Notes on Matthew – Chapters 1 & 2

Each new year many believers vow to read the Bible cover to cover within the next 12 months. I have tried and failed this objective many times.  This year I want to try something different. I will study just a few books (starting with the Gospel of Matthew) of the Word instead of the whole book.  And I will STUDY instead just monotonously churn through words as I have done in years past. I will read commentaries, blog posts, opinions, histories, and textual criticism.  Pretty much anything about Matthew that I can get my hands on. So suggestions for study material would be appreciated.

I hope to periodically post notes and things I have learned from this endeavor.  I imagine some of it will be apologetics, some may be pastoral, and some maybe just asking questions for further study.  My hope in sharing is that someone else may be inspired to dig deeper into God’s Word. I have already benefited even in this short time.

So let’s begin.

Apologetics for the Jewish People

From the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, it is clear that the writer is forming a work of apologetics for the Jewish people, beginning with a genealogy that connects Abraham to Jesus Christ and then consistently noting where the happenings of Christ’s life reveal fulfillment of prophecy in the Jewish Scriptures.  

In just the first two chapters alone, we have five references to Jesus’ movements and presence fulfilling the words of the prophets.  In Matt 1:22-23, we have noted the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 with the instance of the virgin birth. Then Matt 2:5-6 shows that a ruler will come out of Judah, a reference to Micah 5:2.  Then in the span of the last eight verses of chapter two, we have three examples of completed prophecy with mentions of Hosea 11:1, Jeremiah 31:15, and a prophecy that is strangely unrecorded by the Old Testament Scriptures but listed internally as prophecy fulfillment in Matt 2:23.

There are many critics of Matthew’s habit of citing often vague and seemingly unrelated Old Testament scripture as fulfillment of prophecy.  The references do not come across as obvious or convincing in many instances. I invite you to Google the discussions for more detail. Scholar R.T. France, in his commentary “Matthew”, says the apostle applies these texts in subtle, seemingly forced and artificial ways.  But then he goes on to explain C. F. D. Moule’s observation that argues that “this ‘vehicular’ use of Scripture ‘is a symptom of discovery that, in a deeply organic way, Jesus was indeed a fulfiller of something which is basic in the whole of Scripture.’” France then goes on to say that:

 “what may seem to us an embarrassingly obscure and even irresponsible way of handling Scripture is in fact the outworking of a careful tracing of scriptural themes, which in different ways point to Jesus as the fulfiller not only of specific predictions, but also of the broader pattern of God’s Old Testament revelation.” (pp39-40)

So this topic is heading way beyond the scope of one of my blog posts.  A good item to shelve for further in depth study. There is tons more there.  I invite you to dig in.

Joseph’s POV?

More interesting to me is that much of the story here in the first two chapters seems to be from Jesus’ adopted father Joseph’s point of view.  Some scholars believe that Joseph may be an actual source for Matthew. But this just leads to more questions for me. When would Matthew have gotten Joseph’s testimony?  Would it have been from another source who knew him or is this direct testimony? The reason I ask is that it is my opinion that Joseph is no longer living by the time of the Crucifixion because of John’s Gospel observing mother Mary at the Cross in chapter 19, verse 25-27:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (NIV)

So, in John, Mary is there with her sister, another Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdelene.  No Joseph. Now, we might think it is possible that Joseph was there but not mentioned until we see how the passage unfolds.  In the passage, Jesus notices his mother and arranges for the beloved disciple, John, to become her new son and she would be his new mother!  John is then to take her into his home “from that time on” (v.27). So many believe, including me, Joseph may have passed on by then. Nonetheless, it would seem odd if Jesus were to give his mother to the beloved disciple if His father, her husband, were still in the picture.

“Family” Matters

Note that Mary’s children are not by her side either in the passage from John.  Many believe that could be due to the family’s skepticism as reported in Mark 3:21-22: 

21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (NIV)

It’s interesting that in a parallel story later in Matthew (12:46-50) the writer doesn’t mention any worries by Jesus’ family of mental illness as it does in Mark.  This may be inline with Matthew’s attempt to minister to the Jews about fulfilled prophecy and the deity of Christ so this doesn’t fit neatly into his apologetic purposes.

It should be noted however that the word “family” there in Mark 3 probably does not include Mary and Joseph and his brothers.  We think this, in part, because later in verse 31 it describes these family members (Mary and Jesus’ brothers) arriving onto the scene and calling for him. In the NASB translation, the word “family” (from the NIV) is replaced with “his own people” and the RSV called them “friends”.  

Other explanations for the source of Joseph’s testimony, if not him directly, could be that this came to Matthew secondhand, maybe from James or Jude as told to them by Joseph or maybe from other brothers and sisters or family members post-Resurrection. My guess is it would have to be from someone with a personal familial connection to protect this information for so long.

