66Re: [ematthew] the mission to the gentiles
- Oct 20, 2002Robert Brenchley wrote:
If Gentiles are to have a status comparable to that of resident aliens in
the Torah - accepted but not invited, as it were - then that might explain
much of the text, but it still leaves 28:19 as a problem. It's tempting to
regard it as an interpolation, but there seems to be a good deal of Matthean
language there, and it seems like an easy way out.
1. It should not surprise anyone that Mt accords Gentiles the same status as in
the Torah. Mt is, after all, a very Jewish book and no other evangelist takes is
so close to the Torah as Mt is. This reading leaves 28:19 as a problematic text
only when one insists on reading 28:19 as a missionary text. But there are no
grounds for that. For one thing, there is no command to "go." Poreuthentes is a
participle and not an imperative. As a Hebraism, it could be explained as having
a pleonastic sense, simply serving to reinforce the main verb Matheteusate. For
more on this see Malina, Bruce "The Literary Structure and Form of Matt. XXVIII.
16-20" New Testament Studies 17 (1970-71): 87-103.
2. As I said in my first response to Steve, every word and phrase in this verse
is a semantic and literary challenge. We usually assume that panta ta ethne "all
nations" is geographic. It doesn't have to be. There is a view, among others,
that "all nations" refers to Gentiles living within the Jewish milieu. In many
ways this view seems more appropriate for the Matthean context. Even though he
comes to the text with a decidedly missionary interest, James LaGrand [The
Earliest Christian Mission to 'All Nations' in the Light of Matthew's Gospel
(University of South Florida International Studies in Formative Christianity and
Judaism, 1995) 239] points out that the initial reference of "all the nations"
was probably to "kinsmen and resident aliens, with jews and foreigners who make
their home in Galilee of the Goyim." In a monograph devoted to reconciling the
apparent contradiction between the mission discourse (Matt 10:5, 35) and the
Great Commission (Matt 28:19), T.W. Manson makes the illuminating observation
that "It was the incorporation of Gentiles into the Christian body, not the
inculcation of Christian ideas into Gentile minds, that was the living issue in
the middle of the first century." [T.W. Manson, Only to the House of Israel?
Facet Books Biblical Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 5-6.] In other
words, the issue was how and to what extent Gentile proselytes within the
Matthean church are to be admitted to membership, not proactive mission to
persuade Gentiles to accept the Christian faith. My opinion builds on that
observation: the issue in the Great Commission pericope was the admission of
Gentiles into the ministerial circle of disciples and not to ordinary membership
which many of them had already attained by the 80s when Mt wrote.
3. We have come a long way from the early days of form criticism when 28:19 was
regarded as an interpolation. In the good old days of the Textus Receptus, maybe
there was ground for that. But given the fact that the NT texts we use today are
critical editions that have gone throught the sieve of textual criticism, we
should be very slow in attributing any passage to interpolation simply because
it does not fit neatly into our intrepretive model.
Ernest Munachi Ezeogu
Toronto School of Theology
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