Category Archives: Chapter 19

Matthew Chapter 19:13-30

This will conclude Chapter 19. The section is on the long side, but there was no place to break that wouldn’t distort the flow of the text, so we get it all at once. Much of it may not require specific comment. Of course, I always think/say that.

13 Τότε προσηνέχθησαν αὐτῷ παιδία, ἵνα τὰς χεῖρας ἐπιθῇ αὐτοῖς καὶ προσεύξηται: οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτοῖς.

14 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ἄφετε τὰ παιδία καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτὰ ἐλθεῖν πρός με, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

15 καὶ ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῖς ἐπορεύθη ἐκεῖθεν.

And then were brought forth children, so that his hands he would place on them and bless them. The disciples censured them. (14) But Jesus said, “Allow the children and do not forbid them to come to me; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens. (15) And he placing his hands on them, he went away from there. 

In heresies of the Middle Ages, the laying-on of hands was considered the mark of real holiness. I’m not sure when or how the established Church got away from that as a general practice, but the insistence of the heretics on this placement of hands seems to indicate that the Church had let this practice fall into abeyance. And having read as much of the NT as I have, I can see why the heretics were so keen to do this; it’s a very common thing for Jesus and the disciples to do. I do not know the origin of the practice, whether it’s Jewish, or pagan, or what; but it’s the sort of thing that is pretty obvious in many ways. I do want to point out, however, that the real origin of the practice was probably magical, and may in fact pre-date Judaism and other religions. I would not be surprised that the practice did not arise in hunter-gatherer bands, and that the shaman would do this as a means of healing, expelling spirits, etc. I think that for the authors of the NT, that meaning has largely been lost. Even so, I truly believe it’s a residual magical practice.

In the last chapter we also had a child as the exemplar of who will enter the kingdom of the heavens. Here we have it again. Coming as it does in close proximity to the previous child, my guess is that these two stories represent either a twinning of a single event, or that this was something Jesus actually did on a frequent basis. The frequency then gave rise to a number of stories relating this. I don’t think there’s much reason to debate which it is; I bring it up because the repetition in two successive chapters does amount to a bit of editorial clumsiness. It feels redundant, so I tend to lean towards twinning, but the other possibility is just about as likely.

I suppose another question to go with this is to ask what are the implications of each? If it’s a twin, it entails a bifurcation of the tradition. The same story came down to Mark/Matthew via two different streams. This is not surprising. The tradition was doubtless split into any number of threads; we’ve discussed this at length in relation to Mark. If it was repeated, then this represents a major theme of Jesus’ ministry. And I think this likely does trace back to Jesus. It is difficult to fit into another tradition; it’s out of place in the pagan world, and it doesn’t fit with Jewish tradition, either. If you think about it, the only pre-adult to appear in any capacity in the HS (OT) is David. Isaac appears as a potential sacrifice; there is the widow’s son that Elijah raises from the dead, but the implication is that he is an adult. So the sheer oddness of the idea, it would seem, implies that it was an innovation that traced to Jesus himself. Paul doesn’t mention this, but Paul–with a few exceptions–is not concerned with anything that Jesus did while alive; ergo, its absence in Paul is not entirely meaningful. The theme is in Mark, so it likely did not come through the filtre of James the Just.

So that is worth bearing in mind. 

13 Tunc oblati sunt ei parvuli, ut manus eis imponeret et oraret; discipuli autem increpabant eis.

14 Iesus vero ait: “ Sinite parvulos et nolite eos prohibere ad me venire; talium est enim regnum caelorum ”.

15 Et cum imposuisset eis manus, abiit inde.

16 Καὶ ἰδοὺ εἷς προσελθὼν αὐτῷ εἶπεν, Διδάσκαλε, τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω ἵνα σχῶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον;

And look (one) coming towards him (Jesus) said, “Teacher, what good things shall I do that I might have life eternal?

The position here is interesting. Not long ago, I posed the question of whether the Life–or life eternal–was the same as the kingdom of (the) heaven(s). The immediate juxtaposition of the children entering the kingdom and this one asking about life eternal seems to suggest that they are more or less the same thing. This equivalence is something that most Christians over most of the past 1900 years or so would have answered affirmatively without a second thought. Until very recently, it never occurred to me even to ask the question; of course they are.

So why do we have two different terms for the same thing? Terms that are not obviously related on the face of it. That is a question that I think has to be answered. And some part of this would depend on whether both phrases trace back to Jesus. If I had to come up with an explanation, I would suggest that “kingdom of God/heaven/the heavens” does trace to Jesus. But the idea of the Life may not have existed before Paul.

