Category Archive: Bible – NT – Matthew

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July 12, 2018

The Sermon on the Mount as Gospel

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

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

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology :: Link :: Print

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

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

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)

“Call His Name Jesus” (Matthew 1:21)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew,Bible - OT - Zechariah :: Link :: Print

The angel tells Joseph to name Mary’s son, which is an act whereby this son is fully accepted as part of Joseph’s family. This is not at all Joseph adopting Mary’s son. This is a son born in Joseph’s household.

But the angel also tells Joseph to give this son a special name, a name that no one in David’s family ever bore. He is to call him “Jesus,” and to do so because “he will save his people from their sins.”

What’s the connection between that name and that mission? Put another way, what are we to think of when we hear this name “Jesus”?

One answer is that “Jesus,” which is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua,” means “YHWH saves.” And so we might think of this name-giving in relation to the promise in, say, Psalm 130:8 that “He [YHWH] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

True enough. That’s something that we might see, though whether Matthew expected his readers to see it is doubtful. After all, Matthew has to translate “Immanuel” for them. He doesn’t expect them to know what that Hebrew word means, and so it’s not likely that he’d expect them to know what “Joshua/Jesus” means either.

Another answer is that Jesus is given that name because we’re to think of him as the new Joshua, who leads his people where Moses could not, right into the Promised Land. And certainly Jesus does lead his followers into the Kingdom. But the connection between that and “saving his people from their sins” is not entirely clear.

But there is a Jesus/Joshua in the Bible who is connected to forgiveness for God’s people. That’s Joshua, son of Jehozadak (Zech 3, 6). To us, he may be an obscure figure because we never read the book of Zechariah. But he wasn’t obscure to Matthew’s readers.

Joshua, son of Jehozadak, is the high priest after the exile, alongside Zerubbabel, the governor, who, though he is from David’s line, is not and cannot ever be the king.

In Zechariah 3, Joshua the high priest represents all of the returned exiles. In the vision, he is wearing unclean clothes and is accused by Satan. How can he draw near to serve YHWH with unclean clothes? That is to say, how can the Jews return to the Promised Land again and draw near to YHWH while their sins have not been dealt with?

But in the vision, the unclean clothes are taken away. The turban is replaced with a new one. And Joshua becomes, in his own person, the promise of forgiveness for the people: “Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign: For behold, I am bringing forth my servant the Branch…. And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”

Then, in Zechariah 6, Zechariah has to crown Joshua the high priest: “Behold the man whose name is the Branch! From his place he will branch out and he will build the temple of YHWH. Yes, he will build the temple of YHWH. He will bear the glory and will sit and rule on his throne. So he will be a priest on his throne and the counsel of peace will be between them both.”

Joshua son of Jehozadak wears the crown for only that day, and then it is placed in the temple as a memorial. But there is coming a day, Zechariah says, when iniquity will be taken away and Joshua/Jesus will be both priest and king.

How would that happen? The answer given in Zechariah 4 applies here, too: “Not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit.”

And the angel tells Joseph that the Spirit has brought about Mary’s pregnancy, that the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and that the son must bear the name of Joshua, son of Jehozadak, because the prophecy in the vision of Zechariah 3 is going to be fulfilled: he will save his people from their sins.

[Most of this I owe to Jakob van Bruggen’s commentary on Matthew.  Too bad it’s not in English.]

Posted by John Barach @ 4:29 am | Discuss (0)
July 10, 2018

Pregnant from the Spirit (Matthew 1:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

In the popular story, Mary is found to be pregnant. Gossip starts to spread. Joseph, too, is sure she has been unfaithful to him. Because he’s righteous, he wants to divorce her, but because he’s merciful he doesn’t want to do so publicly. Then an angel comes and calms him down and relieves his suspicions so that he can go ahead and marry Mary anyway.

In the Bible, the story is quite different. The Bible does not say “Mary was found to be pregnant.” It says “Mary was found to be pregnant from the holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).

It says nothing about people’s suspicions, nothing about gossip, nothing about Joseph being upset because his wife had been unfaithful. What people thought — what was “found” to be the case — was that Mary was pregnant from the Spirit.

After all, as Luke tells us, as soon as Mary became pregnant, she went and spent several months with her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias, the priest. Elizabeth knew immediately, by the Spirit, that Mary was pregnant as “the mother of my Lord.”

The priest and his wife could testify that Mary was not guilty of adultery, that she had not been unfaithful, that the child in her womb was from the Spirit of God. And Luke says, “All these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.”

As for Joseph, we are not told that he was angry, suspicious, jealous, or upset in any way. We are told that he was afraid, and the angel comes, not to relieve his suspicions or calm down his anger but to calm his fears.

Why would he be afraid? Because the child in his wife’s womb is from the Spirit. She is the Spirit’s workshop, and how could Joseph then take her as his wife? Wouldn’t that be interfering with the Spirit’s work?

And so Joseph, being a righteous man and wanting to do what is right, is willing to step aside and let the Spirit do his work without Joseph’s interference, which means that he wants to divorce her, but without witnesses and publicity, so that Mary is not pilloried and put on a level with an immoral woman.

But the angel says, “No.” The holy Spirit doesn’t want to interrupt their marriage. What’s happening is exactly what the Spirit wants, is in fact the fulfillment (the angel says) of Isaiah 7. Joseph must take her as his wife. He has a job to do with regard to this baby, welcoming this son into David’s house and lineage and giving the baby the name that God wanted him to have, the name — never before found in David’s line — of “Jesus,” because this baby would save his people from their sins.