“How long?” you may ask.  Well, the common dating of Matthew is around AD 80 (I personally think it’s earlier). If that were true, and Joseph died before AD 30 (to keep the numbers round), and it was true that Matthew 1-2 records his testimony of parts of the nativity story, Joseph’s side of things could have been kept by this relative or relatives for 50 years or more.  

Herod The Great?

Bible skeptics often bring up Matthew 2:13-18, “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, as a narrative invention of the Apostle Matthew, mostly due to the fact that contemporary historians, like Flavius Josephus, do not corroborate the story of the murder of all infant boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.  To answer this challenge, I found an interview with ancient history expert Dr. Paul Maier, Russell Seibert Professor at Western Michigan University. Below, Dr. Maier first provides some insight into the notorious character of Herod The “Great” and then he answers the difficulty.

Interviewer:  Explain the paranoid side of Herod that begins to emerge later in his life.

Maier:  “Josephus gives us just a hideous tale of what was going on in the family, attempted poisonings, one brother against another. It so rattled Herod that he actually put to death three of his own sons on suspicion of treason. He put to death his favorite wife out of 10 of them. Mariamne was his favorite. She was a Hasmonean Macabean princess and he put her to death and then he killed his mother-in-law — I should say, one of his many mothers-in-law. He invited the high priest down to Jericho for a swim. They played a very rough game of water polo and they drowned him. He killed several uncles and a couple of cousins. Some have said he is a real family man, you know, in that negative respect.”

 (Continuing to document the cruel exploits of Herod . . .)

Maier:  “Well, Josephus has a very grisly thing to report about Herod in his last months. He was paranoid, though he did have some grasp of reality. For instance, he was worried that nobody would mourn his own death. Of course that shows how deadly accurate he was. They were preparing a general celebration. And nobody likes to die knowing that they are going to dance on your grave. And so he was going to give the people something to cry about.

In 4 BC he is in his winter palace in Jericho. It’s the only place in the holy land that doesn’t snow or get cold in the winter. It’s 1,200 feet below sea level. And Herod is dying. He tries every remedy in the world to stop the gang of diseases that were creeping up on him. He went to the hot springs on the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea. And that didn’t cure him.

So he goes back to his winter palace and he invites his sister Salome in and he says, “I want you to arrest all the Jewish leaders in the land and imprison them in the hippodrome just below the palace here.” And the hippodrome has been discovered archaeologically, by the way. And so she does so and then she says, “Brother, why am I doing this?” And Herod says, “Well, I know that when I die the Jews are going to rejoice. So I want to give them something to cry about.” And so he wants these leaders all executed in that hippodrome so that there will be thousands of households weeping at the time Herod the Great dies.”

Interviewer:  Speaking of Matthew 2, the Bible records this scene from Herod’s paranoia late in his life. The wise men alert him to the birth of a new king in Bethlehem. He wants to know where, so he can eradicate this new rival. The wise men wisely don’t return. Herod then responds by slaughtering all boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem and in “all the region.” For all that Josephus writes about Herod, he makes no mention of this — in fact, there’s no extra-biblical evidence that this slaughter ever happened. How do you respond?

Maier:  “No, it is interesting. Josephus does not mention it. And therefore a lot of biblical critics will pounce on that aspect of the nativity account and say therefore it didn’t happen. Now please understand this is an argument from silence and that is the weakest form of argumentation you can use. As we say in the profession, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

In this case one or two things could have happened. Josephus may have heard about it and not used it because you don’t have hundreds of babies killed or you have only about 12, as a matter of fact, 12 or 15. The infant mortality in the ancient world was so huge anyway that this is really not going to impress the reader too much, believe it or not. And I think if Josephus is choosing between the two stories about how Herod died right before his death, I think I would take the one where he is going to slaughter hundreds of Jewish leaders.

Or he may not have heard about it. Again, simply because in little Bethlehem it doesn’t amount to much — a village of about 1,500 residents. In my actuarial study, Bethlehem at the time wouldn’t have had more than about two dozen babies two years old and under — half of them female. And so this is not a big deal, and I think that is why Josephus either never heard about it or didn’t feel it important enough to record. So this does not militate against Matthew’s version by any means.”

This concludes are my study so far. Continuing to chapters 3 & 4 next time.  God Bless.

Sources:

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/truth-or-fiction-did-herod-really-slaughter-baby-boys-in-bethlehem

“Matthew”.  R.T. France.  TTNTC. pp39-40, 81-85.

