Monthly Archives: June 2016


Sorry for not producing anything new for a while, but I’m experiencing technical difficulty. Through a stellar act of clumsiness, I broke my right arm. I am left-handed, so it’s not horrible, but I’m reduced to one-finger typing. I could do the translation, but typing the commentary is beyond me at the moment.

So, my apologies. Please stand by.

Matthew Chapter 24:1-14

This is a very long chapter, but the worst part is that it has no really logical break-points. This is the prediction of the tribulations “to come”. By this point, my readers are probably aware that I  (strongly) believe that these predictions–not just here, but in Mark as well–were written sometime after the destruction of the Temple n 69/70. This chapter in Matthew is based on Mark 13, and that reads a lot like the blurb on the back of my Penguin edition of Josephus’ The Jewish War. It was a horrible time; in some ways, it was the end of the age, if your world was focused on the Second Temple and the way of life that the temple created. Much of this material was in Mark; a comparison to see was was added or subtracted may provide some insights into the development of the tradition.


1 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο, καὶ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὰς οἰκοδομὰς τοῦ ἱεροῦ:

2 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ βλέπετε ταῦτα πάντα; ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.

And going out, Jesus left the Temple, and coming towards him his disciples pointed out the structure of the Temple. (2) He answering, said to them, “Do you not see all of this? Amen I say to you, not a stone will be left upon stone which is not destroyed.”

This is more or less right out of Mark: not a stone left upon stone. There are those who would date Mark to 65, which is before the destruction of the Temple; offhand, I do not know how they explain this passage. How is this not a hindsight prophecy? Naturally I say that writing from the perspective of history; of course it’s entirely possible if writing from the perspective of theology. But, since I’m writing history, I cannot treat this as a legitimate prediction based on divine foreknowledge. If you believe that, I simply cannot argue with you because we really don’t share enough common ground for a legitimate discussion. That’s neither bad nor good.

The part that seems to clinch the hindsight aspect is the specificity of this: he’s talking about the Temple, which was indeed razed to the ground. Jerusalem in its totality was not obliterated, the way Carthage and Corinth had been, but the Temple was. 

One thing that has occurred to me is a novel way to look at the puzzle of when Mark wrote. I would listen to an argument that has the bulk of Mark written in 65 (give or take), but then posits that his Chapter 13 was written after 70, and inserted as an addendum, just as Chapter 16 was added later. Except there is no reason why Chapter 13 could not have been written by Mark (or the original author of that gospel whom we conveniently call “Mark”). After all, it was a span of less than ten years; the original author could conceivably still been alive to witness the destruction. But this is all off-the-cuff speculation; I have not begun to do the hard work of looking into what such a suggestion would entail, or if it’s remotely possible from stylistic or other terms.

As for alterations, Matthew has changed things, but they are pretty minimal. The disciples don’t get a line as they did in Mark, but the mood has been altered a bit. Here, Jesus puts the question into the negative: do you not see? From this I get the idea that Matthew is trying to get across that Jesus is literally seeing the future state, the time when the Temple is not there.

1 Et egressus Iesus de templo ibat, et accesserunt discipuli eius, ut ostenderent ei aedificationes templi;

2 ipse autem respondens dixit eis: “Non videtis haec omnia? Amen dico vobis: Non relinquetur hic lapis super lapidem, qui non destruetur”.

3 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ κατ’ ἰδίαν λέγοντες, Εἰπὲ ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

He having seated himself on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him in private, saying, “Tell us when these things will be, and its signs coming and the end of the age.”

Again, no significant changes, except that here it’s all the disciples while in Mark it’s the holy trinity of Peter, James, and John who come to Jesus. That makes a bit more sense if they came “in private”. But this might be more telling than it appears at first sight. Recall that I do not believe Jesus had an inner circle of Twelve Apostles, as we are used to thinking of them. Rather, Jesus had an inner circle of Peter and James, who was probably his brother. John is not mentioned at all by Paul, so I have some serious suspicions about him, too. By having “all the disciples” come to him, this increases the activities of the Twelve, solidifying their place a bit more in the tradition; this, however, is a bit of a stretch on my part. Perhaps “the disciples” was just easier than writing out the three names. Or, maybe Matthew didn’t have his copy of Mark at hand, and didn’t remember which disciples asked the question.

