Category Archives: Chapter 5

Summary Luke Chapter 5

This chapter was a bit of a catch-all, with no central theme. We had the calling of the first disciples, a couple of miraculous healings together with some grumbling, and we ended up with some fasting and parables. The parables were of the new wine in old skins, and the patch of new cloth on an old garment. I really haven’t go into the very obvious symbolism of the new/old distinction, largely because it was so obvious I’ve missed it until now. Or, because I’m just not attuned to nuance like this. Whichever. The point being that all three gospels set this aphorism into more or less the same context: the comparison of Jesus’ disciples to those of John. In the latter case, John stood squarely and solidly within the context of Jewish tradition; Jesus, OTOH, was something new. He was the new wine that will burst the skins, or the new cloth that will tear away from the old garment. Or, at least, he is those things in the first two gospels. I just noticed something else here: the implication of the new wine bursting the old skins is that Jesus brings a new message, one that is not, and cannot be contained–or constrained–by the old way of doing things.

Luke, however, adds a new little quip onto the end of this that actually contradicts the implication left by 2M. Here, Luke adds that, after having the old, no one wants the new. This volte-face is puzzling on the face of it. Most of the commentaries that I skimmed through agree that it is a reference, of course, to the old/new dichotomy represented by John and Jesus. The preference for the old supposedly is a reflexion or commentary on the inherent conservatism of people in general, and perhaps the Jews–or, at least, the Jewish followers of John–in particular. And, since no better, or even other explanation or interpretation presents itself, this may be a reasonable way to take this, even if it does feel a bit strained. But then, one has to realize that, while Luke is a good writer and thinker in general, that’s not to say he nails every single point he makes; every once in a while he’ll throw up a brick (basketball analogy = take a bad shot). So it is a bit of an awkward addition, but OTOH, it can be said that it does provide a new take on the theme of the Messianic Secret as we’re seeing in Luke. The Jews tasted the old, and they tasted the new, and preferred the old, so they did not convert to become followers of Jesus, but remained in their old ways. I will, however, continue to suggest as I did in the commentary that this did work to connect Jesus to that old tradition; at least, I believe that it was meant to do that. The level of effectiveness is debatable, of course, but a bad shot is still a shot.

That was actually to start at the end. The beginning of the chapter has us calling the first disciples. Luke adds a whole additional piece of narrative with Jesus convincing the fishermen to follow him by a “miraculous” catch of fish. I put that in quotes because it’s really not a true miracle in the sense that the laws of nature are contravened, but it does demonstrate a level of divinity that Jesus could effect this event the way he did. Was this addition necessary? Not really, but that is not the question that should be asked. Rather, we should ask what the addition accomplished. Back when we had the first iteration of this story in Mark, we pointed out that it was a very remarkable thing that these men left their occupation, their home, and their family to follow Jesus. My contribution was that, if Jesus had lived in Caphernaum, then he was likely known to these men, so perhaps their action was not quite the dramatic break that it may have seemed at first glance. Did Luke sense this, too, which caused him to add the new bit? And which caused him to insist that Jesus was from Nazareth, to the point that he moved the “a prophet is without honor in his own land” story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than holding it for numerous chapters as 2M did? That is certainly possible. But then we have to stop and realize that, per Luke’s own narrative, this was not the first encounter between Jesus and Peter. In Luke, by the time we get to the calling of the disciples, Jesus has already been to Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. So there is a temporal anomaly here. We don’t have to see any real significance to this muddling of time; Luke simply wasn’t concerned about keeping the order intact. He kept the stories in their larger context: the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law came after the synagogue, as it did in the other gospels, but the sequence of that story and the calling of Peter is scrambled.

However, it is worth pointing this out for one very big reason. Much of the “argument” for Q rests upon the Luke’s arrangement of the so-called Q-material vs the “masterful” arrangement of Matthew. In fact, this is most of the argument for Q. So to demonstrate that Luke had absolutely no qualms about rearranging Mark’s material would, or at least should, indicate that Luke put stuff wherever he chose without being unduly constrained by where his predecessors put things. Luke moved the episode of the Peter’s mother-in-law to a location that, really, doesn’t make sense vis-à-vis the story of the calling of Peter. Given this, why should he be reluctant to mess up the Q material? Especially if Q did not exist? If Q did not exist–and there is absolutely no evidence that it did–then Luke is not changing the order or arrangement of the Q material. He’s changing the order and arrangement of Matthew’s material. But, since he does the same with Mark’s material, this re-arrangement of Matthew’s material is not particularly noteworthy, is it?

The middle section of the chapter involves two healings, the first of a leper, the second of the paralytic on the litter. The latter includes the discussion about blasphemy because Jesus forgave the man’s sins. In both the scenes, Luke incorporates elements from different episodes in Mark, merging them into a composite that I have so charmingly been calling a “mash-up”. Setting out on this summary, I was not aware of how many miracles Mark reported vs the number reported by Luke. I went through both gospels and listed what I found in each. The end was that both had reasonably equal amounts, about 22 each. The lists may vary, depending on whether preaching apocalypse should be considered a miracle, or whether I missed the feeding of the 4,000 in Luke. Regardless, the point is the same. While Luke may reconstruct some of the stories of Mark, the former adds his own variations and his own different stories, such as the healing of a group of ten lepers which is unique to him. Given that, I’m not sure what inferences, let alone conclusions, we can draw from the places where Luke diverges from Mark, with the one possible exception. Luke is, apparently, not interested in simply retelling Mark; Luke sets out to tell a new version of the story, with a lot of new material. To make room for this new stuff, perhaps he felts it best to compress some of the older stuff. And even then, though, my characterization of these scenes as “mash-ups” is probably a bit irreverent, and needlessly so; in fact, perhaps it crosses into inaccurate. Luke may have filled in one story with details from another, but these borrowings–which assumes I’m even accurately describing what Luke does–really do not change the overall picture, or the overall sense of the story. There’s no new theological insights to be gleaned, no real indications of a development of the beliefs of the community or communities. We should look for those in the completely original material.

So far, the completely original material has dealt with what we would call a prequel–the story that happened before the story. What did that tell us? As I see it, this material wasn’t completely original, at least in conception. The stories of the Zecharias and Elisabeth and the pre-natal Baptist and the Annunciation, the census and no room at the inn are not entirely novel in outlook. With these sections, Luke is not adding new thoughts per se; rather, he is extending the trend begun by Matthew, who set out to demonstrate the cosmic significance of the birth of Jesus. Matthew did this largely through the star and the magoi; Luke took this a step–many steps, actually–further, extending it to Mary and her kin, by including the Baptist in the family tree, by substituting Simeon and Anna for the magoi.  Of course this reflects on the Q “argument”, but we’re not going there at the moment. We will; just not immediately. There wasn’t much to say about this chapter as a whole. I don’t know if that will continue, or if additional reading will open up new vistas.

That is the problem with the approach I’ve taken; it’s not scholarly. I have not read ahead, taken copious notes, and carefully plotted Luke against what has come before. Rather, it’s been more of a Wild-West show, shoot from the hip and ask questions later. The former approach, of course, is, well, scholarly and considered, taking what is said in the context of what else has been or will be said. That approach is useful for certain things. But the go-into-it-blind approach is better for capturing spontaneity. How does what we read stand on its own? What does it–and it alone–tell us? What is the stark message and implications of just this particular passage? What does it say before we water it down by putting it into the context of everything else? Those, too, are important questions, and ones that don’t get asked often enough. It’s time–long past time, actually–to shake things up a little bit, to shake the tree and see what may fall out that we did not expect.


Luke Chapter 5:27-39

This will conclude Chapter 5. We change gears a bit, moving from miraculous healings to more human teaching and human interaction. There’s a bit of a kick at the end, though.


27 Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἐθεάσατο τελώνην ὀνόματι Λευὶν καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι.

28 καὶ καταλιπὼν πάντα ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ.

29 Καὶ ἐποίησεν δοχὴν μεγάλην Λευὶς αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ: καὶ ἦν ὄχλος πολὺς τελωνῶν καὶ ἄλλων οἳ ἦσαν μετ’ αὐτῶν κατακείμενοι.

30 καὶ ἐγόγγυζον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίετε καὶ πίνετε;

31 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλὰ οἱκακῶς ἔχοντες:

32 οὐκ ἐλήλυθα καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν.

And after these things he came and he beheld a tax collector named Levi seated among the tax collectors and he (Jesus) said to him, “Follow me”. (28) And leaving all of them behind, standing he (Levi) followed him (Jesus). (29) And he made a great reception/feast (root of the word is “spectacle”) in his house. And there was a many crowd of tax collectors and others who were with him reclining (i.e., reclining to eat). (30) And murmured the Pharisees and the scribes of them (the general crowd) towards the disciples of him (Jesus) saying, “On what account with the tax collectors and of the sinners does he eat and drink?” (31) And answering Jesus said to them, “The healthy do not need having a healer, but those having diseases. (32) I have not come to call the just, but the sinners towards repentance.”

Directly out of the gate we run into a situation where Luke once again agrees with Mark and ignores the change made by Matthew. Of the three, Matthew alone says that Levi’s was also called Matthew, while Luke & Mark neglect to add this. It is based on this slender reed that the first gospel was ascribed to Matthew, the thinking being that the Matthew named here was the same man as the evangelist. Of course, if we accept the later date (ca. 85) for the composition of that gospel, the equation of the two is well-nigh, but not completely, impossible. Either way, the agreement of #2 and #3, of course, is evidence for Q. Then, at the very end, Luke adds something that is not in either of the first two: calling the sinner to repent. Here again, Luke follows Mark, where Jesus utters this aphorism in this same context, while eating with tax collectors. In Matthew, this comes later, in Chapter 9, when the disciples of John come to question Jesus if he is the one.

As I’ve been working my way through these books of the NT, one thing that has consistently surprised me is the extent to which so much of the “Christian” morality code was taken over directly from Judaism. One aspect in particular that has stood out is the concept of social justice, of caring for those less fortunate. Of course, this surprise is the result of a good Christian (Roman Rite) upbringing, in which Christians were all-good, and Jews were, well, something less than that. Here’s another reason why having people actually read the Bible was not necessarily desirable for about a thousand years. As for my education on the matter, better late than never, I suppose. The point, however, is that I have the sense that what we are witnessing here is novel. Jesus is consorting with tax collectors. These are not lepers, or the poor, but the rich, and the despised rich. “Collaborate” has been a buzz-word in the corporate world for the past handful of years, but where I come from “collaborator” was not a term of praise. Quite the opposite. A collaborator was a quisling, or in America a Benedict Arnold. I’m reading a book about Vichy France, where the government collaborated with the Nazis after 1940, and some of these collaborators were executed for their pains. Just so, tax collectors were collaborators, working with the Romans to collect taxes from the subject population. It made them wealthy, yes, but it also made them outcast, to some extent anyway, among the Jewish population. So Jesus is not consorting with the poor, those who have no means, but with those who have an excess of means, mostly extorted from fellow compatriots. This, I believe, is new, a new proscription for behaviour. That the sick, not the healthy need a doctor, just so it’s the sinners who need to repent.

I don’t mean to say that the idea of repenting is Christian; far from it. The idea of the Chosen People repenting their sins and turning back to YHWH is one of the most constant themes found in the HS. Rather, it’s the idea of who is doing, or should be doing the repentance. Sinners, yes, but mainly to the extent that respectable persons are sinners, and it’s the respectable who should repent. Or have I picked that up from observing too much American Christianity? With it’s claims to love Jesus while kicking the poor when they’re down? I think the distinction comes with the transition from the idea of a corporate repentance, that of the Chosen People as a body, to the idea of individual repentance, where the individual sinner changes his way of thinking (metanoeite in Greek) and thereby changes the way he or she behaves. That, I think, is the novelty–and the ultimate appeal–of Christianity, the reason it, rather than Mithraism, became the dominant religion in the later Roman Empire: the individual salvation. Even then, Christians did not invent the concept; this is something that many Hellenistic religions practiced. As some of the more collective cults were swallowed up, cults of Isis, for example, filled in the void for the individual seeking some sort of religious experience. Christianity was the heir and successor of these “Eastern Mystery Religions” as they’ve been called. And here we see the marriage of this idea to that of the universal siblinghood professed by the Stoics. We are all siblings, we can all find…some sort of ultimate religious experience. My inclination is to say “redemption”, but this has a very specific origin and etymology. It’s the redeeming of a pawn pledge, the buying back of an item from the pawn broker. That is what “redemption” means. But a more generic term escapes me at the moment.

27 Et post haec exiit et vidit publicanum nomine Levi sedentem ad teloneum et ait illi: “Sequere me”.

28 Et relictis omnibus, surgens secutus est eum.

29 Et fecit ei convivium magnum Levi in domo sua; et erat turba multa publicanorum et aliorum, qui cum illis erant discumbentes.

30 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae eorum adversus discipulos eius dicentes: “Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducatis et bibitis?”.

31 Et respondens Iesus dixit ad illos: “Non egent, qui sani sunt, medico, sed qui male habent.

32 Non veni vocare iustos sed peccatores in paenitentiam”.

33 Οἱ δὲ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου νηστεύουσιν πυκνὰκαὶ δεήσεις ποιοῦνται, ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ τῶν Φαρισαίων, οἱ δὲ σοὶ ἐσθίουσιν καὶ πίνουσιν.

They said to him, “The disciples of John fast frequently (and) they make prayers, just as the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

Here I think is where we come upon one of the fundamental reasons why Jesus stands at the beginning of a novel tradition, while John stands in the midst of an older one that continued. This goes back to the so-called Synod of Jerusalem, when Paul and James the Just duked it out over the Jewish dietary (and other such) practices; the most notable, of course, was circumcision. And here we have what is essentially a dispute, or at least a bit of a contention, or something like an uneasiness about this. But make no mistake–this is completely an ex-post-facto insertion from a time long after Jesus was dead. We’ve discussed this; there are points in 2M where Jesus declares positively that no animal is unclean, and Peter has a dream in Acts to confirm this. Nonsense. The questions raised by the “Synod of Jerusalem” would never have been an issue if Jesus, or even Peter, had said this. That Paul admits having a disagreement with James on this topic is all the evidence that we need to know that Jesus made no such proclamation. And this question about the difference between Jesus and John’s disciples is more of the same debate, or the debate put in another format. John’s disciples stood firmly in the ancient Jewish traditions; they are just like the Pharisees, after all. The disciples of Jesus, OTOH, had started down a different path. So we get this little exchange to give pre-emptive sanction to the change of behaviour of Jesus’ later followers. Yes, they were Jews, or at least claiming the ancient heritage of Judaism, but they did not practice the whole of the Law. Galatians explained why.

33 At illi dixerunt ad eum: “Discipuli Ioannis ieiunant frequenter et obsecrationes faciunt, similiter et pharisaeorum; tui autem edunt et bibunt”.

34 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Μὴ δύνασθε τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν ποιῆσαι νηστεῦσαι;

35 ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι, καὶ ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐνἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις.

36 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ἀπὸ ἱματίου καινοῦ σχίσας ἐπιβάλλει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν: εἰ δὲ μή γε, καὶ τὸ καινὸν σχίσει καὶ τῷ παλαιῷ οὐ συμφωνήσει τὸ ἐπίβλημα τὸ ἀπὸ τοῦ καινοῦ.

Jesus said to them, “Are the sons of the bridegroom able in which (time) them the bridegroom is with them to make a fast? (35) The days will come, and when taken away from them is the bridegroom, then they will fast in those days. (36) They say the analogy towards them that ‘No one coverings of new cloth puts upon tears in an old garment; if so, will not the new tear and from the old the new covering will not agree the with the new.”

