July 17, 2018

“You Have Heard … And I Say” (Matthew 5)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

It’s amazing how much some commentators read into Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the ancients…” and then he quotes word for word from Scripture: “You shall not murder” and “You shall not commit adultery.

“Oh,” say the commentators, “he’s rejecting the Pharisees’ view. The Pharisees thought that only the actual acts of murder and adultery were condemned, but it was okay to be angry and hate people and lust and so on.”

Well, maybe they did. But we don’t know it from what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t address their misinterpretations. He doesn’t mention misinterpretations. In fact, he doesn’t address interpretations here. He simply quotes what God said in the Law — what the disciples and the crowds had heard in the synagogues, what God had said to their fathers at Mount Sinai and through Moses just before they entered the land — and then he puts his own word alongside: “And I [emphatic] say to you…”

Who does he think he is to put his word alongside that of God’s Word? No wonder the crowds went away marveling, not just at what he said, but at his authority.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:27 am | Discuss (0)

“These Commandments” (Matthew 5:19)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

The word “these” in Matthew 5:19 cannot refer forward to Jesus’ commandments, says D. A. Carson, because in Matthew’s Gospel the word outos “never points forward.” It always refers to something in the previous context, never to something that follows.

But is that so? A quick search brings up Matthew 10:2:

Ton de dodeka apostolon ta onomata estin tauta: protos Simon ho legomenos Petros… etc.

“Of the twelve apostles, the names are these: first Simon, who is called Peter, etc.”

Whaddaya know? Tauta (“these”) points forward. So much for “never.” And therefore it is within the realm of possibility that “these” points forward in Matthew 5, as well.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:48 am | Discuss (0)
July 16, 2018

Fill in the Blanks

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Permalink

Another reason to look at the Bible in the original languages:

In Exodus 21:6; 22:8, and 9, it says that a certain person should be brought before _______ and in Exodus 22:28, it says “You shall not revile _______ nor curse a ruler of your people.”

Now, in several versions (including the KJV and NKJV) the word in the first blank is “the judges” and in the second blank is “God.” In fact, virtually all versions have “God” in the second blank. But in some other versions, the word in the first blank is “God.”

In Hebrew, both blanks have HaElohim, which is either “(The) God” or “the gods.” If it’s the latter, it’s referring to the judges, who are called “gods” elsewhere in Scripture (Ps 58; 82).

I suspect that the latter is correct in connection with both blanks: The person in Ex 21:6; 22:8, 9 is to be brought before the gods (= the judges) for them to pass sentence, and Ex 22:28 is telling us not to revile the gods (= the judges/rulers), which is parallel to cursing “a ruler of your people.”

But if I had just looked at an English translation, the question would never have come up.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:44 pm | Discuss (0)

Circumcision of Jewish Christians?

Category: Bible - NT - Acts,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

I’m reading Doug Wilson’s To a Thousand Generations for the first time and I’ve come across something that puzzles me.  As part of his argument for infant baptism, Wilson points to the ongoing practice of circumcision among Jewish Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, says Wilson, Jewish Christians were required — obligated by God — to circumcise their children.  “Baptism was required to display the unity of believing Jews with believing Gentiles (Eph. 4:5), and circumcision was required to show the unity of believing Jews with Abraham (Rom. 4:11-12)” (p. 78).

I have no trouble imagining that a Jewish Christian might have had his newborn son circumcised.  But was he obligated to do so?  Timothy wasn’t circumcised by his Greek father and so Paul has him circumcised, but it does not seem as if he was obligated to be circumcised; it seems like a concession, because the Jews knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek (Acts 16:1-3).

What about other things that were once required in the Old Covenant?  Would a Jewish Christian have been obligated to keep the dietary laws?  Would it have been sinful for him to eat some crawfish or a link of boudin before AD 70?  I can’t see that it would have been.  It might not have been wise to flout his liberty in front of unbelieving Jews.  But would it have been sinful?