The phrase “the life/life eternal” appears in Mark and Matthew only in conjunction with two stories: this one, about the young man of wealth, and the story that recommends self-mutilation, that it is better to give up a hand, or a foot, or an eye and attain eternal life. Paul talks about eternal life most extensively in Romans–his last work. But he also uses it in Galatians, which is one of the first. What this tells me is that Jesus may have talked about the kingdom, but he may not have talked about the Life. And even with Paul, the idea of the Life was something that became part of his mature work, but did not play a large role in his earlier epistles; does this mean it wasn’t a large part of his thinking on what was to happen when Jesus returned? Or possibly before, when we died?

Now, we need to be careful here. We need to remember that in Jewish belief the faithful pray on Yom Kippur to be written in the book of life for the next year. And so we find another situation where something that is considered to be a hallmark of Christianity has, at the very least, its roots in Judaism, even if there may have been some minor adjustments during the transition into Christianity. So we have the book of life and eternal life that sound like very similar concepts. And let’s not forget that the idea of going into the Life maimed–minus a hand, foot, or eye–only makes sense if we think in terms of the resurrection of the actual body, rather than a spiritual body that is whole and sound. Recall that Paul even made reference to this in talking about Jesus’ post-resurrection body as being somehow different from the earthly body. Taking all of this as a complex of interrelated concepts, we may be justified in seeing the passage about cutting off hands or feet to enter the life as fundamentally Jewish ideas, however they’ve been modified.

Then the question becomes one of provenance. I am becoming convinced that the idea of the kingdom, albeit of God/heaven/the heavens does trace back to Jesus, even if he perhaps did not originate it. At least, I’ve become convinced that a decent, and perhaps strong, argument can be made for this. I’m not quite as sure about the idea of the Life. This does trace back to Paul as we have seen. And prior to Paul, the resurrection of the righteous and the idea of the book of life (or, Book of Life) can both be found in Pharisaical Judaism. So the question is why doesn’t “the Life” play a more prominent role in the gospels of Mark and Matthew? Glancing ahead, it appears that this idea becomes fully ensconced in Luke, and especially John, showing that it has become a bedrock principle of what, by then, can be called Christianity. 

16 Et ecce unus accedens ait illi: “Magister, quid boni faciam, ut habeam vitam aeternam?”. Qui dixit ei:

17 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός. εἰ δὲ θέλεις εἰς τὴν ζωὴν εἰσελθεῖν, τήρησον τὰς ἐντολάς.

And he (Jesus) said to him (the interlocutor) “Why do you talk to me about the good? One is good. If you wish into the life to enter, keep the commandments.”

Here we have a rare instance when the KJV is the least accurate of my crib translations. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that part of the reason the KJV is so hard to read is because it adheres most closely to the Greek; it’s not as nearly as bad as many of my translations, but it follows the literal sense more than most. Here, however, instead of talking about the good, Jesus asks, “why do you call me good?”, which the interlocutor does not do. Also, I have only rendered “one is good” because that is what the Greek says. Most translations add “only one is good”. Even the Latin below omits the “only”. Now, one can argue that the “only” is implied, and perhaps it is. But it’s not stated, so I have not added it to the translation.

My guess is that the KJV translated it the way it did because the passage in Mark does gave Jesus ask, “why do you call me good”, and also that “only” God is good.

Theologically, the “one is good” has some interesting implications. This seems like it could be the basis for some of the vitriol that came later about human nature is hopelessly depraved, and so cannot do anything to merit its salvation. Now the other thing is that this is always assumed to refer to God, but leaving out the “only” sure makes that a lot less certain, doesn’t it? Is this the original Jesus pointing to the Christ that is to come? That may be a stretch, but it’s not precluded by the Greek. It could be interpreted to mean something like that.

17 “Quid me interrogas de bono? Unus est bonus. Si autem vis ad vitam ingredi, serva mandata”.

18 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ποίας; ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Τὸ Οὐ φονεύσεις, Οὐ μοιχεύσεις, Οὐ κλέψεις, Οὐ ψευδομαρτυρήσεις,

19 Τίμα τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα,καί, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.

20 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ νεανίσκος, Πάντα ταῦτα ἐφύλαξα: τί ἔτι ὑστερῶ;

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Εἰ θέλεις τέλειος εἶναι, ὕπαγε πώλησόν σου τὰ ὑπάρχοντα καὶ δὸς [τοῖς] πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.

He (the interlocutor) said to him (Jesus), “Of what kind?” Jesus said to him, “Do not murder, do not adulterize, do not steal, do not witness falsely. (19) Honour your father and your mother, love your neighbor as yourself.” (20) The young man said, “All these I have guarded. What is the last?” (= the final, the ultimate, is there anything else?) (21) Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be completed (= perfected) withdraw, sell the things belonging to you, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens, and follow me here.” (here = hither, which implies motion towards as opposed to a static place “here”

The man’s response to the question about the commandments is interesting. Every Christian today knows that the “commandments” refers to the Ten Commandments. And one suspects that every Jew in the First Century would have known that, too. The man’s question implies one of two things: either he thought that Jesus might have some novel twist on the concept; or, he wasn’t a Jew who was familiar with the Decalogue. Which is more likely? The first possibility is hardly to be dismissed. Who knows what was said of Jesus? Who knows what sort of ideas about Jesus this young man brought to the moment of the question? Certainly he had heard about Jesus, that this was a novel teaching, or he taught novel things; so it’s no wonder that he would have had apprehensions about which commandments Jesus was telling him to follow. So it’s highly plausible. It’s much simpler, however, to infer that he was a pagan. Okham’s razor being what it is, this makes the second more plausible.

Or, there is a third possibility. Matthew inserted this question so that the pagans in the audience would understand what Jesus meant. Matthew realized that the pagans would not simply know what “the commandments” meant, so he put these words into the young man’s mouth to clarify that for these pagans. Now, we really can’t stretch this into more proof that Matthew himself was a pagan; he could have been very aware that pagans wouldn’t know about the commandments without being a pagan himself. It doesn’t hurt my position on this, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of support and/or evidence for this.

Should we ascribe this to Jesus? Or does it make more sense that it came from James? Offhand, I’d say the latter, largely because that’s what I want to believe in order to support my radical contention about the teachings of James. Against this we have the fact that this story is in Mark. However, the fact remains that the young man asks about eternal life, which is not a concept that is well-represented in Mark/Matthew. Here, I think, is where we can sort of glimpse at the complexity of the narrative sources. Different things came from different strands of the sources, and just because a concept appears in Matthew and Paul does not mean, necessarily, that Matthew got the story from Paul. Everyone wants to see affiliation where none may exist. The exception to this are those who refuse to believe that Luke knew about Matthew, preferring instead the existence of a document for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

18 Dicit illi: “ Quae? ”. Iesus autem dixit: “ Non homicidium facies, non adulterabis, non facies furtum, non falsum testimonium dices,

19 honora patrem et matrem et diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum ”.

20 Dicit illi adulescens: “ Omnia haec custodivi. Quid adhuc mihi deest? ”.

21 Ait illi Iesus: “ Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende, quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo; et veni, sequere me ”.

22 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ νεανίσκος τὸν λόγον ἀπῆλθεν λυπούμενος, ἦν γὰρ ἔχων κτήματα πολλά.

23 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πλούσιος δυσκόλως εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

24 πάλιν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

Hearing this speech, the young man went away being sad, for he was holding many possessions. (23) And Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen I say to you that the rich with difficulty into the kingdom of the heavens. (24) Again I say to you, it is more easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of God.”

The most interesting aspect of these two verses is the use of “kingdom of God” in Verse 24. Matthew almost never uses this term, but Mark uses it frequently. Here is a very clear case of Matthew almost, but not quite, copying Mark without much editing. In fact, a lot of the words in Mark are repeated by Matthew, even if in different forms. This is very clearly proof of the extent to which Matthew used Mark.Is it possible that Mark used Matthew, and sort of abridged the longer work? While there is a body of scholarship claiming this, it’s very much a minority opinion. I find it very difficult to conceive how anyone could actually take the idea seriously. 

22 Cum audisset autem adulescens verbum, abiit tristis; erat enim habens multas possessiones.

23 Iesus autem dixit discipulis suis: “Amen dico vobis: Dives difficile intrabit in regnum caelorum.

24 Et iterum dico vobis: Facilius est camelum per foramen acus transire, quam divitem intrare in regnum Dei”.

25 ἀκούσαντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο σφόδρα λέγοντες, Τίς ἄρα δύναται σωθῆναι;

Hearing this the disciples were driven out of their senses, saying to themselves, “Who then can be saved?”

I want to pause on this a moment. We touched on this in discussing Mark, but it very much bears repeating. In the amazement of the disciples, we get a very potent demonstration of the belief that wealth had a moral dimension. Put simply, there was a strong belief that all God’s friends were rich. The Jews believed this, as the story of Job amply demonstrates. But they were not alone: most cultures believed that the favor of God, or a god would be manifest on earth. And this idea has had pernicious and deleterious effects ever since, despite the fact that Jesus’ words here could not be more plain. This belief was lodged–implicitly–in Calvinism. As such, it was brought to the New World, especially by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay colony. And since Boston became one of the first commercially successful cities in the British colonies, and since New England exported its ministers to the rest of the country, this belief has become lodged in the culture of the United States, and is still operating to this day. It may not be explicitly formulated, but it’s all the more dangerous because of that; it’s a buried assumption, one that goes unchallenged.

What is particularly astonishing is that this belief persists, that it ever came into being, because Jesus couldn’t be much more clear here if he tried. And it always strikes me that many of those who refuse to countenance any interpretation of “what God has joined, let no man put asunder” will completely overlook this dictum about the eye of the needle. Selective application, indeed.

