Matthew 5: 13-16
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.
The story is part of the great inaugural speech of Jesus to the crowd on the mountain. Jesus makes two great claims: you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Around the statement about salt, he warns: if salt loses its properties, it is no longer good for anything and we throw it out. Then, around the light, he points out that it must be like a city on a high mountain, ie not go unnoticed, and more positively, it must be in the most visible place of the house, like a lamp that we put on its support. And he ends with an exhortation to shine with good deeds so that the world can find out who God really is.
The vocabulary reflects the patching up that Matthew operated, where he collects pieces of the Gospel according to Mark and the Q source, as well as a tradition known from the first letter of Peter and Justin, while echoing a passage of Isaiah, and link them all with words of his own. Among these words which he likes and which he seems to introduce into the text, there are "earth" (gē) in the expression "salt of the earth", "man" (anthrōpos) in the expression "to be trampled by men", "world" (kosmos) in the expression "light of the world", a word which he uses less often than John, but which he likes to indicate the human society which constructs history, "to be hidden" (kryptō), in the expression "a city cannot be hidden", "on top" (epanō) in the expression "above the mountain", "neither" (oude) in the expression "neither light up" (kaiō) in the expression "light up a lamp", "shine" (lampō) in the expression "the lamp shines for all in the house", "before" (emprosthen) in the expression "before men", "so that" (hopōs) in the expression "so that they see".
Structure and composition
Our story is part of Jesus' inaugural speech on the mountain, where as the new Moses he presents his new commandments, i.e. the broad outlines of Christian action. After having placed at the very beginning the proclamation of the Beatitudes which expresses the fundamental attitude of the Christian, Matthew makes a pause before illustrating in detail the expectations of Jesus. He first wants to explain why implementing Jesus' instructions is fundamental. His explanation begins with a first statement ("you are the salt of the earth") followed by a negative assumption and its consequences: if the salt loses its properties. Matthew drew a good part of his material from the Q source. Matthew makes a second statement ("you are the light of the world") whose tone is more positive. It presents two comparisons. Most of the first is taken from Isaiah who has a vision of the messianic times when Jerusalem, located on a mountain, will be the focus of all nations who will come to the light it brings through the Law; Matthew focused attention on the fact that Jerusalem on its mountain was very visible, and therefore on the fact that one cannot be light of the world by being hidden. The second comparison is drawn mainly from Q source and a little from Mark's text: a lamp is not made to be hidden, but to be placed in a central place to light the whole house. Finally, come the conclusion, which is an exhortation addressed to Christians: they must shine with their good deeds, i.e. these good deeds must be highly visible. This exhortation ends up by giving the fundamental motivation to take action: to reveal the identity of God who acts through the Christian.
Intention of the author
By the time Matthew publishes his Gospel around 80 or 85, there seem to be two groups of Christians in his community made up of people of Jewish origin who are problematic. There are those who have fundamentalist tendencies and who want to continue to strictly apply Jewish law and customs. And those who have lost their initial momentum, feel demotivated, especially since the return of Christ is slow, and seeing that the Law is no longer what saves, have lost their benchmark and tend to no longer have driving guide. It is to these that Matthew will first target, before giving details of Jesus' teaching on Christian action, in order to show them its importance.
His first point is to affirm that deeds play an essential role in Christian identity, just as it is through his ability to salt that salt is important, and if the Christian loses this identity, he no longer has his place in the community, just like salt that has lost its properties and is thrown out. His second point is to affirm that Christian action is an essential light for others. But to play this role, he must not go unnoticed, just as the prophet Isaiah said for whom Jerusalem in Messianic times will be light of the nations, being located on a mountain; on the contrary, this action must be visible like this lamp that we do not hide, but that we put on its support in a central place of the room to light everyone. Matthew thus exhorts demotivated and disoriented Christians to make visible their good deeds, not for self-promotion, but to make the world discover who God truly is.
|Hymeis (You)||Hymeis is the personal pronoun of the 2nd person plural. As we can imagine, it is very common among the authors of the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 248; Mk = 75; Lk = 221; Jn = 256; Ac = 123; 1Jn = 34; 2Jn = 3; 3Jn = 0. Why paying attention to it? This is because there is a particular emphasis here on the listener or the reader of the Gospel. Indeed, in Greek, the personal pronoun is usually included in the verb, and therefore the Greek verb este means by itself: you are, and therefore does not need to be added to it: hymeis (you). So hymeis is redundant. But this redundancy is wanted by the author to insist on "you", and to make the sentence a questioning, and must thus translate into a redundancy: you, you are.
When we go through the Gospels and Acts to analyze the use of hymeis, we realize that it is John who uses this form of exhortation most often: Mt = 31; Mk = 10; Lk = 20; Jn = 68; Ac = 25; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But Matthew is not to be outdone. With the latter, we note that all this questioning can be grouped into three categories.
The questioning is a call to act or to take a stand. Examples:
The questioning is a form of revelation or invitation to awareness. Examples :
The questioning expresses reproach, even accusation. Examples :
Here, at v. 13, with "you you are the salt of the earth", the questioning belongs to the category of a revelation or invitation to awareness: it is the identity of the Christian that is revealed. All of this seems like a way for Matthew to emphasize the greatness of Christian life. However, it is under a bit of shadow that the figure of the disciple, and therefore of the Christian, appears in his Gospel.
In this context of mixed pictures, the presentation of the Christian vocation as "salt of the earth" is all the more striking: the Christian is fragile and perhaps bad, but the fact remains that he is a light. Why? This is what we are about to see.
|Texts with pronoun hymeis in Matthew|
Halas is the neutral name halas in nominative form and means: salt. It is very rare in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; elsewhere in the New Testament it appears only in the epistle to the Colossians. In the Septuagint, it appears 29 times under the variant of the male name: als.
To understand what salt does in this verse, we must stop at the role of salt in Antiquity. Since the man abandoned game, a naturally salty food, to turn to agriculture, he had to rebalance his diet to compensate for the loss of salt from his body (for example, through perspiration). This is how the first cities seem to have been built around salt sources, and trade developed around this precious commodity. It is important to point this out for a contemporary audience for whom salt is a universal and inexpensive condiment.
In the Jewish world, as everywhere else in Antiquity, salt played various roles.
M. E. Boismard (P. Benoit et M.-E. Boismard, Synopse des quatre évangiles II. Paris: Cerf, 1972, p. 131) notes another function of salt: there would have been an agricultural practice attested in Egypt and in Palestine in the 1st century when salt was added to the manure in order to make it more apt to fertilize the earth.
For its part, the French Ecumenical Translation of Bible (TOB) presents another function of salt with this note on Mark 9, 49: "We know a custom of the Palestinians who use salt in their ovens as a catalyst; this one, after a few years, loses its chemical properties and we throw it away: it has become without salt".
All this shows the important role played by salt, and which was thus considered an essential good as pointed out by Sirah 39: 26:
"The principal things for the whole use of man's life are water, fire, iron, and salt (als), flour of wheat, honey, milk, and the blood of the grape, and oil, and clothing."
We will not be surprised to learn that salt was also part of the goods subject to taxes, as mentioned in 1 Maccabees 11: 35 (see also 1 Macc 10: 29):
"And as for other things that belong unto us, of the tithes and customs pertaining unto us, as also the salt (hals) pits, and the crown taxes, which are due unto us, we discharge them of them all for their relief.
Note that the word "salary" comes from the Latin "salarium", also derived from "sal", the salt ration, later referring to the pay of the Roman legionnaire to buy salt.
To complete this analysis and allow us to interpret our v. 13, we must ask the question: what was the symbolic value of salt; because by writing "You are the salt of the earth", Matthew places himself on the symbolic level. However, since symbols are often derived from a practical function of an object, let us take up these functions.
Finally, if Boismard is right with the role of salt in manure in the 1st century, then salt would symbolize what makes it fruitful and makes it fertile.
It is time to return to our v. 13 and the expression "salt of the earth". What meaning to give it? Among the different symbolic meanings, it is necessary to privilege that of Christian wisdom, a meaning similar to that found in Colossians 4: 6 "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt (alas), so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone". Several clues point in this direction.
Thus, the listener of the Gospel is invited to realize that he is the salt of the earth, that he has this wisdom that Jesus transmitted, in particular his discourse on the Beatitudes. Can we go even further?
Matthew and Luke (14: 34) both talk about salt and the risk of it going crazy (mōrainō). However, it is likely that Matthew and Luke received this word from an ancient tradition, more particularly the Q source. Boismard (op. cit.) thus reconstructs this ancient tradition:
If the salt goes crazy (looses its saltiness), what will it be salted with? Neither for the soil, nor for the manure it is suitable: outside it is thrown
In Q source, salt would have the function of enhancing the fertilization capacity of manure. Luke takes up this tradition thus: "Therefore, good [is] the salt. Then, if the salt has become crazy, with what will it be seasoned? Neither for [the] earth nor for [the] manure it is appropriate, out they throw it. Let anyone with ears to hear listen" (14, 34-35). Matthew drops the reference to manure, no doubt incomprehensible to him. But the idea seems to remain salt in its capacity to fertilize the soil, and therefore of the Christian who, by his wisdom, is able to fertilize the earth and cause it to produce much fruit.
|Texts with the noun halas or hals in the Bible|
|gēs (earth)||Gēs is the singular feminine noun of gē: earth, land, ground, soil. This word is frequent throughout the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 43; Mk = 19; Lk = 25; Jn = 13; Ac = 33. It refers to different realities, such as the humus where vegetables are grown or the planet that circulates in space. It is the same in the Greek language of the Gospels-Acts. There are five different meanings.
