Matthew 23: 1-12
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the gospel passage, 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.
Tote is such an ordinary adverb that there would be nothing to say about it, if it were not an almost fetish word in Matthew: Mt = 90; Mk = 6; Lk = 15; Jn = 10; Acts = 21; it comes back almost every 12 verses. It is an adverb of time that is usually translated as "then" or "at that time". It is used to express a logical sequence of cause and effect. Since Matthew likes to structure things and present them in an orderly fashion, tote becomes the ideal tool for him. For example, "leave your offering there before the altar and go first to be reconciled with your brother; then return, and then present your offering" (5:24); here, reconciliation must precede the offering. Of the 90 occurrences in his gospel, 81 are his own. And so he likes to add this adverb to his sources, beginning with Mark. For example, in the scene where Jesus is tricked about the tax to Caesar and he responds with a question about the effigy of the coin, Mark writes: "They said to him, 'From Caesar. And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (12:16-17). When Matthew copies this scene, he makes a slight modification: "They say, 'From Caesar. Then he says to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (22:20-21); thus, Mark's "and" has become a "then" with him, for the payment of taxes follows from using Caesar's money. He does the same thing with the Q Document. In Jesus' discourse on the return of the unclean spirit where the spirit seeks a place of rest and finds none, Luke writes, "He said, 'I will return to the house from which I came'" (11: 24). For his part, Matthew writes: "Then he said, 'To my house I will return, from whence I came out'" (12, 44); the addition of the small "then" allows Matthew to show the logical sequence between wandering without finding rest and returning to the point of departure.
What is the logical sequence here in v. 1? Earlier, in 22:34-35, Matthew writes: "When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had closed his mouth to the Sadducees, they gathered in a group, and one of them asked him, in order to embarrass him, 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? This pericope ends with this comment by the evangelist: "No one was able to answer him a word. And from that day on no one dared to question him" (22: 46). This scene marks the last intervention of the Pharisees, who disappear from the scene and only return after Jesus' death (27:62). Matthew's "then" introduces a form of conclusion about the Pharisees, which is the logical continuation of what has just been said, and which is in fact a judgment on them.
|elalēsen (he spoke)||Verb laleō is not particularly Matthean: Mt = 26; Mk = 21; Lk = 31; Jn = 59; Acts = 58. But half the occurrences in his gospels are his own, and most of the time it is Jesus who is speaking (9 times out of 13). There is more, for he usually uses the verb legō (505 times) to describe the action of saying something. The reason he sometimes chooses laleō is that he seems to be emphasizing the message Jesus is conveying. For example, this is the word he chooses to express the teaching given in parables: "And he spoke to them (laleō) of many things in parables, saying (legō)..." (13: 3; see also 13: 10.13.33); after his resurrection, this is how the message of sending out on mission is introduced: "Coming forward, Jesus spoke to them (laleō), saying (legō), "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth..." (28: 18). Here, in v. 1, we have the same structure: "Jesus spoke (laleō)... saying (legō)". What is this message? This message is related with the above where the Pharisees tried to embarrass Jesus, and it is introduced by "then" (tote), thereby becoming a form of conclusion or judgment. Also, we translated laleō as "to speak", to convey the idea that Jesus is making his thoughts known about the Pharisees.|
Matthew refers to the crowds a little more than the other evangelists: Mt = 50; Mk = 38; Lk = 41; Jn = 20; Acts = 22. Of the 50 occurrences, 27 are unique to him. This means that he wants them to play an important role. Two points should be noted.
Here, in v. 1, we have rather neutral crowds that passively receive Jesus' teaching.
Mathētēs means: learner, student, disciple. The word designates one who listens to a master. As one can imagine, the word is important in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78; Acts = 28. After his analysis, J.P. Meier concludes that this term really belongs to the time of Jesus, since the early Christians rather abandoned this term to define themselves. Moreover, among those who considered Jesus a teacher, three different groups of people can be distinguished
The evangelist loves the word disciple: not only does he use it very often (he is second only to John), but of the 72 occurrences, 42 (about 60%) are unique to him. But what must be emphasized is that Matthew wants to associate them with the Twelve: he is the only one to speak of the Twelve disciples, first to frame the mission speech (10:1 and 11:1), then to share the fate that awaits him as he goes up to Jerusalem (20:17). And after Judas betrays Jesus and commits suicide, Matthew speaks of the eleven disciples (28:16); he is the only one to have this expression. But Mark, who is the source of Matthew and Luke, speaks only of the "Twelve" and the "Eleven". What does this mean? Matthew seems to restrict the title of disciple to the small group of Twelve who accompany him on the road and whom he sends on mission. And when we look at the whole of his gospel, it is clear that he gives them a special and unique role:
Here, in v. 1, Jesus addresses both the crowds and his disciples. This means on the one hand that he wants to reach all the people, and on the other hand the specific group of Christian leaders through the disciples: these two groups must retain his teaching, because it applies to all, without exception.
|v. 2 to say to them, "The scholars of the Bible and the Pharisees occupy the pulpit of Moses.
Literally: saying (legōn), upon the Moses' (Mōuseōs) seat (kathedras) they sat down (ekathisan) the scribes (grammateis) and the Pharisees (Pharisaioi).
|legōn (saying)||It is worth mentioning that the verb legō (to say, to affirm, to tell) is the one most used in the Gospels-Acts, 2,040 times: Mt = 505; Mk = 290; Lk = 531; Jn = 480; Acts = 234. This is understandable, because these are stories, and in a story one tells and speaks. When the verb is used in the present participle, as it is here, it serves to introduce the content of a saying, and it has the value a comma followed by quotation mark (very often, the biblical translations replace "saying" by , "..."). Let us conclude by noting that we are faced with a rather Matthaean expression with the turn of phrase: "Jesus spoke... saying" (elalēsen... legōn; see 13:3; 14:27; 23:1-2; 28:18; elsewhere it is found only in Mk 8:12).|
The Greek words grammateus (scribe, clerk, secretary), gramma (letter, character, writing, sign of the alphabet) and graphō (to write, to trace letters, to compose, to record in writing) share the same root. That's why grammateus is translated as: scribe, because it refers to one who has a well-defined social function of reading and writing in a world where the majority of people cannot read or write. Personally, I like to translate the word by "Bible scholar", because the Bible was the main object through which one learned to read, and its primary purpose. Moreover, when we observe their interventions in the gospels, we notice that they intend to debate particular points of Scripture, like this echo in Mark where they taught that Elijah must come before the messiah (9: 11), that the messiah is the son of David (12: 35), and that God is unique (12: 32). So the question arises: how can we distinguish the Pharisees from the scribes? Some scribes belonged to the group of Pharisees, but not all Pharisees were scribes. We find in Luke the expression "the Pharisees and their scribes" (5:21) as he clarifies the expression "the scribes of the Pharisees" from Mark 2:16. It is even clearer in Acts with the phrase: Some scribes of the party of the Pharisees rose up (23:9). Thus, the title of scribe expressed a social role, while that of Pharisee expressed membership in a political-religious group. It was probably with the scribes, the biblical scholars, that Jesus had some disagreements about the interpretation of certain passages in the Bible.
The multiplication of the presence of the Pharisees alongside the scribes in the gospels is above all the work of the Christian community of decades later in direct conflict with them. This seems to be confirmed by the evolution of the writing of the gospels: while Mark, which we date to about the year 67, mentions the scribes 20 times, he has only three times the scribes-Pharisees couple, and each time in connection with the problem of dietary rules (2: 16; 7: 1.5), while the scribes appear alone 9 times (apart from the Pharisees, they are associated 8 times with the chief priests). Thus, the scribes are much more numerous than the Pharisees. On the other hand, Matthew, which is dated around 80 or 85, out of 21 mentions, has the scribes-Pharisees couple 10 times. Finally, in John, which we date around the year 90, the word scribe appears only once and with the scribes-pharisees couple, on the other hand the word Pharisee appears 20 times. We can see that the Pharisees have grown with time.Here is the complete table of the various expressions. The first two rows show the number of occurrences of the words scribes and Pharisees, and the others their combinations or non-combinations:
In short, historically speaking, Jesus' discussions about the interpretation of scripture were primarily with the scribes, especially if we refer to Galilee (the Pharisees were mostly in Jerusalem). Although Jesus probably had conflicts with the Pharisees, these conflicts became more important at the time of the Christian community.
For a presentation on the Pharisees, we refer to J.P. Meier. Let us summarize the main elements.
If we remember that Matthew was addressing above all a Jewish-Christian audience, we can easily guess that the Pharisees will occupy an important place in his gospel: Mt = 29; Mk = 12; Lk = 27; Jn = 20; Acts = 9. For not only did the Christian community come into conflict with the Jewish Pharisees (think of the Pharisee Paul and his fanaticism against the Christians, as recounted in the book of Acts), but the Christian community itself included converted Pharisees, constituting its most conservative branch (see Acts 15:5, where they maintain that converted Gentiles should be circumcised). A study of the gospel according to Matthew shows that the author insists on making them an adversary par excellence. And he does this by making multiple modifications to his sources in order to make the Pharisees play the wrong role, while we note that, among the 29 occurrences of the word "Pharisee", 18 are his own.
