Category Archives: Chapter 20

Summary Matthew Chapter 20

This has been a long time coming, and my apologies for that. Real life has a way of forcing its way to the top of the priorities list.

As presented, the chapter falls into two separate sections. The first is the tale of the Workers in the Vineyard. The purpose of the story, I believe, is to present us with the difference between the concepts of justice and mercy. This is a significant development in proto-Christian theology; it represents something new, a concept or doctrine or point of view that was not in Mark. The overwhelming number of experts/scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel written, but there is a minority opinion that says otherwise. I believe that it should be taken as “settled” that Mark wrote first, and situations like this are the best evidence of why I believe this. Introducing mercy is a development, an addition to the basic message provided by Mark. This shows a higher level of compassion, one that actually goes against the grain of many “righteous” people. A couple of years ago I would have smugly, but erroneously, suggested this as a big step in the transition from Judaism to Christianity, but that would have been an artifact of bad religious education as a kid. Now, thanks to an opening of my learning boundaries, I understand the importance of social justice issues in Judaism, and understand that these are not Christian innovations in the least. Indeed, how many times did the Israelites “do evil in the sight of the Lord”, and yet the Lord did not smite them as they deserved? Countless times. Time and again the Lord forgave his difficult children and accepted them back as “his” people. And that is certainly mercy as opposed to justice; in fact, it’s pretty much the definition of “mercy”. Justice is receiving good things when we deserve them; mercy is receiving them when we don’t.

Now, here’s a radical take on this. What if this emphasis on mercy originated, not with the more famous brother, but with James, brother of the Lord? One of my contentions, or suspicions, is that the message of James permeated the various communities more thoroughly in the period between Mark and Matthew. As such, we get a much more vanilla Jesus in Mark, one focused on the kingdom, but in Matthew we get a Jesus who is more concerned with how we treat others. This is not absent in Mark; far from it. But it doesn’t get the emphasis that it does in Matthew. In fact, the greater part of the message of the so-called “Q” is largely concerned with social justice; think of the Beatitudes. Granted. as with my Matthew-as-pagan contention, this idea that much of “Christianity” derives ultimately from James is far from being proven. In fact, I haven’t really worked it into anything resembling a decent argument; as such, there is no need, or even reason, that either of these ideas have to be taken seriously. But they do have to be considered, I believe. And I need compile the evidence I can find for such contentions and see if they deserve to be given the status of theory.

Along with this is my “have-it-both-ways” position on Q. While I deny the existence of Q, I’m often admitting that there were multiple sources, or even demanding that there were multiple sources available to Matthew. This story of the Workers in the Vineyard is a terrific example. It’s not in Luke, so it can’t be from Q; ergo, it’s ascribed to M material: sources available to Matthew and not to Luke. My question is why Matthew could not be the author of the tale? Along with James, I think the evangelists are often overlooked in their role of contributing to their material. Why? The easy answer is that no one wants to consider this because of what this implies about the material. If everyone agrees that Matthew had a special source, we can all agree that the material in the source could actually trace back to Jesus. If, OTOH, we accept that Matthew and Luke and John also contributed to the material themselves, then that possibility vanishes. That is, if Matthew wrote this parable, then Jesus never said it.

This grates across our modern sensibilities that insist that, to attribute words to someone, we have to be sure that the originator of the words actually wrote or spoke them. Anything else is deliberately misleading the reader. The ancients did not feel this way. No doubt I’ve mentioned it, but Thucydides explicitly tell us that he did not hear many of the speeches that he records. So, he tells us, he is recreating them according to his judgement of what would have been said at the time and under those circumstances. And Thucydides was in a position to know; he had been one of the ten strategoi who ran Athens, until he was ostracized by his political opponents. Interestingly, this is pretty much what Paul tells us about how he learned the gospel. We would say that he was “inspired”. In the same way, Thucydides could say he was “inspired” to report the “proper” words. So we could say that Matthew was “inspired” to know what Jesus said–or, at least, the sort of things that Jesus would have said under the circumstances. But that’s not enough. It’s not good enough. We have to maintain that there was a direct pipeline to Jesus through which his word could flow, unimpeded, to Matthew.

