Matthew Chapter 21:33-46

We conclude Chapter 21 with another parable. Recall that we had another at the end of the last section, a parable about two brothers asked to help in the vineyard. The first refused, but relented; the second agreed but didn’t go. This one we will recognize as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

33 Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἀκούσατε. Ἄνθρωπος ἦν οἰκοδεσπότης ὅστις ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα καὶ φραγμὸν αὐτῷ περιέθηκεν καὶ ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ ληνὸν καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν πύργον, καὶ ἐξέδετο αὐτὸν γεωργοῖς, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν.

Listen now to another parable. “A man who was being the head of a household planted a vineyard and encircled it with a wall and dug in it a wine press and constructed a tower, and he leased it to farmers, and then he went away.

We have set the scene. “Farmers” doesn’t exactly work for people running a vineyard; the root is from “gaia”, the “earth” (hence Pangea, the Latinised form), so perhaps it’s a bit more general than farmer, but I’m picking nits here. The point is, this is a substantial piece of construction. 

33 Aliam parabolam audite. Homo erat pater familias, qui plantavit vineam et saepem circumdedit ei et fodit in ea torcular et aedificavit turrim et locavit eam agricolis et peregre profectus est.

34 ὅτε δὲ ἤγγισεν ὁ καιρὸς τῶν καρπῶν, ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ πρὸς τοὺς γεωργοὺς λαβεῖν τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτοῦ.

35 καὶ λαβόντες οἱ γεωργοὶ τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὃν μὲν ἔδειραν, ὃν δὲ ἀπέκτειναν, ὃν δὲ ἐλιθοβόλησαν.

“When arrived the season of the fruit, he sent his slaves to the farmers to received his fruit. (35) And the farmers seizing his slaves whom on the one hand they beat, and whom on the other they killed, and whom they threw stones at him.  

The first point is that the landlord was accepting payment of the rent in kind. In effect, those leasing the vineyard were sharecroppers. The second point is that the second part of Verse 35 is a really unusual construction. The use of the << μὲν…δὲ…δὲ >> is very interesting. On one hand, << μὲν >>, it’s sort of a grammar-school sort of usage, not terribly sophisticated perhaps, but very effective. I’m honestly not sure if I should look down my nose at it or be impressed. Upon review, I’ll lean towards the latter interpretation, since he rescued it with the whom…whom…whom construction. Matthew wasn’t completely unversed in Greek. But no, this doesn’t help us decide whether he had been a pagan or not; by the time he wrote, there were many, many Jews whose first language was Greek. Philo of Alexandria is one of the more famous. And we know that Matthew read his HS in Greek rather than Hebrew, since he translated Isaiah’s “young girl” as “virgin”, which is what the Greek word was: “parthena”. (Yes, as in Parthenon. Athene was a virgin per Greek mythology.) 

34 Cum autem tempus fructuum appropinquasset, misit servos suos ad agricolas, ut acciperent fructus eius.

35 Et agricolae, apprehensis servis eius, alium ceciderunt, alium occiderunt, alium vero lapidaverunt.

36 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους πλείονας τῶν πρώτων, καὶ ἐποίησαν αὐτοῖς ὡσαύτως.

37 ὕστερον δὲ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἱόν μου.

“Again he sent to other slaves, more than the first ones (a larger number of them), and they did the same to them. (37) Finally, he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will heed my son’. 

Not much to say here. Just to stress again << δούλους >> does not mean “servant”, regardless of how many times you see it as such. It means “slave”. There have been a couple of instances where we’ve come across a word that does mean something more like “servant”, but there have been only a couple, to the point where I don’t recall the word offhand. And Paul often refers to himself as the << δούλος >> of Christ. He means “slave”.

36 Iterum misit alios servos plures prioribus, et fecerunt illis similiter.

37 Novissime autem misit ad eos filium suum dicens: “Verebuntur filium meum”.

38 οἱ δὲ γεωργοὶ ἰδόντες τὸν υἱὸν εἶπον ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος: δεῦτε ἀποκτείνωμεν αὐτὸν καὶ σχῶμεν τὴν κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ.