There is one point in Matthew that is surprising: he is the only one in the gospels to associate the Pharisees and the Sadducees:
Yet were they not rivals in their religious convictions, especially in the question of the resurrection of the dead, accepted by the Pharisees, rejected by the Sadducees (see Mk 12:18; see also Acts 23:6-8)? Rabbinic tradition presents us with their multiple conflicts concerning ritual purity, civil responsibility, the writing of divorce papers, the Sabbath, or criminal justice (on the subject, see J.P. Meier). And by the time Matthew writes his gospel around the year 80 or 85, the Sadducees are out of the picture. How can we explain the evangelist's decision to lump Pharisees and Sadducees together? One possible explanation is the probable role of the Sadducees in the death of Jesus. Let us not forget that they were part of the secular and priestly aristocracy, and that they directly or indirectly controlled the actions of the high priests in Jerusalem. Even if, according to historical data, the Pharisees played no role in the arrest and execution of Jesus, Matthew, by associating them with the Sadducees, wants to attribute some responsibility to them.
|ekathisan (they sat down)||Verb kathizō (Mt = 8; Mk = 8; Lk = 7; Jn = 3; Acts = 9) has two main meanings: to sit (29) and to remain (6 times). One sits on the floor either to teach (e.g. Jesus sits to teach, Mk 9:35), or for work requiring concentration (e.g. Jesus sits to examine the people in front of the temple treasury, Mk 12:41, or one sits to write, Lk 16:6); one sits on a seat or throne in the exercise of a judicial function or authority (e.g. James and John ask to sit on a chair or throne in the exercise of a judicial function or authority, Mk 12:41). James and John ask to sit on the right and left of Jesus in his glory, Mk 10:37); sitting on an animal (e.g. Jesus sits on a donkey, Jn 12:14) or sitting in a chariot (e.g. an Ethiopian sits in Philip's chariot, Acts 8:31).
In Matthew, kathizō offers nothing special (4 mentions are a reprise of Mark, 4 are unique to him): the evangelist repeats Mark's expressions of Jesus sitting down to teach (5:1), or asking his disciples in Gethsemane to stay put (26:36), or facing the request for James and John to sit at his right and left in his glory (20:21.23). It has the peculiarity of expanding the final event and the judicial function associated with it (Jesus promises the twelve to sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, 19: 28; he announces that when the Son of Man returns in glory, he will sit on his throne to sort out the good from the bad (25: 31). This sorting function at the end of time is also expressed by the image of the fishermen, sitting (because they need concentration), sorting the fish (13:48). Thus, if there is a specific touch in Matthew, it is that of accentuating the judicial and authoritative dimension in the gesture of sitting. It is probably in this context that the action of sitting down, here in v. 2, should be read: of course, it is first of all a question of sitting down to teach, but the rest of the text indicates that they do not sit on the ground like Jesus, but on a seat; even if there is no mention of a throne, as in the exercise of a judicial function, it is clear on the other hand that they are recognized as having a form of authority.
|kathedras (seat)||The word kathedra is very rare: (Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0). It means the seat on which one sits, the teacher's pulpit, the king's throne, or sitting or resting; this is what gave us the word "cathedral", the seat of episcopal authority. In the entire New Testament, it is used in only two passages, first in the scene of the sellers driven out of the temple where Jesus "overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of the dove-dealers" (Mk 11:15), a scene copied by Matthew 21:12), and our account in v. 2. The two scenes offer two different meanings to the word kathedra: in the first case, we must guess that the merchants, because of the long hours spent offering their wares, needed a seat of some sort to be comfortable; in the second case, the teacher's seat was a symbol of authority.
When we look at the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where its presence is not much more frequent (16 times), three main meanings stand out.
Thus, occupying a seat or a pulpit as Matthew mentions for the scribes and Pharisees reflects the idea that they exercised a certain authority among the people, an authority that continued if they were also members of the Sanhedrin.
|Mōuseōs (Moses)||In Greek this word may have the form Mōsēs or Mōuseus, and translates the Hebrew Mōše. It may surprise us to learn that the word appears least often in the most Jewish evangelist: Mt = 7; Mk = 8; Lk = 10; Jn = 13; Acts = 19. And even there, of the seven occurrences, four are a simple reworking of Mark, and as for the three mentions that are his own, two come from Matthew's extension of Mark's dispute about divorce; this leaves one truly unique case, our v. 2 here. When we go through the gospels and Acts, we observe that the term has two main meanings: on the one hand, it refers to the historical person of Moses (22 times, e.g. Mk 9:4: "Elijah appeared to them with Moses and they were talking with Jesus"), on the other hand, it refers to the Pentateuch, those first five books of the Old Testament that were believed to have been written in their entirety by Moses (35 times, e.g., Mk 12:26: "As for the fact that the dead are raised, did you not read in the Book of Moses. In the latter case, we speak of the Law or Book of Moses (e.g. Lk 2:22), or of Moses and the Prophets (the whole Hebrew Bible is sometimes divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings or Psalms, see Lk 24:44), or of Moses said (e.g. Mk 7:10), or commanded (Mk 1:44), or has written (Mk 12:19).
What is fascinating is to note that, in spite of the latent or open conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, between the first Christians and the whole of the Jewish community, the figure of Moses and his writings are never presented in a negative way. Let us take the example of the gospel according to John, where Jewish opposition is the most sustained and the figure of Moses very present. The gospel puts in Jesus' mouth these words: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, in whom you have put your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would also believe me, for he wrote of me" (Jn 5:45-46). To affirm that to truly believe in Moses is also to believe in Jesus, is to express the conviction that there is continuity between the Old and New Testaments, not a rupture ("He of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the prophets, we have found him: Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth," Jn 1:45). The events surrounding Moses foreshadow the events surrounding Jesus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (Jn 3:14). Of course, between Jesus and Moses there is a huge qualitative leap: "For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17); but this is not an opposition.
This is the same attitude in Matthew. When he takes up Mark's discussion of divorce and the fact that Moses authorized it by means of a written document, he extends it by introducing a question typical of a Jew: "Why then did Moses prescribe that a written document of divorce be given when one repudiates" (19:7). Will the answer be: Moses did not understand God's thought? No, Moses did understand it, but had to make a concession because of the hardness of heart of the people (19:8). In short, the problem is not Moses, but those who claim to be his disciples. This is what will be revealed later.
|v. 3 So put into practice and observe everything they can say to you, on the other hand ignore their actions, because these actions differ from what they say.
Literally: Therefore (oun) all things how many if (panta hosa ean) they might say to you, do (poiēsate) and keep (tēreite), then according to the works (erga) of them do not do (mē poieite), for they say and do not do (ou poiousin).
|poiēsate... mē poieite... ou poiousin (do... do not do... they do not do)||We have three instances of the Greek verb poieō. This verb means: to do, to make, to complete, to carry out, to perform, to create, to render, to accomplish; it is a verb that expresses action. It is as frequent in the Gospels-Acts as "to do" in our daily conversations: Mt = 86; Mk = 45; Lk = 88; Jn = 108; Acts = 68. It is a simple, general word that lends itself to all kinds of situations. That is why it is so frequent in John, who offers us a language of great simplicity. We have translated the three instances of the word in three different ways. We have rendered "do (what they tell you)" as "put into practice", as one puts into practice a recommendation. We have rendered "do not do (their works)" as "ignore (their actions)", to express the idea that one should not imitate them and that one should ignore their way of acting. We have rendered "(they say and) do not" as "(these actions) differ from (what they say)", to express the discrepancy between their word and their conduct. As we said, the word "do" is a very general, non-specialized term that offers great flexibility to cover different situations.
In Matthew, the verb "to do" is of great importance. As much as in the Catholic Church orthodoxy (right doctrine) is what takes precedence, in the Jewish world it is orthopraxy (right action) that takes precedence. So it is not surprising that the Jewish Matthew emphasizes the things to be done. Of the 86 occurrences of the word, 52 are his own. Matthew's perception of the importance of doing is accentuated if we look closely at his Sermon on the Mount (5:1; 7:28), which for him is in some sense the charter of the Christian life. The word "do" appears 22 times, and 17 times it is his own, which makes 33% (17 occurrences out of 52) of the occurrences his own. Let's look in more detail. First of all, there is the affirmation that Jewish legislation is here to stay, even for the Christian:
For truly I say unto you, Before heaven and earth pass away, not one i, not one dot over the i, shall pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled. He therefore who violates one of these least commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be held to be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; on the contrary, he who does them (poieō) and teaches them, that one will be held to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (5:18-19)
But it remains that the three main actions required are: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
So whoever you give (poieō) alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do (poieō) ...when you give (poieō) alms, do not let your left hand know what your right and is doing (poieō) (6: 2-3)
When Matthew concludes his Sermon on the Mount, we are not surprised to see that he returns to "doing": the important thing is not to proclaim that one is a Jew or a Christian, the important thing is to demonstrate that one has acted.
It is not by saying to me, "Lord, Lord," that one will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is by doing (poieō) the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, was it not in your name that we prophesied? In your name did we cast out demons? In your name we have done many miracles? Then I will say to their faces, I never knew you; depart from me, you who commit iniquity (anomia) (7:21-23)
It is important to know that anomia means: absence of law or commandments. Thus, after beginning his Sermon on the Mount by asking to observe every little point of the Law, he ends it by saying that this observance of the Law will be the criterion for entering the kingdom of God. One cannot be more Jewish. In the same vein, we should read his parable of the man who had two sons and to whom he asked to go and work in his vineyard, one of whom answered negatively, but finally went, and the other answered affirmatively, but did not go, and which ends like this:
Which of the two has done (poieō) the will of the father" - "The first," they say. Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes come before you to the Kingdom of God (21:31)
It is difficult to disentangle what goes back to the time of Jesus and Matthew's editing to address his community of Judeo-Christians, probably centered around Antioch. The latter had a reputation for being quite conservative. But when one reads Matthew's gospel as a whole, one cannot help but get the impression of a slackening of the initial enthusiasm, so much so that we have this surprising phrase from him: "As a result of increasing iniquity (anomia), love (agapē) will grow cold among the many" (24: 12). Again, recall that anomia means: absence of laws or commandments. Matthew thus feels the need to remind a Jewish Christian community that seems to be detached from this law, and which is summed up in that of love; and so the last speech he puts in Jesus' mouth is that of the last judgment, centered on "doing" in the face of one who is hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison:
And the King will give them this answer: Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done (poieō) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done (poieō) to me... Then shall he answer them, Truly I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have not done it (poieō) to one of these least, neither have ye done (poieō) it to me (20: 40.45)
Matthew's focus on "doing" gives us the context for understanding the Jesus he presents to us inveighing against the scribes and Pharisees.
|tēreite (keep)||This word is used especially in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 17; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 7. The word first means "to keep", but, as in English, it designates various realities, and therefore can be translated in various ways. Let us consider five of them.
