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Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did: by overfilling our schedules, spending too much money, bingeing on TV Christmas specials, and eating way too many sweet treats.

Of course, a fair bit of the time, the result was that I didn’t actually prepare for Christmas at all. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the lights, the tinsel, the carols, and all the rest; I loved them—and I still do! The problem is that much of the outward trappings of Christmas don’t always draw us into the depths of its holy mystery. In fact, if we’re not careful, they can even shield us from that mystery.

That’s why I have come to appreciate the discipline of Advent. Advent taps the brakes on our culture’s frenetic Christmas “preparations.” Sometimes, it slams on those brakes with both feet. At it’s most basic, Advent insistently whispers, “Pace yourself; it’s not Christmas yet.”

And when I come more slowly into Christmas, I can better appreciate what that season really means, and how my life should be different because of that meaning.

John the Baptist is a patron saint of Advent waiting and preparation. His ministry in the wilderness got people ready for Jesus to show up. He announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven and called people to repent—just as Jesus did.

And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to get serious about what Jesus said to do?

(This blog post first appeared in an ever so slightly different form at Coracle.)

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Beauty and the Beast and the Workers in the Vineyard

Wisdom from Damaris Zehner regarding Matthew 20:1-16:

Why is it that we identify ourselves with the hard workers and not with the latecomers?  Do we really think we have achieved enough through our efforts to dictate to God how he should reward everyone?  I wonder why it takes so long to occur to most of us that we are really the ones who deserve nothing and are rewarded with grace.

She then goes on to apply this same insight to a certain Disney movie.

Jesus’ Genealogy

Wednesday night Bible study tonight delved into Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Jesus. This got me thinking about a series of posts I wrote a few years back about this topic, which I thought I’d link to again for those who either missed it the first time around or wanted a refresher.

  1. The Genealogy of Jesus
  2. The House of David
  3. The Texts
  4. Shealtiel
  5. Zerubbabel
  6. Joseph’s Two Fathers

Torah-Observant Christians

New at The Bible and Interpretation: Isaac W. Oliver, “Do Christians Have to Keep the Torah? The Cases of Matthew and Luke-Acts.”

For a long time it was not uncommon to posit that Jesus was responsible for the dispensation of such practices [as kosher rules, the Sabbath, etc.]. Jesus was the first “Christian,” who had come to announce the end of the Torah and Judaism. Draining Jesus of his Jewishness reached its unfortunate peak with the rise of Nazism when Jesus was even cast by some as an Aryan! However, ever since the end of World War II, the Jewishness of Jesus has been gradually resurfacing. “Blame” for the Christian distancing from Jewish practice has shifted instead to Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. Traditionally, Paul has been viewed as an “apostate” from Judaism who founded a new religion, Christianity. Yet even Paul’s relationship to his Jewish heritage, including the complex question of his attitude toward the Torah, is being revisited and intensely debated among scholars of early Judaism and Christianity. It is also becoming clearer that many early Christians continued to conceive of their faith in Jewish terms and even identify themselves with the Jewish people and story for longer than previously thought. Social scientific analysis of early Christianity and Judaism further reminds us that the social reality on the ground was always more complicated than the idealist and often polemical depictions found in some of the early Christian literature that has survived history. Many of the early Christian works that have been preserved were written by Christian intellectuals—often opposed to Judaism and the observance of Jewish custom—who tried to assert their theological ideals and norms upon other Christians. The average Christian on the street, however, might have cared little about what some of these church fathers wrote or preached from the pulpit. As late as the fourth century of the Common Era, John Chrysostom, was vociferously (and in some ways helplessly) trying to convince his Christian parishioners in Antioch not to attend services at synagogues and observe Jewish festivals (see his work, Against the Jews). Certainly, the surviving literature does not tell us the whole story about the complex history of Jewish-Christian relations.

This will definitely be on my syllabus the next time I teach New Testament.

Another Voice in Favor of Farrer

Tim Henderson relates (confesses?) that he is now only 51% convinced of the two-source hypothesis. Namely, that Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q as sources for their Gospels. In a post at Earliest Christianity, he summarizes a portion of Francis Watson’s  Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective dealing with the evidence from Papias for the early history of the Gospels.

Watson is the latest big name to argue in favor of the alternative Farrer hypothesis: Matthew used Mark as a source, Luke used both Mark and Matthew, and there was no Q.

At one point in his argument, Watson turns to the evidence from Papias and suggests that it may, in fact, point toward something like the “Farrer” theory. I will summarize his points briefly, hopefully not doing them a disservice in the process.

  1. Luke implies in his prologue that previous gospels were not properly ordered, or at least that his gospel is more properly ordered than those of his predecessors.

  2. Papias explicitly states that one of the inadequacies of Mark’s gospel is that it was not written “in order,” and that it is not “an ordered account.” Therefore, both Luke and Papias share the view that Mark’s account is not as orderly as it could have been.

  3. It appears that Papias discusses Mark first, followed immediately by Matthew, since this is the order in which Eusebius mentions things.

  4. When the topic shifts from Mark to Matthew, Papias introduces his commentary with the word “So” (Greek οὖν): “So Matthew set the sayings in order in the Hebrew language, and each person translated them as far as he was able.” This further suggests that, in Papias’ understanding, Matthew wrote after Mark.

  5. Papias states that, in contrast to Mark’s disordered account, Matthew has written an orderly account and apparently improved upon Mark’s work.

  6. Papias’ statement claims that other gospel writers used Matthew’s gospel as a source, translating (“interpreting”?) Matthew’s gospel for their own new gospels.

Tim concludes,

What if the only thing Papias gets wrong is the “Hebrew” language of Matthew? Watson suggests that this detail is apologetically motivated – it emphasizes the authenticity of Matthew’s version, since it preserves Jesus’ words in their original language. But once Matthew’s gospel is written in Hebrew, it would need to be translated into Greek by later gospel writers who used it as a source. If Watson is correct on this point, I think his reading of Papias is quite compelling in many ways.

Very interesting!

The Synoptic Problem Solved!

This makes about as much sense as anything:

The Gospel of Mark was the first draft of a doctoral candidate’s dissertation. He submitted it to his advisor who suggested the need for more background information about Jesus’ birth, maybe some more teaching material, and a stronger ending. The student rewrote his dissertation and submitted the Gospel of Matthew.

His advisor thought the revision was much stronger but felt that the teaching material should be better integrated into the narrative, thought a story about Jesus’ youth might be helpful, and suggested that the genealogy could be expanded back to Adam, etc. The PhD candidate did another major revision and produced the Gospel of Luke.

Once again the advisor was critical and asked for major revisions. Frustrated, the student took drugs and wrote the Gospel of John. – Jordan R. Scharf

(H/T: James McGrath)

Liberalism Exposed!

So who is this skeptical, neo-liberal so-called Bible teacher who says Matthew invented the Sermon on the Mount, Peter didn’t write 2 Peter, and Genesis 1 was never meant to be read literally?

John Calvin? You mean THE John Calvin? Well, never mind then.

But whatever you do, don’t tell Al Mohler.

(H/T: Peter Enns)