39 καὶ λαβόντες αὐτὸν ἐξέβαλον ἔξω τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος καὶ ἀπέκτειναν.

“The farmers seeing the son said amongst themselves, ‘He is the heir; following, let us kill him and we may have his inheritance’. (39) And seizing him, they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  

We all knew this was going to end badly, didn’t we? The interesting part is that they expected to have his inheritance. Perhaps they intended to take it by force? Or did they expect that the landlord would simply concede it to them?

38 Agricolae autem videntes filium dixerunt intra se: “Hic est heres. Venite, occidamus eum et habebimus hereditatem eius”.

39 Et apprehensum eum eiecerunt extra vineam et occiderunt.

40 ὅταν οὖν ἔλθῃ ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος, τί ποιήσει τοῖς γεωργοῖς ἐκείνοις;

41 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κακοὺς κακῶς ἀπολέσει αὐτούς, καὶ τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἐκδώσεται ἄλλοις γεωργοῖς, οἵτινες ἀποδώσουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς καρποὺς ἐν τοῖς καιροῖς αὐτῶν.

42 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, Λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας: παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη, καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν;

43 διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἀρθήσεται ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς.

44 [Καὶ ὁ πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὸν λίθον τοῦτον συνθλασθήσεται: ἐφ’ ὃν δ’ ἂν πέσῃ λικμήσει αὐτόν.]

45 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι τὰς παραβολὰς αὐτοῦ ἔγνωσαν ὅτι περὶ αὐτῶν λέγει:

46 καὶ ζητοῦντες αὐτὸν κρατῆσαι ἐφοβήθησαν τοὺς ὄχλους, ἐπεὶ εἰς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον.

(40) “When therefore the lord of the vineyard may come, what will he do to these tenant-farmers?”

(41) They said to him (Jesus), “These bad ones badly he will destroy them, and the vineyard he will lease to other tenant-farmers, who will give over to him the fruit in their season of them.”

(42) He said to them Jesus, “Nowhere do you know in the writings, ‘The stone which the builders reject, this will become the head corner. It will become for the lord, and it is a wonder in our eyes’.” (43) “Because of this I say to you that taken from you will be the kingdom of God and it will be given to the nations making its fruit. (44) [ And the one falling upon this stone will be broken. From which, on the other hand, it might fall to crush him (the one it falls upon).

(45) And hearing his parables, the high priests and the Pharisees knew that about them he was speaking. (46) And seeking to apprehend him they feared the crowd, since as a prophet they held him.

My apologies, but I have to start at the end. This is, I believe, at least the second time we’ve heard this about the high priests, how they were afraid of the crowd. And the authorities, Antipas and whoever else, were afraid of the crowds and so demurred from doing anything to John. In both cases, it was because the crowd held them to be prophets. In both cases the prophets were executed by the authorities, and in neither case did the crowd respond in any violent manner. People resented Antipas for executing John, they said that Antipas had brought the military disaster upon himself, but Josephus doesn’t tell us about any rioting or insurrection. Nor do we hear about anything of the sort in the aftermath of Jesus’ execution. What this tells me is that this was an after-the-fact rationalization, and one probably thought up by Jesus’ followers to discredit the high priests and religious authorities. Ergo, it’s an obvious anachronism that cannot be taken seriously. And note that it didn’t cause them to plot Jesus’ death further, as had happened back in Galilee; it didn’t stiffen the resolve that the cleansing of the Temple had instilled in the high priests. That whole episode seems to be completely forgotten; there were absolutely no apparent ramifications. This also argues for the non-historicity of the event. It happened. It was a discreet thing. It disappears as a plot device. So, no, the high priests were not afraid of the crowd in any way that was particularly centered upon Jesus. They were wary of it in general, certainly, but in the end they had Jesus executed right at the beginning of the Festival. That makes no sense if this was something they were worried about. It implies that either a) they didn’t put Jesus to death; or b) they didn’t fear the crowd’s reprisal at all. And I suppose there is a (c): all of the above.

