|ΒΙΒΛΟΣ ΓΕΝΕΣΕΩΣ ΙΥ ΧΥ ΥΥ ΔΑΥΙΔ υυ |
ΑΒΡΑΑΜ ΑΒΡΑΑΜ ΕΓΕΝΝΗΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ ισαακ |
ΙΣΑΑΚ δε εΓΕΝΝΗΣΕΝ Τον ΙΑΚΩβ ιακωβ |
ΔΕ ΕΓενΝΗΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ
ΙΟυΔΑΝ και τους |
ΑδΕΛΦΟΥΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΙΟΥΔΑς δΕ ΕΓΕΝνη|ΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ ΦΑΡΕΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΝ ΖΑΡΕ ΕΚ ΤΗΣ ΘΑ|μΑΡ ΦΑΡΕΣ ΔΕ ΕΓΕΝΝΗΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ ΕΣΡΩΜ ...
A-RECORD OF-THE-GENEALOGY OF-JESUS CHRIST SON OF-DAVID son | OF-ABRAHAM. ABRAHAM FATHERED - isaac, AND-ISAAC - fATHERED - JACOB jacob | FAthERED - JuDAH and the | BROTHERS OF-HIM, AND-JUDAH FATHer|ed - PERES AND - ZERAH BY -TA|mAR, AND-PEREZ - FATHERED - HEZRON ...
| Oxhyrhynchus Papyrus P1, generally dated by writing style in the early 3rd century, housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Illustrated is the recto side with the beginning of Matthew's Gospel. Matthew 1.1-9, 12.
P1 was a book.
(Note the use of Nomina sacra (overlined) in this early copy of the NT.)
jesus: coming; descent; birth | wise men | nazareth | baptism | temptation | galilee | >> |
This innocent-looking heading has been placed by the translators at the beginning of each of the gospels; but neither of the terms which it contains is as simple as it looks. In the first place when, and in what sense, did Christ "come"? The New Testament writers themselves were by no means agreed on the point at which the gospel story began. Mark, for example, followed what we may believe to have been the oldest pattern of Christian preaching: he began with Jesus' baptism, and recorded nothing before this except the activity of John the Baptist, Jesus' immediate precursor. Matthew felt it important to record the circumstances of Jesus' birth and parentage, and Luke went back still further to the birth of John the Baptist. John's "beginning" is on another time-scale altogether: Christ had existed with God the Father since the birth of time, and his "coming" was really a "becoming", the appearance of a pre-existent divine being at a certain moment and place in history. These differences of approach and emphasis are characteristic of each gospel; and the similarity of the headings in the NEB should not obscure the fact that for each of these writers the word coming might have borne a different meaning.
Secondly, Christ. The Greek word Christos stands for the Hebrew word Messiah, "the Anointed One". This was an old title, originally used of the first kings of Israel. But in the time of Jesus it was reserved for a divinely appointed figure whom (it was widely believed) God would soon send into the world to inaugurate a new and blessed age for the benefit of his elect. Was Jesus this Messiah, this Christ? His work and teaching were such that the question was bound to be constantly raised. In public, he never gave an altogether unambiguous answer to it, and during his lifetime his name remained simply the not uncommon Hebrew name Yeshua, represented in Greek as Jesus. It was only after the resurrection that his disciples became completely convinced that he was the Christ. They then began to refer to him as Jesus "the Christ", and soon simply as Jesus Christ.
Many different beliefs were held by Jesus' contemporaries about the exact nature and function of this Messiah; but it was common ground to most of them that he would be a descendant of King David. Jesus apparently fulfilled this qualification: he had a family tree which could be traced back to David; and this is one reason why Matthew begins his gospel with a table of the descent of Jesus Christ (1-17). But it may not be the only reason. Jewish writers were fond of establishing the genealogies of their heroes, and of showing them to be descendants of great figures of the past, and Matthew in fact takes the genealogy back, not just to David, but further still, to Abraham. Abraham, for any Jewish thinker, was the decisive figure in the story of God's concern for mankind; and Matthew's genealogy serves to knit Jesus firmly into this story. Moreover, the series of three groups of fourteen generations ((17.) which is somewhat artificially imposed upon the list of names) is probably intended to suggest that divine providence had been at work in bringing Jesus into the world at this exact moment of history.
The list itself is demonstrably inaccurate in certain details, but is not necessarily entirely untrustworthy. From Abraham to Zerubbabel (2-12) the genealogy runs through the well-known leaders of the Jewish people. Where it can be checked against similar lists in the Old Testament (such as in the first chapters of 1 Chronicles), it shows certain discrepancies and errors; but it is certain that no single and authoritative genealogy of the leading families in Jewish history existed in Matthew's time, and it need cause no surprise that Matthew's list differs slightly from others, particularly since it had to be adjusted a little to fit into a fourteenfold pattern. After Zerubbabel (12-16), the line branches off from the main stem in order to reach the immediate ancestors of Jesus, and from this point we have no means of checking it. It is quite different from Luke's table; but this does not necessarily prove either of the tables to be a fiction. The evangelists may have had access to family papers such as many Jewish families possessed, recording one or more family trees (perhaps through different parents or grandparents) and proving that Joseph was among the descendants of David.
But Joseph was not Jesus' father (16). This difficulty, which was felt sufficiently acutely in antiquity to cause some variants in Matthew's text (see the footnote in NEB), arose out of the fact that Matthew had two apparently incompatible things to say about Jesus: first that he was (as the Messiah was expected to be) a descendant of David, and secondly that he was born in a unique way, without a human father. But Jewish law and custom offered a solution to this difficulty. If a Jew formally named and adopted a child, that child became his son. This is the theme of the following paragraph.
This is the story of the birth of the Messiah (18-25). The birth was miraculous: it was God, and no human father, who caused Mary to conceive. In the Old Testament, the creative power of God was called his "spirit"; and it may still have conic naturally to a Jewish writer such as Matthew to use the same language: she was with child by the Holy Spirit. But Matthew does not linger over the miracle itself; he goes straight on to its human Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which meant under Jewish law that she was fully committed to marrying him: the contract had already been signed, and it only remained for the marriage ceremony to take place and for the bride to take up residence in her husband's house. Her pregnancy, if suddenly discovered at this stage by the bridegroom, was therefore a potential source of scandal. Being a man of principle (19), Joseph could not possibly condone it: he must either bring his fiancee publicly before a court in order to prove her guilty, or else repudiate the marriage contract (which he was entitled to do at any time) and leave the question of Mary's shame to be resolved by her family. But a further divine intervention, related this time in the form of a dream and an angel, made him take responsibility himself. If the world believed that he had had intercourse with his betrothed before their marriage, it would not greatly matter: this was not regarded as a serious sin in Jewish society; and by adopting and naming the child, he took him formally into his own family and ensured that Jesus, like himself, could be rightfully called a 'son of David' (20).
However, Matthew is not only concerned to settle these practical details. He compresses into this short paragraph some important clues to the wider significance of Jesus' birth. The name itself, Jesus, meant Saviour, and [1.21] described something of Jesus' destiny; and the manner of Jesus' birth had a striking parallel in Old Testament prophecy. One of Matthew's particular contributions to the gospel story was to demonstrate that not merely the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus but also many other episodes were foretold or prefigured in Scripture. In doing this his methods were not always such as modern scholarship would countenance, though they would have aroused no scruples among Jewish scholars of his time. Here, for example, the original Hebrew of Isaiah 7.14 has, not 'the virgin', but 'a young [1.23] woman', and it is unlikely that Isaiah, in this prophecy of future abundance and divine favour, meant to predict anything so miraculous as a virgin birth. But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which Matthew used, the word could (though it did not necessarily) mean 'virgin', and so to Matthew's mind the text provided a startlingly exact prophecy of the event he had just recorded.
Jesus was born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of Herod (1-12). Herod the Great died, after a long reign, in about 4 B.C. Matthew's narrative implies that Jesus was born not less than two years before this (verse 16), but also not much more (verse 19)—say, 7-6 B.C. This is somewhat earlier than the traditional date (between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1), but the idea of dating world history by the birth of Christ was only invented five hundred years later, and the date which was then chosen was the result of a mistaken calculation. Matthew's date is not improbable in itself; the only difficulty is to reconcile it with the chronology in Luke (see below on Luke 2.1).
In any country where astrology was taken seriously (as it was in most countries in the ancient world, and particularly in those which lay immediately to the east of Palestine) a new star, or a notable conjunction of stars, would quickly attract attention, presaging an important new turn in human affairs. Conversely, it was believed that it was the very regularity of the stars which guaranteed the orderly course of history, and it followed that any really significant event must necessarily be accompanied by some striking phenomenon in the heavens. The birth of Jesus was such an event, and if the following story reads more like legend than history, it is easy to see how such a legend could have originated, particularly since similar legends were told in Jewish folklore about the birth of Moses, and it is arguable that Jesus was regarded by Matthew as, in some sense, a second Moses. On the other hand, the story is by no means incredible. The visitors from the east are called in the Greek Magi. The word came originally from Persia, where it denoted influential religious leaders; but in ordinary Greek usage it meant sorcerers or magicians. What does it mean here? These men were certainly not "three kings of Orient"—that is a later legendand they may not have been quite as dignified as "wise men". But one kind of knowledge they did possess—astrology; and it is certainly correct (though it may not be the whole truth) to call them, with the NEB, astrologers (2). Their observation of the star had satisfied them that some change was impending in the west, that is to say, in Palestine; and they felt sure enough of their interpretation to put to Herod a specific question, 'Where is the child who is born to be king of the Jews?' (4). Herod, who doubtless intended to make his own arrangements about the succession to the throne, preferred to regard the star as a sign of that other "king" whom the Jews were awaiting, the Messiah. Many passages of the Old Testament pointed forward to this figure, and it was to be expected that the religious leaders of the Jews, and particularly the lawyers (who were the professional expositors of the Old Testament, the law of the Jewish people) would be able to answer the astrologers' question. Their answer (5-6) could by no means be taken for granted: many opinions were abroad about the place and circumstances in which the Messiah would appear. But there was a prophecy in Micah 5.2 which was understood by some as an oracle about the birthplace of the Messiah. In Matthew's story the function of the prophecy is to direct the astrologers to the village five miles south of Jerusalem where they would find what the star had led them to expect; but in the wider context of the gospel its apparent fulfilment serves to strengthen Jesus' claim to be both Messiah and "son of David" (for Bethlehem had been David's home).
The purpose of the astrologers in seeking the child was to pay him homage (2). When they found him, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (11)—traditional products of the wealth and luxury of the east (compare Isaiah 60.6 for gold and frankincense, Song of Solomon 3.6 for frankincense and myrrh); their gifts showed that they recognized him as the "king" of whom the star was a sign, and theirs was the first testimony to him who was to be crucified as "king of the Jews". Herod's interest, however, was more practical: to eliminate one who might grow up to be, if not a pretender to the throne, at least a cause of dissension in Judaea. It would be in keeping with what we know of the character of Herod that he fell into a passion, and gave orders for the massacre of all suspect children (16). His reign, especially in its closing years, was marked by many atrocities. But Matthew may not mean that he killed all the children in Bethlehem of two years or less. The phrase, corresponding with the time he had ascertained from the astrologers (which refers back to verse 7 above), suggests that he limited the slaughter to the babies born at the exact season of the star's appearing in the previous two years—possibly quite a small number. Matthew's concern, in any case, was not so much to portray the savagery of Herod as to discern the significance of the episode. He saw it, first, as a direct fulfilment of a prophecy of Jeremiah (31.15), 'A voice was heard in Rama ... it was Rachel weeping for her children' (18). In Jeremiah, Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of two of the "tribes" of Israel, is imagined as weeping over her descendants who are being deported by the Assyrian conquerors past the northern frontier-town of Kama. Matthew evidently imagines her lamenting near Bethlehem, perhaps because there was an old tradition (Genesis 35.19), which is still preserved by a monument today, that Rachel's tomb was close to Bethlehem. Secondly, Herod's massacre was the motive for the flight of Jesus' parents into Egypt, and this too placed Jesus in the line of a great national tradition: God had "called his son"—the people of Israel—"out of Egypt" (Hosea 11.1). Jesus, who was "God's son" par excellence (15), lived through a similar exile and a similar return.
He settled in a town called Nazareth (23). Matthew's explanation of the move from Bethlehem to Galilee is not very cogent: Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas, another of Herod's sons, and the danger might have been as great there as in Bethlehem. In practice, however, Nazareth was probably much safer. It was a small and rather isolated town in the hills of Galilee, with none of the Davidic traditions of Bethlehem. Indeed, no one would have expected a native of Nazareth to make any mark in history (John 1.46, Can anything good come from Nazareth?'). Jesus, at any rate, became known as 'a Nazarene' and indeed Christians were for many years called " Nazarenes" in Palestine. One of Matthew's purposes in the whole of this chapter has been to show how this Nazarcne was nevertheless born in
Bethlehem, as a true descendant of David should be. Even in the name "Nazarene", however, Matthew finds some significance. But here we are at a loss. The Old Testament does not contain the words 'He shall be called a Nazarene'. The nearest phrase occurs in the narrative of the birth of Samson: Samson was to be a "Nazarite" (Judges 13.5), which means an ascetic under vows to God. But Matthew may have had in mind a more subtle allusion to the Hebrew word netser, " branch ", which occurs in various biblical texts that were held in his time to be prophecies of the Messiah.
(3.1-12) About that time (1). Literally, "in those days", a phrase which is perhaps deliberately imprecise. Many years have passed in the little gap between chapter 2 and chapter 3. Jesus has grown up. Judaea is now under direct Roman rule, the reign of Archelaus, Herod's successor, having quickly come to an ignominious end (A.D. 6); while the northern and eastern parts of the country, Galilee and Peraea, are still under the more or less independent rule of another of Herod's sons, Herod Antipas. It is in connection with Herod Antipas that John the Baptist makes a brief appearance in the pages of another writer nearly contemporary with the author of this gospel, the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus' interest in him is more political than religious, but his account agrees in the basic facts. John's movement appeared to Herod Antipas as a threat to peace, and in due course Herod imprisoned him.
When Mark introduces John the Baptist he concentrates entirely (apart from a few words devoted to the nature of his baptism) on his role as the herald and forerunner of Jesus. Matthew, though he quotes the same prophecy from Isaiah (40.3), presents him at the outset as a preacher, making his proclamation in the manner of an Old Testament prophet. John, in any case, resembled a prophet, both by his clothes (compare the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1.8), and also by his appearance in the Judaean wilderness. Large tracts of Palestine, one of them reaching right up to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, were bare and uncultivable, as against the densely inhabited farmlands of Galilee or the vineyards of other parts of Judaea. Traditionally, a prophet was a man who pondered his message in an austere environment, away from the amenities of sophisticated life. John conformed to this tradition; and his message was correspondingly simple and direct. 'Repent' (2): the word meant not so much personal remorse as a corporate re-orientation, away from the subtleties of contemporary political and religious life, towards a single-minded attention to the commands of God. 'For the kingdom of Heaven': this is the same concept as "the kingdom of God", only in somewhat more pious Jewish dress (the Jews liked to avoid using God's name, and preferred to speak of "heaven", "angels" and the like). It means God's rule, that longed-for state of affairs when men will willingly and spontaneously do the will of God. 'Is upon you': literally, the Greek means "has drawn near". How near? From the Greek word alone, it is impossible to tell. But it is clear from what follows that John is giving urgent warning of coming judgement. All Jews expected (his some time in the future. John proclaims that it is very near indeed: his word (like that of Jesus, whose preaching, in this gospel, begins in exactly the same way) is meant to drive the point home: it is no longer in the uncertain future, it is 'upon you'.
Among the crowd were Pharisees and Sadducees (7). (It does not strictly follow from the Greek that they came for baptism. They may simply have been there to watch.) These people represented a higher level of society than (presumably) the rest of the throng, and in Matthew's account (unlike Luke's) they are singled out for attack by John the Baptist just as, later in this gospel, they are consistently criticized by Jesus. The ground on which they are attacked here is that they claimed a certain immunity from the coming judgement: "We have Abraham for our father" (9). John—with words also used by Jesus (7.19)—sweeps aside this suggestion of divine favouritism, and returns to the arresting element in his proclamation. The one who comes (11) is certainly (as in Mark) a person greater than himself, and his baptism will be not just a ritual washing with water but a personal experience of the power of the Holy Spirit (12): he is also an Elijah-figure (the language recalls Malachi 4, Ecclesiasticus 48), a man of fire, bringing immediate judgement.
(3.13-17) We know, and Matthew's first readers knew, who it was for whom John was preparing a way. It was Jesus. But we should not necessarily read this knowledge back into the narrative. For in many respects Jesus does not fit the portrait given here. Jesus himself still expected and proclaimed the coming judgement, he did not immediately precipitate it; and as for an Elijah-figure, Jesus regarded John, not himself, as Elijah (11. 14). Matthew, in any case, does not state here that John recognized Jesus as the Man of Fire. (14) All that John recognized was some exceptional quality in Jesus which seemed to make it inappropriate to baptize him "confessing his sins". It looks, indeed, as if this was a difficulty felt by Matthew's readers. They knew that Jesus had been baptized by John, and they knew that John's baptism was 'for the forgiveness of sins' (Mark 1.4). But Jesus did not commit sin; why therefore was he baptized? This passage may have been moulded to suggest an answer: to conform . . . with all that God requires (4.1). The translation is rather free (the literal sense is "to complete all righteousness"), but gives at least a possible meaning: just as Jesus came to "complete" the Law, by endorsing its inner meaning and laying a new form of it on his followers (5.17), so he submitted to John's baptism and, by his action,
validated the rite for all future generations of Christians. The account of Jesus' baptism follows Mark closely (Mark 1.9-11). The same combination of scriptural texts was heard (17) (though possibly only by Jesus—the Greek has simply, "a voice from heaven saying"); but even this did not conclusively identify Jesus as the one whom John was expecting. Indeed, John was still in doubt some time later (11.2-3).
(4.1-11) Jesus was then led away. Mark, at this point, simply records a period of contest with the devil in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke evidently knew a fuller version of the story, and one which puts it in a somewhat different light. In Mark, one has to imagine a sustained struggle between Jesus and the devil, Jesus being meanwhile aided and fed by angels. Here, Jesus first undergoes a prolonged fast (he is only afterwards waited on by the angels, verse 11) and is then approached by the devil in the character of the tempter (3), and exposed to three "temptations", or tests. The first of these tests (3-4) was
a natural consequence of his hunger, and could have taken place on the spot, The other two are also vividly set in Palestinian scenery—the parapet of the temple (5) is usually thought to be the south-east corner of the immense terrace constructed by Herod the Great around the temple in Jerusalem, from which there was a sheer drop of some 150 feet into the Kedron valley below; and many hill-tops in the Judaean desert offer immense views over the Jordan valley and the mountains beyond which could well be described as 8 a microcosm of the kingdoms of the world (8) in their glory. But the actual tests could not have been carried out in one region of the Judaean desert; they must have taken place in Jesus' mind. In which case it must be asked, in what sense is it likely that the story represents a historical episode in the life of Jesus? One feature in the story bears on this question. All of Jesus'
replies are quotations from the Book of Deuteronomy : Deuteronomy 8.3 (v.4), 6.16 (in answer to the devil's quotation of Psalm 91.11-12) and 6.13 (v.7, v.10).
Furthermore, these verses in Deuteronomy are set in the context of the period of "testing" which the people of Israel underwent in the wilderness. It is clear that the biblical narrative has influenced the form, and perhaps the content, of the story recounted by Matthew and Luke: Jesus was re-enacting, in his own person, the formative experience of the desert generation. But this, of course, is not to say that Jesus did not experience something of this kind. The disciples could well have been aware that Jesus treasured these verses of Deuteronomy and had come to realize their significance during his period of retreat in the wilderness. The remaining details would not have been hard to fill in.
(4.12-17) When he heard that John had been arrested (12). Like Mark, Matthew regards the moment of John's arrest which he can assume his readers know all about, and which he only describes later on as the point in time at which Jesus appeared in Galilee. But he is a little more specific than Mark Jesus withdrew—not, presumably, to avoid the same fate as John; for Galilee, just as much as Peraea (where John was probably arrested) belonged to the territory of Herod Antipas. Rather, his "withdrawal" was a natural retirement after the rigorous testing of the desert. Matthew also knew (or at least inferred) that since so many of the events he was about to record were enacted on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus must have moved from Nazareth (which is some 30 miles from it) and settled at Capernaum (13), the most important Jewish town on the lake (see the map on p. 25); and this enabled him to invoke another prophecy. (15-16) The passage he quotes from Isaiah (9.1-2), with its old tribal names for the region, was written when Galilee was under foreign control (and was therefore heathen), and prophesied its restoration to the people of Israel. Matthew sees in Jesus' appearance by the Way of the Sea a different and more significant fulfilment of the prophecy.
(17) On Jesus' message (which in Matthew is identical with that of John the Baptist), see below on Mark 1.15.
(4.18-22, 23-25) Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee (18). Matthew follows Mark in placing this episode right at the beginning of Jesus' work. It was necessarily located by the Sea of Galilee—which is what the Jews called it, though in reality it was a lake, the Lake of Tiberias. The main fishing waters are still at the north end of the lake, where hot springs enter it near the site of Capernaum. Jesus' activity is thus to be thought of as confined, at this stage, to a relatively small area around Capernaum. But Matthew then widens the scene. Jesus' preaching and healing—of which he is about to give examples —extended over the whole of Galilee (23). It was concentrated, for the purpose of teaching, on towns like Capernaum and Chorazin, where there would be a large synagogue, and where the Sabbath congregations would offer him a good opening for his work (see below on Mark 1.21); but we are also to picture him as a healer (25), moving about over a wide area, and attracting great crowds, not only from Galilee and the rest of Jewish Palestine (Jerusalem, Judaea and Transjordan), but also from the more cosmopolitan world of the Ten Towns (the Decapolis, a league of wealthy Greco-Roman cities to the south-east of Galilee).
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This is the title by which the next three chapters of Matthew's gospel have been known since at least the time of Augustine. The NEB adopts the old title, but in verse 1 it replaces "mount" with a more colloquial word, when he saw the crowds he went up the hill (1). This rendering makes one want to ask, what hill? But the original Greek is probably less precise, and means "up into the hill-country",that is, away from the populous coast of the lake into the more lonely foothills to the west and north, and Jesus' purpose in thus going "up the hill" was usually simply to get away from the crowds in order to pray (Matthew 14.23) or to talk privately with his disciples (Mark 3.13). Accordingly, the opening of his discourse here is specifically addressed to his disciples (2) (who are mentioned here for the first time, and may be assumed to be a group which has grown out of such episodes as Simon's and Andrew's decision to "follow" Jesus, 4.18-20), and the traditional picture of Jesus standing on a high place addressing the multitudes is unwarranted by these opening verses. However, at the end of the discourse (7.28) we find that 'the people (literally, "the crowds") were astounded at his teaching'. If we are to accept these chapters at their face value as the record of a historical occasion, we shall have to assume that the crowds caught up with Jesus while he was talking, and that what began as the giving of teaching to a group of disciples ended, by force of circumstances, as a "sermon" addressed to a large congregation.
This is a possible explanation; but the apparent change in the audience between the beginning and the end is not the only indication that these chapters are not quite what they seem. Some of the sayings they contain must have been originally intended for the disciples, some for the crowds; some of them are found in other gospels in quite different contexts, and some, by the time Matthew wrote them down, seem to have been slightly altered by the early church into a form which it found more relevant to its own situation. Moreover, the discourse as a whole hardly constitutes a "sermon" in the modern sense. There is a logical development of the argument in certain sections, but there is no clear theme, and it is hard to imagine the discourse being delivered on a single occasion and listened to by a single audience. In short, it seems to fit the facts better if we regard these chapters as a collection made by Matthew (or the source he was using) of Jesus' ethical teaching, arranged under certain headings, and provided with an introduction and a conclusion which (since these occur also in the "sermon" in Luke's gospel, 6.20-49) may well reproduce a pattern which Jesus was accustomed to use in his teaching. Such a collection would obviously have been useful for teaching purposes in the early church, and I his may be one of the reasons why Matthew incorporated it in his gospel. Another reason may be that Matthew saw Jesus as, in some respects, a new Moses: Jesus' teaching on the mount corresponded to, and was indeed the necessary fulfilment of, Moses' proclamation of the Law on Sinai.
These possibilities must be borne in mind throughout the next three chapters. But they do not necessarily affect our estimate of the "sermon". For however it came into existence, it remains the most comprehensive
discourse of Jesus of which we have any record. It was regarded by the author of the gospel as a fair summary of what Jesus taught (this follows from the prominent position he assigned to it near the beginning of his narrative), and even if we can at times detect evidence of subsequent editing and retouching by Matthew or by the tradition which he preserves, and although we may suspect that on some points Jesus may originally have expressed himself differently or have had specific situations in mind which are no longer remembered, yet we shall never in fact replace this discourse by something different, nor are we likely to find a better picture of Jesus' ethical teaching than that which Matthew gives us. These are the words through which we must still hear the voice of Jesus; this is the Sermon on the Mount which, down the centuries, has left its mark on the church and on the world.
Jesus' teaching begins with a series of "beatitudes". What kind of people are "blest"—that is to say, what are the conditions which a person must fulfil if he is to enter upon the rewards which are promised by religion?
'How blest are those who know their need of God' (3). Here the NEB rendering is a bold paraphrase. Literally, the Greek means, "Blest are the poor in spirit", a phrase which sounds unnatural in Greek, and can only be understood in the light of a characteristic Old Testament conception of poverty. In the corresponding passage of Luke's gospel (6.20) Jesus is reported as saying, 'How blest are you who are in need', where there can be little doubt that 'in need' means literally poor. In many ancient cultures, including the Jewish, this would have sounded like nonsense: riches, not poverty, showed that a man was blest. But there was one strain of Jewish piety (represented particularly by some of the psalms) which saw the matter differently. In this tradition, "the poor" had become a religious as well as a social term. As opposed to the rich, the influential, the extortionate and the oppressive, "the poor" were those who, by keeping intact their own righteousness and piety, could be sure that, however much they appeared to be the victims of society, they would ultimately be rewarded and vindicated by God. This tenacious faith of "the poor man" was decisively endorsed by Jesus: the compromises and injustices into which men are inevitably led by wealth and position are incompatible with the integrity demanded by God. Consequently, "Blest are the poor". But of course they are not blest merely because they are poor. There was a spirit of poverty which went with physical poverty, and it was this spirit which was important. The corresponding Hebrew phrase, "poor in spirit", actually occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and was doubtless current in Palestine in the time of Jesus. Matthew was probably trying to put this into Greek when he wrote the words, "poor in spirit". Poor meant literally poor: but it also implied an attitude of simplicity, integrity, and dependence upon God—an attitude which is spelled out in more detail in the beatitudes which follow. It is this attitude which the NEB has tried to define by the paraphrase, those who know their need of God.
'How blest are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation' (4). The NEB translation makes this sound a little philosophical, as if it expresses the truth that there is a way of bearing sorrow which enables one to "find" consolation. But the Greek is more direct: "they shall be consoled". It was one of the great truths of the Gospel that it gave men true "consolation" (see below on 2 Corinthians 1). And the condition of obtaining that blessing was, again, not the complacency and satisfaction of those who are insulated by their possessions from the general suffering of mankind but —sorrow.
'How blest are those of a gentle spirit' (5). Almost identical words occur in Psalm 37.11. This "gentleness" (which is the mark, in the Old Testament, of one who accepts his humble status without bitterness) is one of the characteristic notes of "the poor"; and the confidence that it would be rewarded had already found expression in one tradition of Jewish piety.
'How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail' (6). Luke, again, preserves a more radical version: 'How blest are you who now go hungry'. The social context is still the same. Those who are poor and oppressed are blest, even though they may in fact go hungry; but the reason why they are blest is not merely that they go hungry—they do not swerve from what is right; and here too Matthew may have added the single word "righteousness" (of which the NEB has brought out the meaning by a paraphrase, to see right prevail) in order to fill in another of the "spiritual" characteristics of the traditional "poor man" of Jewish piety.
After this first group of four beatitudes, three of which are more decisive and radical than anything which is to be found in the Old Testament or in contemporary Jewish piety, the series continues with three more (7-9) which seem rather to recommend certain virtues than to propound a new scale of values. These, which can be paralleled in Jewish literature, are lacking in Luke's more radical version; and they give the opening of the Sermon a distinctly more ethical character than do the abrupt statements in the first beatitudes. Only the last—'How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right' (10)—returns to the decisive tone of the opening. There had been many in Jewish history who had "suffered persecution for the cause of right". Religious men trusted and prayed that, despite their apparent humiliation, these martyrs had been accepted and would one day be vindicated by God. Jesus, again, gave his authoritative endorsement to this faith.
Such people, then, are blest. But what does this blessedness consist of? Jewish religion conceived of it as a future state of felicity in a new order which would soon be brought into being by God; and most of Jesus' beatitudes similarly have a future tense: the blessedness cannot be expected in this world, but Jesus promises it, with the full weight of his authority, for the life in heaven. But what of the first and last in the series of beatitudes (3, 10), which end, 'the kingdom of Heaven is theirs'? Should these also be understood as future, or is there a sense in which the kingdom is already present? This is a question which runs right through the gospel. It is raised by Jesus' very first words, 'The kingdom of Heaven is upon you' (see above on 3.2). For the present, it is important to bear in mind that Jesus saw himself (or at least was seen by the earliest Christians) as fulfilling the prophecy, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has appointed me to bring good tidings to the poor ... to comfort all who mourn". (Isaiah 61.1-2). The coming of Jesus inaugurated a new situation, in which many of the world's accepted values would be reversed.
'How blest you are' (11). The language suddenly becomes personal: no longer the broad sweep of a religious teacher pronouncing general truths, but the direct address of a master to his disciples. It seems early yet to think of those who had so recently begun to follow Jesus suffering insults and persecution and every kind of calumny. It was the church, after Jesus' death and resurrection, which first began to experience these things, and will have gratefully remembered (if indeed it did not adapt to its own situation) Jesus' warning and Jesus' promise. Similarly, the metaphors which follow clearly apply, not to any casual listeners, but to those who have committed themselves to discipleship.
(5.13-16) 'You are salt to the world' (13). We now use salt mainly for flavouring, and so the metaphor suggests to us a small but necessary element in that total mixture which is human civilization (and this, in fact, is precisely what many would say the Christian contribution to history has been). But in antiquity salt was equally important for preserving food; and the metaphor may be similar to that used by a Christian writer of the second century, "Christians are the soul of the world"—for they are responsible for its continuance in life. But how does salt become tasteless? Chemically, it can never lose its saltness. But in the various kinds of use to which it was put in Palestine it could become progressively less and less pure, until finally it was useless—and then nothing could he done to "restore its saltness".
'Light for all the world. A town that stands on a hill' (14). The two metaphors probably belong together. Isaiah had declared it lo be the destiny
of Israel to be "a light to the nations" (49.6); and the symbol of this destiny was the city of Jerusalem set on a hill, to which the peoples of the world would come to worship the one true God. Jesus' disciples were to become the new Israel, and could be described in the same imagery. (For a note on the meal-tub, see below on Mark 4.21.) (15)
(5.17-20) 'Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets' (17). Jesus' ethical teaching was by no means entirely new but, like the teaching of his contemporaries, took as its point of departure the systematic code of behaviour contained in the books of the Old Testament attributed to Moses (which the Jews in fact observed not merely as a moral code but as a legal code, and referred to as the Law), and also the great moral insights contained in the writings of the prophets. Sometimes his teaching was so radical that it seemed a direct contradiction of the Law of Moses—and some of the first Christians were quick to draw the conclusion that Christianity completely superseded the moral and legal code of the Jews. But Matthew was anxious to show that even where Jesus' teaching seemed most at variance with normal Jewish practice, it was still a direct development of the original Law: I did not come to abolish, but to complete."Consequently Jesus' followers, whatever their enemies might say (and we can probably overhear this debate at several places in Matthew's gospel), were as committed to "keeping the Law" as the Jews themselves. To demonstrate this, Matthew arranged the first section of his collection of Jesus' teaching in the form of a new interpretation of the Law of Moses— and indeed Jesus himself is likely to have given his teaching in this form; it was one of the regular patterns followed by Jewish moral teachers in his day. The Pharisees, and those doctors of the law (20) who shared their convictions, devoutly believed that the Law of Moses, though originally formulated many centuries before, was still valid in their own day as a comprehensive guide to conduct; and in order to bring it up to date (so to speak) they evolved certain rules of interpretation by which its provisions could be shown to apply to present-day circumstances. Jesus' quarrel with these men (and again this is a debate which we can often overhear as the gospel progresses) was that their interpretation had become so subtle and casuistical that it often frustrated the original intention of the Law. But in offering his own interpretation, he had no idea of taking the Law less seriously than they did. He too regarded it as unalterable down to the smallest letter or stroke of a letter (18), and as of eternal validity: and as regards the keeping of its detailed provisions, his followers must show themselves heller men even than the Pharisees and the doctors of the law (20). This, at least, seems to have been Matthew's view of the relation between Jesus' teaching and the Law of Moses. But the question was not an easy one, nor was it always answered in the same way by different New Testament writers.
'You have learned that our forefathers were told' (21). The phrase is repeated, with slight variations, six times in this chapter. In each case, it refers to a well-known provision of the Law of Moses, and prepares for a new interpretation; and it is likely that this form of argument was one that was frequently used in Jesus' time in learned debates about the application of specific laws. 'Do not commit murder' is the sixth of the Ten Commandments. But the rest of the sentence, 'anyone who commits murder must be brought to judgement' is not in fact to be found in the Old Testament (though it is of course implied in it), but is the kind of addition which the doctors of the law made to the original text in order to show its practical application. When Jesus pronounced that anger and abuse were as serious as murder in the eyes of God, many of his contemporaries would have agreed with him—in theory; for the Old Testament said as much itself. But in practice there was a difference: a man who had committed murder could be brought before a court, a man who had merely expressed anger could not—and this difference inevitably made the one seem much less serious than the other. If human justice were perfectly to mirror the judgement of God (as the Jewish law was claimed to do) this difference should not exist: anyone who nurses anger against his brother (22) should be as accountable in a human court as a murderer is; for in the divine court both will be sentenced to the fires of hell.
(23-6) Before the series is continued, two practical examples are given, which in a general way illustrate the same point. Both examples are vividly drawn from daily life (23-4).In the temple at Jerusalem one of the commonest sights will have been that of individual Jews bringing beasts or birds to be sacrificed at the great altar in the central court. Some of these sacrifices were laid upon them by the Law on certain occasions (Luke 2.24), some were offered voluntarily as thank-offerings or as offerings to atone for some transgression. From the point of view of the temple cult, a personal grievance would have seemed a small matter compared with the due completion of the sacrifice; but from Jesus' statement that any offence against one's brother is as serious as murder, it followed that personal reconciliation must be of infinitely more importance than any ritual act.
'If someone sues you' (25). This again seems drawn from life. It follows from the end of the saying ('you will not be let out till you have paid the last farthing') (26) that Jesus was thinking of someone who was really in
debt, and who was ultimately sued by his creditor. In the east, it would be natural (though of course sometimes risky) to play for time by pretending that the debt did not exist, and even to allow the matter to come to court. But this natural litigiousness was an offence against Jesus' moral standard. It was only right (as well as prudent) to come to some agreement about repayment on your way to court (25).
'You have learned that they were told, "Do not commit adultery" ' (27). Jesus' interpretation of the Law is resumed, this time with the Seventh Commandment, interpreted in the light of the Tenth ("You shall not covet your neighbour's wife"). Some of Jesus' contemporaries took much the same view, though none of them, so far as we know, stated the principle in quite such an uncompromising way. The metaphor of the right eye (29) and the right hand (30), being embedded in the same context, seems to refer to sexual behaviour—and so it has often been taken in Christian history; but in Mark the saying occurs in a more general context, and it may originally have had nothing to do with adultery. 'They were told, "A man who divorces his wife must give her a note of dismissal" ' (31). This same text (Deuteronomy 24.1) is interpreted by Jesus in a later discussion with the Pharisees. It is significant that here an exception is allowed: for any cause other than unchastity (see below on 19.3-9, Mark 10.1-12).
'Again, you have learned that they were told, "Do not break your oath", and, "Oaths sworn to the Lord must be kept" ' (33). These quotations do not occur as they stand in the Old Testament, but they doubtless represent a standard way of summarizing the laws on swearing. Oaths were a serious matter; in principle, they had to be taken on the name of God (Deuteronomy 6.13 and elsewhere). Not surprisingly, many teachers, from the Old Testament onwards, discouraged swearing as much as possible (though it remained necessary on certain occasions, such as in law-courts). But some saw another way of avoiding the extreme seriousness of oaths, that of swearing by lesser things, such as heaven or earth. Jesus exposes the casuistry of this. Swearing is swearing, and nothing will make it less serious. I fetter to avoid it altogether.
"Eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (38). This basic principle of elementary justice was written into the Old Testament (e.g. Leviticus 24.19), and was still theoretically in force, though more civilized ways of applying the principle had been evolved. In a primitive society, it brought the instinct of revenge under control by limiting the compensation which could be demanded for an injury; but later the Jews, with their reverence for the letter of the law, were apparently somewhat embarrassed by it, and it was only by ingeniously stretching their interpretation of the words that they were able to use it as a rough criterion for assessing damages in court. Jesus doubtless had this debate in mind; but instead of contributing to it himself, lie allowed the principle to stand in all its severity, and simply
"Love your neighbour, hate your enemy." (43) Only the first phrase stands in the Old Testament: "Love your neighbour" (Leviticus 19.18). But, as we know from Luke's gospel (10.29) as well as from Jewish writings, people asked, Who is my neighbour? And the answer given was usually, Any fellow-Jew, with the addition (in some more liberal quarters) of certain particularly deserving Gentiles. The rest of the world (since it consisted, by definition, of Gentiles and idolaters, God's "enemies") could be treated with something considerably less than love (which is all that a Semitic language like Hebrew or Aramaic, which tends to call things either black or white, need mean by "hating"). "Hate your enemy" was therefore the kind of implication which many of Jesus' contemporaries may have seen in the command to love your neighbour.And it was in opposition to this that Jesus offered his own interpretation.
No: you must love your enemies (44)—and this becomes, either in Jesus' mouth or in the tradition of the early church, no longer a matter of Jews' attitude to non-Jews, but of the individual's attitude towards his personal enemies, a Christian's attitude towards his persecutors. The injunction in Leviticus, which was taken by most Jews as a guide to the proper attitude of their nation, was translated by Jesus into the universal realm of personal ethics. (46) Yet the teaching is still expressed in typically Jewish idioms: tax-gatherers, being somewhat ostracized from Jewish society, tended to " love each other" out of a natural sense of solidarity (47); and the heathen, whatever their other faults (in Jewish eyes), certainly extended hospitality and courtesy to each other. But the followers of Jesus must thrust aside all such social barriers, and fulfil the command, Love your neighbour, in the total and uncompromising sense in which it was intended by God. The Jews were accustomed to being told to imitate God; but since they believed that God extended to their own race a favour and compassion which he withheld from the Gentiles, it seemed to follow that they should show a similar partiality themselves. But in reality a truer picture of God is given by the proverb, He makes his sun rise on good and bad alike (45, 48). God's goodness knows no bounds, he makes no distinctions. In the same way, there must be no limit to the goodness of his followers.
'Be careful not to make a show of your religion before men.' (1) Just as Jesus did not attack the Law of Moses as such, but only the way in which it was being interpreted in his time, so he did not reject the religious practices of his contemporaries, but only criticized the attitude with which these were often performed, particularly by those who most insisted upon them, the Pharisees (to whom Jesus—or subsequently the church—seems to have given what became almost a nickname: the hypocrites) (2). "Acts of charity" were very highly regarded by the Jews, and with this Jesus agreed. But it had become the custom to announce any substantial gift at the meeting of the congregation either in synagogue, or at an open-air service in the streets. By contrast, 'your good deed must be secret' (4). Again, the Jews regularly prayed (standing up) at certain times of day (5): either in synagogue, or else wherever they happened to be. This too gave opportunities for ostentation, particularly if one chose out street-corners for the purpose. Again, there was a tendency to admire anyone who knew and could recite especially long prayers (and here there is a sideways glance at heathen worship as well as the synagogue) (7); by contrast, Jesus prescribed a very short and condensed prayer for his followers. Finally (16-18), fasting was a recognized practice, and was becoming more widely observed in Jewish circles at the time this gospel was written. Christians were also to fast, but their fasting must be secret.
'This is how you should pray.' (9) Into this series of contrasts between Jewish and Christian religious practices is slipped the Lord's Prayer. It is possible that this prayer was originally taught by Jesus in deliberate opposition to traditional Jewish forms of prayer (though Luke offers a quite different reason, 11.1); and certainly, although many of its clauses belonged equally to Jewish spirituality, its brevity presents a striking contrast to the more elaborate prayers which every Jew was supposed to recite daily. It is given twice in the New Testament, once here in Matthew, and once in Luke (11.2-4). each case the basic elements of the prayer are the same, but Luke's version is considerably shorter. Jesus may, of course, have taught the prayer in both forms; but it is not difficult to think of reasons why, in the different churches for which Luke and Matthew wrote, two different versions of the same prayer should have existed. If, for instance, Luke's version is original, Matthew's version could be an early expansion of it under the influence of other Jewish prayers; while if Matthew's is original, Luke's could be an abbreviation of it for the benefit of a church less accustomed to Jewish forms of prayer. In any case, it is the longer form which since very early times has become standard in the church. The NEB offers a new translation, and attempts to convey some of the extreme brevity and directness of the original Greek. The more polished and rhythmical phrases of the King James version will probably always come more naturally to most people in their prayers; but the importance of grasping the precise meaning of each petition justifies this new rendering of familiar words.
"Our Father in heaven." (9) Prayers written exclusively for private use are a comparatively modern invention. Jesus' prayer, like all formal Jewish prayers, was primarily intended to be used in corporate worship by a congregation. This gives content to the word our. In most religions of the world God is at one time or another addressed as Father, but not always with the same meaning. For the Greeks, God was "father" in the sense of creator: he was therefore everyone's father. From this we inherit such ideas as the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. The Jews, on the other hand, thought of God as Father in a much more particular way: God was "father" to Israel, in that he had a special relationship with his people, and guided and protected them "like a father". To the Jew, therefore, he was "our" father in a highly exclusive sense. What then could Jesus have meant by 'Our Father'? There is no evidence in the gospels that he endorsed the Greek view of God's universal fatherhood; and he certainly did not accept the exclusive attitude of the Jews that only they were the true "sons" of God. Jesus' own attitude lies somewhere between. He himself was the Son of God, and God was in a unique way his Father. Moreover, those who followed him became, along with him, God's "sons", and were entitled to address God with that singularly intimate Aramaic word which passed at once into the praying of the earliest Christians, Abba, "Father"."Our Father" therefore takes on its meaning from those who use it. It is the distinctive prayer of the community whose members, through Jesus Christ, have become "sons of God".
"Thy name be hallowed." The translators have kept the archaic word, which is probably known to most people only through its occurrence in the Lord's Prayer. To "hallow" is to separate from all that profanes. There is a part of creation where God's name is already perfectly hallowed—in heaven; the prayer is that this hallowing should be extended to earth, that the whole of creation should become consonant, instead of discordant, with the divine nature. Two implications of this are drawn out in the next two clauses. "Thy kingdom come." (10) Much of Jesus' teaching in the gospel concerns this "kingdom". God is king—that is axiomatic. But his reign is not yet universally acknowledged. Jesus often draws attention to those moments in the present—often quite unexpected ones—when an individual's response to an ordinary human situation makes this reign actual; but he also constantly looks ahead to the time when God, by his own act, will make his kingdom universal. The prayer presumably envisages both kinds of "coming". "Thy will be done." The meaning of this, again, follows from the "hallowing" of God's name. It does not express (as it might in some religions) a resigned acquiescence in an inscrutable providence, but a longing for God's purposes to be accomplished on earth as in heaven.
"Give us today our daily bread." (11) This is unlikely to be a metaphor: most Jewish prayers included a petition for bread, and no formal Jewish meal would ever be eaten without thanksgiving to God who provides food for the use of men. But the clause says, not just bread, but daily bread. The adjective is strange. This particular Greek word occurs nowhere else in literature, and we can only guess at its meaning here. Still less can we recover the Aramaic word which Jesus originally used. It is true that a "religious" interpretation is possible. Bread came to have a special significance for Jesus: the bread which he broke became a means of communion; and it is possible that, apart from the satisfaction of hunger, this petition with its mysterious adjective contains a reference to the supernatural nourishment given by Jesus to those who worship him."But even if this meaning is present, it can hardly be the whole meaning. Bread is still bread, and the adjective must define the amount that is asked for. This is a remarkable limitation. Men usually pray for a steady supply of bread to last through the year. But a Christian, it seems, is to ask only for what is necessary today (or, at most, tomorrow). We need bread today, because the present weighs upon us, life is to be lived and we have work to do. But tomorrow—next week, next year—is in the hands of God.
"Forgive us the wrong we have done." (12) Literally, "our debts"—a rendering which has prevailed in some English versions of the Lord's Prayer, as it has in the traditional Latin version (debita nostra). But "debt" was a strongly religious concept in Hebrew culture: God had laid obligations on his people, and, in so far as they had failed to fulfil them, they felt themselves in debt to God. So our "debts" amount, in fact, to the wrong we have done (and in Jesus' own language of Aramaic the same word was used for both). To be released from this debt was the ultimate, if barely attainable, object of Jewish religion, and a constant burden of Jewish prayers. Jesus taught that this release was an immediate possibility—on condition that one had already extended a free pardon in one's own circle. So the clause is added (and the perfect tense is a correct translation of the Greek), "as we have forgiven those who have wronged us".
"And do not bring us to the test." (13) Test here replaces the familiar word "temptation", and is probably a more faithful rendering. Temptation is a psychological concept, suggesting a struggle within the individual between good and bad impulses. But this kind of psychological analysis was not characteristic of Hebrew thinking. The nearest corresponding Hebrew concept was that of "testing". In the Old Testament, many of the afflictions suffered by the people of Israel, and many personal catastrophes which befell pious individuals, were understood as a "test" imposed by God. How one would ultimately be judged by God would depend on how one survived this "test"; and the more urgently that judgement was expected (and Christians soon began to expect it in their own lifetime), the more reason there was to dread any decisive moment which might bring out the true worth of the individual and so determine God's final verdict.
"The evil one." The Greek word can mean either "evil" or "the evil one", and translators have to make their choice. Perhaps in the long run it makes little difference whether a personal devil is seen behind the phenomena of evil. In Jesus' time it was natural to think in this way; today it may seem less so. But the reality of evil, with which the follower of Jesus is in perpetual conflict, is acknowledged either way.
Traditionally, the prayer ends with an ascription of glory to God, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen". These words are absent in most early manuscripts, and were almost certainly added, under the influence of Jewish prayers, when the prayer began to be used in public worship. The original prayer taught by Jesus contains no liturgical elaborations; indeed the most striking thing about it is the directness and simplicity of its petitions.
Just one of these petitions is singled out for comment: 'For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done' (14)—and here a Greek word is used which does literally mean "wrongs". There is a very similar saying (in a quite different context) in Mark 11.25.
So far, the teaching of the sermon seems to have been in conscious opposition to the most prominent religious party among Jesus' contemporaries. It now becomes more general, and continues a tradition that goes back to Old Testament writings such as Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus: the tradition of Hebrew "wisdom", which consisted of an intensely practical attitude to life combined with firm religious values. Accordingly the object of attack is no longer the Jewish 'hypocrites', but 'the heathen'. 'Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth' (19) this advice was already centuries old, and was usually taken as an encouragement to generous almsgiving. In Jesus'
mouth it has a strongly Palestinian flavour: the "treasure" is not the gold of a rich man locked away in a strongroom, but the cherished possessions of country people, like clothes and carpets,
'The lamp of the body is the eye.' (22) It was quite natural in Greek to call the eye a "light", and the sentence may have been a proverb already. But the elaboration of this in the following metaphors is more puzzling. There may be an allusion to an idiom known in both Hebrew and Greek, according to which the bad eye is a term for meanness, and therefore the "sound eye" for generosity. But the saying can also be taken as a small parable: just as the body moves in darkness if the eyes are bad, so a person lives in spiritual darkness unless his whole personality is trained upon the source of all true light. 'No servant can be the slave of two masters.' (24) It was a commonplace that a slave who had to take his orders from two different members of a household, say from both father and son, was in a luckless position. With his usual radical approach to worldly possessions, Jesus declares that any attempt to combine the service of God with a concern about money is equally impossible.
'Therefore I bid you put away anxious thoughts.' (25) The word anxious occurs four times, and is the key-word of the paragraph. The imagery belongs again to the Palestinian countryside. 'Look at the birds of the air' (26) —and Jesus makes his point with a certain humour, conjuring up the absurd picture of birds carrying bags of seed and reaping-hooks. ' Consider how the lilies grow in the fields.' (28) For a few brief weeks in the spring, the fields are a mass of colour, to be compared with the proverbial splendour of Solomon. Lilies is the traditional translation, but we do not know exactly which wildflower Jesus was thinking of.However the image is clear enough. A few days of hot sun, and the flowers and bushes (the grass in the fields (30) has a falsely European sound) turn brown and dry, and the peasant can gather them to burn in his baking-oven or under his cooking-pot. God has no less concern for mankind than for birds and flowers. Moreover God has given men a more serious concern—to work for his kingdom and his justice. 'Each day has troubles enough of its own' (33, 34)—which is not the sigh of a man who has become resigned to misfortune, but a programme of action. There is plenty of work to be done today, combating and overcoming the evil around us. We are not to take on in addition a useless burden of anxiety about the evil which will have to be faced tomorrow.
('Is there a man of you who ... can add a foot to his height?' (27) As it
stands, this seems to be making rather a different point. But the Greek word translated height can also mean age, and a foot may be metaphorical (see footnote in NEB). Compare Psalm 39.5, "Thou hast made my days a few handbreadths". If so, anxiety about prolonging one's life would fall naturally into series with anxiety about food and clothing.)
'Pass no judgement, and you will not be judged ... whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you.' (2) One of the most powerful generators of proverbs is the old belief that there is a law of retribution in human affairs, and that what you do to others will be returned upon your own head. But Jesus' sayings, even if they have the same proverbial sound, go a good deal deeper. Here, it is not stated whom you may be judged by: but every Jew would have known what was meant. The unexpressed subject is God, the judgement is the verdict God will one day pass on every man, and you are not to anticipate it (as an individual, or a community, or a church) by initiating proceedings yourself. The same goes for the measure that will be dealt back to you—not by your fellow-men, but by God. As for the hypocrisy of criticizing others before you look carefully at yourself, the world's literature is full of proverbs about it. Jesus' example is
3 characteristic of him, in that it is almost grotesquely exaggerated—a great plank and a speck of sawdust.
'Do not give dogs what is holy.' (6) Proverbial again, and with a perfectly general sound. But perhaps there was originally a sharper edge to it. "Dogs" and "pigs" were words of abuse which the Jews were accustomed to use of Gentiles. Jesus himself used this language (Mark 7.27), but here he presumably meant, not Gentiles in general, but unbelievers.