The point? If pressed, I would suggest that this story was the creation of Matthew himself. Why could not the man who so “masterfully” organized the “Q” material into the Sermon on the Mount have created a parable that’s not so different from those Jesus told.  Except, it’s not like the parables Jesus told. Think of the Sower: a straight narrative. This one has multiple characters, dialogue, and overall a more literary feel. It reads more like a story; one could say it reads more like fiction, but that would carry some additional implications that are unwarranted. Perhaps. But the idea that Matthew composed this, rather than that it came through some anonymous source from Jesus, would also explain how and why the new theme of mercy vs justice crept into the narrative. That is, it helps explain how and why the message of Jesus evolved.

Evolution of message is also a big part of the rest of the chapter. All the stories in the second part were in Mark; but Matthew’s treatment of these stories also demonstrates considerable evolution of message, attitude, and the conception of Jesus. To demonstrate this, consider the following examples. All represent slight changes to the story as told by Mark. First, when Jesus is predicting that he will be scourged and mocked and executed, Matthew chose to leave out  the “be spat upon” that Mark included. Surely, this is because while Jesus may be killed, being spat upon is much too unseemly. Second, it is no longer James and John who ask to be seated at Jesus’ right and left, it is their mother who more or less comes out of nowhere to ask her question. Just as it is unseemly for Jesus to be spat upon, so it’s unseemly for the Sons of Thunder to be asking for such preferential treatment. Both of these show that Jesus is much less of the rough-and-tumble sort depicted by Mark. The ragged human edges are being smoothed out, he’s lost the crest of anger that was often shown in Mark, he’s become rather more elevated by being less human. And so have James and John, and the disciples in general. This is the process of deification taking hold, where Jesus’ divinity is unquestioned, and even the disciples are becoming somewhat more heroic.

Finally, there is the story of the blind men. Here, Matthew essentially conflates what are two separate stories in Mark. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida, and then Bar Timaeus outside Jericho. Matthew neglects the latter’s name and puts them together outside Jericho. In the story of the man in Bethsaida, Mark tells us how Jesus spat into the man’s eyes. Rather undignified. More, it’s one of a number of such episodes in which Mark describes what I call “magical practices”.  The two best examples are the Bethsaida episode described and the one where Jesus makes mud from his saliva. Matthew omits both. I suspect this is because, while we think of the healings as miraculous proof of Jesus’ divinity. Oddly, in the ancient Near East, such miracles were produced by wonder-workers, who were not particularly uncommon. As noted, Paul mentions this as one of the gifts that members of the community might have, and it was fourth or fifth on the list. So, in Matthew’s eyes, what we call Jesus’ miracles are not especially something to brag about. They are, if not exactly disreputable, then sort of a minor sideshow to the main event. This certainly demonstrates how the legend of Jesus had grown, how the perception of him had evolved and developed.


Matthew Chapter 20:17-34

Chapter 20 here continues and concludes. Most of this is contained in Mark, so once again it will be  interesting to notice the differences, and to speculate on why Matthew made the changes he did.

17 Καὶ ἀναβαίνων ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα παρέλαβεν τοὺς δώδεκα [μαθητὰς] κατ’ ἰδίαν, καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

18 Ἰδοὺ ἀναβαίνομεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδοθήσεται τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ γραμματεῦσιν, καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτὸν θανάτῳ,

19 καὶ παραδώσουσιν αὐτὸν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εἰς τὸ ἐμπαῖξαι καὶ μαστιγῶσαι καὶ σταυρῶσαι, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγερθήσεται.

And going to up to Jerusalem, Jesus took the Twelve [disciples] in private, and on the road he said to them,

18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the son of man will be handed over to the high priests and the Scribes, and they will condemn him to death.

19 And having handed him over to the peoples to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and on the third day he will be raised”.  

First, this starts exactly like so many paragraphs in Mark: << Καὶ >>; the base meaning of which is “and”. Sometimes it means “as well as”, or “but”, or even “or” in the conjunctive sense–among other things.  Here, it just means “and”, as it usually does in Mark.