When we compare Matthew with the other evangelists, we see that he is the one who likes to use the word gē the most. In addition, of the 43 occurrences of the word, 30 are specific to him. Thus, it even happens that he adds it to the source that he is copying. For example, when he inserts the Q source to speak of Sodom, he adds "land of Sodom" (10: 15), while Luke seems to stick more to the original source with simply "Sodom" (10: 12).
Here in v. 13, gē in the expression "salt of the earth" refers to this planet that humans inhabit, and which is the place of the Christian's mission. It is synonymous with "world", as can be seen in the next verse with "light of the world".
|Texts with the noun gē in Matthew|
|mōranthē (it goes crazy)||
Mōranthē is the verb mōrainō in the third-person passive subjunctive aorist of the singular. It means: driving or going crazy. It is very rare in the New Testament and the Septuagint; it is only found here in Matthew and in Luke's parallel passage, and once in the first epistle to the Corinthians and the epistle to the Romans, while it appears only five times in the Septuagint.
There is also the name mōria (foolishness), even rarer, which only Paul uses in his first to the Corinthians in the whole New Testament, and in the Sirah in the Septuagint. As for the adjective mōros (foolish), only Matthew uses it in the Gospels.
Whether it's the verb, the noun or the adjective, the meaning is clear: it refers to madness as opposed to wisdom. 1 Corinthians 1: 20 is a typical example:
"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish (mōrainō) the wisdom of the world?"
We can therefore be surprised to see the verb mōrainō in the expression: if the salt goes crazy (mōranthē). What is salt that goes crazy? Matthew does not seem to invent this expression which would come from the Q source, because it is also found under the pen of Luke. So you have to imagine that this source wants to refer to salt which "is no longer itself", which no longer plays its role. So I opted for translation: if the salt loses its properties, while other translators have opted for the salt that loses its taste or its savor.
As we have noted, salt is the symbol of Christian wisdom from the teaching of Jesus. Also, if the Christian loses this wisdom, he falls into madness.
But there remains the question of salt on the physical level: how can it lose its properties? Historically, salt was obtained from salt marshes or minerals such as rock salt. This salt contains stable sodium chloride and other components. However, sodium chloride is easily soluble in water. Therefore, if this raw salt is exposed to condensation or rainwater, the sodium chloride may dissolve and be removed, which could actually lose its salty taste. But there is probably above all this practice in Palestine of using salt as catalysts in ovens: after a few years this salt lost its chemical properties on contact with fire and it was thrown away.
|Textes avec le verbe mōrainō dans la Bible|
|en tini (how)||The expression en tini is made up of the preposition en (in) and the interrogative pronoun tis (what?), Which is usually translated by: in what, by what, how? We want to draw attention to this rather banal expression, because it is rather rare in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And above all, it is also found in the parallel texts of Luke and Mark on salt. We have already pointed out that Matthew and Luke probably drew from Q source this passage around salt; also it is interesting to find also the expression en tini in another passage of the Q source on Beelzebul: Lk 11: 19 || Mt 5:13; so it's not a pure creation of Matthew.
On the other hand, it will have been noted that en tini is also found in Mark in a passage also in reference to salt and where one wonders how to restore its properties. What to conclude?
It seems that we are faced with a very ancient tradition, which probably dates back to Jesus, where one talks about life with reference to salt and where one asks oneself the question of the loss of its properties. This tradition took different forms, one would be that of the Q source that Matthew and Luke knew, the other would be the one that Mark knew. We will come back to this in the analysis of parallels.
|Texts with the expression en tini in Gospels-Acts|
|halisthēsetai (it will be salted)||Halisthēsetai is the verb halizō with a passive future form and means: to salt or provide salt. It is extremely rare: throughout the New Testament, it is found here and in Mark 9: 49, and elsewhere in the Bible, there are only three occurrences in the Septuagint.
In all of these occurrences, we can understand its meaning:
But how to understand the expression of this v. 13: salt the salt? Obviously, we should not take the expression in the literal sense, because it would be difficult to understand what purpose we would pursue by throwing salt on what was once salt; it would be better to speak of replacing it. In addition, here we have a question related to the fact that salt has lost its properties and the consequences thereof, and therefore the importance of these properties. So I preferred to translate "how will salt be salted?" by "how can salt exercise its role?" This translation is all the more justified since in Matthew the salt refers us to the wisdom of the Christian who received the teaching of Jesus and who is called to play the role of witness to this wisdom.
|Texts with the verb halizō in the Bible|
|eis ouden (for nothing)||Eis ouden is an expression formed from the preposition eis (toward, to, for, in) and the indefinite adjective oudeis (none, no one, nothing). Here oudeis is in the singular accusative neutral, and therefore means: for nothing. The expression is very rare and appears only here in the Gospels. Otherwise, it is only noted in Acts for the rest of the New Testament. In the Septuagint, we find it nine times.
We want to highlight two things. First of all, the fact of the rarity of the expression brings an argument to the idea that it does not belong to the usual vocabulary of the evangelist, and that we are in front of a source which he re-uses. Then, the expression is found especially in the book of Wisdom. And even, we find there the theme of wisdom which is, in our opinion, what salt represents:
"For though a man be never so perfect among the children of men, yet if thy wisdom be not with him, he shall be nothing regarded. (eis ouden)" (Wis 9: 6)
This is exactly what we have in Matthew: if wisdom (salt) disappears (loses its properties) in Christians, he will be useless (he will no longer be able to exercise his Christian mission). It is therefore possible that the ancient tradition that Matthew picks up was influenced by the Book of Wisdom.
|Texts with the expression eis ouden in the Bible|
|ischyei (it is strong)||Ischyei is the 3rd person verb ischyō for the present indicative and means: to be strong, to be able, to be capable. This verb is present a few times in the Gospels-Acts, and rarely elsewhere in the New Testament: Mt = 4; Mk = 4; Lk = 8; Jn = 1; Ac = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. One thing is remarkable: out of the 17 occurrences in the Gospels, 15 are inserted in a negative sentence, i.e. "not to be able" or "not to be strong enough":
Strangely, the only two verses of the Gospels where ischyō is used in a positive form are to speak of "capable people", ie the healthy (ischyō), to immediately add: Jesus did not come for the healthy, but for the sick (Mk 2: 17 || 9: 12). Thus, never do we have evangelical scenes where the verb ischyō is used to highlight "capable people".
What about our v. 13? On the salt that has lost its properties, Matthew writes: "it is capable of nothing", i.e. it is futile, it is useless. We have seen that salt refers to Christian wisdom, and if it disappears from the Christian, the latter is unable to exercise his vocation.
Note that Matthew uses only ischyō four times in his Gospel, and two of these occurrences (9: 12; 26: 40) are simply taken from Mark. It's not a word in his regular vocabulary.
|Texts with the verb ischyō in the Gospels-Acts|
|eti ei mē (yet if not)||eti ei mē is an expression formed from the adverb eti (yet), the conjunction ei (if) and the negation particle mē (not). It is used to express a negative alternative: yet otherwise, unless. Here, the alternative to the situation where salt does not play its role will be to throw it away; salt has become useless, there is nothing else to do but throw it away. Most translators render the idea with "but" (It is no longer good for anything but), or with "except".
Note that the expression eti ei mē appears only here throughout the New Testament and in the Septuagint altogether.
|blēthen (having been thrown)||
Blēthen is the verb ballō in the passive aorist participle. First of all, it means: to throw, from which is derived: to pitch, to place, to lie, to put. It appears only in the Gospels-Acts, with the exception of Revelation, and a passage in the epistle of James and the first of John. Mt = 33; Mk = 17; Lk = 18; Jn = 17; Ac = 5; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. As you can see with 33 occurrences, this is a verb that Matthew likes. Not only is it in his Gospel where we find this verb most often, but he sometimes takes the initiative to insert it in the story he receives from Mark (see also Mt 9: 2):
In Matthew, the word has three main meanings.
Here in v. 13, ballō has its most common meaning: to be thrown in the sense of being rejected; salt that has lost its properties has become useless, and therefore we must get rid of it by throwing it out.
We said that ballō is a verb that Matthew likes and you would think he was the one who introduced it here in the sentence. But it seems rather that he took the verb from the Q source, because it is also found in Luke 14: 35: "It (the salt) is good neither for the earth nor for the manure: one throw it (ballō) outside".
|Texts with the verb ballō in Matthew|
|exō (outside)||Exō is an adverb that is regularly encountered in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 9; Mk = 10; Lk = 10; Jn = 13; Ac = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It means: outside, outside of.
We can group the contexts where it is used into four categories.
Here in v. 13, the phrase "let the salt be thrown out" seems to refer to getting the salt out of the house. We have already mentioned that salt has three roles: to enhance the flavor of food while providing the salt the body needs, to keep food for a long time, to serve as an antiseptic. So we can imagine that in a corner of the house we had a supply of salt. It would therefore be a question of putting this salt which had lost its properties "in the trash" by throwing it in the street.
Finally, note that exō in this verse would come from the Q source since it is also found in the parallel of Lk 14: 35.
|Texts with the adverb exō in the Gospels-Acts|
|katapateisthai (to be trampled)||Katapateisthai is the verb katapateō in the passive present infinitive. It means first: to trample, so to crush, to tread under foot. It is very rare in the New Testament: two occurrences in Matthew, two in Luke, and only one in the epistle to the Hebrews. It is found a little more often in the Septuagint, especially in Isaiah and in the Psalms.
The verb appears in several different contexts, sometimes active, sometimes passive. It is above all its symbolic value that dominates.