Would a Jewish Christian have been required by God to continue to bring offerings to the temple?  It’s true that Paul takes a Nazirite vow, and so we can conclude that a Christian might bring an offering in Paul’s day.  But were Jewish Christians obligated to do so?

Would a Jewish Christian be required by God to keep the laws of clean and unclean?  To redeem their firstborn?  To present firstfruits at the temple?  To keep the laws relating to the land and inheritance?

Well, as a matter of fact, we know that the Jewish Christians didn’t keep the laws relating to the land.  They sold their property (Acts 4:34).  They didn’t maintain their inheritance, as faithful Jews once strove to do.  There’s no hint that the nearest kinsman redeemed their land or anything like that.  They sold it — and when persecution heated up, they moved away.

So, again, I can certainly imagine that many Jewish Christians did have their sons circumcised and that it took some time for that practice to fade away.  But it’s not clear to me that Jewish Christians were required by God to keep doing until AD 70.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:49 pm | Discuss (0)

Not Only a Comfort But a Joy

Category: Christian Life,Theology :: Permalink

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs — and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for the life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates. But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

We are in danger of forgetting that God is not only a comfort but a joy. He is the source of all pleasures; he is fun and laughter, and we are meant to enjoy him.

Otherwise … we shall try to be negatively good, and make a virtue of misery; plume ourselves on the rejection of delights for which we are too weak, measure our piety by the number of pleasures we prohibit. And others will react against us by rejecting religion altogether, probably announcing with pride that they are choosing ‘life’ instead. — Joy Davidman.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:38 am | Discuss (0)
July 15, 2018

“Until Heaven and Earth Pass Away” (Matthew 5:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Jesus says, “Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one horn by no means will pass away from the Law until everything happens” (Matt 5:18).

“Until everything happens” here is parallel to — and identical with — “the heaven and the earth pass away.” The two phrases refer to the same time. But what time is that?

Easy, right? It’s the end of the world. But is that what “the heaven and the earth pass away” means? Not in the Bible.

In Isaiah 65-66, we hear about the passing away of the heavens and the earth and the establishment of a “new heavens and a new earth.” But is that after Jesus returns and our bodies are raised in glory to be like his? It can’t be.

In Isaiah 65:20, we read, “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.”

Are there still going to be infants being born after Jesus returns? Is there still going to be death after the resurrection? Will there still be sinners living on earth after the final judgment? Of course not. And so that’s not what Isaiah 65-66 has in mind when it speaks about the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.

Instead, it’s speaking about something that would happen in history, before the final judgment, before the resurrection of the body. It’s speaking about the end of the Old Creation and the establishment of the New, the end of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New. It’s speaking — to use Jesus’ words — about the coming of the kingdom of the heavens.

And the good news Jesus was preaching to the crowds in Galilee — and in the Sermon on the Mount — was that the kingdom of the heavens was near, near in time, about to be established in that generation.

Was it? Certainly. By his death, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, outpouring of the Spirit, vindication of his church, and overthrow of Jerusalem, Jesus established God’s kingdom on earth.

Coming back to Matthew 5, what that means is that now the old heavens and earth have passed away. All things in the Law (and the Prophets) have happened. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and the Law has passed away. No one today is under the Law. No one today is in the Old Covenant.

We still read and learn from, say, Leviticus. But we are not under it as Israel once was. No one is required to abstain from pork or crawfish, to be circumcised, to regulate worship according to the moon, and so on.

And that means that this passage in Matthew 5, like the Beatitudes, is gospel, the good news that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant, has brought about the transition to the New Covenant, has established the kingdom, and given us a new heavens and a new earth. As Paul puts it, in Christ all of God’s promises are “Yes.” And therefore we expect him to bring about the fullness of the new covenant as well.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:39 pm | Discuss (0)

“Until Everything Happens” (Matthew 5:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

What does Jesus mean when he says “Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one horn by no means will pass away from the Law until everything happens” (Matt 5:18)?

I suspect that we often think Jesus is speaking here about “the Law” in terms of commandments, maybe even declaring that every last commandment is still binding upon Christians until the end of the world.