25 Auditis autem his, discipuli mirabantur valde dicentes: “ Quis ergo poterit salvus esse?”.

26 ἐμβλέψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Παρὰ ἀνθρώποις τοῦτο ἀδύνατόν ἐστιν, παρὰ δὲ θεῷ πάντα δυνατά.

Looking them in the face Jesus said to them, “For humans, this is not possible, but for God all is possible.  

Notice that God is now omnipotent. We are so used to this notion that it’s ofttimes easy to forget that God was not always considered thus. Certainly the pagan gods, for the most part, were not truly though to be omnipotent as we understand the term; none of them were responsible for creation ex nihilo, as occurred in Genesis. But even YHWH was never truly omnipotent; it appears that he could be surprised by the outcome of events; why create Adam and Eve and tell them not to eat the fruit if he knew full well that they would? This is the quandary that Calvin sought to solve. But God did not truly become omnipotent until systematic theology had been invented through the marriage of the Scripture to Greek philosophy. This passage anticipates that development by a couple of centuries, at the least; but the NT is not fully consistent on this, and it’s especially not internally consistent. These inconsistencies were the cracks in the pavement that eventually spawned heresies. 

After all that, what really matters is that Jesus is basically saying that the rich can only be saved through the sheer omnipotence of God. That is a glaring contradiction to what Peter said in the previous verse, when he assumes there is a large moral component to being wealthy. Jesus is flatly denying that, cutting against the grain of the thinking of most cultures at the time. As such, it’s very progressive thinking for the time.

Now, an interesting thing came up while I was thinking about whether this actually originated with Jesus. I looked into the various forms of “wealthy” in Strong’s Concordance. (The root in Greek is “plousios”, the root of “plutocracy”.) What I found was that the word, in any form, is barely used by either Matthew or Mark. The latter uses some form of the word about three times; once in his version of the story, once during the explanation of the parable of the Sower, and once in the tale of the Widow’s Mite. Matthew uses it twice here, once with the Sower, and the last time to describe Joseph of Arimathaea, who is said to be “rich”. That’s it. It becomes more popular in Luke, but Paul uses it a lot in 1 Corinthians and especially Romans. It also shows up a lot in the deutero-Pauline letter to the Ephesians, and a number of times in the fairly short letter of James. 

So here Jesus is being very hard on the rich, but it’s almost a one-off as a theme in the first two gospels. And this is despite the fact that it wasn’t uncommon in Paul’s letters, documents that pre-date the gospels. And this particular story is really the only one in which the idea of wealth is really intrinsic to the point of the tale. That is, the idea of wealth was imported into the thinking of Mark and Matthew pretty much solely in conjunction with this story.

I also looked up the instances of the use of the terms “possessions” and “poor”. Interestingly, neither of these are show up much in Mark and Matthew, either, both of them occurring at approximately the same frequency as “wealth”.

The implication is pretty clear here. As much as we think of the poor being a major theme of Christian thought, the fact of the matter is that it just isn’t really all that important in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. This is something to consider.

26 Aspiciens autem Iesus dixit illis: “ Apud homines hoc impossibile est, apud Deum autem omnia possibilia sunt”.

27 Τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν πάντα καὶ ἠκολουθήσαμέν σοι: τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν;

28 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ὑμεῖς οἱ ἀκολουθήσαντές μοι, ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ, ὅταν καθίσῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ, καθήσεσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐπὶ δώδεκα θρόνους κρίνοντες τὰς δώδεκα φυλὰς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ.

29 καὶ πᾶς ὅστις ἀφῆκεν οἰκίας ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ ἀδελφὰς ἢ πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ἢ τέκνα ἢ ἀγροὺς ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου ἑκατονταπλασίονα λήμψεται καὶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσει.

30 Πολλοὶ δὲ ἔσονται πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι καὶ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι.

Then answering, Peter said to him, “Look, we left behind everything and followed you. What will be ours?”

28) And Jesus said to them, “Amen I say to you, that you, those following me, in the regeneration, when the son of man is seated upon the throne in his glory, you will also be seated upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29) And all who have left behind home, or brothers or sisters, or father or mother or children, or fields because of my name a hundredfold will receive and eternal life will be their allotment (share of the inheritance).

Just need to insert a word. This phrase << ἑκατονταπλασίονα >> (a hundredfold) is not in all ms traditions. It appears there is variant reading of <<πολλαπλασίων>>. That would be significant, because according to Strong, the only instance of this word is in Luke’s version of this story. If it were here, too, this would pretty much prove that Luke copied Matthew because it would be the equivalent of being proven a cheater by copying someone’s wrong answer. So this is an important textual variation. And I have two different texts with the Matthew/Luke  <<πολλαπλασίων>>. OTOH, the L&S cites the Gospel of Matthew as an example of “hundredfold”. It does not recognize the other word.