In Matthew, we encounter only two different meanings of the word, first "observe," as here and in 28:20, and "watch" in that scene peculiar to Matthew in which guards are assigned to watch the tomb where Jesus has been laid (27:36,54; 28:4). The five occurrences of tēreō in his gospel are all unique to him. But what is especially noteworthy is that tēreō, in the sense of observing the commandments of our v. 3, also concludes his gospel, when the risen Jesus meets his disciples in Galilee to send them out on a mission and tells them:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (tēreō) all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:19-20)
The observance of the commandments and the practice of Jesus' teaching is at the heart of his gospel.
Oun is a frequent conjunction (Mt = 56; Mk = 6; Lk = 33; Jn = 200; Acts = 61) which means: therefore, then, indeed, as a result, so. It establishes a link between what precedes and what follows, a logical or chronological link. Even if Matthew does not use it quantitatively the most, it is nevertheless part of his typical vocabulary. To see this, it is enough to observe that of the 56 occurrences of the word in his gospel, 46 are his own. Not only does it appear in the sources that are his own, but he takes the initiative to add it to the other sources he copies, i.e. the Marcan source and the Q Document. For example (underlined what he modifies from his source):
Why does Matthew insert "therefore"? He likes things to be well structured. For example, the disciples' question in 17:10 follows the transfiguration scene where Elijah was present, so the "therefore" makes the logical connection between the two passages. The "therefore" of 22:28 concludes the story about the death of all the woman's husbands and presents the question asked as the logical continuation. The "therefore" of 7:24 follows Jesus' warning that it is not enough to call him Lord, but that what he teaches must be put into practice, and so it makes the connection between this warning and the little parable that follows. The "therefore" of 10:32 follows Jesus' reminder that God cares for each of us, and allows us to conclude that, as a result, we should not be afraid to bear witness. Matthew is the expert on connections.
What then does the "therefore" of our v. 3 mean? Jesus has just said: "The Bible scholars and the Pharisees are sitting on the chair of Moses". How should we interpret this statement? Some might think that it is a usurpation, in the sense that they have unduly taken that place. The "therefore" that follows says the opposite: "Therefore, put into practice and observe whatever they tell you". The "therefore" means: accordingly. Thus, the duty to listen to the scribes and Pharisees is based on the fact that they have the same authority as Moses.
|panta hosa ean (how many if)||
The combination of the Greek words pas hosos ean is unique to Matthew in the Gospels-Acts. Aside from its presence here, it also appears earlier in 7:12: "In everything as you would (pas hosos ean) want men to do for you, do it yourselves for them: this is the Law and the Prophets". In the latter case, Matthew takes a passage from the Q Document, but it is he who seems to add pas hosos ean to his source. As for the expression hosos ean, it appears a few times in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. As we can see, the expression is found almost exclusively in Matthew. We are really in front of his vocabulary.
Now, what does Matthew tell us? "Observe everything that they (the scribes and Pharisees) may say to you." We have underlined "everything" because the statement seems devoid of nuance. But it is consistent with his Sermon on the Mount: "Whoever, therefore, violates one of these least commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be held to be the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them, that one will be held to be great in the kingdom of heaven" (5:19). Moreover, Matthew distinguishes the message from the messenger. Even though he denounces the attitude of the messengers, the message retains all its force.
The word ergon (work, action, deed) is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts, except in John: Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 27; Acts = 10. But in Matthew it plays an important role. Let us not forget that the Jewish world is centered on orthopraxy, therefore on actions and works. In fact, of the six occurrences in his gospel, five are unique to him. And in this last case, the word is always in the plural, to designate the whole of human action. This is what is expected of the Christian:
So shall your light shine before men that they may see your good works (ergon) and glorify your Father who is in heaven (5:16)
Jesus made himself known by his works (11:2), and the Wisdom of God made himself known by his works (11:19; the word "works" seems to be added by Matthew). So, in front of the key value of the accomplishment of works, the scribes and the Pharisees failed.
|v. 4 In addition, they overload others with serious [demanding] and binding obligations, while they do not even want to lift them from their finger.
Literally: For they tie up (desmeuousin) burdens (phortia) heavy (barea) [and hard to bear (dysbastakta)] and place (epititheasin) (them) upon the shoulders (ōmous) of the men (anthrōpōn), then themselves with the finger (daktylō) of them they are not willing (thelousin) to move (kinēsai) them.
|desmeuousin (they tie up)||Verb desmeuō is very rare: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lc = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It means: to bind, to tie up. For example, in Lk 8:29 we read, "For many times he (the unclean spirit) had taken hold of him and he was kept bound (desmeuō) with chains and fetters..." In Acts 22:4, Luke puts into Paul's mouth these words, "I persecuted this Way to death, binding with chains (desmeuō) and throwing men and women into prison." In the rest of the New Testament, it is mostly the noun desmos (bond, chain, tie) that is used, especially in the context of Paul's imprisonment where he speaks of his chains (e.g., Phil 1:7 or Phlm 1:13 or Col 4:18). One may be surprised to see words like chains, when we are talking about commandments. But the Jewish world saw the demands of the law as a form of fettering that had to be joyfully accepted, as Ben Sira writes to his son, asking him to welcome wisdom and its instructions: "Put your feet in its fetters and your neck in its collar. Present your shoulder to his burden, do not be impatient of his chains (desmos)."|
|phortia (burdens)||Phortion is an equally infrequent noun: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. It means: load, burden, cargo, freight, goods. Its literal meaning refers to the merchandise one carries, as shown in this passage from Acts 27:10 where the ship on which Paul is sailing is about to be wrecked: "My friends," he told them, "I see that the navigation will not be without peril and serious damage not only to the cargo (phortion) and the ship, but even to our persons". It is also what an animal is loaded with for transport: "To the ass the fodder, the staff, and the load (phortion); to the slave the bread, the correction, and the labor" (Sir 33:25).
But, in the Gospels, phortion has a symbolic meaning:
As we saw earlier in Sirach, the burden or charge refers to the instruction of the wise. And like any commandment, which derives from instruction, it has requirements that are not always easy for a human person.
In view of Matthew 11:30, which we have just read, where Jesus invites people to come to him, because his burden is light, is there not a contradiction in Matthew? For, let us not forget, Jesus has just said: "put into practice and observe whatever they tell you". But, at the same time, what they say is a heavy and binding burden; so Jesus would ask to accept this burden. One possible solution to this apparent contraction is that Matthew must maintain a delicate balance between avoiding a Jewish Christian community abandoning its entire religious heritage, somehow disintegrating and losing all its landmarks, and accepting a new vision centered on the risen Jesus and his message of radical love as spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew's community will remain a conservative community, but it will be able to find the essential.
In short, the image of chains conveys the idea of obligation: to practice the commandments is not optional. Here Matthew uses the image of loads or goods that are chained around an animal, such as a donkey, for transportation; since this load is well tied, the animal cannot get rid of it. Therefore, to translate the idea of a load to be carried that is obligatory, I have opted for the translation: "to overload with obligations".
|barea (heavy)||Barys is a very infrequent adjective (Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 2) in the whole New Testament and means: heavy, grave, violent. Luke uses it twice in Acts, first by putting the adjective in Paul's mouth in his farewell speech in Miletus when he says: "I, for one, know that after my departure there will come among you fierce (barys) wolves who will not spare the flock" (20:29); then he uses it to describe the situation of Paul under arrest in Caesarea, when "Jews who had come down from Jerusalem surrounded him, bringing against him many serious (barys) charges, which they were not able to prove" (25:7). Here, in the context of obligations, it should be translated as "serious": these obligations are important and serious.|
|anthrōpōn (men)||Is there a word more banal than anthropos: man? Of course, it does not refer to the male as opposed to the female, but to the human being in general. We will learn without surprise that it is very frequent: Mt = 115; Mk = 56; Lk = 95; Jn = 59; Acts = 45. As we can see, this is a word that Matthew likes very much. Why is it so? He is not here to tell us. But we can put forward some hypotheses. First of all, let us note that out of the 115 occurrences, 53 are his own. And when we look closely at these occurrences that are his own, we get the impression that the evangelist has it play three roles:
Why is it so important to insert the word "man"? Once again, let us recall the capital importance of orthopraxy in the Jewish world. Man is called to act, and by his free will he decides on these choices. Matthew seems to emphasize this dramatic aspect of human life, where man is called to choose between good and evil, as Deuteronomy so often reminds us. And in speaking of man, he can address humanity in general.
