Wednesday, July 1, 2009


O.k., this one is super, super long and I don't blame you if you choose to skip over it, but it's also got some super, super interesting stuff in it. It's super meaty. I hope you take time to read it.*

Who knew the Bible had so much debate to it? It's old; you would think the debate would be over and done with. Not so much. And I like it. Apparently there is something called the Synoptic Problem. The problem basically is this: the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have a lot in common. In some places they say the exact same thing, word for word. So did they all just magically come up with the exact same things to say in the exact same way? Or did they copy from each other? Biblical scholars (which obviously does not include me) say that Mark was written in the 60's and Matthew and Luke were written in the 80's, which would lead you to believe that Matthew and Luke copied parts of Mark. But then there are also parts of Matthew and Luke that are the same and that aren't found in Mark. Historians have theorized that these things come from another source, which they call "Q". Q stands for "quelle" which is the German word for source. This document (if, of course, it existed) no longer exists today, but is a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Some say it may have actually been the Gospel of Thomas. So . . . if you're following me here, my point is that Matthew and Luke both have parts that are word for word from Mark, parts they have in common that may have come from document Q, and parts that are unique to that particular book.

So, that being said, what makes the book of Matthew unique? Why did the author choose to include those things? To understand these things, you have to know a little bit about what was going on in the Holy Land during the time Matthew was written. The big issue during that time had to do with the Gentiles. The early members of the Christian church were (obviously) Jewish, and there was a big debate about whether anyone who wasn't Jewish would be allowed to become a Christian. Some believed that they had to convert to Judaism first before they could become a Christian. They couldn't quite decide whether they were still Jewish or something completely new. So then Paul comes along, has a vision, and proposes that everyone should be allowed to join the Christian church. Much debate ensues.

So then who was Matthew written for? Non-Christian Jews? Or other Christian Jews who were having a hard time accepting Gentiles into the church? Well, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as more Jewish than in any of the other gospels, yet at the same time, the "heroes" of most of Matthew's stories are Gentiles. Interesting combination.

I should also add that Matthew is formatted a bit differently than the other Gospels. I had never thought of this before, but obviously when it was written, it wasn't nicely divided into chapters like it is now. Originally, Matthew had an introduction and five books (much like the five books of Moses in the Old Testament), followed by a climax/passion. Each book starts with a narrative about Jesus, then has Jesus giving a sermon, and then ends with the phrase "and Jesus ended these sayings." Book 5 ends with "and Jesus ended all these sayings." So pretty much if you're going to read Matthew, you shouldn't read it in modern chapters, but by the original books.

So let's start with the introduction, which comprises Chapters 1-2. The introduction chapters are purely Matthew-there's no Mark or Q in them.
  • Verse 1. Matthew included three theological statements in this one sentence. First, Jesus' name isn't Jesus Christ. Christ isn't a last name, it's a title. The Greek word "Christ" is equal to the Hebrew word "Messiah." So, he's saying that Jesus is the Messiah. Second, When he says "son of David" Matthew is telling us that there is a NEW Kingdom of God, and that Jesus is the Davidic King. Third, Matthew says "son of Abraham". Part of the Abrahamic promise is that ALL nations (meaning Gentiles) will be blessed.
  • Verses 2-16. The long, boring genealogy that we all tend to skip over. Admit it, you do it too! However, in this genealogy, it's interesting that three women are mentioned. Thamar (v. 3), Ruth (v. 5), wife of Urias-Bathsheba (v. 6). It is also interesting that all three of these women were Gentiles, and they also had some scandalousness going on. Much like . . . Mary, who apparently was much gossiped about back in the day. I guess the whole pregnant before married thing was quite scandalicious.
  • Verse 16. So we get to the end of the genealogy and discover that this is the genealogy of Joseph. But wait! Joseph wasn't actually Jesus' father, so what's up with that? I've heard a lot of people say that it's just proving that Joseph would have been the King of Judea had Judea been free and Joseph and Mary were cousins, blah, blah, blah. Yes, it's true that Joseph may have been of the royal lineage, but so were a lot of other people. Joseph could have been King, not would have been King. So then what's the dealio? Why are we given a genealogy that isn't Jesus'? Well, let's move on to...
  • Verse 21. This verse says that Joseph will name the child. Turns out that in antiquity, naming the child was part of the adoption process. So now that Joseph has named and adopted Jesus, the genealogy becomes his. It's also interesting to note that Old Testament Kings were adopted metaphorically by God. Matthew flips it around and the literal Son of God is adopted by Joseph, of the Davidic line. Also, the name Jesus is Greek for Joshua, so in his actual lifetime, Jesus would have been called Joshua, which means salvation.
O.k., this is way too long. I'll write up some more tomorrowish. Hope you found it interesting and it made you think a little.

*Please remember that everything I'm saying is from notes I've taken in my New Testament class. You may agree or disagree with what I say, but I'm just reporting what I've learned and found interesting.


Traci said...

I really tried to focus so I could make an intelligent comment. I focused, but still don't have an intelligent comment - other than I thought it was interesting. I look forward to more of these posts. ;)

Kim said...

You don't have to leave me an intelligent comment. Just leave me any comment so that I can pretend that people are reading my pages long dissertations!