Second, while we’re on the grammar, the “to be mocked, scourged, and crucified” are all aorist infinitives preceded by << εἰς >>, a preposition very commonly used to indicate motion towards. So, it’s “for the purpose to mock/scourge/crucify”, but it’s in the aorist, so there is a sense of past tense, in the sense of a completed action, a “one-and-done” sort of thing. The idea of such an infinitive is a bit alien to English, especially when it’s referring (supposedly) to something that has not happened yet; but infinitives are, originally, substantives (which encompasses the idea of “noun”, but with a slightly broader scope). The result is that English can’t really and truly be bent to get across all the implications of this. “To mock/scourge/crucify” will have to do.

A lot of this is almost verbatim from Mark, but there are a few differences. In the list mock/etc, Mark added “to spit on him”. Matthew deletes this; one would guess he thought this beneath the dignity of Jesus. Kill him, sure, but don’t spit on him. Here we can see the sort of reaction against the undeniable fact of the crucifixion setting in; the earliest followers–well, Paul, anyway–insisted on the crucifixion and made little or no attempt to downplay it. Here Matthew becomes a little squeamish about the whole affair, one suspects, and so made some attempt to gloss over one of the more appalling details of the affair. While I’ve been insisting on the growth of the legend by the accretion of small details, in this case I think the removal of the one infinitive indicates a deliberate editorial change made by Matthew.

That this is a case of after-the-fact “prophecy” has been, I believe, established as well as it can be. Anyone who believes this is actual prophecy is not engaging in historical discussion.

17 Et ascendens Iesus Hierosolymam assumpsit Duodecim discipulos secreto et ait illis in via:

18 “ Ecce ascendimus Hierosolymam, et Filius hominis tradetur principibus sacerdotum et scribis, et condemnabunt eum morte

19 et tradent eum gentibus ad illudendum et flagellandum et crucifigendum, et tertia die resurget”.

20 Τότε προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου μετὰ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῆς προσκυνοῦσα καὶ αἰτοῦσά τι ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons prostrating (herself) and asking something from him. 

This requires an immediate comment. This is a very significant alteration from Mark. There, the sons made their own request; here, we have their mother doing it. Really? First, we were told back in Verse 17 that Jesus was with the Twelve, in private. Now, we have the mother of James and John. Now, while Mark did say that Jesus went off with the Twelve while the rest of the disciples hung back, Matthew said nothing of the sort. Does he assume that the distinction between the Twelve and the disciples was self-evident because it had been specified in Mark? He doesn’t feel the need to tell us this, presumably because he thought it was self-evident. Really, this sort of detail, the fact that Matthew omits it, is pretty strong evidence that Matthew had a written copy of Mark in front of him. So much is verbatim, but Matthew omits a couple of things; the first because he found it distasteful, this second because he didn’t feel it necessary because it was obvious to him. Of course it was only obvious because the text in front of him made this distinction explicit.

More, the way Matthew produces the mother of James and John from nowhere is a pretty good indication that he had the larger crowd of disciples clearly in mind when he produces her like this. Otherwise, he’s sort of conjuring her out of thin air. So, in contrast to the omission of “to spit on him” from Verse 19, the addition of an entirely new figure on the scene is a fine example of the way a legend grows. There is the school of thought which says that Mark abridged Matthew, which allows them to believe that Matthew was the first gospel written, and the removal of the mother of James and John from this scene would be indicative of this abridgment. But this ignores the details that Matthew omits, which I believe indicate Mark’s priority.  

Because the addition of their mother to ask on their behalf is editorially consistent with the message Matthew is trying to convey. The disciples here are not the dullards portrayed in Mark. The disciples in Matthew understand things; a process of heroic elevation is occurring, in which Matthew begins the apotheosis of the disciples into superhuman status, a process to be completed (more or less) by Luke in Acts. Just as it was unseemly to think of Jesus being spat upon, so it was unseemly for the sons of Zebedee, the Sons of Thunder to ask Jesus to be elevated in the kingdom. So Matthew has their mother do it for them. This way, Matthew can include the story, but remove the onus of guilt from two of the chief disciples, members of the Twelve. 

20 Tunc accessit ad eum mater filiorum Zebedaei cum filiis suis, adorans et petens aliquid ab eo.

21 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Τί θέλεις; λέγει αὐτῷ, Εἰπὲ ἵνα καθίσωσιν οὗτοι οἱ δύο υἱοί μου εἷς ἐκ δεξιῶν σου καὶ εἷς ἐξ εὐωνύμων σου ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου.

22 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε: δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Δυνάμεθα.

