Monday, February 08, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Matthew 26-28 and Mark 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Matthew, chapters 26 through 28 and Mark, chapters 1 and 2.

Chapter 26

  • Verses 3-5 - The enemies of Jesus state a clear intention not to arrest and kill Jesus "during the Festival" (i.e., Passover).  Yet it becomes clear (especially see verse 17) that this is exactly when Jesus is indeed arrested and eventually killed.  Were the actual people who actually performed the arrest (and subsequent events) different individuals?  Did such people actively ignore the requests not to do this during Passover?   Perhaps the opportunity of Judas' betrayal simply came at that time, and it was too good an offer to turn down...
  • Verse 18: "a certain man..." - I assume that Jesus actually named this person (otherwise, how would the disciples be able to find him?), and moreover assume that this person was a follower of Jesus (although Hagner suggests otherwise on this last point1).  Even so, I'm curious that Matthew seems unaware of the man's identity.  He goes to the trouble to name Simon the Leper in verse 6, even though Simon isn't an active part of that story at all, and he is named nowhere else in Matthew.
  • Verse 25: "'Surely not I, Rabbi?'... 'You have said so.'" -Errr... said what?  Judas asks the same question the other disciples do (verse 22) with the sole exception that Judas calls Jesus "Rabbi" rather than "Lord" (the Greek is identical for these verses, as well).  But I don't see how "You have said so" can refer to Judas calling Jesus "Rabbi."  Rather, it seems to be a response to the question of Judas' guilt (Hagner seems to agree2), but I don't see how that response flows out of the question the way it is worded here. 
  • Verses 39-46 - If the disciples are sleeping through Jesus' prayers, how do we have recorded what he prayed?
  • Verses 40, 45 - Jesus is annoyed with his disciples again.  But who can blame him?
  • Verse 52 -This is a famous passage, often cited by Christians who believe that Jesus advocated pacifism.  Full disclosure: I'm very sympathetic to a "pacifist" philosophy, myself, although I can't quite claim it fully.  Without a doubt, not only is Jesus saying that violence was undesirable in this specific instance, but was advocating for something larger.  However, it is inconceivable that Jesus was unaware that Peter (one of the very closest of Jesus' followers) didn't have a sword with him.  Indeed, he must have carried it around for some time before this moment, and swords aren't exactly easy to hide.  Why did Jesus allow Peter to carry this sword up until now?
  • Verses 67-68 - When I read this taunting, I can't help but be reminded of schoolyard bullies and mean-spirited childhood teasing. 
Chapter 27
  • Verse 3 - I've always wondered what Judas expected to happen.  What did he want the authorities to do to Jesus?  
  • Verse 6 - The chief priests care about following the law in regard to what to do with Judas' money, but the kangaroo court they just got through in Chapter 26 seems not to be on their conscience....
  • Verse 8: "to this day" - This phrase evokes, for me, myths like Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories," tales designed to explain certain realities, even though the tales aren't necessarily factually true.  Perhaps the passage of 2000 years of time has heighted that sense, and so it's worth nothing that "to this day," for Matthew, simply means the decades (not centuries, let alone millenia!) that have passed since the events being depicted.
  • Verse 17 - Jesus is actually a fairly common name of this period.  Ironically, "Barabbas" itself might be translated as "son of the Father."  It seems unlikely that such a name is intentionally used for the person in this story that isn't Jesus Christ3, but the irony is hard to miss.
  • Verses 24-25 - These verses have often been used by Christians to justify anti-Semitic attitudes and actions.  Even if Matthew did intend to demonstrate Jews culpability in Jesus' death, it must be noted that he almost certainly saw them as having already received their punishment via the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.  Matthew did not imagine that Christians should persecute Jewish people in perpetuity.4
Chapter 28
  • Verses 11-15 - This section ends with another use of the phrase "to this day," which evokes much the same feel as the one in Chapter 27.  The tale that the chief priests ask the soldiers to tell is remarkable, since it amounts to having the soldiers say that they were sleeping on the job (an act of gross irresponsibility that could have them killed!), and I find myself questioning how the priests could successfully "keep [the soldiers] out of trouble" if the governor made an issue of things.
Chapter 1
  • Verses 1-4 - I've always (well, at least since having this pointed out to me in a 1989 Youth Conference sermon by Tom Are, Jr.) found it remarkable that, to Mark, "[t]he beginning of the good news about Jesus" is not Jesus' birth, but rather the coming of John the Baptizer.
  • Verses 9-11 - This section is notable more for what isn't here than for what is.  There's no balking by John at the prospect of baptizing Jesus (despite verse 7).  Jesus makes no defense of why he needs to be baptized.  It pretty much just... happens.
  • Verse 11 - Mark's account here gives no indication that the words were heard by anyone other than Jesus (besides the fact that someone must have shared them in order for them to be written down, that is), whereas other gospels suggest "a wider audience."5
  • Verses 12-13 - As was the case with Jesus' baptism, Mark doesn't seem to care about the details of Jesus' temptations at the hands of Satan.  It is apparently enough to tell us that they happened.
  • Verse 22: "as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law" - Mark makes a big deal about Jesus' teaching and the "authority" from which it comes.  It's hard for me to imagine just what Mark is getting at here.  When I think of a person as teaching "with authority," I think of a person who teaches with confidence, boldly proclaiming truth.  Surely, Mark doesn't mean to say that "the teachers of the law" taught without such confidence!  Indeed, elsewhere in the gospels, it seems that such teachers are often arrogant!  However, Hooker suggests that this kind of authority may have indeed been the source of the crowd's reaction, noting that while many teachers were able to "[quote] at length what previous teachers had said," they generally hesitated "to make any authoritative judgment."  However, she also suggests that "for [Mark], the authority of Jesus is unique, and totally unlike that of anyone else."6
  • Verse 41: "Jesus was indignant" - Why does Jesus get upset at the man's request for healing?  Is it because the man hedges the healing with Jesus' willingness?  If so, why should this matter?  Hooker acknowledges the alternative reading (also in the footnotes at Bible Gateway), whereby Jesus is moved by pity or compassion, but the more "embarrassing" reading is almost certainly correct. Hooker's conclusion is that Jesus is angry, not at the man, but at "the evil forces which have claimed the man as their victim."7
  • Verse 45 - Another person healed, who disobeys Jesus' instructions afterward.  Again, if there are any consequences (to that person, that is) of this disobedience, we never know about it.
Chapter 2
  • Verses 13-17 - This passage sounds a lot like one in Matthew, where Matthew's name is substituted for Levi's.  Many think that Matthew and Levi are the same person, but there is no direct evidence to suggest the two people (or, indeed, the two similar incidents) are the same.8
  • Verse 26: "In the days of Abiathar the high priest" - The story being referenced can be found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, but in that account, Ahimelek is the high priest, not his son Abiathar.9