That’s some pretty gnarly grammar there. For whatever reason, I’m back on the hyper-literal kick; but this passage is so well known that there’s likely to be no harm. The word I’ve rendered as “tear”, as in “rip/rend” transliterates to “schizo”. Added to the word for mind, “phrenia”, we get a modern psychological diagnosis. And the concept of the “sons of the bridegroom” is really interesting. Not really sure what that might mean, or can mean. And the word used is “son”; it’s not “pais”, which could be “boy”, as in the sense of “servant”. It is almost always and exclusively used as “son”, as in biological progeny. So, at best, this seems to be something of a mixed metaphor. Finally, the word rendered as “analogy” transliterates to “parabolē”. It’s the root of both “parabola” and “parable”. To this point, I’ve usually given it as parable, but every once in a while it’s good to mix it up and remind everyone that “parable” is another of those words that have come to us from the Greek with a very specific, very religious meaning attached to it. That was not the case back then. And here is the danger of “New Testament Greek”; it’s too much of a closed, self-referential, and even circular set of definitions. This really, very much distorts the way we read the text if we think that “baptizo” has the special meaning that has for us. The same is true for “parable”. This was not a special word.

More interesting is that the prediction of the day to come when those sons will fast seems to contradict what went before it. We just had our bit about Jesus standing outside the Jewish tradition, but now his later followers will step back into it? I don’t think we need to read too much into this. Fasting was a fairly common religious practice. It still is, for that matter. This seems to imply that Jesus and his followers are not so far off the beaten path after all. (*See comment to next verse.)

34 Quibus Iesus ait: “ Numquid potestis convivas nuptiarum, dum cum illis est sponsus, facere ieiunare?

35 Venient autem dies; et cum ablatus fuerit ab illis sponsus, tunc ieiunabunt in illis diebus ”.

36 Dicebat autem et similitudinem ad illos: “ Nemo abscindit commissuram a vestimento novo et immittit in vestimentum vetus; alioquin et novum rumpet, et veteri non conveniet commissura a novo.

37 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς: εἰ δὲ μή γε, ῥήξει ὁ οἶνος ὁ νέος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκχυθήσεται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοὶ ἀπολοῦνται:

38 ἀλλὰ οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινοὺς βλητέον.

39 [καὶ] οὐδεὶς πιὼν παλαιὸν θέλει νέον: λέγει γάρ, Ὁ παλαιὸς χρηστός ἐστιν.

“And no one throws new wine into old skins. Indeed if it were not, the new wine would burst the old (skins), and they would spill out and the skins will be destroyed. (38) But new wine is put in new skins. (39) [And] no one drinking old wishes new. For it is said, ‘the old is good’.”

The last sentence of the last verse is unique to Luke. He added this to the text that was available to him in Mark (and Matthew, if you believe me about Q). Not sure if you can see it, but there’s also a bit of a pun involved. The word “good” is “chrestos”, which is obviously darn close to “christos”. In fact, in the Life of Nero by Suetonius, the followers of “chrestos” are blamed by the emperor for the fire of Rome in 64. I’m not sure where the misunderstanding came from; whether it was Suetonius specifically who didn’t get it, or if the upper (as in literate) classes in Rome as a whole were unclear on what Jesus’ followers called him. Was Luke possibly aware of this lack of understanding and tossed this in here as sort of a barb directed at those ignorant Romans?

The other aspect to this is that ‘the old is good’ is the reason why the followers of Jesus insisted on maintaining that connexion to Judaism. As such, perhaps this explains why the sons of the bridegroom* will fast again one day, as we heard in the previous passage above. Luke, as well as Mark and Matthew before him, understood that being old meant being venerated, while being new meant being scorned. After all, the Latin term for political revolution is “res novae”; literally, “new things”. It was not a term of endearment. So Luke took the message of 2M before him and amplified it by adding this little tag line at the end of the section, to let us know that the connexion existed, and that the christos was chrestos, and was chrestos, to some degree, because he was old. Or, his teachings were old. That gave him stature.

So Luke is very clever in the way that he did this. This style is very not-Mark, the terse journalist. And it’s not Matthew, either who was…whatever. Not sure how to summarize him. Luke is easy; he’s eloquent. 

37 Et nemo mittit vinum novum in utres veteres; alioquin rumpet vinum novum utres et ipsum effundetur, et utres peribunt;

38 sed vinum novum in utres novos mittendum est.

39 Et nemo bibens vetus vult novum; dicit enim: “Vetus melius est!” ”.

Luke Chapter 5:12-26

This section deals with healings; first of a leper, then of a paralytic. The action left off with Simon and the sons of Zebedee are now following Jesus. But when we left off, it didn’t tell us where they were headed. Let’s find out.


12 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐν μιᾷ τῶν πόλεων καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ πλήρης λέπρας: ἰδὼν δὲ τὸν Ἰησοῦν πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον ἐδεήθη αὐτοῦ λέγων, Κύριε, ἐὰν θέλῃς δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι.

13 καὶ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἥψατο αὐτοῦ λέγων,Θέλω, καθαρίσθητι: καὶ εὐθέως ἡ λέπρα ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

14 καὶ αὐτὸς παρήγγειλεν αὐτῷ μηδενὶ εἰπεῖν, ἀλλὰ ἀπελθὼν δεῖξον σεαυτὸν τῷ ἱερεῖ, καὶ προσένεγκε περὶ τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ σου καθὼς προσέταξεν Μωϋσῆς, εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

15 διήρχετο δὲ μᾶλλον ὁ λόγος περὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ συνήρχοντο ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἀκούειν καὶ θεραπεύεσθαι ἀπὸ τῶν ἀσθενειῶν αὐτῶν:

16 αὐτὸς δὲ ἦν ὑποχωρῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις καὶ προσευχόμενος.

And it became he to be in one of the cities and saw a man full of leprosy. Seeing Jesus, falling on his face he begged of him saying, “Lord, if you should wish, you are able to cleanse me”. (13) And stretching out his hand he touched him, saying, “I wish, be cleansed”. And immediately the leprosy went away from him. (14) And he ordered him to speak to no one, “But going away to show yourself to the priest, and give over to him about your cleansing according to the arrangement of Moses, as a witness for them”. (15) But went out more the word of him, and came together a many crowd to hear and to be healed from their diseases. (16) He was having gone away in the desert places and praying. 

I have no idea what to say about this passage. It’s sort of another mash-up of several different pieces of Mark; sort of blended together and homogenized. This appears to be something of a pattern for Luke; it’s perhaps the third time he’s done it already. The result is an episode that is very familiar, and yet does not correspond exactly with a specific passage in Mark. And it is Mark he’s emulating, rather than Matthew. It has the journalistic, almost staccato style, short and to the point. And Luke includes the contradiction of Jesus admonishing the man to say nothing, but the word only spreads further. The bit about going into the desert place occurs in Mark after a spate of miracles, but there Jesus was said to be in his house, and the whole town came to his door.

That’s actually interesting. That bit of detail was the sort of thing that really gave the impression that Jesus had a house in Caphernaum, which would support the idea that he was not from Nazareth. For Luke, Jesus is from Nazareth, and that shall not be gainsaid. So here Luke deftly excises the part of the story that casts doubt on Nazareth and does not pin down the scene even in the vaguest generality. Now, if he’s willing to do that to Mark, would he not do the same for Matthew? Yes, this is about Q, and the supposed hack-job Luke does on the masterful Sermon on the Mount. We can see that Luke is very consciously following Mark, but not really. The point is, Luke is not the least bit reluctant to change anything. So to suggest that he wouldn’t mess with Matthew is, I think, rather…incorrect. 

12 Et factum est, cum esset in una civitatum, et ecce vir plenus lepra; et videns Iesum et procidens in faciem rogavit eum dicens: “ Domine, si vis, potes me mundare ”.

13 Et extendens manum tetigit illum dicens: “Volo, mundare!”; et confestim lepra discessit ab illo.

14 Et ipse praecepit illi, ut nemini diceret, sed: “Vade, ostende te sacerdoti et offer pro emundatione tua, sicut praecepit Moyses, in testimonium illis”.

15 Perambulabat autem magis sermo de illo, et conveniebant turbae multae, ut audirent et curarentur ab infirmitatibus suis;

16 ipse autem secedebat in desertis et orabat.

17 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διδάσκων, καὶ ἦσαν καθήμενοι Φαρισαῖοι καὶ νομοδιδάσκαλοι οἳ ἦσαν ἐληλυθότες ἐκ πάσης κώμης τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ Ἰουδαίας καὶ Ἰερουσαλήμ: καὶ δύναμις κυρίου ἦν εἰς τὸ ἰᾶσθαι αὐτόν.

18 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες φέροντες ἐπὶ κλίνης ἄνθρωπον ὃς ἦν παραλελυμένος, καὶ ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν εἰσενεγκεῖν καὶ θεῖναι [αὐτὸν] ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ.

19 καὶ μὴ εὑρόντες ποίας εἰσενέγκωσιν αὐτὸν διὰ τὸν ὄχλον ἀναβάντες ἐπὶ τὸ δῶμα διὰ τῶν κεράμων καθῆκαν αὐτὸν σὺν τῷ κλινιδίῳ εἰς τὸ μέσον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

And it was on one of the days and he was teaching, and there were sitting Pharisees and teachers of the law and they were come from all the villages of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the lord was (there) towards the healing him. (18) And, look, men carrying upon a litter a man who was paralyzed, and they sought him (Jesus) and they brought the man in and placed him in front of him (Jesus). (19) And not finding what they carried him through the crowd going up upon the house and through the ceramic (roof tiles) they lowered him with his litter to the middle in front of Jesus. 

Note how vaguely Luke sets the scene. When I first read this, I thought it was taking place in a synagogue, which would explain why all the Pharisees & c. are there. But then they go up on top of the house, so obviously my impression was incorrect. In Mark this specifically took place in a house, presumably Jesus’ house if you read the story carefully. Matthew, OTOH, changed the setting completely; the venue of a house and the lowering through the roof was omitted and the man was simply brought up to Jesus. Here, we retain the part about the roof, think about this for a moment. Pharisees and teachers of the law from all parts of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem are present, seated and listening. How big is this house? Aside from palaces, or the homes of wealthy, or official residences, houses were not that large. 

OK, I’ve done some down-and-dirty research on house construction in First Century Galilee. Roofs were generally open to the sky, and basically flat, with a slight pitch to allow rainwater to drain and collect in a cistern. The roof generally consisted of a sort of thatch overlaid on timbers that ran the width of the house/room. Over this was laid a layer of what is essentially thatch, but made from the local plant life. On top of this was laid a floor of something sort of like a dirt-based concrete. It became, effectively, a floor of dried mud, just as adobe is dried mud. Apparently the construction was such as it allowed the roof to be used as an open second or upper floor. There is no mention of tiles. Tiles were used further west in the Mediterranean; many Roman houses had tile roofs, especially for the more affluent. So I suspect that Luke has his roofing materials muddled. As for the size of the houses, most would not have been large enough to accommodate a crowd of any size. Some were built around a courtyard, which was a time-honored tradition in the eastern Mediterranean. The problem is that these courtyards were, well, open. That is, there was no roof, so there would be no roofing material to remove.   

The point of all this is pretty straightforward. Luke is not terribly concerned with factual accuracy. If he was not from Judea or Galilee, people where he lived had tiled roofs, so of course the house Jesus was in had a tiled roof. Mark’s description of the roof material is vague to the point that it’s impossible to tell what it actually is. Mark supposedly was from somewhere other than Judea/Galilee, so he may not have known what was used, so maybe he was smart enough to fudge the details into incomprehensibility. These are the sorts of places where we see that factual accuracy was not a primary goal of the evangelists. Now, this is a small example, and it shouldn’t be overstretched, but it’s there nonetheless.

And BTW, this is one of those cases where Luke agrees with Mark rather than Matthew. As such, this provides “proof” that Luke had not read Matthew. Or, it could be that Luke felt the original setting of the story provided a more compelling setting for the tale. After all, the men carrying the litter went to a whole lot of trouble to present the paralytic to Jesus. As such, their faith was demonstrated much more effectively, IMO. So Luke could be said to be restoring that “lost” element of faith. So is Luke agreeing with Mark? Or is he correcting the story of Matthew? Given that Luke is not terribly concerned with real-world facts, such as how all these people gathered in a house, and doesn’t mind exaggerating that Pharisees and teachers of the law came from all parts of the Jewish world, and that he doesn’t seem to mind changing details of setting and story in any context, we should perhaps pay particular attention to those bits that Luke does retain.

It may be significant that this is the first time that Luke refers to the faith of the followers. It won’t be the last. This is one element of Mark that Luke does retain; how significant is it? Since it’s basically one of two such elements, I’d say it has to be significant. At this point, however, I can’t quite fathom what the significance may be. Perhaps time will tell. Remember: faith.

17 Et factum est, in una dierum, et ipse erat docens, et erant pharisaei sedentes et legis doctores, qui venerant ex omni castello Galilaeae et Iudaeae et Ierusalem; et virtus Domini erat ei ad sanandum.

18 Et ecce viri portantes in lecto hominem, qui erat paralyticus, et quaerebant eum inferre et ponere ante eum.

19 Et non invenientes qua parte illum inferrent prae turba, ascenderunt supra tectum et per tegulas summiserunt illum cum lectulo in medium ante Iesum.

20 καὶ ἰδὼν τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἄνθρωπε, ἀφέωνταί σοι αἱἁμαρτίαι σου.

21 καὶ ἤρξαντο διαλογίζεσθαι οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι λέγοντες, Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος ὃς λαλεῖ βλασφημίας; τίς δύναται ἁμαρτίας ἀφεῖναι εἰ μὴ μόνος ὁ θεός;

22 ἐπιγνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς διαλογισμοὺς αὐτῶν ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν;

23 τί ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον, εἰπεῖν, Ἀφέωνταί σοι αἱ ἁμαρτίαι σου, ἢ εἰπεῖν, Ἔγειρε καὶ περιπάτει;

24 ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἶπεν τῷ παραλελυμένῳ, Σοὶ λέγω, ἔγειρε καὶ ἄρας τὸ κλινίδιόν σου πορεύου εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου.

25 καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀναστὰς ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν, ἄρας ἐφ’ ὃ κατέκειτο, ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ δοξάζων τὸν θεόν.

26 καὶ ἔκστασις ἔλαβεν ἅπαντας καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν, καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν φόβου λέγοντες ὅτι Εἴδομεν παράδοξα σήμερον.

And seeing the faith of them he said, “Dude, have been taken away from you your sins”.  (21) And they began to dialogue among themselves the scribes and the Pharisees, saying, “Who is he who says blasphemy? Who can take away sins if not only God?” (22) Jesus having recognised the discussion of them (and) answering said towards them, “What do you say in your hearts? (23) What is easier, to say “‘Taken away from your your sins have been’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk around’? (24) In order that you might know that the son of man has authority upon earth to take away sins,” he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, ‘get up and take up your bed and go to your house'”. (25) And immediately standing up in front of them, having taken up that on which he had been reclining, went away towards his house glorifying God. (26) And ecstasy took hold of all and they glorified God, and they were filled of fear, saying, “We have seen a wonder!” (transliterated = ‘paradox’).