30) For many will be first who are last and last (those who are) first.  

Aside from the textual issue mentioned, what jumps out here is “regeneration”. This is a legitimate Greek word. The question is, what does it signify in this context? Well, L&S cite Mt 19:28 as an example of this word being used to mean “resurrection”. Otherwise, it is a term from Stoic philosophy, as in the regeneration of the cosmos, which signifies the cyclical nature of existence; everything is a cycle, including the universe as a whole. Interestingly, none of my crib translations render it as “resurrection”, despite L&S; this is another example of why I get a little nervous about NT dictionaries. They tend to make it up as they go along. And the only other use of this in the NT is in Titus.

As with the hundredfold, the translation of this word matters. Maybe because I’m familiar with Stoic philosophy, but the use of the word there makes perfect sense. It was thought that history was cyclical, in the way life overall was cyclical. It didn’t repeat, but the cosmos ended and restarted, again and again and again. It was Augustine who came up with the idea of linear time; otherwise, this would mean that Jesus’ coming was not a unique event, but something that has happened and would happen again. This didn’t work for him, so he re-cast our understanding of the progress of time, bending it from a circle into a straight line. Or perhaps a ray is the more technical term: a fixed origin with an infinite extension. For even though the world would end, the righteous will spend eternity in the presence of God, who is beyond time.

This just occurred to me. Did Matthew slip here? Did he slip into his pagan way of thinking? Was he thinking about Stoic philosophy, so he used a concept he borrowed from them? That would be about as close to definitive proof that Matthew was a pagan as we could ever expect him to state explicitly. It would mean L&S was wrong, but either Liddell or Scott was a churchman, so his point of view would have been strongly Christian, which could certainly influence his conception of the word as used here. He would take it on faith (ahem) that it referred to the resurrection even though the term came from Stoic philosophy. Contra this, the term is used for the rebirth of the world after the flood in Genesis in the Septuagint; so Matthew as a Jew–Greek-speaking, but Jew nonetheless–could have gotten the term there. We have seen that Matthew probably got the virgin birth from the (mis-)translation of Isaiah to predict that a “virgin” would give birth.

Here is where my theory on the Twelve has some significant ramifications. If, as I suspect, the Twelve were instituted after Jesus died, then there is no chance that he said this bit about the twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes. Then the question becomes, if Jesus didn’t say this, did he say any of this? If he did, which parts go back to Jesus, and which are later? 

To be honest, I would suspect most of the verse 27-30 post-date Jesus. To be just as honest, I’m not sure I can construct a valid–or even worthwhile–argument to support this. Peter’s question is the sort of thing that could be experienced either by Jesus’ immediate followers, or by those that came later. And I did try to construct something to demonstrate that the circumstances described here were more appropriate for a later group, but I was unsuccessful. My instincts tell me this is a later addition, but “instincts” do not make a good argument, The part about the Twelve, I am sure, is later, but that does not necessarily invalidate the rest. I believe it does–or may–but my beliefs are no stronger proof than my instincts. 

On the face of it, there is nothing in these verses to indicate that we are presented with a situation that involves circumstances faced by Jesus’ immediate followers, or those faced by a later group. That’s the surface view. After more consideration, however, I think this falls into the “later group” scenario. The implication here 

The last point here involves the eschaton. Once again the use of “son of man” indicates that this is taken mostly from Mark. For the most part, Matthew uses “son of man” in passages that he has extracted from Mark. Here is a situation in which the coming end, brought about by the Parousia, by the coming of the son of man. As is true in Mark, this passage could be read to imply that Jesus is talking about someone else, that he is not identifying himself as the son of man. The other point about this is that the vision presented here is not terribly dissimilar to that of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. Thus, we have to ask, once again, if this came from Jesus, or if it came from Paul? This matters, because if it’s from Paul, it would help support the idea that the entire passage dates from a time after Jesus. The number of times that Jesus refers to the Parousia in Mark are very limited, and are not entirely intrinsic to the rest of the text. There are any number of legitimate NT scholars–JD Crossan comes to mind–who are dead certain that Jesus’ primary message (or one of them, at least) was the coming End. Personally, I’m not sure I buy it. He bases a lot of his position on the idea of Jesus’ use of “kingdom of heaven/God/the heavens”. However, I remain semi-agnostic on this; I haven’t done the requisite homework, or fieldwork, or footwork of pulling out all the references and doing the compare/contrast and exegesis.