Let us return to v. 4. We have said that Matthew seems to give the word "man" three roles. It is quite clear that here it is the first role that he makes the word play, and that it must be translated by "others": indeed, on the one hand there are the scribes and the Pharisees who enact the rules, and on the other hand there are those who must put them into practice, i.e. "the others".
|dysbastakta (hard to bear)||
The adjective dysbastaktos means: hard to bear, intolerable, heavy. It comes from the Q Document and is found nowhere else in the entire New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. And in the Septuagint it appears only in the book of Proverbs: "The stone is heavy and the sand is difficult (dysbastaktos) (to carry)" (27:3). This adjective also has as a synonym: dyskolos (difficult, uneasy) which appears only in Mark throughout the New Testament in the context of Jesus' speech about the rich ("My children, how difficult (dyskolos) it is to enter the kingdom of God! ", 10:23), and the associated adverb dyskolōs (hardly) which also appears in the same context in Mark ("How difficult (dyskolōs) it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God!", 10:24), a text which Luke (18:24) and Matthew (19:23) copy. Two conclusions are obvious: first dysbastaktos is not part of Matthew's vocabulary, and second, the word means something heavy, in the sense that it is difficult to bear, almost intolerable, hence our translation "demanding."
One will have noticed the square brackets: [and demanding]. Why? There is no unanimity in the Greek manuscripts. The expression is present in the codeci Synaicus (4th c.), Vaticanus (4th c.), Bezae (5th c.), in the Latin translation of the Vulgate (4th c.) and some old Latin translations that range from the 5th to the 7th century, some Syriac translations that range from the 4th to the 7th century, as well as the Coptic Sahidic translation (3rd or 4th c.) and in some ancient authors like Clement of Alexandria (3rd c.) or John Chrysostom (5th c.). On the other hand, it is absent from the Codex Regius (8th c.), from certain old Latin, Syriac (including the Peshitta) and Coptic translations, and from ancient authors such as Irenaeus of Lyon (3rd c.) and Origen (3rd c.). How can we decide which version is the most authentic? Because of the value and number of manuscripts that support the "demanding" reading, most Bibles have opted to keep this expression. It must be acknowledged, however, that it is possible that the presence of the expression in Matthew v. 4 comes from the initiative of a copyist who, having noted it in the parallel passage of Luke 11:46 ("because you burden others with heavy (dysbastaktos) burdens", thought it appropriate to make some harmonization between the two texts. And this harmonization may have occurred very early in the manuscript tradition. In short, one cannot be completely sure of the authentic reading, hence the square brackets.
|epititheasin (they place upon)||Verb epitithēmi is a compound word, formed from the verb tithēmi (to put) and the preposition epi (upon), hence the various translations: to lay upon, to put upon, to impose, to inflict, to provide: Mt = 6; Mk = 8; Lk = 4; Jn = 2; Acts = 13. In the whole of the Gospels-Acts, it appears especially in three different contexts.
What about in Matthew? The first thing to note is that the verb epitithēmi appears twice in the context of laying on of hands (to children) (19: 13.15), and four times in the context of placing something on an object or person. Then, even if it does not appear as a word he is particularly fond of, he uses it systematically to describe certain situations according to his habit of standardizing everything, i.e. similar actions must be described with the same words. Let's give some examples.
Because of this systematization of vocabulary, the six occurrences of epitithēmi in his gospel are unique to him, even though most of the scenes are borrowed from Mark; he does not seem to appreciate the fanciful impulses of his predecessor.
Here, in v. 4, we have a clear case of placing something on someone, in this case obligations that people will have to put into practice. We have a similar situation in the Acts of the Apostles as Luke recounts that famous meeting in Jerusalem where it was necessary to discuss what obligations should or should not be imposed on Christians from paganism, and where he puts this phrase in Peter's mouth: "Why then are you now tempting God by wanting to put (epitithēmi) on the disciples a yoke that neither our fathers nor we ourselves had the strength to bear?" (Acts 15: 10) The parallel is clear enough: whether we speak of burdens, obligations, loads or yoke, we are referring to these commandments of the Jewish tradition. And it is also clear that they are demanding and difficult to follow.
|ōmous (shoulders)||In the entire New Testament, this word appears only here and in Luke 15:5 ("And when he (the shepherd) had found it (his sheep), he put it on his shoulders with joy"). The shoulder refers to the upper back. As one carries heavy objects on one's back, the shoulders come to designate the loads that one must carry. Even today, in common parlance, someone is said to have "broad shoulders" to express the fact that he or she is responsible for many things. In the Old Testament, the responsibilities on his shoulders could be seen in a positive light: LXX "For unto us a little child is born, and unto us a son is given; and the principality rests upon his shoulder (ōmos), and he is called by that name, the Angel of the great council. By him I will bring peace upon princes, by him health and peace" (Isa 9:5). But more often the word refers to the constraints that stifle: LXX "And in that day this will happen: your yoke will be taken off your shoulder (ōmos), and you will be delivered from your fear, and the yoke that weighed on your shoulders (ōmos) will be reduced to powder" (Isa 10:25). It is in this context that we must read what the scribes and Pharisees put on people's shoulders. As we saw earlier with Sirach, the commandments of the law can be seen as a weight on the shoulders, i.e., something heavy that one must carry: "Bend your shoulder (ōmos) to carry it (wisdom), and do not be angry at its bonds" (Sir 6:25). In fact, it is about bending the back, but the shoulder represents the back. And it is on one's back that one must carry the commandments of the law, i.e. put them into practice.|
|thelousin (they are willing)||Verb thelō means: to want, to be determined to, to desire, to wish, to enjoy, to love. This is a very Matthaean word: Mt = 43; Mk = 25; Lk = 28; Jn = 23; Acts = 14. Of the 43 occurrences in his gospel, 27 are his own. Thus, not only does he use it more often than the other evangelists, but he sometimes adds it to his sources. A typical example is the account of the transfiguration. Mark 9:5 writes: "And Peter answering said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here; and let us make three tents, for you one and for Moses one and for Elijah one'", Matthew copies this text with especially two modifications: "And Peter answering said to Jesus: 'Lord, it is good that we are here; if thou wilt, I will make here three tents, for thee one and for Moses one and for Elijah one'" (see also the feeding of the crowds where, faced with the prospect of Jesus sending the crowd away fasting, Matthew adds to Mark's account "I do not want to, they might faint" (15:32).
Why this insistence on the will? When we read Matthew's gospel, we notice a particular insistence on doing: "It is not by saying to me, 'Lord, Lord,' that one will enter the kingdom of heaven, but by doing the will of my Father who is in heaven" (7:21). This is a typically Jewish attitude where the emphasis is on orthopraxis, the "doing", the right action; it is more important to have right actions, than right ideas (orthodoxy). Thus, it is likely that he adds "Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth" to the Lord's Prayer (a phrase absent in Luke 11:2). The importance of this will is seen in some parables, such as that of the workers of the last hour: "Take what is yours, and go. I want this last to give as to thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with my goods? Or is your eye evil because I am good?" (20:14-15); or again, that of the two sons to whom the father asks to go and work in the vineyard: "I do not want , answered the first; then overcome with remorse, he went... the second answered, "Understood, Lord, and he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father" (21:29-31).
Thus, for Matthew, the human being has the immense responsibility for his decisions and actions, which he is called to adjust to the will of God. When he says in the words of Jesus to the Canaanite woman: "Let it be done to you as you wish" (Mt 15: 28), he underlines the importance of the action taken by the woman from the beginning, of respecting her free decision to pursue him to the point of annoying him. This decision and action was based on his great faith.
Here, in v. 4, Matthew emphasizes the responsibility of the scribes and Pharisees. He does not say: they are not able, but rather: they are not willing. It is a decision on their part for which they bear responsibility; they have made themselves "outlaws".
|kinēsai (to move)||Verb kineō is very rare and is only present in Mt, Mk, Ac and Revelation in the whole New Testament: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 3; Rev = 2. It means: to move, stir, shake, remove. It is a word that refers to the dynamic capacities of the body, and which gave us the word: kinesthesia. It was Mark who introduced the word with the scene at the cross: "The passers-by reviled him by shaking (kineō) his head and saying, 'Hey, you who destroy the Sanctuary and rebuild it in three days'" (15:29). Matthew repeated this scene in 27:29. The movement of moving the head was seen as a sign of derision as seen in some Old Testament passages:
In the Acts of the Apostles, the verb designates movement of which we are capable by the very fact that we are alive (17: 28), the agitation of an overexcited crowd (21: 30), the action of sowing disorder in a city (24: 5).
Here, in v. 4, we are faced with a unique meaning: moving the finger. Since it is a matter of moving the finger to assume the burden of obligations, we have chosen to translate kineō with "to lift", as one lifts a weight.
There is little to say about daktylos which, surprising as it may seem, is found only in the gospels throughout the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 3; Acts = 0. In John, it is Jesus who writes with his finger in the sand and remains silent when asked about the adulterous woman (8:6) and it is the scene with Thomas who will not believe until he puts his finger in the nail mark (20:25.27). In Mark, it is Jesus who heals a deaf man by putting his fingers in his ears (7: 33). In Luke, it is Jesus who says that he casts out demons by the finger of God (11:20), it is the rich man who, in the afterlife, asks Abraham to dip his finger in water to refresh his tongue (16:24), and it is the passage parallel to Matthew where Jesus reproaches the lawyers for not touching with one of their fingers the burdens that they impose on people (16:24)
Thus, here in v. 4, Matthew takes from the Q Document this passage where Jesus pities the scholars of the law who make harsh demands on people, while they in no way touch these demands, either closely or remotely. But his way of expressing himself differs slightly from that of Luke. Let's take a closer look.