I rather jumped the gun on the “faith” business. It wasn’t explicitly mentioned until this section. But running into it for the first time has rather caught me up short. Faith was a very persistent theme in Mark, mentioned early and often and here we are five chapters in (four and a half, would be technically correct) and only now do we encounter it. What has Luke been talking about? He’s been telling us, over and over, about Jesus’ divinity, going back to a time even before Jesus himself was actually conceived. We got the story of John, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Temple, the Temptation, a few miracles and the calling of the first disciples by impressing them with his fishing skills. All of these emphasize and re-emphasize and repeatedly drive home that Jesus is a divine being. The first overt miracles only occur in this chapter. Perhaps they are meant to underscore this divinity. Honestly, they should be called “wonders”, since “miracle” is a completely loaded word in English, just as baptize and holy spirit are loaded. 

This is a bit of an aside, but one thing just occurred to me about this section. At the beginning I noted that Jesus had called his first (and, IMO, likely his only) disciples, so we should see where they were going. As it turns out, the disciples more or less disappear from the story. And it also occurs to me that they tend to do this for long stretches, at least in Luke. We have not actually encountered the word “disciple” (Greek = learner, same with the Latin) yet, and the first time we hear it is very off-hand; the second time will be regarding the disciples of John. In fact, Mark uses the word in his shorter gospel probably as many times as Luke in his longer one. Matthew uses it dozens of times. This reticence in Luke is interesting given that Luke supposedly wrote Acts, as in Acts of the Apostles. But then, I’ve suggested that the disciples called by Jesus were not actually apostles; that the latter word is appropriate to the time after Jesus, but not during Jesus’ lifetime. Here is another way in which Luke charts his own course, independent of the other gospels.

In sum, this is another sort of mash-up of several scenes in Mark. It’s difficult to pick them apart exactly, but the pieces are there. Why does Luke do this? Because he can, I suspect. Really, it’s a matter of brevity, I think. He adds a great lot of material; he can’t repeat every little episode in full. I’ve put that out there before. Here’s something that’s just occurred to me: Does he believe that many of these individual stories  do not need to be retold since they’ve already been told not once, but twice? Once by Mark and again by Matthew? Is this another bit of anti-Q evidence? It’s said that, to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Am I a hammer, and Q has become my nail? Perhaps. The problem is, as far as I can tell, none of these aspects of the problem have ever been discussed, let alone discussed properly. This grates on me no end; what kind of a scholarly arena do we have here, where not only is the dominant position one that believes in the existence of a document for which there is absolutely no evidence, but the entire debate is predicated on the naysayers being required to prove the negative, that the document did not exist. More, the proponents have established the terms of the debate in such a way that the “substance” of the argument is based on highly subjective value judgements. Other terms of argument have not been, and seemingly cannot be considered or debated.

So this will be something to look at as we proceed.

20 Quorum fidem ut vidit, dixit: “Homo, remittuntur tibi peccata tua”.

21 Et coeperunt cogitare scribae et pharisaei dicentes: “Quis est hic, qui loquitur blasphemias? Quis potest dimittere peccata nisi solus Deus? ”.

22 Ut cognovit autem Iesus cogitationes eorum, respondens dixit ad illos: “ Quid cogitatis in cordibus vestris?

23 Quid est facilius, dicere: “Dimittuntur tibi peccata tua”, an dicere: “Surge et ambula”?

24 Ut autem sciatis quia Filius hominis potestatem habet in terra dimittere peccata — ait paralytico – : Tibi dico: Surge, tolle lectulum tuum et vade in domum tuam ”.

25 Et confestim surgens coram illis tulit, in quo iacebat, et abiit in domum suam magnificans Deum.

26 Et stupor apprehendit omnes, et magnificabant Deum; et repleti sunt timore dicentes: “Vidimus mirabilia hodie”.

Luke Chapter 5:1-11

Here starts Chapter 5. Perhaps this time we can talk about the text that’s here, and not about Q. While hopeful, I’m not optimistic.


1 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ τὸν ὄχλον ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ἀκούειν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἑστὼς παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ,

2 καὶ εἶδεν δύο πλοῖα ἑστῶτα παρὰ τὴν λίμνην: οἱ δὲ ἁλιεῖς ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἀποβάντες ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα.

There was pressing (lit = lying on top) him and to hear the word of God, and he was on the harbour (of) Gennesaret, (2) and he saw to boats standing beside the harbour. The fishermen disembarked from them washing the nets.

One of the commentaries I found noted that the body of water in question has four biblical names. We are most familiar with it as the Sea of Galilee. Lake Genneseret is another, as is Lake Tiberias, and the Sea of Chinneroth, which means “heart-shaped”, which the lake is, more or less. Genneseret is also a town on the shore of the lake, and there is an inlet forming something of a peninsula on which this town is situated. Chorazin is at the head of this inlet. Gennesaret is perhaps three miles south and west of Caphernaum along the shore of the lake. Nazareth, OTOH, is a good twenty miles (or more; not sure how accurate the scale on the map is) inland. This separation of Nazareth and the fact that most of the action in Galilee takes place in or near Capheranaum, and none of it takes place in Nazareth is a big part of the reason I think Jesus was actually from Caphernaum. As I said, Mark only mentions Nazareth once, in 1:9. Matthew mentions it thrice. Nazareth scarely plays any role in any of the narrative. The only action that is set there is Jesus return to his home town that we just read in Chapter 4.

I have translated the word as “harbour” in reference to the inlet. Based on no local topographical knowledge, but understanding the principles of geography, it would make sense that fishermen would put their boats in this inlet. Apparently, the lake is prone to sudden and violent storms, so seeking safe harbour would be something a prudent boat owner would do. Also, in this way, I don’t think Luke is actually saying that the lake is named Genneseret. It is not at all necessary, or even a good idea, to read the Greek that way. The Greek word does not naturally mean “lake”, and I tend to suspect that our biblically-trained biblical scholars rather just get this wrong. Rather, I believe that Luke is referring to this inlet that formed something of a natural harbour; and recall that boats were simply drawn up onto the beach, Such a shallow draught and corresponding lack of keel would explain why boats were particularly at risk of capsizing in a storm. There was little to nothing to hold it upright.

1 Factum est autem, cum turba urgeret illum et audiret verbum Dei, et ipse stabat secus stagnum Genesareth

2 et vidit duas naves stantes secus stagnum; piscatores autem descenderant de illis et lavabant retia.

3 ἐμβὰς δὲ εἰς ἓν τῶν πλοίων, ὃ ἦν Σίμωνος, ἠρώτησεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἐπαναγαγεῖν ὀλίγον, καθίσας δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου ἐδίδασκεν τοὺς ὄχλους.

Getting onto one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him from the land to put out (into the water) a little way, sitting in the boat he taught the crowd.

A bit of a bizarre scenario. A stranger, followed by a crowd, comes down the shore and commandeers your boat. Then, he uses it was a lecture platform while you do not very much that’s useful, he having taken you away from a necessary chore of washing your nets. This is all very fanciful, and I’m not sure Luke entirely meant us to take this seriously. As with the passing through the midst of the angry mob in the synagogue, this scene feels a bit whimsical, as if Luke is deliberately playing “once upon a time”. There is a decided lack of a sense of reality in this set-up and description. IMO, at least.

3 Ascendens autem in unam navem, quae erat Simonis, rogavit eum a terra reducere pusillum; et sedens docebat de navicula turbas.

4 ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατολαλῶν, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα, Ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ βάθος καὶ χαλάσατε τὰ δίκτυα ὑμῶν εἰς ἄγραν.

5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Σίμων εἶπεν,Ἐπιστάτα, δι’ ὅλης νυκτὸς κοπιάσαντες οὐδὲν ἐλάβομεν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ῥήματί σου χαλάσω τὰ δίκτυα.

As he paused speaking, he (Jesus) said to Simon, “Put out into the deep (water) and let down your nets into the fish”. (5) And answering, Simon said, “Overseer (lit = one standing near), through the whole night labouring we took up nothing, but on your word I will let down the nets.”

There are several things worth pointing out in this relatively short passage. First, the whole scenario just gets weirder. Now this stranger is telling you to go out into the water and fish. Um, sure. Get right on that, guv’nah. Another is the use of the term I have rendered as “overseer”. This word is used by Luke alone in the NT; and, he only uses it in the gospel and not in Acts. Which immediately sets me off wondering if, indeed, Luke & Acts were written by the same person. Finally, Simon does what the stranger told him, on the stranger’s word alone.

Of course, we really don’t have to marvel at this whole bizarre situation. The meaning, or the intent is clear enough: Luke is demonstrating for us just how compelling a  personality Jesus was, to the point that he can convince some total stranger to do what he asks. If anyone has watched any of  Jessica Jones on Netflix, this all sounds a lot like the villain played by David Tenant, of Dr Who fame. But of course Jesus is not evil, but compelling  in a very good way.

4 Ut cessavit autem loqui, dixit ad Simonem: “Duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam”.

5 Et respondens Simon dixit: “ Praeceptor, per totam noctem laborantes nihil cepimus; in verbo autem tuo laxabo retia”.

6 καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες συνέκλεισαν πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ, διερρήσσετο δὲ τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν.

7 καὶ κατένευσαν τοῖς μετόχοις ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ τοῦ ἐλθόντας συλλαβέσθαι αὐτοῖς: καὶ ἦλθον, καὶ ἔπλησαν ἀμφότερα τὰ πλοῖα ὥστε βυθίζεσθαι αὐτά.

8 ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ λέγων, Ἔξελθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, κύριε:

And doing this (i.e. letting out the nets), they enclosed a plethora of fish, breaking through their nets. (7) And they made a sign by nodding their heads to their partners in the other boat of coming to receive with them. And they came, and they filled both the boats so that to sink them.  (8) Seeing this Simon Peter fell to his knees of Jesus, saying, “Go away from me, that I am a sinful man, lord”. 

Here, of course, is the payoff to this story. Jesus knows. If you listen to Jesus, you prosper. I would like to say this is a particularly pagan attitude: do ut des. I give so that you give. The you being God. The idea is that we give something in sacrifice so that God gives us (one hopes) more in return. But this is not a pagan attitude. It’s the rationale behind the story of Job as well. The adversary taunts God by saying, “of course Job is faithful to you. Look at how richly you’ve rewarded him”. And this became a particularly Calvinist, if not Protestant, attitude: all God’s friends are rich. This attitude was carried to the shores of America by the Puritans, who prospered enormously. Remember: we are either saved, or we’re damned, and we can’t know which. But, by their fruits ye shall know them, so monetary wealth was considered the sign of God’s favour, so the wealthy were respected and considered Elect, while the poor despised as Foreknown and damned. This attitude still pervades a lot of religious thinking in 21st Century America: the poor can be disregarded because, what the hell, they’re damned anyway. But–and this is a big but–this attitude was very common among Greeks and Romans, too. The aristoi, the optimates, the best in Greek and Latin respectively were often considered so because of their wealth. Their wealth was an outward sign. This is because hereditary wealth, eventually, bought respectability. The Best Money, after all, was Old Money. Nouveau riche and arriviste are terms of scorn.

So it’s as such, as one who gave, Simon Peter recognised Jesus as “lord”. Jesus could bestow wealth, so he could bestow favour, and Simon immediately understands that he is in the presence of something More. But why does Luke add all these details to the story? This tale is unique to Luke. Looking at this, and at some of the other stories that only Luke has, I’m starting to see a pattern. These stories are what I will call, for want of a better term, amplifiers. That is, they are designed to amplify the impact of some aspect of Jesus’ life and divine status. I suppose magnify would also work, but whatever. Others stories that would fall into this would be the stories of the birth of the Baptist, which amplifies the nativity of Jesus narrative by elevating the status of the herald of Jesus to come. Another would be the way he passed through the midst of the angry crowd in Nazareth*, which demonstrated that Jesus’ power, his ability to perform miracles was certainly not dependent on the faith of those around him. And now here; it’s not enough to call Peter; he has to demonstrate his ability. Thinking about it, this in some ways diminishes Jesus: in the other two gospels, Peter follows without question. Here, he does so only after a huge demonstration of power. But, one can certainly look at that in a couple of different ways. 

So is that what Luke is doing? Amplifying?  Is that his overall intention, or goal? To say ‘yes’ is to be fairly obvious. After all, that’s a lot of what Matthew did, starting with the Nativity story. He amplified Jesus’ divinity, starting with the virgin birth and the Star of Bethlehem. Luke is really doing the same, here and in the other episodes mentioned. Now, I would love to tie this into the Q argument, and I think it would be a legitimate thing to do, but the bottom line is that it’s not necessary. Either way, we’re witnessing the process by which legends grow. Luke was doing this, either on his own or following the example of Matthew. I suspect the latter, of course, but let’s wait a bit to see if this is borne out by the subsequent narrative, whether it seems that Luke is building specifically on Matthew. If so, the pattern has not fully emerged.

*Nazareth: it only just occurs to me that this amplifier was designed to banish the idea that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in Nazareth, due to the lack of faith of the townspeople. No miracles? Nonsense! Jesus’ power is not dependent on the faith of those around him.

6 Et cum hoc fecissent, concluserunt piscium multitudinem copiosam; rumpebantur autem retia eorum.

7 Et annuerunt sociis, qui erant in alia navi, ut venirent et adiuvarent eos; et venerunt et impleverunt ambas naviculas, ita ut mergerentur.

8 Quod cum videret Simon Petrus, procidit ad genua Iesu dicens: “Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine”.

9 θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον,

10 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου, οἳ ἦσαν κοινωνοὶ τῷ Σίμωνι. καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβοῦ: ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.

11 καὶ καταγαγόντες τὰ πλοῖα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἀφέντες πάντα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

Amazement encompassed him and all those with him regarding the catch of fish which they had taken, (and) (10) in the same way also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were with Simon, and Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now you will be one catching men”. (11) And driving the ship down upon the land, all having gotten off they followed him.

In the commentary to this on Mark, I suggested that, if Jesus had grown up on Caphernaum as I suspect, the way Peter & c left to follow Jesus would make much more sense. We know Peter was a follower; Paul verified that before any of these gospels were written. Notice that there is no mention of Andrew, Peter’s brother. He will come in later, probably when the Twelve are being named. In 2M, Andrew is mentioned exactly twice; at the initial calling, and when Jesus sends them out. Luke skips the first one. Interesting to note that as the legend of Jesus grew, the legend of Andrew had faded a bit. Now, this would be recovered since Andrew had a great career in front of him, ending up as the patron saint of Scotland. But it is worth noting that he is not here. The point being, that if Jesus had grown up in Caphernaum, then he and Peter would likely have known each other all their lives. This, in turn, would explain Peter’s eventual devotion and dedication to Jesus.

Something just occurred to me. Back in Chapter 4, after Jesus left the synagogue, he went to the house of Simon, where Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law so she could wait on them. I didn’t realize it then, but we had not yet been introduced to Simon when that happened. Good gracious boy howdy, would I ever like to spin some really interesting theories on how this “proves” that Jesus had grown up in Caphernaum, and had known Simon before the point when Jesus called him. However, it’s much more likely that Luke just sort of muddled the chronology a bit. He kept the story of going to Simon’s house in more or less its original context per Mark, without really noticing that he hadn’t actually introduced Simon yet. It’s similar to the way that the Baptist was arrested before he baptized Jesus. Oops. So, as deliberate as Luke was, he was more concerned with the overall story than he was with stuff like chronological consistency. This is important to note, because it plays a big role in how Luke treats the material he inherited, which would include Mark, either Q or Matthew, and probably other traditions. 