But is that really what Jesus is talking about? He has just spoken about “the Law and the Prophets,” referring to the whole of the Scriptures as foreshadowing the future, as needing to be fulfilled, as talking about something that was to happen.

And so too here. Jesus says “… until everything happens.” Jesus has come to fulfill the Law — not just the commandments but the whole of that revelation from God — and every last bit of it, all that it prophesied, is going to happen.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (0)
July 14, 2018

Not Invalidating but Fulfilling (Matthew 5:17)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

What did Jesus mean when he said that he did not come to invalidate the law and the prophets but to fulfill them?

The word “fulfill” does not mean “confirm” (as Greg Bahnsen claimed). It does not mean “obey,” as some have suggested. It does not mean “expound” or “amplify” or “intensify” or anything like that.

Matthew has already spoken several times of fulfillment. Jesus’ birth fulfills the promise of Immanuel (Matt 1). Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt to fulfill Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt 2). The slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem fulfills what Jeremiah said about Rachel’s weeping (Matt 2). Jesus grows up in Nazareth to fulfill what the prophets said about him (Matt 2). He later moves from Nazareth to Capernaum and begins his ministry in Galilee to fulfill Isaiah 9 (Matt 4).

“The law and the prophets” does not refer to commandments specifically; it’s a phrase that refers to the whole of Scripture, to all of God’s revelation from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Malachi. All of it was like a bud that would one day blossom. All of it foreshadowed and looked forward to and pointed forward to and anticipated and longed for and required something in the future.

Jesus is saying that he did not come to set all of that revelation aside but instead came to bring it all to fulfillment, to make all of those promises reality, to make everything Scripture spoke about happen.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:57 am | Discuss (0)

The Gospel of Fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-20)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Matthew 5:17-20 is one of the most pristine expressions of the gospel in the New Testament. Why? Because this passage says overtly and boldly that the Story of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus himself. His life, his teachings, his actions—everything about him completes what was anticipated in the Old Testament. That’s the gospel” — Scot McKnight, The Sermon on the Mount.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:56 am | Discuss (0)
July 13, 2018

Old, Sapless, Joyless

Category: Christian Life,Theology :: Permalink

How many thousands picture Christianity as something old, sapless, joyless, mumbling in the chimney corner and casting sour looks at the young people’s fun? How many think of religion as the enemy of life and the flesh and the pleasures of the flesh; a foe to all love and all delight? How many unconsciously conceive of God as rather like the famous lady who said, ‘Find out what the baby’s doing and make him stop’? — Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:23 am | Discuss (0)
July 12, 2018

Beatitudes as Gospel

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

The Sermon on the Mount is commonly thought of as the Law of Christ, and contrasted with the Gospel preaching. Admittedly it contains ‘legal’ elements; but if we are to take its structure as our guide to its general sense, it has as good a right to the name of gospel as any formulation whatsoever.

The Beatitudes are nothing but the proclamation of good news, while the rest of the discourse puts us in the way of attaining the blessings thus promised. It is in this discussion of means that the ‘legal’ elements find their place — Austin Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark, p. 174.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:16 am | Discuss (0)

The Sermon on the Mount as Gospel

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Matthew tells us that Jesus was traveling through Galilee, “teaching in their synagogues and heralding the good news of the kingdom” and that he was healing all diseases (4:23-25). Then he gives us the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), followed by a number of stories of healings (8-9). He wraps up this section with a summary statement, telling us that Jesus “went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, heralding the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness” (9:35, a clear echo of 4:23-25).

Since the summaries in 4:23-25 and 9:35 are identical and since what comes between them are a sermon and a bunch of healing stories and since the healing stories are obviously instances of the healings mentioned in the summary, we ought to see the Sermon on the Mount as an example of Jesus’ “teaching … and heralding the good news of the kingdom.”

So in the Sermon on the Mount, what is Jesus doing? He is heralding the good news of the kingdom.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:14 am | Discuss (0)