Saturday, February 04, 2023

The Vision (2.3.23): And ye would not!

 


Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 23:34-39.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

Christ’s withering denunciation of the spiritual hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 ends with his prophetic lament over Jerusalem.

He had earlier spoke of his opponents as “serpents” and a “generation of vipers” (v. 33). Now, he shifts the metaphor and declares, “how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings….”

Christ here compares himself to a mother hen who had longed to gather those sinful inhabitants of Jerusalem under his protective care, shielding them from the wrath of God which they justly deserve.

No one, of course, knew Scripture better than Christ, and he is drawing upon an OT image. It’s there in Psalm 91 which begins:

Psalm 91:1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

And continues:

Psalm 91:4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

Christ appropriating to himself the things of God. Psalm 91 says the one true God gathers his saints under his wings. Then Christ says to the people of Jerusalem, How often would I have gathered you under my wings?

What was their response? “And ye would not!” Some modern translations render it, “and you were not willing.”

Here, then, is a great testimony to the folly of those who resist and reject Christ. He would protect, but they “would not.” May the Lord take away our heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh, and make us willing.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, February 03, 2023

WM 265: Is Matthew 23:14 in the Bible?

 



NOTES:

I recently finished preaching through Matthew 23 (find complete Matthew sermon series here). This is Matthew’s record of Christ’s extended and withering discourse or speech against the scribes and the Pharisees, as he moves closer to the cross.

In the red-letter edition of the AV, other than the first verse and the first word of the second verse, all other verses are in red (vv. 2b-39).

The other two “Synoptic” Gospels offer much shorter accounts of this speech. See Mark 12:38-40 and Luke 20:45-47.

In Matthew’s account one of the repeated statements first appears in 23:13a: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” This is, of course, a great prophetic statement by Christ.

In the traditional text there are eight of these prophetic woes (vv. 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).

But in the modern critical text there are only seven woes, because Mathew 23:14 is one of the verses that does not appear in the modern critical text (Matthew 17:21 and 18:11 are also omitted in the critical text). So, it is one of the so-called “missing verses” (which M. Everhard, for some bizarre reason, thinks we traditionalists believe was removed by aliens or some other kind of conspiracy theory).

Matthew 23:14: What is the issue?

When you look more closely at this verse, you see that it was obviously a matter of controversy in the transmission of the NT, not only as to whether it is authentic to Matthew, but also, if authentic, where it should be located (because in the Majority Text the verse is present, but it appears after v. 12 and before v. 13).

Compare:

Traditional Text:

Standard versional order: v. 13, v. 14.

KJV Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Scrivener Matthew 23:13 ουαι υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι κλειετε την βασιλειαν των ουρανων εμπροσθεν των ανθρωπων υμεις γαρ ουκ εισερχεσθε ουδε τους εισερχομενους αφιετε εισελθειν

14 ουαι δε υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι κατεσθιετε τας οικιας των χηρων και προφασει μακρα προσευχομενοι δια τουτο ληψεσθε περισσοτερον κριμα

Note: While the entire printed TR tradition includes v. 14, the order with v. 13 varies: 14-13 (Stephanus; Beza); 13-14 (Elzevirs).

The Protestant translation tradition prominently confirms the 13-14 order (Tyndale, Geneva, KG Hungarian, Reina Valera, Dutch Statenvertaling).

Modern Critical Text:

Omits v. 14

Translations based on the modern critical text omit v. 14 and skip from v. 13 to v. 15, with some editions placing v. 14 in the footnotes.

Majority/Byzantine Text:

Includes v. 14 but in the order v. 14, v. 13.

Berean Standard Bible Matthew 23:13 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You defraud widows of their houses, and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.

Patriarchal Text (1904) Matthew 23:13 Οὐαὶ δὲ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κατεσθίετε τὰς οἰκίας τῶν χηρῶν καὶ προφάσει μακρὰ προσευχόμενοι· διὰ τοῦτο λήψεσθε περισσότερον κρῖμα.

14 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων· ὑμεῖς γὰρ οὐκ εἰσέρχεσθε, οὐδὲ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἀφίετε εἰσελθεῖν.

Examining External Evidence

Based on the NA28 apparatus:

In support of v. 13 followed by v. 14: Family 13, Old Latin, Clementine Vulgate, Curetonian Syriac, and some Bohairic mss. Note: This is a minority TR reading with respect to word order.

In support of omitting v. 14: Alpeh, B, D, L, Z, Theta, family 1, 33, Old Latin a, Sinaitic Syriac.

In support of v. 14 followed by v. 13: K, W, Gamma, Delta, 0102, 0107, and the Majority/Byzantine, Syriac Peshitta, Syriac Harklean. Pickering says this is 98% of extant mss.