I have believe that I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating. At some point I read it suggested that James the son of Zebedee is no other than James the Just, the brother of the lord. I have a nagging sense that I brought this up before but dismissed it for whatever reason(s). If so, this is a good time to revisit that. This is pure speculation, but it would really make a lot of sense. The two people that Paul corroborates as members of the Jerusalem community are James, brother of the lord, and Peter. Here we have Peter and James. Being the son of  Zebedee really doesn’t pose any problem, since the name of Jesus’ father is problematic. Had Jesus’ father died some time ago, and had Mary then married Zebedee and had sons named James and John, then this would be a very tidy explanation. James, brother of Jesus, is only mentioned by Paul, and yet James son of Zebedee plays a consistent part in all four gospels. A brother named James is mentioned in Mark 6, when Jesus’ siblings are named. It would then make that Jesus was called “son of Mary” since his own father was dead, and his mother married to someone else. The fly in the ointment is that Mark 6 does not mention a John, but you can’t always have everything, And really, this feels like one of those theories that is too clever by half. Yes, it ties up a lot of loose ends, but that is part of the problem. It’s a little too neat. Real life usually isn’t quite so tidy, and this general slovenliness is what gives credence to conspiracy theories. Someone opening an umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas may be odd, but that does not mean it’s significant. Maybe he opened the umbrella to use as a parasol against the sun, but the people behind objected to having their view blocked. Same here. It would explain a lot of things, but…But I am leaning towards it, tidiness be damned. It fits, and nicely. Too nicely? Perhaps. It requires more pondering, but in the end, it’s one of those things on which one can change one’s mind every six months for the rest of one’s life and still never be able to make up one’s mind. 

This is an update. It occurred to me that I hadn’t addressed the idea of Simon & the brothers leaving everything behind to follow him. In fact, I haven’t addressed this at all, in any of the gospels. However, I don’t think tacking this on to the very end of a post is the proper time & place to consider the topic; rather, I’ll save it for the Summary.

9 Stupor enim circumdederat eum et omnes, qui cum illo erant, in captura piscium, quos ceperant;

10 similiter autem et Iacobum et Ioannem, filios Zebedaei, qui erant socii Simonis. Et ait ad Simonem Iesus: “ Noli timere; ex hoc iam homines eris capiens ”.

11 Et subductis ad terram navibus, relictis omnibus, secuti sunt illum.

Summary Matthew Chapter 5

This is probably the fourth or fifth draft of this. I lost track. This is an enormously important chapter, and I wanted to do it as much justice as possible. I’m still not completely happy, but this addresses the issues raised in the chapter, if not all of their greater ramifications.

The sentiments of the Beatitudes are revolutionary, representing a radical shift in what will become Western thought. In fact, the sentiments expressed here are perhaps one of the foundation stones of Western Civilisation. Of course, many cultures have a code of social justice; such a code is enshrined in the Hebrew Scriptures, and such prescriptions date back (at least) to the Code of Hammurabi. But what we have here is something different. Here we have not so much exhortations to help the needy, but flat-out statements that those in need will receive their recompense. This is to say that their suffering per se is worthy of reward. To the best of my knowledge, this had never been promised before. It certainly was never part of Greek or Roman thought, and even Marcus Aurelius, two hundred years later, had nothing comparable.

In one of his books that I read, JD Crossan said that apocalyptic prophecy was the last refuge of the politically oppressed. As pitiless as the conqueror was, apocalyptic prophecy let the subject peoples think, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re gonna get yours when our G/god comes and straightens things out.” And there is no doubting the appeal. Revenge fantasies against, say, a horrible boss are nearly universal, I suspect. (Or is that just saying something about me?) But this, the idea of those who mourn finding comfort is a different sort of prediction, both in outlook and in those it addresses. This is no longer a promise just to a political or cultural underclass. The poor, the mourning, those hungering for justice were universal classes in the ancient world; and, unfortunately, in the modern world as well. These categories encompass people of all nations, all races, all religions. As such, it’s not addressed to a specific audience in terms of ethnic composition in the way that Jewish apocalyptic writing was addressed to Jews, and couched in Jewish religion and culture the way the Book of Daniel was. Rather, this is the practical application of Paul’s “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free”, etc.

So it is not an ‘us vs. them’ sort of thing the way apocalyptic writing tends to be. And the other aspect—perhaps the more interesting aspect—is that we are not told when this recompense will be received, or when it will occur, Are we to presume that this part of the kingdom? We were told in 4:23 that Jesus was teaching the good news of the kingdom. Of course, we know when all this will happen. It will occur in the afterlife, which is to say the kingdom of God, or capital-h Heaven, when we have died and been judged worthy of eternal life. But where has Matthew said this? Indeed, where did Mark or Paul say this? What right have we to make this inference? And by ‘right”, I mean, where’s our textual support for this conclusion? Even later in this chapter, when Matthew talks about Gehenna, he does not provide an alternative. So what is our proof? From what I recall, the only support for this comes in Mark 9, and again in Mark 10:30. In Mark 9, he talks about “entering the life” rather than being thrown into Gehenna. I found it curious that Matthew omitted the part about the life here, although he will repeat most of this when he recapitulates the content of Mark 9 in this next chapter.

Now, we are told that the poor in spirit and the persecuted will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven, and the meek shall inherit the earth. Is there a contradiction, or at least an inconsistency here?  If kingdom of the heavens can be understood as Heaven, what happens to the meek? When do they get the earth? In this life? Or in the next?

This is where we have to stop and ask what Matthew and his community believed at this point. Mark spoke briefly and vaguely about “the kingdom” and “the life”, the latter being opposed to being thrown into Gehenna. Because to this point, we have encountered exactly two references to anything resembling the concept of eternal life. Both were in Mark. One was when Jesus spoke of a sin against the sacred breath as the only sin that would lead to “eternal judgement”, the presumption that the judgement would not be positive. The other is in Mark 10:30, where Jesus says that one of the rewards for following Jesus faithfully will be eternal life. That’s it, More, the idea of eternity is not big in Matthew; he uses the word sparingly.

So are we justified to infer that we’re talking about eternal life? On the one hand, it sure seems like it; OTOH, maybe not so much. But if not eternal life, then what does it mean to be given entry into the kingdom of the heavens, or to inherit the earth? I certainly don’t have the answer, and I’m not sure I even an answer for this. But I don’t know that anyone else does, either; at least, no one has an answer that doesn’t presuppose the way that later generations–ourselves included–came to understand this.

In a nutshell, what I am saying is that the text is rather falling between two stools here. The idea of eternal life exists–perhaps. For the record, we are assuming that the use of the term in Mark 10:30 is not a later interpolation. This is always a possibility, but since the burden of proof is on me to demonstrate this, and I simply cannot, we will work under the assumption that the words date to the author of Mark. So the idea does exist, but I have to suggest that it’s still in a very attenuated form. There is the possibility that by the time Matthew wrote this, the idea of eternal life, and that eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens were synonymous, were so commonplace that it could be taken for granted, However, the burden of proof is to show that this is true, and I do not think any sort of reasonable case can be made to demonstrate this. Use of the term is still too sketchy. Yes, the truth could be somewhere in the middle, but saying that does not solve anything. The exact middle? Because if it’s closer to one side than the other, we’ve gained nothing with the attempt to compromise.

So now what? While I believe we cannot say with any certainty what Matthew meant by “kingdom of the heavens”, or if he believed in eternal life, we have to admit that the idea was around. Its seed had been planted. What I’m saying is this idea–and probably many others, are still developing.

If you agree with that statement, there is a host of very powerful implications that go with that.

In How Jesus Became God, Ehrman suggested that the main theme of Mark was the establishment of Jesus’ identity. That being accomplished, Matthew was free to focus on Jesus’ teaching. Note that what Ehrman is saying, perhaps without being aware of it, and certainly without being aware of the implications, is that the message of Jesus was still developing. Mark had to do part; Matthew did the next part. That means that Mark’s message was incomplete. More needed to be added because the message was still developing. So Ehrman agrees with me on that.

By starting with the birth narrative and adding that Jesus was attended by angels after the temptations have removed all doubt about Jesus’ identity. More, Matthew has established that Jesus was a divine entity, in some meaning of the word. Given this, Matthew then brushes over Mark’s initial exorcisms and healings in summary fashion. As a result, he truly begins Jesus’ ministry with Chapter 5 makes it very clear that Matthew will focus on Jesus’ teaching.

By making this the focus of his gospel, Matthew, for the moment, is not addressing the ways that Jesus’ teaching interacted with his divinity. Matthew has gone back to a human Jesus, a wise man, a wise teacher. Yes, we know that Jesus was divine, but this divinity has become latent, rather than explicit. In fact, the Jesus in Mark is perhaps more explicitly divine than the Jesus of Matthew. The one found in Mark is always casting out demons, healing people, and performing wonders. Since Matthew “goes back” to the teaching of Jesus, this could be adduced as further proof–as if any were needed–for the existence of Q. Matthew “went back” to the human Jesus and his teachings precisely because of Q. Matthew had access to this trove of information on what Jesus said that was not available to Mark, for reason or reasons unspecified.

But we’ll get back to that. How and why Mark missed Q is an elephant in the room that no one is addressing.

In the chapter, we go from the Beatitudes to the….what? Analogies? Comparisons? Wisdom sayings? How exactly do we classify the statements that Jesus makes about the salt of the earth and the city on the hill? I find it interesting that Matthew inserts the analogies about the salt of the earth, and the city on the hill in here. Contextually, they don’t really fit. They are sort of stuck in here, not relating either to the Beatitudes or to what comes next. Also, this is a case where Matthew did not successfully integrate Triple Tradition material–stuff common to Matthew, Mark, and Luke–into the place where Mark locates it. This is supposed to be a hallmark of Matthew, but he didn’t get it right here. Mark has Jesus saying this to the disciples, in a more intimate setting, rather than to a great crowd. And, honestly, I believe that Mark’s context is more appropriate. This sounds like a pep-talk for his close followers, convincing them that they are worthy of the charge Jesus is entrusting to them. But, that’s an opinion, and worth just about that much. More important is that, perhaps counterintuitively, I think this clumsy context does a lot to establish them as authentic sayings of Jesus. Why do I say this? Because it makes almost no sense to include them otherwise. Why is he telling members of the crowd, as a whole, that they are the salt of the earth, and the city on the hill? As they exist here, they really feel like something culled from a list of out-of-context sayings. Something like Q, IOW.

Then there is the famous bit about how Jesus claims he will not drop a single iota from the Law. This passage is often cited to demonstrate Matthew’s bona fides as a Jew. What is not said, is that, having made this proclamation, Jesus proceeds to do exactly what he said he wouldn’t: he starts editng the Law. No divorce; lust in the heart = adultery; hating your brother = murder; no more eye for an eye. Here we reflect back to what I said about the Beatitudes: these explications of the law feel like Jesus is expanding the scope of those who are subject to the Law. Yes, he’s talking about the lessons of the Law, talking about “our forefathers”, but he is showing how they apply now, and how they are no longer the exclusive prerogative, purview, of Jews. Jesus here, I think, is speaking to ex-pagans. My pet theory is that the author of this gospel was a god-fearer, a pagan who was deeply interested in Jewish traditions and Law, in particular in the Jewish moral code. Even though he says “our forefathers said…” this is an allegorical use of the term. But, this is a pet theory; I don’t have much in the way of concrete proof. Yet. But look at how this all works together, how Jesus is creating a universal message, one whose scope goes beyond the tight constraints of a Jews-only milieu.

Note that I said “Jesus is creating a universal message”. Of course, that is probably incorrect. More properly, Matthew is putting these words into Jesus’ mouth.Why? Because an expanded message, one that is directed as much–or more–to pagans than to Jews is not appropriate for the historical Jesus who lived in the 20s/30s of the Common Era. But such a message to pagans is wholely appropriate for an evangelist writing in the mid-80s CE. And here is where the idea of a developing message is crucial: if the Beatitudes were fixed in the 30s and transmitted via Q, then the message was set and did not change. Matthew simply went back to this older material and merged it with Mark to create a new gospel.

But is that what Matthew did? Is Jesus preaching to primarily pagans? or primarily to Jews here? That is the heart of the matter, If he’s preaching to Jews, then this message most likely dates back to the 30s and was transmitted via Q. If he’s preaching to pagans here, then the message was, likely, created after that, most likely starting some time after the destruction of the Temple. What I believe we have here is a scenario in which Jesus is ostensibly preaching to Jews, but Matthew is in fact writing for pagans.

So, if I’m correct in this, then Q becomes a casualty. That is what is at stake here. Well, it’s one thing. Now I have no illusions that I have constructed a convincing case that Jesus/Matthew is addressing pagans. I have done no such thing. What I hope, however, is that I’ve started. I hope I’ve put the seed in your mind. Now, whether it grows will depend on how well I tend to it from here. But I’ve put my stake in the ground. As always, I reserve the right to eat my words at a later point. I’m hoping I won’t have to do that, but time will tell.

Matthew Chapter 5:31-42

And so we continue with the Sermon on the Mount. This will conclude Chapter 5.

31 Ἐρρέθη δέ, Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον.

32 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται.

It has been said, ‘Who would dismiss his wife, let him give her a standing away from (i.e., an official notification of dissolution). (32) But I say to you that all who dismisses his wife (aside from the cause of fornication) makes her adulterize, and he who dissolves the marriage adulterizes.

First, the vocabulary. The word that I rendered as a “standing away from” is “apostaseon”. I’m guessing we can all see the word “apostasy” in there. And that pretty much means “standing away from”, especially as standing away from a former belief. Hence the emperor Julian the Apostate. (However, if he’d been successful in re-establishing paganism, he’d have gone down in history as “Julian the Restorer”.

What is most interesting about this section is that it agrees with both 1 Corinthians 7:10-14 (appx), and Mark 10:2-12 (appx). I am going to go out on a limb here (not really) and conclude that this is one of the best candidates for something that actually can be traced back to Jesus himself. There is one point I’d like to make about “multiple” attribution. Either Mack or Ehrman (the latter, I believe) said that something attested in the Triple Tradition can be said to have been corroborated by three different and independent sources. Um, no. Given that pretty much everyone agrees that Matthew and Luke used Mark, then Matthew and Luke absolutely cannot be said to be independent sources. They are dependent sources, secondary sources derived from Mark. Now Paul, OTOH, may in fact represent a distinct source tradition. It’s hard to say that for sure, but Mark, in particular, does seem to be more or less unaware of Paul and his message. I will leave it at that. For now. But the point remains, and remains strong: that both Paul and Mark report that Jesus was opposed to divorce presents a pretty strong case that this is an authentic saying of Jesus. Note that.

31 Dictum est autem: “Quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam, det illi libellum repudii”.

32 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui dimiserit uxorem suam, excepta fornicationis causa, facit eam moechari; et, qui dimissam duxerit, adulterat.

33 Πάλιν ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, Οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, ἀποδώσεις δὲ τῷ κυρίῳ τοὺς ὅρκους σου.

34 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως: μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ:

35 μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ: μήτε εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶν τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως:

36 μήτε ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ σου ὀμόσῃς, ὅτι οὐ δύνασαι μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ποιῆσαι ἢ μέλαιναν.

37 ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ: τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν.

Again, you have heard it said by the old ones that you will not take an oath, but you will give to God your oath. (34) OTOH I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by the heaven, for that is the throne of God. (35) Nor by the earth, for that is the footrest of his feet. Nor towards Jerusalem, for that is the city of the great king. (36) Nor swear by your (own) head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. (37) Let your word yes (be) yes, (your) no (be) no. That which is in excess of this is from wickedness.

