Thursday, December 18, 2014

NT: Matthew - The Mission Sermon

As I poke my way through the New Testament for what seems the umpteenth time - but really isn’t - I realize how little of it I retained in the past. For instance, pre-born-again, I’m certain that I never read much of it at all, and what little I did read was probably suggested by a religious associate. Once I undertook the verse-by-verse reading that launched me into deconversion, I walked away with a general impression that Jesus was a good dude, but his ministry was based on a bad dude. Or a non-existent dude, depending on how analytical I felt the day that I examined the dudeology. Over decades, non-existent dude overwhelmed bad dude as the operative concept, making Jesus increasingly irrelevant.

Today, I continue my general comments on the New Testament, still without attempting to analyze it closely. I’m just laying down the general form of the books. I have a few points that I’ll make when certain passages disturb the force, but I’m not doing this to purposely point out inconsistencies on a broad scale like a counter-apologist or critic might. I’m just organizing my impressions so that I can elaborate on them further down the road, should I desire.

The Sermon on the Mount ends in Matthew Chapter 7, so we begin Chapter 8 with Jesus healing a leper and performing other miracles and acts of charity. More of the same in Chapter 9. There are good words by Jesus, and miracles, but these chapters appear to be an interlude. I’m using this Wikipedia article to help me better detect the structure of Matthew.

The Mission Sermon - or Mission Discourse - begins in Chapter 10.

This discourse is directed to the twelve apostles who are named in Matthew 10:2-3. In the discourse Jesus advises them how to travel from city to city, carry no belongings and to preach only to Israelite communities. He tells them to be wary of opposition, but have no fear for they will be told what to say to defend themselves when needed: "For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you"

The whole spiel is done by the end of the chapter, and includes many memorable sayings. I have a question, though. Jesus is instructing his disciples - the apostles. What part if this is useful for the rank believer? I can imagine a theologist saying that all Christians are charged with spreading the good word, but I’ll be interested to see how this thought evolves through the rest of the testament.

At this point, we can detect trouble brewing:

(KJV) Matthew 10:4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. Judas and his future role are mentioned.

Chapters 11 & 12 serve as a segue into the third discourse by treating us to some John the Baptist and some Pharisees action. Another indication of the trouble to come:

(KJV) Matthew 12:14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

Knowing that Matthew has a general structure is really helpful and interesting, particularly when trying to establish whether (and then how) Matthew relates to the other Gospels. A peek ahead to the Wikipedia article on the upcoming Gospel of Mark lets us compare “literary styles” of the two. Matthew has a seven-part structure, whereas Mark appears much less organized:

There is no agreement on the structure of Mark.[20] There is, however, a widely recognised break at Mark 8:26–31: before 8:26 there are numerous miracle stories, the action is in Galilee, and Jesus preaches to the crowds, while after 8:31 there are hardly any miracles, the action shifts from Galilee to gentile areas or hostile Judea, and Jesus teaches the disciples.

I feel that by the time I sketch out my impressions of Mark, the need to discuss the Synoptic Problem will be nearly unavoidable. Pre-born-again, it was easy for me to assume that Matthew was written first, followed by Mark, Luke and John. Post-born-again, someone (I have no idea who it was) pointed out to me that scholars think that Mark appears to have been written first. Over the decades, I’ve read enough about it to be able to see how they arrived at that conclusion. The relatively visible structure of Matthew somewhat illustrates how an earlier compilation of sayings and stories could have been re-organized.

I’ll give the "Parabolic Discourse" a go next.

No comments:

Post a Comment