He said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “I ask in order to sit the two sons of mine on the right of you and on the left of you in your kingdom”. 

Answering, Jesus said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the drink which I intend to drink?” They said to him, “We are able”. 

Here we come across something close to a dead give-away that Matthew is copying Mark, but adding his own details where it suits his purpose. In English, it’s generally impossible to distinguish between you-singular and you-plural; however, like all the Indo-European languages with which I am familiar it’s not only possible, it’s basic grammar. He asks the mother, “what do you-singular want”, but answering, he says “you-plural do not know what you ask”. That is, the first is directed to the mother, but the second to the sons, just as occurs in Mark. There, the sons asked the question, and Jesus gave this same response. This sort of forgetting that he was changing what he was copying, only to slip up and revert to the original is known as “editorial fatigue”. Matthew wanted to change the scene, but half-way through he forgets that he’s making the change because he got tired, so he just started just copying the response Jesus gave in Mark. And it is copying; it’s pretty much verbatim.

Mark:  Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε. δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω,

Matthew: Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε: δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν

OK, Matthew added a word, but otherwise there is no change. Of course, this extra word may actually have additional implications that we’ll get to in a moment. First, I want to talk about “editorial fatigue”.

Really? Matthew couldn’t keep his focus long enough to make all the necessary changes in what is not a terribly long passage? And the fact that this term exists indicates that this is not an isolated case. I have not yet paid the kind of word-by-word attention to the differences between the two gospels to know exactly how often this fatigue occurs, but it appears to be, if not frequent, then not exactly a rare occurrence. I find that rather striking. What does it say about Matthew’s consistency of message? Of his focus? He’s trying to impart an immortal Truth, but he can’t keep his mind on what he’s doing long enough to make the changes necessary to distinguish himself from Mark? Again, really?

Now let’s talk about that extra word. << μέλλω >>. Liddell & Scott give the first definition as “to be destined”. The NT Dictionary in the Great Treasures site translates this as “shall/shalt”. There is a bit of difference there. The first entails compulsion, or at least the arrangement of one’s life by an outside agency; the second reduces that to a bland future tense. Now, there are ample examples of the word being used both ways by Classical authors, that Classical authors used it to denote a “purely temporal sense” as L&S put it.  

Regardless, this is a classic example the sort of situation that really makes me nervous about NT dictionaries, translations, etc. The idea of being fated, destined for an outcome is very, very Greek. In fact, the idea of Fate, Tyche, Fortuna, of an inexorable fate permeated much of Greek thought in Hellenistic times, and it was partly, if not largely, reacting against this that the idea of human free will became so central to later (i.e., Third/Fourth Centuries) to Christian thought. As such, there is a real reason to read this in a Christian context as “that I shall drink”; reading it in a more Greek fashion “that I am destined to drink” simply would not do. As a bit of an aside, and as sort of an appeal to a tie breaker, let’s look at the Latin. It is a future perfect “that I will have drunk”. It’s a clever move; it sort of splits the difference between the two Greek readings. There is a mild–very mild–implication of compulsion expressed; the point, however, is that the Latin does not use a simple future tense, just as the Greek did not. Why not? Because the author/translator did not want to use a standard future tense. Why not? And it’s also interesting to note that L&S do not cite this passage as an example of the “purely temporal sense”. Remember, Scott was ordained and a professor of Exegesis of Holy Scripture, so he was certainly familiar with the passage. (Incidentally, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland for Liddel’s daughter, Alice. Fun fact!) 

Because another interesting aspect of this is that the word–or a form thereof–occurs only twice in Mark. One is in 10:32, his version of this passage. And there, the KJV translates as “the things that should happen”. This is a subjunctive; it expresses both unreal conditions and compulsion: “it should happen, but it may not”. The second time Mark uses it is in Chapter 13, his “Little Apocalypse”, which the KJV again renders as events that “should happen”. Matthew, OTOH, uses the word a lot. So does Luke; John uses it freely, if not as promiscuously as Luke. All this is by way of offering this as another bit of evidence that Matthew was Greek, culturally if not ethnically, for whom the idea of “Fate” or “Destiny” was ingrained. It is generally agreed that Luke was Greek, and he is very fond of the word. But Matthew isn’t that far behind. Now, it must also be said that Paul uses the word, with at least implications of Fate hanging in the background. And there is the idea of prophecies to be fulfilled; pretty much by definition, the idea of a prophecy being fulfilled is a synonym for “Fate”, even if the two concepts are not exactly identical.