Comforting The Sufferers

 

window church crucifixion church window
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2 Corinthians 1:3-7 New International Version (NIV):

3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

 

Does the Bible verse above describe how you usually respond to suffering?  I bet not. At best, my response to suffering results in my pulling away quietly from reality, hedging myself in with sports or books or movies, so I don’t have to deal.  Denial. At worst, I lash out at people who are not the cause of my trial.

The verse above probably best describes how I respond to other people’s suffering.  “Don’t worry about it.  It’ll pass. You’ll be stronger for this.”  As I type I notice that what I say isn’t false, it’s true, but most often I tend to refer to truth when I don’t need to be the one to live it.

Opportunity for Unbelievers

So often we hear atheists snicker about the existence of a loving God who has a suffering people.  To them, this is incoherent. If God is all-powerful and He loves you, why do you suffer, they ask.  They use these instances to play on our propensity to avoid the problem. That we may act on the call of our hearts to lash out, instead of reach out.

But when you consider atheism, you should know that this is, in fact, the incoherent worldview.  Atheism does not provide answers to the problem of evil; it just eliminates it as a problem.

If this is a God-less existence, what is suffering?  See, suffering can only be seen as bad or wrong or something that ought not happen if we have an understanding of what ought to be.  Atheism, if true, eliminates oughts.  

An ought-less world is one in which what happens just happens.  It’s a world of chocolate or vanilla choices and chocolate or vanilla results.  Nothing is good or bad. Things are just different, but equal in value, like the choice between chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  After all, who’s to say that one flavor is better than the other? What proof can we submit to decide? (Hint: It’s chocolate. Or is it?)  An existence without a standard of what ought to happen reduces life to these kind of choices.

Thus, every complaint or displeasure can only describe the condition of the complainer and says nothing truthful of the deed done or object of the complaint.  So, as such, the unbeliever lacks the ability to describe or explain reality. Truth exists within only their personal whims and not as something that exists apart from them.  For example, displeasure of being punched in the nose only describes the way the punched individual feels about the event and not the potential wrongness of the act itself against them.  But nobody really lives this way. That’s the incoherence of atheism.

So when unbelievers try to play us against God because of our sufferings, they entirely miss the point.

God’s Plan for Suffering

The point of suffering according to the text above is to establish God as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of comfort”.  Notice 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 doesn’t tell us that troubles won’t occur. People of God were never promised a trouble-free life. These are the heretical rantings of false prophets and prosperity gospel preachers.  It says we will be comforted in our troubles. (v.4) This comfort is found in the Cross.

When reading this verse, it is important to understand that this letter is written by Paul on behalf of himself and his traveling companion Timothy to the church in Corinth.  So when he uses the words “we” and “our”, in some cases, he is referring to himself and Timothy. “You” and “your” is referencing the church in Corinth. In other cases, these words refer to Paul, Timothy, and the church all together as believers.

So not only does God comfort us (everyone) in our troubles through the saving work of Christ, we are to use this truth to comfort others.  Paul achieves this by acknowledgement God’s well-known sustaining acts within Paul’s life. The afflictions of persecution, imprisonment, threats of death, anxieties and impoverishment, for those, God has provided a peace for Paul and in turn, he passes on comfort to those also in trouble.  “If we (Paul and Timothy) are distressed, it is for your (Corinth) comfort and salvation; if we (Paul and Timothy) are comforted, it is for your (Corinth) comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we (Paul and Timothy) suffer.” (v.6)

So it is easy enough to understand the afflictions for which Paul has received comfort.  But what form did this comfort take for Paul? Bible commentator Colin G. Kruse describes Paul’s deliverance from his affliction, like deadly peril, as one of the ways that God provided comfort for him.  He also details relief from anxieties that Paul experienced when Titus joined him in Macedonia. It, however, is clear that he was never exempt from persecution and trial because of God providing comfort.  Kruse also offers that “up to the time of writing God has delivered Paul out of all his afflictions in the sense that none of them had proved fatal” (p.61, TTNTC)

Now, why should troubles occur in the first place?  Again, what is the point?

The answer has much to do with our sin.  Clay Jones, in his terrific book “Why Does God Allow Evil”, gives a short answer:

“God could not simply excuse Adam and Eve’s sin because the lesson to free beings would then be ‘Sin is okay, God will overlook it.’ But to demonstrate His love for us and to atone for the grave seriousness of sin, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for rebellious humans.  Now, we humans who trust God and accept Jesus’ death on the cross of our sins learn the horror of rebellion through experiencing rebellion’s devastating results. We are also learning to overcome evil with good. This knowledge prepares us to be fit inheritors of God’s kingdom, where– because we are learning the horror and stupidity of sin here on earth– we will be able to use our free will rightly as we reign with Jesus forever and ever.” (p.208)

Know that much of the quote above deserves further explanation and that is what Jones’ informative book provides.

