Category Archive: Bible – NT – Matthew

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August 8, 2018

“Do Not Resist by Evil Means”? (Matthew 5:39)

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In his lectures on Matthew 5:38-42, Peter Leithart, following Glenn Stassen, who is following Clarence Jordan, claims that Jesus is not saying “Do not resist the evil one” but rather is saying “Do not resist by evil means.” It is, after all, a dative: to ponero.

That’s pretty attractive, given that elsewhere in Scripture we are told to “resist the devil” and given what appears to be resistance of some kind to evil people on Jesus’ part throughout his ministry.

On the other hand, the verb here, anthistemi, seems to take its direct object in the dative in many many passages. Furthermore, if it was supposed to be “by evil means,” would there be an article? Wouldn’t it just be  ponero, instead of to ponero?

Greek scholars out there, is there anything to be said for the Leithart/Stassen/Jordan interpretation? Is it even possible? Or must we, however regretfully, set it aside and conclude that Jesus was indeed saying that we must not resist “the evil one” (whatever that means, and whoever that might be)?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (0)

“Do Not Violently Struggle Against Evil”? (Matthew 5:39)

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In his recent commentary on Matthew, Peter Leithart says that Matt 5:39 can be translated, not “do not resist evil” or “do not resist the evil one,” but rather “do not resist by evil means.” He footnotes N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 290-291.

But that’s rather puzzling. When I turn to that page in Wright, I find nothing of the sort. Wright does not suggest that the term translated “evil” here can be taken instrumentally: “by evil means.” He accepts the usual translation: “do not resist evil.”

But Wright focuses on the word translated “resist” and claims that the Greek verb here, antistenai, is “almost a technical term for revolutionary resistance of a specifically military variety,” footnoting an essay by Walter Wink and noting that Josephus “uses the word with the sense of ‘violent struggle’ 15 times out of 17 uses.”

So Wright’s paraphrase might be “Do not violently struggle against evil [or: the evil one].” And, in this context, he seems to take it to mean that Jesus’ followers are not to become (proto-)Zealots.

Maybe so. On the other hand, a glance at BDAG indicates that this verb appears several times in the NT and I can’t spot one clear instance in which it refers to “violent struggle” or has any necessary implication of violence at all.

Besides its appearance in Matthew 5:39, antistenai itself shows up in Luke 21:15; Acts 6:10; and Ephesians 6:13. The related anteste appears in 2 Tim 4:15; anthistato in Acts 13:8; antesten in Gal 2:11 (did Paul violently struggle against Peter when he “opposed” him to his face?!); antestesan and anthistantai in 2 Tim 3:8 (was Moses ever violently attacked by the Egyptian wizard priests?); anthesteken in Rom 9:19; 13:2 (along with anthestekotes); and antistete in James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:9 (are these authors telling us to “violently struggle” against the devil?).

The only passage in the NT where “violently struggle” might just perhaps fit is Rom 13:2 and that’s certainly not obvious to me. In every instance — probably including Rom 13:2 — the verb has to do with opposing someone or something in some form or another, but it doesn’t ever necessarily connote violence. Maybe in Josephus, but not in the NT.

That leaves us with the puzzling fact that we do seem to see some resistance on the part of Jesus and the apostles to wicked men. James and Peter tell us to resist or oppose the devil, while Jesus in Matthew uses the very same verb and says “Do not resist the evil one.”

Wright’s solution — that Jesus is telling his disciples not to become violent revolutionaries against the Romans who might force them to walk a mile or even strike them — is attractive in its way. Certainly it’s true enough as an application. But was this the specific thing Jesus had in mind?  Pace Wright, there does not seem to be a solid lexical basis for saying so.

[Update: It seems that there is a mistake in Leithart’s footnote.  The source of this interpretation, taking “evil” as a dative of means instead of as a direct object, is not Wright but rather Glen Stassen, drawing on Clarence Jordan.  See my next post.]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:43 pm | Discuss (0)
July 17, 2018

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

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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)

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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 15, 2018

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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 12, 2018

Beatitudes as Gospel

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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

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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)
July 11, 2018

Temptation & Vocation

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The temptations we all face, day by day and at critical moments of decision and vocation in our lives, may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point.

They are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us, to turn us aside, from the path of servanthood to which our baptism has commissioned us.

God has a costly but wonderfully glorious vocation for each one of us. The enemy will do everything possible to distract us and thwart God’s purpose. If we have heard God’s voice welcoming us as his children, we will also hear the whispered suggestions of the enemy — N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, p. 26.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:06 am | Discuss (0)

John’s Baptism

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When John the Baptizer begins his work, Jerusalem sends a fact-finding committee to to inquire about his identity and about his baptism. In particular, the Pharisees ask why he’s baptizing since he’s not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet.

But you’ll notice that they don’t say, “What is this curious ritual you’re performing down here at the Jordan? Why are you scooping up water and pouring on all these people’s heads?”

They know about baptism already. They just wonder why he is doing it. What does it mean when John appears in the wilderness, by the Jordan, and starts calling Israel out to be baptized there — at that spot, in that river — by him.

What does baptism mean in the Gospels? Joel Garver, in this old essay, “Baptism in Matthew and Mark,” gives the most helpful answer I’ve seen.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:38 am | Discuss (0)

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