(7-12) 'Ask, and you will receive.' (7) The efficacy of prayer was taken for granted, but (since prayers often appear to go unanswered) it was felt that a prayer must fulfil all sorts of conditions (sincerity, humility, etc.) in order to qualify for an answer. Jesus' teaching, by contrast, appears to be quite unconditional, and proceeds from the premise (which also underlies the Lord's Prayer) that God, being Jesus' own father, is therefore also Father of all who follow Jesus. And if God is the Christian's Father, then he will treat his children as a human father does—but tempering his discipline with infinitely more patience and generosity.
'Always treat others as you would like them to treat you' (12)—the Golden Rule. A somewhat similar moral rule-of-thumb was current among the Jews in Jesus' time, and was indeed thought to sum up the Law and the prophets. But it took the negative form, "Do not do to others what you would not wish them to do to you". This is significantly different from Jesus' rule, not just because avoiding evil is a colourless concept compared with doing good, but because there is a totally different presupposition. Beneath the negative form there is an implied threat: Do not do to others
what you would not wish them to do to you, otherwise they will retaliate. But there is no such threat in Jesus' rule. Always treat others as you would like them to treat you, otherwise—what? Otherwise they may not do for you all you wish they would? But no one ever expected they would! There is no "otherwise". Jesus' teaching is not prudential at all, but an absolute principle: this is how you are to treat others—regardless!
'Enter by the narrow gate.' (13) Moralists in antiquity often represented the choice between good and bad as a decision between "two ways", the narrow, difficult path of virtue, and the easy road of licentiousness. Jesus stands in the same tradition, but he seems to use the metaphor somewhat differently. He combines the image of a road with that of a gate—one should perhaps imagine oneself in a walled city, with its principal gate leading on to a main road, while a small side gate leads to a mountain path; moreover, he does not seem to be drawing just the usual moral—not many are virtuous, but make sure you are yourself. By the gate that leads to life he means the path of Christian discipleship; and it has been true ever since the beginning of Christianity that, relatively speaking, those who find it are few.
'Beware of false prophets.' We know nothing of such people in the time of Jesus; but we do know that during the first century or so of the church's existence "false prophets" constituted a practical problem. Christian "prophecy" was highly esteemed, and itinerant "prophets" were warmly received when they visited local churches. But this hospitality could easily be abused. It was not difficult to play the part of a prophet, and the churches soon had to devise some means of "testing" the inspiration of their visitors. The tests they used are described in various early Christian writings (there is an example in 1 John 4.1); and here it looks as if a general principle of moral judgement—you will recognize them by their fruits (20)—which was spoken by Jesus in various contexts (Matthew 12.33, Luke 6.43) came to be applied to the specific problem of false prophets in the church. Much the same goes for the following paragraph. Jesus was hardly addressed as "Lord, Lord" (21) in his lifetime; but in the church it was an article of faith that Jesus was "Lord", and Christians were by definition those who acknowledged "the Lord Jesus". But was it enough simply to make this confession of faith? (22) Was it enough even to speak inspired words and perform miraculous cures and exorcisms "in his name"? Were such people necessarily Christians, and would they be accepted by Christ at the final judgement? By no means. When that day comes, it will be by a man's adherence to the kind of teaching given in the Sermon, more than by his professions of faith or his psychic powers, that he will be judged worthy of entering the kingdom of Heaven.
(24-7) The Sermon ends, like other discourses of Jesus, with a brief parable. Two houses may look outwardly the same; but one, foolishly built on the
sandy bed of a wady, is suddenly inundated by a deep raging torrent which, after a few days of Palestinian rain, will rush down the valley, sweeping all before it. Outwardly, two men's lives may look much the same. But when the moment of testing comes, all the pretensions of one of them will collapse into ruin.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all give a picture of Jesus' activity in Galilee in which the two principal elements are Teaching and healing. Matthew, by placing the Sermon on the Mount so early in his narrative, gives special prominence to the teaching.
He now devotes a few paragraphs to examples of the healing, and begins with the cure of a leper (8.1-4). This episode, in Mark (1.40-5), is told in greater detail and with an eye to its social and religious implications; but Matthew omits everything except the bare narrative. The only emphasis he appears to lay on the story is not (as in Mark) on the behaviour of the leper who has been cured, but on Jesus' anxiety to conform with the Law: make the offering laid down by Moses for your cleansing. (4)
When he had entered Capernaum (5). The next episode (8.5-13) is evidently recorded for the sake of the conversation between Jesus and a military officer. Much of the point of the conversation lies in the fact that the man who came up to ask Jesus for his help was a centurion (the Roman title for a junior officer in charge of about a hundred men). This does not reveal his nationality: whether he was in the service of Rome or of one of the vassal kings (Herod Antipas or Philip), he could have been recruited from any part of the eastern empire. But one thing about him is almost certain: he was not a Jew (for Jews did not normally serve in any army in Palestine). The episode is therefore one of the very few in the gospel which illustrate Jesus' attitude towards the Gentiles. The conversation is almost identical in both Matthew and Luke, though the two evangelists seem quite independent of each other when it comes to narrating the episode in which this conversation took place.
'A boy of mine' (6). The translators have successfully caught the ambiguity of the Greek phrase: it could mean one of the centurion's children, or one of his servants. Matthew probably intended it to mean his son, in which case the urgency of his request needs no explanation (Luke took a different view, 7.2). Jesus' immediate response to this request by a foreigner was apparently favourable:'I will come and cure him' (7). But the soldier, sensing the impropriety of having a Jew of Jesus' renown entering his house (or else out of pure diffidence) requested Jesus merely to say the word (8), and made a comparison (which is the other main point of the story) between the authority of himself as an officer and the authority of Jesus. Just as he, being under orders himself, had soldiers under him, and in his own small way could get his will done by his subordinates (9), so, he believed, Jesus had supreme authority over those powers of evil which caused such things as the paralysis of his son. Jesus surely did not need to go and encounter the particular demon concerned; he had only to say the word, and the whole regiment of the devil would obey him. To credit Jesus with such authority over the entire realm of evil spirits (unlike ordinary exorcists, who could only take them on one by one) was a sign of remarkable faith; and Jesus was led to comment on the contrast between such implicit faith and the much more reserved and sceptical attitude which he had encountered in Israel (10).
'Many, I tell you, will come from east and west.' (11) This saying occurs in a different context in Luke (13.28-9), and was doubtless remembered for its own sake, apart from any particular occasion. It is added here as a general comment on the episode which has just taken place. The Jews looked forward to a future age of glory, often pictured as a heavenly feast, presided over by the great patriarchs of the past. In the language of those prophets who wrote when the Jewish nation was exiled far away from Jerusalem (e.g. Isaiah 49.12), there would at the same time be a great coming together of people from east and west—but these, of course, would be Jews, people born to the kingdom (12). Jesus here turns this conventional imagery on its head: it is Gentiles who will flock in to enjoy the promised kingdom, while the Jews who so confidently look forward to it will be driven out into the dark, the place of wailing and grinding of teeth.
Two brief paragraphs follow which appear to be borrowed from Mark's gospel (1.32-4), with slight abbreviation. In Mark, the events are included in his account of a complete day's activity, and since that day was a Sabbath, the words when evening fell (16) are significant: only after the Sabbath ended at sunset was it permissible to travel any distance or to perform more than the most necessary tasks for the sick. Matthew, by his rearrangement, has robbed this of its significance. Characteristically, he sets Jesus' activity in relation to a prophecy of Isaiah (53.4) (17). This comes from a chapter which the church rapidly came to see as one of the key Old Testament passages bearing on the person of Jesus; but Matthew quotes the text in an unusual
version which appropriately makes it apply, not to salvation from sin (its usual sense), but to healing from disease.
Two sayings on discipleship follow, which seem on the face of it to make the demands of Jesus almost impossibly exacting: not only must the disciple do without the security of a home, but he must even be prepared to neglect what was for the Jews (as for most people) one of the most sacred of all family duties, that of providing an honourable burial for one's father. It is true that Jesus often seems to have called men to a break with their previous lives so radical that these demands can be seen as a consistent part of his teaching on discipleship. On the other hand, each of Jesus' replies has something of the ring of a proverb, and may originally have been spoken in a somewhat different context. Thus, 'the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head' (20) sounds oddly inappropriate immediately after the welcome given to Jesus in Peter's house (verses 14-15 above), and since no teaching has yet been given about the Son of Man it is hard to see how, at this stage, anyone could have understood what Jesus meant. But later on, when Jesus had finally turned his back on his own country and was on his way to meet humiliation, suffering and death in Jerusalem, the saying could well have been one of those in which he tried to convey to his disciples the darker side
of his destiny as Son of Man. Again, 'leave the dead to bury their dead' (22) is understandable enough as an invitation to leave the ranks of those whose minds are closed to new possibilities of life and to become, through the gospel, really "alive"; and it may only be Matthew (or the tradition he was reproducing) who, by taking the phrase literally and introducing a circumstantial little story to illustrate it, has made Jesus appear so ruthlessly insensitive to the most precious family ties of his would-be disciples.
Jesus then got into the boat, and his disciples followed. (23) The word followed is a little odd in this sentence: "his disciples went with him" would be more natural. But "following" was the disciples' metier, and was the vocation of the church which came after them; and this may be the first of the subtle alterations and adjustments to the story as we know it from Mark (4.35-41) by which Matthew appears to have adapted it to the needs of a Christian community that was struggling against persecution like a small boat caught in a storm, apt to imagine that its Protector was asleep. This record of Jesus' magisterial words to the raging elements may have been intended to reassure the church that its destiny was, after all, in safe hands.
When he reached the other side, in the country of the Gadarenes. (28) It is likely that a small strip of the southern shore of the lake belonged to the important Greco-Roman city of Gadara (which lay about seven miles away), and to this extent Matthew's correction of Mark's 'Gerasenes' somewhat eases the geographical difficulty of the story (for Gerasa lay much further away); at the same time, the name of the city, as well as the presence
of a herd of pigs, still gives the impression of a predominantly non-Jewish environment. The story clearly reproduces that given by Mark (5.1-10), but is told more briefly, and in a much less sensational form. The man possessed by a whole legion of unclean spirits becomes (unexpectedly) two men possessed by devils of considerable violence; and the enormous herd of two thousand pigs becomes simply a large herd (30). Moreover the emphasis here is quite different. In Mark's version the interest is focused upon the state of the man before and after the exorcism, and upon the crowd's reaction to the cure. But here the two sufferers are barely mentioned more than once. The scene is played out entirely between Jesus and the devils, who (as always) recognize him as the Son of God, and expect from him an unwelcome anticipation of that punishment which (according to popular Jewish mythology) the devil and all his company were to receive at the end of time. They beg to be allowed to make a spectacular demonstration of their power before yielding (a common feature of exorcism stories), and this duly takes place in the destruction of the herd of pigs. The consequence is very different from that in Mark's version: instead of a vociferous witness being left behind in gentile territory to spread the word of Jesus' greatness, there was a unanimous reaction of hostility: all the town ... begged him to leave the district (34). According to Matthew, Jesus' work at this stage aroused no response among the Gentiles.
And now some men brought him a paralysed man (2). The story is told more fully by Mark (2.1-12) and Luke (5.17-26), and the men's exploit in lowering the stretcher through the roof (which is not mentioned by Matthew) seems a necessary presupposition of the story if the words seeing their faith are to make good sense. Jesus' first words to the paralytic perhaps bring out the true sequence of events more clearly than in the parallel versions. 'Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven'. Since, it was believed, God must forgive a man his sins before he could recover from an illness, this was sufficient reason for saying 'take heart': if the paralytic's sins were really forgiven, he could now expect to recover. But the unspoken accusation of blasphemy incited Jesus (as in the other accounts) to make a demonstration of his authority to pronounce forgiveness of sins by miraculously performing an instant cure. The people, in Matthew, were not merely stunned by the miracle, but appreciated, perhaps, that it was a decisive answer to the charge of blasphemy. Jesus' act proved that God had indeed granted him such authority (8)
(9-13) As he passed on from there (9). In Mark (2.13-14) and Luke (5.27-28) the name of the customs official is Levi; here it is Matthew. There can be no doubt that this is the same incident as in the other two gospels; all the main features of this and the following paragraphs (down to verse 17) are the same. The only important dilference is the name of the disciple. One reason for the change is probably that Levi does not occur in any of the lists of the Twelve, and the writer of this gospel (or indeed a later hand, if it was desired to bring the reputed author of the gospel into the narrative) wished to attach this story to one of the names which certainly appeared in the list, and which subsequently appears (10.3) as 'Matthew the tax-gatherer'.
The narrative continues exactly as in Mark (2.15-17), save that Jesus' reply to his critics includes a quotation from Hosea (6.6), "I require mercy, not sacrifice" (13). Possibly Matthew was dissatisfied with Jesus' brusque and proverbial reply to the Pharisees, and deliberately introduced the quotation from Hosea, which was a classic formulation of the superiority of spontaneous acts of compassion and generosity over the fulfilment of the temple ritual, and which Jesus (at least according to Matthew), also used on another occasion (12.7 below). In this way Jesus could be portrayed as meeting the Pharisees on their own ground. 'Go and learn what that text means' (17) was, incidentally, a characteristic phrase in Jewish scholarly arguments.
In verses 14-17 Matthew runs very close to Mark (2.18-22), but adds a characteristic touch at the end. The drift of these sayings in Mark, and still more in Luke, is that Jesus' new message is incompatible with the old observances. But for Matthew this must have seemed too bald a statement. Christianity was a new interpretation, but it by no means superseded the Jewish Law: so he adds, 'then both are preserved' (17).
A short section follows devoted to miracle stories, which are told very briefly, but in such a way as to bring out the fact that the miracles were performed in response to a gesture of faith. In Mark's version (5.21-43) the president of the synagogue (who is actually called simply "a ruler" in Matthew's text, but the translators have filled in his title from the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke) came to Jesus when his daughter, though critically ill, was still alive: he asked only for a healing miracle, and it was Jesus who took the initiative once it was known that the child was dead. But here the child is already dead, and the man's faith in Jesus is demonstrated in that he believes from the outset that Jesus can perform the miracle, exceptional even in Jesus' activity, of restoring the dead to life. Similarly, the story of the woman with haemorrhages is much shortened, but is told in such a way as to bring out the woman's faith and Jesus' approval of that faith. Nevertheless, even within this brief scope, Matthew adds two touches of what we would now call local colour which are not found in Mark. Jesus' garment had an edge, which in the Greek is a technical word for the tassels which Jews were bidden to wear on each corner of their cloak (Numbers 15.38); and the house of bereavement had already attracted flute-players, whose profession it was to attend mourners.
The gospels contain a number of stories of Jesus curing the blind. There is one in both Matthew (20.29-34) and Luke (18.35 43) which follows the story as told in Mark 10.46-52. But here, Matthew has an additional version, told more briefly than the others but preserving two typical features: first, that the blind recognize Jesus as Son of David (27) (which, all the evangelists agree, was correct in a sense, but was not normally discerned by those with whom Jesus came into contact: there may be something symbolic in the fact that it is only the blind who "see" this); and secondly, Matthew on each occasion unexpectedly introduces not one but two blind men, just as, in 8.28, he equally unexpectedly introduces two madmen. In this very brief account Matthew is careful, once again, to emphasize the men's faith: 'As you have believed, so let it be' (29). The injunction is added, which is more characteristic of Mark's gospel than of Matthew's, 'See that no one hears about this' (30). Matthew perhaps understood the matter like this: the fame of Jesus' miracles was bound to have spread whatever happened; but the particular intuition which the blind men had about Jesus' true identity (Son of David) ought not, at this stage, to be revealed.
The last in the series of miracles, the exorcism of a devil from a dumb man (32-33), is told only in barest outline. Since Jesus is dealing here, not with the patient, but with a devil which has assumed control over the patient, there can be no question of the individual's faith. Instead, the interest of the story is shifted to the reaction of the onlookers.
The kernel of the following section is to be found in Mark (6.7-13). Jesus, at some stage in his work in Galilee, commissioned his disciples to go out independently of him as missionaries and healers, and the instructions and advice which he gave them are recorded in each of the first three gospels. But it was perhaps inevitable that the early church, when it meditated on these sayings, was more interested in their application to its own circumstances and problems than in the actual historical situation in which Jesus originally pronounced them. There was consequently a tendency, both to collect together scattered sayings of Jesus which seemed to have a bearing on church life, and to hand them down in language that was appropriate to the time. This tendency, which is present even in Mark's much briefer collection, has clearly influenced this section of Matthew. In the first place, the setting of the discourse has become artificial. In Mark (6.7, 30) and Luke (9. 2, 10), the disciples are sent out on a mission, and when they return they give some account of their exploits. In Matthew, too, they are "sent out" (10.5); but it is never said that they actually go, and there is no reference to their return: Matthew has characteristically allowed the importance he attaches to Jesus' discourse to crowd out the details of the circumstances which inspired it. In the second place, the conditions prevailing in the church when Matthew wrote are clearly discernible in the form in which some of the sayings are recorded (especially 10.17-20, 40-2). And in the third place, Malthew has added to the original collection a number of sayings about the future which lies ahead of the Christian community, sayings which occur in a quite different context in other gospels and which have little relevance to the situation of twelve disciples supposedly about to depart on a missionary tour. In short, Matthew has edited his material in such a way that it has become, not so much the report of words which Jesus may have spoken on a particular occasion in his life, as a manual of Jesus' sayings relevant to the work and witness of the church.
Before proceeding to the task of the disciples, Matthew introduces two similes to characterize, first the people among whom they would work, and secondly the urgency of the mission on which they would be sent. The people were like sheep without a shepherd (36)—a well-remembered comparison recorded in another place in Mark (6.34), but serving here to fix in the mind one of the commonest designations of Christian ministers: they were to be "shepherds". The disciples, moreover, were to be like labourers when the crop is heavy (37); and the church must pray that God would liberally increase the number of men called to this urgent task—or so Matthew understood the saying. But just as the 'fishers of men' metaphor (Mark 1.17) probably had a different meaning before it became a commonplace in the church, so with the harvesting metaphor. The harvest was one of the commonest biblical images for the Last Judgement; and the Greek phrase, "Lord of the harvest", though it could perhaps mean simply the owner (38) of a farm (as it is translated here), would naturally lead the mind to the divine Judge himself. The labourers, at this ultimate harvest, were traditionally to be the angels (as they are, for instance, in the Revelation); but the followers of Jesus were to have their place on the tribunal at this judgement, and might also have their share in the harvesting. 'Beg the owner to send labourers to harvest his crop', on Jesus' lips, was doubtless a command to pray for the immediate beginning of the Judgement, hastened by the efforts of his followers.
Then he called his twelve disciples (1). We have not been told that he had twelve; but the existence of the Twelve was so taken for granted in the church that it was hardly necessary to introduce them: they were simply his twelve disciples. Just as there were twelve legendary tribes of Israel, so there were to be twelve leaders of the new People of God. Matthew's list is much the same as Mark's (3.16-19). But only a few of the names are known personalities. The important thing was that the group existed, and consisted of apostles (2) (which means men "sent out" on a particular mission) whom the church subsequently recognized as its immediate founders. It followed that the instructions (5) given to them were given, through them, to the church.
'Do not take the road to gentile lands'. By the time Matthew's gospel was written, Gentiles outnumbered Jews in the church, and the Christian message had penetrated deep into non-Jewish lands. This command of Jesus, recorded only by Matthew, is therefore extremely puzzling. It is true that Jesus himself did not extend his work into gentile lands, but quite apart from the specific command which, after his resurrection, he gave to 'make all nations my disciples' (Matthew 28.19) there are numerous hints in his teaching that he thought of his message and his mission as something far wider than a religious movement within Judaism. Why then is he here reported as limiting the scope of the mission to the house of Israel (by which Matthew, like other Jewish writers, means the Jewish population of Palestine)? Only two solutions seem possible, and neither is entirely satisfactory. Either the command was (or was subsequently understood to have been) a temporary limitation, which was removed after the resurrection; or else perhaps the church Matthew knew was one engaged in a difficult mission to the Jewish people, tempted to abandon the task and join the more successful mission to the Gentiles, but needing to be recalled to its first duty by the recollection of some stern words that Jesus had once uttered: 'Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (6).
'As you go proclaim the message' (7). The task of the missionaries was to continue the preaching and healing work of Jesus. Sufficient examples of this work are given in the course of the gospel, and little space is devoted to it here. Instead, the discourse is concerned with the way these missionaries are to live. You received without cost; give without charge (8). Some of the powers which the disciples were to exercise—such as healing and exorcizing—were possessed by others in the ancient world, who accepted payment and hoped to make a living by their exceptional gifts. But Christian missionaries were to use their powers as freely as they had received them. Their bearing, it seems, must be one of complete poverty—no pack for the road (10), either for provisions or for accepting alms (see on Mark 6.8); not even shoes and stick (which are allowed in Mark, but forbidden in Matthew), either as a sign of more extreme asceticism, or else because coat, stick and begging-pouch (pack) was the uniform of the many wandering philosophers who accepted a beggar's reward in return for their wisdom. How then were they to live? The worker earns his keep. However Jesus originally meant this proverb, the early church soon made a clear principle out of it. As in other religious societies, the travelling preacher was to be given hospitality in believers' houses, bringing with him only the customary greeting of peace (though this was not a mere formality: it could be revoked if necessary!) (12). The readiness to hear and receive was a test of ultimate salvation: if a house or a town failed to pass it, the traveller, by "shaking the dust off his feet" (14), would demonstrate that it would have no part in the kingdom—just as a Jew, entering Palestine, would shake off the dust of gentile countries which could not share the sacrcd destiny of the Holy Land. Its punishment, said Jesus, would be worse even than that of the proverbially sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. Doubtless Jesus was thinking of the serious condemnation brought upon themselves by those who gave no hearing to the first preaching of the gospel; but possibly the church, when it remembered these words, was thinking of the experience of its own members in inhospitable Jewish towns.
However this may be, the sayings which follow plainly reveal a perspective different from that of twelve men sent out on a brief preaching tour. Matthew, in fact, has drawn into this discourse a number of sayings which Mark and Luke place considerably later in the narrative. In those gospels, the sayings are prophecies of the sufferings which Christians will have to endure, and describe some of the traditional tribulations (such as strife within families) which will presage the approaching end. In Matthew, they refer equally clearly to the period, not of Jesus' lifetime (when there is no evidence and little probability that the disciples suffered persecution) but of the church; and they are grouped here for convenience, even though they hardly fit the
16 context. Apart from the opening warning ('be wary as serpents, innocent as doves') (16), which sounds like an old proverb, the next few verses all occur in Mark 13. But Matthew adds a startling new saying at verse 23: 'before you have gone through all the towns of Israel the Son of Man will have come'. The "coming" of the Son of Man is a phrase which usually seems to stand for the moment when world history will come to an end, the Last Judgement begin, and the righteous be finally vindicated; and the saying looks at first sight like a prophecy of Jesus which was soon proved false. Yet Matthew, half a century later, deliberately included this saying in his "manual for the church". Was he writing for a community of Christians engaged in the difficult task of preaching in Jewish cities, and encouraging them to persevere, despite discouragement and persecution, on the grounds that there were still plenty of towns for them to work through before the end? Or did he understand the figure of the Son of Man in a more sophisticated way, as he in whom the righteous were represented and, in a sense, already vindicated? If so, in so far as Christianity had already been widely accepted, it could be said that the Son of Man had "come". As in other passages, we must beware of imagining that Jesus, when he used the language in which his contemporaries speculated about the future, was indulging in predictions as naive as theirs.
'A pupil does not rank above his teacher.' (24) There is a similar proverb in the sermon in Luke (6.40). Here it is applied to persecution of the disciples (25), who can have nothing worse to endure than their master did. (On Beelzebub, see below on Mark 3.22.) 'There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered' (26)—another proverb, usually somewhat pessimistic: acts which one is ashamed of and hopes to leave concealed, will be known, if not in one's lifetime, certainly at the Judgement. But perhaps there is a larger thought here (as probably also in Mark 4.22): the gospel, in its beginnings, was essentially a mystery, something covered up and hidden, known only to a few. But Christians need not be discouraged: one day there would be "revelation", a full manifestation to the whole world, and in the strength of this promise they should meanwhile shout from the house-tops (27). The worst that could happen to them would be physical death; while to fail in their mission would expose them to the judgement of God, who alone is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (28). God's concern for them was as certain as for the sparrows that are sold as poor men's food in the market—so long as they were faithful. But whoever disowns Jesus before men (33) loses the right to call God his Father. Jesus will no longer admit him as a brother, and therefore God will no longer be his Father.
'You must not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth' (34)— and yet, 'how blest are the peacemakers' (5.9)! The solution of the paradox probably lies, again, in the fact that this saying originally belonged in the context of Jesus' predictions about the time immediately before the end. One of the terrors of that time (it was traditionally believed) would be internecine fighting and the reversal of family loyalties (see below on Mark 13.12). Jesus, by precipitating this climactic period of history, would be bringing not peace but a sword—and the early church, seeing families divided by the new faith (for Jewish communities were evidently as intolerant of conversions to Christianity in the first century as they were subsequently), saw here a clear sign of the approaching end.
In view of this, loyalty to Jesus must take precedence over all other loyalties—Luke expresses this even more strongly (14.26)—and the sayings (37-9) which follow take on their full meaning in the light of the subsequent experience of the church (see below on Mark 8.34-6). In verses 40-2 one can even overhear something of the church's structure and nomenclature. Travelling "prophets" were frequent visitors to each local church and (so long as they were genuine) (41) it was the Christian's duty to give them hospitality. A good man seems, for a time at least, to have been a name used by Christians for Christians; and one of these little ones (42) was a familiar way 42 of referring to the poor and the gentle, the "little flock" out of which the church was characteristically composed (see below on Mark 9.42). In short, the theme of this short paragraph is the same as that which is worked out on a grand scale in the parable at the end of chapter 25: 'anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me'.
John, who was in prison (2). The circumstances of John the Baptist's imprisonment are related below, 14.3-12. We learn here for the first time that he had a following of disciples: he evidently had a great deal of teaching to give on moral questions (we can glean scraps of this from the various New Testament references to him), but his main importance, at least in Christian eyes, lay in his role as precursor. His message was centred upon one who was to come after him, whom he thought of as a Man of Fire, bringing universal judgement; or as the Elijah who (according to Jewish mythology) was to return in supernatural form shortly before the end of the world; or perhaps even as the Messiah who was to inaugurate a New Age. Now Matthew's account of the first meeting between John and Jesus makes it appear that John recognized in Jesus at least some marks of the Person whom he had been announcing. But since then, Jesus' activity, though clearly something out of the ordinary, scarcely measured up to the sensational programme outlined by John. To this extent his question is understandable: 'Are you the one who is to come?' (3)
Jesus' answer (as so often when he was questioned about his true nature) was somewhat ambiguous. There were prophecies in the Old Testament (see especially Isaiah 35. 5-6; 61.1) which foretold a time when physical infirmaties would be cured and social evils righted; and the usual interpretation of these passages was that this golden age would begin with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus' miracles had already fulfilled the spirit of these prophecies. This meant, at the very least, that a new age was dawning. But how far Jesus himself corresponded to the popular image of the inaugurator of that new age was another matter: John must draw his own conclusions. In particular, Jesus was certainly not the man of unlimited power whom the populace expected. His activity raised questions rather than compelled allegiance. Men had to make up their minds for or against him, and might find him challenging too many of their presuppositions. Hence—'happy is the man who does not find me a stumbling-block' (6).
Jesus began to speak to the people about John (7). There were many different versions current of the programme which popular Jewish speculation envisaged for the end of history and the dawning of the promised new age. They tended to revolve around some supernatural Person, be it an Elijah redivivus or a Messiah. But they did not normally make room for two such figures: and therefore, given the fact that Jesus was such a person, it was something of a problem (doubtless for subsequent generations of Christians as much as for the contemporaries of these events) to fit in John the Baptist as well. Jesus sharpened this question for his hearers. When they went out to the wilderness, what had they expected to find? Not, obviously, something as ordinary as a reed-bed swept by the wind (which may or may not be metaphorical: either an actual reed-bed—or reed, as the Greek can also mean—or a man as feeble as a reed); nor yet something as crudely supernatural as a splendidly dressed figure in the depths of the desert. A desert preacher was likely to lie one thing only: a prophet. But this prophet was unique, in that he was a herald—the prophecy which fitted him (Malachi 3.1) is given here exactly as at the opening of Mark's gospel . The new state of affairs which he heralded was being even now brought about by Jesus; and if you could accept that, then you could accept that John was after all the great herald of popular expectation, the destined Elijah, the last figure in the old era of the Law and the prophets. But to recognize this, you had to be able to recognize what was unique in Jesus, and this insight was not given to everyone, just as not everyone could grasp Jesus' parables. And so here (as several times in connection with parables): 'If you have ears, then hear' (15).
Two very difficult sayings are worked into this section, (i) John was of quite exceptional importance and greatness; 'yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.' (11) Why? Perhaps because all human priorities in the kingdom are turned upside down, so that, by definition, the least become the greatest, the first last. Or else perhaps because John the Baptist only announced the kingdom and came too soon actually to belong to it. It is true that Jesus nowhere else suggests that you have to belong to a particular time or place to enter it. But there are a number of his sayings which do imply that the appearance of Jesus had opened an entirely new chapter in world history, and that the least of his disciples enjoyed a privilege which had been denied to the greatest of the figures of the past (see below, 13.17). (ii) 'Ever since the coming of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence and violent men are seizing it.' (12) The Greek is capable of more than one meaning (see the footnote in NEB), and the sentence itself appears to be a riddle to which we no longer have the key. The arrival of John the Baptist was a turning-point, so much is clear; but why this should have given their chance to men of violence (who might be over-enthusiastic adherents of Jesus, like zealots, or else ruthless opponents) remains mysterious.
'How can I describe this generation?' (16) The little parable that follows presupposes two groups of children playing a game of marriages and funerals. One group makes the appropriate music, the other goes through the appropriate actions. Both John and Jesus, in their different ways, had sounded a call to repentance; but their hearers, like sulky children, had answered, " You are not playing it right". 'Yet God's wisdom is proved right by its results.' (19) The Greek has simply "wisdom"; but it would seem a trite proverb if it meant merely "it pays to be clever", and quite irrelevant to what has preceded. "Wisdom", in the sense of philosophy, was not much prized among the Hebrews. For them, "wisdom" usually meant God's wisdom— the divine plan which underlies the universe and which is reflected in the righteous deeds of men. John and Jesus were conspicuous agents of that divine plan. Their conduct might seem wrong to some, but the results of their work would prove them to be right. (Luke 7.35 has a slightly different
version of this saying, which in any case is obscure, and may not have been understood even by the time the gospels were written.)
Then he spoke of the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed (20). Chorazin (21) lies a few miles inland from Capernaum. It was a smaller and less pretentious town (to judge from the surviving remains), and this is the only indication in the gospels that Jesus worked there. A miracle at Bethsaida is recorded in Mark 8.22-6. Jesus here gives high importance to his miracles: the sight of them should have moved people to repentance. According to the gospels, the impression they create is normally favourable, in that people come for more and praise God for what they have seen; but we also hear of frank opposition and scepticism on the part of certain individuals, and in fact (in view of this saying of Jesus) the reaction of most people may have been a good deal less positive than the gospel writers suggest. Jesus uses the tones of an Old Testament prophet (21-4): Amos (1.9-10), Isaiah (23), Ezekiel (26-28) and Zechariah (9.2-4) had all made of Tyre and Sidon a classic example of cities which deserved the imminent wrath of God; Isaiah (14.13-15) had said of Babylon that, even if it thought of itself as exalted to the skies (23), it would soon be brought down to the depths; and Sodom, since the book of Genesis, was the sinful city par excellence. But even these cities were excusable compared with the impenitent witnesses of Jesus' miracles.
At that time Jesus spoke these words. Verses 25-30 have a solemn ring. Whether or not the sayings they contain originally belonged together, they are cast in a form which was quite frequently used by great teachers in antiquity. The last chapter of Ecclesiasticus (a book that was written about two centuries before the time of Christ) is composed on much the same pattern (thanksgiving for benefits received, verses 1-12; claim to special knowledge, 13-22; invitation to others, 23-30) and contains many phrases which are startlingly similar to the words of Jesus. Similarly, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, not many years after Jesus' death, appealed to others to follow his manner of life in a sentence of exactly the same structure as
'Come to me . . . and I will give you relief.' (28) Therefore if Jesus, at some stage, made a general appeal to the public to come to him for instruction, this was a natural way for him to do it (or for an early editor of his sayings to picture him doing it); and the understandable modern reaction, that such an encomium would have come better from a follower of Jesus than from Jesus himself, probably fails to take account of the literary conventions of the time.
'I thank thee, Father'. Since the nineteenth century this saying has been called "a meteor from the Johannine sky". Certainly Jesus' intimacy with God, as that of a son with his father, is a leading theme of the fourth gospel, and these words of Jesus, which conic as something; of a surprise here, would hardly be noticed in John. Nevertheless the ideas they express belong to Matthew's gospel as much as to any other. The contrast between the misguided learning of the Pharisees and the truer insight of the least of Jesus' followers underlies many episodes in the gospel, and the claim that Jesus was to God as son to father, and that his followers, through their solidarity with him, come to share his sonship and thereby to address God as Father, runs through much of the Sermon on the Mount, and is a presupposition of the Lord's Prayer. Terms such as "knowing", "hiding" and "revealing" suggest at first sight the kind of religion in which the mystical "knowledge" of God is the main object, to be obtained by initiation into successive degrees of intellectual illumination. Almost from the beginning, there were tendencies to assimilate Christianity to this kind of mysticism (see below on Colossians, p. 646); and these verses have often been regarded as evidence for similar influences. But the terminology also has its home in Jewish thought. To the Jew, God was not "known" to the man who searched unaided for religious truth: God "chose" to reveal himself to his people, whom he "knew", in the sense that he had chosen and identified them. In return, his people "knew" God, in the sense that they gave him their allegiance, and were the recipients of his self-revelation. The same deliberate self-revelation was still in progress: but the vehicle of this revelation was now Jesus, and its recipients no longer the historical people of the Jews but those who were "chosen" by Jesus to share in the privilege of Sonship, and to enter into the son's intimate "knowledge" of the Father.
'Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy.' (28) Any religious leader lays a "yoke" on his followers, just as any king lays a yoke on his subjects. Men's allegiance can only be expressed in acts of submission and obedience. Moreover, to encourage that allegiance, any ruler or teacher will certainly promise "relief" to those who are under the yoke, and the extent to which that relief seems worth having will depend, in part, on the severity of the previous regime. Now it was a common figure of speech that the Law of Moses by which the Jews were obliged to live, despite the many blessings and privileges which it conferred, was nevertheless a "yoke" which had to be borne with discipline and patience; and one of Jesus' complaints against the Pharisees was that with all their efforts to make the Law fully applicable to present-day conditions they had only succeeded in making the yoke more oppressive. At least a part of what Jesus meant by his "yoke" must be understood in this context: even though he expected from his followers an obedience to the Law as great as that of the most exacting of his contemporaries, yet by returning to the spirit of the Law instead of the letter, by giving assurance that prayers were heard and answered, and by promising blessings both now and in the future to those whom society had traditionally victimized, he was able to say 'My yoke is good to bear, my load is light' (30). But at the same time, the
saying has a generality and a nobility which transcend this particular contrast. 'I am gentle and humble-hearted' (29). These words do not merely describe Jesus' moral character; they define the kind of king which Jesus was—one 'who comes to you in gentleness' (21.5), one who 'humbled himself' (Philippians 2.8). His kingship was so new, his rule such a reversal of the usual structures of authority, that his yoke had nothing to do with oppression. Paul, indeed, was to call it freedom.
The first main topic of Controversy in Matthew, as in Mark and Luke, is the observance of the Sabbath. The principal exponents of correct Sabbath observance were the Pharisees, and Jesus' criticism of some of the restrictions which beset what was intended to be a day of goodwill and rejoicing, and his own and his disciples' comparative freedom with regard to these restrictions, naturally became a serious issue between himself and the Pharisees. Matthew, in the next two episodes, follows much the same tradition as Mark (2.23-3.6) and Luke (6.1-11), but in each case introduces a somewhat more technical argument which shows Jesus meeting the Pharisees on their own ground. In the first, after referring his opponents (as in Mark) to the difficult but 12. 3-4 indecisive case of David, Jesus adds (using a technical formula of scholarly discussion, have you not read in the Law (5)) a logically more powerful argument. It was agreed that the necessities of the temple service made it necessary for the priests to break a Sabbath regulation—for instance, they still had to reap a sheaf for the ritual on the second day of Passover, even if this happened to be a Sabbath. A fortiori, if there is something greater than the temple here (6) it will provide exemption for other kinds of "reaping". An appeal to the general principle expressed in Hosea 6.6 (7), that mercy (which includes charitableness) is superior to ritual observances, rounds off the argument. The validity of this reasoning depends of course ultimately on the authority which Jesus claims for himself. So here (as in Mark and Luke): 'For the Son of Man is sovereign over the Sabbath' (8).
In the second episode (9-14) the challenge to Jesus is answered, in Mark and Luke, by a simple counter-challenge: 'Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath?' Here, Jesus' reply takes the form of another argument a fortiori. It was admitted that it was permissible to rescue a sheep on the Sabbath. How much more then to do good to a man! (12)
The following paragraph (15-21) appears to offer an explanation of certain rather puzzling statements which are found in Mark. Mark records that, while Jesus was performing cures, the unclean spirits by which some of the sufferers were possessed shouted out who he was, and Jesus 'insisted that
they should not make him known' (3.11-12). Matthew uses exactly the same language (he gave strict injunctions renders the same Greek word as 16 'he insisted' in Mark) but omits all reference to the spirits. What in Mark takes the form of a dialogue with supernatural powers appears in Matthew as a simple command given to the crowds. Nevertheless, the question still remains as puzzling in Matthew's version as it does in Mark's: why did Jesus insist on this secrecy? Matthew seems to hint, by his introductory words (Jesus was aware of it and withdrew (15)) that Jesus' motive was simply prudence: he wished, for the time being, to avoid further controversy with the Pharisees. But he also has a more profound explanation to offer. One of the Old Testament passages which seemed to Matthew (and doubtless to the early church) both to foretell Jesus' coming and to explain his destiny was the opening of Isaiah 42—the prophecy of a "servant" who would establish justice in the world. An allusion to this prophecy seems to underlie the words heard at Jesus' baptism (3.17 - see above (18-21)); here Matthew quotes it in full. His version does not exactly follow either the Hebrew text or the Greek version of the Septuagint, but is a curious combination of the two, suggesting that the verses had already been much pondered in the church and had been slightly modified in the process. But the point which was important for Matthew here was the silence and modesty of this servant: He will not strive, he will not shout, nor will his voice be heard in the streets (19). It was in conformity with this prototype, Matthew suggests, that Jesus maintained his mysterious secrecy.
The following episode is told by Matthew and Luke in a form somewhat different from that which it has in Mark (3.22-30). It begins with a brief account of an exorcism, which aroused in the bystanders a reaction of considerable expectancy: the word went round: 'Can this be the Son of David?' (23) It was widely believed among the Jews that God would at any moment bring into being the New Age by means of a divinely appointed Person (a Messiah), who would be the true successor of King David, and who was therefore often called (not because of his genealogy, but because of his destiny) the Son of David. This Person, it was said, existed already, but his identity would remain unknown until the time for his appearing should come. When that moment came, he would manifest himself with signs and wonders. Jesus' miracles naturally gave rise to the question, 'Can this be the Son of David?'
The Pharisees were ready with an alternative explanation: 'It is only by Beelzebub prince of devils that this man drives the devils out' (24). Jesus shows this to be sophistry. His argument is here very close to that in Mark's account (3.22-6) but has an additional point of some interest (27). It shows that there were exorcists about whom the Pharisees approved of; therefore the argument used against Jesus would apply equally to them. No, the Pharisees were wrong, and the people (in a sense) were right. Jesus' exorcisms were a 28 sign of the new age:'the kingdom of God has already come upon you.' (28)
The comparison with the strong man's house (30) is almost exactly as in Mark (3.27); the saying in verse 30 is a proverb, expressing the challenge presented by Jesus' teaching (Jesus appears to say the opposite in Mark 9.40, but the inconsistency is probably only apparent: see below on that passage). The saying about the slander against the Spirit is as difficult here as it is in Mark (3.28-30), even though Matthew, like Luke, has the additional words, 'any man who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.' (32) It is possible that the experience of the early church has influenced this formulation. It was one thing, out of ignorance or perversity, to misunderstand the church's teaching about the nature of Jesus Christ (i.e. " to speak against the Son of Man"). But if, confronted by the manifest activity of the Spirit in the church, men still reviled and persecuted, then there seemed no further hope for them either in this age or in the age to come (as Matthew puts it, borrowing a standard Jewish idiom).
'Either make the tree good and its fruit good.' (33) This is essentially the same saying as in the Sermon on the Mount (7.16-20). There it was applied to the problem of discriminating between true and false prophets; here it is part of an attack on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom Jesus (in Matthew)
treats with great asperity ('vipers' brood' (34)). Their words cannot be (as they claim) "good" when their actions are evil—and the theme of "words" seems to explain the addition of another completely general saying. That a thoughtless word (36) will have consequences on the day of Judgement is a conclusion reached by any thinker who takes God's judgement seriously; but Jesus' contemporaries would not normally have expressed the matter so uncompromisingly.
'Master, we should like you to show us a sign'. This request occurs in Mark (8.11), and is there refused without any reason being given. Here the refusal is expanded by a reference to Jonah (39). The book of Jonah was one of the most popular of the Old Testament. It contained a message both of hope and of warning. All the other Old Testament prophets had met resistance, unbelief, even outright rejection; but Jonah had preached and (much to his discomfiture!) the whole city of Nineveh had attended to him and repented. This was the hopeful side of the message: repentance was always possible, and God would reward the penitent as he had rewarded Nineveh. But Nineveh was a gentile city! This was the note of warning: was there anything in Jewish history to compare with Nineveh's repentance? And the warning is taken up by Jesus here: 'when this generation is on trial, the men of Nineveh will appear against it' (41)—a moral that could also be drawn from that other great Old Testament story (42) of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (1 Kings 10). But Matthew (unlike Luke) has worked in another motif from the legend of Jonah. The decisive "sign" which Jesus ultimately did give to "that generation" was the resurrection, and the church (whether or not there was originally a saying of Jesus on these lines) very soon came to see Jonah's legendary sojourn in the sea-monster's belly (40) as a prefigurement of Jesus' brief period of physical death.
When an unclean spirit comes out of a man (43). Given the naively realistic language of an age which believed implicitly in spirit-possession, this was, and remains, a valid description of what we would now call a psychological danger, that of removing an obsession without putting anything positive in its place. So Luke (11.24-6) understands it; but Matthew records it as a parable, and it is hard to be sure what it was supposed to illustrate. Perhaps the idea was that "that generation", after an imperfect repentance provoked by Jesus' teaching, would soon be exposed to the dangers of still worse religious and political leaders than they had before.
The scene which closes the section (46-50) is given almost exactly as in Mark (3.31-5).
Matthew now devotes a further chapter to the teaching of Jesus; but this time it is teaching of a new kind. So far, it has taken the form of rules and precepts for the conduct of life. But it was well known that Jesus also spoke to them in parables (3), and Matthew (who follows very closely the account given in the corresponding chapter of Mark) now presents a collection of these parables, and at the same time casts Jesus in a new role: that of an inspired teacher of divine mysteries.
The collection begins with a parable of sowing, told almost exactly as in Mark. Just as, however good the harvest, there will always be some wastage, so, despite the apparent success of Jesus' work, there would always be some who opposed it and so excluded themselves from the kingdom. But if this was how the parable was intended by Jesus to be understood (see below on Mark 4.1-10), it was not for this reason that Matthew set it down here. Matthew, in common with Mark, possessed another and much more recondite interpretation; and this led him to see Jesus' parables, not as illustrations intended to make his meaning clearer (which was the most common sense of the Greek word), but as cryptic sayings fully intelligible only to the initiated (which was one of the meanings of the Hebrew word corresponding to "parable"). There was good precedent for an inspired thinker clothing his teaching in mysterious imagery. From time to time visionaries appeared among the Jews who believed that they had been vouchsafed glimpses of the destiny which God had in store for the world, and it was to be expected that they would express the content of their visions in cryptic form; for I hey were, in effect, divulging "mysteries" or secrets, the full manifestation of which was reserved for the future. Meanwhile, it was only to themselves, mid to the privileged few who had the knowledge and understanding to grasp the meaning of their cryptic discourses, that these things were revealed. An example of this kind of writing is the Revelation of John; another is the long series of Jewish "apocalypses" which begins with the Book of Daniel and runs on at least to the end of the first century A.D. Jesus himself was remembered to have conformed to this tradition when he gave some teaching on the "last things" (see below on Matthew 24 and Mark 13); and in Matthew the parables are regarded as part of the same kind of teaching. In the centre of the picture stand the disciples, a privileged group to whom it has been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven (11). Even the prophets and saints (17) of the Old Testament, for all
their remarkable insight and vision, did not reach that point of initiation into the purposes of God which the disciples have already reached—and they will go further still: Matthew applies to them a saying of Jesus which stands isolated in Mark (4.25), 'the man who has will be given more' (12). The disciples, unlike the people of Israel of old, have been given "eyes to see and ears to hear" (Deuteronomy 29.4), and this makes of them a uniquely privileged class, in sharp contrast to the bemused crowds who are straining to catch the import of Jesus' teaching from the shores of the lake. But what then of these crowds? Why is their fate so different from that of the privileged few? This is the sense of the disciples' question, 'Why do you speak to them in parables?'(10) (which, in Mark, appears as a question about the nature of the parables themselves). And the answer is that here, once 14-15 again, is a fulfilment of prophecy. Matthew quotes (at far greater length than Mark or Luke) from Isaiah 6.9-10, and his quotation follows word for word the Septuagint version of the Greek Bible, which gives a somewhat different sense from the Hebrew. Jesus is not likely to have used a Greek version, but it does not follow from this that he did not on occasion make use of the same passage in Hebrew (see below on Mark 4.11-13)—only that Matthew has been at work editing his material. The word in the passage which has caught Matthew's imagination is understand (14). It is not opposition, or indifference, or perversity, which has kept the crowds from salvation, but a lack of understanding; and Matthew has subtly altered the interpretation of the parable (an interpretation which, for various reasons, is unlikely to go back to Jesus himself: see below on Mark 4.14-20) in order to make the point that the reward belongs to the man who hears the word and understands it (23).
The second parable (24-30) also describes the ordinary cultivation of the fields but, unlike the first, contains something of a story. The farming described is again perfectly normal. It was to be expected in any cornfield that there would be weeds, and one of the most troublesome was that species of darnel (25) which, in its early stages, is almost indistinguishable from the young blade of corn. Nothing could be done about it, therefore, until the corn sprouted and began to fill out (26): by then (in fact, somewhat before then) it would be easy enough to distinguish the darnel. There were then two possible courses of action, both of which were quite common practice, but each of which had disadvantages. Either the darnel could be pulled out when the corn was still green—but it had strong roots, and there was a danger of pulling up the corn at the same time; or else it could be left till harvest (30)—but then it had either to be carefully separated out in the reaping (which was done, not by the farmer's own labourers alone, but by a force of specially hired men), or else sieved out in the threshing; for the seeds of darnel are poisonous. In the parable, the farmer is made to choose the second course; and if the parable originally existed (like the parable of sowing) in the form of a straightforward description of familiar farming methods, with the emphasis on the words, let them both grow together, then we can guess at the point Jesus was making. Do not judge before the time, do not try to weed out your ranks and form a sect of "holy men". There will be time enough for this at the Last Judgement (for which "harvest" was a familiar symbol).
But, in the present form of the parable, a familiar scene is turned into an anecdote by the addition of a curious feature. The presence of weeds in the field would not normally surprise anyone; it was the commonest of the farmer's difficulties. But here a different explanation is given: "This is an enemy's doing" (28). This is not necessarily improbable in itself. Stories are told of village feuds being carried on in this way. On the other hand it does not add anything to the point of the parable, which appears to lie in the wheat and the darnel both " growing together" till harvest. The detail of the enemy becomes significant only if the parable is in reality something quite different, that is, a cryptic discourse in which each term stands for something else. As has just been said, the'' harvest" is a conventional image of the Last Judgement. The description of the harvesting in verse 30 is difficult to visualize in terms of wheat and darnel, but is apt enough if the real material being harvested is a cross-section of good and bad human beings; and in this case, the enemy is a necessary character, since it is the devil who prompts the evil deeds committed by men.
In this form (which may or may not be the form in which Jesus originally spoke it) the parable fits appropriately into its context in Matthew's gospel. The story, like the previous one, is deliberately mysterious, and only the privileged few have the key to its meaning. Moreover, since its theme is the Last Judgement, it falls naturally into place in the teaching of one who had a special vision of the future to impart to his chosen disciples. As in the case of the previous parable, Matthew has an esoteric interpretation to offer. The interpretation (36-43), again, has a number of features more characteristic of Matthew's editing than of Jesus' own idiom, and uses terms which are conventional elements in Jewish descriptions of the Last Judgement. There are thus serious reasons for doubting whether it can go back to Jesus himself.
No clue is given for interpreting the next two parables (31-3). If they were intended to receive the same kind of esoteric interpretation, then each element in them would presumably have to be a cryptogram for something
else; and given one correspondence (the kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard-seed, or like yeast) one would have to ask what, for instance, the man who sowed, or the woman who baked, stand for. But it is unlikely that Jesus meant them to be taken in this sense. The phrase, 'the kingdom of Heaven is like ...', does not necessarily (or at least did not, in the language that Jesus spoke) mean that the kingdom corresponded to just one person or thing in the parable, but that it was illustrated by the parable as a whole (thus the same Greek phrase is translated in 13.24 'The kingdom of Heaven is like this', and in 13.45 as 'Here is another picture of the kingdom of Heaven'). The point of comparison in each case seems to be simply the contrast: the tiny seed and the huge full-grown plant, or the small amount of yeast with which a baker can leaven a whole day's baking.
In all this teaching to the crowds Jesus spoke in parables; in fact he never spoke to them without a parable (34). The word never has been inserted by the translators and needs qualifying. Matthew, of course, does not mean that Jesus never spoke to the crowds at all without a parable—after the Sermon on the Mount this would be nonsense. But in his role as a revealer of the secrets of providence, his speech to the crowds (Matthew wishes us to understand) was always cryptic, and only his disciples were given the key to his meaning. Matthew again finds a scriptural model for this. The passage he quotes (35) is Psalm 78.2, with a slight modification of the second line: things kept secret since the world was made is a phrase which describes the kind of revelation being given by Jesus better than the literal text in either the Greek version or the Hebrew. Although it is from a psalm, it could legitimately be regarded as a prophecy: Jesus himself found things in the psalms which were prophetic in the sense that they were still awaiting fulfilment. But why some manuscripts of Matthew's gospel give Isaiah it is impossible to say. It is conceivable that Matthew took the text from an anthology of quotations in which it stood next to a passage of Isaiah; otherwise it must be simply a mistake.
The next pair of parables (44-6) obviously belong together, and presumably make the same point: the total personal commitment demanded by the kingdom of Heaven. To buy a field, the man in the first parable had to sell everything he had: he was therefore a poor man, doubtless working in the field as a hired labourer. Having found the treasure, he was not necessarily obliged to report it, but he could not expect to be allowed to acquire it unmolested until he became the owner of the field. The merchant (45) of the second parable would have been a far more prosperous person. He is to be imagined passing through Galilee on his way from the pearl-fishing seas of the east. On his last journey he was able to acquire an exceptional pearl, for which he willingly surrendered his entire stock, knowing that it would make his fortune when he brought it to the dealers in the big cities.
The last parable (47) is drawn from one of the commonest scenes on the lake (here called the sea, which was the way the local inhabitants referred to the Lake of Tiberias). The point about the drag-net is that it catches fish of every kind (47), which are only sorted out afterwards—and this presumably (as in the case of the wheat and the darnel) was the original point of the parable. Do not try to sort out the good from the bad in this life by forming a little sect of specially pious men and despising all who will not join you: all the sorting necessary will be done by God at the Last Judgement. The interpretation added by Matthew does not conflict with this, but it shifts the emphasis from the present to the future, and treats the parable primarily as a cryptic description of the Last Judgement. This is consonant with Matthew's picture of Jesus in his role of an expounder of the secrets of the future to a privileged few, but may, once again, represent a later understanding of the parables themselves.
Mark's parable chapter ends with a summary of the way in which Jesus addressed the crowds (4.33-4). Matthew slightly alters this by focusing attention on the disciples, who alone have the privilege of "understanding". The ordinary Jewish teacher (52) of the law, in the course of his training, built up an immense store of the old—that is, of knowledge of the scriptures themselves and of the traditional interpretations of them that were handed down and elaborated by generations of scholars. But the training of Jesus' disciples, as sketched in this chapter, gave them something altogether new to offer as well.
Matthew's account of Jesus' visit to Nazareth follows Mark closely (6.1-6), and only two slight changes have significance: Jesus is called, not the carpenter, but the carpenter's son (55)—perhaps Christians hesitated to acknowledge that Jesus had actually been a tradesman; and Mark's 'he could work no miracle there' is altered to he did not work many miracles there (58). Matthew was not prepared to concede that Jesus was less than omnipotent.
Prince Herod (1). Mark calls him 'king', which is doubtless what he was popularly called; but Matthew, more precisely, gives him his official title of tetrarch, or Prince. The tetrarchy of Herod Antipas included the whole of Galilee, and this was the ruler with whom Jesus had to reckon until he travelled up to Jerusalem. Herod's attitude to religious movements of the kind started by John the Baptist and Jesus was clearly an important factor in the story. It is for this reason that Matthew, who has already alluded to John's arrest in 4.12, now introduces the full story (the context in Mark is more contrived). Herod is made to see in Jesus a visitation of his guilty conscience about John the Baptist, and this gives the cue for the story of John's execution (3-12), told exactly as in Mark (6.14-29), with the omission of a few details.
The news of this execution also sets in motion the sequence of events (13-27) which follows (the context in Mark is again slightly different). The narrative closely follows that in Mark (6.45 56), leaving out a few details, and showing only a slight tendency to enhance the miracles (to say nothing of women and children... some furlongs from the shore) (24) and to present the disciples in a better light (28-33). Peter's venture upon the water, however, is told only by Matthew. It is a vivid illustration of a theme Matthew is fond of: the importance of faith in a disciple. It is also a perfect illustration of the impulsiveness of Peter's character and his failures at moments of crisis— traits which had serious consequences during the trial of Jesus.
The next episode justifies the title under which this section stands, Controversy (1). A critical question from some Pharisees and lawyers from Jerusalem provokes Jesus into a violent counter-attack, which the Pharisees have no difficulty in recognizing as a deliberate challenge to their principles (12). When Mark comes to this incident (7.1), he elucidates it for non-Jewish readers by adding an explanation of the Jewish customs alluded to. Matthew omits these notes. Presumably his readers would have known at once that the Pharisees' comment, 'They do not wash their hands before meals' (2), touched a question, not of hygiene, but of ritual purity. Precisely what the ancient tradition was which Jesus was attacking, and what the target was of Jesus' counter-attack on the Corban-oath (the technical word is omitted by Matthew, but the argument is the same as in Mark), are questions of some difficulty (see below on Mark 7.1-13); but the underlying tendency of Pharisaic tradition to overlay God's law (6, 9) with the commandments of men is neatly summed up in the quotation from Isaiah 29.13 (8-9) (which Matthew, like Mark, quotes according to the Greek version), and is here, as elsewhere, made the object of Jesus' criticism. No wonder the Pharisees took great offence (12)! But Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, went further still. The religious leaders of the Jews prided themselves on being 'guides to the blind' (Romans 2.19). Jesus casts this back 14 in their teeth by calling them blind guides themselves (14), and denies that they have any part in the ordained process of God's self-revelation.
Woven into this controversy is a saying which appears in Mark (7.15) in a completely general form: 'nothing that goes into a man from outside can defile him; no, it is the things that come out of him that defile a man' (10-11). This saying certainly sounded a little mysterious, and needed interpretation; and the interpretation added by Mark in fact made it apply to the question (much discussed in the early church, but of less apparent topical interest in the Jewish environment of Galilee) of ritually permissible foods. Matthew, by adding the words into his mouth, robs the original saying of its generality, and makes it into one which could have no application except to food. As a result, it hardly needs interpretation (15-20). But Matthew, who is obviously using Mark as his model, none the less gives the same detailed explanation for the benefit of the dull disciples (16), and then, with a slight twist at the end, brings it round to the point from which the section started (20): the washing of hands.
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It is true that the interest of the narrative soon begins to shift from Jesus and the crowds to the more intimate episodes concerning only Jesus and his disciples; but there is first a section (21-8) in which the disciples play little part, and 21-8 which is of some interest in view of the subsequent history of the church. The question to which the passage offers an answer is, What was Jesus' attitude to Gentiles? There can be little doubt that Matthew knew of Mark's version of this story, but he may well have felt that it left the question somewhat in the air. According to Mark (7.24-30), Jesus seemed both to endorse the usual Jewish attitude of exclusiveness towards all non-Jews, and at the same time to make an unexplained exception for the benefit of a woman who was 'a Phoenician of Syria by nationality'. Matthew endeavours to bring more logic into the story by adding a few details which may be in part his own invention, in part drawn from another source of the same story. The woman came from those parts (22)—that is (in all probability) from some village at the north end of the Jordan valley, where the administration was carried out from the coastal cities of Tyre (and perhaps even Sidon), but the population was still mainly Jewish. She is here called a Canaanite, which is a piece of antiquarianism on the part of Matthew: Canaanite is the Old Testament word for those inhabitants of Palestine, such as the Phoenicians, whom the people of Israel found already in occupation. But it serves to underline the apparent exclusiveness and scriptural correctness of Jesus' reply, I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to them alone (24). More clearly than the lively, and perhaps slightly humorous, dialogue which follows, this first reply leaves no doubt of Jesus' attitude towards Gentiles: his mission was not to them. But Matthew also makes clear the reason (which Mark does not) why an exception was made for the Canaanite woman: she had faith. As in the case of the Roman centurion (8.5-10), so here: non-Jews, if they have faith enough, can qualify for the privileges up to now possessed by the Jews alone. Whether or not this was originally Jesus' attitude, it certainly soon became that of the early church. It governs the thought, for instance, of the first few chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans.
Matthew continues to follow closely the order of events in Mark's gospel, but gives them a more logical sequence. What in Mark is a single miracle (29-31) (the healing of a deaf and dumb man, 7.31-7) becomes in Matthew a whole series of miracles. The effect is the same: the prophecy of Isaiah 35.5 is seen to be fulfilled (the three words dumb, lame and blind all occur in that passage (30)), and the people, doubtless recognizing the significance of these events, give praise to the God of Israel (31).
But the episode in Matthew's version, with the crowds flocking to Jesus where he was seated somewhere
in the hills (29, 32-9), also sets the scene neatly for the feeding-miracle which follows. The same considerations apply to this narrative as to the version in Mark (8.1-10); Matthew has made only slight alterations, perhaps partly to increase the impression of Jesus' mastery of the situation ('I do not want to send them away unfed' (32) for Mark's 'If I send them away', the enlargement of 38,39 the crowd by the addition of women and children). The neighbourhood of Magadan is Matthew's alteration of Mark's 'Dalmanutha'. But from our point of view this is no improvement: Magadan is also completely unknown.
(1-4) Matthew has already given a full report of the question of the "sign" (12.38-9), doubtless drawn from a source other than Mark; but here, for all that, he continues to follow Mark's order and relates it again, closely following the version in Mark (8.11-12), but avoiding Mark's reference to Jesus' emotion and adding an allusion to the sign of Jonah which was mentioned in the earlier conversation.
Matthew's treatment of the next episode (5-12) is highly significant. He normally presents the disciples as a privileged group of men, constantly in the company of their Teacher and, in contrast to the multitudes, in a unique position to grasp the meaning of Jesus' teaching. This picture is rudely shattered if we turn to the parallel passage in Mark (8.14-21); for there this episode is the occasion for the severest criticism ever made by Jesus of the disciples' obtuseness and lack of understanding. It is therefore not surprising to find that Matthew gives the incident a different turn. The elements are the same: the saying on the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (6), and the crossing of the lake without a provision of bread. But Matthew's combination of them is different. Instead of concentrating on the disciples' total incomprehension of the feeding miracles, Matthew shifts the emphasis on to Jesus' admittedly somewhat enigmatic saying about leaven. It was this which the disciples had failed to understand. Matthew even suggests that they were trying to take it literally, as a warning against the baker's leaven (12). But of course the saying, like the parables, had a deeper meaning and, by excluding (with a reference to his feeding miracles) the naive literal meaning, Jesus led them to understand that it was a warning against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Once more, the disciples are shown to be in possession of an esoteric interpretation of a saying of Jesus. Whether this was the interpretation intended by Jesus is perhaps doubtful. In Mark, the relevant phrase is 'the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod', and can hardly mean anything but the common desire of both the religious and political authorities to do away with Jesus. In Matthew, Herod is replaced by the Sadducees. This party certainly had its own teaching, to which Jesus was openly opposed. But it was an aristocratic party, more political than religious, and would hardly have been interested in trying to influence men at the social level of Jesus' disciples. It is difficult to see why they should have had to be on their guard against the Sadducees' teaching.
The territory of Caesarea Philippi, to the extreme north of Galilee (13), is the scene (as in Mark) of an important moment in the unfolding of the true nature of Jesus. But this moment, in Matthew's treatment, becomes also a means of drawing attention to one of the disciples, who has so far usually been mentioned only along with the others, but now begins to become prominent in the story (not always to his credit) and who was subsequently a leading figure (if not the leading figure) in the early church: Simon Peter.
Who do men say that the Son of Man is? (13) This is a strangely oblique way of speaking,but there can be no doubt that Jesus' question is really about himself: the sequel makes this plain—and in any case the question is clearly not just a theoretical one about that mythological figure who appeared in Jewish speculation as the "Son of Man". The stage reached in the popular estimate of Jesus was that of moderately tense expectancy: he seemed to be bringing the promised kingdom appreciably nearer, and therefore he might well be one of those Old Testament figures who, it was popularly believed, would return to earth as a herald of the impending new age. Indeed, John the Baptist himself had appeared to fulfil so faithfully the traditional role of an Old Testament prophet, and had at the same time proclaimed such an urgent message, that Jesus might even be a reincarnation of him. But Simon Peter had advanced to a further stage in understanding who Jesus was: 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God' (16). That Jesus was in fact these things was of course taken for granted by the church when Matthew was writing; and by relating that Peter offered and Jesus accepted these titles, Matthew incidentally allowed his readers to feel that the language they were accustomed to use of their Lord had been endorsed by Jesus himself. But the significance of the narrative is mainly the light it throws on Peter. Matthew has inserted a saying of Jesus which occurs in no other gospel (17-19). So far, he has represented the disciples as a group of men who are given the unique privilege of private and esoteric teaching, while the crowds who listen to Jesus are left in doubt and bewilderment about his real meaning. One of them, however, has now shown that he has advanced further still, to the point where he can receive a direct revelation from God. His recognition of the true nature of Jesus is something not to be learnt from mortal man (17): it is the very highest type of knowledge imparted by God alone to those who are favoured indeed—and it is doubtless implied by Matthew that all those Christians who come to acknowledge the same truth for themselves are similarly favoured (the word is the same as that which is translated 'blest' at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount).
But if Peter is up to this point the prototype of all Christians who confess Jesus to be Christ and Son of God, the next part of the saying sets him apart in a position by himself. 'You are Peter, the Rock.' (18) Matthew has already said more than once that Simon was 'called Peter', and Mark states that it was Jesus who gave him the name. Unlike, for instance, the name given to two other disciples ('Boanerges'), Simon's name stuck to him, and he is known throughout the gospels indifferently as Simon or Peter (or its Aramaic equivalent, Kephas). Jesus' intention in so naming Simon is here explained for the one and only time in the New Testament: Peter (in Greek Petros, in Aramaic kephas) means "stone" or "rock"; and in true Hebrew fashion the full significance of the name is worked out, giving its bearer an apparently unique role to play in the subsequent history of the church.
Since it is clear from the New Testament that Peter was in fact not, or at any rate not for long, the universally acknowledged leader of the church; and since, on the other hand, it has been of primary concern to one whole section of Christendom for many centuries past to assert the absolute supremacy of Peter and of his successors over the church at large, the authenticity and meaning of this saying have become a subject of longstanding controversy. Further, the word church is very rare in the gospels (it occurs only here and at 18.17, where it is translated 'congregation'), and even though the concept of a community of followers may be implied in Jesus' teaching as a whole, it remains surprising to find him using the actual word church, and it is tempting to think that it was only after the church had come into existence that such a saying could have assumed its present form. On the other hand the building metaphor, as applied to the church, seems to have been used from very early times by Christians: it is taken for granted, for instance, by Paul. The metaphor is not unparalleled in Jewish writings; but it remains a striking one, and it is only reasonable to assume that it goes back to Jesus himself. Moreover, if Jesus gave Simon a name which means "stone" or "rock", it need not surprise us if at some moment he put the two ideas together and ascribed to this disciple an important function in the "building" which was to come. To this extent, the saying may well go back to Jesus, even if the subsequent evolution of a Christian "church" has modified the form in which we now possess it.
'The powers of death shall never conquer it.'Again, it is easier to understand the birth of this saying after the resurrection than before it; for it was the resurrection which assured Christians that they no longer had anything to fear from the powers of death. Yet if Jesus did in fact make predictions about the community which was soon to arise, these predictions could well have included some form of this saying. The expression, the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, appears to be explained in the sentence which follows. The Greek means literally, "what you bind ... and what you loose", and the NEB rendering, what you forbid . . . and what you allow, represents a possible interpretation of the words. A qualified lawyer had the authority to decide, in disputed matters, precisely what was "allowed" by the Law and precisely what was "forbidden" by it. Similarly, it could perhaps be said of Peter (and, if of him, possibly of other leaders of the church) that he would have the authority to decide what was, and what was not, permissible for Christians. This authority would doubtless imply the decision when to excommunicate a member of the church (which is another possible meaning of "bind" and "loose"); and it is not altogether easy to reconcile this responsibility of Peter's (or of any single church leader) with the more democratic procedure described in chapter 18 below. The precise interpretation of these words depends, once again, on whether it is thought credible that Jesus should have made detailed predictions about the organization of the church, and on whether it is admitted that the subsequent practice of the church may have influenced the form in which the sayings have been handed down.
The remainder of the section (24-8) reproduces the corresponding passage in Mark (8.34-8) with only a few alterations. The final saying, on the coming of the kingdom, has been modified significantly. One of the roles of the Son of Man (suggested by the Son of Man passage in Daniel 7) was to assist at the final Judgement, when each man would receive 'the due reward for what he has done.' (27) So far, the saying merely endorses what was probably a current Jewish belief. But the sequel,' there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom' (28), is more startling. It appears to predict (erroneously) the coming of the end of the world in the lifetime of Jesus' own generation. Matthew, unlike Mark, made the saying turn on the figure of the Son of Man, and in so doing was perhaps trying to reconcile it with the experience of the church; for there was a sense in which Christians had already seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom—compare Stephen's vision in Acts 7.55-6. Nevertheless, the saying remains a puzzling one: see below on Mark 9.1.
He was transfigured (1). Matthew's account of the Transfiguration follows closely that in Mark (9.2-8), and the details, as in Mark, frequently suggest a symbolical interpretation, even if (again as in Mark) they do not necessarily demand it. The small changes made by Matthew nevertheless indicate a slightly different understanding of the scene. Moses comes before Elijah, so that the two figures are clearer symbols of the Law and the prophets; and certain small touches, such as the radiance of Jesus' face, the brightness of the cloud, and the prostration of the disciples after (instead of before) the heavenly voice, bring the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai more vividly to mind (Exodus 34.29-35). These details perhaps show Matthew at work, deliberately presenting Jesus as the new Moses, the definitive lawgiver. The scene is followed, as in Mark, by the disciples' question about Elijah, 'Why then do our teachers say that Elijah must come first?' (10) The teachers are the "doctors of the law", whose traditional interpretation of the prophecy in Malachi 4.5 (that Elijah was to come "before the day of the Lord") had given to this Elijah-figure an ever greater role, so that he was now popularly believed to be one who would set everything right. Matthew, compared with Mark, somewhat simplifies Jesus' reply. Elijah's role was compatible (contrary to popular belief) both with remaining unrecognized and with suffering execution. Similarly, the Son of Man (again contrary to popular belief) was to suffer (12). That such could be the destiny of Elijah (who was now at last recognized by the disciples in the figure of John the Baptist) should help them to understand how such too could eventually be the destiny of the Son of Man.
(14-18) The exorcism which follows is related more briefly in Matthew than in Mark (9.14-29), and there is here no dialogue on the subject of faith. Nevertheless, Matthew makes faith the point of the story. To the question, why did Jesus' disciples (and presumably also the early Christians) not always succeed in their exorcisms, the answer, in Mark, is: they do not pray enough! (20) The saying of Jesus given here suggests a different answer: they have not sufficient faith!
A further prediction of the fate in store for the Son of Man is recorded here in Matthew as it is in Mark and Luke, but with a characteristic difference. In the other gospels the disciples failed to understand; but here they understood so well that they were filled with grief (23).
'Does your master not pay temple-tax?' (24) It was an almost universal custom among the Jews, not only in Palestine but all over the Roman empire, to pay an annual tax of a "half-shekel" or (in Greek money) a "double drachma" for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. The amount of this tax was relatively small: it was just twice the labourer's wage for a day's work (20.2), and the obligation to pay it was taken for granted by rich and poor alike. But in fact it is doubtful whether any legal sanctions attached to it, and it was the view of the Sadducees, for example, that since the only description of the tax in the Law of Moses (Exodus 30.11-16) made no mention of it as a recurrent tax, the institution must be a product of a later "tradition", and was therefore not binding. The question of the collectors did not therefore necessarily amount to asking whether Jesus was a law-abiding person in this respect, but implied that Jesus, as a new religious teacher, might possibly have a view of his own on the matter.
Jesus answered with a simple analogy. 'From whom do earthly monarchs collect tax or toll?' (25) The monarchs of whom the Jews had experience were those lesser kings whom the Romans allowed to administer parts of Palestine under the general jurisdiction of the Roman empire. The tax which these princes exacted was a capitation tax levied on all subject peoples; the "tolls" were customs dues. Roman citizens were exempt from both these; but all others—aliens from the Roman point of view—were subject to them. Jesus' answer implied that, just as Roman citizens were exempt from taxes, so Jews should have a similar immunity with regard to taxes for their own institutions. This might give the impression that Jesus was opposed to the institution of the temple as such; but this is not borne out by his attitude at other times, and is indeed contradicted by his approval of free-will offerings to the temple treasury (Mark 12.41-4). What he objected to was probably the notion of a formal obligation to pay the tax, instead of spontaneous offerings. 'But as we do not want to cause offence ...' (27) This was clearly not the moment to make an issue out of it, and Jesus complied with the collectors' demand.
The story of how he did so is reminiscent of many folk tales, and is often thought to be an example of the kind of legend which very soon attached itself to the person of Jesus: similar stories came to be told of other famous Jewish rabbis, by way of emphasizing their exceptional holiness. Alternatively, some saying of Jesus—a parable or a simile—may in the course of telling have been changed into a story about Jesus himself. The silver coin in the fish's mouth was a stater, which corresponded to four drachmas, or two persons' temple-tax. Matthew alone records this story; it may have been preserved (and possibly modified) in a Jewish-Christian church because of its bearing on what may have been a delicate question for Palestinian Jews converted to Christianity: should they or should they not continue to pay the temple-tax? They may have found their answer in the words, 'we do not want to cause offence'.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked (1). Matthew calls Jesus' long answer a 'discourse' (19.1), and the chapter constitutes one of the five substantial discourses with which this gospel is punctuated. It is addressed specifically to the disciples; but the topics it deals with are unmistakably those which were later to arise in the life of the church.
'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?' The question looks innocent enough; but the context in Mark (9.33-4) reveals why it was originally asked—the disciples had been discussing 'who was the greatest' among them. We can probably detect in Matthew's handling of this his desire to present the disciples in a more favourable light: he simply omitted the disreputable argument which was the original cue for the question. Whether or not the church was interested in the order of precedence which may have obtained among Jesus' first disciples, it was intensely interested in the order of precedence which should be observed among its own members, and in the problems of organizing its community life; and it doubtless found all the sayings of Jesus which are collected here relevant to these questions.
He called a child, set him in front of them, and said (2). In the narrative in Mark (9.36), Jesus answers the disciples' question with the same gesture: he makes them concentrate their attention on a mere child, and declares himself present even in such an insignificant member of the community. Matthew repeats this: 'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me' (5), but he adds to it other children-sayings. 'Unless you turn round and become like children' (3). Turn is a synonym (with more of an Old Testament than a New Testament feeling: compare Mark 4.12, where it occurs in a quotation from Isaiah) of the more common "repent". In what respect must they become like children? What Jesus' original meaning may have been is a deep question; but in the immediate context given to the saying by Matthew—that of order and priority in the church—the point is probably quite simple. As the text goes on to say, 'Let a man humble himself till he is like this child' (4), not so as to become child-like (for children are not necessarily humble), but so as willingly to occupy a child's humble place in the community.
In the corresponding passage of Mark, sayings about children lead on to sayings about 'little ones' (9.42), but there are signs that this is a superficial connection: 'little ones' was a name given to the weaker members of the Christian fellowship. The case is even clearer here. The notion of a small child "having faith in Jesus" is a modern one; in antiquity, children were deemed simply to go along with their parents. A man became a Christian 'with his household', and nobody asked questions about the quality of his children's "faith". Therefore, when Matthew presents us with the phrase, one of these little ones who have faith in me (6), we must beware of assuming that the discourse is still about children. In the church, causes of stumbling (7) were bound to appear, in the form of persecutions, heresies and betrayals—the ever-active devil would see to that. But deliberately to add to these causes by making life still more difficult for the "weaker brethren" would be a very serious matter—and one which had a natural place in this discourse about the life of the church.
'If your hand or your foot is your undoing' (8). Almost the same saying occurs in the Sermon on the Mount (5.29-30) in the context of personal renunciation. Why does Matthew repeat it here? Possibly because he found it in the corresponding passage in Mark (9.42-7); or perhaps he saw a new meaning for it in this context. The church is the "body" of Christ. Offensive members must be thrown out rather than the whole community be corrupted. By contrast, the little ones (10) must never be despised, for they have their guardian angels in heaven. The function of angels in Jewish literature was twofold. First, they constituted the court of God in heaven, offering him unceasing praise and worship; secondly, they acted as ihe messengers and agents through which God intervened in the affairs of men (there are a number of examples of this in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke). Popular belief also ascribed a third function to them, that of guardian angels of individuals and nations (this is clear from Acts 12.15, became officially recognized in Jewish writings in the following centuries). But these guardian angels were not excused their duties in heaven: they still had their place in the heavenly court. As to the order of precedence of these angels: it was usually thought that only a very few actually had the privilege of standing in God's presence and (to use a court metaphor) of "looking continually on his face". If the guardian angels of these little ones had this dignity, what must be the worth in God's sight of the individuals whom they guarded!
'Suppose a man has a hundred sheep' (12)—an easy supposition: this was a reasonable-sized flock for a single-handed shepherd; and if one strayed, he would not necessarily abandon it just to stay close to the rest of the flock. But the parable is given a quite different application from the more famous one it has in Luke's gospel. There, all the emphasis is on the joy of the shepherd that the "lost" sheep is found; here, it is on the duty of the shepherd not to let a "straying" sheep get lost. The lesson for the leaders of the church is obvious.
'If your brother commits a sin' (15). These sentences are not (like what has gone before) mere exhortation, they lay down a strict procedure to be followed. From the language it is possible almost to date the words to a particular phase in the growth of Christianity. There was already a congregation (17)—that is to say, there is no pretence that the words were applicable to the disciples in Jesus' lifetime. But this congregation was still completely Jewish: it shared, with an exclusiveness that was hardly characteristic of Jesus, the attitude that all whose nationality or occupation disqualified them from membership of the Jewish people were incapable of salvation. Hence, it treated its own recalcitrants as the Jewish community treated a pagan or a tax-gatherer. Nevertheless, the actual procedure it followed was by no means characteristically Jewish. It is true that the Dead Sea sect had a very similar procedure (and the similarity between these verses and a passage in the Scrolls shows, at the very least, that at this stage the Palestinian church was in touch with ideas that had shaped other communities); but the patience which Christians were to show towards a sinner (expressed in its most radical form in Jesus' reply to Peter about forgiving seventy times seven times (22)) is very different from the normal procedure of the synagogue, where excommunication normally followed the commission of certain sins automatically. Nevertheless, moments would come when the leaders of the church would have to apply the ultimate sanction of exclusion. When this happened, there was a saying of Christ (see above on 16.19) which authorized them to act: 'Whatever you forbid on earth shall be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you allow on earth shall be allowed in heaven' (18).
'If two of you agree on earth' (19). This "agreement" was the united prayer of the church, for the church was the place where two or three individuals were gathered together "in Christ's name"; and just as a later Rabbi could say, "When two sit occupied with the words of the Law, the divine glory is in the midst of them", so the fact of being united in the worship of Christ guaranteed his presence among them.
'The kingdom of Heaven, therefore, should be thought of in this way' (23). The parable is clearly intended to be an illustration of the teaching which has just been given about forgiveness, and makes its point, as so often, by a touch of exaggeration. The scene is the court of a king: Jesus may have been thinking of one of the sons of Herod the Great who ruled as vassals of Rome, or else of a more distant and perhaps legendary oriental monarch. Among the men who served this king were officials entrusted with the taxation of his realm, or perhaps local governors set over certain areas of the kingdom. There appeared before him a man whose debt ran into millions (24). Here is the first touch of exaggeration. Ten thousand talents (the sum named in the Greek) would have been more than the total tribute paid by Galilee to Rome in 15 years—an immense sum, but it would be just conceivable for a local governor to fall into arrears to this extent; if he did, he would presumably enrich himself enormously by so doing, and the king could hope to recoup much of the revenue by confiscating the man's property. However, out of pity the king remitted the debt (27)—that is (in practical terms) he wrote off the revenue or at least postponed the date when payment would be due
He left Galilee (1). The geography, both here and in Mark (10.1), is somewhat obscure. One of the pilgrims' routes from Galilee to Jerusalem crossed the Jordan south of the lake, followed the east side of the valley through "Transjordan" (i.e. Peraea, which like Galilee was part of the territory of Herod Antipas) and then recrossed the Jordan to Jericho. If Jesus took this route, it would effectively have taken him across Jordan; and since Peraea was predominantly Jewish, the presence, for instance, of some Pharisees (3) need cause no surprise. The difficulty is that Matthew appears to call this part of the country the region of Judaea (1). Strictly speaking, Judaea (the area administered by a Roman procurator) lay on the west side of the Jordan; but the word was sometimes used as a name for Jewish Palestine generally.
The Pharisees' question reflects a controversy which certainly existed in the time of Jesus. The relevant passage in the Law of Moses runs (Deuteronomy 24.1): " When a man has married a wife, but she does not win his favour because he finds something shameful in her, and he writes her a note of divorce ..." Divorce, in this passage, is taken for granted; and the grounds on which it is permitted are defined as "something shameful" in the wife. But what does this phrase mean? The most rigorous school of thought considered that it referred only to adultery; but those more favourable to divorce interpreted it in the most general way possible, to cover quite trivial misdemeanours by the wife. We know that in the time of Jesus this wider interpretation was the usually accepted one: the historian Josephus, for example, tells us that he divorced his own wife because he was "displeased with her conduct"; but at the same time there were some who disapproved of such permissiveness and endeavoured to tighten up the application of the law. Jesus was evidently being challenged to enter this debate when he was asked (according to Matthew, who was doubtless familiar with the controversy), 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any and every ground? (3)'
Jesus' answer was characteristic (4-5). Instead of concentrating on a text which referred only to the practical and legal question of divorce, he drew attention to another part of Scripture which was generally agreed to provide positive teaching about the nature of marriage.From these texts it could be deduced that man and wife are no longer two individuals: they are one flesh (6). The will of God, as revealed in the narrative of the creation of Adam and Eve, clearly presupposed a union of man and wife so profound that ideally it excluded any possibility of divorce.
According to their own principles of interpreting Scripture, the Pharisees' objection to this was a fair one. If the Law of Moses allowed for divorce, how could anyone say that divorce was contrary to the will of God? Jesus' answer reveals, by comparison, a somewhat radical approach to Scripture. Even though the Law was unquestionably the revealed will of God for men, Jesus frankly pronounced it to have been conditioned by the circumstances 8 in which it was given. 'It was because your minds were closed that Moses gave you permission to divorce your wives.' (8) The permission was a secondary development; the real will of God in the matter must be deduced from the account of the creation.
However, this did not necessarily mean that Jesus was recommending a new law on divorce. It was an agreed principle among legal experts that no rules of conduct were legally binding that could not be deduced from explicit commandments in Scripture. Principles deduced from statements of fact— such as that the two shall become one flesh (5) (Genesis 2.24)—could never be more than morally binding. And in fact Jesus' answer reads more like a moral judgement than a legal one. 'If a man divorces his wife ... he commits adultery.' (9) Adultery was regarded by the Jews as a very serious sin. Jesus' words show that he regarded divorce as just as serious. Ideally, it should never occur.
Yet his answer also reveals his attitude to the practical debate about the permissible grounds for divorce. It contains the exception, for any cause other than unchastity. By this, Jesus showed that he sided with those of his contemporaries who interpreted the law on divorce as strictly as possible. In allowing this exception, he implicitly acknowledged that the relevant clause of the Law of Moses, with its recognition of the principle of divorce, was still in force; but by appealing to the narrative of creation he demonstrated that divorce itself was something deserving the very strongest moral condemnation. It is characteristic of Matthew's gospel that Jesus should be represented as taking part in a technical dispute of this kind. Mark's gospel, by contrast, records only Jesus' general moral condemnation of divorce as such—which is indeed the more striking part of his teaching on the subject (Mark 10.1-12).
The meaning of the following short paragraph depends on how much of it goes back to a historical conversation between Jesus and his disciples, and how much is an addition by the church in the interests of making Jesus' ethical teaching more practicable. That the sequence of thought is due to Matthew is suggested at once by a comparison with the corresponding passage in Mark (10.10-12). There, Jesus' pronouncement on marriage is followed by a private conversation with the disciples about the practical implications of it. Matthew follows the same pattern, but gives it a quite different content: the disciples' question is a more pointed one, and Jesus' answer to it leads into a fresh saying altogether. It appears, therefore, to be Matthew who has taken advantage of the change of scene recorded in Mark in order to add an important piece of ethical teaching, ostensibly for the benefit of the disciples, but in reality of greater relevance to the life of the church.
Seen in this light the disciples' comment, though banal, is quite natural. Jesus' teaching on marriage seemed to the church to set an impossibly high standard: might it not be better not to marry at all? (10) The answer given was a saying of Jesus about the renunciation of marriage which seemed, by implication, to accept the point of view of the disciples, and to concede that his teaching could not be literally carried out by more than a few. Marriage without divorce, lie seemed to be saying, is indeed an impossible ideal. The only safe way is to renounce marriage—but of course that is something which not everyone can accept (11). Thereby, the church might well feel authorized to countenance divorce among its own members: Jesus' absolute teaching about marriage was never intended to be taken literally except by those few who could be sure of not transgressing it—by renouncing marriage altogether.
This, in view of palpable assimilation in certain parts of Matthew's gospel to conditions prevailing subsequently in the church, is a possible reading of the passage. However, if we assume that the dialogue is historical, and transpose it back into the context of first-century Palestine, we get a very different result. Among the Jews, one matter on which there could be absolutely no question was that a man had an unqualified obligation to marry and beget children. "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1.28) was regarded as a command binding on every Jew; and only certain extremist sects, which regarded ritual pollution caused by intercourse with women as a still more serious matter than the command to bring up children, ever thought of recommending a celibate life. Against this background, the disciples' objection takes on a very different sense. 'If that is the position with husband and wife, it is better not to marry' (10). But (in view of God's clear command) it cannot ever be better not to marry; therefore that cannot "be the position": marriage without the possibility of divorce is absurd. Read in this way, the disciples' objection is a real one: it seeks, by a reductio ad absurdum, to show that Jesus' teaching cannot hold; the divorce permitted by Moses must belong to the nature of things. Jesus' replythen goes some way to meet the point: to most people it will seem like this, but there will be some (and here doubtless the disciples are in mind and those followers of Christ who are their successors) who, by God's appointment, can accept it. It is God's will that some, at least, should be able to fulfil the nature of marriage as God originally intended it to be.
The discussion (at least as Matthew presents it) runs on into a saying about those who are incapable of marriage (12). The original character of the saying is a little obscured by the NEB rendering. A more literal translation would run:
"For some are eunuchs because they are born so,
And some are eunuchs because they were made so by men,
And some have made eunuchs of themselves for the sake of the kingdom
The saying, in fact, is concerned, not with those who are incapable of marriage (for it was by no means unknown for a sexually impotent man to marry) but with those who are incapable of consummating a marriage. Jewish society recognized two classes of impotent men, those who were born so, and those who became so by accident or the action of enemies. But "eunuchs", in the sense of men who had been deliberately and willingly castrated, represented something utterly foreign to their culture, a repellent phenomenon which they took to be explicitly forbidden in the Law (Deuteronomy 23.1). In a Jewish setting, the first two lines of Jesus' saying would have seemed to exhaust the possibilities; and one would have expected the third line of the epigram to be a statement about men other than eunuchs, or else an expression of utter condemnation of those who have "made eunuchs of themselves". Hence the extreme originality of Jesus' saying. The meaning is of course metaphorical: the last class of "eunuchs" are those who have voluntarily and decisively renounced marriage. But by setting this class in series with those who were genuinely eunuchs,Jesus was expressing in a forcible and almost paradoxical way his opposition to the contemporary Jewish view that procreation was an absolute duty laid on every male who was capable of it. This too (like riches further on in the chapter) was something which it might be proper to renounce for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven.
From this point to the end of the chapter Matthew follows Mark closely (10.13-31), and it is only necessary here to draw attention to certain small changes he has introduced.
They brought children for him to lay his hands on them with prayer (13). Mark writes simply 'for him to touch': Matthew makes it clear from the start that what they wanted was a blessing such as a parent or respected teacher would often be asked for. He omits one of the sayings recorded by Mark, but retains the essential one for the sake of which the incident was doubtless remembered: 'the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these' (14).
And now a man came up (16). Matthew appears to have inferred from the enthusiasm of his approach (as described by Mark) that he was a young man; but he has eliminated some of Mark's more striking details. In particular, instead of the pointed exchange, 'Good Master . ..' 'Why do you call me good?', he makes the conversation open with the very ordinary question, 'What good must I do to gain eternal life?' (16) (which makes Jesus' answer, 'One alone is good' (17), appear a little irrelevant). Good works, particularly almsgiving, were generally regarded as a qualification for a reward in heaven, and the young man may have desired some direction on what kind of munificence he should aspire to. Jesus directed him instead to keep the commandments (17), mentioning some of the Ten Commandments, and adding the very general commandment from Leviticus (19.18) to love your neighbour as yourself (19), which he himself regarded as a summary of the Law. But he attached no value, apparently, to any extra works of piety which his questioner may have had in mind. The only alternative he gave him was to go the whole way (21), a new ethic altogether demanding a decisive break with the past.
The reply to Peter on the question of rewards (28) gives a specially privileged place to the disciples in a way characteristic of Matthew. The imagery of the saying about thrones stems from the book of Daniel (7.9-14): "As I looked, thrones were placed . .. the court sat in judgement... and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man". The significance of Jesus' title,' Son of Man', in Matthew's gospel is concentrated in the role which this figure was to play in the final Judgement, and those of Jesus' followers who were admitted to know the 'secrets of the kingdom' (13.11) would also play their part in the same drama. The twelve tribes of Israel was an archaic title that could be used for the contemporary Jewish nation. A possible meaning of the saying (which has a totally different context in Luke 22.28) is that the nation as a whole would be "judged" by those few individuals who had accepted Jesus as Lord. But the twelve tribes of Israel was also a way of describing the New Israel constituted by the Christian church (see below on Revelation 7.4-8); and the saying could equally well mean that the disciples were to "judge" the church, in the sense (which followed the Old Testament concept of "judging") of assuring its members of their rightful reward (29). This second sense leads more naturally into the following saying, which is again concerned with rewards in heaven. Matthew is still apparently following Mark (10.29-31); but he smooths out the apparent materialism of Mark's version by omitting the words, ' in this age'.
'The kingdom of Heaven is like this.' (1) The setting of the parable is vintage-time in Palestine, the only time in the year when unskilled labourers would be needed in a vineyard. Normally the landowner would hire all the men he needed first thing in the morning; but the story required that he should have miscalculated and taken the rather unusual step of engaging further labourers right up to an hour before sunset (6). At the end of the day, he was bound by law (Leviticus 19.13) to pay the stipulated wage to those who had done a day's work; but, with regard to the rest, he could either wait till they came again the next day and made up the full time (this was the usual procedure) or else, if the work were finished, pay a fair wage (4) for the number of hours worked. On this occasion he instructed his steward to settle the men's wages, beginning with those who came last (8)—that is to say, the eleventh-hour men were not to be allowed to go home and return in ihe morning, but were to be paid off at once. The surprise came in the fact that they were paid the full day's wage (9).
Matthew has shown how he understood the parable by enclosing it in the motto, 'the first will be last and the last first' (19.30 and 20.16), a motto which was highly relevant to the subject in hand, namely the correct ordering of the Christian community. But it is clear that this is not really the point of the parable: the fact that the last to be employed were paid first is an unimportant one in the story; the emphasis is on their being given, not first treatment, but equal treatment with the others. What was the original point of the parable? We may guess that the question which caused Jesus to tell it was not that of priorities in the church of the future, but of his own converse with 'tax collectors and sinners'. According to strict justice, those who had devoted their whole lives to observing the law in all its detailed provisions (especially the Pharisees) deserved a reward far greater than the men and women who, after lives of irresponsibility or even immorality, had responded at the eleventh hour to the preaching of Jesus. The logic of the parable was intended to force Jesus' hearers to see the question of ultimate rewards from the point of view of a God who is not only just but generous.
Jesus was journeying towards Jerusalem (17). During his activity in Galilee, Jesus' activity could be characterized by the heading Teaching and healing, which gave rise, not so much to overt opposition, as to Controversy. This was followed by an itinerant period, when the bulk of what Matthew records was in the nature of private instruction to Jesus' immediate followers (Jesus and his disciples). But on his arrival at Jerusalem, Jesus' actions were such as to make an official reaction inevitable, and the heading consequently changes to Challenge to Jerusalem, even though there are still a few sections to come which consist of teaching addressed to the disciples.
Matthew here follows Mark closely (10.32-52 (katapi ed: HERE, HERE, and HERE!), but makes a few changes of detail. As so often, he appears to have been unwilling to present the disciples in an unfavourable light, and the blame for ambitious sentiments is laid, not on James and John themselves, but on their mother (20). (The difficult saying in Mark about 'a baptism' is also omitted.) The miracle-story is a doublet of the one already told earlier (9.27-31). The blind man of 29-34 Mark has for some reason again become two blind men (29), and the theme of faith, which was kept in the previous version (9.29), is omitted here.
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus p104r, 2nd century. One of the earliest surviving texts of Matthew's gospel, now at Sackler Library, Oxford. The fragment contains part of Matthew's gospel. Mat.21.34-37. (it's part of THIS passage!) P104 was a part of a manuscript codex - a book.
When they reached Bethphage at the Mount of Olives (1). Matthew has the most exact geography here of any of the gospels. The road from Jericho, just before it reached the crest of the Mount of Olives, had a turning off to the left leading to the small village of Bethphage and after that to Bethany. It was the natural place for Jesus to pause while obtaining a mount for his entry into Jerusalem. All the gospel accounts see this episode as a symbolic act and interpret it with reference to Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, in particular Zechariah 9.9 (see below on Mark 11.1-10). Matthew characteristically makes this correspondence quite explicit—this was to fulfil the prophecy (4)—and quotes the verse from Zechariah in full, prefacing it with a phrase from Isaiah (62.11), 'Tell the daughter of Zion' (4). However, he also adds a curious detail: there were two beasts, a donkey tethered with her foal beside her (2). It is true that the prophecy of Zechariah has a double description of the animal—riding on an ass, riding on the foal of a beast of burden(5) —but this was simply a common idiom of Hebrew poetry, which often, in the two halves of a single line, likes to say the same thing in slightly different words. So far as we know, no Jewish interpreter ever thought of reading Zechariah's words as if they meant two animals; but Matthew appears to have done so—unless, of course, he knew of a tradition that Jesus entered Jerusalem with two mounts, and then offered a literal interpretation of Zechariah to explain it. But he offers no explanation of how Jesus actually used the two animals: they laid their cloaks on them and Jesus mounted is a translation which smooths out the awkwardness. The Greek has "Jesus mounted them".
'Hosanna to the Son of David!' The relevant words of Psalm 118.25-6 are as follows:
"Save us, we beseech thee (Hosanna), O Lord ...
Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord."
The psalm was used at a number of annual festivals, and in the course of its liturgical use the Hebrew word Hosanna seems to have lost its literal meaning, "save us now", and to have become a general cry of acclamation or shout of praise. The Septuagint version of the Old Testament translates the word into Greek; but both Matthew and Mark are content to leave it as it stands, without offering any explanation of its meaning. The reason must be that this was one of the Hebrew words (Amen is another) which the Greek-speaking church had taken over into its worship, so that it would have been already familiar to Matthew's readers.
Matthew makes one significant change to the text of the psalm. He adds: to the Son of David. It is an important theme of the gospel that Jesus' Messiahship was confirmed by his physical ancestry, which could be traced back to David. Indeed, Son of David is Matthew's distinctive title for the Messiah. The crowds, therefore, if they shouted out this title, must have recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, and this would explain Matthew's comment that the whole city went wild with excitement (10). Jesus' entry, according to Matthew, was not directly into the temple area, but by way of a detour through the city. But, curiously, the recognition that here at last was the awaited Messiah was not sustained. Once in the city, the crowd seems to have dropped the portentous title Son of David, and given to inquirers the much less sensational reply, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee' (11).
It seems likely, therefore, that Matthew has allowed the subsequent faith of the church, which thought of Jesus as riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as the awaited Christ, the Son of David, to colour his description of the scene. At any rate, the status of Messiah is hinted at much less obviously in what follows. (On the details of Jesus' action in the temple precincts (12), see below on Mark 11.15-17.) The healing of blind men and cripples (14) could be interpreted, by those who wished, as the breaking in of the Messiah's kingdom, but equally it could be regarded as of no decisive significance. This was the view of the chief priests and doctors of the law (15). Matthew contrasts them, not with the crowds (whose attitude had now become uncertain), but with the boys in the temple who continued the cry started on the Mount of Olives, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' Matthew has said elsewhere (19.14) that it is children who are closest to the kingdom; and the fact that these boys intuitively recognized Jesus as the Messiah is explained in the words of a psalm (8.2): " Thou hast made children and babes at the breast sound aloud thy praise" (16). In the Hebrew, the last word of this text is, not "praise", but "strength". Matthew's quotation is according to the Greek version, and fits the situation perfectly. But the Hebrew or Aramaic text known to Jesus would have been less appropriate: and our impression is thereby strengthened that Matthew has written up this section fairly freely, to bring out the ambiguity of Jesus' reception in Jerusalem.
Matthew somewhat abbreviates the story of the fig-tree (23), but follows Mark closely in verses 23-7 (see below on Mark 11.20-33). He then inserts a parable not found elsewhere. A man had two sons (28). The story itself is perfectly clear; and its immediate application by Jesus is plausible enough: 'tax-gatherers and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.' (31) These were the two classes of people whose way of life most flagrantly (in the view of strict Jews) expressed a clear "I will not" (30) to the commands of God, but for whom Jesus consistently kept open the possibility of "changing their mind"; whereas the Pharisees, for all their profession of obedience, remained obstinately inactive in the things that really mattered. Thus far, the point is clear enough; but Matthew has added (at least so it would appear from the fact that Luke (7.29-30) records a similar saying in a quite different context) a second saying about John the Baptist, which is a little difficult to relate to the preceding parable, and is perhaps better understood separately. John came to show you the right way to live (32). This is a rather free translation, and takes the sense differently from most English versions. Linguistically, it may be correct; but John the Baptist's message, apart from a few ethical rules given in Luke's gospel (3.10-14), is usually presented as more concerned with preparation for a coming event than with instructions about the right way to live. An alternative rendering would be, "When John came on his mission to you, he lived in strict observance of the Law; but even so you did not believe him". In this case there would of course be an implied contrast between John, whose austerity made it almost impossible to criticize him for breaking any ritual regulation, and Jesus, whose way of life showed notorious freedom with regard to the detailed provisions of the Law.
'Listen to another parable.' (33) The problems this parable raises are discussed in detail below on Mark 12.1-12. Except for a slight change in the number of servants, the details of the story are exactly as in Mark. But if, in Mark, the story shows signs of having had an interpretation imposed upon it by the early church, in Matthew this is very much clearer. The passage of Isaiah (5.1) on which the opening words are based, continues (verse 3): "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard." Hence, perhaps, the extra dramatization in Matthew, when Jesus puts the question to his hearers, 'How do you think he will deal with those tenants?' (40) The reply, at any rate, shows a clear tendency to interpret the parable. The main crime of the tenants is of course their maltreatment of the owner's servants and their murder of the son; but Matthew makes it sound as if their real guilt was that they did not let the owner have his share of the crop (41). This, applied to the Jewish people, was a constant theme of Jesus' preaching (at least in Matthew's gospel): they had failed to bring forth fruit (or "a crop" the word is the same in the Greek) comparable with the blessings Ciod had bestowed upon them. Consequently
(and Matthew draws out a consequence which was in fact only slowly realized by the church), ' the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and given to a nation that yields the proper fruit' (43)—that is, the Gentiles! The parable thus becomes, in Matthew, an attack on the Jewish people as a whole; and it is perhaps by a slight oversight that he reproduces from Mark the statement that the chief priests and Pharisees saw that he was referring to them (45).
'The kingdom of Heaven is like this' (1). A parable occurs in Luke's gospel so similar to this one that both must go back to the same original. But in Matthew the story is considerably less lifelike, and sometimes appears even far-fetched, whereas in Luke it seems to spring (like most of Jesus' parables) straight from Palestinian daily life. It is tempting to see here an instance of what was originally a straightforward story with a single point having been transformed, in the course of telling, into an elaborate piece of allegory. The setting is a royal wedding-feast. Invitations had been sent out to the notables among the city-dwellers, and when the day came the king, following the courteous custom of the time, sent his servants (3) to inform the guests that all was ready and to conduct them to the palace. But—they would not come! No reason is given for their rude and disloyal behaviour; and at this point the story becomes frankly implausible. Why should the king, after receiving the first affront, have demeaned himself still further by sending a second set of servants with a renewed invitation? And why should the invited guests have then attacked them brutally, and killed them? (6) As a story, the sequence of events is fantastic; but as an allegory, it has a logic of its own. A wedding-feast was a familiar image for the kingdom of glory promised to the elect people of God. "Servants"—the prophets—had been repeatedly sent to invite the guests to prepare themselves, but had been ignored, or maltreated, or killed. As a result, Jerusalem (as the prophets themselves had foretold) had been taken and destroyed—once by the Assyrians centuries before, and now, shortly before Matthew's gospel was written, by the Romans. The story so far is clearly an allegory of these things. But what of the wedding-feast? Was God's purpose now frustrated, and his promise void? Regardless of factual verisimilitude, the story continues as if only an hour had passed. "The guests I invited did not deserve the honour"(8), but there are others to whom it can be offered instead. "Go out to the main thoroughfares" (9). The Greek means literally the places where the narrow city streets debouch into public squares and open country places, that is, the places where people congregate. It was a fact, both of Jesus' own practice and of the missionary experience of the church, that the gospel, after its rejection by the Jewish leaders, was offered to a much wider public, good and bad alike. (10)
'When the king came in to see the company at table.' The story goes
on, but the sequel is again quite implausible. How could those who had just been "collected" from the streets have been expected to provide themselves with wedding clothes? There is no evidence for the solution sometimes proposed that a festal garment was issued to each guest on arrival; and even if this had been the case, the refusal of one guest, to put it on would be incomprehensible. To make sense of it, we have to assume that another, and originally separate, piece of allegory has been added by Matthew, and somewhat inexpertly welded into a single story. The kingdom of Heaven is like a royal wedding-feast: and woe to him who comes not properly prepared (with repentance? with righteous deeds?). The penalty will be exclusion; and on the last day the consequence will be hell, in all its traditional horror. The essential thing is to be among the few who are chosen (14).
Then the Pharisees went away and agreed on a plan (15). The four questions and answers which follow are very much the same as in Mark (12.13-37), but Matthew builds up a slightly more dramatic setting for them by presenting them as a series of attacks by different sections of Jesus' opponents, while the people stand by in amazement. The scene culminates in a devastating counter-attack by Jesus, after which no one dared ask him another question (46). Within the conversations themselves, it is only in the third that Matthew's hand can be seen at work (34-40). In Mark, Jesus' interlocutor is a 'lawyer', who appears to ask the question about the greatest commandment in perfectly good faith, and is then warmly commended by Jesus on his own attitude to the Law. But in Matthew the question has a different tone. The speaker is one of the Pharisees (which is often Matthew's way of saying, an enemy of Jesus) who tested him with this question (35). The question, we know, was one which was earnestly discussed in Pharisaic circles; but in what sense was it a "test" for Jesus? Did his enemies want to see whether Jesus had the technical skill and knowledge to take part in their debates? Or did they hope to lead him down the path (a dangerous one, as they saw it) of calling some laws more important than others—a position which would imply a lack of respect for some provisions of the Law? In Mark's version, the question, in the course of the conversation, becomes a fundamental one of moral principles. But Matthew, who was more familiar than Mark with the rules of Palestinian scholarship, reports Jesus' reply in a form that would have been regarded as technically correct. 'Everything in the Law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments' (40) implies that Jesus understood the question as an academic one and answered it in the same terms. The words could not be construed as emphasizing some parts of the Law at the expense of others; they merely stated that all the rest of the Law (and indeed the regulative utterances of the prophets) could be deduced from these two commandments. In saying this, Jesus was making precisely the kind of judgement his opponents made themselves; and the scene contributes to Matthew's careful portrait of Jesus as a perfectly correct (even though sometimes startlingly original) interpreter of the Law.