Four things should be noted:
It is likely, then, that Luke, as we have already pointed out, is closer to the original Q Document, while Mt makes his editing work felt, such as the use of thelō, an important word in his vocabulary. For if similar words were in the mouth of Jesus (in their Aramaic version, of course), it is likely that he was addressing the scholars of the law directly to denounce their attitude, in the manner of a prophet; with Matthew, we are in the time of the Christian community being taught about "adversaries" not to imitate. Finally, if one has to choose between "touch" or "lift" for the original version of the Q Document, in speaking of the finger, one must choose "touch", even because of its rarity, for in an editing work one tends to resort to vocabulary one knows well.
So, if "touch with one of his fingers" comes from the Q Document that Matthew had in front of him, why did he turn it into "lift with their fingers"? Knowing Matthew's taste for logical structures, we can guess that, after a sentence about a burden on the shoulders, he found it more logical to have fingers lifting them, rather than fingers touching them. That would be his style anyway.
|v. 5 All their actions they do to be seen by others, and this is how they magnify their badges of piety and lengthen the religious tassels at the bottom of their clothing.
Literally: Then all the works of them they do towards the to be observed (theathēnai) by the men. For they broaden (platynousin) the phylacteries (phylaktēria) of them and enlarge (megalynousin) the tassels (kraspeda).
|theathēnai (to be observed)||The word theaomai is practically non-existent outside the gospels-Acts and the Johannine tradition: Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 5; Acts = 3; 1 Jn = 3 (the exception being Rom 15:24). It means: to look, to contemplate, to see, to observe. It appears in two different contexts: that of noticing someone, observing and examining him, and that of faith where one "sees" the risen Jesus (appendix to Mark's gospel) and contemplates his glory (Johannine tradition).
In Matthew, of the four occurrences, three are unique to him. But what is remarkable is to find twice in these three occurrences a structure that is a mirror of his style: the preposition "towards" (pros), followed by the neuter definite article "the" (to), followed by the verb in the infinitive.
In the Gospels-Acts, this structure is used 7 times: 1 time by Luke (18: 1), 1 time by Mark (13: 22) and 5 times by Matthew; apart from the two verses quoted, there is also:
Thus, here in 23: 5, we have a sentence that reflects the style of Matthew, and which is the negative side of one of the recommendations of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount in 6,1: "Beware of practicing your righteousness in front of others in order to be well seen by them". And three examples are given:
The scribes and Pharisees are doing exactly what Jesus told them not to do.
|platynousin (they broadened)||Verb platynō appears only here in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It means: to enlarge, to widen, to open, to amplify. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul uses it twice in 2 Corinthians 6 where he writes that he has opened his heart wide to the Corinthians (11), and invites them to do the same (13). In the Old Testament it is found a few times in its main books; it speaks of opening wide or dilating one's heart (e.g. Ps 119:32), of opening one's mouth wide to rant against someone (e.g. Ps 35:21), of the branches of a tree growing larger because of the abundance of water (Ezek 31:5), of the person who has become fat (Deut 32:15), etc. In short, it is always the idea of a person or an object that is expanding. Here, in v. 5, the expanding object is a symbol of piety, because the scribes and Pharisees want it to be seen. We have opted for the translation: to magnify, as one magnifies a small object with a magnifying glass.|
The word phylaktērion appears only here in the whole Bible. It designates the parchments containing, written, certain texts of the law, and that one carried in small boxes attached to the forehead or on the arm, according to a very literal reading of the prescriptions of the Bible, more precisely of the following texts:
Phylactery is therefore a very technical term. To generalize its meaning, I thought of translating it by: badge of piety, i.e. an emblem expressing their devotion to the word of God (Picture: a Jew in prayer of Chagall where we see on the forehead and on the arm of the phylacteries)
|megalynousin (they enlarge)||Verb megalynō is very rare: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 3. Apart from the Gospels-Acts, it is found only in Paul (Phil 1:20; 2 Cor 10:15). It means: to make great, to enlarge, to grow, to magnify, to exalt. In Luke, it means to magnify or proclaim praise or express the greatness of someone: Mary exalts the Lord (Lk 1:48), the Lord expresses his greatness by his mercy (Lk 1:58), the people hold Christian community in high esteem (Acts 5:13), the people speak in tongues and magnify God (Acts 10:46), and the name of the Lord is glorified (Acts 19:17); the context is religious and liturgical. In Paul, it is the place of the apostle in the heart of his community that grows (2 Cor 10:15), or it is Christ who is glorified in the body of the apostle (Phil 1:20). All this offers few parallels with Mt 23:5. As for the Old Testament, we wander around in the same waters, where the term varies between its religious meaning (e.g. Sir 43:31: "Who is able to praise him as he is?"), and its ordinary meaning (e.g. Ezek 9:9: "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah has grown very, very much").
Megalynō in Mt 23:5 refers to what was done with the fringe or the tassels of the robes of the pious, and we think that it was a question of lengthening them so that they were more conspicuous.
As one might guess, kraspedon (edge or fringe of a garment or cloak) is infrequent in the entire Bible (9 occurrences in all): Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; Nb = 2; Dt = 1; Za = 1. This fringe is made at the end of a piece of cloth by reserving a certain length of the warp threads that are knotted, or tied with another thread. "Mesopotamian art almost always represents people dressed in fringed fabrics... Later, fringe was reduced to four tassels at the corners of coats" (L. Monloubou, F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec, Desclée Anne Sigier, 1984, p. 275).
In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as a pious Jew who wore a fringe on his garment. This fringe had a purple thread on it, a symbol of heaven, and was meant to remind people of the commandments of God. Thus, it was surrounded by a certain veneration, as we see in the episodes where people try to touch it.
Jewish tradition dates this practice back to Moses.
Note that the hyacinth-colored taper in the book of Numbers is a reference to the red-violet ribbon used in the liturgy (see Ex 28:28), and thus evokes the consecration of the people to God.
The scribes and Pharisees would "enlarge" these "fringes." Since the word "fringe" can be applied to any garment to indicate the edge, we preferred to translate kraspedon as "religious tassel" to indicate that it is the extension of the fringe with this tassel shape. And enlarging this tassel was to make it longer, hence our translation.
|v. 6 They like the first couch at banquets and places of honor at the synagogue,
Literally: Then, they love (philousin) the chief place (prōtoklisian) at the banquets (deipnois) and the first seats (prōtokathedrias) in the synagogues (synagōgais).
|philousin (they love)||
Phileō is with agapaō the way to express the act of loving in the Greek world (if we exclude eraō which expresses rather the passionate love of a man and a woman). In this culture, the adjective philos expresses membership in a social group, without sentimental connotations, while the verb phileō means: to cherish, to love, to have friendship (on phileō and agapaō, see the Glossary). In the Old Testament, the act of loving one's God or neighbor is expressed by the Hebrew verb ʾāhab, which the Septuagint translated as agapaō (e.g., Deut 6:5: "You shall love (agapaō) the Lord your God with all your mind, with all your soul, with all your strength"). In the New Testament, it is also agapaō that is used to express this reality. But sometimes agapaō and phileō are used equivalently, especially in John.
Let's look more specifically at phileō. In the Old Testament, the verb usually has three different meanings.
When we turn to the New Testament (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 13; Acts = 0), we also find these three meanings:
Here, in v. 6, it is the expression of the interest and preferences of the scribes and Pharisees that phileō translates; this interest and preferences go to what makes them look good and makes them look good to others.
|prōtoklisian (chief place)||Prōtoklisia is formed from two words: prōtos (first) and klisia (a place to lie down at a meal). Thus it means: place of honor at the table, or first couch. Note that people used to lie on couches at festive meals. In the New Testament, it appears only in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It was Mark who introduced the term with this passage: "(The scribes delight) in occupying the first seats in the synagogues and the first couches (prōtoklisia) at feasts" (12:39), a passage that is taken up by Lk 40:46 and Mt 23:6. To these three references, we can add two occurrences in Luke:
From the social mores of the time, we can guess that the best couch was very close to the host who had organized the banquet, and that this was a mark of deference and honor. So this is what the scribes and Pharisees seem to be looking for. At first glance, one imagines that many of them must have been members of the aristocracy.
|deipnois (banquets)||Deipnon does not designate any meal, but the main meal taken in the evening, and especially a festive meal, especially at the wedding. It is not very frequent in the New Testament as a whole: apart from the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 4; Acts = 0), it appears only in Paul when he admonishes the Christian community about their way of eating the Lord's Supper together (1 Cor 11:20-21), and in Revelation, which speaks of the wedding feast with the Lamb (Rev 19:9.17).
In John, the festive meal appears in two circumstances: the meal with Martha, Mary and Lazarus (12:2), and Jesus' last meal (13:2.4; 22:20). In Mark, reference is made to two meals, that of Herod celebrating his birthday (6:21) and that of the admonition of the scribes (12:39). In Luke, the mention of the festive meal is found in an exhortation of Jesus, when invited to a meal by a Pharisee, not to invite his friends when one is being held (14:12), followed by a parable about a man frustrated at not receiving a response when he invites to a large meal (14:16-17.24), and in a warning against the lawyers (20:46). In Matthew, we find only our text in 23:6.
