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So … Was Matthew a Jew?

I am near the end of this thread on the Jewishness of Matthew’s Gospel. I have several more posts to go, so I’m not completely at the finish line; but it’s within sight. (I should stress that I am not intending to give an exhaustive analysis of the problem and all the relevant issues. That would take a very long book. In fact, scholars have indeed written significant books on the topic. One of my graduate students, Judy Siker, wrote her dissertation on one aspect of the issue. She's also the author of Who is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes. I hope to close out the thread with posts on three related topics: this post and the next on whether Matthew was himself Jewish; the one after on whether Matthew – whether Jewish or not – was anti-Jewish (I hope to do that in just one post, but it may take more); and finally one on whether Matthew and the apostle Paul would have or could have seen eye-to-eye on the relationship of [...]

2020-04-29T16:03:39-04:00July 4th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Was Matthew’s Community Gentile or Jewish?

Given the importance of following the law for Matthew (especially as seen in 5:17-20 and in the Antithises), if we had no indication that Christianity spread among non-Jews soon after Jesus' death, we might simply assume that Matthew's community was comprised of Jews who continued to adhere to the law even if they disagreed with the Pharisees over how best to do so.  But Gentiles *were* joining the Christian church well before Matthew wrote his Gospel; indeed, at this time there were probably more Gentiles who claimed to be followers of Jesus than Jews.  Does Matthew think that these Gentiles Christians are to keep kosher, to observe the sabbath, and, if male, to be circumcised?  It is an intriguing question because, as we will see in a later post, the apostle Paul was adamant that they should *not*. It is unfortunate for us that Matthew does not address this issue directly.  In this Gospel Jesus does give numerous indications that Gentiles will become his followers and inherit the kingdom of heaven; but nowhere does he [...]

2020-04-03T18:23:25-04:00July 3rd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 5

In the last post I tried to show that Matthew’s Jesus (remember: I’m not talking about the historical Jesus here; I’ve been referring to Jesus as he is presented in Matthew – a very different thing!) does indeed seem to think that his readers should follow not just the ethical aspects of the Jewish law, but the cultic aspects as well – keeping Sabbath, tithing, and so on.  At the same time, it appears that Jesus in Matthew thinks that his opponents are wrong in placing the highest priority on keeping these cultic requirements, rather than on emphasizing the commandment to love that lies at its core. This becomes especially clear in two stories that Matthew took over from Mark, but modified.  The first is Mark's account of the call of Levi the tax collector (Mark 2:13-17; in Matthew's account, it is the call of Matthew!).  When the Pharisees see Jesus eating in Levi's home with "tax collectors and sinners," they disparage him for mixing with such tainted company.  Evidently their own emphasis on ritual [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:26-04:00July 2nd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 4

In previous posts I’ve talked about Matthew radicalizing the law – so that his followers were to adhere to it even more closely than the scribes and Pharisees. Most Christians today think the Jewish law is irrelevant (except maybe for the Ten Commandments) (well, nine of them anyway: most Christians don’t keep the Sabbath.) (For years, as a boy, raised in the Christian church, I thought “Sabbath” meant “Sunday.” I assume that’s typical. But even so, we had no qualms about doing just about anything we pleased even on Sunday….). But when Jesus speaks about the laws that his followers are to keep, they are always the ethical laws such as not murdering and not committing adultery,which presumably would have applied not just to Jews but also to gentiles. What about the laws of Scripture, though, that were widely recognized as making Jews a separate people from the non-Jews, for example, the laws that required Jews to circumcise their baby boys, and to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to observe certain dietary restrictions? We [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:33-04:00July 1st, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew’s Gospel: Part 3

In the current thread I have been posting about the Jewish emphases of Matthew’s Gospel, all in an attempt to move to an answer to the question of whether, in my opinion Matthew was himself Jewish. When I get done with these posts, I’ll explain what my opinion is and why I have it; I can tell by some of the responses so far to these posts that some people are in for a surprise…. In previous posts we saw that Jesus, in Matthew, insists that his followers keep the Jewish law – even better than the scribes and the Pharisees. But for Matthew, What is the real purpose of the law? We get a hint of Matthew's answer already in the Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus' famous expression of the Golden Rule. We know of other ancient teachers who formulated similar guidelines of behavior usually in its negative form -- that you should not do to another what you do not want them to do to you – as far afield as Confucius [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:42-04:00June 30th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew: Part 2