So a Greek idea, expressed in Greek terms. Perhaps we’re still short of conclusive, but the case, I think, is growing.

21 Qui dixit ei: “Quid vis?”. Ait illi: “Dic ut sedeant hi duo filii mei unus ad dexteram tuam et unus ad sinistram in regno tuo”.

22 Respondens autem Iesus dixit: “Nescitis quid petatis. Potestis bibere calicem, quem ego bibiturus sum? ”. Dicunt ei: “Possumus”.

23 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τὸ μὲν ποτήριόν μου πίεσθε, τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου καὶ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν [τοῦτο] δοῦναι, ἀλλ’ οἷς ἡτοίμασται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου.

He said to them, ‘Even if the drink of mine you will drink, the sitting on the right and on the left is not mine to give, but to those prepared by my father”. 

Just a note: the “if” is not intended to imply non-real circumstances; the Greek has the << μὲν…δὲ>> construction. This is usually rendered as “on the one hand…on the other…” The idea is that there is a connection between the drinking and the sitting on the right and left. The “if…then” that I have used is not terribly faithful to the Greek, but it’s the best I could come up with. Perhaps if I were doing this another day, I would have a better translation.

Aside from that, this is one of those passages where the difference between the father and the son is very stark. If this stature in the kingdom is not Jesus’ to give, but the prerogative of the father, the two cannot be identical. It’s the same as the son not knowing the hour of the destruction to come, even though the father does know. This part of the passage is, indeed, in Mark, so it’s his thought rather than Matthew’s. Now, given Matthew’s concern to show Jesus as divine, it’s interesting that this was left in here. It’s doubly interesting because, most probably, Jesus did not say this. As with all the prophetic utterances, my suspicion is that they were added to the text later. Even so, perhaps this one had become too deeply ingrained to be removed. We always need to remember, however, that those who were reading and hearing these words were not theologians, or historians, parsing every word for implications and possible contradictions with other passages. That came later, when the church became established–to some degree, at least–and they had to start fighting what came to be seen as heresy. Passages like this embedded in the context of Matthew’s Christology provide a very lucid glimpse into how fluid the situation still was in the second half of the First Century.

23 Ait illis: “Calicem quidem meum bibetis, sedere autem ad dexteram meam et sinistram non est meum dare illud, sed quibus paratum est a Patre meo ”.

24 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ δέκα ἠγανάκτησαν περὶ τῶν δύο ἀδελφῶν.

25 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς εἶπεν, Οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἄρχοντες τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν.

26 οὐχ οὕτως ἔσταιἐν ὑμῖν: ἀλλ’ ὃς ἐὰν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν μέγας γενέσθαι ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος,

27 καὶ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος ἔσται ὑμῶν δοῦλος:

28 ὥσπερ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν.

24 And hearing, the ten became indignant about the two brothers.

25 But Jesus calling them together to him said, “You know that the leaders of the peoples lord over their others and the great exercise authority their others.

A quick note on the Greek:  << κατεξουσιάζουσιν >> is a word unique to the NT. As such, one suspects Rev Scott maybe got to shade the meaning to his liking. Of course, it’s a fairly neutral word, not one with theological implications. In its most literal sense, it is something like “being worthy downwards”. So this could be taken as being worthier than those below (kata) you. IOW, it’s not a bad construction. And the “lord it over” is a pretty literal translation of a compound verb.

26 “Do not like this be to you. Rather, he who might among you great to be be the minister to you.

27 “And he would wish among you to be first let him be the slave of you.

28 “So in this way the son of man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister to and to give his life (psyche) in ransom/atonement/sum for redemption/recompense against others. .