 Lots of very interesting stuff in here. The first, of course, is that this is unique to Matthew. He felt that this was very worth saying; Luke and John…not so much. Why? Why was this so crucial to Matthew. And only to him? Can we go so far as to suggest that, perhaps, Matthew inserted this on his own authority? Or can we assume that he had some sort of line from a source on this. Personally, I do not believe that everything in the gospels (or epistles) can reasonably be said to be attributable to Jesus; I fully believe that the authors of the NT often made statements on their own authority, based on the firm belief that, if Jesus had not said this, he would have agreed with it, or he would have said it had the situation arisen. We can even call this divine inspiration; the authors no doubt fully and firmly believed that words were given to them by God, perhaps breathed into (in Latin, lit = in spiro) them by the sacred breath. I suspect this is such a moment for Matthew. 

There is an interesting epilogue to this passage, In the Middle Ages, after about the year 1000, there appeared numerous manifestations of individuals and groups who sought to return to the true apostolic tradition of the earliest Christians, thereby turning away from the overly ornate and ritualized Church. One of the hallmarks of several of these groups was the refusal to swear an oath of any kind, solely and completely because of this particular passage. Now, these groups threatened the status quo of the established Church by questioning whether the bishops should be worldly lords, and rich ones, so the groups espousing this return to apostolic tradition were, of course, branded as heretics. They were sought out and Mother Church sought to persuade her errant children to recant such nonsense. And one of the ways to do this was to ask them to swear an oath that they did not hold any heretical teachings. Of course, the refusal to swear was seen as proof that they were heretics. So Matthew’s words were not without repercussions. And I do believe these are Matthew’s words.

One really interesting question is who is the “great king”? Or is it “great King”? This is what the Latin says. Or perhaps “Great King”? Except that the Great King was the King of Persia–Cyrus, Darius, or Xerxes. Jerusalem would not have been his city. That would have  been Persepolis, or Susa. The king in Jerusalem would have been, theoretically, David and his descendants. Is that what this means? The commentaries aren’t much help. except to say that this is a cite of Ps 48:2. Aside from that, the commentaries I read didn’t seem to be terribly clear on this. So, like a lot of those passages from Galatians and Thessalonians, this passage is not exactly well-understood, despite a couple thousand years of reading and commentary. Most of the ones I glanced at suggested that this was a reference to the Messiah (capitalized), but I tend to doubt this. Rather, my suspicion is that it meant something to Matthew and his audience that is more or less lost to us.

The other element in here is the idea of the majesty of God. Heaven and earth as throne and footstool, while we’re helpless to change the color of a single hair. God had become more and more majestic and powerful over time, and had become unique. Sort of.  At least, God was the unique beneficent power in the universe, aside from those lesser powers–angels, mainly–that served God. Other supernatural beings were not denied; it’s just that they were considered demonic. As such, they weren’t exactly divine; at least, not by some definitions of the word. Overall, however, I still find this whole anti-oath attitude a little peculiar. Perhaps, like the “great king”, this had some implication for Matthew and his audience that is lost. Or, perhaps the meaning here is well-known–to everyone but me!

33 Iterum audistis quia dictum est antiquis: “Non periurabis; reddes autem Domino iuramenta tua”.

34 Ego autem dico vobis: Non iurare omnino, neque per caelum, quia thronus Dei est,

35 neque per terram, quia scabellum est pedum eius, neque per Hierosolymam, quia civitas est magni Regis;

36 neque per caput tuum iuraveris, quia non potes unum capillum album facere aut nigrum.

37 Sit autem sermo vester: “Est, est”, “Non, non”; quod autem his abundantius est, a Malo est.

38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος.

39 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ: ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα[σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην:

40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφεςαὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον:

41 καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ’ αὐτοῦ δύο.

42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.

You have heard it said that, eye against eye, and tooth against tooth.(39) But I say to you do not stand against evil. But the one who strikes you on your right jaw-line, turn to him also the other. (40) And to the one wishing from you (your) tunic by being judged, also give him your cloak. (41) And he who compels you to go a mile, go with him two. (41) To the one asking, give, and what is wanted to be loaned by you, do not turn away. 

Recall what “Jesus” said earlier about not an iota of the law being lost? Seems to me that Jesus–by way of the evangelist, is superseding a lot of what has come down to the audience. Note that these things were said “by the ancient/old ones”. One presumes that this is a reference to the Hebrew scriptures. Or was this what Jesus was doing? Is he referring to the OT here? Maybe, but maybe not necessarily. Jesus has contravened a custom allowing divorce, has told his audience to forswear oaths, and now he is undercutting the idea of an eye for an eye. The thing is, divorce was allowable under most pagan law codes; the Romans in particular saw marriage as a legal institution, a legal partnership. So Jesus/Matthew is not necessarily referring exclusively to Hebrew/Jewish custom. Nor is the idea of swearing oaths. This was a commonplace for ancient legal practice, and it’s still at the heart of trial testimony or affidavits, or any number of things. And finally, “eye for an eye” was by no means the sole property of the ancient Hebrews. It dates back to Hammurabi.

So the thing is, there is nothing specific to Judaism here. Any of these could be applicable to people of a wide variety of backgrounds Here is where my contention about the composition of the new converts really comes to be an important consideration. 

So exchanging “eye for an eye” for “turn the other cheek” would be something novel for almost anyone. Now, I would say that this represents a major turning point in the development of Western Thought. I would say that because it does represent a significant moment; but the thought here is not necessarily new. Recall that the Buddha lived 400 years before Jesus. Even the Cynic sages, while not exactly pacifists, were non-conformers, non-participants in the macho code of honour practiced by the Greeks and played professionally by the Romans. Many of the Hellenistic schools of thought were inward-looking, seeking to avoid conflict when and where possible. So Jesus/Matthew’s thought here is not exactly novel. But it’s put in a novel manner, one that resonates because it has a certain tone, or a perfect pitch. It’s counterintuitive; it seems wrong; it’s not what most of us would think of when struck.

The priest of one of the churches I attend gave a sermon on this passage a couple of years ago. He explained it in a way that struck (pun intended) me. As he explained it, the idea of turning the other cheek had a social significance. Masters would strike their slaves, or social superiors would strike an inferior with the back of the hand. So, if the slave/inferior “turned the other cheek”, the master/superior would be forced to strike with a fist. What this did was elevate the slave’s status, because using one’s fist was how one struck a social equal. Now think about this in connection with what I said before about Jesus/Matthew’s admonition to settle the lawsuit before getting to court. My conjecture was that this was because the audience was persons of lower status; this seems to be painting the same picture, or strengthening the sense that the audience are low-status individuals. Of course, this reinforcement depends on whether or not this explanation of the use of the back of the hand is accurate. I cannot verify, but there is a ring of possible truth to it.

As for the “extra mile”, my priest explained that this was a reference to the Roman occupation. According to his explanation, a Roman soldier could, legally, compel a subject of the Empire to carry the soldier’s pack for a mile. Think Simon of Cyrene being impressed into carrying Jesus’ cross. So, the admonition here is to do that, and throw in another mile for free, as it were. Again, there is a question of status here; the Roman soldier, even one that was a lower-class Roman still had a social edge on a subject.

So perhaps three references to class status in a fairly short period of time. There is a certain consistency here. But there is also a theme of not making a bad situation worse. Settle the suit, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. This makes me question the idea of the backhand vs. the fist, because that is actually a provocation. But, regardless, the theme of class seems to be running through all of these stories. I just wish I had a better idea of whatever it is that I’m missing in the forswearing of oaths.

38 Audistis quia dictum est: “Oculum pro oculo et dentem pro dente”.

39 Ego autem dico vobis: Non resistere malo; sed si quis te percusserit in dextera maxilla tua, praebe illi et alteram;

40 et ei, qui vult tecum iudicio contendere et tunicam tuam tollere, remitte ei et pallium;

41 et quicumque te angariaverit mille passus, vade cum illo duo.

42 Qui petit a te, da ei; et volenti mutuari a te, ne avertaris.

43 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου.

44 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν διωκόντων ὑμᾶς,

45 ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους.

46 ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;

47 καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ ἐθνικοὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσιν;

48 Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.

You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. (44) But I say to you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute (lit = ‘pursue’) you. (45)  In this way you will become children (lit = ‘sons’) of your father in the heavens, that the sun rises upon the wicked and the good, and it rains on the just and the unjust. (46) For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax-collectors do the same thing? (47) For if you greet your brother only, what benefit (lit = ‘excess’) is there? Do not also the nations (traditionally = ‘Gentiles’) do this same thing? (48) So be completed like your father the heavenly one is completed.

43 Audistis quia dictum est: “Diliges proximum tuum et odio habebis inimicum tuum”.

44 Ego autem dico vobis: Diligite inimicos vestros et orate pro persequentibus vos,

45 ut sitis filii Patris vestri, qui in caelis est, quia solem suum oriri facit super malos et bonos et pluit super iustos et iniustos.

46 Si enim dilexeritis eos, qui vos diligunt, quam mercedem habetis? Nonne et publicani hoc faciunt?

47 Et si salutaveritis fratres vestros tantum, quid amplius facitis? Nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt?

48 Estote ergo vos perfecti, sicut Pater vester caelestis perfectus est.

This bit about hating your enemies could be addressed to any number of different ethnic groups.  Even the Psalms brag about how God will smite our enemies and make them into footstools and such. From this, it’s really impossible to tell what group Matthew may be addressing here. Now, there is the bit about the “nations” greeting their brother, that sounds like we’re addressing a Jewish audience. But why? Because “ethnoi” has been rendered as “gentile” for a very long time. Now, I don’t know what the Aramaic word may be that lurks behind this–if there is one. The thing is that, as generally used, ‘gentile’ pretty much corresponds to ‘barbaros’ in Greek in the sense that it’s an ‘us vs. them’ distinction. But that connotation simply is not present in ‘ethnoi’, at least not to the extent of ‘gentile’. The latter means non-Jew, and it’s as much religious as it is ethnic. As I understand ‘gentile’, the corresponding Greek term would be ‘barbaros’, and not ‘ethnikos’. It’s a matter of degree. The KJV sidesteps this by rendering both words as ‘publican’; the NASB and the ESB prefer ‘gentile’; the NIV chooses ‘pagan’. While this has explicitly religious overtones, I’m not sure it’s not the best translation of the lot. 

Then there’s the “telios” which often gets translated as “perfect”. At root it means “end”, as in teleology the branch of philosophy dealing with the ultimate end of things. The idea is that if something is complete, it’s perfect, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with “perfect”. The connotation feels very different. I’ve often wondered about the part about “you” (the audience) being perfect. How are we supposed to pull that one off? Let’s talk about setting people up to fail. That, part, is why I’ve often questioned the translation here, and prefer something other than “perfect”.   

Notice that Matthew uses the verb ‘agapao’. This is the same stem as ‘agape’, which we saw in 1 Corinthians is the justifiably famous passage about how love is patient and kind. Now back when we read that passage, I mentioned that this is not a word really found in the Classical writers. That is true for “agape”, but it’s not true for the verb form used here. The point though, is that Paul did change the course of the word to some extent, especially in the noun form. The verb, as here, is common enough among the Classical writers that it pretty much maintained its meaning of “greet with affection”. That’s basically how it’s used here. So if I mislead anyone on the word back in the commentary on 1 Cor 13, my apologies. Not having the biblical background, I’m going to make mistakes like that. This is truly a voyage of discovery for me, too.

A few verses ago, when discussing “turn the other cheek”, we were more or less talking about a (quasi-) pacifist attitude. This part about loving your enemies is related to this, but not at all identical. Again, this idea is not exactly new, but it’s not exactly been expressed either to this point in Western Civ, at least. I can’t really speak to what the Buddha may have said about this. And it’s running alongside the Stoic attitude of a universal siblinghood (believe I coined the word a while back). So, even though it’s novel in some sense, it’s not completely without precedent or precursor, either. It is through Christianity, of course, that this idea gained traction in the west, at least to the point that people realize they should pay lip-service to the idea, even they don’t believe in it enough actually to practice it. 

Matthew Chapter 5:21-30

The Sermon on the Mount continues, and it will for much, much longer. Once again, the tone and the form have changed from the structure in the last section we did. This further enhances the sense that this is a collection of sayings, but it also imparts a sense that this may be a collection of groups of sayings. I’m still not sure what this says about the likelihood of this stuff being from Q. The thing is, I would say that, the longer Q supposedly was as a document, the less likely it is that the document would have become “lost”. The more content it contained, the more valueable it would have been, and hence, the more likely it would have been preserved.

21 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, Οὐ φονεύσεις: ὃς δ’ ἂν φονεύσῃ, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει.

22 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει: ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ, Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ: ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ, Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

“You have heard that it was said by the ancients, ‘Do not kill’; one how has killed is subject to judgement”. I say to you  that he who is angry with his brother is subject to judgement. For one who may say to his brother, ‘Raka,  let him be subject to the Sanhedrin. But he who says, ‘Fool’, let him be subject to Gehenna of the fire.”

First, ‘raka’ seems to be a more or less untranslatable expression of contempt. Per Wikipedia, it seems like there really isn’t a lot of agreement on origin or specific meaning. As for contextual meaning, it seems a lesser crime than calling your brother a fool; the one is punishable by human agents; the other is worthy of the fires of Gehenna.

Which brings us to the key feature of this passage: Gehenna. Like “raka”, what does this mean? Why is it fiery? The word was not used at all by Paul. Mark used it three times, all in the same passage in 9:43-47. Luke uses it once, and James once. Matthew uses it seven times, more than all the others put together. After another Google search, I find that Someone told me that this is a reference to a valley outside Jerusalem where children had once been sacrificed to Baal or Moloch in the bad old days. The sacrifice consisted of burning the children in a fire. Only gradually did it become associated with the eventual Christian concept of Hell. Given the origin, one can see the development of the word; it started as a sort of generic place of punishment–perhaps not dissimilar from the way English nannies tried to scare their charges into behaving by telling them that “Boney” (Napoleon Bonapart) was going to get them–into a very specific place of punishment with deep theological resonance. 

The question thus becomes “how did Matthew intend the word in this context?” Seeing that the word has about a dozen uses in the entire NT, I’m not sure if we can say with confidence that the transition to hell-fire has been made. That being said, however, a glance at the way fire is used, especially by Matthew, the concept of fire-as-punishment is very strong. Are we turning the corner? Consider that Paul did not use the concept of fire-as-punishment at all, and Mark only used it in the one place, so some development of the concept has likely occurred. OTOH, the subsequent uses in Luke don’t seem to develop the idea further, and John only uses the word once. But the thing with Matthew is that his became the “standard” gospel, especially of the early church. This “preferred” status gave Matthew outsized influence and impact on patristic thought. As such, any further development of the idea of hell-fire is probably based on Matthew.

The patristic thinkgers also believed it was the first written, which is why they placed it first in the canon. Unfortunately, this lack judgement betrays, I think, a certain amount of wishful thinking on the part of the fathers. They wanted Matthew to be first. Given this, I have a very difficult time giving credence to statements of Pappias and Eusebios about the very early history of the Jesus movement/Christian church. But we’ll pick this up again shortly, when we get to Matthew’s repetition of the use of gehenna/fire from Mark.

21 Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: “Non occides; qui autem occiderit, reus erit iudicio”.

22 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui irascitur fratri suo, reus erit iudicio; qui autem dixerit fratri suo: “Racha”, reus erit concilio; qui autem dixerit: “Fatue”, reus erit gehennae ignis.

23 ἐὰν οὖν προσφέρῃς τὸ δῶρόν σου ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον κἀκεῖ μνησθῇς ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἔχει τι κατὰ σοῦ,

24 ἄφες ἐκεῖ τὸ δῶρόν σου ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, καὶ ὕπαγε πρῶτον διαλλάγηθι τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, καὶ τότε ἐλθὼν πρόσφερε τὸ δῶρόν σου.

So should you proffer your gift upon the altar, and there you should be reminded that your brother has something against you (24), leave your offering before the altar, and first go and be changed (as in, ‘change your mind’) toward your brother, and then go to offer your offering.

This is kind of interesting. The word here is ‘brother’.  The NIV renders this as “brother or sister’. And this brings us to the perpetual question about translation: do you remain faithful to the original–slavishly so, in my case–or do you put it into terms for the new languages, and contemporary for the time? 

Now this strikes me as a new attitude, a change from the way people generally thought. The Greeks bragged about how they were a scourge to their enemy; both of those behaviours are decidedly not Christian. And that is precisely the point. We are introducing new standards of behaviour into mainstream thought. Now, to be fair, Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures present a very strong moral code that provides the basis–and much, much more–for what we call “Christian” morality. Hence the term “Judeo-Christian”, because the latter really stands on the shoulders of the former. The innovation here is that this “new” moral code is being introduced on a wide scale to a pagan and Graeco-Roman audience. That is a huge step.

Now, as we have noted, synagogues attracted the so-called ‘god-fearers’, pagans interested in Judaism, largely for its moral code. I have suggested (without a shred of evidence) that Matthew was such a god-fearer. One thing we have to remember is the timing; at the time Matthew wrote, the new proto-Christian message was being put out largely divorced from its Jewish heritage. The Temple had been destroyed, probably close to a generation previously. This had become a distant memory for a lot of people, for pagans who were not directly affected by the tragedy. This had removed an alternative focal point for the spread of this morality. More, those spreading the “new” code no longer required that those joining the group follow any of the Jewish dietary restrictions–not eating pig was a major hardship for some–or undergo a painful adult circumcision. So the traditional Jewish morality has come unstuck from its restrictive Jewish practices, giving it an appeal it may not have had a generation prior.

By the time Matthew wrote, I think, the tipping point had been passed, was in the past. By the time Matthew wrote, most new converts were likely to be of pagan background, and this had probably been true for some time, perhaps as long as a decade. Long enough for a new sensibility to take root, a sensibility that provided Matthew with a strong incentive to wrote a new gospel for a new time.

Note one thing that is missing in Matthew that was prominent in Mark: the secret. Mark was big on Jesus instructing people and demons not to reveal his identity. We shall see, but I don’t think we’re going to run across that in Matthew. Keep your eyes peeled–a lovely American expression for “be watchful”.

23 Si ergo offeres munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te,

24 relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare et vade, prius, reconciliare fratri tuo et tunc veniens offer munus tuum.

25 ἴσθι εὐνοῶν τῷ ἀντιδίκῳ σου ταχὺ ἕως ὅτου εἶ μετ’ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, μή ποτέ σε παραδῷ ὁ ἀντίδικος τῷ κριτῇ, καὶ ὁ κριτὴς τῷ ὑπηρέτῃ, καὶ εἰς φυλακὴν βληθήσῃ:

26 ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, οὐ μὴ ἐξέλθῃς ἐκεῖθεν ἕως ἂν ἀποδῷς τὸν ἔσχατον κοδράντην.

(25) Be quickly well-disposed to your legal adversary, while you are with him on the road, lest your legal adversary hand you over to the one judging, and lest the judge should (hand you over) to the bailiff, and you be thrown into prison. (26) Amen I say to you, go there until you have paid the last penny.

First, I specified “legal adversary” because that is compacted into the Greek word. Simply using “adversary” or “opponent” would miss this legal sense. I do not know if there is an English legal term for “adversary at law”. I believe that is what “adversary” technically means, but, in English, the term has become diluted and whatever legal connotation it may have has been lost in general usage. I wanted to get that across since the Greek is very specific. 

There are a number of anachronisms in my translation as well. “Judge” probably works, but “bailiff” and “prison” really don’t fit. But, they get the point across, I think. What I rendered as “prison” is probably most technically “be put under guard”. And “penny”…that would be, literally, ‘denrius’, but that’s Latin, and the Latin doesn’t even say that. But rendering it as “smallest unit of coinage in your particular country in your particular time” is a bit cumbersome, don’t you think?  

Finally, Jesus here has a pretty dim view of one’s chances at law. I suspect, but cannot say for certain, that this is perhaps a reflection of one of two things. The first is that Jesus is speaking mainly to people of lower stature. Such people in the ancient world (or the modern world) would have been at a decided disadvantage going to law against an adversary of higher social status. As such, chances were that the judge would, indeed, find against the lower-status individual who would then find him/herself dragged away and put under guard. I consider this the more likely possibility, but it is also possible that this is a reference to a time when followers of Jesus may have found themselves at a legal disadvantage because they were followers of Jesus. It is very difficult to be confident about this given the very sporadic nature of persecution. A year could make a difference, one place vs. another could make a big difference. The disadvantage of a lower-status individual was pretty much a constant; the status of a follower of Jesus was very random. As such, most likely Jesus–or Matthew–is speaking to lower-status individuals.

25 Esto consentiens adversario tuo cito, dum es in via cum eo, ne forte tradat te adversarius iudici, et iudex tradat te ministro, et in carcerem mittaris.

26 Amen dico tibi: Non exies inde, donec reddas novissimum quadrantem.

27 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Οὐ μοιχεύσεις.

28 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

You have heard that it is said, “Do not adulterize”. (28) But I say to you, the one who looks at a woman towards the desiring of her already adulterized her in his heart.

We’ve run across this before. In Greek, one doesn’t commit adultery; the latter is a verb, so one ‘adulterizes’. And in the final clause, the feminine pronoun is in the accusative case which is the case used for direct objects. So a man ‘adulterizes’ a woman.

More important, however, is the content of this passage. It’s no longer enough to refrain from doing something; even the desire is a transgression. Now notice, the 10 Commandments enjoin against coveting a neighbor’s possessions, or his wife. And this passage essentially is about coveting your neighbor’s wife. However, this sort of thing was not really considered a transgression among pagans. Here, this new standard of behaviour is being introduced to the pagan audience, as happened above in the passage about reconciliation. Again, I believe this reflects that Matthew is aiming this at a pagan, not a Jewish, audience. 

Finally, any Americans old enough may remember that this passage got Jimmy Carter into a bit of trouble in 1976. During the campaign for US president, he did an interview with Playboy Magazine, in which he admitted to having “committed adultery in my heart many times”.    

27 Audistis quia dictum est: “Non moechaberis”.

28 Ego autem dico vobis: Omnis, qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, iam moechatus est eam in corde suo.

29 εἰ δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ὁ δεξιὸς σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔξελε αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου βληθῇ εἰς γέενναν.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, rip it out and throw it from you. For it is better for you that your body parts should be destroyed and not your complete body be thrown into Gehenna. 

This is really interesting. What happened here? Recall that we ran across this idea in Mark. Except there we had an alternative. There is nothing here about “the life” as there was in Mark. The choice is simply a body lacking parts…doing…something…vs. a complete body being thrown into (presumably the fires of) Gehenna. What happened to entering the Life? That was my initial question. However, after a bit more research, I discovered that Matthew actually more or less repeats this concept, with the idea of entering the life, later on in the gospel. What does that mean?

Historians are accustomed to talk about “twinning”, in which the same event is duplicated and told as if it had been two separate events. This was my initial theory about the Feeding of the 5,000/4,000 in Mark: that it was the same event that got told in different ways, or by different groups so that eventually it came to be seen as two separate events. This is similar, I suppose. One group told the story as we found it in Mark: better to enter the life with one eye, etc., than to be thrown into Gehenna with all your parts intact. (I did not consider what that said about the idea of the Resurrection Body at the time; will have to remember to do that when we reach the appropriate place in Matthew.) But another group told it as we see it here: minus the part about entering the Life. These two streams then reached Matthew as separate entities so he recorded each as distinct from the other.

Sounds great in theory; the problem is…well, there are lots of problems. The first is sources: what were the different sources? Was one of them Q? Which one? Well, it would have to be this one, since Q supposedly is wisdom stuff and does not include material about the/an afterlife. But then, what about the Gehenna part? That seems to be implying an afterlife. Or was being thrown into Gehenna something that the secular authorities did? Was this sort of Jerusalem slang for being exiled from the Temple community? Interesting thought, isn’t it?

So if it wasn’t Q, then what? How many other sources were floating around? Perhaps quite a few, although we have to ask if the destruction of the Temple increased or decreased the number of sources available to Matthew. On the whole, I would say it increased the number. One possible outcome of the destruction of Jerusalem is that a lot of Jesus’ followers may have been scattered to be absorbed into different communities. There, lacking contact with the scattered communities, the stories started heading down different paths. They started evolving into different tracks that would have begun diverging from each other, perhaps to converge again as two different episodes. Is that what happened here? I have no idea. It’s possible, but that’s about all that we can say about it.

29 Quod si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum et proice abs te; expedit enim tibi, ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum mittatur in gehennam.

30 καὶ εἰ ἡ δεξιά σου χεὶρ σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτὴν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ: συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου εἰς γέενναν ἀπέλθῃ.

And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you. It is better for you to destroy your body parts and not with your body  whole go into Gehenna. 

 30 Et si dextera manus tua scandalizat te, abscide eam et proice abs te; expedit enim tibi, ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totum corpus tuum abeat in gehennam.

There really is nothing more to be said about this that wasn’t said in the comment to the previous verse. Once again, self-mutilation is preferable to going into Gehenna whole. 

Matthew Chapter 5:11-20

The Sermon on the Mount continues.

11 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ’ ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι]ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ:

Blessed are you when they reproach you and persecute you and say all evil against you [ falsely ] on account of me.

It’s pretty much impossible that Jesus said this. The conditions described are those of the decades following his death. It is important to realize that there is no tradition that any of Jesus’ followers were arrested immediately after Jesus’ execution. That should be taken as very strong evidence that, for the Romans, Jesus was a one-off sort of execution, an individual transgressor and not the leader of any kind of following that posed any kind of problem for Roman occupation. Otherwise, Jesus would have been tortured for names of accomplices, suspected followers would have been tortured to give up more names, and there would have been some kind of effort to root out and destroy the threat. Tiberius–or possibly those operating in his name (depends on how far you believe Tacitus/Robert Graves)–were employing exactly these tactics at the time of Jesus’ death to root out real or imagined enemies of the emperor. The Romans had no concern for civil rights, public opinion of the governed, or any niceties at all. As rulers they were brutal and ruthless–but only when provoked. For peoples who went along, things were pretty good: you got roads, settled conditions, security, and trade in as your reward for giving up your local ruler in exchange for an emperor. But this is a digression.

Anyway, the point is that those who followed Jesus’ in the latter’s lifetime were not unduly harassed, and so any reference to persecution almost certainly dates to the time after Jesus’ death. As such, references like this cannot trace back to Jesus. Now, this brings up another interesting question. When was Q written? It had to be some time before Matthew wrote; that’s known as the terminus ante quem. It had to be available for Matthew to use. And both Mack and Kloppenborg claim it was the earliest gospel. But how early? Immediately after Jesus’ death? If so, any references to Jesus’ death were inserted later, perhaps a decade or more later. But if it was written so early, and was so important to the early followers, why didn’t Mark use it? How did it remain unknown to Mark? Or if known, why wasn’t it used? This is the problem when you build a textual case without sufficient reference to how this all fit in with events in the outside world. There has to be a merger of the two.

And if this was added to the Q text, what else was? Just the stuff we want to think was added? If stuff like this verse was added, how can we be sure that stuff like “blessed are the poor” is authentic? Because it sounds like Jesus? Or because it sounds like what we want Jesus to say? When we start going down that road, matters get very subjective. They are value judgements, without a lot of historical validation. From the historical point of view, it would be difficult to construct an argument that this was not something added a decade or two after Jesus’ death.

11 Beati estis cum maledixerint vobis et persecuti vos fuerint et dixerint omne malum adversum vos, mentientes, propter me.

12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς: οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.

Rejoice and exult, that the reward of yours is great in the heavens; for in this way they persecuted the prophets that were (i.e. came) before you.

This, I think, represents another milestone in the development of what came to be Christian belief. This seems to be a point–the point?–when the rewards of the afterlife were the truly important part of the doctrine. You are persecuted now; you will be rewarded then. Naturally this ties back to “seeing God” and “inheriting the kingdom of the heavens/earth”. So we can see here that Matthew is using this section to lay out the groundwork of what the followers of Jesus believed. In fact, I’m sorly tempted to start calling then “Christians” at this point, because I think this is the formulary for what certainly became Christianity. This is why Matthew’s gospel comes first: when the Church set out the official contents of the NT, Matthew’s gospel was put first because they believed it was written first. They believed it prior to Mark because it has all of the Christian doctrines, most of which are absent in Mark.

They are absent in Mark because they had not been fully formulated yet. It took an extra decade or so for this all to be worked out.

And just a word about the “prophets before you”. Here we are getting the fixing of Jesus into the epic of Israel, explaining his death in terms of the way prophets were (mis)treated according to the legendary history. This helps situate both Jesus and the persecuted followers in this “pantheon”. Now, the fact that Matthew is taking pains to associate Jesus and the followers with the Jewish tradition might seem odd if I am correct and the audience–and bulk of converts–was pagan. Just remember that, for most of the people of the day, these two formulas held: antiquity = good; and innovation = bad. Connecting the Jesus movement to something as ancient as the Jewish legend would have given the movement a significant level of appeal.

12 Gaudete et exsultate, quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in caelis; sic enim persecuti sunt prophetas, qui fuerunt ante vos.

13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω κατα πατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt becomes dull (loses its flavour), in what (way) is it salty? It is worth nothing, except to be thrown out to be trampled under by people.

This is an interesting bit here. It’s the sort of wise, pithy analogy that most would trace back to the living Jesus. But what makes it interesting is that it’s in Mark, too, in slightly different form. This is one of those awkward Mark/Q overlaps that cause a certain amount of hemming and hawing and staring at the shoes among the Q proponents. They have to explain how something in Q can also be in Mark, when Mark didn’t know about Q. Honestly, the answer is not difficult: I have been saying right along that there were a number of traditions about Jesus that could easily have made their way to Mark’s hearing as well as being part of the tradition that created Q. As such, this could be something attested by two independent sources. The first is the one Mark heard, and the second is the one represented by Q. And, as such, I think that the likelihood of this dating back to Jesus becomes very strong.

As an aside, we talked about “salt of the earth” when it occurred in Mark. The Latin is “sal”, which is the root of our word “salary”, because Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. That is how valuable it was as a commodity. This is slightly ironic, because nowadays salt is so common that most of its price is incurred from the cost of packaging. But the point being, “salt of the earth” is a valuable commodity; calling someone by this moniker is quite a compliment. But one aspect of this that doesn’t get much attention is, what does the second part actually mean? Salt losing it’s saltiness? How does that happen? Can that happen? I’m really not at all sure about the science of this. But it does sort of fit in context with the subsequent verse. The two are similar in construction, a direct address rather than a general statement. And they both refer to the audience as something good, but only this one has the negative ending.

Back to the main point, if I’m basically conceding that this does–or at least could–trace back to Jesus, the question becomes whether this is typical of Jesus. I’m still sort of going through the stuff that’s supposed to be in Q verse-by-verse, so the jury is still out on that question. No doubt that this is the thing that the Q people believe is typical of Jesus. This is something that will be looked at as we go along.

13 Vos estis sal terrae; quod si sal evanuerit, in quo salietur? Ad nihilum valet ultra, nisi ut mittatur foras et conculcetur ab hominibus.