In continuation of the question of the relationship of the Gospel of Matthew – both the Gospel itself and its anonymous author – to Judaism, I lift from something I wrote somewhere else at some point a while back: ********************************************************************************************************** Contrary to what many Christians have thought throughout the ages, for Matthew following Jesus does *not* mean abandoning Judaism and joining a new religion that is opposed to it. It is worth observing that even some Christians in Matthew's own day appear to have thought that this is what Jesus had in mind, that is, that he sought to overturn the law of Moses in his preaching about the way of God. For Matthew, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The keynote of the sermon is struck soon after the Beatitudes in the striking statement, found only in this Gospel: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:48-04:00June 27th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Jewish Emphases of Matthew

In evaluating whether Matthew was himself Jewish or not – the theme of my current thread — it is important to get a sense of his distinctive emphases in his portrayal of Jesus. Here there can be little doubt. The focus of attention in Matthew’s Gospel is on to the nature of Jesus’ relationship to Judaism. You see this off the bat in chapter 1. Whereas Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus as an adult being baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew’s begins with a clear resonance of Jewish Scripture – with a genealogy of Jewish and Israelite ancestors. And before he begins the genealogy, Matthew tells us that it will be one that traces the line of Jesus back to David and Abraham (“The Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”). And why does he highlight these two names in particular? Because David was the greatest king of Israel, whose descendant was to be the “messiah” (as Jesus is called here: Jesus “Christ”), and Abraham was “the [...]

2020-04-03T18:24:55-04:00June 26th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

The Identity of “Matthew”

In a previous post I dealt very briefly with the question of whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew was Jewish. I want to say a few more things about the issue, although I’m not planning on providing anything like an exhaustive treatment. It’s a complicated issue. At the end of the day, my view is that we simply don’t know. In this post I want to say something about what we know about the identity of the author more generally. We call this author "Matthew” because that is the name traditionally associated with the Gospel. The Gospel is called “According to Matthew” in all of the surviving manuscripts that have a title (i.e., all the manuscripts that still have their first page.) It is never called anything else – although the *form* of the ascription to Matthew differs in different manuscripts: e.g., is it entitled “According to Matthew” or “The Gospel according to Matthew” or “The Holy Gospel according to Matthew,” or something else? But in all the ascriptions, the person named is [...]

2020-04-03T18:25:19-04:00June 23rd, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Was Matthew a Jew?

QUESTION: I’m currently reading your book “Forged”…not sure whether I read this there or in the blog, but it puzzled me. You said the authors of Mark and Luke were not Jews? I’d somehow assumed the authors of all the Canonical Gospels were Jews – among the educated elite, of course, since they could write in Greek…. I’m sure the author of Matthew was a Jew, though very dissatisfied with some of his fellow Jews!   RESPONSE: This comment is part of a larger question the reader had about Mark and Luke specifically – were they Jews? (I haven’t included the entire question here) I have dealt with Mark already on the blog recently, arguing that he probably was not a Jew. I’ll deal with Luke in a later post. Here let me say something very briefly about Matthew. I too tend to think that he was probably a Jew by birth and upbringing, who had converted to be a follower of Jesus. But not everyone agrees. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in [...]

2020-04-03T18:25:52-04:00June 17th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

A Virgin Birth? The Importance of Context

I continue to be writing up a storm, making just the progress I've wanted on my Bible Introduction. Gods willing, I will finish chapter 8 tomorrow, which is all of the chapters dealing with the Hebrew Bible. I was eager to finish this part of the book before the weekend, because on Monday I head overseas for the rest of the summer (Sarah and I spend a good chunk of every summer in London; she's a Brit, and has been there already for a couple of weeks, teaching a Duke summer school program abroad). I hope to finish the NT section while I'm there, but that won't take as much work, in a sense, since I have, well, written about the NT before. (In another sense it takes a lot more work -- about 35 years worth altogether). While I'm away, I will certainly keep this blog going full steam. In case you wondered! Below is a little section from my opening chapter of the Intro. Remember: this book is for 19 year olds, most [...]

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