In short, we are not dealing with a frequent event. It is a meal of great occasion. But this is what the scribes and Pharisees are looking for.
|prōtokathedrias (first seats)||Prōtokathedria is formed from two words: prōtos (first) and kathedra (seat, sitting or resting position), and thus means: first place, place of honor. It is a word that appears nowhere in the Bible, except in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. And the four occurrences are centered on the attitude of the scribes, the Pharisees and the lawyers and their search for the first place in the synagogue: there is first Mark 12:39 ("they like to occupy the first seats in the synagogues") which is taken up again in Lk 20:46 and Mt 23:6, then Lk 11:43 ("Woe to you Pharisees, who like the first seat in the synagogues")
There is a strong theme here in the evangelical tradition. And it should come as no surprise: what could be more gratifying for a biblical scholar than to be recognized in the very place where the Bible is proclaimed and studied?
The word means: place of gathering, synagogue, assembly. It is associated with the verb synagō which means: to gather, assembly. In the Old Testament it is very frequent and refers to anything that is multiple of something, for example: "an assembly of nations" (Gen 35:11), "the assembly of Jacob" (Deut 33:4), "the band of bulls" (Ps 68:31). In the New Testament, the word is found practically only in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 9; Mk = 8; Lk = 15; Jn = 2; Acts = 19; the exception being Jas 2: 2 and Rev 2:9; 3:9). And it always refers to the gathering in the synagogue. This is not surprising: Jesus frequented the synagogue, and the first Christians, like Paul, frequented the synagogue until they were thrown out (on the synagogue celebrations, see the Glossary).
What about the synagogue in Matthew? It is remarkable that of the 9 occurrences of the word in Matthew, 6 are preceded by the possessive adjective "their" or "your", for example, "their synagogues" (4:23; 9:35; 10:7; 12:9; 13:54) or "your synagogues" (23:34). This is much, much more than in the other authors: Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Let us recognize that of the 6 occurrences, 2 come from Mark (just as the only reference in Lk comes from Mark). The fact remains that 4 occurrences are his own. What conclusion can we draw from this? First of all, the expression "their" or "your" creates a certain distance: it now means that there is a separation between the we and the you; it is no longer our synagogue, but your synagogue. Second, the Jew Matthew seems to be at loggerheads with his co-religionists or people of his race. Thus, some of these texts seem to have been written at a time when Christians were going less and less to the synagogue.
On the other hand, we notice that our v.6 speaks only of "the synagogues", as do the parallel texts of the Sermon on the Mount 6: 2.5: these three occurrences all belong to a context where Jesus denounces this attitude of going to the synagogue to be seen and to assert one's claims, and these three occurrences are the only ones in Matthew where it is not a question of "their synagogues". What does this mean? We seem to have an echo of a tradition that goes back a long way, perhaps to Jesus himself, even if Matthew reshapes it according to his own style.
|v. 7 just like receiving bows in the public square and being called by others: master.
Literally: and the greetings (aspasmous) in the marketplaces (agorais) and to be called (kaleisthai) by the men "rabbi" (rhabbi).
|aspasmous (greetings)||The name aspasmos means: oral or written greeting, embrace, hug. In the New Testament, it appears only in the synoptic gospels (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) and in Paul ("The greeting is from my hand, Paul") where it is used to conclude some letters (1 Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17). It is totally absent from the Septuagint. In the Synoptics, it is found only in two contexts, first that of the scribes who, according to Mark 12:38, like to receive greetings in public places, taken up by Matthew 23:7 and Luke 11:43 and 20:46, then that of Luke's infancy narrative where Mary receives the angel's greeting (1:29: "Greeting, full of grace, the Lord is with you") and wonders what it means, where Elizabeth receives Mary's greeting (1:40. 44), which causes little John the Baptist to leap in her womb. There is, therefore, an important action in the gesture of the greeting that no longer exists in our modern greetings. For the scribes, lawyers and Pharisees to seek it out, there must have been a social impact that is difficult for us to guess. In order to describe what was rewarding about this gesture, we propose to translate aspasmos as "bowing," to express the social recognition implied by this gesture.|
The agora was an important place of social life in antiquity. First of all, it was located at the entrance to the city, not in its center. It was where the magistrates passed judgment (Acts 16:19: "But his masters, seeing their hopes of gain vanish, seized Paul and Silas, dragged them to the agora before the magistrates"), it was where the market was held (Ezek 27:22: "The merchants of Sheba and Rhamma traded with you; they brought to your market (agora) the most sought-after spices, precious stones, and gold"), this is where one must go to meet people (Acts 17:17: "So he (Paul) talked in the synagogue with Jews and those who worshipped God, and in the agora every day with the passers-by"). According to Mark, Jesus frequented the public squares, and it was there very often that he performed healings (Mk 6:56: "And wherever he went, whether villages, towns, or farms, they put the sick in the marketplaces (agora) and begged him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak, and everyone who touched him was saved"). So a motley crowd was there, and that is why Mark writes: "The Pharisees do not eat on their way back from the marketplaces (agora) until they have sprinkled themselves with water (to purify themselves)" (7:4).
Matthew uses this word three times (Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) which does not exist elsewhere in the New Testament than in the Gospels-Acts.
While the parable of the workers of the 11th hour is unique to Matthew, the other two references where agora appears are also found in Luke
It will be seen later, in the analysis of parallels, that because of the order in which agora appears (i.e., last, after feasts and synagogues), we can conclude that Matthew, here in v. 7, has copied not Mark, but the source Q (that source common to Matthew and Luke). And given the antiquity of this source and the fact that the attitude reproached seems to fit well with the time of Jesus, it is possible that these reproaches against biblical scholars reflect Jesus' prophetic interventions: despite the requirement to be cleansed afterwards, highly religious people frequented public squares to be adored. When Matthew takes up this tradition, he is now targeting Christians tempted by a similar attitude.
|kaleisthai (to be called)||Verb kaleō (Mt = 26; Mk = 4; Lk = 43; Jn = 2; Acts = 18) has two main meanings: 1) to receive a name, to be called by the name of, to give a name (2/3 of the Gospels-Acts); 2) to invite someone, to call him, to summon him (very often to a festive meal). In Matthew, of the 26 occurrences, 20 are his own, which represents a good proportion. As for the two main meanings, they are almost equally divided (14 in reference to the name, 12 in reference to the summons). Here, in v. 7, it is of course the meaning of "to receive a name", a meaning that he likes, since out of the 14 occurrences, 13 are his own.|
|rhabbi (rabbi)||Greek term rhabbi is a transliteration of the Hebrew rabbi, and the Greek rhabbouni of the Aramaic rabbouni. This is what gave us the word: rabbi. It means: "my master"; because the root is רַב, "great" to which we add the possessive adjective "my", which is expressed in Hebrew and Aramaic with the suffix in "i": רַבִּי (rhabbi in Hebrew),
Even John the Baptist, according to the evangelist John (3:26), was called "rabbi": "they (John the Baptist's disciples) came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one to whom you bore witness, behold, he baptizes, and all come to him!"
Surprisingly, Matthew the Jew counters this by putting the word in a negative context. Indeed, of the four occurrences of the word, two are put in the mouth of Judas in the betrayal scene (26:25.49), and two are an invitation not to use the term (23:7-8); Jesus is never called "rabbi" by the "good" disciples or by the crowd. What to conclude? Again, we must place ourselves around the 80s CE when the scholars of Jewish tradition, especially the Pharisees, who had codified the ancestral traditions, and who would give rise to the Mishna, enjoyed a certain reputation; the title "rabbi" was valued. Given the proximity of the Matthaean community to the entire Jewish world, one can imagine that some literate Christians tended to avail themselves of this title. Let us not forget that Matthew is the only evangelist to put in the mouth of Jesus a call to avoid being called "rabbi". Why? It cannot be the disciples at the time of Jesus who would have been tempted to claim the title of "rabbi"; we have no testimony in this sense. Rather, we must look at the time when the young Christian community, not yet truly separated from its Jewish milieu, was tempted to take on some of its habits. Matthew's call is clear: do not go down this road!
|v. 8 But you do not call yourself a master, for you have only one master, and you are brothers to one another.
Literally: Then, yourself you should not be called "rabbi", for one (heis) is of you the teacher (didaskalos), then all yourself brothers (adelphoi) are.
|heis (one)||The numeral adjective heis occupies a large place in Matthew's vocabulary: Mt = 66; Mk = 44; Lk = 43; Jn = 40; Acts = 27. And more than half of the 66 occurrences are particular to him. But there is one point in his style that is surprising and worth noting: on several occasions he uses the numeral adjective heis in the sense of an indefinite article which, in Greek, is expressed by the absence of an article. Let us give some examples.
This way of writing in Matthew comes up too often for it not to be intentional. What significance can we find in it? One possible answer would come from Matthew's taste for accuracy and precision: he does not like things vague and unclear. And so heis could be almost translated as "one only", a form of emphasis: only one scribe (among many others), only one ruler (among many others), only one pearl (that's enough to make it worthwhile), only one child (even if it's done to a single one), only one fig tree (among many others), only one maid (among many others). This is, in fact, how this passage from the Sermon on the Mount is translated: "For I tell you the truth: before heaven and earth pass away, not one (heis) i, not one (heis) dot on the i, will pass from the Law, until all is fulfilled" (5:18).
Let us now turn to our v. 8: for one (heis) is the teacher of you. With what we have just stated, we could translate: for only one of you is the teacher. The statement where there is only one being to possess certain qualities comes up a few times in Matthew.
Here we find a stereotypical formula that is unique to Matthew. Of course, a similar formula is found in Mk 12:29, but it is a citation from Deuteronomy 6:4, called Shema Israel which is part of the daily prayer of every devout Jew:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one (heis)
This is probably what inspired Matthew to use this formula, a formula also found in Sirach (1:8), this time applied to wisdom (sophia).
There is one (heis) wise and greatly to be feared, the Lord sitting upon his throne.