On this question of apostles, it’s worth noting that Mark and Matthew use the noun form of the word exactly once each. Strong’s Words is a very handy tool for checking things like this. Paul uses the word as a noun several-to-numerous times.  Paul calls himself an apostle, but the absence of the word in Mark and Matthew should give us pause. It has caught on by the time Luke wrote; apparently, the idea of Jesus have a group of Twelve apostles had lodged itself into the tradition by then, where it hadn’t when M&M wrote. I would suggest this group of Twelve–to which Paul refers specifically–was an innovation of James.

Actually, there is another important change. Note how they ask for the sign(s), which is also in Mark. But Mark does not use the expression “the end of the age”. That Matthew adds this is, I believe, very significant. What that significance is, or entails, is wholly another question. I suggested that, in some ways, the destruction of the Temple and the sack of Jerusalem did mark the end of an age. One has to realise that the end of an “age” is not at all the same thing as the end of the world. The Apocalypse of John has conditioned us to thinking in terms that more or less equate the two, but that is not in the least necessary. “Ages” all the time; the Stone Age (both old and new) ended, as did the Bronze Age. Golden Ages by the dozen have come and gone with tiresome regularity. This is all to say that the “age” in this sense, is more abstract than we tend to think of such things, and altogether less final. Assuming that the Temple destroyed in 69/70 was indeed built around, or just after, the time of Cyrus of Persia, then the Age of the Second Temple (which assumes a first) had lasted for half a millennium. That is a long stretch of time by any standards. The same stretch of time in our world would take us back to the 1500s, and there are very few institutions still around that existed back then, at least in the Western world. The English monarchy is one, albeit in a form perhaps unrecognizable to those alive when QEI sat on the throne. So an institution of comparable antiquity that perhaps played a larger role in the lives of ordinary Jews than the monarchy did just vanished. So yes, absolutely an age had ended. And I don’t know that we need to go any further with that word than that. I don’t think we need to look for eschatology or end-times. Perhaps this may put a different sort of spin on the way we read things?

3 Sedente autem eo super montem Oliveti, accesserunt ad eum discipuli secreto dicentes: “Dic nobis: Quando haec erunt, et quod signum adventus tui et consummationis saeculi?”.

4 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ:

5 πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Χριστός, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν.

6 μελλήσετε δὲ ἀκούειν πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων: ὁρᾶτε, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.

And answering, Jesus said to them, “Look, lest you wander off in error. (5) For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the messiah’, and many will wander off in error. (6) You will hear wars and rumours of wars; look, do not be disturbed. For this must happen, but it is not yet the end.

The words << πλανήσῃ >>, and << πλανήσουσιν >> have been rendered here as “wander off in error”. The root of the word, transliterated as “plan-” is the basis for our word “planet”. In Greek, it means “to wander”, the Greeks called the visible planets in the sky “wanderers” because they did not follow an invariable track across the heavens the way stars do. From the idea of wandering, came the idea of wandering off the course of correctness, so it came to mean “to err”. So, to capture both senses of the original, I’ve rendered it “to wander in error”.

Upon consideration, we should find the bit about being the messiah/christ a bit odd when used in this gospel. If Jesus is the Christ, as Matthew has told us countless times right from the start, how can someone come in Jesus’ name and still be the Christ, since Jesus is the Christ? And this is not truly affected by the fact that those who will come will only claim to be the Anointed. The answer is he can’t; if Jesus has come as the Christ, then subsequent claimants will obviously be lying, and the disciples, at least, will know this full well. The sticking point is the “in my name”. If Jesus had not been accepted as the messiah, then it stands to reason that others who did not know Jesus could be fooled; on the other hand, if Jesus had not been fully or universally accepted as the Christ, even by his followers, then someone could come later and and those followers could believe a pseudo-christ. 

Here it is important to note that this passage is straight out of Mark. As such, this is yet another indication that Jesus was not considered the Christ in at least one of Mark’s sources. I would suggest that this line of the tradition would lead to the Didache. Remember in Galatians, how Paul excoriates the stupid Galatians for falling victim to another gospel. One wonders if this was the other gospel? The core message of that gospel, possibly, was that Jesus was not the messiah, and it was the mysterious Son of Man who would come as the Messiah. Paul of course, is having none of this. According to the message revealed directly to him by God, through Jesus (as per Galatians), Jesus was the Messiah, and his being raised from the dead had proven this. It is so, so tempting to see James as the author of this other gospel, but that is, alas, thinking wishfully. Paul and James had their disagreements, which appears to be based on the degree to which pagans have to follow Jewish customs (circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc). They were able to reach a mutually agreed-upon deal. It seems very unlikely that they would have been able to work out such a modus vivendi had the issue been something so basic as whether Jesus had been the Christ. Hence, we have the parallel tradition that, eventually, produced the Didache, in which Jesus’ divinity is questionable at best.

The other thing to note here is Jesus saying, even after the things described had transpired, it is not “the end”. The first question is, is this in Mark? The second question is, the end of what? The answer to #1 is “sort of”. Mark gets around to talking about “before the end, the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations”; we’ll see if that turns up later here in Matthew. The answer to #2 is a bit less certain. Peeking ahead, it appears to mean “the end of the disturbances”.

4 Et respondens Iesus dixit eis: “ Videte, ne quis vos seducat.

5 Multi enim venient in nomine meo dicentes: “Ego sum Christus”, et multos seducent.

6 Audituri enim estis proelia et opiniones proeliorum. Videte, ne turbemini; oportet enim fieri, sed nondum est finis.

7 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, καὶ ἔσονται λιμοὶ καὶ σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους:

8 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων.

9 τότε παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς θλῖψιν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου.

“For people will be raised against people, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in places. (8) All of these things begin the sorrows of childbirth. (9) Then they will give you over to the trials, and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all the peoples because of my name. 

First, the word << ἔθνος >>, “ethnos” is often rendered as “nation will rise against nation”. Even the KJV uses that translation. However, “nation” is wildly anachronistic for this period; it could be argued that it should not be applied before the 15th Century, at the very earliest, and only then to England and France (I would consider Spain and Portugal, too). And, as should be obvious, it’s the root of “ethnic”, so “people” really captures the term better. The idea is a linguistic group, or perhaps a cultural group. “The Greeks” would be an ethnos, or The Hebrews; and The Greeks were divided into three subdivisions based on language variations (Ionian, Dorian, Aeolian), but they considered themselves to be a single unity based on the combination of both language and culture. From there, the different groups were subdivided into tribes, so an ethnos is a bigger aggregate than a tribe. Despite considering themselves to being a single ethnos, the invasion of Persia showed that defending Greek-dom against the foreign invader was not a priority for a lot of the Greek city-states (poleis); but Panhellenism certainly existed as a theoretical concept, even if there was never a serious attempt to put it into practice.

Hence, here we have “people vs. people”.

Two minor points: people will be raised against people. This is a passive construction. It’s very similar to “Jesus was raised from the dead”. Based on this, I need to take another look at my contention that “raised from the dead” may not have the implications I have been saying it does. Second, the text says “famines and earthquakes”. My modern translation has “famines and earthquakes”. The KJV has “famines and pestilence and earthquakes”. Not sure where the extra woe has come from. Doesn’t appear to be due to a variant ms tradition, so I honestly don’t know.

The final point comes with the word <<  θλῖψιν >>. It transliterates to “thlipsis”, but that’s irrelevant because there’s no connexion to anything in English. We’ve run across the word a few times, or more than a few times. Paul used the word in Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Corinthians. Mark used it. The problem is, it’s another of those words that we really don’t know what it means. In Classical Greek, it means “pressure”, or even “castration”. The Great Scott tells us that, metaphorically, it means “oppression” or “affliction”. The problem with this latter is that all the cites are from the Bible, whether the NT or the LXX. This is very important because it brings up the issue of just how seriously the followers of Jesus were…bothered, or harassed, and if the word “persecute” is at all legitimate and, if so, to what degree. The Roman sources for this sort of thing are very scanty, while the Christian sources are plentiful and lurid and worse than anything Edgar Allen Poe wrote. People being flayed, people being roasted between two grills, disemboweled, etc. And for centuries, this latter account was accepted as factual. Now, to be honest, the Romans did not necessarily record all the heinous things they did, largely because they did so many of them.

The crimes of Caligula and Nero and (possibly) Tiberius are well enough documented, but how accurate are they? Nero is said to have falsely blamed the followers of Chrestus for the fire in Rome, and used this as a pretext to arrest and torture them. However, the descriptions of these atrocities do not sound like sustained persecution. People were tortured to implicate others, they were executed in heinous and creative ways. The problem is, Tacitus was prone to exaggerating the crimes committed by all emperors; he was a staunch Republican, and believed that the Emperor was a blight and a cancer on the Roman body politic, so he was willing to pass on the most awful stuff about even the Divine Augustus. Second, this does not sound like official Imperial policy, nor something that lasted very long. It was entirely sufficient to set all sorts of stories in motion, which have come down to us and which have been taught as completely accurate.

One problem arises in a letter of Pliny the Younger. As a provincial governor Pliny wrote to Trajan in about 112, asking for guidance on how to handle Christians. Given this, we can infer with great certainty that there was no policy in place. Nero may have tortured and killed dozens, but after a bit he was on to something else. He got bored easily. Given this, it’s hard to see persecution to any great degree by the Romans. This is another reason I find it difficult to believe that Jesus was any kind of zealot or revolutionary. Nero knows about followers of Christus, but he doesn’t know much about them. Had Jesus been executed for sedition, Jesus would not have been so completely unknown in the Roman world. Tacitus says they were generally hated for the heinous rites (unspecified) these followers practiced. The thing is, the followers met in secret, they did not tell their practices to any that were not part of the group, and so outsiders were left to imagine all sorts of things. The really ironic, or peculiar, or even wryly amusing thing is that the same set of charges that were leveled against Christians during the Empire were, in turn, leveled by Christians against Jews, witches, heretics…any group whose practices were not generally known. And I mean the very same charges, and they were leveled at the hordes of suburban devil worshipers who were running rampant in the 1980s.

So, what did Paul, and what did Mark and Matthew mean by this word? If you take it in conjunction with the warning that the disciples will be handed over and killed, it’s really hard not to see the setting of the 60s here, the revolt against Rome, which to some, no small extent was a Jewish civil war, with collaborators like Josephus assisting the Romans. Again, there was plenty of betrayal, plenty of handing over, plenty of executions. The problem is, that is not, not really, what the Greek word means. Interestingly, the Latin, <<tribulationem>>, obviously the root of “tribulation”, is a very uncommon word in Classical Latin. My portable Cassell’s Latin dictionary doesn’t have the word at all. The Lewis & Short (the Latin equivalent of Liddel & Scott), presents it as ecclesiastical Latin, that is, Latin used by the Church, and the first cite is Tertullian, one of the Christian fathers who lived in the 2nd/3rd century. St Jerome didn’t create the Vulgate until the turn of the 5th Century. IOW, we have no real clue what this word meant as any of the writers of the NT used it.

Anyway, this is a topic too big for the current forum. I will attempt to deal with it in a more satisfactory manner in the Summary.

7 Consurget enim gens in gentem, et regnum in regnum, et erunt fames et terrae motus per loca;

8 haec autem omnia initia sunt dolorum.

9 Tunc tradent vos in tribulationem et occident vos, et eritis odio omnibus gentibus propter nomen meum.

10 καὶ τότε σκανδαλισθήσονται πολλοὶ καὶ ἀλλήλους παραδώσουσιν καὶ μισήσουσιν ἀλλήλους:

11 καὶ πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐγερθήσονται καὶ πλανήσουσιν πολλούς:

12 καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν.