14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη:

You are the light of the cosmos. A city cannot be hidden when it lies on a hill.

“Kosmos” is a funny word. Obviously, it’s the root for “cosmos”, and the base meaning in Greek is something like “organized” or “arranged” or “in order”. As such, it’s not exactly a synonym for “the world” the way “the earth” and “the world” are in English. However, it most often simply does function as a synonym for “the earth”. The Latin is “mundus”, which is “the world”. But then, Latin doesn’t have a word like “cosmos”; even though “universe” comes from a Latin root, it’s a recent coinage, not something the Romans would have used. 

One thing to think about here is whom Jesus is addressing. Per the narrative, Jesus is still addressing the crowd, but don’t these give the sense of being directed towards a smaller group? Like perhaps the disciples? Regardless, the sense I have here is that Matthew has taken some disparate maxims and strung them together into a single “sermon”. The question becomes, does this stringing together of distinct pieces argue for Q, or against Q? The point of Q, after all, is that it’s just a collection of such sayings, basically on the format of the Gospel of Thomas. In fact, the discovery of the latter made the existence of Q seem all that much more likely. And the fact that G-Thomas fits the mold of what Q was supposed to be has been used as an argument for an early date for G-Thomas, perhaps as early as Q. Never mind that this is pretty much circular: how do we know that Thomas is early? Because it’s the same form as Q. How do we know that Q is early? Because it’s the same form as the Gospel of Thomas.

14 Vos estis lux mundi. Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita;

15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ.

Nor do they burn a lamp and place it under a measure(ing basket), upon the lampstand, and it lights the whole of the house.

More of this pithy wisdom. This is the sort of stuff that makes Burton Mack consider Jesus something on the lines of a Cynic sage. No, of course one does not do this. 

But does anyone else see a disconnect between the content of verses 3-10 and 11-15 (and perhaps beyond)? The form is different, the sort of thought expressed is very different, and it feels like the audience might even be different.  

15 neque accendunt lucernam et ponunt eam sub modio, sed super candelabrum, ut luceat omnibus, qui in domo sunt.

16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

In this way your light illuminates before people, just so they might know your good works and might glorify your father that is in the heavens.  

The first part is very literal; something like “lighting the way for everyone” is probably closer to a more idiomatic English translation. And again, who is he addressing. Is this directed towards the large crowd gathered? Or was this said in a more intimate setting and spoken mainly to his disciples? The “light of the world” is similar to “the salt of the earth” that will come up shortly. These are high terms of praise. What do they mean? Or maybe, what do they imply? And to whom are they applied? This is why I ask if they don’t seem more appropriate for a small group setting. And perhaps another interesting question is, why “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”? Why not “of the kingdom of the heavens”? Is it merely editorial variety? That is certainly a possibility. Questions like this, IMO, are why it’s so hard to base an entire theory of Christian origins on comparisons between texts. Sometimes authors say something because they like the way it sounds.

16 Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus, ut videant vestra bona opera et glorificent Patrem vestrum, qui in caelis est.

17 Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας: οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.

Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill (them). 

Seriously. There is no thematic coherence here. I will have to consider this and evaluate how this affects my position on Q; for this truly is a collection of sayings. Now, just to be clear, just because this really feels like collected sayings does not in any way corroborate the existence of a written collection. Nor does it provide any guarantee that any of these sayings were first spoken by Jesus.

This one in particular strikes me as a later addition, something that more likely originated with one of his followers. In fact, I would suggest that Matthew is the author. So far, we’ve seen Matthew tie Jesus to the Hebrew scriptures and deepen his identificatio with John. Both of these were meant to connect Jesus to the ancient Jewish tradition. Given the level of paganisation that we saw already in Paul and probably in Mark, it would not be surprising to see Matthew taking a stand to make sure that the nascent religion did not come totally unmoored from a Jewish heritage. 

And, oddly enough, I still suspect that Matthew may have started life as a pagan who became a god-fearer who steeped himself in Jewish tradition before becoming a follower of Jesus. I have absolutely no proof of this; rather, it’s the sense I get from the zealousness of Matthew’s adherence to the Hebrew tradition at a time when the Temple had been gone for almost a generation. So why not a Jew from birth? I’m not sure yet, just as I’m not sure about the content of this chapter so far.

As far as that goes, it almost seems to make more sense that Matthew was collecting these sayings exactly because they had not been collected prior. Just as Mark wrote, I think, to merge the various traditions into a single doctrine at a time when many of the original followers were dead or dying, so Matthew wanted to collect all the aphorisms that had accumulated among Jesus’ followers in the time since Mark. Some of them not doubt were intially said by Jesus, but certainly not all of them, and almost certainly not this one in particular. This fits too nicely in with what Matthew has been doing so far: accumulating the evidence for how Jesus is the fulfillment of “prophesies” from the Hebrew scriptures. Think back to Chapter 1, with the cite from Jeremiah tied to a fictitious slaughter of the Innocents, or to Jesus being the son that God called from Egypt. Given this as Matthew’s intention, it’s hardly surprising to see him have Jesus assure us that he’s not destroying the Law, but fulfilling it.

Because that must have been something that was being discussed by this point. The Temple was gone; Mark had taken steps to distance Jesus from the Jewish tradition. The Pauline tradition stressed Jesus’ similarities with Greek pagan thought. Over time the links of the Jesus movement to Judaism were breaking. Matthew saw the need to step in and re-establish them.

17 Nolite putare quoniam veni solvere Legem aut Prophetas; non veni solvere, sed adimplere.

18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται.

For amen I say to you, until the sky and the earth pass away, one iota or a single [tittle] will not pass away from the law until it shall all come to pass.

“Tittle”. The word rendered so does not really exist in Greek. As it is, the word here is a homophone for the Greek word for “horn”, as in, “horn of a goat” or such. The bit about the “one iota” refers to the letter “iota”, which more or less corresponds to the Latin “i”, so it’s the smallest letter. Sometimes iota/Latin i at the beginning of a word is rendered as an English ‘j’ (but pronounced as an ‘i’), so “iota” can become “jot”, a not uncommon translation for “iota” here. (The Latin i >> j is amply demonstrated by the Latin ‘iustus’, the root of the English “just”, “justice”, & c. A Latin ‘i’ between two other vowels also became written as a ‘j’.  Sorry, can’t think of an example at the moment. And note that Italian did not follow this convention; as a result, the Italian alphabet has only 22 letters, lacking j/k/w/y.)

I find it very interesting that here Matthew uses “sky” in the singular. This is telling, I think. It may indicate that he has already begun to see a distinction between “the sky” as the big blue thing up above us, and “the heavens” which apparently has become a place. This is not completely novel; this implication had been implicit in Greek since the time of Homer. But the distinction of singular and plural is an innovation, I believe, one indicating that the words had begun to separate.

The comment to the previous verse also stands for this one.

18 Amen quippe dico vobis: Donec transeat caelum et terra, iota unum aut unus apex non praeteribit a Lege, donec omnia fiant.

19 ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.

He who may loosen one of the least of the commandments, and may teach people in this way, he will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens. He who will do this (keep the commandments) and may teach this, he will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.

OK, the thing is, we have a section of three verses dealing with Jesus’ adamant insistence to preserve the law without dropping a single letter from it. None of this in any way traces back to Jesus; these are the sorts of things that someone would only say after the fact. Now, this is in Luke, too, which presumably means it’s supposedly part of Q. However, it doesn’t appear to be in the reconstruction of Q that I got from Mack’s “The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins”. At least, it’s not in the original stratum; Mack and Kloppenborg both posit three layers of Q, but it’s apparently in one of the subsequent layers. Just about the time that the sense that we are reading a collection of sayings that Matthew has collected, and just as I’m starting to wonder if, maybe, there may be some case for the existence of Q, we run into something like these past three verses. Again, these do not trace back to Jesus; Mack tacitly admits that by not including it in his original stratum. So where did they come from? When did they come from? This question, as far as I can tell, is not addressed. Now, Mack’s book cited here is the first I read on the topic, and it may be that I’ve forgotten that he addressed this, but Kloppenborg certainly didn’t.

Really, as far as I can tell, these verses are considered to be part of Q because they are both in Matthew and Luke. Isn’t the simpler explanation that Luke took them from Matthew? I need to address this in a separate post, but, for now, just let me say that Luke either changed the wording and/or order of parts of Matthew or parts of Q. This is an either/or, black and white, yes or no situation. Luke changed one or he changed the other one. How does it make more sense to claim that Luke changed a source for which we have no proof, aside from the fact that Luke changed the wording that we find in Matthew?   

19 Qui ergo solverit unum de mandatis istis minimis et docuerit sic homines, minimus vocabitur in regno caelorum; qui autem fecerit et docuerit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno caelorum.

20 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

For I say to you that unless your righteousness abounds more that (that) of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.    

20 Dico enim vobis: Nisi abundaverit iustitia vestra plus quam scribarum et pharisaeorum, non intrabitis in regnum caelorum.

Well, here the scribes and Pharisees are actually a positive example. The implication is that, while they are righteous, they’re not sufficiently so. And what are the Scribes and Pharisees known for? Their integrity in fulfillment of the law. This despite what Paul said. Now, the other interesting thing about this passage and Paul is that the word “righteousness/justice (= iustitia in Latin)” occurs very frequently in Paul, not at all in Mark, only once in Luke, twice in John, four times in Acts, and like every other word in Romans. And it’s the third time we’ve run across it in Matthew. Why is that? Well, one really obvious possibility is that Matthew was familiar with at least some of Paul’s writing. How this happened, or which letters he’d read, is impossible to say. Another is to say that it’s a common-enough theme, but then how to explain its relative scarcity outside of Paul and the seven uses in Matthew? But then why is Matthew more or less contradicting Paul on the value of the Law?

I don’t have answers for any of these questions. At least, not at the moment. But these are questions that need to be asked, and this is another topic of discussion that I’ve never run across. To my mind, this sort of topical correlation will tell us more about the historical Jesus, the links between the authors of the NT, and the way that the followers of the historical Jesus gradually–but only gradually–transformed into Christians by sometime in the last two decades of the First Century. The important thing to remember is that the influences and development were not simple, and certainly not linear. Ideas combined and re-combined, influenced each other, mutated, and then came back again in somewhat different form to start the process all over. To think that we can trace all this by straight textual analysis, by comparing differences in word choices, or the order in which the material is presented is, I believe, naive.

Another facet of this discussion is understanding why Matthew and Luke and John wrote a gospel. They wrote it because they had something they felt needed to be said. They believed that they had an additional contribution to make, something new to say. So when Matthew wrote, after becoming aware of Mark’s gospel, Matthew felt he had something to add to Mark. As such, he did not just slavishly repeat Mark. Why bother? That had been done. And in the same way Luke felt that he had something to say beyond what Matthew and Mark said. So of course he changed things he found in Matthew (or Q), he re-arranged, reorganized, reworded. Why do you write a new gospel if you’re not going to change things?

Keep that in mind as we proceed. 


Matthew Chapter 5:1-10

Here we begin the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the next two or three chapters are Jesus speaking. This is where, I think, the idea of Q came from. Where was all this speech in Mark? As noted at the end of the last commentary, Mark introduced Jesus’ public ministry with a healing that was also a slap at the existing religious authorities. As such, it was something of a revolutionary moment. This is a much gentler Jesus, less overtly provocative. I think for this reason the Q believers, and a lot of Christians in general would like to see this as representing the “real” Jesus, that this speech represented the core of the teaching of the historical Jesus. That it did not make it into Mark was a problem. Matthew post-dates Mark; if Mark does not have this, then doesn’t this imply that, possibly, much of the content of this speech does not trace back to Jesus?

This quandary is neatly and effectively solved by Q. With Q, this can be the authentic tradition that was passed down in a source that did not survive, except in excerpt into Matthew and Luke. Certainly, many Classical Greek authors or thinkers are only known this way. But this is not the place to discuss the Q question; that will come. For now, suffice it to point out that Q satisfies an ardent desire of many Christian thinkers: it lets the thoughts expressed in the next few chapters of Matthew represent the real Jesus, and it provides a vehicle for the transmission of these thoughts by way of a written source, thereby providing a measure of confidence that Jesus actually spoke these words. As such, the idea of Q seems a little too tidy for my historian’s training. It seems a bit too much like, if Q didn’t exist, it became necessary to discover it between the lines of the texts that we do have.

1 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος: καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ:

Seeing the crowds, he went up the mountain. And he being seated, his disciples approached him.  

To a certain degree, this corresponds to the beginning of Mark 3. There, pressed by the crowd, Jesus put out into a boat and preached from there. Here the logistical problem is solved by Jesus ascending (at least partway) a mountain, using that as his raised podium. [ Note: Kloppenborg agrees that this is where one might reasonably expect the Sermon on the Mount should be located had Mark included it. Always nice to have one’s inferences & judgements corroborated. ]

In many ways, some of the questions raised here should have been discussed during the reading of Mark. But we had no point of comparison like we do now, so the “compare and contrast” technique suggests itself. The base question is “why didn’t Mark report what Jesus taught?” And that is a truly penetrating question that gets to the heart of the intent of the different evangelists. It’s also not a question I’ve encountered in the scholarly literature; I’m sure it’s addressed. Somewhere. I’m sure that the fault is entirely mine for not having widely enough. But it’s strange to note that this question does not come up in the discussions about Q. And that, indeed, may be legitimate; the case for Q may not be the appropriate venue for discussing why Mark did not report the teaching.

Matthew’s reason for reporting it, OTOH, is entirely pellucid, as my fourth year Latin prof used to say. As noted in my intro above, Matthew wanted to present this as the core of Jesus’ teaching, so it’s really the first significant act of Jesus’ public ministry that he reports. That Matthew uses this, rather than the healing of the man’s withered hand in the synagogue on a Sabbath puts forward a very different Jesus than Mark did. Perhaps this Jesus is just as revolutionary; indeed, he may be more revolutionary.  

1 Videns autem turbas, ascendit in montem; et cum sedisset, ac cesserunt ad eum discipuli eius;

2 καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων,

And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying,

Yes, it is necessary to open one’s mouth to teach and speak. At least we can be sure that Jesus did not impart his message telepathically. 

2 et aperiens os suum docebat eos dicens:

3 Μακάριοιοἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, that of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

Looking at the Greek here, I’m wondering about the “in” spirit. It’s a dative, but there’s no preposition to provide any clues as to how this should be rendered: by, with, in…And the Latin is no help because there is no preposition there, either. There’s nothing wrong with “in”; it makes a lot of sense in English. The point though, is that it’s a consensus translation rather than something that’s absolutely in the Greek. I suppose we can assume the sense was passed along from the beginning by people who spoke the language, but, again, just want to point this out. It’s important to realize when a translation is secure, and when it’s a little bit loose.

Second, I should have pointed this out earlier: Matthew prefers to call it the kingdom “of the heavens” (plural). Now, this doesn’t have to mean anything different than the singular; I tracked this for a while before giving up on it as a false distinction. For example, in English, we have the expression “and the heavens opened”, meaning that it started to rain like fury. It’s hard to explain why Matthew choses to use this term, rather than “kingdom of God”, or “kingdom of heaven”.  Now, in English, “heaven” would mean the abode of the divine used in however trivial a manner; hence, “heavenly hash” ice cream. OTOH, “the heavens” is generally a synonym for “the sky”. But this is 21st Century English usage, it’s not First Century Greek usage. So chances are there’s no significance that we can determine from the remove of two millennia. 