To end, the last line about the first/last transposition is, from what I understand, classic apocalyptic rhetoric. I don’t recall who, but one of the legitimate scholars I read described apocalyptic literature as sort of the last revenge/refuge of the downtrodden. The point of this literature is to envision the day when the current oppressor is overthrown, is pitched headlong into eternal fire, and We the Downtrodden take our rightful place as the divine favourites. People in offices talk like this all the time, about the boss getting his comeuppance. As such, this last/first transposition is probably something that could have been said or written at any time during the time Judea was under the heel of either the Seleucid or Roman Empires. As such, it’s not much help in figuring out if this traces to Jesus. Even if we could be dead certain he did say this, who’s not to say that he didn’t get it from someone else? It’s too universal as a statement of desire. 

27 Tunc respondens Petrus dixit ei: “Ecce nos reliquimus omnia et secuti sumus te. Quid ergo erit nobis?”.

28 Iesus autem dixit illis: “Amen dico vobis quod vos, qui secuti estis me, in regeneratione, cum sederit Filius hominis in throno gloriae suae, sedebitis et vos super thronos duodecim, iudicantes duodecim tribus Israel.

29 Et omnis, qui reliquit domos vel fratres aut sorores aut patrem aut matrem aut filios aut agros propter nomen meum, centuplum accipiet et vitam aeternam possidebit.

30 Multi autem erunt primi novissimi, et novissimi primi.

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Matthew Chapter 19:1-12

So now we start Chapter 19. Once again, we get material from Mark; this time it’s the discussion about divorce.

1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, μετῆρεν ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια τῆς Ἰουδαίας πέραν τοῦἸορδάνου.

2 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ.

And it happened that Jesus finished these stories, they left from Galilee and they came to the boundaries of Judea on the shore of the Jordan. (2) And the crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

This is the residual of Mark’s wonder-worker stories. Matthew cannot get rid of them completely, but he can certainly underplay them. A lot. Given that I’m seeing the hand of James–not Jesus–in much of the material that is in Matthew but not Mark, I’m being forced to think very critically about how his earliest followers saw Jesus. Given that so much of Mark up to Chapter 8 deals with the wonders Jesus worked, and only minimally with parables, it’s hard not to conclude that this was a very significant aspect of Jesus’ identity for many early followers. Not all of them, certainly, because we have the Pauline corpus that tells a very different story. 

1 Et factum est, cum consum masset Iesus sermones istos, migravit a Galilaea et venit in fines Iudaeae trans Iordanem.

2 Et secutae sunt eum turbae multae, et curavit eos ibi.

3 Καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Φαρισαῖοι πειράζοντες αὐτὸν καὶ λέγοντες, Εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀπολῦσαι τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν;

And came to him Pharisees testing him and saying, “If it is allowed for a man to release his wife for all reasons. 

Here we have the question about divorce. Since there is really nothing here that we didn’t discuss when reading this in Mark, I’m going to withhold comment until the end; with the possible exception of some minor points.

3 Et accesserunt ad eum pharisaei tentantes eum et dicentes: “ Licet homini dimittere uxorem suam quacumque ex causa?”.

4 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ὅτι ὁ κτίσας ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς;

And he answering said, “Are you ignorant that the creation from the beginning male and female he made them?”

4 Qui respondens ait: “ Non legistis quia, qui creavit ab initio, masculum et feminam fecit eos.

5 καὶ εἶπεν, Ενεκα τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ κολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.

And he said, “Because of this a man leaves behind his father and his mother and becomes joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

5 et dixit: “Propter hoc dimittet homo patrem et matrem et adhaerebit uxori suae, et erunt duo in carne una?”.

6 ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία. ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.

 

In this way they are not two, but one flesh. Thus, that which God has yoked together man must not separate”.

6 Itaque iam non sunt duo sed una caro. Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet ”.

7 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Τί οὖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο δοῦναι βιβλίον ἀποστασίου καὶ ἀπολῦσαι [αὐτήν];

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command to give a little book of standing away and releasing her?”

“Little book of standing away is a very, very literal translation for what should be called “a writ of divorce”, or something such. 

7 Dicunt illi: “ Quid ergo Moyses mandavit dari libellum repudii et dimittere? ”.

8 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Μωϋσῆς πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἐπέτρεψεν ὑμῖν ἀπολῦσαι τὰς γυναῖκας ὑμῶν, ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς δὲ οὐ γέγονεν οὕτως.

He said to them that “Moses towards the hard-heartedness of you allowed you to release (= divorce) your wives, from the beginning it was not thus.” 

This is put rather differently than the way it was in Mark. There is no real change in the implication, nor does it show any real development of the concept (as far as I can tell at the moment), but seems more like an expression of editorial independence. It does emphasize that it was the allowance of Moses that was the aberration, rather than the norm. As such, Jesus is not changing anything, but restoring the natural order. This may require additional comment below. 

8 Ait illis: “ Moyses ad duritiam cordis vestri permisit vobis dimittere uxores vestras; ab initio autem non sic fuit.

9 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται.