Because trampling on people means harassing them, making them suffer, suppressing them. For example :
Without going so far as to cause pain, the word can mean dominate or control. For example :
Sometimes it intends to describe the destruction of something. For example :
Or again, the word expresses rejecting something or ignoring it. For example,
Finally, beyond its symbolic meaning, the word intends to literally describe the act of trampling or crushing an object. For example :
Let's go back to our v. 13: the salt is thrown outside to be trampled on. Of course, the "being trampled" is first to be taken in the literal and physical sense of the salt that passers-by tread without being aware by walking on the street. But a symbolic meaning can be attached to it: as in the parable of the sower (Lk 8: 5) where the seed fallen on the side of the road is trampled on, and therefore will be unable to produce fruit, thus the Christian whose salt of wisdom has lost its properties will be unable to produce fruit. We can even go further. When we consider all of Matthew's references to the verb "throw" that we saw above, then "trampling" can also have the meaning of destroying: this salt which has lost its properties must be destroyed, ie the Christian who has lost the wisdom of Jesus' teaching has no place in the community.
|Texts with the verb katapateō in the Bible|
|anthrōpōn (hommes)||Anthrōpōn is the plural masculine genitive of anthrōpos (man). As you can imagine, it is very common in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Matthew: Mt = 115; Mk = 56; Lk = 95; Jn = 59; Ac = 45; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It should be distinguished from anēr which designates the adult male or the husband.
In Matthew, the word anthrōpos designates three major realities.
In v. 13, salt "is trampled on by men". The word anthrōpos is in the plural and of course designates the members of society in general: salt will be trampled by certain individuals, whether men or women or children. Different bibles will translate as "people" or "passers-by".
|Texts with the noun anthrōpos in Matthew|
|v. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a mountain cannot go unnoticed;
Literally: You, you are the light (phōs) of the world (kosmou). It can (dynatai) not a city (polis) be hidden (krybēnai) over (epanō) a montain (orous) being set (keimenē).
|phōs (light)||Phōs is the singular neutral nominative form of the name phōs and means: light. It has appeared several times in the Gospels-Acts, except in John where it is frequent: Mt = 7; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 23; Ac = 10; 1Jn = 6; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The word first has the obvious meaning of physical light, i.e. the sun, the day, the flame, the light. For example :
But most often (70%), the word has a symbolic meaning. It designates Jesus, or God, or salvation, or truth, or the Christian. For example :
In v. 13 the word "light" indicates the Christian, and seems to borrow the same idea as that which one finds in certain passages of the Old Testament:
We have seen that salt seems to refer to Christian wisdom, that which comes from the teaching of Jesus, in particular the Beatitudes. Here, the image of light seems to take up the same theme, but giving it a more practical coloring: this Christian wisdom must be embodied in concrete acts; all this will be explained further in v. 16. Thus, the invitation of Jesus under the pen of Matthew concerns the Christian action which must shine in the world.
|Texts with the noun phōs in the Gospels-Acts|
|kosmou (monde)||Kosmou comes from the masculine name kosmos with the singular genitive. This Greek word first means "order, good order". In ancient Greece, it could be used in the military to designate the orderly disposition of troops for combat. It is in this sense that the Septuagint translated Genesis 2: 1 "Heaven and earth were thus completed, with all their host (kosmos)". But order also has to do with beauty, so the word can refer to women's ornaments and adornment, as the term "cosmetic" recalls. Thus, the Septuagint translated Exodus 33: 6, "The children of Israel stripped themselves of their jewelry (kosmos) from Mount Horeb onward". It is the recent books of the Hellenistic period (2nd and 1st century BC) which will introduce kosmos to speak of the created universe, a meaning that will be taken up by the New Testament (on the subject, see Pierre Létourneau, Kosmos, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique (New Biblical Vocabulary). Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Mediaspaul, 2004, p. 423-430).
In the Gospels-Acts, kosmos would have passed almost unnoticed had it not been for the Johannine tradition: Mt = 9; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 78; Ac = 1; 1Jn = 23; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. Overall, it can have three different meanings.
In Matthew, kosmos as human society dominates (6 occurrences), so 4 occurrences are specific to him (4: 8; 5: 14; 13: 38; 18: 7). A typical example of its meaning is given to us by 13: 38,
"The field is the world (kosmos); the good grain are the subjects of the Kingdom; the tares are the subjects of the Evil One"
Thus, the world is the theater of human dramas. Its meaning is neither negative nor positive, it is simply the social space in which human history takes place.
Here in v. 14, Matthew speaks of "light of the world", ie the Christian must be a light for the whole of human society; this light is not restricted to brothers or sisters of the Christian community. The atmosphere is missionary and universalist.
And we are also faced with a completely Jewish setting which includes a tradition where it is important to be light for others in his action, by following the commandment taught:
Again, we are faced with an ancient tradition that probably dates back to Jesus and that Matthew picks up.
|Texts with the noun kosmos in the Gospels-Acts|
|dynatai (it can)||Dynatai is the verb dynamai in the present passive, 3rd person singular, and which means: can, to be able, to be capable of, to be strong enough to. It is a verb that is used in all sauces: Mt = 21; Mk = 24; Lk = 24; Jn = 36; Ac = 21; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
There is something remarkable with this verb in Matthew, and moreover in all the evangelists: it is very often in a negative form, and when it is not, it appears in an interrogative sentence whose answer is negative; it's as if the focus is on general disability. Let's take a closer look. Dynamai intends to mean a disability. First, a disability in people. For example :
Disability also concerns non-human realities. For example :
Dynamai also appears in an interrogation, and often the answer is negative. For example :
In the last three verses, only the first is an unrestricted statement. The second is limited to a small group who can understand, and the third concerns an object that could have been sold. It is remarkable that we never find verses emphasizing great human capacities.
Here in v. 14, this is a city that is unable to go unnoticed if it is situated high up. This verse is of the same craftsmanship as the verse affirming that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit; it is a physical and logical observation.
|Texts with the verb dynamai in the Gospels-Acts|
Polis is the singular feminine nominative of polis and means: city. It is found everywhere in the four evangelists, especially in Luke: Mt = 27; Mk = 8; Lk = 39; Jn = 8; Ac = 43; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. What is a city? According to our modern standards, a city is an agglomeration comprising at least about 2,000 people, under the governance of a mayor and a city council. What was it in Antiquity, and more precisely in Palestine in the time of Jesus? The Gospels give us little clue.
Three different entities are named: the smallest being the farm (agros), followed by the village (kōmē), and finally the city (polis).
And wherever he went, into villages (kōmē) or cities (polis) or farms (agros), they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mk 6: 56)
If it is easy to distinguish the village from the farm, it is less easy to distinguish the city from the village. For example, Luke, Matthew and John consider Bethsaida as a city, but Mark as a village (in brackets has been named the city or village which does not appear in the verse, but in the previous or next verse).
We can guess that the number of inhabitants, without being more precise, was a criterion to distinguish a city from a village. But there is probably mainly the fact that a city was usually fortified to protect itself, and one entered by a door. This is how, in the Old Testament, for example, we speak of the "city gate": Gen 19: 1 (Sodom); Josh 2: 5 (Jericho); Josh 8: 29 (Ai); Judg 9: 35 (Sichem); Judg 16: 2 (Gaza); 2 Kings 23: 8 (Jerusalem); Jdt 8: 3 (Bethulia). In the Gospels, Luke mentions the gate of the city of Nain: "When he was near the gate of the city (of Nain), there was a dead man born, an only son whose mother was a widow; and there was with it a considerable crowd of the city" (7: 12). And we know that the city of Jerusalem was a fortified city.
Which cities were named by the evangelists? i.e. where a specific name is explicitly associated with the word polis. Everyone goes from their own list.
The only consensus among all is the city of Jerusalem. Luke has the longest list, but his knowledge of Palestine, where he has probably never set foot, is rather poor, and one can imagine that he could have projected his Greek universe on the geography of Palestine.As for villages, they are referred to without naming them, with a few rare exceptions: Bethsaida (Mk 8: 23), Bethphage (Mc 11: 2), Emmaus (Lk 24: 13), Bethlehem (Jn 7: 42), Bethany (Jn 11: 1).
"A city being set on a mountain", we read in v. 14. This comparison was easily understandable in Palestine with all its mountains (see the topographic map of Palestine). First, there is Jerusalem, 800 meters above sea level, easily visible. All of central Judea is mountainous, and part of Galilee; for example, Nazareth rises to 400 meters. So we can guess the relevance of the image used here.
|Texts with the noun polis in the Gospels-Acts|
|krybēnai (being hidden)||Krybēnai is the verb kryptō to the passive infinitive aorist which means: to hide, to keep secret. It is this verb that gave us in English: encrypt, crypt, cryptic, cryptography. It is rare in the Gospels, except in Matthew: Mt = 7; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 3; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In the Gospels, the word has two main meanings:
Of the seven occurrences of Matthew, five refer to the physical meaning of the term, four of which relate to hiding a valuable object in the ground (13: 44; 25: 18.25). Our v. 14 is of course in a physical context of the term, but to make a negative statement: not to be hidden; an elevated city cannot be physically hidden.
Note that out of the seven occurrences of kryptō, six are specific to him, i.e. they are not a copy of his main sources that are Mark and the Q source. What does that mean? They can come from one of its particular sources, and do not appear as an addition on its part, because the word is not part of its usual vocabulary.
We cannot analyze kryptō without mentioning the adjectives kryptos and kryphaios, and the name kryptē.
The adjective kryptos (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 3; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) means above all "what is hidden", and therefore is usually translated as: secret. In the Gospels, it is only at the level of knowledge, i.e. it concerns what one does not know. Thus, what escapes knowledge will one day be revealed (Lk 8: 17; 12: 2; Mk 4: 22; Mt 10: 26), Jesus is invited to act so as not to escape from the knowledge of others (Jn 7: 4), the teaching of Jesus in the temple has not escaped the knowledge of people (Jn 18: 20). In Matthew, Jesus invites people not to let others know if they are praying or giving alms (Mt 6: 4.6), and therefore to keep it secret. Overall, the secret is good, but one day the secret will be gone.
