Matthew Chapter 24:40-51

This will conclude a very long Chapter 24. To set the scene, we’re at the end of the apocalypse of the Synoptic Gospels. Specifically, Jesus is describing the circumstances of what will happen when the son of man comes. Or returns.

40 τότε δύο ἔσονται ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, εἷς παραλαμβάνεται καὶ εἷς ἀφίεται:

41 δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐν τῷ μύλῳ, μία παραλαμβάνεται καὶ μία ἀφίεται.

42 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑμῶν ἔρχεται.

“Then (when the son of man comes), two will be in the field, one is taken up and the other will be left. (41) Two hand-grinding with the hand-grinder, one is taken up and one is left. (42) Therefore be watchful, because (lit = ‘that‘) you do not know when the day of your lord comes.

This, of course, is a description, or partial description, of the Rapture. One is taken, one is left. What is interesting is not what is here, but what is not: the reason why one is taken and the other isn’t.

40 Tunc duo erunt in agro: unus assumitur, et unus relinquitur;

41 duae molentes in mola: una assumitur, et una relinquitur.

42 Vigilate ergo, quia nescitis qua die Dominus vester venturus sit.

43 ἐκεῖνο δὲ γινώσκετε ὅτι εἰ ᾔδει ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης ποίᾳ φυλακῇ ὁ κλέπτης ἔρχεται, ἐγρηγόρησεν ἂν καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴασεν διορυχθῆναι τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ.

44 διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὑμεῖς γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι, ὅτι ἧ οὐ δοκεῖτε ὥρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεται.

45 Τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς δοῦλος καὶ φρόνιμος ὃν κατέστησεν ὁ κύριος ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκετείας αὐτοῦ τοῦ δοῦναι αὐτοῖς τὴν τροφὴν ἐν καιρῷ;

“That one you will know that if the master had known in which watch (the time) the thief comes, he was watchful and did not allow the breaking up (= breaking int0) of his house.  (44) Because of this you should be ready, that (since) you do not know the hour the son of man comes. (45) For who is the faithful slave and sensible whom the lord sets down upon his household of his giving to them the food in its season (= when it’s time)?   

One of the things that has constantly struck me about examining these books of the NT is just how oblique so much of the teaching is. Up above we are not told why the one is taken and the other is left. Here we need to be watchful, but how? By doing what? If you recall Paul gave us a laundry list of things we must not do–the chief of which was always, always, fornication–in order to be ready for the day of the Lord. So we have to piece this together, spread over a lot of different places and books. Matthew here uses the term “day of your lord”, but that’s close enough, I think. That should be close enough for us to take it as the same term. Because one thing we cannot–we absolutely cannot–do here is assume that what is said in one book can be taken to illuminate something said in another. [Note: this is a fundamental technique of Jewish scriptural interpretation; it has a name, a very common name, that I cannot for the life of me remember at this moment. I do remember that we discussed it before, but where or when or why is lost to me at the moment. ] We cannot assume this because we do not know how widely, and how quickly the various books were disseminated. This is particularly true with Paul. Of course we know that Matthew and Luke knew of Mark, and Luke knew of Matthew, but how and when did the evangelists become aware of Paul’s writings? We can assume, of course, that Luke was aware of Paul since the former made the latter the star of Acts, but we do not know, for certain, that Matthew was aware of Paul. Almost certainly Mark was not.

Now, just because we cannot assume, does not mean we cannot infer. Within Matthew we have encountered a number of different passages of oblique references to the kingdom, to the life, to those who will inherit the kingdom; these passages are enough and sufficiently varied for us to infer that the Christian belief of being rewarded post-mortem was pretty much established in the minds of most. And given Paul’s laundry lists, it seems reasonable that this belief in a reward dates back at least that far; however, with Paul, the reward was not necessarily post-mortem; 1 Thessalonians is explicit that he expected living persons to enter the kingdom; in fact, he was trying to allay the fears of some that the dead would not be included in the eternal reward. 

This, I believe sufficiently answers the question: we are ready for the day of the lord by living moral lives. Just like the nuns told me all those years ago.

Now, the next question is whether we can infer from “day of your lord” (V 42) that Matthew was directly referencing Paul’s “day of the lord”. The answer, of course, is that we don’t know. If forced to guess, or estimate, I would have to say probably not. It’s difficult to feel too much confidence when extrapolating from a single phrase. More, this is the sort of thing that could have been in common currency among a number of assemblies. There is just not enough there.

