February 9, 2016

Matthew’s “Days”

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

There are seven evenings in Matthew’s Gospel (8:16; 14:15, 23; 16:2; 20:8; 26:20; 27:57).

Not every instance of “it was evening” begins a new section — 16:2 and 20:8 certainly don’t! — but the number of evenings does interest me, suggesting as it does that the reference to evening ends a day or (as in Gen 1) begins a new day.

In turn, and that would suggest that there may be eight “days” in Matthew, the eighth being the day of resurrection, beginning with 27:57, which certainly seems fitting.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned above, 16:2 and 20:8 don’t seem to fit into any sort of seven- or eight-day pattern. Still, if you happen to see some such pattern or know of an essay where someone works this out, I’d be glad to see it.

[Update, March 15, 2016: It turns out that Peter Leithart has an essay on exactly this topic!]

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February 5, 2016

The Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In Matthew 15, when the Canaanite woman asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter, Jesus is initially reluctant: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But earlier, in Matthew 8, when the centurion  clearly a Gentile  asks Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus seems willing: “I myself will come and heal him” (8:7).

Some suggest that his words should be translated as a question: “Shall I come and heal him?” And some (e.g., Davies and Allison) even insert what they think is the implication: “Shall I  a Jew  come and heal him?” The effect is to make it seem as if in this story, as in Matthew 15, Jesus is reluctant to heal a Gentile at first, but then, in response to the Gentile’s faith, goes ahead and does it.

But even if this is a question  and there’s no reason it has to be taken that way  it really doesn’t imply much reluctance. At most, it elicits a further response from the centurion. Jesus is willing to heal the centurion’s servant.

What, then, accounts for the difference, for Jesus’ willingness to heal the Gentile centurion’s servant but his reluctance (at first) to help the Canaanite woman’s daughter precisely because she’s a Gentile?

I’m not sure we can know for sure.

One factor may have been that in the case of the centurion, as Luke tells us (but Matthew doesn’t), he was already a God-fearer, who had built a synagogue and who was highly regarded by the Jewish elders, who served, in fact, as his mediators to bring his request to Jesus.

But it strikes me that it’s possible that, while the centurion himself was a Gentile, the servant may not have been. The servant may in fact have been a Jew, and so, while the request for healing comes from a Gentile (mediated by the Jewish elders), it is still a request for healing a Jew, someone “of the house of Israel.”

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February 2, 2016

Teaching with Authority (Matthew 7:28-29)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Matthew tells us that the crowds were astonished because Jesus taught with authority, not like their scribes (Matt 7:29).

I’ve sometimes heard people condemn the scribes for this lack of authority, as if there was some problem with the way they taught. “All they did,” people say, “was quote one rabbi after another. But Jesus didn’t quote people” — and the implication sometimes seems to be that preachers today should somehow be more like Jesus than like those scribes, drawing on other people’s commentaries.

Well, that’s not really what Matthew means. Jeffrey Gibbs (if I may draw from another person’s commentary) puts it well:

None of their scribes taught with such conviction. Nor should they have. Any authority that a scribe might possess in his teaching would be completely derived from the authority of the Scriptures. Any other teacher in Israel would need to substantiate what he proclaimed by citing from God’s Word. Jesus, however, teaches God’s Word from out of himself, with unfettered power and divine authority, and the crowds were astonished at this (400).

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Gate and Path (Matthew 7)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In Matthew 7, when Jesus talks about the narrow gate and the narrow way and about the wide gate and the broad way, how are the gate and the way related to each other?

Commentaries debate about this. Most often, it seems, they think the gate comes first, followed by the way. Jeffrey Gibbs, on the other hand, sees it the other way around: first you travel by the narrow path and then you go through the narrow gate into the kingdom.

The former approach, it seems to me, ends up with the narrow gate being virtually meaningless. After all, it’s not as though going through the narrow gate actually brings you into the kingdom, then. Instead, it puts you on the narrow way — but you still have to stay on the narrow way instead of the broad way, which means that the gate itself is irrelevant.

(This, it seems to me, is a problem in The Pilgrim’s Progress: Christian passes through the narrow door, but that simply leads to a path, with temptations galore to go off the path. But then what is that narrow door? What does it symbolize? Christian still has quite a distance to travel after going through it before he gets to the cross even. So what’s the point of this door?)

Gibbs’s suggestion makes much more sense to me: You need to seek and find the narrow gate (“Few are they who FIND it”), and the way there is the narrow way, which you need to find and stay on, in spite of all allurements toward the broad path or elsewhere.

Better yet, I submit, is Van Bruggen‘s approach: The gate and way aren’t part of one picture (a gate leading to a way, a way leading to a gate) but rather two images, side by side, the first — the gate — focusing on entering into the kingdom or not, and the second — the way — focusing on the process.

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