“I say to you that he who may divorce his wife, unless for fornication (translit = ‘pornia’) and marries another adulterizes”.

“Pornes”, our root of “pornography” in Greek generally refers to prostitution. However, in Christian usage, it comes to be equated with, or used for, any sort of sexual irregularity. Part of the problem is that “prostitution” in English cultural usage is necessarily a bad thing, something that is considered morally reprehensible in all circumstances, and something that is generally banned as criminal behaviour. For many cultures in the ancient world, however, there were often sacred rites connected to what we would call ‘prostitution’. The classic example are those that are called “temple prostitutes”. Far from being sinful behaviour, this was a sacred rite. What we have is the age-old pastoral puritanism reacting against the fertility rituals of the agriculturalists. Among the latter, this sort of sacred sex was not at all unusual, and was certainly not bad. I have resisted translating anything with the “porn-” root as fornication, but there is no doubt that this is what the complex of words based on this root meant for authors of the NT.

Actually, we’re going to go off on something of a tangent in the following verse, so I’ll make my general comments on the divorce decree now.

Since the whole fornication topic is still fresh, let’s discuss this first. If you have ever been through a divorce, or know people who have, you will realize that the real issues of divorce revolve around the property. The concept of fornication, especially by the wife, relate to the knowledge of who the legitimate heir of the property is. In patriarchal societies–most of them in the ‘civilised’ world, especially Greece and Rome and Judea–property was passed from father to son. As such, the father had to be–or wanted to be–damn certain that the son was actually his. In the Middle Ages, this led to the daughters of nobles being socked away in a convent until they were of marriageable age–which generally meant puberty. These poor girls often went straight from the convent to the marriage bed so the nobleman who married them could be certain of her virginity. And this is also the genesis of the custom of a year’s mourning for a woman whose husband died: that way, it was certain that she wasn’t pregnant when the late husband died. Now, men who fornicated could–and often did–produce illegitimate children. In the case of males these could muddy up the lines of inheritance, so the term “bastard” became one of reproach. However, there was not the same level of horror of male fornication that was there was for the wife fornicating. In fact, a queen committing adultery was also committing treason. The idea was she could give birth to a son that would or could be considered legitimate, meaning this son was a rival claimant to the throne on the king’s death. 

So yes, it involves property.

When reading this in Mark, I did not comment on the “restoration” aspect of this passage. It is very important to note that Jesus is not–in his mind, at least–doing anything novel. Rather, he sees this as a restoration of the “natural” way, in which mating was for life. It was only the hard-heartedness of the ancient Israelites that had messed this up. This is a fairly significant change in attitude. First, we need to consider whether this actually dates to Jesus. It’s in Mark, so there’s not a lot of argument that this should be attributed to James. It’s hard to untangle what Paul would have, or did think of this. He wasn’t real keen on marriage, but he wasn’t keen on divorce, either, even as a means to living a celibate life. There is no obvious reason here to believe that it did not come from Jesus. But Paul believed that the end was coming soon, so he saw no reason to consider things like this. His advice was to remain in whatever state you happened to be in, whether single or married. Nor is there is any context, or internal inconsistency to preclude the provenance from Jesus, as there is for more obvious situations that would only have arisen after he died. I cannot think of, or discover, any real objection to attributing this to Jesus. That’s not the same as proving he said it; rather, it’s the argument from either ignorance or silence, which in a case like this are effectively the same thing. We don’t have any evidence one way or the other.

So let’s assume this did come from Jesus; indeed, that it’s such a break with Jewish tradition may be evidence that it did come from Jesus. Why would he make this pronouncement? Why make this break, when he made so few others? I’m not sure I have an answer for this. Offhand, it seems like a puritanical reaction, an attempt to return to a more pure state when the law, or The Law, did not interfere with the natural order. Is this something that came, ultimately, from the Baptist, or from the sort of puritanical minds that created this sort of “pristine-state” thinking? That is a possibility. Really, the more I consider this, the odder it seems. And since many people still point to this passage as an absolute prohibition of divorce, this oddity has real-world implications. 

So, given my lack of imagination on this, I am forced to leave the topic. Perhaps more ideas will have occurred to me by the time I’m writing the summary for this chapter..

9 Dico autem vobis quia quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, nisi ob fornicationem, et aliam duxerit, moechatur”.

10 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ [αὐτοῦ], Εἰ οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ αἰτία τοῦ ἀνθρώπου μετὰ τῆς γυναικός, οὐ συμφέρει γαμῆσαι.

His disciples said to him, “If it is thus, the cause of men with his woman, one should refrain to marry”.

Two things. First, this is not a question. The disciples are drawing an inference and stating it. Second, the disciples are presented as intelligent enough to draw this inference. Since this is not in Mark, this seems to be another attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the disciples. They are not the dullards that we met in Mark.