43 Illud autem scitote quoniam si sciret pater familias qua hora fur venturus esset, vigilaret utique et non sineret perfodi domum suam.

44 Ideo et vos estote parati, quia, qua nescitis hora, Filius hominis venturus est.

45 Quis putas est fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit dominus supra familiam suam, ut det illis cibum in tempore?

46 μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα:

47 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτοῦ καταστήσει αὐτόν.

“Blessed is that slave who the lord coming finds the former doing in this way. (47) Amen I say to you that upon all those devoted of him he will establish him.  or

Amen I say to you that [the lord] will put [the faithful slave] in charge of all the lord’s possessions.*

This second verse is perplexing me. The standard translation is “and over all his (the lord’s) possessions, he (the lord) will set him (the faithful servant). OK, that is absolutely what the Latin says. The problem is that, as far as I can see, << ὑπάρχουσιν >> does not mean “possessions” (lit = good things, in the Latin). And the grammar is off. The Greek word is a participle; it’s a verb, describing a current action. The word mean, per Liddell & Scott, “to begin”, or “to undertake”, or “to establish”, or “be devoted to”, which is how I’ve rendered it. The problem is that such a usage requires the dative, whereas here we have a genitive; this explains the really awkward translation as “devoted of him”.

Well, it appears that had I scrolled down to the very bottom,<< ὑπάρχουσιν >> can be translated as “possessions”; but only in the NT. This makes me wonder if this shading (definition #15 or so down the list) is not taken from the Vulgate. And that still doesn’t explain the participle form; not really. Let’s bear in mind that when those Renaissance/Reformation scholars went back to the original Greek texts to create new translations of the NT, they did not have a Liddell & Scott as reference material. They had to call upon their own memories of other Greek texts that they had read, to remember if they’d ever encountered a particular word before; and, if they had, they had to piece out what the word meant in its given context. These 16th Century translations are often described described in terms of heroic effort, and they certainly were; however, we also need to recall that, for these scholars, the Vulgate Bible was as familiar to them as the  KJV or other English-language NT is to us. If they had a problem, if they ran into a situation where the could simply not make sense of the Greek, do we not think that they maybe took a peek at the Latin? Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing here? And you know what? It works.

So it more or less comes down to this: do I trust St Jerome’s understanding of the Greek, or do I suppose that I understand it better than he did? Of course St Jerome forgot more about Greek than I can ever hope to learn, so I think we know the wind is blowing here. The Latin makes sense. Everyone agrees to that. So being a good scholar (I make no claim to that title. Ahem.) it is necessary to know when to stand one’s ground, and when to concede and follow the crowd. This, I think, is an instance of the latter. (*see secondary translation)

46 Beatus ille servus, quem cum venerit dominus eius, invenerit sic facientem.

47 Amen dico vobis quoniam super omnia bona sua constituet eum.

48 ἐὰν δὲ εἴπῃ ὁ κακὸς δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ, Χρονίζει μου ὁ κύριος,

49 καὶ ἄρξηται τύπτειν τοὺς συνδούλους αὐτοῦ, ἐσθίῃ δὲ καὶ πίνῃ μετὰ τῶν μεθυόντων,

50 ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἧ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ἧ οὐ γινώσκει,

51 καὶ διχοτομήσει αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ὑποκριτῶν θήσει: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

“If that bad slave should say in his heart, ‘My lord tarries’, (49) and he will begin to smite his fellow slaves, he will eat and he will drink with the drunkards, (50) the lord of that slave will come on a day not expected and at an hour which he does not know, (51) and he will cut him in half, and his portion will be places with the hypocrites. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Nope. Not going to update “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

Nothing really surprising here. It is, however, the epilogue for, or explanation of the bit about the generation will not pass away before this happens. With this, we have traveled rhetorically from the “no one knows, but soon” of 1 Thessalonians to “no one knows. Could be sooner, could be later”.

I’m nearly finished with Josephus. This is fortuitous because it ties in very nicely with this chapter. I will summarise and compare, but there will be a separate post on Josephus before that.

48 Si autem dixerit malus servus ille in corde suo: “Moram facit dominus meus venire”,

49 et coeperit percutere conservos suos, manducet autem et bibat cum ebriis,

50 veniet dominus servi illius in die, qua non sperat, et in hora, qua ignorat,

51 et dividet eum partemque eius ponet cum hypocritis; illic erit fletus et stridor dentium.

Advertisements

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 August 6, 2016, in Chapter 24, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: