Matthew Chapter 28:11-20

This section concludes the chapter and the entire Gospel of Matthew. It’s been a very long, but not too strange, trip.

11 Πορευομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδού τινες τῆς κουστωδίας ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν ἅπαντα τὰ γενόμενα.

12 καὶ συναχθέντες μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων συμβούλιόν τε λαβόντες ἀργύρια ἱκανὰ ἔδωκαν τοῖς στρατιώταις

13 λέγοντες, Εἴπατε ὅτι Οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς ἐλθόντες ἔκλεψαν αὐτὸν ἡμῶν κοιμωμένων.

14 καὶ ἐὰν ἀκουσθῇ τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ ἡγεμόνος, ἡμεῖς πείσομεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους ποιήσομεν.

15 οἱ δὲ λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια ἐποίησαν ὡς ἐδιδάχθησαν. Καὶ διεφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον [ἡμέρας].

Going toward away, look! some of the guards coming to the city they announced to the high priests all the occurrences. (12) And gathering with the high priests they took counsel taking money because they gave to the soldiers, (13) saying, “Say that his disciples coming in the night stole him we being sleeping. (14) And if this was heard by the leader, we persuade him and we make you careful.”  (15) They taking the money they did as they were taught. And this story was blazed out throughout Judea until this very day.

The translation is way too literal. The upshot is that the high priests paid the guards to tell a false story. The interesting part is that, supposedly, the story was being told even to the time that Matthew wrote. Really? I’m not sure whether to pooh-pooh the idea that they were still talking about it, or to take it as “hmmm…” moment. Having just said what I said about Matthew not being likely to have new, actual historical information, I would have nerve saying that this was true. And, indeed, my initial reaction is that this is something that Matthew sort of made up. But then, why? Why would he make this up? Seems a tad improbable, but, seriously, why make this up? Why suggest that there is an alternative story out there? Doesn’t the probability lean to the side of Matthew saying this as a way of explaining, and hopefully refuting something that was out there? To refute something that people were actually saying?

Thinking about this further now that it’s had time to settle in, this little throw-away line may have huge ramifications for a lot of things. Let’s unpack this a bit. Mark gave no indication of a story like this, but then Mark didn’t really have a resurrection story. What this suggests is that the whole idea of the resurrection, and the story explaining it, only fully came into existence Mark, and before Matthew. This set of circumstances would make sense when taken in conjunction with my previous point about the writing of Mark being something of a watershed in the development of the Jesus movement. Having a written gospel spread the word more effectively, but perhaps it also caused people to ask questions, like, why was the tomb empty? What did happen to Jesus’ body? Which would lead others, less sympathetic to the cause, to suggest that the body had been stolen by his disciples. Refuting this, in turn, could have been one of the spurs that prompted Matthew to write his gospel in the first place.

Of course, so far we’ve ignored an obvious point: that Paul was talking about the resurrection long before Mark wrote his gospel. Not only is that a valid point, but it’s salient as well (a salient point is redundant). If I’m going to suggest that the resurrection story didn’t come about until after Mark, what about Paul’s preaching on this subject? I’d best have one damn good explanation for that.

This make take us back to the question of whether Mark was aware of Paul. To be honest, I am not aware of the scholarship on this, but it is entirely possible that Mark was not. If not, he could have written his gospel without knowing that Paul claimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. But then, to whom did Paul preach? To pagans. Matthew, as I see it, was a pagan and not a Jew. So did he become aware of Paul’s teaching about the resurrection from contact with a pagan church that had been influenced, if not founded, by Paul’s mission work? What I am proposing is that there were two separate traditions; indeed, there were likely, but I’m thinking of two main branches here, with however many tributaries and however fragmented the delta was. I’m suggesting that there was a Jewish tradition and a pagan tradition. Indeed, this may be a commonplace; Paul tells us that exactly this situation existed in Galatians, so it’s hardly like this is a radical suggestion. He and James were at loggerheads about the Jewish question, but what if there were other, more fundamental differences of opinion between the two? What if the Jewish tradition wasn’t big on the idea of the raising from the dead? Or, Paul was a Pharisee, who believed in this before encountering the teachings about Jesus; was James a Pharisee? Is that part of the reason the Pharisees get such special treatment in the gospels? Because the Jewish tradition didn’t agree with the Pharisees? But then Matthew, not being a Jew, really didn’t get the whole reason for the division, so he just kept up the disparagement of the Pharisees without realizing the implications?

There are a lot of pieces that seem to fit. The problem is, each piece makes the overall whole less likely, not more so. The more complicated the story, the less likely it is to be true. This would seem to be counterintuitive, but if you think in terms of contingent probabilities–C is only true if B is true, and B is only true if A is true–you may see the problem. Each piece depends on another, and each connexion represents a potential fracture point, a place where the joint is weak and the glue holding it all together can come unstuck.

11 Quae cum abiissent, ecce quidam de custodia venerunt in civitatem et nuntiaverunt principibus sacerdotum omnia, quae facta fuerant.

12 Et congregati cum senioribus, consilio accepto, pecuniam copiosam dederunt militibus

13 dicentes: “Dicite: “Discipuli eius nocte venerunt et furati sunt eum, nobis dormientibus”.

14 Et si hoc auditum fuerit a praeside, nos suadebimus ei et securos vos faciemus”.

15 At illi, accepta pecunia, fecerunt, sicut erant docti. Et divulgatum est verbum istud apud Iudaeos usque in hodiernum diem.

