Baker Academic

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Additions to Your Gospel of Matthew Syllabus

For my upcoming Matthew intensive, I am compiling a reading list that is accessible, online, and sheds light on contemporary social concerns. Today I was alerted to this piece by Robert Myles:

"Homelessness, Neoliberalism, and Jesus’ ‘Decision’ to go Rogue: An Analysis of Matt. 4:12-25," in Reading the Bible in an Age of Crisis (2015).

You may require an account to access this. It is well worth a read. It will certainly spur classroom debate!

I have also decided to use this short article by Dale Allison as an example of assessing a problem in the text of Matthew:

Allison observes:
The six paragraphs addressing the law concern anger (Matt 5:21-26), lust (Matt 5:27-30), divorce (Matt 5:31-32), oaths (Matt 5:33-37), revenge (Matt 5:38-42), and love (Matt 5:43-48). Many biblical scholars label these paragraphs “antitheses,” because in their view Jesus and Moses are at odds with each other. The Law of Moses permits divorce (Deut 24:1-4), oaths (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2-3; Deut 23:22), and retaliation (Exod 21:24-25; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). Jesus, with his repeated “but I say to you,” prohibits all of them. Yet there are problems with supposing that Jesus contradicts the Law of Moses. Matt 5:17-20 says explicitly that Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. To the contrary, people should obey and teach them. One could scarcely be any clearer. It looks very much as though Matt 5:17-20 is located precisely where it is in order to prevent readers from imagining that Jesus, in the paragraphs that follow, intends to undo the teachings of Moses.
He then asks, "But how can this be, if Jesus abolishes divorce and oaths and forbids retaliation?" I plan to have my class read this article aloud. Allison's solution to the problem is not as important (pedagogically speaking) as the problem itself. Most devotional readers of the Bible are not attuned to the problems that generate scholarly discussion. I hope to use this example to teach the practice of asking critical questions. To my mind, the ability to ask critical questions (both informed and interesting) is the first step toward creating a thesis statement.



  1. Neyrey and Malina were really important for my starting to unpack social dynamics like honour (patronage, evil eye, collectivism, shame, etc). But ....

    Seventeen years in South Asia has taught me that these are living dynamics and, whilst South Asia is not first C Mediterranean, the descriptions they give are those who haven't lived these dynamics. We need cross cultural living insights to give closer alignment and insights to these than the picture given by Malina. I read his Matthew stuff whilst on a 36 hour train journey and got rather irritated at the woodenness of understanding in the book. My fellow passengers would have been more nuanced than the book. We need to hear a range of cross cultural theologians on these issues.

    I respect Malina and Neyrey for openning this up. I look to when we have other voices with living experience.

    (Rant over)

  2. From Dr. G:

    Allison sounds like a good introductory lesson, on how to deal with apparent contradictions in the Bible. Though later on, some students might get to the point I did on all this.

    Here we find the New Testment seems to equivocate, oscillate, between two possibilities. Either Christianity and Jesus fully honor the laws of Judaism, Moses, and God; or they don't. Perhaps Christianity at least modifies the old laws.

    But if the Bible equivocates, or subtly changes, then it has not been eternally fixed or solidly or universally true in the past. And likely, given this record, even the New Testament, is not entirely reliable today.

    So in my opinion, the student should probably learn to take the more critical approach. Rather than trying to, say, apologetically harmonize apparent contradictions. Or accept over-suave or sanguine assertions of continuity.