of those sermons was that Jesus was talking about humilty, in something like a more original sense of humble, as a class distinction rather than a personal trait. And that would account for the “lessen himself”.

But from there we veer off into one of the few truly moral lectures that Jesus himself actually gives. And I say “moral” in contrast with something like the Sermon on the Mount, in which we’re told how to act toward others, but that is not entirely the same as telling us not to cause others–children–to sin. If we couple that with the idea of being humble, we’ve got something like a mixed metaphor here. I almost have the sense that Jesus is speaking about something very specific, such as the sexual abuse of children. While I know this was an issue in the culture of Rome especially–read Tacitus’ description of the “sprinters” in Tiberius’ alleged pleasure grotto on Capri–this strikes me as odd for the Jewish world. The kind of sexual abuse I’m referring to is the vice of people with money, not of people who are just trying to make a living. Yes, it happens in all socio-economic strata, so maybe my lack of clarity on this stems from a too-fine definition of “abuse”. Perhaps understanding some of the practices of the Classical world, I’m misinterpreting the words here.  

The exhortation to be like a child remains. Does this mean that we are to be humble? Or innocent? Or both? Does it matter. Back in 10:16 Matthew has Jesus enjoining his apostles to be “pure as doves”. The problem with that, and with this passage, is that neither is something that Jesus likely said. It seems historically improbable that Jesus ever dispatched apostles. As such, the exhortation Jesus reportedly spoke lacks its context. This story is much more plausible; at least, it’s plausible that Jesus did use the example of a child. And it does tie in with some of the things that Paul said about the wisdom of God sounding foolish to uninitiated ears. So perhaps that is how we should understand what Jesus saying here: be child-like in the sense of not being a pagan sophisticate, one who is too easily distracted by the wisdom of the world.

Actually, it just struck me that Jesus does not say “who causes a child to stumble”; what he says is “one of the little ones believing in me”. That is a very different reading, and it fits much more nicely with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians that I’ve referenced. “One small in faith” would be someone who is still in the early stages of belief. So I would take this as akin to Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. There is no harm per se, perhaps, because the idols are just dead matter, but it may cause confusion to those who are not so far along in their faith journey.

If this is how to understand the passage, we do indeed have rather a mixed metaphor. Mixed, but not at all contradictory. One just has to step back a bit and let the implications coalesce from the fog of the words themselves.

3 et dixit: “ Amen dico vobis: Nisi conversi fueritis et efiiciamini sicut parvuli, non intrabitis in regnum caelorum.

4 Quicumque ergo humiliaverit se sicut parvulus iste, hic est maior in regno caelorum.

5 Et, qui susceperit unum parvulum talem in nomine meo, me suscipit.

6 Qui autem scandalizaverit unum de pusillis istis, qui in me credunt, expedit ei, ut suspendatur mola asinaria in collo eius et demergatur in profundum maris.

7 οὐαὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἀπὸ τῶν σκανδάλων: ἀνάγκη γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τὰ σκάνδαλα, πλὴν οὐαὶ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ δι’ οὗ τὸ σκάνδαλον ἔρχεται.

8 Εἰ δὲ ἡ χείρ σου ἢ ὁ πούς σου σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: καλόν σοί ἐστιν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν κυλλὸν ἢ χωλόν, ἢ δύο χεῖρας ἢ δύο πόδας ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον.

9 καὶ εἰ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔξελεαὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: καλόν σοί ἐστιν μονόφθαλμον εἰς τὴν ζωὴν εἰσελθεῖν, ἢ δύο ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

10 Ὁρᾶτε μὴ καταφρονήσητε ἑνὸς τῶν μικρῶν τούτων: λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς διὰ παντὸς βλέπουσι τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς.

“Woe to  the world from those stumbling. For it is necessary to come the stumbling, except woe to the man through whom the stumbling comes. (8) But if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and through it from you. Better for you to come into the life deformed or lame, having two hands or two feet than to be thrown into the eternal fire. (9) And if your eye makes you stumble, gouge it out and throw it from you. It is better for you one-eyed into the life to go, than having two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna of fire. (10) Beware, do not despise the least of these. For I say to you that the angels of them in the heavens through all see the face of my father in heaven”.

Like Jesus using the example of the child, this last section is also more or less in Mark. But Mark does not have a corresponding verse to Verse 7, which concedes the necessity of stumbling, even though it does condemn the man who causes the stumbling. In this way, it’s less about making the children sin, which was how this read in Mark; here, it’s more generalized. We get back to the little ones in Verse 10, but are these physically little? Or little in their faith, as from Verse 6? It is tempting to see it in those terms, since that is the immediate antecedent for the smallest “of them”. Why the confusion? Did Matthew not quite understand the point? Or did he understand the point Mark made, but not agree with it completely, causing him to change the emphasis? It seems unlikely that Matthew didn’t get it; this isn’t exactly difficult to grasp in Mark’s version.

So I go back to Paul, and the admonition not to confuse those not strong in the faith. This is kind of an odd point; the similarity consequently seems hard to ascribe to coincidence. Has Matthew read, or heard, or heard of 1 Corinthians? I personally doubt it, but then the similarity has to be accounted for as coincidence? Coincidence is a significant part of everyday life; it happens all the time. It’s only when something seems to come of it that we even notice it. Then it suddenly doesn’t seem like coincidence any more.

In between, we have Matthew’s abridged version of the admonition to self-mutilation. Aside from a slight condensing of the presentation of the offending body parts, Matthew copies Mark almost verbatim about “entering life”, even using the term Gehenna whereas before he used Hades. To this point, this is only the second time Matthew has used the term “the life”. He does not call it “eternal life”, but he does say the fire of Gehenna is eternal. Perhaps that life was eternal was taken for granted, and didn’t need to be stated directly.

Now here is the interesting part, and it’s something I missed when reading this section in Mark. To a modern Christian, the idea of heaven is non-corporeal. As such, the idea of a non-corporeal existence occurring minus various body parts seems a bit odd. And it is a bit odd. Here is where the idea of the resurrection of the body truly comes into its own. The idea that Matthew and Mark are expressing is that the body that we have will, literally, be raised. If we have but one hand, that is how the body will be raised. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but this is alien to the way I was taught about the resurrection of the body. The teaching I received was that, since the body necessarily decayed, it would be reconstituted upon being raised at the Last Judgement. However, we were also told that cremation wasn’t an option because it meant the body would be destroyed. Well, burying a body will destroy it, too, given enough time. The point is that the concept of the resurrection of the body was meant very literally, and here we should take it very literally as we realize it doesn’t necessarily–if at all–coincide with how this concept is now understood.

It would be interesting to have a better understanding of how the Pharisees thought about this. Surely they understood the idea of the decay of the flesh; so how did they account for this while simultaneously believing the body would be resurrected? At least in the Pauline gospel, the return of Jesus and the resurrection of those who had “fallen asleep in Christ” were expected daily. That obviates this problem, at least to some degree.

7 Vae mundo ab scandalis! Necesse est enim ut veniant scandala; verumtamen vae homini, per quem scandalum venit!

8 Si autem manus tua vel pes tuus scandalizat te, abscide eum et proice abs te: bonum tibi est ad vitam ingredi debilem vel claudum, quam duas manus vel duos pedes habentem mitti in ignem aeternum.

9 Et si oculus tuus scandalizat te, erue eum et proice abs te: bonum tibi est unoculum in vitam intrare, quam duos oculos habentem mitti in gehennam ignis.

10 Videte, ne contemnatis unum ex his pusillis; dico enim vobis quia angeli eorum in caelis semper vident faciem Patris mei, qui in caelis est.