By using this formula reserved for describing God in the Old Testament, it is clear that Matthew wants to give a certain solemnity to the affirmation that God alone is the Good and Father, that Jesus alone is the Teacher and Doctor of teaching, and that thus to them alone these titles must be attributed; in other words, God bears the attributes of that which is source of life, love and goodness, Jesus bears the titles related to the word and the light. This is a short summary of Matthew's theology.
In this same line, one might ask: while Matthew (22:34-40) picks up the scene from Mark (12:28-34) on the first of all the commandments, why does he skip the beginning of Jesus' response, which quotes the Shema Israel affirming that the only one is the Lord (kurios, God), and then immediately moves on to "You shall love the Lord your God..."?
Didaskalos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew rhabbi and means: one who teaches, the teacher, the master. It is quite common: Mt = 12; Mk = 11; Lk = 17; Jn = 8; Acts = 1. In the gospels, this title is almost always attributed to Jesus, with the exception of Lk 2:46 where it refers to the teachers in the temple whom the child Jesus listens to and questions, Lk 3:12 where it is attributed to John the Baptist by the tax collectors, and Jn 3:10 where it appears as the title given to Nicodemus by the Jewish society of the time.
In Matthew, this title of didaskalos is always attributed to Jesus, with the exception of two verses where the teacher-disciple relationship is generally spoken of (10:24-25). And of the 10 occurrences where it refers to Jesus, six are unique to Matthew; and these are sometimes additions he makes to the tradition either from Mark (see e.g. 9:11 or 22:36) or from the Q Document (see e.g. 8:19). Thus, the relationship with Jesus is that of disciples before a teacher, and this is how Jesus is addressed in the gospels, i.e., not by saying "Jesus" but by saying "teacher."
One will recognize that there is something incongruous in putting in the mouth of Jesus a sentence like this: "For you have only one teacher: me". In the mouth of an ordinary man, one would cry out for pretentiousness or authoritarianism. Again, we have to go back to about the year 80, perhaps to Antioch, where Matthew addresses his Christian community and puts into Jesus' mouth this reminder that their true teacher is Jesus. For a number of Christians bore the title didaskalos, if we are to believe Luke in Acts 13:1:
There were prophets and teachers (didaskalos) in the Church established at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, childhood friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
In fact, according to Paul, a number of Christians played this role (1 Cor 12:28-29), and Paul himself, according to 2 Tim 1:11, played this role. What can we conclude? Matthew serves us a warning, much as James does in his epistle (3:1: "Do not be many, my brothers, who become teachers (didaskalos). You know that we will only receive a more severe judgment"): it is not a personal doctrine that is being promoted, but it is the teaching of the one who showed the way of life through his own death.
The word adelphos means: brother. It has two main meanings, brother in the biological sense, and brother in the spiritual sense (for example, members of the same religious or social community). It is also very frequent: Mt = 39; Mk = 20; Lk = 24; Jn = 14; Acts = 57. Since the Acts of the Apostles tells of the development of the Christian community, it is not surprising to see the high number of occurrences of the word. But if we focus on the gospels, we notice that Matthew uses it the most. And if we go further and focus only on the spiritual meaning of the word, the numbers highlight Matthew's accents more: Mt = 17; Mk = 3; Lk = 7; Jn = 2. This is Matthew's great focus, the brothers of the Christian community.
When we group his texts on the Christian brothers, we obtain five major themes:
Let us mention that for items ii and iv Matthew drew from the Q Document, and that for item iii he copied the Marcan tradition. What is peculiar to him is item i, which is found in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' inaugural discourse, and item v, which belongs to the great parable about the last judgment, Jesus' final teaching; in other words, Jesus' teaching begins and ends with the theme of the brothers. All this is intended by Matthew. For his gospel has no other purpose than to guide this community with the whole heritage of Jesus. And here in v. 8, it is a reminder that to want to use one's title of teacher to elevate oneself above others is to forget one's identity as a brother.
|v. 9 And do not call yourself a "father" on this earth, for you have only one father in the world of God.
Literally: and father (patera) you should not call of you upon the earth (gēs), for one is of you the father the heavenly (ouranios);
|patera (father)||As one might expect, the word patēr (father, ancestor) is widespread: Mt = 62; Mk = 18; Lk = 52; Jn = 130; Acts = 34. But, just as in English, it can have various meanings, from biological father to spiritual father. When we go through the Gospels-Acts, we can group these various meanings into four categories:
The examples given show that all four meanings are found in Matthew, so that the 62 occurrences of the word can be divided up as follows: i = 44; ii = 15; iii = 2; iv = 1. Thus, it is above all God as father who appears in his gospel. But what about here in v. 9? When Jesus asks not to be called "father", to which meaning of the word should we refer? We can quickly eliminate i (God father), ii (biological father), iii (ancestors). That would leave iv (spiritual father). Were there people who wanted to be called "father" in the spiritual sense?
First of all, according to Xavier Léon-Dufour (Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament: Paris: Seuil, 1979, p. 420), the rabbi was called "father" in Judaism. One imagines that some of them took advantage of this role to put themselves forward socially. But if Matthew has reworked his sources to give us this scene, it is certainly not just out of a desire to be a good historian of the past or to condemn his fellow Jews; there must have been similar situations in his own community. And indeed, we have an echo of it in Paul's own words:
Paul gives an echo of a custom in the Christian community where the evangelizer or catechist or missionary could consider himself the father of the person he had begotten to the faith. Very often, this "father" was the one who had initiated the baptism of his protégé. But this kind of action could easily degenerate into a personality conflict, as the epistle to the Corinthians gives us an echo of it: "By this I mean that each of you says, 'I am Paul's' - 'I am Apollos' - 'I am Cephas' - 'I am Christ's'" (1: 12). All this became a source of division. If the situation in Corinth is an echo of what could happen elsewhere, then we understand the warning: do not be called "father".
|gēs (earth)||The name gē is frequent throughout the Bible, and especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 43; Mk = 19; Lk = 25; Jn = 13; Acts = 33. In English, the earth 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. Let us mention five different meanings.
As can be seen from our examples, the five categories are found in Matthew in the following frequency: i = 15; ii = 9; iii = 9; iv = 6; v = 4. All in all, we can say that Matthew is a man who has "his feet on the ground". Not only is he the one who uses the term gē more than the others, but of his 43 occurrences, 31 are unique to him (i.e., he either added the word to his sources or the word came to him from a source of his own). For example, while Mark writes, "Good is salt" (9:50), Matthew repeats his text thus: "You are the salt of the earth." While Luke draws from the Q Document to write, "And not one of them (the sparrows) is forgotten before God" (Lk 12:6), Matthew draws from this same source to write, "And not one of them falls to the earth without your Father." Truly, Matthew makes a point of mentioning the earth.
What about our verse 9: "do not be called 'father' on this earth"? It is clear that we must understand earth in relation to heaven, because the end of the sentence refers to the Father of heaven. This means that we can only understand this earth in a framework where heaven, i.e. God's world, plays a predominant role; our world takes on its meaning in relation to God's. In this case, true fatherhood belongs to God alone. We are on the same level as Jesus' answer about the good: "Why do you ask me about the good? Only one is good" (Mt 19:17).
|Noun gē in the Gospels-Acts|
|ouranios (heavenly)||Ouranios (heavenly) is an adjective used as a noun with the article "the". It is found almost exclusively in Matthew (Mt = 7; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 1), and in the latter it always accompanies "Father" (5:48; 6:14.28.32; 15:13; 18:35; 23:9); Luke speaks instead of "the heavenly host" in his gospel (2:13), and of "heavenly vision" in Acts (26:19). To fully understand the meaning of ouranios, we need to analyze the name ouranos (heaven).
As one would expect, ouranos is a frequent word: Mt = 82; Mk = 18; Lk = 36; Jn = 18; Acts = 26. And it will come as no surprise that the highest occurrences are found in Matthew the Jew: for heaven was among the Jews a way of designating God while avoiding pronouncing the ineffable name. Thus, of the 82 occurrences in Matthew, more than half (44) are used to say either: Kingdom of Heavens, or: Father who is in heavens. This brings up the question of singular and plural. Here are some statistics on singular/plural: Mt = 26/56; Mk = 13/5; Lk = 32/4; Jn = 18/0; Acts = 25/1. To untangle the singular and plural, it is best to turn to Matthew who, as usual, has a systematic and logical approach.
In Matthew, when ouranos intends to refer to God's world per se, it is always in the plural. It is as if God's world is perceived in different strata or universes, and this plural universe forms God. Thus heaven, when it is the attribute of "kingdom", is always in the plural: "kingdom of heavens". Note that the 33 occurrences of "kingdom of heavens" in his gospel are his own: it is his signature; no other evangelist uses this expression. And systematically, whenever he encounters the expression "kingdom of God" in his sources, he transforms it into "kingdom of heavens". For example, when Mark writes, "The kingdom of God is near" (1:15), Matthew takes the phrase and writes instead, "The kingdom of Heavens is near (4:17). When Luke uses the Q Document to write, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (6:20), Matthew picks up on this tradition to write instead, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heavens" (5:3). For Matthew, this is respecting the Jewish sensibility that refuses to speak God's name.
Sometimes ouranos is plural, even though it is not the attribute of kingdom (23 times). It has the same meaning: to designate the world of God. Most of the time it is used in the expression "Father of the heavens", but it is also found alone ("behold, the heavens were opened", 3: 16) to indicate that the world of God has intervened in the human world, ("whatever you bind on earth, it will be held in heavens for bound"; ("As for the date of that day and the hour, no one knows them, nor the angels of heavens", 24: 36), to describe the characters of the world of God. Note that there is an exception to what we have just said: "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the heavens to the ends of the heavens" (24:31); clearly, this is no longer God's world, but we must probably imagine that each end of the earth, seen as a four-sided square, had its own heaven, and thus we were looking at a total of four heavens, hence the plural.