Jesus then addressed the people and his disciples (1). The discourse which follows consists of a sustained attack on the doctors of the law and the Pharisees (2). In the time of Jesus, these two groups were by no means identical. The doctors of the law (the "scribes" of older versions) were a professional class, who underwent a formal and exacting training in the interpretation of the Law of Moses, and were then qualified to undertake the education of others, to sit as justices in the law-courts, and to give their ruling on questions of law and conduct. For these services they received no payment, and most of them followed another profession at the same time; but since the Law of Moses was determinative in Jewish society for both religious and civil matters, their learning gave them considerable authority, and they were beginning to displace the old landed aristocracy of the Jewish nation as the most influential class in society. The Pharisees, on the other hand, had no official status as such. The origin of their name is obscure, but their emergence as a distinctive party can be dated to the time of the Maccabean revolution (second century B.C.), when, under the name of "Hasideans", they were "volunteers in the cause of the Law" (1 Maccabees 2.42), and became the most devoted and intransigent defenders of the traditional Jewish way of life against Hellenistic influences. Their successors, the Pharisees of Jesus' day, were thus not so much a professional class as a school of thought. Their original concern to preserve the ancestral Law uncon-taminated by foreign influences had developed into a distinctive approach to the Law itself. They found in Scripture not only a code of law sufficient for the civil and religious ordering of the community, but a detailed and comprehensive system of commandments which (given their own subtle methods of interpretation) could be shown to govern every aspect of an individual's life. To demonstrate this, these men formed themselves into fellowships whose members were committed to carrying out every detail of the law according to its distinctive Pharisaic interpretation, and to keeping themselves ritually "pure" by shunning the society of all non-Pharisees. These fellowships did not consist only of scholars; indeed the majority of their members were laymen. But they formed an increasingly important and exclusive element in Jewish society, and both in their lives and in their teaching the Pharisees treated Scripture with a seriousness and a determined obedience which far exceeded that of society as a whole.
The natural way for Pharisaism to extend its influence was through the administration of justice and through education; and in fact in the time of Jesus many of the doctors of the law belonged to the Pharisees' fellowships. Nevertheless the two groups remained distinct: the doctors of the law were qualified professionals, the Pharisees were exponents of an unofficial idea; and not all the lawyers were Pharisees. Consequently, though both had failings which came under sharp criticism from Jesus, these failings were not necessarily the same in each case. The lawyers, though required to be professionally competent in the Law, were not thereby committed to make their lives morally superior to other people's, and as a class they may often have deserved the charge of oppressing others while keeping on the right side of the law themselves. The Pharisees, on the other hand, aimed at a very high standard of moral conduct, and strove to bring their lives into conformity with a detailed and comprehensive interpretation of the Law. Their distinctive failing was that of allowing an elaborate system of outward legal observances to obscure the original humanitarian basis of the Law and to lead them into an exclusiveness which ignored the real needs of their fellow-men. It was for this reason that Jesus so often called them 'hypocrites'.
Why then in this chapter of Matthew (as often in Luke, though not in Mark or John) are the two classes grouped together as the object of Jesus' attacks? Some of the charges brought against them fit the lawyers, some the Pharisees, but not all fit both. Moreover, Luke's gospel (especially 11.37-52) makes a distinction between those of Jesus' criticisms which were aimed at the lawyers and those which were aimed at the Pharisees. The reason may be simply some confusion in the tradition. But it must also be remembered that by the time Matthew's gospel came to be written, towards the end of the first century, conditions in Palestine were no longer what they had been in the days of Jesus. Jerusalem had fallen; and in the dispersed and disorganized Jewish population authority and influence had passed to a "school" of learned men which had recently been founded at Jamnia, on the coastal plain west of Jerusalem. These men were Pharisees; and from then on there ceased to be any real distinction between them and the lawyers; for, in their efforts to consolidate and codify the traditions and observances of the old Jewish nation, the Pharisees gained complete control over the administration of justice and education. The Judaism with which Christianity was confronted when Matthew wrote his gospel was therefore becoming increasingly Pharisaic; and we can probably overhear, in these attacks of Jesus which Matthew records against the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, something of the polemic which was being carried on by Christians against the leaders of neighbouring synagogues.
'The doctors of the law and the Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses' (2). This may not be pure metaphor. An imposing stone seat has been found in the ruins of several ancient synagogues, placed in the centre of the rear wall facing the congregation. This may have been called the chair of Moses. But in any case the name describes the function of him who sits there. Moses both promulgated the law and acted as judge. His successors were those who interpreted the law and gave judgement on transgressions of it. Christians, as much in Jewish as in Gentile communities, were to be law-abiding: 'do what they tell you'. But these professional judges were not to be regarded as models of behaviour: their knowledge of the intricacies of the law enabled them to discover exemptions and saving clauses which greatly eased the burden of keeping it personally, and so it could be said of them that 'they say one thing and do another.' (3) The law, to the ordinary layman, was a burden, and could be made oppressive by judges who elaborated its application but had the skill to circumvent it themselves.
'Whatever they do is done for show.' This refers to a custom that was widespread among pious Jews. The two passages referred to in the NEB footnote (Deuteronomy 6.8-9 and Exodus 13.9) were commonly interpreted as instructions to wear short texts from the Law bound on to forehead or wrist, and many Jews in fact carried such texts on their persons in little leather boxes. These boxes looked, of course, very similar to the amulets or charms carried by those who believed in magic, and when, in Matthew, they are called phylacteries (which means "charms"), this looks like a deliberately derogatory description of them. There appears, in any case, to have been a practice of carrying especially broad and ostentatious ones, and of wearing especially large tassels on one's robes (for all Jews, following Deuteronomy 22.12, wore distinctive tassels at the corners of their outer garment): and these affectations, along with a desire for places of honour (6) and for public respect (which is singled out also in Mark's gospel, 12.38-9), were characteristic of a profession that was becoming increasingly conscious of its influence, and offering increasingly attractive rewards to the vain and the ambitious.
'You must not be called "rabbi"' (8). "Rabbi" became a technical title for an ordained doctor of the law in the period after the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) when authority in religious matters was concentrated in the school of Jamnia. In the time of Jesus it was simply a term of respect, given spontaneously to distinguished teachers. While the disciples had Jesus, their "master", with them, it is unlikely that anyone would have thought of addressing them as "rabbi"; but later, when the leaders of the Christian community began to exercise authority in a way somewhat similar to the leaders of the local synagogues, there may have been a tendency to follow the Jews in introducing the technical title, "rabbi". But the Christian community, if it were to remain faithful to Jesus' teaching, must be in important respects distinct from the Jewish community, and must eschew such titles. (A slightly different point seems to underlie the saying, 'Do not call any man on earth "father"' (9). This time it is not an injunction to the disciples to avoid such titles themselves, but a warning to dissociate themselves from a particular Jewish doctrine. When the Jewish people talked about their "fathers", they meant the patriarchs (and, in more recent times, distinguished rabbis). They held that the virtues of these men laid up a kind of treasury of merit lor the nation in the eyes of God. This saying seems to
be an attack on the whole conception; compare the treatment of the characteristic Jewish claim, 'We have Abraham for our father', 3.9; John 8.33.) 'Nor must you be called "teacher"' (10). The Greek word here is an unusual one: perhaps it was a title being tried out in the church when Matthew wrote, perhaps it was simply the Greek equivalent of "rabbi". But it came under the same condemnation: Christians (for this saying can hardly have been spoken in its present form by Jesus, who never referred to himself without explanation as "the Messiah") have one Teacher, the Messiah. Only one principle could properly obtain in the church, one which Jesus laid down on several different occasions (20.26; Mark 9.35); 'the greatest among you must be your servant'. And this in turn depended on a principle of God's dealings with men which had already found expression in the Old Testament (Proverbs 29.23; Job 22.29 etc.); 'whoever exalts himself will be humbled' (12).
'Alas, alas for you' (13). Seven of these "woes" follow, still aimed indiscriminately at the lawyers and Pharisees, and perhaps again influenced by the strained relations existing in Matthew's time between the church and the new leaders of Judaism. 'You shut the door of the kingdom of Heaven in men's faces'. Jesus himself proclaimed the coming of the kingdom, and his opponents could hardly keep people away from it; but later, when the Christian community was thought of as an (at least partial) realization of God's kingdom on earth, it was a cause of deep concern to Christians that the Jews not only refused to join, but stopped others from joining. Moreover, some sections of Judaism believed in vigorous proselytizing, and this often happened in direct competition with the Christian mission. We can probably detect the language of very strained relations when one side calls the other 'fit for hell' (15).
'Blind guides' (16). Jesus called his opponents this more than once (15.14; Luke 6.39), and the phrase became part of the language of Christian polemic against the Jews (Romans 2.19). The point of attack here is similar to that in the Sermon on the Mount (5.33-7): no casuistry can mitigate the seriousness of oaths and vows, which are all, even if they do not seem so, sworn by the name of God—and perhaps we should supply the same conclusion as Jesus draws in the Sermon, 'you are not to swear at all'.
'You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin' (23). This was a typical Pharisaic elaboration of the law (Deuteronomy 14.22-3) that all Israelites must pay tithes of their grain, wine and oil: the Pharisees extended this even to herbs, and although none of them would have admitted to overlooking the weightier demands of the Law, the burden of Jesus' attack on them was that this excessive attention to detail caused them to lose sight of the great general principles upon which the whole law was based. This and the following accusation must both have originally been directed specifically against the Pharisees (as indeed they are in
'You clean the outside of cup and dish' (25). The ritual cleansing of vessels used in the worship of the temple was being extended by the Pharisees to apply even to the cups and dishes of daily household use, and in the following centuries they developed an astonishingly complicated system of rules applying to almost any household utensil. Jesus saw in this tendency (for there is no reason to doubt that this saying at least goes right back to Jesus) material for a trenchant simile: all this attention to the outside of crockery vessels was like their attention to the externals of religion. But what were they like inside? If they would begin there, the externals would look after themselves. The same thought continues in the next simile. 'You are like tombs covered with whitewash' (27). Jewish tombs were mostly hewn out of rock, and if they were whitewashed it was not for display but (as Luke rightly sees, 11.44) to mark the spot. Jesus was probably thinking of the conspicuous pagan tombs, built of white marble or perhaps of whitewashed stone, which were to be seen near the Greco-Roman cities of Palestine. All this exterior show made no difference to the fact that the contents of the tomb were, to the Jewish way of thinking, repugnant and ritually unclean.
Nevertheless, the Jews did raise up monuments to the memory of the great figures of their history. 'You build up the tombs of the prophets' (29). We know nothing of any "prophets' tombs" in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The so-called "Tomb of Zechariah" which still stands in the Kedron valley is Hellenistic, and was not associated with the prophet before the Christian era. But we do know that legends were growing up in this period about the lives, deaths and burial places of the Old Testament prophets; and at Hebron there were certainly famous monuments which were (and still are) reputed to be the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the saints of the remote past. But this did not alter the fact that the ancestors of Jesus' contemporaries (and this last "woe" seems to apply to the Jewish nation as a whole, rather than to the lawyers and Pharisees in particular) had taken part in the murder of the prophets (30). Only one such murder is mentioned in the Old Testament, that of a certain Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24.20-2); but Jewish legend had added five more of the great prophets to the list of national martyrs. Jesus, who was in some sense a "prophet", doubtless saw his own impending death as part of the same tradition, and these words challenge his opponents to play their appointed part in the grim drama. 'I send you therefore prophets, sages, and teachers' (34). An old theme of Scripture is adapted to the destiny of the Christian church. Just as God "sent prophets among them" (the same passage from 2 Chronicles), so Jesus is made to say 'I send' the men who were to become the leaders of Christian communities, among whom there would be prophets (see above on 10.41), sages and teachers. Their fate would follow a pattern which filled the Old Testament frotn cover to cover: the death of Abel was the first murder in the
book of Genesis (4.8), that of Zechariah
'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem'. Jerusalem was not in fact, or even in legend, the place where many of the prophets met their death; yet it was the symbolic centre of a religion which again and again had rejected the prophetic voice. Jesus, to end this discourse of condemnation, once again assumes the role of a prophet destined to suffer a similar fate, upbraiding the city which should have accepted his message, using the classic metaphor of the protective wings of a bird (Deuteronomy 32.11; Isaiah 31.5 etc.), and prophesying, (38) as if he saw it before his eyes, the day when the great temple
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Jesus was leaving the temple (1). The setting for the discourse of Prophecies and warnings is as vivid and realistic as in Mark (13.1-3). The immense scale of Herod the Great's architectural achievement on the temple mount evoked both the disciples' admiration and Jesus' prophecy that not one stone will be left upon another (2); and Jesus' long answer to the disciples' astonished question about this prophecy was appropriately delivered on the Mount of Olives, which commanded a magnificent view of the whole temple area. The elements of this answer are the same as in Mark's version, and Matthew has made only a few rearrangements and additions. The catastrophes and tribulations which were normal in history were to be intensified, the faithful would be put to a severe test; but these things would be no mere accidents, they would be signs that the end was about to come. The disciples' question (in Matthew) invited such an answer. They did not wish to know merely when the temple would be destroyed: they realized that such a staggering reversal of Jerusalem's present splendour must be a presage of still more significant events; and the only two events which they could envisage as being on the required scale were the coming of Jesus in glory and the end of the age (3). They realized (with that deeper insight which Matthew, unlike the other evangelists, ascribes to the disciples) that all these things must be related; and they asked Jesus for further precision.
The reply includes conventional elements: the danger of being misled (5), the intensification of warfare, famines, and earthquakes (7). The persecution of the faithful also belonged to the picture of the bitter period before the end (which Matthew, like Mark, calls by the technical name, the birth-pangs (8) of the new age); but Matthew has already recorded sayings about this in an earlier discourse (chapter 10) and includes only brief allusions to it here; whereas more space is given to the implications of a period in which, inevitably, lawlessness spreads (12).
And then the end will come (14). The reader is disconcerted to find that it does not, but that other calamities are still to be recorded which clearly belong to the time before the end. But it is a feature of the kind of literature to which this chapter belongs (of which we possess numerous Jewish examples, such as 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha, and also one Christian example, the Revelation) that the drama is not made to unfold in an orderly progression, but the description keeps turning back on itself to fill in details belonging to an earlier phase. So here: the next events predicted (whatever the precise meaning of the cryptogram from the prophet Daniel (15)—see is below on Mark 13.14) are not those of the end at all, but of an incursion of military strength into Palestine on a scale that makes immediate flight the only sensible course; and, since mainly Jews will be affected, Matthew adds that it will be as well if it does not happen on the Sabbath (20), when all journeying is forbidden, and fugitives will have a crisis of conscience to contend with as well as their other troubles.
The danger from impostors is made precise. The fanatics who proclaimed themselves divinely inspired leaders and attempted to lead a nationalist rising did in fact often begin by gathering a following in the wilderness (26); alternatively they might form a conspiracy in an inner room. But the coming of the Son of Man (as the next verses make clear) will be totally different: it will be as quickly and clearly recognized by all as a corpse is spotted by vultures (if this is the sense of the proverb inserted at verse 28). The language used of it is like that of the Old Testament prophets when they looked forward to the "day of the Lord" (29): disorder among the heavenly bodies (Isaiah 13.10; 34.4), lamentation among the peoples (30), a sign (which is probably an ensign, Isaiah 11.12), a trumpet blast (31) (Isaiah 27.13, Joel 2.1), and the gathering of the chosen from the four winds (Zechariah 2.6; Deuteronomy 30.4). All these conventional features are gathered round Daniel's description of the coming of the Son of Man (Daniel 7.13, 14).
With the simile of the fig-tree the discourse moves (as in Mark) from description to exhortation: this must be your posture in the face of all these developments, neither scepticism because of the apparent delay of the end, nor agitated preoccupation with the exact day and hour (which only the Father knows (36)). The watchword (as in Mark) is 'keep awake' (42).
Matthew goes on to illustrate this lesson of wakefulness with a series of parables and similes, which emphasize (at least in Matthew's presentation of them, if not in their original form) the suddenness with which the end must be expected, and the error of not taking seriously the teaching which has just
been given. 'As things were in Noah's days' (37). The narrative in Genesis concentrates entirely upon Noah and his family. Apart from the brief statement (6.11-13) that "the earth was corrupt" and that God had "determined to make an end of all flesh", nothing is said about the behaviour of all those who were doomed to destruction. But as the Jews meditated upon this story they began to be impressed by the attitude of Noah. Even though there were no signs in advance of the coming deluge, he put such trust in the word of God that he unhesitatingly set about the immense and apparently absurd task of building a great ship on dry land. He became, in fact, one of the classic examples, along with Abraham, of those who unhesitatingly put their whole faith in God (Hebrews 11.7). If Jesus mentioned him in his teaching, one would have expected him to have drawn the same moral: When I preach to you, be like Noah, who believed the message of God, and not like those others who, since they neither heard nor believed—they knew nothing (39)— were consigned to destruction. But here, all the emphasis is not on Noah but on the men and women of Noah's days (37), who showed by their manner of living that they had no idea of the calamity which threatened them. How different must be the lives of Christians (this seems to be the moral) who are aware of what is impending! There will be no time for last-minute repentance. Suddenly, in the midst of daily occupations, one will be taken (to
join the company of the elect) the other left (to face the Judgement) (45).
The parable of the trusty servant (45) may have had a somewhat different point when Jesus first told it from the simple lesson of vigilance which it is used to illustrate here. The background to it is one of the many estates in Palestine which were owned by foreign magnates and managed in their absence by stewards or agents. The household staff, which included all who worked on the estate, will normally have consisted of slaves, and the landlord's agent will also probably have been a slave (this was quite usual, and the Greek word translated servant also means "slave") since his reward was to be, not higher wages, but a position of still greater responsibility in his master's establishment. Similarly, if he turned out to be a bad servant (48) he could be punished, not just with dismissal, but with death—but at this point the details become blurred. "Cutting in pieces" was not unknown as a punishment, hut seems unnecessarily brutal here (it is possible that Jesus used an Aramaic idiom "divide out to him" (his punishment)
which was subsequently misunderstood as "divide him"); and by the end of the parable the landlord seems to have become the divine Judge, and the slave's punishment the punishment which will be meted out to all hypocrites (51) on the Last Day. Clearly the parable, at some stage in its progress from the lips of Jesus to the written page of the gospel, has been adapted to yield teaching about the proper behaviour of Christians in view of the impending return of their Lord: all the emphasis is now on the suddenness of the master's home-coming. But the natural structure of the story, with its balanced contrast between a trust deserved and a trust betrayed, points in a different direction. Who, among Jesus' contemporaries, had been set over God's household? The Jewish leaders, the lawyers and Pharisees. Now the hour of reckoning had come, and they had been found unworthy of their trust!
'When that day comes, the kingdom of Heaven will be like this' (1). Another parable follows, which Matthew evidently saw as a further illustration of the same theme of watchfulness and preparedness for the last day. It ends with the same message—keep awake then (13.5)—and the detail that the bridegroom was late in coming suggests the context in which the parable may have been used in the church. The Last Day, and the coming of Jesus, was being delayed longer than expected: those who relaxed their vigilance would be like the girls who failed to reckon with the possibility of delay, and were not ready for the moment when it came. But it can be seen at once that this interpretation of the parable is somewhat forced. If five of the girls had fallen asleep, and the other five had remained awake and ready, the moral—keep awake then—would have been exactly right. But in the story they all dozed off to sleep (5), and there is no suggestion that there was anything wrong about doing so. The error of the five foolish girls was not that they fell asleep, but that they did not allow for the possibility of delay. Was the original point of the parable therefore to warn Jesus' followers that they must be prepared for a longer period of waiting than they thought?
We are unfortunately not in a position to fill in the background of the story with any certainty. Marriage customs vary from place to place, and from one period to another, and we possess no independent description of marriage festivities in Palestine in the first half of the first century A.D.: in particular, we hear nowhere else about a procession at night, or about attendants with lamps. On the other hand, one of the high-points of marriage festivities all over the ancient world was the moment when the bridegroom was escorted, cither to the house of the bride, or (with his bride) to his own house. This was a moment for singing and dancing; and when the procession gol indoors the guests would sit down to the wedding feast. In broad outline (he story of the ten girls fits well enough into this pattern. The story is about ten girls who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.The lamps one usually thinks of are the small domestic oil lamps used all over the ancient world, which consist simply of a shallow container of oil and a wick fitted into a hole in one end. But it is difficult to imagine how such lamps could have been used on this occasion. For one thing, they would instantly blow out when taken out of doors; for another, they were quite inappropriate for carrying about; and thirdly, they would normally have lasted all night without being refilled. Some kind of hurricane lamps are another possibility; but the Greek word used here never (so far as we know) meant this, and anyway, being made of horn, they would have given out a very subdued and unfestive light. Far the most likely kind of lights for the girls to have used (and this is what the Greek word normally means) were torches—the only lights which could be carried by anyone running or dancing, and which were certainly the normal thing for any procession at night. But torches usually consisted of long cones of wood coated with pitch; if this was what the girls were carrying, they cannot possibly have needed oil as well. The only convincing solution which has yet been found to this mystery is a custom which has been observed in comparatively modern times in Palestine. This consists of wrapping the head of the torch with some material impregnated in olive oil. The torch will then burn for a short time, say a quarter of an hour, but will need soaking in oil again if it is to be made to blaze up suddenly or to last for a longer time. If this is what the girls were to carry, the fault of the foolish ones was not that they did not allow for the delay, but that they came at the beginning without an essential part of their equipment; and having slept during the time they might have put this right, they had no chance to make good their negligence when the critical moment came. The bridegroom went in to the wedding (probably the wedding feast) with the girls who had lighted his way; but he was not going to admit some more girls whom he had never seen until the moment they came to the door.
If this is the true explanation—and it cannot claim, in the present state of our knowledge, to be much more than a conjecture—then it gives a very different point to the parable. The moral which Matthew himself draws—keep awake then (13)—has already been shown not to fit the parable; and the suggestion that the original emphasis was on the unexpected delay of the bridegroom now fares no better: the fault of the foolish girls was not that they had brought too little oil, but that they had forgotten to bring any oil at all. The parable in fact falls into place beside that of the man without a wedding garment. The new life promised to believers (often described in the image of a feast) is freely offered to all—but on condition that they prepare themselves (presumably with repentance, or perhaps with good deeds). Those who take this condition lightly must expect to be turned away.
'It is like a man going abroad' (14). Precisely what is like this is not said: as with many parables of Jesus, the original application was not preserved, though Matthew (as we shall see) found reason to include this one in the general context of teaching about the Last Things. The parable reflects commercial conditions in Palestine. Jews were not permitted to practise usury among themselves; therefore the man going abroad could not simply invest his capital in someone else's business. He had to find agents whom he could trust to initiate and carry on commercial enterprises on his behalf. It was natural that he should choose his servants for this. These would not have been slaves (who had not sufficient rights at law to carry on a business), but salaried men whom he had been employing as agents or administrators while he lived in Palestine. Among these servants, some would have proved themselves more capable than others, and it was natural to divide up the capital, not into equal parts, but to each according to his capacity (15): he would not risk losing a large sum by giving it as working capital to an inexperienced or incompetent agent. The sums involved were substantial, and reckoned by talents (the NEB has translated this bags of gold, which well describes the way in which such large sums of money were in fact transferred from one owner to another). A talent was equivalent to 6,000 standard silver coins (denarii), which, by the scale of values adopted in the NEB, would have been worth about ￡600. In the story, therefore, the capital sums involved were (very roughly) ￡3,000, ￡1,200 and ￡600. If the servants went bankrupt, they probably had to compensate their master out of their own pockets for up to half the capital sum. If they made a profit (and high rates of profit and interest were normal in antiquity), most of this, as well as the original capital, would be due to be repaid to their master; for the servants were still his agents, they had not been set up in business on their own. It followed that although they had to take a part of the risk for losses they could not expect to enrich themselves by their profits. Their principal reward would be the prospect of promotion in their master's employment.
So much for the setting; now for the characters. Two of them are vividly drawn, the master and the third servant. This servant, compared with the two others, was given only a small capital to work with: clearly he was not regarded as very competent. But a small capital is more difficult to trade with than a large one; he could not expect a large profit, and there was always the risk of loss. So he buried the money—this was regarded as the safest way of minding a deposit. And when he had to settle accounts with his master, he stood up to him firmly. "I knew you to be a hard man" (24), that is, one who ex peel ed the maximum return on his money (and so would leave little or nothing of any profit to his servants), and who made as small an outlay as possible (by way of "sowing" or "scattering" his money for the benefit of his agents or his debtors) and pressed for the highest possible rate of return. The servant feared the risk of losing the capital more than that of forfeiting his own exiguous share of any possible profit. We see him, not only as a timid and incompetent businessman, but as a servant with a sense of grievance towards his master.
The description of the master is equally vivid. Far from denying the servant's description of him, he proceeds to substantiate it. "You ought to have put my money on deposit" (27). In modern terms this makes good sense: a deposit account at a bank is a safe and painless way of securing a small increase of capital. But in antiquity one did not normally deposit money for interest, but only for safety. It is possible that a more literal translation gives a better sense: "you should have given my coins to the money-changers". Gold and silver coins were minted outside Palestine, and money-changers charged a small commission for exchanging them for the local bronze coinage. The suggestion seems to be that the servant with a substantial capital of such coins could at least have gone into nominal partnership with a money-changer and secured some interest that way. At any rate the master, true to character, could not accept the servant's point that, with a small capital, it is better to be safe than sorry.
