RE: [Synoptic-L] The Lips of Jesus
- To: Synoptic
On: Certain Passages in Matthew
Ron had cited certain passages in Matthew as presumptively early material. I
had argued that they instead reflect Matthew's own reactionary sort of
Judaism, and thus cannot be attributed to an earlier time than Matthew's
own. I discussed all these passages as though they were uniquely Matthean,
but this was not quite correct. I here repeat the list, but not the error.
The result is the same, but there may be some profit in reaching it more
Mt 6:7 "And in praying do not heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do,
for they think that they will be heard for their many words." Unique to Mt,
and my previous comment will stand.
I had also cited "Mt 5:47, 6:32, 10:5, 20:19, 20:25, and perhaps especially
the excommunication formula in Mt 18:7, which combines tax collectors as
objects of automatic contempt." These need separate notice:
Mt 5:47. The Lukan parallel to Mt's "tax collectors" and separately
"Gentiles" has "sinners" in both cases. The meaning is roughly the same.
Which passage is the source of the other we need not here debate. The
passage is not uniquely Matthean, but it is found only in the Second Tier
Gospels, and so has no Markan credentials as an early saying. My previous
comment will more or less stand.
Mt 6:32. Mt Gentiles ~ Lk 12:30 "nations of the world." Same meaning, same
Mt 10:5. Go nowhere among the Gentiles, etc. This IS uniquely Matthean, and
goes far to show where this particular line is coming from. previous comment
Mt 20:19. "will deliver him to the Gentiles." From Mk 10:33 (so also Lk
18:32) but in this case historically accurate: it means the Romans rather
than the Jews. It does not show disapproval of Gentiles as such.
Mt 20:25. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them." From
Mk 10:42 (cf Lk 22:25). An early (if probably imagined) saying, but a
factual reference to the non-Jewish world (and the pomp of its rulers), not
a disapproval of Gentiles as such.
Returning now to Ron's list, we had:
Mt 7:6. "Do not give gods what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before
swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." Uniquely
Matthean. Not unambiguously anti-Gentile, but if so, it speaks to Matthew's
attitude, and not to Jesus's.
Mt 10:5b-6. "Go nowhere among the Gentiles." Uniquely Matthean, and showing
Matthew's hostility to the Gentiles.
Mt 10:23b. "You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before
the Son of Man comes." Uniquely Matthean; see above comment.
In sum, Matthew, when on his own and not beholden to previous text, does two
things vis-a-vis Gentiles. (1) He shows contempt for them. (2) He portrays
Jesus as excluding them from his mission.
--------THE GENTILE MISSION IN MARK-----------
As I remarked, the contempt in Matthew for "tax collectors and sinners" does
not apply to the earliest Mark, whose Jesus conspicuously goes among unclean
persons, and chooses a tax collector as one of his inner circle. But these
are unclean Jews. What about Gentiles?
I wish life were simpler, but the fact seems to be that the idea of
accepting Gentile converts, let alone mounting a mission to the Gentiles,
seems to have grown gradually in the early Jesus movement. By its nature,
the Davidic Messiah plan of the Historical Jesus envisioned only Jewish
converts, since only they could possibly affect the reconciliation of Israel
with its angry God. Gentiles were theologically irrelevant. By stages, they
came to be accepted, and finally, sought. Those stages can be seen in Mark
1. [Gentiles are irrelevant]. The Israel only nature of the first program is
shown symbolically by the Choosing of Twelve, and also by the Feeding of
Five Thousand, with their symbolically suggestive Twelve Baskets of
Leftovers. The tribes of Israel are being sought, and they will be
2. Gentile converts are irrelevant, but accepted. This is the symbolic
meaning of the Syrophoenician Woman episode. She is entitled to benefit at
least from the leftovers of the movement proper, symbolized by the healings
3. A Gentile mission is not undertaken, but when undertaken by another, it
is pronounced to be harmless. This (as Loisy was perhaps the first to see)
is the only possible meaning of the Strange Exorcist passage, which refers
to Paul's early preaching, and characterizes it as at least not harmful to
4. A Gentile mission is accepted in parallel with the older Israel mission.
The Feeding of the Four Thousand with its significant Seven Baskets of
Leftovers. Lest anyone miss the fact that the symbolism of the Baskets is
the one that counts, Mark is right there to dig his elbow into their ribs,
and properly focus their attention. It has been widely noticed that this
Feeding is a parallel to the other, and for those who still missed it, Mark
has concluded his second sequence, as he did his first, with a distinctive
5. The Gentile Mission is a necessary precondition of the End Days (Mk
13:10, But first the Gospel must be preached to all nations). This
astonishing statement is the end of the sequence.
-------THE PHILOLOGICAL POSITION OF MARK---------
If Mark were written all at one time, we would conclude that he was
inventing things, or putting together previously existing things, with no
awareness of their deep incompatibility. He would be a world-class nitwit,
and so indeed he is viewed in some circles. But if the implications of the
various interpolations in Mark be sound, then there is a more rational
alternative. It is this: Mark is a growth text, and in its successive
additions it mirrors the growth of the Christianity of which the text and
its author were directly aware. What it shows us in this case is the
gradual, but eventually complete, acceptance of the Gentile mission as an
integral part of the Christian enterprise.
What do the signs of interpolation, the philological evidence, tell us? In
the case of Mk 13:10, by good fortune, they tell us a lot. 13:10 is
obviously incongruous and thus inserted into its immediate context, and that
context in turn is an expansion of the original Markan Apocalypse. For
details, see Vincent Taylor (at the back of the book; this is not something
one puts where the Sunday School classes will see it). Those stacked layers
can with due care be coordinated with other interpolations in Mark, and a
reasonably firm stratigraphy of the whole can eventually be built up. The
final picture is that Mk 13:10 is one of the latest passages in the whole
Gospel. As the above list of probable chronological stages had suggested.
The typology and the philological nature of the text coincide.
JESUS AND THE GENTILES
Now, at last, to the basic question: Did Jesus himself have contempt for
Gentiles, and was Matthew correctly reporting Jesus in showing him in this
light? My answer would be, guardedly, Yes and No. Jesus was concerned solely
for Jews; he operated (though in a distinctive Minor Prophet way) wholly
within Judaism, and his idea of himself was as the agent for bringing Israel
back to God, and (in the military sense of Maccabees) vice versa. In that
self-concept he died. But his vision of how Israel was to reconcile itself
to God, which was nothing more than the recommendations of the Minor
Prophets before him, he in effect transcended Judaism by removing its
cultural specifics (the Sabbath, the Temple cult) from its canon of right
and wrong, leaving only the interpersonal or ethical Second Table of the
Decalogue as binding on Jews. What he did not realize (as far as we have
warrant for supposing), but what the later movement came to realize, with
the undoubted help of Gentile pressure from without, was that in so doing he
had universalized Judaism. It was this nascently universal Judaism which,
after many troubles, finally emerged as a new religion.
The interesting thing about Mark is that he was there for that development,
and his text, layer by layer, records it. In this sense, Mark can function
for us as a history of Christianity, even if it was neither begun nor ended
with that conscious intention.
So in a way Matthew is correct, that Jesus intended a Jews-only program,
though the sayings he attributes to Jesus go far beyond what, on other
evidence, we are justified in attributing to the actual Jesus. They express
Matthew's repugnance toward the weakening of the Mosaic Law, which is what
let the Gentile in, in the first place. Matthew resents the presence of the
Gentiles, and their lax notion of proper behavior, within the movement. As I
had earlier noted, this is exactly the public stance of the Historical
James, Matthew's contemporary and perhaps also his colleague in Jerusalem.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst