Matthew Chapter 22:23-33

Jesus has bested the Pharisees and the Herodians (who, now that we reflect, were very quiet in the preceding passage), and now he’s ready to take on the Sadducees.

23 Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Σαδδουκαῖοι, λέγοντες μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν, καὶ ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν

24 λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς εἶπεν, Ἐάν τις ἀποθάνῃ μὴ ἔχων τέκνα, ἐπιγαμβρεύσει ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναστήσει σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ.

On that (same) day, approached to him (some) Sadducees who say (lit = ‘saying’) there is to be no resurrection (lit= ‘standing up’), and they asked him (24) saying, “Teacher, Moses said ‘If someone should die not having children, his brother should marry the woman of him (the dead brother) and he should raise progeny for his brother’.”

Just a few technical aspects here. Since there is one group denying the resurrection of the body, then we can be certain that there was a group saying that there was a resurrection. Moreover, this belief of the Sadducees, or rather the belief of those to whom the Sadducees were opposed does not get enough attention in the Christian literature. This is a hugely important bit of context into which Jesus was set, so that the idea of his resurrection was not some novel idea that had neither precedent nor forerunner. I’ve been reviewing what Paul has to say on the matter, and it’s very important to the understanding of this whole situation. Per Josephus, the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection; per Paul, he was a Pharisee. So Paul came into this already believing that the resurrection would happen. Offhand, I’m not sure when the Pharisees expected this to happen; however, we can draw an inference from Paul that provides a pretty sizable clue as to the timing. In 1 Corinthians 15:23 Paul says that Jesus is the first fruits of this harvest of the resurrection, and that those who belong to him will rise when Jesus returns.

In other words, this was to be an end-times event. Paul began to expect the end times not because of anything Jesus taught; rather, Paul believed the end times had come, or would soon come, because of what Jesus did. Or, what happened to Jesus: he was raised from the dead by God the Father. That was the signal, the starting gun, the sign that this was all going to happen. We cannot infer from this that all Pharisees saw this as an end-times event, but that seems like not an unreasonable inference to draw. I am very tempted to say that it indicates that Jesus was not a teacher of apocalypse, but that is not a legitimate conclusion. Jesus’ eventual resurrection really doesn’t confirm or deny any aspect of what Jesus taught. If anything, it would support the idea that apocalypse was a large part of what Jesus taught. Except that is belied by what Mark reports.

What needs to happen is that we need to review all of this again.

The technical aspect that I should have started with is “on that (same) day”. Jesus is still in the Temple, and one group after another is lining up to take him on. It’s sort of like pick-up basketball down at the local court. You get your team together, and wait to play the winner of the current game. That seems to be what is happening here. And I do want to reiterate the point I made in the opening: the Herodians are mentioned, and nothing else. This, I believe, supports my contention that there were no Herodians, that they were added simply to fill out the roster of those who allegedly had designs on Jesus’ life. We see how the layers of the story accrete, but they do not necessarily have any support in the text. Things get stuck on, but that doesn’t mean they belong.

23 In illo die accesserunt ad eum sadducaei, qui dicunt non esse resurrectionem, et interrogaverunt eum

24 dicentes: “ Magister, Moyses dixit, si quis mortuus fuerit non habens filios, ut ducat frater eius uxorem illius et suscitet semen fratri suo.

25 ἦσαν δὲ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφοί: καὶ ὁ πρῶτος γήμας ἐτελεύτησεν, καὶ μὴ ἔχων σπέρμα ἀφῆκεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ:

26 ὁμοίως καὶ ὁ δεύτερος καὶ ὁ τρίτος, ἕως τῶν ἑπτά.

27 ὕστερον δὲ πάντων ἀπέθανεν ἡ γυνή.

28 ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει οὖν τίνος τῶν ἑπτὰ ἔσται γυνή; πάντες γὰρ ἔσχον αὐτήν.

(25) “There were for us seven brothers. And the first died, and not having offspring he left his wife to his brother. (26) The same also with the second, and third until all of the seven. (27) Last of all died the woman. (28) In the resurrection (lit = ‘standing up’) therefore, of which of the seven brothers will be the woman? For all had her”.

Having discussed this in Mark, for this iteration perhaps the most salient point about this story is the attitude with which it’s presented: there is a real attitude of “How ridiculous is this whole thing? They just don’t get it, do they?” What this implies, I think, is that there was among Jesus’ followers the idea of the resurrection of the body was sort of taken for granted. What this means, in turn, is that Jesus drew a lot of Jewish followers–at least in the beginning. The idea of a resurrected body would not have made sense to most pagans. In fact, for anyone with any sense of Plato, or the idea of a body/spirit duality would have found the idea of putting the spirit back into the body post-mortem to be retrograde motion. For Greeks, or anyone who held the superiority of the spirit over the body, the idea was to escape from the body and become pure spirit*.