The adjective kryphaios is found only in Matthew throughout the New Testament and is simply another form of the adjective kryptos. Thus, in 6: 4 Matthew writes: "your Father who is there, in secret (en tō kryptō)", but in 6: 8 he writes: "your Father who is there, in secret (en tō kryphaiō)". When we widen our investigation to the Greek version of the Old Testament, we note the general assertion that the secret world does not escape God.
Let's say a word about the feminine name kryptē (hiding place) which only appears in Luke 11: 33: "No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it in a hiding place (kryptē) [or under a bushel]". Where does the word "hiding place" come from, which does not appear in either Mark or Matthew? Here, in v. 33, Luke seems to take up Q source, and therefore the word must have appeared in that source. Thus this image would be very old. It also appears in the Gospel of Thomas (33):
Jesus said: What you will hear with one ear, with the other ear proclaim it on your roofs. Because nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or puts it in a hiding place, but he puts it on the floor lamp so that all those who come and go see its light.
It is not clear whether the Gospel according to Thomas represents an independent source or, on the contrary, is only a summary of the synoptic Gospels. In any case, it is the opinion of someone like Boismard (op. cit., p. 133) that the word "hiding place" is older than bushel and would be inspired by Sir 20 :30-31).
So what are we to make of the expression "or under the bushel" that appears in this verse of Luke? It would be an addition of a copyist to harmonize Luke with Mark, since it does not appear in the oldest manuscripts such as the 3rd century papyrus P45 and P75. Furthermore, in 8: 16, where Luke seems to take up Mark 4: 21, which uses the image of a lamp that is not placed under the bushel, Luke seems to eliminate the bushel image and replaces it with the more generic image of a jar. Thus, "bushel" would not be part of Luke's Gospel (NRSV made the same decision).
On the whole, and in particular in Matthew, there is therefore a dialectic of the hidden / revealed: sometimes things must remain hidden (alms, prayer), sometimes they must be revealed and proclaimed (Christian wisdom).
|Texts with the verb kryptō in the Gospels-Acts|
|epanō (over)||Epanō is an adverb which means: above, on, over. Evangelists use it only rarely, except Luke, and especially Matthew: Mt = 8; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
It is found in three different contexts.
What is remarkable about Matthew is that the eight occurrences of his Gospel are all unique, i.e. they are not a copy of Mark or of the Q source. They could well come from his own source. In some cases, he may have added it to its source, at least that's what two occurrences suggest.
So even if the adverb epanō is not a term that Matthew often uses, he nevertheless seems to appreciate it and may have sometimes added it to his sources.
Here in v. 14, epanō clearly belongs to a physical context where a city was built on a mount or a mountain. Is there a nuance between epi (on) and epanō (over)? It is not impossible that epanō evokes the idea that the city is higher than the mountain by being on it, and therefore clearly visible; in other words, the city is on a peak.
|Texts with the adverb epanō in the New Testament|
Orous is the name oros with the singular neutral genitive. In the Gospels and Acts, it means: mountain or mount. As Judea and Galilee are mountainous regions, one can easily imagine that the term recurs regularly, in particular in Matthew: Mt = 16; Mk = 11; Lk = 12; Jn = 5; Ac = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Mark had already accustomed us to the important role that the mountain plays in the ministry of Jesus.
But Matthew will go even further. When we limit ourselves to the passages which are specific to him or when he is the only one to refer to the mountain, we note this:
There is no copy of Q source, it is more a working hypothesis to explain the passages common to Matthew and Luke. It is therefore difficult to reconstruct this hypothetical source. But in general, many Bible scholars believe that Luke respected this Q source better, i.e. he reworked it less than Matthew. For example, the text of the Beatitudes in Luke ("Blessed are you poor") would be more respectful of the original than that of Matthew who somewhat "spiritualized" it ("Blessed, the poor in spirit"); it is the same for the "Our Father", much shorter and simpler in Luke, while Matthew adds to him some of his theme ("your will be done").
Here, the story of the lost / gone astray sheep does not seem to be an exception. Luke would better reflect the ancient Palestinian context in which we found these deserts, i.e. these isolated places without much vegetation where a sheep could get lost. For his part, what does Matthew seem to be doing? In his own way, he "christianizes" this story, because it is no longer a lost sheep, but a sheep gone astray, i.e. one who has been carried away by ideologies that have corrupted or distorted his original faith. And the decor is that of the mountain, the decor of its living environment.
It is time to return to the mountain of our v. 14. This image must have had great relevance in Antioch where the mountain is part of the familiar landscape. Not only could one easily visualize the city located on a mountain, but one could associate a Christian community with it, i.e. it is the whole community which can become visible by its action imprinted with Christian wisdom.
But we have to go much further. In the Jewish world, and later in the Christian world, a text from Isaiah had great influence.
For in the last days, the mountain (oros) of the Lord will be visible (emphanes), and the house of God will be at the top of the mountains, and will be lifted above the hills; and all nations will come (LXX Isaiah 2: 2)
This house of God on the mountain, visible to all nations, represented the heavenly Jerusalem, and was seen as a "light for all nations" (Isa 2: 5), which will make known the true law of God. This image is also found in the tradition of the Gospel of Thomas (32, Oxyrh. 1 7; on this point see Boismard, op. cit., P. 132). This is probably a similar ancient tradition taken up by Matthew (this will be detailed in the study of parallels).
|Texts with the noun oros in the Gospels-Acts|
|keimenē (being set)||Keimenē is the verb keimai in the present passive participle, nominative feminine singular (it agrees with polis, city). It means: to lie, and so to be set or to be placed, or by derivation, to be designated. It is an uncommon verb: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 7; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is mainly used to indicate that an object has been placed in a specific location. For example:
There are three occurrences in Matthew.
This accentuates the impression that we are facing a tradition that Matthew receives.
|Texts with the verb keimai in Gospels-Acts|
|v. 15 we do not light a lamp and then place it under a piece of furniture, but we place it on its support so that it lights all those in the house.
Literally: Neither (oude) they light (kaiousin) a lamp (lychnon) and put (titheasin) it under a bushel (modion), but on the lampstand (lychnian) and it shines (lampei) for all those in the house (oikia).
|oude (neither)||Oude is an adverb of negation that is usually placed in a sentence that already has a negative meaning, to accentuate this negation. For example, a negation will apply to more than one object, and then oude will be translated by "neither (or negative word)... nor":
This adverb is also used after having made a first negation, to indicate that this negation also applies to another situation. We then translate oude by "neither" or "nor". For example :
Finally, oude accentuates a negation by indicating its unique side. So we translate it by "not even" or "even not". For example :
The adverb recurs regularly in the Gospels, in particular Matthew: Mt = 27; Mk = 10; Lk = 21; Jn = 17; Ac = 12; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In fact, Matthew likes to use this adverb: out of the 27 occurrences of his Gospel, 17 are specific to him (do not come from his sources, which are Mark and the Q source). But there is more. When he takes a passage from the Q source or a story from Mark, he allows himself to add this adverb to the text he receives. Let's take a closer look. We have highlighted the differences, which mainly consist in the fact that the sources of Matthew use "and" (kai), while Matthew uses "nor" (oude).
Q source (we consider Luke as a representative of Q source, because usually more faithful to the original source, as we mentioned above)
Mark as the source
What about our verse 15? (v. 14) "A city set over a mountain cannot be hidden" (v. 15) "Neither one lights a lamp ...". The idea is clear: a city over a mountain cannot be hidden any more than a lamp that is lit: neither can be hidden. This is the idea that oude tries to translate.
But as we pointed out in the few examples above, is Matthew the author of this oude, i.e. he would have added it to his sources? We believe this is likely. Matthew would have used oude to connect together the word on the city located on the mountain, which comes from an independent tradition (we also find it in Clement of Rome, Homilies 3, 67, which is not a quote from Matthew), a possible echo of a word of Jesus in a context that escapes us, with another tradition, that of the lamp, probably an echo of a word of Jesus in a completely different context, and which has received several versions including those transmitted by Mark and Luke.
Matthew is the only one to put together these two images of the city and the lamp, and oude (neither) served him as "glue".
|Texts with the adverb oude in the Gospels-Acts|
|kaiousin (they light)||Kaiousin is the verb kaiō in the present indicative, 3rd person plural. It means: to light, to burn. It is rare in the New Testament, and in particular in the Gospels: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
Here in v. 15, it is the lamp that is lit. The expression "lighting a lamp" is known elsewhere. At Luke 12: 35, it is an invitation to watch: "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit (kaiō)". In John 5: 35, it points to John the Baptist: "He was a burning (kaiō) and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.". In Revelation 4: 5, it designates the gifts of the Holy Spirit: "Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn (kaiō) seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God".
Elsewhere in the Septuagint Bible it refers above all to the lamp at the temple shrine in Jerusalem which must always burn: "You will light (kaiō) the lamps on the pure gold candlestick before the Lord, until morning" (Lev 24: 4; see also Lev 24: 2; Ex 27: 20). The only exception is the letter from Jeremiah where it is a reference to the lamps that are lit in pagan temples: "They light (kaiō) lamps, and even in greater numbers than for themselves, and these gods can see none" (Let-Jer 1: 18).
After these few observations, we see that there is really nothing equivalent to what is found here in v. 15: the intention one has when lighting a lamp.
|Texts with the verb kaiō in the New Testament|
|lychnon (lamp)||Lychnon is the name lychnos in the singular masculine accusative and means: lamp. It is very rare among evangelists, except Luke: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 1; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In fact, the two occurrences in Matthew are not really from his pen, since one (6: 22) is a copy of the Q source, and the other (5: 15) of Mark.
Throughout the New Testament, the word appears in two different contexts. First, there is the very rare context of the physical reality of the lamp which is used to illuminate. There are only two cases.
And there is the symbolic or parabolic context where the lamp is a symbol of the good understanding of things (the eye of the body), or that of being awake for the Lord, or that of the word of God which enlightens, or still a symbol of happy life. For example :
Let's remember that the primitive lamp is a bucket filled with oil that burns in a wick (on the subject see L. Monloubou, F. M. Du Buit, Dictionnaire biblique universel (Universal Biblical Dictionary). Paris-Quebec: Desclée-Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 415). From the Middle Bronze Age, a beak was formed by pinching the side of pottery. The Greek lamp, invented in the 5th century, gradually spread in the East. The spout is separated from the filling hole. The lamp is often equipped with a small handle, its top is decorated with mythological scenes. In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Jews will like to decorate their lamps with decorations borrowed from the old liturgy: Temple, candlestick, Shofar, ewer and palms of the Festival of Tents, etc.
Returning to v. 15, two observations can be made.
|Texts with the noun lychnos in the New Testament|
|titheasin (they put)||Titheasin is the verb tithēmi in the present indicative active third-person plural. Apart from Matthew, it is quite frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 5; Mk = 11; Lk = 15; Jn = 18; Ac = 23; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Basically, it means: to put. But as in English, "to put" can take various meanings according to the context: to place, to lay, to drop off, to set.
Tithēmi is not part of Matthew's usual vocabulary. Of the five occurrences in his Gospels, three (Mt 5: 15 || Mk 4: 21; Mt 22: 44 || Mk 12: 26; Mt 27: 60 || Mk 15: 46) are a copy of Mark's text, another (Mt 24: 51 || Lk 12: 46) is a copy of the Q source.
So there is Mt 12: 18 left, but this is a quote from Isaiah 42: 1 which reads in the Septuagint:
and that Matthew copies as follows:
The difference between Matthew and the Septuagint is in three verbs that I put in parentheses. Why this difference? Either Matthew, by copying the text of the Septuagint, allowed himself adaptations, and therefore would have replaced for example didōmi (give or spread the Spirit) by tithēmi (put the Spirit), or else he quotes a version of Isaiah other than the Septuagint, or else he cites from memory a popular oral version. Difficult to decide. Anyway, that does not change our conclusion: tithēmi is not part of the usual vocabulary of Matthew, and in v. 15, we are in front of a copy of Mark's text.
|Texts with the verb tithēmi in the Gospels-Acts|
|modion (bushel)||Modion is the name modios (bushel) in the singular masculine accusative. In the whole Bible, it only appears in Mark that Matthew and Luke write down: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
What is a bushel? According to Xavier Léon-Dufour (Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament (Dictionary of the New Testament). Paris: Seuil, 1975, p. 147), this is a Roman measurement of the capacity of solids worth approximately 8.75 liters. The container could serve as a dish or support for the poor to deposit food.
But how can we represent this object more precisely? Here is what P. Benoit - M.E. Boismard (Synopte des quatre évangiles (Synopsis of the Four Gospels) II. Paris: Cerf, 1972, p. 133) says about it:
In fact, according to archaeological data, the "bushel" was "a small piece of furniture, a sort of trunk-conical tub, the bottom of which was carried by three or four feet" (Dupont-Sommer); there can therefore be no question of overturning the bushel on the lamp! The "bushel" of Mt would have rather the same meaning as the "bed" of Mk, who too was mounted on four legs and under which it was possible to hide the lamp".
|Texts with the noun modios in the Bible|
|lychnian (lampstand)||Lychnian is the name lychnia for the singular feminine accusative. It is very rare: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is found only in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in Revelation. It is translated by our various bibles either by lamppost, or by candlestick, or by candelabrum; it all depends on whether you are holding an oil lamp, or a candle, and whether the candles are in the temple.
If we rely on The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (p. 69-70), throughout the Old Testament period, the lamp holder does not appear to be part of the common furniture of the house. The only mention is 2 Kings 4: 10 "Let us prepare an upper room for him, he does not need it very large; let's put a bed, a table, a chair, a lampstand (lychnia) there, and he will sleep there when he comes to our house". This lamp holder was usually made of wood on which the oil lamp was made of clay; bronze or iron lamp holders were rare.
Elsewhere, especially in the Exodus, it was a candlestick (menorah) to support candles and which was part of the temple furniture; it had the shape of a stylized tree with three branches on each side of a central trunk, and it had the essential function of lighting the temple. The temple of Solomon would have had ten candlesticks, five on the north side, five on the south side (1 Kings 7: 35).
Several decades before the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great had the second temple renovated and ordered a new menorah made by craftsmen under Hellenistic influence.
For the first century of the era, archeology unfortunately left us little data on the lamp holder as home furnishings. The New Testament, apart from these evangelical passages on the lamp which should not be hidden, but put on its support, only refers to the temple candlestick:
Thus, we have little data to try to imagine the shape of the lamp holder in a house and where it was located. We can guess three things:
|Texts with the noun lychnia in the Bible|
|lampei (it shines)||Lampei is the verb lampō in the present active present indicative form, third person singular. It means to shine, and is sometimes translated as: to be radiant. It is very rare in the whole New Testament, and it is in Matthew that we find the most occurrences among the evangelists: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Ac = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The subject of the verb "to shine" is light. However, in our pericope, light designates two different realities. Here in v. 15, it is physical light, and therefore the verb "to shine" refers to the physical reality of lighting a room. But in v. 16, the light will designate the Christian wisdom with which the believer has been invested, and therefore the verb "to shine" will refer to the Christian mission, that of testifying to this wisdom. On this point, Matthew is not unique.
In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (4: 6), Paul designates as knowledge that shines in the darkness the knowledge of God that we have through the person of Jesus. When we go through the Septuagint to look for the few occurrences of lampō, we note passages where the light that shines is that of the wisdom of God, as is the case in Proverbs 4: 18: "But the ways of the righteous shine (lampō) like light; they go on and illumine, until the day be fully come". In Tobit 13: 11 (version of the Sinaiticus), the city of Jerusalem was invested with the knowledge of God, and in this it is light which shines for the world, so that all the nations will come to it to express their action of thanks. Finally, Isaiah 9: 1 announces that a great light will shine in the person of a new king who will free the Jewish people from the foreign yoke. In all these texts, the act of shining has a transformative effect: it dissipates the darkness of ignorance and slavery, it directs and guides people, it is a source of joy and hope.
Thus, with the symbolism of the shining light, Matthew presents the Christian mission.
It is important to underline in closing that the term lampō would have been introduced by Matthew to his sources. The Markan source (4: 21) says nothing about what happens when the lamp is placed on the lamp holder. It is possible that a similar tradition existed on the side of the Q source, since Luke, like Matthew, presents to us the result of a lamp on the lamp holder: "so that those who penetrate see the light" (Lk 8: 16; 11: 33). If we assume that Matthew knew the Markan and Q source versions, then we must conclude that he is doing original work by writing: "it shines for all those (who are) in the house". The verb "to shine" would therefore really be from his pen, probably inspired by the Old Testament.
|Texts with the verb lampō in the Bible|
|oikia (house)||Oikia is the name oikia in the singular feminine dative and means: house. Two words refer to the house in Greek, the masculine name oikos, and the feminine name oikia. All the evangelists use the two terms: oikos (Mt = 10; Mk = 13; Lk = 33; Jn = 5; Ac = 25; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) and oikia (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5; Ac = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0). As we can see, Matthew and Mark prefer oikia to oikos, while Luke prefers oikos to oikia, while John uses them in an equivalent way. There does not seem to be any nuance between the two terms. A typical example comes from John where the house of Martha and Mary is called first oikos, then oikia:
When we look at the use of oikia by evangelists, we note four possible meanings.
In Matthew, oikia generally designates the physical house, the only exception being cases where they are residents of the house (10: 13-14; 12: 25; 13: 57). In v. 15, Matthew obviously refers to the physical house that the lamp lights up. But you can't help but see a secondary meaning. Indeed, the house plays the role of the community of disciples where the word of Jesus receives new light.
The house where the parables or actions of Jesus are explained represents the Church, where the word of God is deepened. So the house that shines because of the lamp is also the Church lit by the word of Jesus.
|Texts with the noun oikia in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 16 Thus let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and recognize in it the extraordinary quality of being of your divine father.
Literally: Thus should have shined the light of you before (emprosthen) men, so that (hopōs) that they should have seen (idōsin) of you men the good (kala) deeds (erga) and they should have glorified (doxasōsin) the father (patera) of you in the heavens (ouranois).
|emprosthen (before)||Emprosthen is here a preposition which means: before. It is uncommon among evangelists, except in Luke and Matthew: Mt = 18; Mk = 2; Lk = 10; Jn = 5; Ac = 2; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Matthew likes this preposition, and it is in a verse that is unique to him and reflects his creation, which completes what he received from his sources and allows him to give it a theological orientation.
Let's remember that emprosthen, like the English word "before", can be either an adverb or a preposition. It is an adverb when it is used absolutely to qualify a verb. Only Luke gives us two examples of its use as an adverb:
As a preposition it introduces an additional object which it links to a member of the sentence. For example:
Now here in v. 16, emprosthen is a preposition which introduces the additional object: men: "should have your light shine before men". It is not the only time that Matthew speaks of an action before men. Let's take a closer look:
To this list, we can add another verse where we have the equivalent of "before men" implicitly:
For Matthew, the expression "men" seems to designate the world, the society of humans, which becomes the great theater where our Christian life takes place. Now, in this great theater, there are things that must be done, and things that should not be done.
What has to be done :
What one should not do :
It may seem paradoxical that Matthew presents to us on the one hand a Jesus who asks us to be "visible" and to show Christian wisdom, like a city located on a mountain, or like a lamp on the lamp holder that illuminates the whole house, and on the other hand to be "invisible" when we pray or we give alms; aren't these last two actions laudable and commendable? In fact everything is in the motive: the glory of God or his own glory.