[Most of what I’ve written here is a summary of Jakob van Bruggen’s remarks in his commentary on Matthew.  In this connection, Van Bruggen writes: “Already in the Early Church, the opinions were divided about the question of whether Joseph behaved mildly in connection with the suspicion of adultery (Justin, Augustine, Chrysostom) or whether, in fact, out of fear for the work of the Spirit wanted to distance himself from Mary (Eusebius, Basil, Ephraim, Theophylactus).”]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:37 pm | Discuss (0)

Jesus in Joseph’s Household (Matthew 1)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

Why is it so important that Joseph not divorce Mary when he found out that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit?

The answer is found in what the angel calls Joseph when he first speaks to him: “Joseph, son of David.”

We don’t know what tribe Mary was from. Even if she was from the tribe of Judah, which we don’t know, there’s no reason to think that she was herself in the house and line of David. If she was descended from David, we know nothing of it. But — and this is what Scripture draws our attention to — Joseph was.  Matthew has just given us Joseph’s genealogy, and he reminds us of it again by quoting what the angel called him.  Joseph is the sole link between Jesus and David.

And yet Joseph himself did not beget Jesus.  David’s line did not produce the Messiah.  Instead, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.

But Joseph too plays a crucial role.  Because Joseph was David’s heir and Mary was in Joseph’s household, being betrothed to him and legally considered his wife, her son would also be in the house and line of David. But that’s true only if Mary stays in Joseph’s house.

And so it is essential that Joseph not divorce Mary, that he remain uninvolved as far as the conception is concerned and yet that he also remain Mary’s husband.  In this way, the baby conceived by the Spirit and born of Mary is born in David’s house as David’s heir.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:34 pm | Discuss (2)
June 21, 2017

It Will Be Given You (Matthew 10:19-20)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

It’s amusing to note that in the history of the exegesis and exposition of Matthew 10:19-20 (“When they hand you over, do not be concerned how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak, for it is not you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you”), commentator after commentator has felt the need to make it clear that this passage is not an excuse for pastors to wing it as they preach, without any study or preparation.

You’ll find that point in Augustine, Thomas (citing Chrysostom), Zwingli, Bucer, Musculus, Cocceius … all the way up to D. A. Carson and Frederick Dale Bruner today.

They’re right, of course … but what does the fact that they feel the need to stress this (rather obvious) point tell you?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (0)
July 11, 2016

The Harvest Is Plentiful… (Matthew 9)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

In Matthew 9:35ff., Jesus sees Israel battered and cast down, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful; the workers are few.”

Why does the imagery change from animals to plants, from sheep/shepherd to harvest/workers? It would make sense for Jesus, seeing the crowds like sheep without a shepherd, to tell his disciples to pray for workers to gather in the flock.

Jakob van Bruggen  (Matteüs) proposes that Jesus is speaking, not of workers needed for gathering in the harvest but of workers needed for distributing the plentiful harvest to care for the flock.

I’m not persuaded that explanation really works. After all, “Send out workers into his harvest” is not the clearest way to say “Send workers out to Israel with the food that has been harvested”!

On the other hand, when Jesus does send out his disciples, he returns to the imagery of sheep/shepherd (10:6: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”) and he speaks, not of gathering, let alone of gathering in a harvest, but rather of giving (10:8: “Freely you have received; freely give”).

Still thinking….

Posted by John Barach @ 7:46 pm | Discuss (0)
June 30, 2016

Superstitious? (Matthew 9)

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The woman with the flow of blood who thought that she would be healed if she could only touch the tassel on the hem of Jesus’ garment was, according to D. A. Carson’s commentary, “superstitious,” though Jesus heals her anyway. Granted, she was in fact healed when she touched that tassel. But, says Carson, Jesus “said that it was her faith that was effective, not the superstition mingled with it” (Carson, Matthew, 230).

But … what was superstitious about her belief? What definition of “superstition” can Carson be working with?

How much better to say with Gibbs:

With regard to the woman with the hemorrhage, Jesus flatly declares that she had faith to be made well, and he in no way criticizes her for being superstitious. It is just as easy to interpret her desire to touch the hem or tassel of Jesus’ robe (the datum that leads Carson to accuse her for “superstition”) as a sign of her remarkable faith; she knows that she only needs the slightest contact with Jesus to be healed and saved (Matthew 1-11, 484).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:13 pm | Discuss (0)
May 2, 2016

New Wineskins for New Wine (Matthew 9)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

In Matthew 9, Jesus tells the parable of the wineskin: You don’t put new wine in an old wineskin, he says, or the new wine (as it ferments) will burst the old wineskin. Rather, you put new wine in a new wine skin, and in that way *both* are preserved.

It’s pretty obvious what “both” means here: It has to mean the new wine and the new wineskin.

And yet more than one commentary seems to think that Jesus is saying that by putting new wine in the new wineskin, you’ll preserve both the new wineskin and the old wineskin, leading to conclusions about Jesus’ concern for the old systems, structures, practices, or whatever.

Davies & Allison, usually no slouches as commentators, are particularly confused and confusing on this point:

“In its broader context, which concerns fasting, this clause makes for a positive relation between an old practice (fasting) and the newness brought by Jesus. That is, even though the immediate subject of ‘and both will be preserved’ is the new wine and the new wineskins, the redactor was probably thinking of wineskins as symbols for something from the past, and of the need to preserve them.”

Huh? They acknowledge that “both” refers to (1) new wine and (2) new wineskins … but then they talk as if “wineskins” (new and old) refer to “something from the past,” and as if Jesus is concerned somehow — in spite of what they know “both” means — about preserving the old practices/system (i.e., the old wineskins).

It makes my head spin.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:56 pm | Discuss (0)
February 9, 2016

Matthew’s “Days”

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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!]

Posted by John Barach @ 3:19 pm | Discuss (0)
February 5, 2016

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

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

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.”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:00 pm | Discuss (0)

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