13 ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται.

14 καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

“Then many will be made to stumble, and they will hand over others and hate others. (11) and many false-prophets will raise themselves and they will (make) many (people) wander off in error. (12) And because the they will increase the lawlessness, the love of many will be made cold. (13) The last one standing, he will be saved. (14) And they will preach the good news of the kingdom in the whole community as witness to all the peoples, and then will come the end”.

It’s interesting that I just read Tacitus’ description of the persecutions of Nero. It sure sounds a lot like this. Arrest a few, torture them, get them to give you names (guilty or not; who cares?), arrest them, lather, rinse, repeat. Those being tortured are those who stumble and the names given are those new ones who will be hated. The false prophets part is where I wish my knowledge of Josephus was a little more current. I have the sense that this was a problem during the Revolt, but I’m not sure enough of my facts to state this with any certainty. Which is a shame, because it would certainly bolster my case that this was written by Mark after the sack of Jerusalem. And the part about the increased lawlessness leading to a brutalizing of people so that their capacity to love is crippled, this is sure true about what happens to people under dire stress. They do things, and become things that they never could have imagined.

Here’s a thought. Was this written, originally, by someone who had read Tacitus? The problem with that is the Annales was not written until the beginning of the 2nd Century. Did Tacitus read Mark? Or Luke? Doubtful. 

So far, all of this was in Mark, with only minimal changes. So too is the “last one standing”. Yes, that’s a bit more free than I usually provide, but it gets the point across. This sentence raises a horde of problems: remaining (the literal translation rather than standing) where?; “saved” in what way?; preach to everyone? I honestly don’t even have any sort of speculation about the last one remaining. Was this conceived as a war of attrition between the followers and the persecutors, so that it literally means “remaining alive”? That would work with the idea of this survivor then venturing out to preach the good news to the rest of the peoples. And it would also shed light on “being saved”. Here, I think it means “the survivor’s physical life” will be saved, in the way a lifeguard saves the life of someone drowning. IOW, this is not terribly metaphorical, but meant to be taken fairly literally. And it echoes Mark in stating that the gospel has to reach all peoples before the end will/can come. And here, “end” probably means “end”, as in final. But it must be noted that ‘end times’ and ‘end of an age’ are not at all necessarily the same thing. 

There is probably more here, but it eludes me at the moment. And trying to do a line-by-line with Mark on this probably isn’t fruitful at this point. More on that as we develop.

10 Et tunc scandalizabuntur multi et invicem tradent et odio habebunt invicem;

11 et multi pseudoprophetae surgent et seducent multos.

12 Et, quoniam abundavit iniquitas, refrigescet caritas multorum;

13 qui autem permanserit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.

14 Et praedicabitur hoc evangelium regni in universo orbe in testimonium omnibus gentibus; et tunc veniet consummatio.

Summary Matthew Chapter 23

This entire chapter was given over to the Woes to the Pharisees. One obvious point of departure is to ask why the Pharisees were chosen to be the recipients of so much vitriol. Perhaps more to the point is the question of whether this was more appropriate to Jesus’ day, or to the days of his followers, among whom would be the authors of the gospels and epistles that comprise the NT. The problem is, the only real evidence we seem to have is that of the NT itself, those aforementioned gospels and epistles. And the evidence found in them states that this dates to Jesus himself. After all, it was the Pharisees and Scribes who conspired to put Jesus to death. Can we trust this? Should we trust this?

In addressing this question, we need to go back to who the Pharisees were. They were not the Temple officials. Some Pharisees may have indeed been Temple officials, and Pharisees may have constituted the majority of Temple officials. But they were not Temple officials because they were Pharisees, but in addition to being Pharisees. They are generally credited with being the forerunners of Rabbinic Judaism. Now, naturally on the principle of like attracts like, it may have been a good career move to become a Pharisee if one wanted to be a Temple official, but that is still a different question. And then we must ask if we know how these Temple officials were selected? But, even before that, we have to ask if the term “Temple official” has any real meaning. Most pagan temples, at least the bigger ones, did have a sort of professional staff, consisting of attendants, caretakers, priests, and the like. And the Temple in Jerusalem was big. But these were Temple officials; the gospels imply they also had some sort of political role. That is certainly not true. As such, any influence they had in getting Jesus executed was purely persuasive. Which means, Temple “official” is not the proper way to think of them.

Our best evidence about the Pharisees comes from the testimony of Paul. He proudly claims to be a Pharisee; given that along with his self-proclaimed zeal in harassing the followers of Jesus, we might suppose that the Pharisees may have taken a prominent role among those who set upon the new sect. But that takes us out of the time of Jesus and into the days of his followers; that is, the invective against the Pharisees is anachronistic when put into the mouth of Jesus. Then the gospel accounts tend try t0 conflate the Pharisees and the High Priests of the Temple, implicating both groups into a single, common, conspiracy, one that throws the Herodians in for good measure. All of this strikes me as very unlikely given the political jealousies and squabbling that Josephus says were going on at the time. This sort of all-in animosity seems to be more the product of a later time and place, where the exact situation on the ground in Jesus’ day was poorly understood and largely forgotten.

A great example of this comes, I think, when Jesus says that the Pharisees sat in “the chair of Moses”. This expression is unique to Matthew; the only other uses of “kathedra/cathedra” are in relation to the chairs of the money changers, both in Matthew and then in Luke. It is very hard to know what Matthew meant by this, or if indeed he meant anything, or even if this sentence is not a later interpolation. It is extremely difficult to read this and not interpret it to mean something like a bishop in his “cathedra”, his seat, a century or more later. As such, it’s completely anachronistic, dating to a time even after Matthew wrote, and perhaps much later. Was this added deliberately? Likely not. This has the feel of a marginal gloss, some copyist noting that the Pharisees held the “chair of Moses” when the idea of a bishop having a chair had become common, whether or not this copyist made an intentional comparison to “the chair of Peter”. Suggesting a textual emendation like this is a bold move, especially for someone like me with no background in textual criticism. The earliest mss we have are the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century. Since these are more or less complete mss of the NT, it’s probable that this sentence was included. My hard-copy Greek NT does not show any variant ms traditions that leave this out. As such, we have to ask if this is sufficient time for such a gloss to have crept in, at a time when a bishop having a ‘cathedra’ was well-established. It is, perhaps, but barely so IMO. Is it time for someone to add this deliberately? More likely, but it would have had to be a very early addition to reach all the ms traditions.

The term “episcopos” is scantily attested in the NT. It does not appear in any gospel. It appears once in Acts, in a context where it could mean “bishop”. It appears at the very end of 2 Timothy and Titus, but in passages that appear to be considered later additions; the only place I can find these cited is in Strong’s Words. None of my crib translations, neither of my hard-copy translations, and my hard-copy Greek edition do not contain the extension of the two passages that includes the word “bishop”. And as Strong cites the passage, it clearly means bishop. The word in Greek means overseer, and the once it occurs as a noun referring to a person–as opposed to the verbal form meaning oversight–it is translated as “overseer” in all the translations I’ve checked, including the KJV. The most interesting use of the word comes in Philippians, which is one of his letters that pretty much everyone accepts as genuinely Paul. Based on the grammatical structure (which is a bit of a mess), I wholeheartedly agree. In 1:1 he greets “…the bishops and deacons”. Here it is hard to render as “overseers”, since it comes in tandem with “deacons”, which Paul uses frequently. We could suggest that both terms are not meant to refer to an official position. The other possibility is that “bishops” was a later interpolation. Now, I realize that I have a pattern of ascribing a lot of things that make my positions difficult to defend to be “later interpolations”. But given the absolute near dearth of the term until Acts, the lone occurrence in Paul does stand out. I think it’s naive to believe that these traditions were handed down unadulterated and untouched by later transcribers and copyists. So it is very likely that there are layers–or maybe pockets–that were not accrued until a later time. I do not know when the practice of the bishop having a cathedra came into being, and where. It appears that Clement, in the late First Century, was considered a “bishop”, but did he have a cathedra? Offhand, I would tend to suspect that he didn’t, that this is something that came about later, but that’s just a suspicion; it does behoove us, however, to bear in mind constantly that the full apparatus of The Church did not spring into being, full-grown and clad in all its shining panoply. If the reference to a cathedra of Moses is not the reflection of a later time positing the anachronistic existence of a practice that did not exist, then how to explain it? What does “chair of Moses” mean? I simply cannot see any plausible explanation for this odd sentence. Perhaps someone with more imagination can.

If Matthew wrote this line, I would suggest that it’s a pretty good indication he wrote very late, at least in the 80s. If Matthew did not write this, what does that say about the integrity of the text?

Now that the discussion of the anachronisms of the Pharisees has been trod underfoot, the true theme of the chapter is the hyper-legalistic, letter-but-not-spirit-of-the-law attitude supposedly exemplified by the Pharisees. I do not feel that it is particularly useful to explore this attitude. It is the cliché that was (is) taught to Christians for centuries, to disparage the formulaic religion of the Pharisees vs. the sincere inward feeling of Christianity. Perhaps they were like this; perhaps they weren’t. Honestly, the description of the Pharisees could fit any number of Christian groups over any number of periods of times. It’s the smug satisfaction of the “haves” as they look down upon the “have-nots”. Unfortunately, the Pharisees hardly have a monopoly on the attitude described by Jesus here. However, here’s a thought: what if Jesus were not preaching a new idea, but that they Pharisees had turned against the “true” heart of Judaism with its heavy emphasis on social justice? What if what Jesus was not preaching a new way, but a return to the old way? What does that do to our understanding of Jesus? This is something that I need to consider. I believe that some Jewish scholars–like Boyarin, whom I’ve cited numerous times–have suggested exactly that.

Which leaves the other truly interesting point about this chapter, one that involves vocabulary. The words translated as “whitewashed” and “beautiful” in Verse 27 are the first example. “Whitewashed” occurs only in Matthew and Acts, which supposedly was written by Luke; “beautiful” only occurs in Matthew, twice in Acts, and once in Romans. It’s odd that two such odd words only show up in books written by Matthew and Luke; this is especially true since they both use the word for “beautiful” in sort of a non-standard way. The word actually means “seasonal”. The word, << ὡραῖοι >> is derived from “hora”, the standard word for “hour” in both Latin and Greek. So it is probably best translated as “timely”, and it often refers to fruit in season. Think back to the fig tree. Had it been in season, with fruit, it could properly be described as “beautiful” with this particular word. Matthew here uses it as a generic word for beautiful, and Luke does writing later. Why is this significant?

Remember, the orthodox position is that Luke did not read Matthew. Rather, the orthodox position is that they both got the stuff they share from Q. But when you see things like this, a word used wrong in the same way by two different authors, one writing after the other, the second including a lot of text that doesn’t occur elsewhere, you really have to start questioning the assumption that the second author did not read the first author. At least, it gets progressively harder to argue that the second author didn’t read the first author. As such, this hacks away at one of the major pillars of the argument for Q, that Luke did not read Matthew. Why? So much of comes to stylistic value judgements: if Luke had read Matthew, why did Luke “ruin” the “masterful” organization of the Q material found in the Sermon on the Mount? That, in a nutshell, is the keystone of the argument for Q.

And as it happens, we have another pairing of words here that, I believe, illustrates this point even more effectively. These words occur in Verse 25, but I saved them for last because they demonstrate the pro/anti-Q arguments in a very lucid fashion. The first word is << ἁρπαγῆς >>. This is not a terribly obscure word in Classical authors; in fact, it’s rather common, and is used several times in the early part of Book 1 of Herodotus. This use in Herodotus is especially germane because it refers to the seizure and carrying off of women by Asians of Greek women, and of Asian women by Greeks. Hence, the Latin translation as “rapina”, which is from the verb “rapeo”, which means “to seize (by force)”. It is, however, very rare in the NT; it occurs here, in the corresponding passage of Luke where it means exactly the same thing as it does here, and once in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it has more of the sense of confiscation. Here, the KJV translates this as “extortion”, but in Luke 11:39 the KJV renders this as “ravening”; the translations are similar, but not exactly the same. In more modern translations, both come out as “greed”. In one sense the KJV is slightly more accurate, since it presents the word as an action, as in the Greek or Latin, where modern renderings present an abstract noun.