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς,

17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.

18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,

20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

But the eleven disciples went out to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus arranged for them, (17) and seeing they worshipped him but they doubted. (18) And coming forward Jesus spoke to them saying, “It was given to me all power in the sky and upon the earth. (19) So going going out all the peoples were learned, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the sacred breath. (20) Teaching them to watch all so much I command you. And, look! I with you I am all days until the end of the aeons”.  

So that’s it. It occurs to me that until now I’m not terribly familiar with this gospel, or at least this version of the resurrection story. To whit, they actually do go to Galilee, something of which I had not been aware, largely because this version of the Resurrection is not read all that often. One salient feature is that this whole going to Galilee was rather an ephemeral phenomenon. After Matthew, it vanishes from sight. Of the four stories, I believe that this one gets the least attention. Mark is the first, Luke is the most well-known for the same reasons we think of his nativity story in preference to Matthew’s story, which is the only alternative version.

So what happened? Not only did the idea of going to Galilee sort of fade, it faded to the point that a lot of people are not really aware of it; or is it just me? One obvious answer to that questions is that the focus of the growing movement shifted away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem. Mark had the  bit about Galilee, and Matthew followed him on that. But note that it’s like Matthew wasn’t really sure what happened in Galilee. We get Jesus sending out his disciples, so this passage has been called the Great Commission, but if it’s so great, why did Luke forget about it? Luke probably didn’t. Rather more likely is that the tradition of the church had turned towards Jerusalem, so Luke corrected Matthew to reflect this. Remember that Luke is the first evangelist who was undeniably aware of Paul; before Luke, we can’t be sure. And Paul tells us that the focus of the Jesus community after Jesus’ death was in Jerusalem, and not in Galilee; is that why Luke moved the action there? Remember, too, that Luke is the first–and only–writer to tell the stories of both the Ascension and Pentecost, the latter of which took place in Jerusalem. Then John splits the difference, and has part of Jesus’ post-resurrection career occur in Jerusalem, but then it moves back to Galilee. So there was, apparently, a pretty strong tradition tying the post-resurrection Jesus back to Galilee.

Why? Because it makes sense that people from Galilee would return there after the trauma of the loss of Jesus. But even more convincing, I think, are all the boring, mundane reasons: that’s where there homes and family and source of livelihood were. Jerusalem was a big city, and cities then, as now, are expensive. So sure, they returned to Galilee. Now here’s a thought: we’ve noted that the Magdalene appears during the Passion Story, and plays a prominent part in the Resurrection story. Perhaps this is because she provided sponsorship of the disciples–in Galilee. She would not be the first patron(ess) to get herself written into the story due to reasons of financial support. Perhaps her role did not come into prominence until after Jesus’ death. That would very nicely explain why she shows up in the narrative in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. It would also be a strong prima facie case to suggest that the Passion Narrative may have originated in the Galilean community. That is a thought that needs further consideration.

So that’s a bit of an eye-opener, I must say. And shame on me for not realizing this sooner than now. But then, this was intended as a voyage of discovery.

As for the Great Commission, the very last words of the gospel, there are a couple of points to be made. The first, of course, is that the event is a post-facto fiction, meant to explain from a point forty years after what happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death. It’s a foundation myth. The interesting inference that we, perhaps, can draw from this is that it suggests leadership of the community became situated in Galilee, when we know differently from Paul. What this implies, I believe, is that there was a period stretching most likely from the Destruction to the time of Luke, a period that includes Matthew, when the leadership of James, centered in Jerusalem, was either being suppressed or had largely been forgotten. Now, given Matthew’s desire to play up Jesus’ divinity, and the way he inversely downplayed the brothers of Jesus related in Mark, it’s not difficult to imagine that he may have known about the Jerusalem Community, at least to the point of being vaguely aware that it had existed; such minimal awareness, however, would have led to Matthew’s lack of value for James and his group almost as effectively as not knowing about it altogether, So I suspect Matthew did have some minimal knowledge about James, but not nearly enough for Matthew to value the role of James.

Perhaps the final point about the Great Commission is its emphasis on teaching the peoples, the non-Jews. I won’t use the term “gentile” because it does appear in either the Greek or the Latin; I’m not sure of the etymology–but I suspect it derives from the Latin gens, gentis, “peoples”, which is used in the Latin translation below. This is yet another indicator that this part of the story was created very much later than the life of Jesus, and probably even later than Mark. The first evangelist does have a few references to Jesus’ preaching to non-Jews; there is the Syro-Phoenician woman outside Tyre, for example, but the message has become much more prominent in Matthew. Think of the story of the centurion who does not believe himself worthy for Jesus to enter his home. References to non-Jews and their role in the kingdom (The Wedding Banquet; the invited guests won’t come) come early and often in Matthew. This Great Commission is the finishing touch, the pìece de résistance for this transfer of the center of gravity from Jews to pagans. Jesus himself ordained it so.

That’s it. It feels like there should be some grand words of conclusion here, but those will be saved for the summary. Thank you for your patience.

16 Undecim autem discipuli abierunt in Galilaeam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus,

17 et videntes eum adoraverunt; quidam autem dubitaverunt.

18 Et accedens Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Data est mihi omnis potestas in caelo et in terra.

19 Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes, baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,

20 docentes eos servare omnia, quaecumque mandavi vobis. Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi”.

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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 December 17, 2016, in Chapter 28, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Matthew's Gospel, passion story and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for some interesting thoughts.

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