Category Archive: Bible – NT – Matthew

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July 29, 2019

The Sign of Jonah (2)

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A follow-up to my previous post about the “sign of Jonah” (drawing still on Jakob van Bruggen’s Matteus):

If “the sign of Jonah” isn’t Jesus’ death and resurrection, then why does Jesus go on to talk about Jonah’s being in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights and link that up with Jesus himself being “in the heart of the earth” for three days and three nights?

The answer is that Jesus is not here identifying what he means by “the sign of Jonah.” Again, as I said in the previous post, there’s no indication that anyone in Nineveh had a clue about Jonah being in the belly of the fish, so that wasn’t a sign to them at all.

But the point is rather this: Jonah tried to run away from his calling and ended up “dead’ in the belly of the fish, but that wasn’t the end of his mission. After three days and three nights, he was vomited out and his mission continued. His “death” didn’t end his mission to Nineveh. His death didn’t stop him from being a sign to them.

And neither will Jesus’ death. The scribes and Pharisees are already plotting Jesus’ death in Matthew 12, and when they do arrest him and crucify him and bury him — the three days and three nights includes everything from his arrest on — they will think that they have gotten rid of him.

But they will find that his mission continues. After three days and three nights, he will rise again, like Jonah, and continue to be a sign to them, a sign of their need to repent and trust in him before it is too late.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:36 pm | Discuss (0)

The Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12)

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When the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, does he give them one?

In Mark 8, he refuses: “No sign shall be given to this generation.”

In Matthew 12, he says: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Does that mean that Jesus changed his mind and decided he would give them one sign? Not at all. Jesus gives no sign to this generation, no sign of the sort they were requesting, no sign to prove that his authority comes from God.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign of a different sort. What is “the sign of Jonah”?

People often take it to be Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and then vomited out again, which they (rightly) link up with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign for the people of Nineveh, and there is no indication in Scripture whatsoever that the people of Nineveh ever knew about Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and vomited up again. It’s not as if they saw that happen: Nineveh isn’t on the coast. And it’s not as if Jonah came into Nineveh strewn with seaweed and bleached or tanned by the fish’s stomach acids.

If you were a Ninevite and Jonah came preaching “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” and you said, “Before I repent, I want a sign to prove that you’re really a prophet,” would you get a sign like that? No.

The “sign” that proves Jonah’s a prophet is going to come all right. But it’s going to come in forty days … thirty-nine days … thirty-eight days…. And you don’t want to wait to repent until you experience that sign, because by then it will be too late. There is going to be proof that he’s a prophet, and the proof is that his word comes to pass, but that word is your destruction.

And so, too, with Jesus. If scribes and Pharisees and others in Israel refuse to repent till they see a sign, they won’t receive an authenticating sign until it’s too late and destruction has come upon them.

But they do get a sign of another type. They get “the sign of Jonah.” What was the “sign of Jonah” to the Ninevites? It was the sign that was Jonah himself. (For you grammar nerds, the genitive here is epexegetical.) So in Luke 11, we are told explicitly that *Jonah* became a sign to the Ninevites.

The sign is that there is a prophet coming to them, preaching to them, warning them of the destruction to come. That’s all the sign they get.

And Jesus gives to the people of Israel “the sign of Jonah,” Jesus himself coming to them, doing his works, warning them of the coming judgment, proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom and doing the works of the kingdom, and calling them to repent and trust in him. That is all the sign they get.

[For much of this exegesis, I am indebted to Jakob van Bruggen’s Matteus.]

Posted by John Barach @ 5:34 pm | Discuss (1)
September 21, 2018

The Catholicity of Jesus

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Link :: Print

Was there ever anyone with more integrity, and who made greater demands, than Jesus Christ? Yet look at the catholicity of His practice: He ate with publicans, harlots, and sinners, and He took nursing infants into His arms and thus to Himself. Who complained about all this? The Pharisees.

How could Jesus, the spotless Son of God, associate with such evil people? Simple: They were (a) members of the visible church, even though that church was borderline apostate (run by Sadducees and Pharisees). They were (b) not excommunicate from that visible church. They were (c) willing to listen to what He had to say.

Now, of course, after they listened for a while, most of them departed, not willing to persevere. They excommunicated themselves. But initially, they were welcomed according to the catholic principle we have outlined.

Notice that Jesus ate and drank with them. It requires a clever bit of nominalism to miss the sacramental implications of this. Pharisees, beware! — James B. Jordan, The Sociology of the Church, 15.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 am | Discuss (0)
September 19, 2018

Transfiguration and the Lord’s Day Service

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The story of the Mount of Transfiguration tracks, to some degree, with what happens in the Lord’s Day service.

Jesus ascends a high mountain, which in the Bible is often associated with drawing near to meet with God (Mount Eden, Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Moriah). In every offering, the animal dies and then ascends the mountain and goes up to God in smoke. Hebrews 13 tells us that we have come to the heavenly Mount Zion.

That’s what’s happening in worship. We gather with the church all over the world on the heavenly Mount Zion. We ascend together into heaven. And on the mountain, we read the Law and the Prophets, the whole of the Scriptures, and they all point us to Jesus.

Here, we see Jesus in all His glory. Here, we hear the heavenly voice declaring: “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” Here, our ears are trained and opened to listen to Jesus. And here we are transfigured, from glory to glory, as we eat the bread which is Jesus’ body *together with one another* and become more and more one body with Him.

But we can’t stay. Moses has to go down the mountain to Israel, his face shining with God’s glory. Jesus and the disciples have to go down the mountain to a demon-possessed boy who needs help. We have to go down the mountain, out to the world, like the rivers from Eden, like the waters flowing from the temple, like the disciples after the transfiguration, flowing out to transform the world, not with programs and theories but with the gospel, with the proclamation of Jesus alone whom we have learned to hear.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:17 pm | Discuss (0)
September 18, 2018

“Hear Him”

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Peter has the spiritual insight, apparently, to recognize Moses and Elijah when they appear at Jesus’ transfiguration. And yet he blurts out the wrong thing. And when the Glory Cloud surrounds them and the Voice of God is heard, it says to Peter and to all: “Hear Him.” That is, hear Jesus.

And you, religious enthusiasts, are you listening? Mystical souls, impetuous natures, naive children, are you? You, worshippers of spontaneity, gropers-about in your own nebulosity, do you hear the voice from the clouds? Hear Him! That extra-sensuous insight, the immediacy of knowledge by which Peter at once recognized heaven-sent guests — perhaps you have often wanted that. But you must hasten to the Word. The Word is more than Peter’s intuition. You are jealous of his impromptu utterance, are you? You thought that mood of transporting fear and astonishment the best possible for receptivity to heaven’s verities? Hear the voice from the cloud. You must go back to the Word (Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:16 pm | Discuss (0)
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 (1)

“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)

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