The point, though, is that Luke and Matthew use exactly the same word in exactly the same sense, and their use of the word is almost unique in the entire NT. Of course, if Jesus used the word, and Q reproduced it faithfully, then there is no problem. Both Matthew and Luke just used the word they found, in the way that they found it. But if Jesus did not pronounce these woes against the Pharisees because he’s cursing a group that was not a problem until a decade after he was dead, then this word could not have been in Q, which means, in turn, that Luke read Matthew and copied him in the choice of this word, even if this was not the way that Classical authors had used the word. As such, this is a significant bit of evidence.

The second word in this couplet is even more interesting. This is << ἀκρασίας >>. It occurs twice in the NT; here, and in 1 Cor 7:5, where it usually gets translated as “incontinence”, as in the sense of “loss of self-control”. Looking back, I see that I didn’t fret nearly as much as I should have over the translation. Instead, I simply accepted “incontinence” which is what my NT Greek dictionary gave as the meaning. It appears I didn’t even check Liddell & Scott. Lesson Learned. But in that context, it really did seem to fit. The root of the word is << κρασίας >>, which is the word for “mixture”. The << ἀ- >> prefix is a negation (a-theist), so the word literally means “unmixed”. The full word is very uncommon, but it’s most often used to describe wine that is unmixed with water; mixing wine with water was standard Greek custom. Herodotus tells us of a Spartan king who came to drink his wine “Skythian Fashion”, which was to drink it unmixed. This was not meant as a compliment. In any case, since the wine is not mixed with water, it is unmoderated. So the word can be stretched to mean “immoderate”, which is how Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians.  And so here, it gets translated as “excess” (KJV) or self-indulgence.

The bottom line, however, is that this is a highly unusual word, used in a non-standard, metaphorical way. Luke, OTOH, goes in a different direction, changing this really odd word to << πονηρίας >>, which is a very generic word, used all the time for “wickedness” in general. Now let’s assume that Q existed, and that Matthew and Luke both had copies, and that that Q included this story. Which of the readings was most likely to be the original? “Seizure and immoderation”? Or “seizure and wickedness?” Given that Q is supposed to be the more “primitive” version (blessed are the poor rather than the poor in spirit), the obvious answer is the second, with “wickedness” rather than the more unusual “immoderation”. By “unusual”, I mean in the sense of the Greek; “wickedness” is the word more likely used because it would be more likely to be understood. At least, that is how I would imagine the argument would work. Because let’s stop to remember that Jesus would have used neither of these words. He spoke Aramaic, with a smattering of Greek. So it would depend on what the original Aramaic would have said. Now, was Q written in Greek? Or Aramaic? A quick check tells me the consensus is that it was written in Greek, just as the rest of the NT. As such, assuming Q, we would be justified to infer that Luke’s reading was the original, especially since he is usually credited as having the more “primitive” version of things like the Beatitudes and the Pater Noster. As such, we would generally infer that his “wickedness” is the way we should take this.

But here’s the kicker. Depending on which reconstruction you read, this “Woes” section is not considered part of Q! How’s that for a surprise? Now there are passages that are called the “minor agreements” between Matthew and Luke, and this might be one of them. These are explained away in some manner as…whatever. Yes, there could have been another source that Matthew and Luke–but not Mark–used, but how many of these sources are we supposed to swallow? I think Q is one too many. If there is no other source, then how do we explain (or, how do they explain) the agreement on the first word, “seizure”, when two of the three uses of the word in the NT are found in the corresponding passages in Matthew and Luke? Actually, the explanation is very simple: Luke read Matthew. He didn’t copy Matthew verbatim, but he had a copy and he used it as a source.

Problem solved. Except for all those people who want to believe in Q.