Far and away the most significant part of this passage is the penultimate word: << λύτρον >> (transliterated = ‘lutron’). This word in this form appears exactly twice in the NT: here, and in the corresponding passage in Mark. Note all the words separated by slashes I used to translate. That is because the word can mean any–or all–of those things. I bring this up because the theory of why Jesus had to die, what purpose his death served, became an enormously weighty subject of debate by the Third Century or so. And note that “ransom” and “atonement” are not exactly synonyms in English. The word comes from the verb “luo”, which in its base meaning is “to loosen”. So the idea is that the son of man’s death will loosen many from…whatever it is that is holding them. “Sin” would be a good candidate as the thing holding, I suppose. If you step back to think about it, there you can perhaps see the link between “atonement” and “ransom”. Another meaning could be “get out of hock”, as in paying off the loan from the pawn shop and getting your item back. L&S do cite this (and Mark’s) passage for use of the word, and they include it in the “ransom” part of the definition, which is the most common meaning. Of course, we should then have to ask “ransom to whom?”, but we won’t. That would be an entire discussion on its own, and would not be one truly germane to the topic at hand.

I said it appears twice in this form. It does appear several more times in a verb form, but most of those are in Luke, and these are usually (KJV) translated as “redemption”. Now, since we can redeem a pawn, this does still work. But “redemption” has overtones in English now; “redeemer” is a synonym for “saviour”, but they are, more or less, the same thing. It’s just that these words are fraught with religious overtones in English that may not be present in the original. Overall, though, the base meaning is “ransom”, so let’s stick with that. “Atonement” is sort of a fringe meaning for the term, and I think that “atonement” and “redemption” sort of fall together in one grouping, while “ransom” and “pay off a pledge/hock” fall into another.  So when we get to Luke, we have to remember to substitute “make ransom” for the KJV’s “redemption”.

We talked about most of the other aspects of this section when we discussed the corresponding passage in Mark. The part about the other ten growing indignant is another of those little touches that Mark includes, ones that make the disciples around Jesus something less than an ideal group of individuals. Now, the part about the son of man and the ransom is after-the-fact; this question of James and John, OTOH, could be authentic, at least at first glance. It is sort of an awkward question. And it does really sort of underscore how uncertain the idea of the kingdom was as we have it presented. We’ve gotten through three of Paul’s letters, and we’re more than halfway through the second gospel and I’m still not entirely clear on what Jesus means by this. And neither, apparently, were the disciples. At least, that is how Mark portrayed them, and Matthew does nothing to correct the record on this score, at least on this topic. In other places they understand parables that Mark’s group didn’t, but here the idea that the sons of Zebedee would ask to be seated at the right and left shows a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. And these are two of Jesus’ closest companions, ones that witnessed the Transfiguration, and yet they still don’t quite get it here. They have to have it explained to them that the order has been inverted, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. So, after going through that, there is nothing standing in the way–nihil obstat, is how it is stated when a publication passes the tests of censors of the Roman Catholics and they allow it to be printed by declaring, imprimatur, which literally is “let it be published”–there is nothing that has made me think that this could not be authentically Jesus. In fact, the very cheekiness of the question demonstrating the vagueness of the concept and the unclarity of understanding probably augurs in favour of authenticity. That, and the fact that it’s also in Mark put the likelihood of authenticity something above 50%, I would say.

24 Et audientes decem indignati sunt de duobus fratribus.

25 Iesus autem vocavit eos ad se et ait: “Scitis quia principes gentium dominantur eorum et, qui magni sunt, potestatem exercent in eos.

26 Non ita erit inter vos, sed quicumque voluerit inter vos magnus fieri, erit vester minister;

27 et, quicumque voluerit inter vos primus esse, erit vester servus;

28 sicut Filius hominis non venit ministrari sed ministrare et dare animam suam redemptionem pro multis”.

29 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ Ἰεριχὼ ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολύς.

And they having gone out from Jericho a great crowd followed him.

Having just consulted a map of Judea & Galilee in NT times, I see that Jericho is on the road to Jerusalem if one is traveling south from the Decapolis, through which, or along which one would come from Caphernaum. I hadn’t realized we were in Jericho; at the beginning of the chapter we were simply told that Jesus was going upcountry to Jerusalem. It’s of little consequence.

29 Et egredientibus illis ab Iericho, secuta est eum turba multa.

30 καὶ ἰδοὺ δύο τυφλοὶ καθήμενοι παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, ἀκούσαντες ὅτι Ἰησοῦς παράγει, ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, [κύριε], υἱὸς Δαυίδ.

30 And look, two blind men seated by the road hearing that Jesus approached, cried out, saying, “Pity us [lord], son of David!”

