Matthew Chapter 22:34-46

This will conclude Chapter 22. Jesus is still having at it with different (?) groups of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians in the Temple. This is a fairly short piece, and it seemed like it should be easily finished, but some of the implications turned out to be more difficult to untangle than I could have imagined. A couple of things popped up that I hadn’t anticipated, and this required some time to work them through.

34 Οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ἐφίμωσεν τοὺς Σαδδουκαίους συνήχθησανἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό.

35 καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν [νομικὸς] πειράζων αὐτόν,

36 Διδάσκαλε, ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ;

The Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees were gathered together on him. (35) And one of them asked, [relating to the laws], testing him, (36) “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the law?”

What, are the Pharisees and Sadducees like a tag-team match here, or playing round-robin, or what? The first goes down, the other steps in, then the first comes back? Or, are these a different group of Pharisees than we had earlier? I almost suspect so, which could indicate that this was originally a separate story that got stitched on here.  

34 Pharisaei autem audientes quod silentium imposuisset sadducaeis, convenerunt in unum.

35 Et interrogavit unus ex eis legis doctor tentans eum:

36 “Magister, quod est mandatum magnum in Lege?”.

37 ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ, Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου:

38 αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μεγάλη καὶ πρώτη ἐντολή.

39 δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὐτῇ, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.

40 ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.

He (Jesus) said to him (the querent), ” ‘Love the lord your God in all your heart, and in all your soul, and in all your understanding’. (38) That is the greatest and first commandment.  (39) The second is similar to it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘. (40) On these two commandments the entire law hangs and the prophets”.

I have heard this answer given by a wise Jewish man when asked to explain the law “while standing on one foot”. I do not know when this story is from, but I have the sense it was later than Jesus. The thing is, the first three commandments of the Decalogue together can be summed up by loving the lord, and the last seven can be summed up by loving one’s neighbor. So even if Jesus was the first to use this expression of the law–which I doubt–it’s really implicit in Jewish tradition. Jesus may, or may not, have been the first to summarize it in this elegant way, but even if he is, he’s not saying anything contrary to Jewish tradition. Nor is he adding anything, except a short-hand notation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

So is this authentic? There is no reason it couldn’t be that I can adduce. There is nothing time-specific about it, there is no sense of “prediction”, it doesn’t depend on anything else having occurred or not occurred when he says this. That’s not exactly a resounding affirmation, but there is nothing here that will really pin this down one way or the other. I can, however, see that one of Jesus’ followers may have wanted to put these words into Jesus’ mouth by taking them from someone else’s without attribution, but that doesn’t really constitute proof, or even a decent bit of evidence; plausibility, by itself, is a necessary but never a sufficient condition to demonstrate historical causation. Much beyond that, I don’t think we can go.

37 Ait autem illi: “ Diliges Dominum Deum tuum in toto corde tuo et in tota anima tua et in tota mente tua:

38 hoc est magnum et primum mandatum.

39 Secundum autem simile est huic: Diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum.

40 In his duobus mandatis universa Lex pendet et Prophetae”.

41 Συνηγμένων δὲ τῶν Φαρισαίων ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς

42 λέγων, Τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ περὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ; τίνος υἱός ἐστιν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Τοῦ Δαυίδ.

43 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Πῶς οὖν Δαυὶδ ἐν πνεύματι καλεῖ αὐτὸν κύριον λέγων,

44 Εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου, Κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν σου;

45 εἰ οὖν Δαυὶδ καλεῖ αὐτὸν κύριον, πῶς υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἐστιν;

46 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἀποκριθῆναι αὐτῷ λόγον, οὐδὲ ἐτόλμησέν τις ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ἡμέρας ἐπερωτῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐκέτι.

(41) The Pharisees having gathered, Jesus asked them, saying, (42) “What does it seem to you about the christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “(He is the son) of David”.

(43) “How therefore did David in the spirit call him ‘lord’, saying (44) ‘The lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right until I may place your enemies under your feet”? (45) If therefore David called him ‘lord’, how is he (the christ) his (David’s) son?”

(46) And no one was able to answer to him this argument, nor did anyone dare from that day ask him anything.