So according to Jones, God has a reason for our suffering.  He has a plan the eventually leads us to being in His presence “forever and ever”.  We play a part in this as believers. We comfort those who suffer because we have found comfort in the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May you personally find this kind of comfort in your life.

God Bless.

 

Source:  The Tyndale New Testament Commentary of 2 Corinthians by Colin G. Kruse (p. 61, TTNTC)

Contradiction or Undesigned Coincidence?

undesigned coincidence
As we move closer to Easter, as with most religious holidays, we will often experience a cultural backlash against our Christian faith. We see billboards, bought by atheist groups, denoting a lack of need for a Savior. At Christmas, we may see mythicism promoted by unbelieving “friends” on our facebook feeds. And claims alleging that the Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales. It is for this reason I would like to share this bit of Bible teaching, to, both, strengthen our own confidence in scripture and help us further provide an answer to “everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

To do this, I will be referring heavily to Lydia McGrew’s marvelous book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts”. McGrew’s book, itself, is an unearthing of evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels written in the 18th and 19th centuries by apologists William Paley and Jame Blunt, respectively.

From the synopsis of her book, the term “undesigned coincidences” refers to:

“ . . . an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate.”

For this article, I want to simply paraphrase one of my favorite instances of this inter-locking of events within the gospels, though there are many more illustrated in McGrew’s book. Please, by all means, check out this book for the rest.

We start in John 18:10 when Jesus and His companions are waiting in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus waited there for Judas to arrive with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Him. Verse 10 explains the reaction of Jesus’ followers to His detainment at the hands of the officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (verse 10). So after introducing the name Malchus to us, the Book of John doesn’t mention him again. We can only assume that the high priest’s servant left the scene holding the right side of his head, less an ear.

The story then leads us to the trial of Jesus and this exchange between Pilate and Jesus as He was questioned out of earshot of the Jewish council whose goal is to have Jesus executed. John 18:33-36:

“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Do you see a contradiction here between these two passages in the same chapter of John? When Jesus claims that His kingdom is not of this world, He supports His claim by saying that if it were not so, His followers would fight to save Him. Well, evidenced in John 18:10, Peter did fight. He lopped off Malchus’s ear with his sword.

So when Pilate hears these claims of being peaceful from Jesus, he goes to the Jews and says that he finds “no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). Now because it was the aim of the Jews to present Jesus as opposition to Caesar, they could have shown a conflict in Jesus’s own words, opposed to the actions of his disciples (Peter), by simply showing Pilate Malchus’s wounded head. They could have attempted to show that Jesus and His disciples have a violent revolution in mind for the kingdom of Rome which would be a capital offense.

Why didn’t they do this? If our only source of information is John’s Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that the Jews wouldn’t use the attack on Malchus to make their case, right?

However, the question is answered in Luke 22:47-53. Describing the scene in the garden, Luke says:

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22.47–53)”

In an excerpt from “Hidden in Plain Sight”:

‘Only Luke says that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, though Matthew and Mark also recount that the ear was cut off. Here again, Luke supplies a unique detail within a passage that is in some respects similar to the other Synoptic Gospels. And here, too, this detail is confirmed by an undesigned coincidence. If it is true that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, it explains Jesus’ words to Pilate, though those words are given only in John. Jesus could confidently declare that his kingdom is not of this world and even say that his servants would be fighting if his kingdom were not peaceful. If anyone tried to say that Peter cut off a servant’s ear, the wounded servant himself could not be produced to show this, and an admission that Jesus healed the ear would be further evidence of Jesus’ non-violent intentions, not to mention evidence of his miraculous abilities.”

This is one of my favorite undesigned coincidences because, embedded within, it, in a way, confirms an actual miracle. Because if not for the soldier’s healed ear, the Jews could have produced actual evidence, though circumstantial and dishonest, to build their case against our Good Good Father. Instead, the happening of the crucifixion of Jesus depended entirely on the political manipulation of Pilate and making him worry that he appeared to be “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).

In this way and among other ways, detailed in Lydia McGrew’s book, John and Luke fit together like a puzzle, Luke explaining a difficulty in John. The writer of John’s Gospel undoubtedly knew about the soldier’s ear but, for some reason, left out this detail, all the while, continuing the narrative as if it did happen. In a completely unforced way, John’s story only makes sense in light of Luke’s version. Not to mention, that in a separate coincidence, Jesus’s testimony in John 18:36 explains why Pilate cannot find reason to charge Jesus in Luke’s gospel. So the authors of both gospels end up supporting the historical reliability of the other in a subtle, undesigned way.

What should be made of all this? The best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they described.

God bless.