Note two things. In Mark, this is the Bar-Timaeus story. So here we have two changes. First, instead of a single man, we have two; second, the blind men have no names as they did in Mark.

30 Et ecce duo caeci sedentes secus viam audierunt quia Iesus transiret et clamaverunt dicentes: “ Domine, miserere nostri, fili David! ”.

31 ὁ δὲ ὄχλος ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα σιωπήσωσιν: οἱ δὲ μεῖζον ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, Ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, κύριε, υἱὸς Δαυίδ.

32 καὶ στὰς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐφώνησεν αὐτοὺς καὶ εἶπεν, Τί θέλετε ποιήσω ὑμῖν;

33 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἵνα ἀνοιγῶσιν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἡμῶν.

34 σπλαγχνισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἥψατο τῶν ὀμμάτων αὐτῶν, καὶ εὐθέως ἀνέβλεψαν καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

31  The crowd heaped scorn on them in order that they be silent. But they cried the louder, “Pity us, lord, son of David!”

32 And standing, Jesus called to them and said, “What do you wish that I might do for you?”

33 They said to him, “Lord, in order that they open our eyes.”

34 Feeling compassion, Jesus grasped their eyes and immediately they looked about and they followed him. 

First, a bit on the Greek. The verb <<σπλαγχνισθεὶς >> is only found in the NT. However, it’s used almost a dozen times, and this is a sufficiently large sample to see how it fits in the different contexts. A quick glance at the uses, and “feeling compassion” seems to be a reasonable translation for the word. In this case, I don’t see any reason to cavil about the meaning.

Second, in Verse 34, the word for “eyes” is not the standard “opthalmos” (hence, opthamologist). It’s a word that’s seldom used in prose. So why did Matthew choose it here? Probably because Mark used it when telling the story of the blind man Jesus cured by spitting into his eyes. More on that in a moment. Also in Verse 34, the word I used for “grasped” is a bit out of the ordinary, in the sense that this isn’t a word that would normally mean “touch”, which is the standard translation for the word. Once again, Mark used the same word in the same way in 8:22-26, the story about the blind man already cited, about the blind man whom Jesus cured by spitting into his eyes.  

So let’s put this all together. We have two words, an usual word, and a common word used in an unusual way, that link this passage to Mark, to a degree that direct copying is the only plausible explanation. Fine. No one really disputes that Mark and Matthew have a direct link. But Matthew handles the story very differently. First, he basically condenses two stories into one: that of Bar-Timaeus with that of the blind man from Bethsaida. Second, Matthew completely omits the bit about Jesus spitting in the mans’s eyes. Such behaviour is unseemly, and not befitting someone truly divine. Jesus simply says the word and the deed is done. This Jesus is more elevated than the other. In church a few weeks ago, we heard the part of 1 Corinthians 12 in which Paul enumerates the various gifts that are given to different members of the assembly. One of them is the gift of miracles. Oddly, however, this is well down on the list. Apostles and prophecy are the most significant; miracles and healings are fourth and fifth on the list, below teaching. So miracles, or healings which this is technically, are not the most esteemed of the gifts that a member of the assembly can manifest. If this is true of mortals, then how much less impressive are such gifts when demonstrated by the Son of God, the divine Messiah? The result is that Matthew downplays the miracle stories; they are shorter, less full of detail, and especially they are lacking in those descriptions of what I call “magical practice”. These are the parts of the story with Jesus spitting into the eyes of the blind, or making mud with his spittle.

The point of all this is to ask whether Matthew wrote before or after Mark. There is still a minority opinion that Mark abridged Matthew; I’ve never read a spirited defense of this, so I cannot honestly pronounce a reasoned judgement on the opinion. To me, it seems patently obvious that Mark wrote first, and comparisons like these make it all the more obvious. Feel free to disagree.

31 Turba autem increpabat eos, ut tacerent; at illi magis clamabant dicentes: “ Domine, miserere nostri,  fili David!”.

32 Et stetit Iesus et vocavit eos et ait: “ Quid vultis, ut faciam vobis?”.

33 Dicunt illi: “ Domine, ut aperiantur oculi nostri ”.

34 Misertus autem Iesus, tetigit oculos eorum; et confestim viderunt et secuti sunt eum.