The "before men" is a call to live the Beatitudes, this Christian wisdom. It is not just knowledge, but a life that has the capacity to transform the world. This call to be visible is not a self-promotion, but a call to give what we have received for the benefit of all of humanity, and thereby transform the world in the image of God.
|Texts with the adverb/preposition emprosthen in the Gospels-Acts|
|hopōs (so that)||
Hopōs is either an interrogative adverb or a conjunction. As an interrogative adverb, it means: how. We have only one example in the Gospels.
As a conjunction, it plays two roles. It can introduce a final subordinate proposition, and it then means: so that, for the purpose of. For example :
Hopōs can also introduce a complete subordinate proposition with request verbs, and it is usually translated as: so that. For example :
Here in v. 16, hopōs is used to introduce a subordinate proposition expressing the purpose of this visibility of Christian wisdom: that men see the good works of the believer and give glory to God. This conjunction "so that" is important, because it gives all the meaning of the effort to be visible and marks the way in which we will do it: contrary to what some people do who pray or give alms publicly, or show themselves to be the most religious of men, in order to assert their person, the Christian must find the way of acting which will above all highlight an action which comes from God.
As with emprosthen, hopōs is not frequent among evangelists, except in Luke, and especially Matthew: Mt = 17; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 1; Ac = 14; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In addition, among the 17 occurrences of the Gospel of Matthew, 15 are specific to him (not a copy of Mark or of Q source). As with emprosthen, we have with hopōs the imprint of Matthew's pen.
|Texts with the adverb hopōs in the Gospels-Acts|
|idōsin (they should have seen)||Idōsin is the verb horaō in the active aorist subjunctive, 3rd person plural. The subjunctive is required because of the conjunction hopōs (so that) which introduces a possibility, that of good deeds. The verb is in the aorist, a typically Greek tense which is translated into English by a past (that they have seen), but which simply means in Greek that the action is completed: it is after having seen the good deeds accomplished that one can give glory to God.
Like the verb "to see" in English, it is extremely frequent among the evangelists, in particular Matthew and Luke: Mt = 138; Mk = 67; Lk = 138; Jn = 86; Ac = 95; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. But in our analysis, we will rule out the cases where horaō is used to say "behold", ie idou and ide, expression that Matthew and Luke use often. This now gives us the following figures for horaō: Mt = 72; Mk = 51; Lk = 81; Jn = 63; Ac = 72; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2.
Like the word "to see" in English, horaō can have various meanings.
After this analysis, let us consider the verb "to see" here in v. 16. It is not just physical contact or seeing something. Because the end result is thanksgiving at the address of God, which presupposes faith. This "seeing" is on the same level as those of our third category.
All this limits these "men" before whom Christians must shine with their good deeds. Indeed, who is likely to be receptive to good deeds and to attribute the source to God: other Christians or open mind Jews.
|Texts with the verb horaō in Matthew (without "behold", i.e. idou, ide)|
|kala (good)||Kala is the adjective kalos in the plural accusative neutral, and it agrees with erga, which is a plural neutral name. It means: good, and appears sporadically among the evangelists, but is more frequent in Matthew: Mt = 21; Mk = 11; Lk = 9; Jn = 7; Ac = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In Matthew, the adjective qualifies two different realities. It first qualifies objects (14 occurrences out of the total of 21), and more precisely elements of nature: the tree, the fruit of the tree, the earth, the grain, the fish, the pearl. For example :
It also describes human actions, or the attitude of the person, and therefore is situated on the moral level. For example :
We can say that Matthew likes this adjective; not only is he the one who uses it most often, but of the 21 occurrences in his Gospel, 11 are unique to him (not a copy of Mark or the Q source). When we examine the occurrences which are specific to him, we note that kalos always qualifies an element of nature (fruit, tree, grain, pearl, fish), except here in v. 16 with "good deeds".
Thus, we are here before a rare and unique expression of Matthew (in 26: 10 "good deeds" is only a copy of Mark). One might think that this is an important point for him in his theology, at the heart of this catechesis for his Christian community. But at the same time, we suspect that the expression "good deeds" is received from a tradition.
|Texts with the adjective kalos in Gospels-Acts|
|erga (deeds)||Erga is the noun ergon in the plural accusative neutral and means: work or deed. It is not very frequent in the Gospels, with the exception of John: Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 27; Ac = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But among the synoptics, it is in Matthew that the word is most frequent.
Even if ergon is not as frequent in Matthew as in John, it is nevertheless of particular importance. Because of the six occurrences, five are specific to him (are not a copy of Mark or of the Q source; the only copy is found in 26: 10 where Matthew takes up the scene from Mark on the woman who floods Jesus with her perfume). This word is so important to him that he added it to a scene from Q source. Let us compare this scene where Luke probably represents the most original version of Q source (we have already explained above why we consider that Luke usually better reflects the Q source). We have underlined the commonalities.
As we can see, the fundamental difference between the two texts is found in the finale: the Q source (Luke) speaks of justice in the face of Wisdom rendered by the children of Wisdom, while Matthew would have modified this sentence to say that justice in the face of Wisdom has been rendered by the works of Wisdom.
Why such importance of ergon at Matthew. Recall that he is a Jew, and for a Jew, orthopraxis dominates, i.e. what pleases God are acts performed in accordance with what God demands. Thus, when he writes the scene of the reproaches of Jesus addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees (23: 3-5), the reproaches do not target the works, but the intention behind these works, ie self-promotion. For Matthew, it is in action that faith is lived. One has only to think of his own scene of the final judgment, where those who will inherit the kingdom are those who took care of the poor, the sick and the prisoners.
This is the case in v. 16: what will make the Christian stands out is his action, his good deeds.
|Texts with the noun ergon in the Gospels-Acts|
|doxasōsin (they should have glorified)||
Doxasōsin is the verb doxazō in the aorist of the active subjunctive 3rd person plural. The subjunctive is brought by hopōs (so that). The aorist expresses less an action from the past than an ad hoc action: having made a specific gesture, now finished. The verb means: to glorify. It is uncommon in the various books of the New Testament, except in Luke and especially in John (of the 55 occurrences, 56% are found in these two authors): Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 9; Jn = 17; Ac = 5; Let-Jn = 0; 1 Thess = 0; 2 Thess = 1; Phil = 0; 1 Cor = 2; 2 Cor = 3; Gal = 1; Rom = 5; Col = 0; Eph = 0; 1 Tim = 0; 2 Tim = 0; Titus = 0; Philem = 0; 1 Pet = 4; 2 Pet = 0; Jas = 0; Jude = 0; Heb = 1; Rev = 2. One cannot speak of the verb without speaking of the name doxa (glory), which is much more frequent throughout the New Testament (a total of 166 occurrences): Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 13; Jn = 22; Ac = 4; Let-Jn = 0; 1 Thess = 3; 2 Thess = 2; Phil = 6; 1 Cor = 12; 2 Cor = 19; Gal = 1; Rom = 16; Col = 4; Eph = 8; 1 Tim = 0; 2 Tim = 3; Titus = 1; Philem = 2; 1 Pet = 10; 2 Pet = 5; Jas = 1; Jude = 3; Heb = 7; Rev = 17.
For a presentation on glory, we will refer to our glossary. Let us summarize what is said there.
In the classical Greek world, doxa means the subjective opinion of a person, and therefore his reputation, the verb doxazō means "to have a thought, to imagine". But it is especially the Hebrew world through the Greek translation of the Scriptures which will influence the meaning of these two words. Indeed, the Septuagint translated by doxa the Hebrew word: kaḇôd, which derives from the verb kbd which means: to be heavy, to have weight. It is applied to a person who is "heavy", i.e. who has a lot of influence, and this on several levels, financial, political, military, etc. So it's the idea of being influential, important, powerful, as is typical of the king. Quite naturally the idea was applied to God and became one of its attributes. But what is special enough, the notion of glory will come to personify God himself, so that "glory" and "God" will become practically synonymous.
In the New Testament, the doxa unfolds on two different major axes. First there is this notion developed in the classical Greek world where glory refers to the reputation of a person, to the great honors that he can receive, and with that the image of his brilliance that shines and radiates. Let us give some examples which concern both the noun and the verb.
But as in the Old Testament, it is in relation to God that the words "glory" and "glorify" appear most often. By this, it is above all a question of designating the power and the influence of God, just like his presence which resembles the brightness of the light. And "to glorify God" or "to give glory to God" then means: to recognize his power and his authority in his action in the world, and therefore to submit to it.
But what's unique in the New Testament is that this God-specific glory is now applied to a person, the risen Jesus. When God "glorifies" his son, he gives him access to his own glory. And this glory will only be truly visible to the believer when he returns.
And the Christian, as a saved being, as a son of God, is called to share this glory. As glory is the attribute of God, to share this glory is to share the being of God, and therefore to be completely transformed (to go from glory to glory).
John's Gospel deserves special treatment. For, if the emphasis is on the glory of Jesus, then what is at stake is not his future glory, but the glory which is already present in his ministry, a glory which is expressed through the signs which he operates, which are both saving actions and the revelation of his identity as the only Son; the apex of this glory is its elevation on the cross, ultimate victory over evil and revelation of this being which he shares with the Father. The words "glory" and "glorify" mean to reveal the identity of Jesus and that of his Father.
As you can see, the words doxa and doxazō are very flexible and have different meanings depending on the context. The only common point is that of designating a reality that is considered important, and this is expressed symbolically by the image of clarity or radiance (for this analysis we have ignored the few cases where glory designates the angels of the apocalyptic world or the cherubs of the temple).