1See Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995. p. 765.
2Hagner, p. 768.
3Hagner, on p. 823, notes a scholar who actually does argue that "Jesus Barabbas" is another name for Jesus Christ himself, but dismisses this notion as depending "more on imagination than evidence."
4See Hagner, p. 827.
5Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Black's New Testament Commentaries), Hendrickson Publishers, 1999. pp. 45-46.
6Hooker, p. 63.
7Hooker, pp. 79-80.
8See Hooker, p. 94, for further complicating details.
9See Hooker, p. 103.

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  1. Thank you for the opportunity to address your post.
    My own hypothesis on these matters come from out of nearly 50 yrs of specifically focused research, study and deep contemplation, -rather than a general reading of the Gospels (Matthew 26-28; Mark 1-2)
    Mulling over (chapter 26) "The enemies of Jesus..." and all the attendant questions to it, are both irrelevant (besides to point) and premature. Your 'questions' are rhetorical, -the 'answers' only leads to more unanswerable questions.

    But, in chapter 27, you hit upon the very crux of all the literary diatribe as it concerns "Jesus Christ" (including his "enemies" noted above). Nevertheless, you blithely skip right on over it without realizing its extraordinary assertion, -as though it should be overlooked. This just so happens to be 'the specifically focused research, study and deep contemplation' (noted above) that I draw your attention to... Barabbas.

    "Jesus Barabbas", written in the original Gospel according or attributed to Matthew (27:17) but that His name [Jesus] was removed or omitted from the Latin translation of the same text (around 390 c. e.) and, most of the subsequent translations thereafter... leaving us with only "Barabbas" instead.

    That you 'observe' that, "Ironically, "Barabbas" itself might be translated as "son of the Father." ...MIGHT Be translated as 'son of the father'??? Whoa!!!

    "Barabbas" is an Aramaic appellation, the meaning of which is: Bar = Son + Abba = Father (as in 'the Father of us all' or 'God', if you will. Make no mistake about it... His name was "Jesus", -He was called "Barabbas"... the Jews (and the Gospel writers knew that... they spoke Aramaic everyday. Moreover, the 'Jews' knew who they were asking for, -further, they knew who and why 'the descendant of David and the Jewish messiah' should be crucified (not what You supposedly 'know').

    Now, back to the beginning of your Post... "the enemies of Jesus..."

    First, let me say that "Jesus" had no "enemies"... it only appears that "Jesus" had enemies because it was intended to appear that way. There was only one "Jesus" here and He was called "Barabbas" (the Son of God), -the crucified 'descendant of David and Jewish messiah' was Judas the Galilean (or, one of his sons). He (Judas the Galilean) had "enemies"... most notably Saul of Tarsus, -aka the Apostle and eventual Saint Paul.
    In order to understand the schism
    among the Jew and the feud as it concerned Saul of Tarsus, one must read Samuel. (All too lengthy for me to Post here... but in a nut-shell...) David replaced king Saul. Saul of Tarsus is the namesake and descendant of the first king of the Jews.

    Sorry, I can't write more... but, enough information is here for you to figure out 'the rest of the story'.

    Roland, a reluctant iconoclast.

  2. Thank you for comments. In case you don't already know, I myself am seminary-trained, and in fact have studied under the scholar whose commentary I am citing for this passage. While the questions here are formed anew through my current "general" reading, I actually bring quite a bit of previous study to the enterprise. While your conclusions are interesting, I am convinced that they are wrong.

    Rather that get into an argument over that, however, I would rather take issue with your complaint that "[my] 'questions' are rhetorical, -the 'answers' only leads to more unanswerable questions." I do not consider this an entirely bad thing. I think that we often are too quick to jump to a convenient answer that is often misleading. We would do well to sit with difficult questions more than we often do. If you cannot accept that, I would respectfully suggest that you misunderstand the nature of my work in this series (I am most assuredly not attempting to write a new commentary! We have enough of those!), and that this is not the forum for you.



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