But the real issue is that it’s very tempting to read this an not see Paul behind this. Let’s face it: Paul was much more concerned about this sort of thing in general, and with sexual morality in particular, that we’ve found in the gospels so far. With the exception of the passages about causing others to stumble, or recommending self-mutilation, Jesus is pretty much silent on sexual morality. So yes, the influence of Paul seems very prominent. 

That leads us to a decision: is it more likely that this came from the influence of Paul, or was it simply something deduced independently? First, let’s specify that this almost certainly does not trace back to Jesus given the oddity of the situation and it not being part of Mark. Second, it is highly unlikely that this one aspect of Pauline teaching entered the stream of general teaching by itself. Most often, when an earlier source influences a later source, there are multiple clues pointing to the earlier source. That we seem to have a one-off would weigh against the inclusion of Paul. But, OTOH, maybe we just haven’t noticed the other instances of influence. This one seems fairly obvious because of the way it’s stated. The question of whether it’s better to marry (than to burn with lust) is couched in language very similar to the way Paul addressed the question, so the possible affiliation is obvious. 

So once again, the evidence is ambiguous. Really, there’s no reason that this could not have been arrived at independently, but the way it’s put makes affiliation seem likely. As a result, I defer judgement, or a final conclusion, for the moment. If I see no other indications of fairly obvious debts to Paul, I will have to infer that this was an independent development. But then, I haven’t considered the possibility that Matthew got this–and this alone–orally, from someone who had been exposed to Paul to some degree. That would account for the way the inference is put in Pauline terms, without requiring that Matthew knew the Pauline corpus in whole, or even in part.

10 Dicunt ei discipuli eius: “ Si ita est causa hominis cum uxore, non expedit nubere ”.

11 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐ πάντες χωροῦσιν τὸν λόγον [τοῦτον], ἀλλ’ οἷς δέδοται.

He said to them, “Not all ****** [this] idea, but to those (to whom) it is given.”  

I am having trouble rendering <<χωροῦσιν >>. In classical usage, it’s sort of a synonym for “to go”, especially as in “to leave”. Yet my NT dictionary, all my crib translations, and even the Latin render this as “receive”. One thing that disturbs me is that all the commentaries just swallow “to receive” without, well, comment. Here once again I have to question NT scholarship. For all the noise made about going back to the Greek, here is an instance where it appears a lot of translators stopped at the Latin. Realize that the unabridged Liddell & Scott give cites for unusual uses of a given word. For example, I was puzzled by something in Herodotus (I, 31), and lo! there it was, cited in the L&S. And even if we take this as “receive”. the passage then reads “not all receive this, but (‘only’ implied?) those to whom it is given”. That’s basically a contradiction. How can one receive it, unless it has been given? Think of it this way: “not all to whom it is given receive it, but only those to whom it is given”.  The “to whom it is given” is logically necessary if one receives it. Yes, the meaning is “obvious”, but only because we believe it to be so. We’re taking St Jerome’s word for that.

11 Qui dixit eis: “ Non omnes capiunt verbum istud, sed quibus datum est.

12 εἰσὶν γὰρ εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς ἐγεννήθησαν οὕτως, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνουχίσθησαν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. ὁ δυνάμενος χωρεῖν χωρείτω.

For there are eunuchs, those from the mother’s womb born this way, and there are eunuchs who were eunuchized by men, and there are eunuchs who eunuchize themselves on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let the one who is able to receive it, receive it.

Again with the <<χωροῦσιν >> in the last sentence. This time, I just conceded and let the consensus translation stand.

Because, really, the more interesting part of this is the first bit about eunuchs, whether congenital, created, or self-made. The last is interesting: are we to take this literally? Were men literally castrating themselves because of the kingdom of the heavens? I know that one of the patristic thinkers did, but which one I don’t recall. I do recall Norman Cantnor’s assessment: he found sexual continence a problem, so he castrated himself, “an eminently logical solution”. In actuality, the literalness of this is only a problem for fundamentalists; for, if we take this as figurative, what else are we to take as figurative? “I am the vine, you are the branches”?

I think the point here is to go back to our question about “better not to marry”. This whole idea of self-eunuchizing really ties back to that. And both of these are very Pauline in their outlook. Paul spent a lot of time discussing things like this. The fact that we have both the “better not to marry” and this bit makes me lean towards an overall awareness of at least part of the Pauline corpus. Perhaps 1 Corinthians, if not other works. So perhaps our question has been answered, because I believe this is the only–or one of the very few–places in the gospel in which sexual continence is considered necessary for entrance into the kingdom of the heavens; that is, the sole example excluding the passages that recommend self-mutilation. 

12 Sunt enim eunuchi, qui de matris utero sic nati sunt; et sunt eunuchi, qui facti sunt ab hominibus; et sunt eunuchi, qui seipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum. Qui potest capere, capiat”.