'Take the bag of gold from him, and give it to the one with the ten bags' (28). This was no punishment: he was due to pay back the capital in any case; and it was only logical for the master to add it to the capital of the servant who had shown himself the most efficient businessman. But, as we read the parable in Matthew, this comparatively trivial detail becomes the most important point in the story. For it appears to be a perfect illustration of a saying of Jesus that is recorded also (though without any particular context) in Mark's gospel: 'the man who has will always be given more . . . and the man who has not will forfeit even what he has' (29). Precisely what Jesus originally meant by this saying (which was probably a proverb drawn from the market—see below on Mark 4.25) we do not know. But Matthew seems to have seen in it a commentary on the rewarding of a man's spiritual resources at the Last Judgement; for he goes on to consign the useless servant (30) to hell (for which the place of wailing and grinding of teeth is his favourite expression), and we are left in little doubt that, as he tells the story, the return of the master has turned into a symbol of Christ's final Coming, and that the reward of the "good" servants has been deliberately spiritualized, so that they are not merely given a position of greater responsibility on earth, but are invited to share their master's delight (21)— that is (as the striking Greek phrase suggests), to enter into the joy of the heavenly kingdom. In Matthew's hands, if not before, the parable has become an allegory of the Last Judgement.
Was this the original meaning? It seems hardly likely that Jesus would have given the main figure in the parable the character of a hard and unscrupulous businessman if he had intended him to stand for the divine Judge
himself! The parable is probably best understood alongside that of the 'trusty servant' (24.45-51). The theme, again, is trust. Even an extortionate capitalist could justly blame an agent who did nothing at all with the capital entrusted to him. And what had Jesus' opponents done with the immense capital of their ancestral religion which had been entrusted to them?
The discourse ends with a grand tableau of the Last Judgement, built up out of a number of separate images. When the Son of Man comes in his glory (31) is the language of Daniel's prophecy (7.13-15) describing the solemn moment of divine judgement, when all the nations would become subject to the righteous Son of Man and the elect whom he represented. As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (32) is a simile of judgement as old as Ezekiel (34.17): the Palestinian shepherd would pasture his flocks of sheep and goats together, but at some stage he would separate the one from the other; the white sheep were a natural symbol for the pure apparel of the righteous, the black goats for the dark deeds of the wicked. And finally, a king (34) on his throne was one of the commonest of images for the God of 34 justice who would one day bring all men to account for the "acts of kindness"
From this point on Matthew follows the account in Mark very closely, and it will be sufficient to notice a few details which he has changed or added. 'You know that in two days' time it will be Passover' (2): This is exactly the same chronology as in Mark, but here, in Jesus' own mouth, the dating takes on deeper meaning: Jesus knows in advance that this particular Passover will be unique as being the exact moment when the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion—and the stage is set for this "handing over" at a meeting, which only Matthew mentions, in the palace of the High Priest, Caiaphas (3) (whom we know to have held this office from A.D. 18 to 36). Already there is conflict: Jesus is prophesying his crucifixion during the Passover, while his enemies are endeavouring to avoid exactly this. 'It must not be during the festival,' they said (5).
Jesus was at Bethany (6). Compared with Mark's account (14.3-9), Matthew's is less startling. Instead of breaking the neck of the bottle and emptying the entire contents over Jesus' head, the woman merely began to pour it (7), and the value of the ointment is not the very large figure of thirty pounds (which Mark gives) but merely a good sum (9). Any reader who still found in Mark's version of the story, despite its symbolic meaning, an unnecessarily wasteful gesture, would have been considerably less shocked when reading Matthew, where almsgiving and this particular act of charity are kept more in proportion with each other.
Then one of the Twelve (14). Matthew alone gives the details of the bargain made between Judas and the chief priests. How did he know the exact figure? Possibly some Christian was able to find it out afterwards, and passed on the information; but possibly Matthew inferred it from a passage of the Old Testament which he regarded as a prophecy of the events he was recording. Zechariah 11.12 runs, "they weighed out us my wages thirty
pieces of silver". In Zechariah's time these silver pieces were doubtless shekels; in the time of Jesus the equivalent was the tetradrachm, which was the largest silver coin in currency, and which had been minted all over the Greek-speaking world since the time of Alexander the Great. The sum of money would therefore amount to 120 Roman denarii, or (according to the scale adopted by the NEB) twelve English pounds. There is slight doubt whether the verb in the Greek means that the chief priests paid Judas at once ("weighing out" the coins in case any should be under weight (16)) or merely promised to pay (as Mark has it). But the rendering adopted in the main text comes closer to the meaning in Zechariah and is not improbable in itself.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread (17). Strictly speaking this is inaccurate: it was the afternoon (as Mark makes clear) preceding the evening which, by Jewish reckoning, began the new day of 15th Nisan, the first day of Unleavened Bread. But a non-Palestinian reader, counting the days as we do from midnight to midnight, would not have been misled. The miraculous details in Mark's account of the finding of a room are omitted by Matthew, who evidently assumed that the matter was prearranged. This was Jesus' 'appointed time' (18), the Passover which would be the signal for his crucifixion.
Matthew's additions to Mark's account of the supper (14.17-25) are very small (20-9). The traitor is explicitly identified as Judas—though perhaps not so clearly and unambiguously that anyone but Jesus and Judas himself would have realized what was going to happen. It is not said when Judas left the company to carry out his plot; but this point (i.e. after verse 25) is the most likely one; and if the traitor was then out of the room, the slightly greater emphasis in this account (compared with Mark's) on the privileged circle of the disciples ('Drink from it, all of you' ... 'when I drink it new with you' (27, 29)) is understandable. There is one further addition of significance: the blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins (28). To the image of the old covenant, sealed by the blood of a sacrifice, is added that of the "new covenant", foreseen by Jeremiah (31.31-4), which would be brought into effect by God's forgiveness of his people's sins.
Jesus then came with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane (36). This episode is told almost exactly as in Mark (14.32-42): Matthew has merely modified some of Mark's more forcible expressions and clarified a few obscurities—adding, however, a fresh one. Jesus' reply to Judas, 'Friend, so do what you are here to do' (50) is a puzzling piece of Greek. Jesus certainly returned Judas' greeting, but in just what tone of voice we cannot tell (see the footnote in NEB). Matthew makes one significant addition to the narrative. The scuffle which led to the High Priest's servant losing an ear is only mentioned in passing by Mark, but in Matthew it leads to two sayings of Jesus. The first, 'All who take the sword die by the sword' (52), sounds like a proverb—possibly, like another proverb used by Jesus, originating in a reaction against the violent tactics of fanatical rebels against the Roman regime (see below on Mark 9.40): Jesus made a point of dissociating himself from any movement of that kind. The second raises the conflict to a different level. As Luke puts it, this moment was 'the hour when darkness reigns', which is not just a metaphor, but a clear indication of the way the crisis presented itself to the gospel writers (and doubtless to Jesus). The contest was not merely between Jesus and the secular powers. Behind this was raging a supernatural battle against Satan and all the evil powers. We now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls how this battle was imagined in the time of Jesus: huge detachments of angels arrayed in military order were lined up against each other in readiness for the final conflict. The discipline and organization of the Roman occupying army were projected by these writers into the scene of heavenly warfare; hence Jesus' somewhat surprising expression, 'twelve legions of angels' (53).
Jesus was led off under arrest to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest (57). Matthew, unlike Luke and John, follows exactly the same order of events as Mark: immediately after Jesus' arrest there was a formal session of the Sanhedrin, not in its usual meeting place, but in the house of Caiaphas,
59 who was probably president of the court. The court consisted of other chief
priests, the lawyers (59) (who were mainly Pharisees) and elders (57) (who were probably influential and aristocratic laymen). There was nothing unusual in members of the court themselves presenting evidence against the accused. But for any charge to be substantiated, it was necessary for two witnesses independently to give consistent evidence, and this seems to have been the court's first difficulty. Finally two men alleged (61). It seems that valid evidence was obtained on only one point, a saying of Jesus which in fact John's gospel records in another context (2.14). Matthew's version of the saying is a little milder than Mark's: not, 'I will pull down the temple', but 'I can pull down the temple'—a form which will have troubled subsequent Christians less, since it did not raise the question (as Mark's perhaps more original version does) of when and how this promise was fulfilled. Nevertheless, the allegation was serious. "Prophesying against the temple" had once nearly cost Jeremiah his life (Jeremiah 26) and was the kind of thing which, if uttered in the precincts of the temple, could doubtless be regarded as blasphemy. Here, prima facie, was damning evidence; and when Jesus refused to speak a word in his own defence, a case seemed to have been made out. The critical point which proceedings had reached is marked by the fact that the High Priest rose (62); but before passing judgement he had one further question to put which would explain and confirm the evidence so far given, ll was generally expccled that when the Messiah came one of the marks of his reign would be a period of new holiness and new splendour in the temple in Jerusalem. Could it be that Jesus' saying was not just blasphemous arrogance, but was a sign that he believed himself to be the Messiah? If so, this would by no means lessen his guilt, since it must have seemed obvious to the court that their silent prisoner could not possibly be the glorious deliverer expected by the whole Jewish people; but it would make Jesus' saying about the temple intelligible and give the judges a more substantial case to pronounce on. Jesus was therefore put on oath to answer the question, 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?' (63) (where Son of God would be understood, not in the deep sense propounded by the early church, but simply as a successor to the long line of Old Testament figures who, by virtue of their divine commission, were called Sons of God).
Jesus' reply to the specific question seems, as usual, to have been ambiguous : to have accepted without qualification the title of Messiah would perhaps have been to accept too many of the secular and superficial ideas which his contemporaries attached to it. But, by means of allusions to two Old Testament passages (Daniel 7.13; Psalm 110.1) which described a personage honoured and glorified by God, Jesus affirmed that at least one of the implications of the title was true of himself. 'From now on' (64)—not in some theoretical future, but by an immediate reversal of fortune—Jesus would be seen to be vindicated and given a unique status at the right hand of God. Matthew doubtless saw this claim as having been fulfilled by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus: the church did in fact come to know and experience its Lord as glorified and vindicated. But to the judges such a claim seemed merely to aggravate the original blasphemy. 'He is guilty,' they answered; 'he should die.' (66)
But, under the Roman administration, the Jewish court had apparently lost the power to carry out the death penalty, and further measures were necessary to secure Jesus' execution. Meanwhile, in a scene of brutality, Jesus' claim to be Messiah was put to the test. The Messiah would have the gift of prophecy—for instance, he would know who people were without being told. It was a fair test: 'Now, Messiah, if you are a prophet, tell us who hit you' (68). But Jesus offered no such spectacular confirmation of the possibility that he was the Messiah.
Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside (69). Here Matthew has rearranged Mark's narrative very little, omitting only the curious feature of two separate cock-crows. The story of Peter's denial occurs in all the gospels: see below on Mark 15. 66-72.
When morning came (1). Does Matthew mean to record a second formal session of the Sanhedrin? A meeting in the morning would certainly harmonize better willi the accounts in Luke and John, but after the proceedings which Matthew had just described, taking place during the night
and ending with a verdict and a sentence, a further session seems superfluous. All that remained to be done was to plan the death of Jesus—in the sense that, since the court was not competent to carry out its own sentence, it was necessary to have Jesus sentenced also by the Roman governor. Deciding on their tactics need not have taken the judges very long, nor required another formal session; in any case it was necessary for them to hand Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman Governor (2), as early as possible, so as to catch him when he would be available.
At this point Matthew inserts an episode which is recorded in none of the other gospels (though it is mentioned in Acts 1.18-19): the death of Judas. It comes in a little awkwardly, for the chief priests and elders (3) are at this moment at Caiaphas' house, whereas Judas' gesture of returning the money presupposes that he is in the temple (5)—that is to say, at least in one of those courtyards of the temple where there were arrangements for receiving money (see below on Mark 12.41-4). Matthew, in fact, is adding an excursus on the working-out of Judas' destiny, without too much concern for its connection with the main narrative (a modern writer would probably use a footnote for the purpose). It is clear that the interest of the early Christians was not merely biographical. There were other reasons for the tradition being preserved. One was that the Christian community in Jerusalem came to associate a particular spot with Judas' sinister death. They named it, in Aramaic, Akeldama (Acts 1.19), which meant 'Blood Acre' (8); but to everyone else it was known as the Potter's Field (7). The site of it is fairly certain. The "Potter's Gate" of Jerusalem lay at the extreme south-east corner of the city, at the mouth of the ill-famed valley of Gehinnom. Nearby were tombs cut into the rock: the whole area, with its smoking industries, its sinister historical associations, and the ritual uncleanness which belonged to any cemetery, was a fit place to bear the memory of the death of the traitor. Precisely what the connection was between Judas and this place was perhaps (by the time the gospel was written) no longer remembered, and it was necessary to work back from the name the Christians themselves had given it. A quite different explanation is given in Acts (1.18-19); here, an inference is drawn which at least shows Matthew's expert knowledge. The area belonged to the temple authorities and was used as a burial-place for foreigners (for whom, of course, the associations of the place were less sinister—in later centuries it became an honoured burial-place for Christian pilgrims). How did they acquire it? What better explanation than that they used Judas' money which, being blood-money, could not be put into the temple fund? (6) These details are quite correct. Deuteronomy 23.18 runs: "You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a sodomite into the house of the Lord your God". A fortiori, blood-money could not be put into the temple fund (literally Corban, another technical term).
But there was also a more fundamental reason (or this interest in the circumstances of Judas' death. His treachery did not present itself to the first Christians as something demanding a psychological explanation: it was intended and destined by God. But things which had long been prepared in the purposes of God might be expected to be alluded to in prophecy. Sure enough, Zechariah 11.12-13 runs as follows:
"They weighed out my wages, thirty pieces of silver. The Lord said to me, Throw it back into the treasury. I took the thirty pieces of silver— that noble sum at which I was valued and rejected by them—and threw them into the house of the Lord, into the treasury."
This text was always somewhat obscure and widely different versions of it exist. Moreover, it had a curious variant. Only certain versions gave "throw it into the treasury"; the original Hebrew appears to mean, "cast it to the potter". It looks as if Matthew knew both these interpretations and he was also able to exploit the fact that, when translated into Greek, the word meaning "I took" was identical with the word meaning "they took". Consequently, it only needed a little skilful manipulation of the original (which scholars in his time took very much for granted) to yield an impressive prophecy of the events of Judas' suicide. Only one problem remains: why does Matthew say Jeremiah instead of Zechariah? (9) It is true that there were two well-known passages of Jeremiah in which the prophet "went to the house of the potter" (18.3) and "bought a field" (29.9); but even if these lay at the back of Matthew's mind, it was Zechariah, not Jeremiah, that he was quoting. The most likely answer is that this was simply a mistake. It is in any case likely that early Christian writers, when quoting from the Old Testament, used, not a complete copy, but a collection of short prophecies which the church had found particularly relevant to the proclamation and defence of the Christian faith; and it is quite possible that these short passages were not always correctly arranged under their respective authors (for another example, see below on Mark 1.2-3).
Jesus was now brought before the Governor (11). After this digression, Matthew returns to the hearing before Pilate, and his account closely follows that of Mark, though it presupposes on the part of his readers less familiarity with the original circumstances than Mark's does. Mark's readers were evidently expected to have heard of Barabbas; but here he is introduced with the slightly more precise name, Jesus Bar-Abbas,
Pilate's soldiers then took Jesus into the Governor's headquarters (27). Matthew is still following Mark very closely—and the fact that he uses the same rather uncommon word (said to be of Persian origin) for pressed him into service (32) is one of the detailed pieces of evidence which show that he must have had a copy of Mark's gospel in front of him.He leaves out the names of Simon of Cyrene's sons (which Mark gives as Alexander and Rufus), since these men, who must have been known to the Christians who first read Mark's gospel, were presumably of no interest to Matthew's readers. At the same time he adds or alters certain details. When the soldiers mocked Jesus, they dressed him in a scarlet mantle (28)—not the royal purple of Mark's version, but the Roman Emperor's colour: there may be a touch of historical precision here, for it would have been difficult for the soldiers to procure purple, but they could perhaps have borrowed the scarlet mantle of one of the official attendants of Pilate (who was the Emperor's representative). It is not clear why Matthew substitutes wine mixed with gall for Mark's 'drugged wine' (34): possibly a recollection of Psalm 69.21 (which, in the Greek version, contains the words "for my food they gave me gall") influenced him. In any case, the point is the same. The drink was a narcotic, such as was normally provided by the Jews for prisoners who were about to be executed. To the description of the mockery to which Jesus was 39-40 subjected, Matthew adds a further touch, drawn again from the repertory of Old Testament poetry describing innocent suffering. The closest parallel is Psalm 22.8 (the psalm which provides the most impressive precedent for and commentary on the details of Jesus' crucifixion):
" 'He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he holds him dear.'"
But there is another passage which must also have been in Matthew's mind. The first chapters of the Wisdom of Solomon are concerned precisely with the problem of the righteous sufferer, and in chapter 2 the mockery of the
unrighteous is described. The following phrases (from verses 13-18) will show how closely Matthew's account conforms to what had already become a classical model in Jewish literature: "He styles himself 'the son of the Lord' ... he boasts that God is his father ... let us test the truth of his words ... for if the just man is God's son, God will stretch out a hand to him and save him."
Matthew diverges significantly from Mark's account only when it comes to the moment of Jesus' death. At this point (15.38) Mark mentions one event which he must have regarded as supernatural: the tearing of the curtain of the temple. In this Mark is probably making use of an ancient and somewhat oriental convention: the reference to miraculous events accompanying a person's death is an element of commentary on the significance of the moment rather than of meticulous historical reporting. Matthew takes this somewhat further, and thereby starts a trend which produces a mass of increasingly improbable miracles in the accounts of the later apocryphal gospels. The symbolism may have in fact begun with the curtain of the temple itself (51). This huge piece of tapestry was a famous sight. It was hung in front of the doors of the main temple building, and could be seen even by non-Jews when they looked through the gateway of the Court of the Israelites towards the temple entrance. Embroidered upon it was the firmament of heaven. The most obvious symbolism in the tearing of this curtain from top to bottom was the end of the importance of the temple in religious life and the removal of the barrier which had hitherto excluded non-Jews from the worship of the true God. But a further meaning may have been suggested by the picture woven upon it. Not the curtain only, but the heavens themselves, were rent asunder (one of the traditional signs of the Day of the Lord); and this was answered on earth by an earthquake (52). To this extent Matthew's miracle-commentary on the moment of Jesus' death is of a piece. That the graves opened is more strange; but resurrection was also an element of the Day of the Lord, even though, as Matthew admits, the time for such a miracle was really after his resurrection (53).
'Truly this man was a son of God' (54). This is a total reversal of the mockery of a few minutes earlier. At the very moment of Jesus' death, God had acted to vindicate his righteous servant, and even the foreigners standing by—the centurion and his men—were moved to recognize something divine in Jesus. In Mark it is Jesus' bearing at his death which impresses the centurion; here it is the accompanying portents which overwhelm the whole group of soldiers. Their confession was valid: it was as "Son of God" that the church soon began to worship Jesus. But if we are to ask what the phrase could have meant in the mouths of the soldiers, the answer, in Matthew, is quite clear: Jesus was one of those so-called "sons of God" who would work miracles and whose death would appropriately be marked by an earthquake.
A number of women were also present (55). Matthew mentions the same names as Mark, except that he seems to identify Mark's Salome with the mother of the sons of Zebedee (56). But only two of them remain to witness the burial, and only two return on Sunday morning to the tomb, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary (28.1). Joseph of Arimathaea, too, has undergone a significant change at Matthew's hands. In Mark, he is presented as a devout and influential Jew, whose main motive in undertaking the burial of Jesus was probably that of saving the city and its surrounding country from the defilement of an unburied corpse. But in Matthew his motive is quite different: he is a man who had himself become a disciple of Jesus (57) (which might have been difficult if, as Mark says, he was a member of the Sanhedrin: Matthew omits this detail), and his action is that much more devoted in that he lays Jesus in his own unused tomb (60). What in Mark was a hasty burial perfunctorily performed by a stranger has become in Matthew a work of charity undertaken by an influential disciple.
Next day, the morning after that Friday (62). Matthew alone reports this episode, which accounts for the presence (in his account) of soldiers at the tomb, and so makes the events of Sunday morning still more miraculous. It is a little surprising to find the Jewish authorities taking action of this kind on the Sabbath, and in any case one would have thought that they should have taken the precaution as soon as Jesus was buried. However, Pilate provided a guard (65) (Matthew uses the Latin word custodia, suggesting a contingent from the Roman army, not from the Jewish temple police), and the Jews, as an additional precaution, placed some kind of seal on the stone so that any unauthorized opening could be detected.
The Sabbath was over (1). The scene is recognizably the same as that in Mark, but is told with less detail and a greater emphasis on the supernatural. The earthquake (2), the description of the angel of the Lord, and the paralysed fear of the guards, are all features that belong less to a factual narrative of the discovery that the tomb was empty than to an imaginative description of a supernatural experience. Such importance as the empty tomb itself may have had is still further played down when the vision of the angel is immediately followed by an encounter with the risen Jesus. This brings the women's experience into line with that of the church as a whole. It was not the empty tomb, but the appearances of Jesus himself, which gave them
9 confidence to proclaim the resurrection. The women were the first to worship him in his risen state. Clasped his feet, falling prostrate before him (9), are signs of the deepest reverence.
(11-15) Matthew has his own explanation to offer (different from Mark's) of why the discovery that Jesus' tomb was empty was not immediately seized upon and proclaimed by the church: a counter-story was deliberately put about by the Jews; and since the Christian version of the matter rested only on the
testimony of two women (whose evidence would not have been admitted in a Jewish court), this could presumably never have had much force in disputes (such as we can frequently overhear in Matthew's gospel) between the Christian church and its Jewish opponents. Matthew simply reports the two versions of the facts and leaves the reader to decide between them.
The eleven disciples made their way to Galilee (16). Matthew, like Mark, has faithfully recorded (26.32) the somewhat puzzling statement of Jesus that after the resurrection he would 'go on before' his disciples to Galilee. The promise has just been repeated by the angel at the tomb (28.7) and by the risen Jesus himself (28.10); and Matthew ends his gospel by recounting its fulfilment. The mention of the eleven disciples sounds deliberately precise. The 'twelve' were last mentioned at the Passover supper (26.20). Since then Judas had defected and killed himself; but although Peter had denied Jesus, and the rest had deserted him, these eleven were still evidently (at least to Matthew's way of thinking, if not in historical fact) the only appropriate group to receive the final revelation of Jesus' authority and commission. Matthew reports that they made their way to Galilee. This contradicts Luke's account, according to which all Jesus' last appearances took place in or near Jerusalem. But it is possible that Matthew was more interested in the symbolic significance of the setting than in the geographical spot where the vision was actually seen. In his gospel, Matthew has said nothing of a mountain where Jesus had told them to meet him (16): this phrase does not help us to locate the scene. On the other hand, the greatest moments of Jesus' self-revelation, whether of his true nature (the Transfiguration) or of his moral demands (the Sermon on the Mount), were conceived of as taking place on a mountain, and just as the definitive revelation of God in the Old Testament took place on Mount Sinai, so Matthew may well have taken it for granted that the scene he was about to relate must have taken place on a mountain, and therefore that Jesus must previously have arranged this meeting-place with his disciples.
They fell prostrate before him (17). The appearance of Jesus is not described, and has to be inferred from the disciples' reaction. On meeting the earthly Jesus, their greeting would have been respectful, certainly—that of disciples to master; but they would hardly have prostrated themselves, for this was regarded as a subservient action only appropriate to the great monarchs of the east. The only reason for prostration would have been some vision of the supernatural—and this is clearly what is intended here, though not a word is used to describe what the disciples saw. Some were doubtful. Possibly the vision was ambiguous: the figure was certainly Jesus, but there was not such a radiance in his person that all those who saw him were led to recognize that they were in the presence of a divine being. Nevertheless, their doubt at this stage seems surprising—particularly since Matthew is usually careful to present the disciples so far as he can as models
of Christian discipleship. This may perhaps be Matthew's momentary admission of the fact, which is clearly stated in Luke and John, that some of the disciples took time to be convinced of the reality of the resurrection.
'Full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me.' (18) This is the fulfilment of the destiny of the Son of Man—" Sovereignty and glory and kingly power were given to him, so that all people and nations of every language should serve him" (Daniel 7.14). The words provide the answer to the question, What was Jesus' status after the resurrection? He was the one to whom supreme power had been given under God. The church had various ways of expressing this, one drawn from Psalm 110—"You shall sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool under your feet"—and others besides. But most appropriate to the triumphant end of the story of the suffering Son of Man were these words from Daniel; and the following sentences offer a commentary on the authority which was now exercised by the risen Jesus. It was effective, not when men were blindly subservient, but when they became Jesus' disciples (19), by accepting baptism and by observing his teaching. However much Jesus may have limited the range of his disciples' mission during his life on earth, their task was now world-wide. Indeed, by the time Matthew's gospel was written, Christianity had spread so far round the civilization of the Mediterranean that it seemed already to have reached all nations. For the language of these sentences is the language of the early church: baptizing and instructing were the main activities of Christian ministers, and it is of a piece with the emphasis which, throughout his gospel, Matthew lays upon Jesus' ethical teaching that Jesus should say, 'teach them to observe all that I have commanded you' (20). Doubtless the conviction of the first generations of Christians that this was their task and mission, and that the risen Christ was perceptibly " with them", went back to an assurance of Jesus, given in the course of an experience such as Matthew here describes. But plain reporting cannot do justice to such experiences; an author has to add what personal touches he can to draw out their meaning. And we can hardly be wrong in detecting, in the last words of the gospel, an allusion to one of the very first things which Matthew reports about Jesus (1.23): 'He shall be called Emmanuel—a name which means " God is with us." '