reader’s patience is requested in the fact that these Jesus
pages are in effect a kind of sub-Web, “piggy-backing” on the
principal Web, http://www.paulonpaul.org,
and thus that the As Paul Tells It . .
. designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate.
Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents,
to be found at the top and bottom of each page.
in red = Mark .. in blue
.. in green = Special Matthew ..
in fuchsia = Special Luke
|Matthew’s Tendencies (1)
.. § Jewishness .. Torah as Obligatory .. Fulfillment
of Scripture .. “Kingdom of Heaven” .. Exclusivism
.. § Universalism .. § Anti-Pharisaism
Matthew’s Tendencies (2)
.. § Heightening of End-of-Time Expectation .. § Heightening
of the Miraculous
|Matthew's Tendencies (3)
.. § Theological Tendency: Toward a Higher
Christology .. § Toward the Idealization of the
Matthew’s Tendencies (4) .. § Popular Anecdotal
Material .. § Concluding Observations
More than either of
the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew contains units of narrative
material found only in this gospel which, when taken as a group, might be
described as popular anecdotes which
verge on the legendary.
1. There is the
curious narrative of the Temple Tax, in 17:24-27.
24When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the
temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the
temple tax?” 25He said, “Yes, he does.” And when
he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think,
Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their
children or from others?” 26When Peter said, “From
others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. 27However,
so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook;
take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will
find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
Interestingly, Jesus appears to concede the payment of the tax—not in principle, for Christian “royalty” would be exempt from the tax;
but for expediency, to avoid offence. But one wonders: is the reader supposed to be edified, or
entertained, or taught the virtue of expediency over principle, or
impressed with the prescience of Jesus?
Is there a message here for Matthew’s Christian Jewish readers—that
Christian Jews need to carry their share of the load to maintain the
traditional cultus of the Jerusalem temple, even though as Christians
they might consider themselves exempt from the obligation? and that Peter,
known as the apostle to the circumcision, is front and center as the
implied mediator of this ruling to Christian Jews of the dispersion?
2. In reporting the episode of Jesus’
as he is being defended by some one [identified in John 18:10-11
as Peter] who
cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Matthew renders Jesus’
rebuke as follows (26:52-54):
52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its
place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do
you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me
more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the
scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”
These bits of Matthean material spliced into otherwise Markan
material are varied: a piece of prudential wisdom about the
consequences of resorting to violence; a reminder that heavenly
intervention could rescue him if he wished; and a scripture
fulfillment text typical of Matthew.
3. Matthew is the only gospel to
tell about the fate of Judas. What happened to Judas, after he betrayed Jesus? Early
Christians were curious, just as we would be curious. An anecdote survives
in Matthew (27:3-10), which describes the traitor’s remorse and
his return of the thirty pieces of silver which were his reward:
4[Judas says], “I have sinned by betraying innocent
blood.” [The chief priests and the elders] said, “What is that to
us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of
silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged
himself. . . . 7[The chief priests used the money] to buy the
potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. . . . [It is called the
Field of Blood.]
Then Matthew concludes with one of his typical
prophecy fulfillment quotations, from Jeremiah. We have no way to decide
between the merits of this story and the one in Acts 1:18-19, where
it is told that Judas (and not the chief priests) bought a field with his money, “. . . and falling
headlong [or swelling up], he burst open in the middle and all his bowels
gushed out.” Acts agrees that it is called Field of blood, and adds a
fulfillment prophecy from Psalms.
wife is the subject of a brief reference in Matthew 27:19.
Besides, while [Pilate] was sitting on the
judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with
that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a
From an authoritative source? palace gossip? informed
speculation? legend building? It is difficult to say.
5. Pilate is involved in another anecdote found only in Matthew (27:24-25),
which apart from its appeal to readers’ curiosity has tragically
generated immense and quite irrational anti-semitism.
24So when Pilate saw that he could
do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and
washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this
man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25Then the people as
a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Matthew could not have known what a mass of suffering for his people over
so many centuries would
result from the inclusion of this anecdote in his gospel.
6. Matthew’s report of events accompanying Jesus’ expiration is
puzzling. (And we note that Luke takes the liberty of
placing the rending of the curtain before Jesus expires, rather than
51At that moment the
curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
38And the curtain of
the temple was torn in two, from top to
the darkness between noon and three,
and while the sun’s light failed,]
the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also
were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep
were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of
the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.
An earthquake: appropriate to accompany a
momentous event, as in Matthew’s report of an earthquake at Jesus’
resurrection? Bodies of the saints: the Jewish dead, or Christian
Jews? Resurrection appearances of these saints: certainly
speculative, to say the least. An anecdote for edification? Uncertain.
7. We now consider anecdotes
concerning guards at Jesus’ burial and resurrection. In Matthew 27:62
– 28:4, we have a somewhat extended narrative concerning security
measures at the tomb.
next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and
the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, “Sir, we
remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After
three days I will rise again.’ 64Therefore command the tomb
to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go
and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the
dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65Pilate
said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as
you can.” 66So they went with the guard and made the tomb
secure by sealing the stone.
 1After the sabbath, as the first
day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to
see the tomb [ = Mark 16:1]. 2And
suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord,
descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His
appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For
fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. . . . 11While
[the women] were going [to tell the disciples], some of the guard went
into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After
the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a
large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, “You
must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we
were asleep.’ 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we
will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So they
took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still
told among the Jews to this day.
It is plausible that the anecdotes we have
identified, including the burial-resurrection
anecdote just quoted, circulated in the community where “Matthew” was active
It is difficult to say how many of these stories
might have reached the author by way of Christian Jews who were refugees
from the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, and to what extent he
was responsible for certain details.
It is more likely that this material
came to him orally rather than coming to him in written sources.
It is possible that
much of the material in the birth
narratives (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23)
reached him in the same way.
While (1) quite a bit of Matthew’s special material
is of exceptionally high quality, including material in the Sermon on the
Mount, and some of the parables, (2) it may also be true that he
incorporated material of lesser historical value and of undistinguished
theological substance, with little to contribute to Christian spirituality;
the popular anecdotes which have been considered in this section probably
fall into the latter category.
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW:
We shall leave open the possibility that Matthew
has in places succeeded in retaining or restoring some of the original
Jewishness of Jesus (as in the use of “Kingdom of Heaven”), and that in other places he may have Judaized his
portrait of Jesus, making the result more conservative than Jesus
|The two decades of Christian Judaism in the
aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. were not a happy
time. Christian Judaism was in retreat. Gentile Christianity was
flourishing in congregations of Antioch, and elsewhere. Christian Jews
were no longer welcome in the synagogues of Antioch. The Second Coming had
not come. Torah observance in Jewish Christian congregations may have been lax, being relativized by the dangerous
undertoe of Pauline Christianity. The apostles were dead. The vigorous
leadership of James was only a memory, and there was no one to take his
place. Meanwhile, the Pharisaic movement was alive and well, the only
surviving Jewish party after the disaster of 70, rallying the troops,
making their Judaism the norm for all Jews, and crossing land and sea to
|How intentional the author of Matthew was in laying out his
program we cannot say. Whether conscious or unconscious, the program
produced results, though not perhaps the ones the author might have
anticipated. The days of Christian Judaism were numbered, and his gospel
could only delay its disappearance. But casuistry has been nourished by
the gospel (most notably, and deplorably, in cases of divorce).
Millenarianism has found encouragement. Petrine primacy, perhaps
originally intended to perpetuate the influence of the great apostle to
the circumcision (as over against the great apostle to the uncircumcision),
in later centuries would become the unifying (and dividing) principle in
hierarchical (and ironically, often anti-Semitic) Christianity.|
February 15, 2003
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