Now, considering that this is the opening of the speech, we are probably justified in taking this as a thesis sentence. This is what Matthew believes Jesus said to introduce the concept of the kingdom. But how likely is it that this is how Jesus began? Quite unlikely, in my opinion. Here’s the situation: it’s perhaps fifty years after the fact. There may–or may not–have been a written source that recorded the words. But, even assuming there was, did one of the disciples act as stenographer, taking notes as Jesus spoke? Something like, “poor in spirit>>kgdm hvn”? Probably not. So, if there was no one on the spot taking notes, how much time elapsed between Jesus speaking the words and the words being written down for the very first time? A month? A year? More like five? My bet would be that none of this was written during Jesus’ lifetime. Rather, it only began to be written down after Jesus died, because only then did it become essential to remember what Jesus said and did. More, if Jesus died very suddenly as I expect he did, then this unexpected departure may have caused a burst of writing down what the master had said.

And here’s the other thing. Jesus taught, repeatedly, over a period of time. Did he have the equivalent of a politician’s stump* speech? A speech, a set of teachings that he repeated over and over? Perhaps. Does the text here represent that speech? Now recall the context: Matthew says that Jesus traveled all over, to Syria, the Decapolis, etc. Did he do that before this moment? Or was that a summary of Jesus’ entire career? If the former, did he use those travels to work out the essentials of his message? If so, does that mean that his message changed over time? Or that the repetition allowed him to get the meaning across in an economical, efficient manner. IOW, a set-piece stump speech.

Is that scenario possible? Possibly. Is it likely? That’s really hard to say; more, I think it would have to depend on, to some degree, the length of his ministry. The more time he spent preaching, the more consistent his message would be.  He would start off saying different things in different ways, but eventually he’d hit on a phrase that worked particularly well, and that would become the standard. As he began his ministry, he probably tossed things off under the inspiration of the moment. Bur further reflection he would probably consider some of these inspirations truly a good thing, while others would fall by the wayside because they were unable to stand up to further reflection. Is this the metaphor for the sower and the seed? So, with time, the message would become more refined, more consistent in both content and language. So that’s the genesis of the set-piece stump speech.

More on that later. For now, our concern is to figure out what Matthew sees as the message, what message he wants to convey. The maxim presented here is familiar to even the most casual Christians, I believe. Anyone who’s been to church over a period of time has probably heard this sentiment. As such, we all know what the implication is. Now, think about it, the poor, but only in spirit. Recall Mark’s axiom about the rich man and the camel and the eye of the needle. What we have here is very different. Perhaps Mark’s message was a bit more of “expropriate the expropriators”, but this only requires that one be poor in spirit. That is, wealth, per se, was not an obstacle, so long as one maintained the outlook of the poor. Among the upper class, but not of it. Mark’s statement has implications for social revolution: the rich are to be excluded from the kingdom. This is not necessarily true here.

As such, I believe that this represents a belief, or a teaching, that has evolved over time. What this entails is that it’s not very likely that Jesus actually said these words, words which, in a very real sense, provide a deep insight into the meaning of being a Christian.

I have just learned from Kloppenborg’s Q: The Earliest Gospel that Luke says “blessed are the poor”. Of course, since this whole speech is not in Mark, the immediate inference is that this speech comes from Q. And, the fact that Like has simply “the poor”, and “the hungry” is taken to mean that Luke records the more “primitive” version, that his version is more faithful to Q, and so is more likely to be what Jesus actually said. And I have to admit that this is the first “argument” for Q that really made me sit back and wonder if there might not be something to the whole Q premise. Mind you, I’m not convinced, but it’s a point that I have to consider. Again, I will explain the reasons I don’t buy into Q in a separate post, or series of posts.

Regardless, this statement is a very sophisticated, subtle, and nuanced thought. Now, Kloppenborg says that “poor in spirit” is just a synonym for “humble”, in the sense of “humility”, but that doesn’t change the beauty of the thought expressed. What I get from this is that Matthew was capable of some penetrating and poetic thinking. That is, he was able to re-interpret “the poor” as those “poor in spirit”. This implies no small measure of creative thinking and imagination. In short, it shows that Matthew is very capable of making stuff up. And this, I think, puts rather a different spin on the composition of the second gospel.

In the literature, one finds reference to special material that is unique to Matthew, and to the source M that lies behind the special material unique to Matthew. In addition, Kloppenborg even tries to tease out which of this material was actually part of Q that Luke omitted for reasons unknown. This desire to attribute Matthew’s new material to a source Q or a separate source M overlooks the possibility that Matthew may have been a religious thinker of the first order. There is no reason why Matthew did not write the stuff attributed to M. (There is also an hypothetical source L for the material unique to Luke.) There is no reason he did not create this material himself. There is one very big reason to insist that it was not created by Matthew. By attributing it to Q or M, the ultimate source can ultimately–if only tenuously and hypothetically–be traced back to Jesus. If we admit that Matthew may have created it, then we have lost that link to the living Jesus. As a theological position, this makes a lot of sense; as an historical position, it has very little to recommend it.

The Q/M/L material may have originated with Jesus. It may have been transmitted more or less faithfully. But those are contingent probabilities; the second rests on the first, and if you know how probability works, you will realize that each contingent probability decreases the chance of occurrence. A one-in-three chance based on a one-in-two chance becomes a one-in-six chance. So this double contingency reduces the chances of the statement accurately describing what actually happened. And there is no evidence to support either of these conditions. As such, it is just as likely that the material originated later, after Jesus’ death, or that it originated with Matthew. Or, more technically, to the author of the gospel attributed to Matthew. In fact, a case could be made that the last is the most likely scenario, since there is actual evidence to support it. This cannot be said of the other two possibilities. Of course,  this has serious ramifications of a theological/religious nature, but that does not affect their likelihood in historical terms.

I keep getting sucked into discussing the likelihood of the existence of Q. Part–more probably most–of the reason for this is that it’s what I really want to discuss. But, let’s stay on task, which is “poor in spirit”.  I mentioned that this may be a synonym for “humility” and then went off on a tangent. Yes, it can mean that, but it doesn’t have to. Rather, the sentiment can just as easily express an attitude towards money. It can express the admonition not to value wealth over other matters, not to feel the need to lord it over one’s neighbors because one has money. In which case the bottom line is that it’s an acknowledgement that wealth is not a problem per se; one can have wealth and yet be “poor in spirit”. That’s very different from what Mark said about the rich, and very different from what Luke will say in the tale of Dives and Lazarus.

So this tells me that Matthew is making excuses for the wealthy members of his community.  Why? That’s hard to say without further information, but I believe my inference is valid. As such, and if so, this indicates that perhaps Matthew’s community was rather more well-off than some of the other ones.

Regardless, given Mark’s attitude, and Luke’s to come, this different slant of Matthew perhaps does indicate that he is the deviation from the tradition of the attitude towards rich and poor. As such, we can infer that the teaching of Jesus had something to say about these differences in wealth. And we can probably say that Luke presents a more faithful account of that tradition when he says, ‘blessed are the poor’. But that is not to say that it in any way provides proof for the existence of Q. Recall, the whole point of Q is that it was a written document. No such document is necessary for the transmission of an attitude towards wealth. Oral tradition can account for that. However, I do believe that the variance between Matthew and Luke may make a pretty strong case that Jesus, indeed, had a less-than-favourable attitude to wealth; or, at least, to the way wealth was used.

(* For non-Americans, the term refers back to the mythological 19th Century practice that politicians supposedly had of standing on a tree stump to deliver a speech during the campaign for election. The speech would have been delivered repeatedly during the course of the campaign, as the candidate traveled to different places, so it came to mean something routine, well-worn, and often-repeated that summarized the candidate’s opinions, credentials, whatever. 

3 “Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum.

4 μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

Blessed are the weeping, that they will be consoled.

Like the previous verse, this indicates a concern for the downtrodden.

4 Beati, qui lugent, quoniam ipsi consolabuntur.

5 μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.

Blessed are the meek, they that (lit = that they) will inherit the earth.

There isn’t even much to quibble about in the Greek. OTOH, one really has to stop for a moment to let the thought sink in: “inherit the earth/world”. That is a pretty radical statement for the late First Century CE. The idea of the meek inheriting anything would have been considered ridiculous in many circles. The Roman ideal was of a manly man, “vir“, as in the root of “virile”. Nor did the Greeks consider self-deprecation to be particularly virtuous. 

It’s interesting to a certain degree that the meek only get the earth, while the poor in spirit get the kingdom. Is there a difference? That’s a really interesting question. To us, there certainly is, but then if you read Revelation, maybe there isn’t. But “kingdom of the heavens” from verse 3 seems reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 4, when the anointed one comes down from heaven–meaning the sky. The problem here is very similar to that of the sacred breath. Does ‘heaven’ ever become Heaven? I suspect not, at least until Revelation. Even, “our father who is in the sky” is perfectly plausible. And this is not too big a step from Zeus Sky-Father. It’s just that we have endowed the word with special meaning, like we have done with baptism or Holy Spirit, whether Matthew meant it or not. Now, it’s worth noting that “the heavens” gets translated as “heaven” in my four crib translations. But it is a lower-case ‘heaven’. It could just as easily be “the sky”.

5 Beati mites, quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram.

6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for justice, they that will be fed.

Again, Luke has this as those being hungry. The idea, there, of course, is a much more straightforward than it is here. Now, the thing is, did Luke copy from Q more faithfully? Or was the idea of the virtue of the poor more of an issue for him? Matthew uses the word five times; Luke uses it twice as much. Given that, I think that Luke may have been more interested in the fate of those who were actually poor, and actually hungry than the poor in spirit and those hungering for justice. Maybe this is my proletarian radar picking up a false signal, but I get the sense that Matthew is trying to let the wealthier members of his community off the hook. Yes, the sentiment he expresses is more poetic than Luke’s, but it’s also thereby less direct. I’m not so sure that the difference reflects a “more primitive” version of Q as much as a real difference in attitude between the two evangelists.

6 Beati, qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam, quoniam ipsi saturabuntur.

7 μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

Blessed are the merciful, they that will be compassioned.

Sorry about “will be compassioned”, but it’s a verb in Greek, and a passive at that. It’s a very technical translation. Not sure I have anything more useful to say.

7 Beati misericordes, quia ipsi misericordiam consequentur.

8 μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

Blessed are the pure in heart, they that will see God.

I realize that there are a lot of novel formulations here, that say a lot about the novel mental state expressed. However, rather than say the same thing several times, I am deferring to a single treatment at the end of the section.

The idea of “seeing God” represents a major step forward in the proto-Christian doctrine. I’ve commented several times about the vagueness of the benefits to be conferred for following Jesus. Here we have a very concrete one. It is a benefit and the implication is one of an afterlife, I think. This is one of the first times we’ve really had something so definite. OTOH, is this so very different, from the implication of the anointed coming down from the sky in 1 Thessalonians 4? After all, the clear implication there is that the faithful will see the anointed. Now, is the anointed to be conflated with God, or are the two separate there? Are the two separate here? Here, I think they are. I think “God” means something different from the Christ. 

8 Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.

9 μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται.

Blessed are the peacemakers, they that will be called children (lit = “sons”) of God.

Comment deferred

9 Beati pacifici, quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur.

10 μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are those persecuted on account of righteousness, that of them (will be) the kingdom of heaven.

Comment deferred

10 Beati, qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum.

This, strictly speaking, is the end of the Beatitudes. The blessings will continue in the next section, but the presentation changes so this is probably a good time to break. However, there are a number of things to be noted here. Reading them one-by-one they all sounded very straightforward, but noting them in sequence some things pop out at me.

First, I have to point out that these seven verses, in many ways, are the epitome of Christian behaviour. At least, this is what I think of when I want to describe Christian behaviour. I aspire to behaving in this manner. I don’t want to be smug or judgemental; I want to be meek, poor in spirit, pure in heart. As noted, they all carry some notion of concern, and ultimate victory, for the downtrodden. I believe we are to take this much in the sense that we do take it: the kingdom is the reward/validation that there, the social

IOW, this section is programmatic. It describes the behaviour to be followed. It is very, very different in many ways from the moral code of much of the Graeco-Roman world, even if it’s not entirely a radical break from the Jewish ideals of social justice that we find in places like the Book of Ezra, or the Qumran scrolls, for example. Nor is it all that radically different from much of the moral code that we will encounter in much of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; however, this latter book did not appear until nearly a hundred years later, so the question of who influenced whom may be legitimate.

But now let’s think back to some of the questions I’ve asked. Paul talks about being pure for the day of the lord, and Mark has a few strictures for proper behaviour. However, in both cases I repeatedly asked what, specifically, Paul meant by “being pure”, or exactly what sort of behaviour Mark had in mind. And then the question of “what happens then?” has arisen more than once.

Here, for the first time, those questions are answered, I believe, in a very direct, concrete, and specific manner. This is how we are to behave. Our reward will the kingdom of heaven, or to see God, or to be called children of God. We will have compassion and mercy shown to us, we will be satisfied and consoled. There it is: quid pro quo. For the first time, the essence of what it means to be Christian, and what we get in return is spelled out for us.

The first time.

I repeat, “the first time”.

What I’m suggesting is that these seven verses were 40 or 50 years in the making. They represent the point when followers of Jesus became Christians. As such, they represent a culmination, a climax. They are not a genesis.

What am saying is that Jesus never said these words. I think that Matthew helped create them. He, or his community arrived at these sets of verses to help them explain, to themselves as well as to others, what it was that they believed. They believed in a moral code described in these seven verses, and they believed that they would see God as a result. They would be children of God, just as Paul said we are. They would, in fact, be sons of God, and I want to stress the gender of the noun because Jesus was also the son of God. We would have something very significant in common with Jesus.

This is a very radical idea. I do not know if this has ever been suggested in quite this manner. However, given the way that the message has evolved over time, from Paul through Mark to this moment in Matthew, I believe that this conclusion is justified.

It is important to understand that the words in these seven verses are what came to separate Jesus from the other wonder workers of the time. Paul said that the gift of performing wonders was given to some members of the community of Corinth, and he didn’t sound all that impressed by the idea. For Paul, Jesus was the Christ, and for Paul this belief was enough. He did prescribe the conventional Jewish moral code derived from the Ten Commandments. Of course, Jesus was the Christ for Matthew as well, but the conception of what this means has grown; it has developed. Matthew takes the ideas introduced by Paul–whether or not he got them from Paul–and expanded on them while simultaneously shaping them into something that can be part of the everyday world.

Of course, my conjecture here completely blows the idea of Q out of the water. It heretically claims that Jesus did not say these words. These are not the words of Jesus, but of Christians. The ideas expressed here developed, they grew, they expanded. There is nothing like this in Paul (well, maybe the description of love in 1 Corinthians), and certainly nothing like this in Mark. How is that possible? What we have here is the essence of Christianity. If Jesus spoke them, how is it possible that Mark didn’t bother to record them? How did Mark, or Paul, not know of them? The proponents of Q have never given a satisfactory answer to that question. In fact, it seems rarely to be addressed.

And yet, the idea that these seven verses are the essence of Jesus’ teaching is the foundation stone of Q belief: that these words capture what Jesus said. And yet Mark didn’t know about them? Or think them important enough to set down? That’s simply mind-boggling. Kloppenborg says that an hypothesis has to have explanatory power, and he says that the weakness of the Q deniers is that they cannot explain, in a consistent and coherent hypothesis, why Luke deviates from Matthew the way he does. And yet, he makes no attempt to explain how these incredibly crucial words completely passed by Mark. He whiffed on them completely.

Sorry, that’s really hard to believe if this was the core of Jesus’ teaching.