Otherwise, ouranos is in the singular in Matthew (26 times out of 82). These occurrences can be grouped into three categories.
We can now return to v. 9 and the expression: the father, the heavenly. This is here for Matthew the synonym for "Father who is in heavens" which he uses 13 times in his gospel. As we have seen, the heavens, in the plural, intends to designate the world of God without pronouncing the ineffable name. That is why we have chosen the translation: "you have only one Father in the world of God".
|v. 10 Do not call yourself "leaders" because you have only one leader, Christ.
Literally: Neither you should be called teachers (kathēgētai), for teacher of you is one, the Christ (Christos);
|kathēgētai (teachers)||Kathēgētēs Is a noun that means: teacher, master, professor, guide. It is said to be derived from the verb kathēgeomai : to walk before, to lead. Unfortunately, we cannot delve further into its meaning, because the word appears only here in the entire Bible: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It is therefore difficult to find examples of people who declared themselves "leader" or "chief", either in the Jewish milieu or in the first Christian communities. The various translations of the Bible opt for "doctor", "director", "master", "leader", "guide". The idea is the same: it refers to someone who walks in front and indicates the direction. We have therefore opted for "leader", a well-known contemporary term.|
The word christos means: one who has been anointed, i.e. a physical or spiritual anointing. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew word this way: māšîaḥ, which in Aramaic was said: měšîḥâ'. Note that the evangelist John twice translates the Aramaic term by the Greek term: messias (1, 4; 4, 25), hence our word: messiah. On this term, one may refer to the Glossary or to R.E. Brown. Let's summarize the highlights.
From the time of Solomon (10th century), son of David, the king was anointed with oil at his enthronement, a sign of his election and adoption by God, which assured him victory over his enemies and an eternal dynasty. When kings are no longer of David's lineage, there is hope, at least in Judah, for a return of that lineage, an earthly king, an anointed one, who will rule his people with justice. During Jesus' ministry, it is plausible that some of his followers saw him as the promised king of the house of David, the anointed one called to rule over God's people. Similarly, it is very likely that opponents of Jesus interpreted his words or those of his followers as a claim to messiahship, which contributed to the accusation that he was to be crucified as "king of the Jews". On the other hand, it is unlikely that Jesus would have claimed to be the messiah: one would look in vain for texts showing that Jesus knew he was the messiah, but refrained from expressing it in order to leave all the space to God; his answer on the question is rather ambivalent, neither affirming nor denying it, probably because of his conception of what he had to do, and because he left in God's hands the manifestation of his true role. But what is clear, if we trust Acts 2:36 ("Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty: God has made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."), is that by his resurrection and exaltation Jesus, hitherto called "Nazarene," becomes anointed, Christ, or messiah. From then on, this title of christos becomes the most important and even his proper name. This is a reflection of the royal ideology that colored the title christ and was current in Jerusalem, where the word christ evokes either King David or the various functions of the king, such as that of shepherd, guide and savior of his people, or the chosen one of God.
What about Matthew? Although he is not the one who uses this word the most, it is nevertheless very important in his Gospel: Mt = 16; Mk = 7; Lk = 12; Jn = 19; Acts = 25. In fact, of the 16 occurrences in his gospel, 12 are his own. And above all, he insists on making the title christos a central issue. Let's give some examples.
Thus, of the 16 occurrences, 8 are the proper name of Jesus, without associating anything else with him (e.g., "Now John, in his prison, had heard of the works of Christ", 11:2). And that is what we have here in v. 10: "for you have but one leader, Christ." With all that was said earlier, it is difficult to believe that Jesus spoke of himself as "the Christ" (he spoke of himself as "the son of man"). We are dealing with a title used by the first Christians, and so Matthew is saying: only this descendant of King David, the promised Messiah, the anointed one of God, can carry the title of leader in the Christian communities. Otherwise, you are usurping the title.
|v. 11 Let the most important among you become your servant,
Literally: Then, the greatest (meizōn) of you will be of you servant (diakonos);
|meizōn (the greatest)||Meizōn is the comparative adjective of megas (great). It is found scattered throughout the gospels: Mt = 10; Mk = 3; Lk = 7; Jn = 13; Acts = 0. The question about the greatest may seem to us to lack spiritual height. But if we observe the frequency with which it recurs in the gospels, it seems to have been a question that preoccupied the first Christian communities. Let's take a closer look at some of Matthew's statements.
In Matthew's universe, which presents us with the universe of Jesus, there is a kind of hierarchy. Who is at the top in the kingdom of God? It is the one who carries out and teaches all the commandments of the Law (5:9). It is also the one who makes himself little like a child (18:4). He is the one who makes himself the servant and slave of others (20:26-27). It is the one who accepts to lose houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or fields (19: 29-30). And at the same time, the Christian at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder is greater than any non-Christian (11: 11; 12: 6).
In this context, it is clear that those who do not do what they teach, who want the first places and to be hailed in the marketplaces, want to be called teacher, father, or leader have no place in the Christian community.
|diakonos (servant)||Although the gospels often seem to promote the spirit of service, the word diakonos (servant) is not so frequent: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 3; Acts = 0. Of the three occurrences in Matthew, two are a repeat of Mark 10:43.
This leaves us only with Mt 22:15 (the servants in the parable of the king who invites to a feast for his son) as a mention of his owns. If we expand the scope of analysis to include the verb diakoneō (to serve), we get more examples of what Matthew means by service. Again, we find only two occurrences that are unique to Matthew: caring for the hungry or thirsty, strangers or naked people, sick or imprisoned in the parable about the last judgment (25:44), and the reference to the women who cared for Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem (27:55). These two occurrences probably reflect what Matthew means by becoming someone's servant: caring for them.
|v. 12 for the one who seeks to be important will be ignored, the one who is ignored will become important.
Literally: Then whoever will lift up (hypsōsei) himself will be humbled (tapeinōthēsetai), and whoever will humble himself will be lifted up.
|hypsōsei (he will lift up)||
Verb hypsoō is quite rare: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 5; Acts = 3. It means: to raise, to lift, to exalt. What is fundamental is to determine the subject of the verb. In fact, according to the Gospels-Acts, God alone can elevate the human person: "He (God) has overthrown the potentates from their thrones and elevated (hypsoō) the lowly" (Lk 1:52); this was even the case for Jesus: "It was he (Jesus) whom God exalted (hypsoō) by his right hand, making him Head and Savior, that through him he might grant Israel repentance and remission of sins" (Acts 5:31). The problem arises when it is the human being himself who intends to rise.
In Matthew, the three occurrences come from the Q Document that Luke also knows. First, there is the expression of disappointment with certain towns in Galilee that did not have faith in Jesus: "And you, Capernaum, do you think you will be raised to heaven? To Hades you will go down" (Mt 11:23 || Lk 10:15); the elevation refers to the judgment of God that would have been favorable if these cities had accepted Jesus' message. And there are the two occurrences in our v. 12, which also come from the Q Document that Luke repeats twice (Mt 23:12 || Lk 14:11; 18:14: "he who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted"). In Luke, the context is first that of a banquet where people are looking for the first places, then that of the prayer in the temple of the Pharisee and the tax collector where one gives thanks for his perfection, the other asks God to have mercy on the sinner that he is. In Matthew, the context is that of the scholars who want to be well regarded in society. In both Luke and Matthew, we are faced with people who seek to be important according to human criteria, and therefore want to elevate themselves.
|tapeinōthēsetai (he will be humbled)||
Verb tapeinoō is the opposite of that hypsoō we have just seen, and means: to lower, to humble, to lessen, to live in destitution, to reduce. Its frequency is similar, but even more reduced: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. Of this total of 9 occurrences, 6 are used to say: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Lk 14:11; 18:14; Mt 23:12). But it is worth emphasizing here an important point in Matthew's theology. To do this, let us compare how he takes up Mark's account of Jesus and the children.
Mark and Matthew ask the same question, "Who is the greatest?" Mark provides two answers: first, the one who will be great or first is the one who is last; in other words, those who appear worthless in the eyes of humans are the ones who have the greatest value in the eyes of God. Then, logically, Mark introduces the children who, in antiquity, had no social value, to affirm that to welcome one of these beings without social value, because they are in the image of Jesus, is to welcome Jesus himself. Mark thus reverses our scale of values. What does Matthew do? His answer to the main question, unlike Mark's, goes straight to the children: "You must change and become like children. In other words, the Christian must humble himself (tapeinoō) like a child, i.e. must accept to lose his social value, and then comes the second part of the answer: having accepted to lose his social value, he will be able to welcome others who have no social value, for example a child. Matthew has introduced a more logical sequence than Mark.
But what is most important in Matthew is that there is a step to be taken, which Mark did not mention: one must learn to humble oneself, to lower oneself, to renounce one's social status. This is what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (5:3), i.e. those who have renounced their social status. It is in this context that we must interpret our v. 10 where Jesus castigates the scribes and Pharisees, they who seek to be important in the eyes of society: they are on the wrong track, because only God's outlook counts, not those of people in society. That is why we have translated hypsoō as "to be important", and tapeinoō as "to be ignored". For all of us, whoever we are, need to be important to someone. The scholars, according to Matthew, make this quest to society, when they should be making it to God; they should have accepted to be ignored by men, in order to be important to God.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2017