And the way the Pharisees are brought in and blamed really makes no sense if Josephus’ description is at all accurate. This was not a cohesive corporate body, but a group within the larger body, disparate, composed of individuals, not at all a single entity. Here is a situation that seems to be telling us that the author of this did not truly understand what the Pharisees were. This, in turn, could be forged into an argument that Matthew was a pagan who did not understand the situation in Jerusalem two generations prior to when he wrote. The only problem with this as an argument is that this misunderstanding of the Pharisees did not originate with Matthew. He inherited it from Mark. So what does that imply? Well, that Mark didn’t understand who the Pharisees were, either. Does that mean Mark was a pagan, too? That might be stretching it. I don’t know if the Pharisees were a phenomenon throughout the Jewish world, or if they really only existed in Judea, Galilee, and the vicinity. If the latter, and if Mark lived somewhere outside the Holy Land–which is the consensus–then it’s easy enough to understand how he got this muddled.

Regardless, I do not believe I’ve ever seen this discussed; why did Mark not know this about the Pharisees? And why is it that no modern scholars have puzzled this out? In part because it disrupts the narrative flow of the Passion story and potentially undermines the explanation for Jesus’ death. And thereby it undermines the essential credibility of Mark, and casts a very long shadow of doubt about whether Mark was the John Mark of Acts, which raises questions about whether he got his stuff from Peter. Because Peter should certainly have known a lot of this. Pull a thread, the whole skein unravels. This just kind of indicates how fragile the whole edifice is here, doesn’t it? We really can’t be all that certain about very much. It also may indicate that even Mark was not writing entirely, or perhaps not even primarily for an audience composed of Jews. How were things like this allowed to stand if this was being disseminated to Jews? And that would also prop up the argument that the whole “Messianic Secret” theme in Mark was to explain to pagans why the Jews hadn’t gone over to Jesus en masse.

OK, back to the beginning of the section. The content of the parable is so obvious that even the high priests and Pharisees understand it. This is a far cry from the parables in Mark that Jesus had to explain. And we need to remember that we got a pair of them, this one coming hard on the heels of the parable of the two sons. The two of them form a nicely complementary brace of stories. The first explains how sinners will supersede those who apparently are righteous but don’t actually serve the will of God. This one we just read is has more of a Jewish/pagan theme: the ones who were chosen as the original tenants, who were going to be superseded by the pagans. As such, we know that this story was a much later addition, coming about to explain why so many of the followers of Jesus were pagans rather than Jews. And since the placement of the story here in the run-up to the Passion, we are supposed to understand this as another prop to support the story that the high priests conspired to execute Jesus. 

Support for that theory is getting mighty shaky.

40 Cum ergo venerit dominus vineae, quid faciet agricolis illis? ”.

41 Aiunt illi: “ Malos male perdet et vineam locabit aliis agricolis, qui reddant ei fructum temporibus suis ”.

42 Dicit illis Iesus: “ Numquam legistis in Scripturis:

“Lapidem quem reprobaverunt aedificantes, / hic factus est in caput anguli; / a Domino factum est istud

et est mirabile in oculis nostris” ?

43 Ideo dico vobis quia auferetur a vobis regnum Dei et dabitur genti facienti fructus eius.

44 Et, qui ceciderit super lapidem istum confringetur; super quem vero ceciderit, conteret eum ”.

45 Et cum audissent principes sacerdotum et pharisaei parabolas eius, cognoverunt quod de ipsis diceret;

46 et quaerentes eum tenere, timuerunt turbas, quoniam sicut prophetam eum habebant.

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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 March 12, 2016, in Chapter 22, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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