Now, this is not terribly favourable to my idea that the tipping point, when more converts came from pagan rather than Jewish backgrounds came earlier than is generally supposed. Now this story was in Mark as well, and it may have pre-dated Mark. So it could comfortably fit into a milieu of mainly Jewish converts. And I have heard it said that the Pharisees were the direct ancestors of what became the rabbinic Judaism we have been familiar with for at least the last millennium. So it would be appropriate for a group made up of followers of the Pharisees–or at least, of their persuasion for the resurrection–to make fun of those silly Sadducees who didn’t believe it in. [ Hmmm. See the silly Sadducees. Say that a few times quickly…] And we also know that, as time progressed, the idea of saving the immortal soul became pretty much the bedrock belief of Christianity. So while the story originated in a setting where the followers were mostly Jewish, enough pagans came around to the idea so that Matthew could perpetuate the story here.

[ *Note: I’m using “spirit”. I could also use the term “soul”, but at this point that word, I think, doesn’t really mean what we think it means. There is some serious contention about this. Greeks often used a tripartite division of body/spirit (breath, pneuma)/mind, with the latter being the highest of the three. Breath = spirit = pneuma. The first root is Germanic, the second is Latin, and the third is Greek. They all kinda sorta mean the same thing, the idea of the breath in a body, which disappears at death. Psyche kinda sorta means the same thing, but differently. That is the breath of life. In Greek, saving one’s psyche would refer to saving one’s life and not the immortal soul as we would envision it. But this is an issue complex and thorny. ]

25 Erant autem apud nos septem fratres: et primus, uxore ducta, defunctus est et non habens semen reliquit uxorem suam fratri suo;

26 similiter secundus et tertius usque ad septimum.

27 Novissime autem omnium mulier defuncta est.

28 In resurrectione ergo cuius erit de septem uxor? Omnes enim habuerunt eam ”.

29 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πλανᾶσθε μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφὰς μηδὲ τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ θεοῦ:

30 ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀναστάσει οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ εἰσιν.

31 περὶ δὲ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῶν νεκρῶν οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑμῖν ὑπὸτοῦ θεοῦ λέγοντος,

32 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεὸς Ἀβραὰμ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰσαὰκ καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ἰακώβ; οὐκ ἔστιν [ὁ] θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων.

33 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ὄχλοι ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ.

(29) Answering, Jesus said to them, “You wander (err), not understanding the scriptures, nor the power of God. (30) For in the resurrection there will be no marrying nor being married, but as angels in the sky they are. (31) Regarding the resurrection of the dead you do not know the writing to you about God, saying, ‘I am the god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’. God is not of the dead, but the living.”

(33) And hearing the crowd were driven from their senses by his teaching.

I will be quite honest when I say that Jesus’ argument from Scripture isn’t particularly convincing. There is no real logical connexion between “I am the God of Abraham & c” and “he is the God of the living”. At best, there is sort of a grammatical sleight of hand; “I am the God” instead of “I was the God”. It’s not even really one of Jesus’ better retorts, certainly nowhere near the brilliance of the “render unto Caesar” exchange. And I wonder that the Sadducees didn’t have some sort of comeback for this. Instead, they slink off with their tails between their legs, thoroughly trounced by Jesus’ superior argumentative skills and his knowledge of Scripture.

All of this is by way of saying that I would question the historicity of the incident. No surprise there, since I question the historicity of most of what we’re reading. But really, this is one that I had originally thought was a decent candidate for tracing back to Jesus, but now I can’t really buy that as likely. 

It seems there should be more to say about this, but nothing further is coming to me. This has been sitting for about four days now, and I’m still coming up empty. Perhaps more will occur to me later. If this is too abrupt, my apologies. 

29 Respondens autem Iesus ait illis: “Erratis nescientes Scripturas neque virtutem Dei;

30 in resurrectione enim neque nubent neque nubentur, sed sunt sicut angeli in caelo.

31 De resurrectione autem mortuorum non legistis, quod dictum est vobis a Deo dicente:

32 “Ego sum Deus Abraham et Deus Isaac et Deus Iacob”? Non est Deus mortuorum sed viventium”.

33 Et audientes turbae mirabantur in doctrina eius.

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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 April 2, 2016, in Chapter 22, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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