Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mt 2:7-3:6

The story of the birth of Christ that Matthew began in chapter 1 continues.  He began with the events of it in 1:18, but had begun with the significance of it back in 1:1!  And so it's not wrong to allow him to speak about the significance of events along the way.  It's not cheating; it's not being biased.  Both words in 1:1, "Jesus" and "Messiah" describe things that are true.  Saying that one of them is "true," and the other one is "merely an interpretation," means only that the one saying this wants to set up a predisposition to question the second, not the first.

Matthew has no problem giving interpretations along the way, even to the level of divine intentions for actions!  When Joseph "took the Child and His mother ... and left for Egypt," (2:14), Matthew comments, this was "to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet" (2:15)!!  How did Matthew know God's intentions?  He was not saying that Joseph was trying to fulfill the prophet's words, any more than he was saying Herod (2:16) was trying to fulfill Jeremiah's words (2:17).

Not only does Matthew know (and assert) that the significances of these events include that God was doing so to fulfill specific words _in_ the prophets, but, in 2:23, Matthew is so bold as to say that God was intending, by Jesus living "in a city called Nazareth," (2:23), "to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets."  In this case, Matthew is not quoting any of them!  This has caused scholars fits!  Mostly, because they don't have a category for Matthew telling us something that God intended to be a fulfillment of what came "through the prophets," i.e., taking the prophets as a whole.  The "double-meaning"-ness of "Nazarene" also gives us fits.  It's an odd construct for saying someone is from a city, yet it is not the Greek construct for the OT word "Nazirite," which was a particular kind of vow-taker.  Matthew is accused of making a mistake in his spelling  (by those who want him to use footnotes about a Nazirite), and of making a mistake in his understanding (by those who want him to use footnoes about a city) ... as if Matthew, who displays to us God's intentions behind a particular verse, could not be inspired to tell us God's intentions to talk about His Son through a general conclusion from His prophets.  What is easier, to show that Hosea refers to the Messiah in Ho 11:1, or to show that the prophets taken as a whole refer to the Messiah?  The latter.  Therefore the latter should be accepted, since we allow the former.  Are we ready, then, to hear Matthew describe what happened, _and_ learn from him, the significance God gives to what happened?  If so, we are ready for the next chapter.

Whatever the time is, whether "the kingdom of God has come near" (3:2 lit.), or not, sin does not fit at all with "the way of the Lord" (3:3).  It is always the obligation of the one having sinned to repent of the sin.  But here, John the Baptist does not preach "repent, for you've sinned," but "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  This is a different thing.

It is too common to interpret 3:2 in a very crass way, as if the nearness of the judge is the reason to change to what the judge wants us to do.  This may be true in high school playgrounds, but that is NOT John's point.  Whatever else John's sinful hearers were doing sinfully, their sensitivity to the kingdom of God was also in line with that sinfulness.  But to be misaligned to the kingdom of God itself is the gravest disaster upon its arriving, thus making repentance toward that fact very urgent, because it has come near.  The Kingdom of God, when God would come and "set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed" (Dn 2:44), was prophesied, and John had announced that it has come near.  The nearness of that is far-reaching, going way beyond incomplete fixings of smaller things due to a temporary visit.  When God's kingdom comes, it is permanently established: "it will itself endure forever" (Dn 2:44).


Jonathan said...

Much to think on...
What do you think of the NET footnote on this verse:

Jonathan said...

"Judging by the difficulty of finding OT quotations (as implied in the plural “prophets”) to match the wording here, it appears that the author was using a current expression of scorn that conceptually (but not verbally) found its roots in the OT."

Larry said...

Initially, I wouldn't think that Matthew's purpose -- showing that the true steps in the Lord's life were prophesied -- would be increased by stating that things not true of Him were prophesied too.

It could have that convoluted function, if the thing stated, not being true though scornfully articulated as an accusation, became thematic of their accusations of Jesus later … that is, if later, one of the themes of Matthew was that they scorned Jesus for being a Nazarene in the sense of an ascetic person, that being prophesied. But we note that Jesus was scorned for the opposite: a non-asceticism, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners, a glutton and winebibber.