What about Matthew? First of all, we never find in him the word "glory" (doxa) to designate "the glory of God": of the seven occurrences of doxa, five describe the return of Christ in his glory (16: 27; 19: 28; 24: 30; 25: 31), and two refer to human glory (4: 8; 6: 29).
As for the verb "glorify" (doxazō), of the four occurrences, three speak of "glorifying God", which seems to offer a different note than what we have just seen with doxa. But a more detailed analysis allows us the following observations.
What to say? The expressions "glory of God" and "glorify God" are not part of the typical vocabulary of Matthew. So this tradition that Matthew integrates into his narrative states this: by living Christian wisdom, the believer allows others to recognize the influence and action of God, and therefore his influence in the world.
Let us note in conclusion that, for modern English translation of the verb doxazō, we have opted for the expression: recognize the extraordinary quality of being, in connection with our translation of doxa: extraordinary quality of being. For the justification of this translation, please refer to our terms translation page.
|Texts with the verb doxazō in the New Testament|
Patera is the noun patēr in the singular accusative: the accusative is required because this word is the direct object of the verb "glorify". It means: father, and as we imagine, it is very common under the pen of the evangelists, especially John, then Matthew: Mt = 62; Mk = 18; Lk = 53; Jn = 131; Ac = 34; 1Jn = 14; 2Jn = 4; 3Jn = 0.
Remember that the name patēr can have four different meanings.
Where does Matthew stand among all the evangelists? The following table gives us a good idea of this (John's epistles have been grouped under the evangelist of the same name).
As we can observe, it is in John and Matthew where the word "father" as a reference to God dominates. In Luke the evangelist and Mark, the biological father stands out, while the Acts of the Apostles focus on the ancestors (we should not be surprised by all these speeches addressed to the Jewish people where we make much reference to God's promise to "fathers").
Having thus recognized the importance of the Father in the Gospel of Matthew, one might have the impression that here in v. 16 we are faced with a sentence from the pen of the evangelist who wrote to his community around the 80s or 85s. But we observed earlier than nowhere else Matthew speaks of "glorifying God". So it is very likely that we are here in v. 16 before an ancient tradition, which could go back to the time of Jesus, a sentence that Matthew did not compose, but inserted in his Gospel. Let's not forget that the Christian catechesis focused on Christology, and therefore was more interested in speaking of Christ, than in dwelling on the attributes of God per se. We will come back to this in the study of parallels.
|Texts with the noun patēr in the Gospels-Acts|
Ouranois is the plural masculine dative of the name ouranos and which means: heaven or sky. It's a very common word, especially in Matthew: Mt = 82; Mk = 18; Lk = 35; Jn = 18; Ac = 26; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. We can refer to the glossaire where we analyzed the cosmology of the Jewish world. Let's summarize the main elements.
In the cosmology of the ancients, the universe is divided into two main parts (Gen 1: 1 "In the beginning the God created the heaven and the earth"): the world below is that of the earth, a flat earth supported by immense columns or high mountains; above the earth, very high, there is a solid, semi-spherical vault, which rests on the edge of the horizon, the firmament, which separates the world from below from the world from above, a world inaccessible. In the world above, above the firmament, there are first the stars, then the upper waters from which the rain comes, and above these waters there is the invisible world of God who can be made up of several floors to make room for celestial beings, God of course enthroned above everything.
In the Old Testament, "heaven" is called from the Hebrew word šāmayim (heavens). Note that it is a plural masculine word. But the Septuagint translators translated šāmayim by the Greek word ouranos, but in 90% with the singular, and not by the plural as the Hebrew word required. And our bibles followed with a translation usually in the singular. And when we look at the whole of the Septuagint, we note a certain logic in the choice between the plural "heavens" and the singular "heaven".
Now let's look at the evangelists. What exactly do they mean by the word "heavens" or "heaven". In fact, we note that this word designates three different realities: 1) God himself designated under the term of "heaven" to avoid pronouncing his name; 2) that part above the firmament where the stars, the higher waters, spiritual beings like angels, are found, and finally God himself; 3) the atmosphere under the firmament where birds, for example, fly. We can thus establish the following table according to the realities designated by ouranos by each evangelist.
As can be seen, Matthew largely dominates this table with the use of this word, and especially to designate God and this part above the firmament. But let's also add that in the context of the use of the plural (heavens) and the singular (heaven), the plural largely dominates: 55 occurrences out of 82. It should not be surprising, because the Hebrew term to designate heaven, šāmayim, is a plural word, and remember, Matthew is a Jew speaking to a community of Jewish origin. So it is easy to understand that expressions like "your Father who is in heavens", which recurs 13 times in his Gospel, and "kingdom of heavens", which recurs 32 times, fit well in a Jewish environment (Please note that English Bibles often translate the plural Greek word with a singular).
The following table shows the distribution of the masculine and the plural according to the three realities designated by ouranos. We have refined our analysis by indicating when the word seems to have been copied from Mark or from the Q source (therefore not specific to Matthew), and when the word is specific to him (cannot be found in Mark or in the Q source). Note that we have put in the "specific" category the cases where Matthew has "heavens" and his parallel has "heaven". It is not always easy to determine which of Matthew and Luke best reflects the Q source; the majority of the biblical scholars think that Luke best respects the original source, but, while adopting this position, we think that there are cases where it is Matthew who best reflects this very old source, as is the case for "kingdom of heavens" that Luke would have transformed into "kingdom of God".
After this overview on ouranos, where does our v. 16 fit? The expression "Father in heavens" is completely Jewish, and in his Gospel it comes up 13 times. So it fits well in Matthew's Gospel. But as we have seen with "good deeds", while it has the color of Matthew, it may nevertheless come from a very ancient Jewish tradition. This will be confirmed when analyzing the parallels.
|The glossary on heaven|
As we hinted earlier, these four verses of our pericope are a tinkering of various things. As we look for parallels elsewhere in the New Testament, we must consider each verse individually. We have underlined the identical words. In red, which is unique only to Mark and Luke. In blue, which is unique only to Matthew and Luke. When a word is partially underlined or colored, it means that only part of the word is identical (because the verb tense is different, or the word agreement is different). We opted for the most literal translation possible.
Let's first consider what's similar. Shared by all the evangelists, there is the image of salt and the fact that salt can lose its properties, and a question that arises: what do we do if this happens? Here ends what is common to the three Gospels. Matthew and Luke also share the expression "the salt goes crazy" and the fact that the salt, which has lost its properties, is thrown out.
How to explain all this and shed light on the history of the writing of these Gospels? Recall that according to the theory of two sources, Mark was the first Gospel published around the year 67, and that Matthew and Luke published their Gospel around the year 80 or 85, using the Gospel of Mark as the basic canvas, but benefited from an ancient source known to both, a source called Q, in addition to their personal sources. It is therefore normal that Matthew and Luke have words similar to Mark, since they have the Gospel of Mark before their eyes. This is what we notice here: the word "salt" is similar, the hypothesis "if salt has become" [something else], and a question "with what" [will the situation be fixed]. Luke was a little more faithful to Mark by taking up his introduction as it is: good [is] the salt, and the question asked: with what to "season" the salt which has lost its properties.
In addition to Mark, the Q source also seems to have a passage which speaks of salt. Unfortunately, there is no record of this document, except through what is specific to Matthew and Luke. But generally speaking, biblical scholars agree that Luke was a little more faithful to this source than Matthew. What do we note? This source reportedly spoke of "salt" which becomes "crazy", and asked the question: how to season it. And then it would have examined the situation of desalted salt: it is "thrown out" because "it is no longer" suitable as a fertilizer (for soil and manure).
In front of that, what does Matthew?
Let's move to verse 14. It echoes a passage from Isaiah. We are also adding a passage from Thomas's non-canonical Gospel. Let's take a closer look. We have underlined the identical words in Matthew and Isaiah, and we have colored in red the words of the Gospel of Thomas which are also found in Isaiah and Matthew.
Let's start with Isaiah. What does this passage say? At the end of time, the city of Jerusalem, located on a mountain, with the temple of God, will be visible to all, so that the whole world will go to it to receive the light that is the Law and the word of the Lord. Even if few identical words have been underlined, it is clear that this passage from Isaiah inspired this verse from Matthew. Indeed, Isaiah announces that the Jewish people will one day have a fundamental role in front of the world, because they are able to bring this light of God contained in the Law and his word. For Matthew, this time has come, and it is up to the Christian community, this new Israel, to exercise this role; she cannot escape it. But to exercise this role, you have to be visible.
As for the Gospel of Thomas, it is not easy to situate it well. Because this apocryphal writing, composed by an anonymous author first in Greek, then translated later into Syriac, and then into Coptic, was not really discovered until 1945 in its Coptic version, in Nag Hammadi (Egypt) in the middle of documents belonging to the Gnostic sect. It is a set of 114 words attributed to Jesus. From the original version in Greek, we only have fragments discovered around 1900 in the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus in a room used for scrap. Bible scholars disagree on the date of composition, and estimates range from the 60s to 140s of the modern era. And many of the words of this Gospel could be a summary of the canonical Gospels. Be that as it may, the word 32, the Greek version of which is presented in our parallel, does not seem a pure and simple copy of Matthew, but a tradition which echoes the text of Isaiah while reflecting certain elements of Matthew. It may be an example of a tradition that circulated in the first century. This would support the idea that the text of Isaiah held an important place in Christian memory, and that Matthew may not have completely invented the phrase: a city on a high mountain cannot be hidden.
Let's examine the rest of the pericope and its parallels. This time, we must also add the first letter of Peter and Justin martyr (100 - 165). We have added two colors: pink for the similarities between the epistle of Peter and Matthew, and the green for the similarities between Justin and Matthew as well as the epistle of Peter. Underlined is what Mark, Matthew or Luke share together.