This story is unusual because Jesus is the aggressor on this one. Instead of letting them come to him, he initiates the encounter by asking a loaded question. Since I have come to the conclusion based on the evidence of Paul that Jesus did not consider himself to be the messiah, nor did his disciples think of him in those terms. As such, it seems difficult to credit that this actually happened. I say that because there’s a sly wink to the audience in the story as it stands, letting the audience know that Jesus is asking this question because he’s the messiah. Get it? The drama, the irony, are great, very effective story-telling. Darn near perfect, or a little too perfect? On the face of it, aside from the subject, it is possible that Jesus did ask this question as a means of making the Pharisees look bad, but this seems more like after-the-fact mining of the HS to show that the common conception of the christ was wrong in some fundamental ways. The most likely reason for doing this would be to bolster the claim that Jesus was, indeed, the messiah.

So this story, on those data, was probably created after Jesus’ death.  But it was in Mark, so it’s fairly early, but that gives us somewhere around 30-40 years for it to arise. And I note that it is in approximately the same context that it was in Mark: after the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus has come back the following day to have a calm little discussion with those in and around the Temple precincts, and everyone is calm and civilised despite the fact that Jesus supposedly trashed the joint the day before. That this story comes so late in Mark, in the run-up to the Passion, is significant. This latter part of Mark, thematically, is focused on the Christ narrative, rather than the wonder-worker part of Mark’s story. That matters, because it shows how the different narratives probably grew up in different times and in different places. And the narrative in Mark gives us a lot of the same stories we got here: the Wicked Tenants, Render unto Caesar, and the Sadducees and their woman with 7 brothers for husbands. And we get the first part of this section, about loving the lord your God and your neighbor. What is interesting is what we don’t get. Mark ends that story with a man agreeing with Jesus on his assessment of the law, and saying following these two commandments mattered to God more than all the burnt sacrifices that could be offered. Jesus’ response is saying that the man is not far from the kingdom of God.

So why did Matthew leave this out? That strikes me as a fairly important question. The sentiment expressed, that loving God and loving our neighbor is much more important than burning things on an altar is quite progressive for the First Century. Or, so it seems to our “enlightened” 21st Century value system. I think the question is whether it would have seemed so to contemporaries of Mark and Matthew, and, if so, to which contemporaries? My first instinct is that pagans, reared in an environment of Platonic and Aristotelean thought, in which the gods and the myths were seem, by many, to be exactly that, myths, might take to the idea of a non-sacramental religion sooner than would Jews, for whom the Temple and its offerings was at the very heart of their religious thought and practice. But that’s the offhand thought, the prima facie observation. Recall when Mark was writing: in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Temple. This was the central focus of their practice, at least in theory. Now, suddenly, Jews were not able to perform the sacrifices. Ergo, it seems like Mark would insert this (whether he originated it or not) to assure Jews hearing the message of Jesus that this excision of a core part of Jewish practice was not the tragedy that it might seem. Indeed, people before the Destruction had come to this very conclusion, that burnt offerings were not necessary; rather, what mattered was the love of God and our neighbour. More, Jesus had foreseen this development, had sanctioned it, had embraced it, and had used it as a milestone marker on the road to the Kingdom of God. Would that not be appealing to a Jew, the heart of whose religion had just been ripped out and  destroyed? It’s possible, to say the least.

Then consider the milieu in which Matthew wrote. The Destruction was now the tales of older people, something that happened some time ago, and the jagged edges of the fact had been worn, if not smooth then certainly much less jagged. Too, for the people to whom Matthew is preaching, pagans, the Destruction was really not the trauma it was for Jews, since the pagan temples were still in existence. And even for Jews, the need and the core responsibility for making sacrifice in the Temple was now something that had not happened for a decade or more, almost a generation; the imperative had diminished. People had adjusted to this new reality. So the need to smooth over the transition that had existed for Mark had dissipated by the time Matthew wrote. It had never pertained to the pagans hearing the Word, and the Jews were likely over it. So Matthew dropped it.   

41 Congregatis autem pharisaeis, interrogavit eos Iesus

42 dicens: “Quid vobis videtur de Christo? Cuius filius est?”. Dicunt ei: “David”.

43 Ait illis: “Quomodo ergo David in Spiritu vocat eum Dominum dicens:

44 “Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis,

donec ponam inimicos tuos sub pedibus tuis”?

45 Si ergo David vocat eum Dominum, quomodo filius eius est? ”.

46 Et nemo poterat respondere ei verbum, neque ausus fuit quisquam ex illa die eum amplius interrogare.


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 7, 2016, in Chapter 22, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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