Let's start with the end. The parallel between Mt 5: 16, 1 Pet 2: 12 and Justin is remarkable. It is possible that 1 Peter and Justin give us an echo of an ancient word that circulated independently to the Gospel texts, and that Matthew also knew: we talk about good deeds that shine and whose sight allows others to glorify the Father in heaven. This takes up a theme known from the Old Testament, for example Prov 4: 18: (LXX) "the paths of the righteous shine like light"; Sir 32: 16: (LXX) "They make their just actions shine like light".
Around this nucleus, Matthew inserts an introduction to v. 14a which echoes the "You are the salt of the earth" in v. 13a: "You are the light of the world". But as we saw in the analysis of the structure, the intention of Matthew is to emphasize the importance of being visible in the mission: we shine not only by doing good actions, but by doing them visibly. Also he adds to this v. 14 the image of the city on the mountain, an image inspired by Isa 2: 2 and which one also finds in the Gospel of Thomas, without one being able to determine if it is an independent source or dependent on Matthew.
And to support this image of visibility, he resorts in v. 15 to a word from Jesus which seems to be present both in Mark and in the Q source. Indeed, Luke gives us two versions of the story around the lamp, which suggests that he had before him two sources, that from Mark and that from Q source.
In 8: 16, taking the image of Mark that one does not put a lamp under the bed, but on the lampstand (it is he who probably replaced Mark's bushel, a term not well known in Greek circles, by the idea of covering it with a vase), Luke uses this word on the lamp to conclude the teaching of Jesus on the parable of the sower to affirm that this teaching to the disciples will one day be disseminated and known in the world.
In 11: 33 Luke copy the text of the Q source on the lamp, which one does not put in a hiding place but on the lampstand, so that all those who enter see this light, to conclude the assertion of Jesus that he is a sign, with an invitation to see clearly in order to discern this sign and to believe. The image of the lamp also serves as an introduction to the following on the lamp of the body that is the eye.
We will have noticed that the first words ("no one, after kindling ") and the ending ("in order for those who are entering may see the light") of Lk 8: 16 and Lk 11: 33 are identical: it would be due to a work of harmonization of Lk 8, 16 compared to Lk 11, 33 by Luke himself (cf. ME Boismard, op. cit., p. 133).
Let's go back to Matthew. Admitting that he has in front of him Mk 4: 21 and the Q source that would reflect Lk 11: 33 (except the addition of the copyist: [nor under a bushel]), what does he do? He adds "neither" (oude) to make the link with the city on the mountain, then the verb "to light" (kaiō) to keep the idea of a light that shines and which is clearer than the verb "kindle" (haptō) from the Q source. Then, he takes up Mark's image of the lamp under bushel, which is enough for him to illustrate what not to do (the bushel, being a piece of furniture like a bed, the mention of the bed became redundant), just as he copied as is the gesture of placing the lamp on a lampstand. Finally, he takes from the Q source (Lk 11: 33) the idea that the lamp allows to see for those who enter, but by modifying it slightly by adding the verb "to shine" (lampō) which allows him to make the link with the next verse that begins with this verb. And by adding "house" (oikia), he makes explicit what was only implied in the Q source ("those who are entering") and allows him to refer either to the community or to the world.
The basic assumption regarding a particular Gospel is that it was first written for a local church, to support the catechesis of those who joined the community. As Luke writes in the introduction to his Gospel, "so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1: 4). According to the majority of biblical scholars, Mark addressed himself to the persecuted Church in Rome, Luke to a Church of Greek culture (in my opinion, probably the Church of Corinth in Greece; see Where the Gospel of Luke was written), John to a rather particular community which had probably taken up residence in Ephesus (present-day Turkey). What about Matthew? Clearly, his Gospel was addressed to Jewish Christians, and for a number of biblical scholars, this Church could be located in Antioch, an important center of Jewish Christians who had been the first "sponsors" of the Pauline mission.
What do we know about this Church, except that it seems to be composed mainly of Christians of Jewish origin and that it was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire? There are few documents to give us an idea, especially for the period of the 80s or 85 when the Gospel according to Matthew seems to have been written. Earlier, Paul's letters (which extend from A.D. 51 to about A.D. 67, the presumed date of his death in Rome) echo a conservative Church which, having sent him on mission, now opposes Paul's preaching of freedom from the Law). Luke teaches us that it was there that the disciples of Jesus were first called: Christians (Acts 11:26). Ignatius of Antioch (35 - 108) was bishop there for a period that extends from the year 66 until his death as a martyr in Rome, and thus covers the period when Matthew would have written his Gospel. Ignatius is the one who reused the priestly structure of the Jewish world (high priest, priest, Levite) to apply it to the Church (bishop, priest, deacon), thus creating a hierarchy; in a way he judaized the Christian life.
Otherwise, the Gospel of Matthew himself must be decoded to "feel" the pulse of the community. It can quickly be said that there is a tension between the more conservative who want a strict application of the Law ("if your righteousness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees" 5: 20) and Jewish practices (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) ("When you fast.... ", 6: 16), and those who want to free themselves from them completely, and thus find themselves without Law, without reference points, and who have as if they have lost the breath of their origins, especially considering that the promise of Jesus' return does not seem to be fulfilled ("Because of the increasing absence of the Law, love will grow cold among the many" 24: 12).
It is in this context that our passage should be read (5: 13-16). After taking up again the Q source on Jesus' teaching on the Beatitudes, where he expresses the fundamental attitude expected of the Christian, Matthew sets out to make explicit the whole program of Christian action in this great inaugural discourse of Jesus. This great discourse is aimed both at those who insist on a strict compliance to the Law and at those who have abandoned everything.
And before explaining the details of Christian action in concrete terms, he wishes to give its fundamental motivation: Christian action has a missionary function. In order to do this, he will make use of material he finds in Mark in another context, of the Q source (which seems to be a kind of ring binder of texts about Jesus), and of other elements of the tradition which one find, for example, in the first epistle of Peter and in Justin. And so he says to his community: "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world; this is your identity, you cannot escape from it".
Taking up the image of salt, which could play different roles in antiquity (giving taste to food, preserving it, as well as serving as a fertilizer for cultivation with manure and as a catalyst for ovens), he first of all targets those who have lost their Christian spirit, if not their faith, and therefore, like salt that has lost its properties, they have become "crazy". This loss of identity has consequences: as this salt is no longer needed and is thrown out of the house, these Christians are threatened with excommunication, i.e., thrown out of the community, being "dead" Christians.
After this warning, which has a negative flavor, Matthew takes a more positive stance with the image of the light of the world. For him, all the teaching of Jesus, and in particular the Beatitudes, is this unique wisdom that the world needs and can truly enlighten it. And the Christian is a bearer of this light in the measure in which he lives it by his actions. To express this point, he has recourse to a passage from Isaiah which gives us his vision of the messianic times when the city of Jerusalem will become the focus of the nations, not only because it is situated on a mountain, but because it is there that the house of God and his Law are to be found, and therefore that light capable of enlightening the universe. But for Matthew, the messianic times have arrived, and the new Jerusalem is the Christian community which is the repository of this light to enlighten the nations, the one who has received the teaching on the Beatitudes. At the same time, Matthew gives a different orientation to this text from Isaiah: rather than being a celebration of the greatness of the plan of God and his people, he uses the image of the city on a mountain in a negative way: just as the city cannot pass unnoticed, so too the Christian cannot shirk his mission.
After this negative approach, Matthew turns to the positive approach where he clarifies his expectations. To do this, he uses the image of the lamp provided by Mark and the Q-source. The idea behind the image of the lamp is that the lamp must be well located and clearly visible to do its job. So he uses the text from Mark 4: 21 about the lamp that should not be placed under a bushel, a sort of conical piece of furniture, a text that he connects with the image of light and the city on a mountain using the conjunction "neither" ("cannot be hidden neither...") and the verb "to light" (Mark has "bring" to say: Do we not bring a lamp ...?). And after mentioning the place where the lamp must not be, he uses the Q source (of which Lk 11: 33 is the best witness) to say where it must be: but on the lampstand. Mark and the Q-source say basically the same thing, but the Q-source ending is better articulated, introduced by "but" (alla). And above all it details the consequences of a well-placed lamp. Matthew repeats these consequences, but is more explicit about the fact that those who are illuminated are the people in the house, and especially uses the verb "to shine" to bridge the conclusion that follows.
After the development of this mini parable or comparison comes its application or conclusion: thus (houtōs). For this part, Matthew seems to have resort to a tradition echoed in the first epistle of Peter and Justin: "Then, let shine your good deeds before men so that in seeing them they admire the Father of you in the heavens". We have already noted that glorifying or admiring God is not a typical expression of Matthew. Also, it must be admitted that he seems to have reused here a tradition that is also known to the author of the first letter of Peter and Justin. This allows him to affirm first of all: it is by his action that the Christian shines and becomes light for others, a rather Jewish attitude. Then, he explains the fundamental motivation: to make God known, because it is He who has acted through them; to shine, to do good is not a way of self-promotion, but a way of revealing who God is.
Who is the target of such an exhortation that begins with a warning against loss of identity, as with salt, and exclusion from community, an exhortation that continues with the fact that one cannot escape from one's mission, like the city on the mountain, and that one must become visible through one's good deeds like a lamp well placed to be seen and to enlighten others, so that humanity will be able to see in it the merciful action of God? It is easy to imagine that it is the Christians in the community who have lost their impetus and do not understand the role they can play. Thus, before illustrating the meaning of good deeds (5: 21 - 7: 27), Matthew wanted to explain their importance and role.
Of course, he is primarily addressing "lukewarm" Christians. But in the following verses (5: 17-20) he will also address also the "fundamentalists" of the community, those conservatives who hold to the letter of the Law.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2020