Examining Internal Evidence

The most plausible explanation for v. 14 to be absent in some manuscripts is the unintentional error of homoio-arcton (having the same or a similar beginning). This would then lead to confusion when this error was recognized and the verse was reintroduced back into the text.

Metzger in his Textual Commentary, Second Ed., however, makes a different case for omission, arguing, “That v. 14 is an interpolation derived from the parallel in Mk 12:40 or LK 20:47 is clear…” (50). He gives this an {A} rating.

Metzger’s position reflects a bias in modern textual criticism against harmonization of content or agreement among the Gospels.

The overwhelming Majority, including many older mss., across a wide geographical spectrum, retain both verses.

This leaves only the question of verse order. Printed editions of the TR are divided but there seems to be a strong consensus among Protestant translations going back to Tyndale, et al. that the order v. 13, then v. 14 be followed.

In recently preaching on this text, I can affirm that v. 13 makes logical (homiletical) sense, given that it provides a broad description of hypocritical behavior (shutting persons out of the kingdom) that is then followed by more specific examples of this, beginning with the devouring the houses of widows and making long prayers. In Mark and Luke, this teaching is followed by the account of the widow in the temple (but omitted in Matthew).

An Internal Argument Based on Intrinsic Probability

In preparing to preach this chapter, I also ran across this assessment in R.V.G. Tasker’s Matthew commentary in the Tyndale NT Commentaries Series (IVP, 1961):

In the AV eight ‘woes’ follow; but it is almost certain that they should be reduced to seven, for the ‘woe’ contained in v. 14, which is omitted in RV, is not found in the most ancient witnesses to the text, and would seem to have been a later insertion into the text of Matthew from Mark xii.40 and Luke xx.47. It is intrinsically probable that our evangelist, with his Jewish fondness for the symbolism of numbers, made a collection of seven (217).

Having just spent the last two plus years reading and preaching through Matthew, however, I do not find this argument particularly convincing.

One may well make an argument for the possibility of John’s interest in the symbolic meaning of seven (like the Seven I AM sayings and Seven Signs [Miracles] in his Gospel, and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1-2, etc.), but it is less convincing with Matthew.

There are indeed seven parables in Matthew 13, but it seems Matthew has less interesting in structuring his Gospel with seven-fold patterns than in offering a variety of arrangements. A few examples:

Five fulfilment citations in Matthew 1-2: 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23.

Five discourses (as noted by B. W. Bacon): chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25.

Ten Miracles in Matthew 8-9:

            The healing of the leper (8:1-4);

The healing of the Centurions servant (8:5-13);

The healing of Peters mother-in-law and many possessed with devils (8:14-17);

The stilling of the storm (8:23-27);

The healing of the Gergesene demoniacs (8:28-34);

The healing of the man sick of the palsy (9:1-8);

The healing of a certain rulers daughter (9:18-19, 23-26);

The healing of the woman with the issue of blood (9:20-22);

The healing of two blind men (9:27-31);

The healing of the dumb man (9:32-34).

Six Parables after the final arrival in Jerusalem broken into two sets of three:

First three: Two sons (21:28-32; The householder and the ungrateful husbandmen (21:33-44); The Kings wedding for his Son (22:1-14).

Second three: Ten Virgins (25:1-13); Talents (25:14-30); Judgement of Nations (25:31-46).

Four Controversies in the Temple:

Tribute to Caesar (22:15-22); Sadducees and Resurrection (22:23-33); Great Commandment (22:34-40); Psalm 110:1 and Davids Lord (22:41-46).

From this we see the idea that Matthew shows an intrinsic probability to offer seven woes rather than eight seems unlikely. It may, however, provide a suggestion as to why some scribes might have intentionally sought to remove one of the eight and reduce the number to seven.

Conclusion:

Based on overwhelming external evidence, as well as internal evidence, we can affirm the authenticity of v. 14. We may also affirm with the greater Protestant translation tradition that its most fitting location in Matthew 23 is following upon v. 13.


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

WM 264: Review: Lanier & Ross, The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters

 




Notes:

This spoken-word review is based on a written draft of this book. Here is an outline for the abbreivated review content:

Gregory R. Lanier and William A. Ross, The Septuagint: What It Is and Why It Matters (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2021): 216 pp.

This book is co-written by New Testament (Lanier) and Old Testament (Ross) professors at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando and Charlotte, respectively), and it comes out of an elective course they co-teach on the Septuagint. It provides a helpful review of basic facts about and an informed discussion of the influential ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint.

Review of Content:

Structurally, the book consists of two parts: Part 1 (chapters 1-4) answers, “What is the Septuagint?”; Part 2 (chapters 5-7) addresses, “Why does it matter?” The book concludes with an Appendix covering “Ten Key Questions about the Septuagint.”

Four Commendations:

First: The term "Septuagint" is confusing.

Second: To say that the "Septuagint" was "the pew Bible" of the early church is an "oversimplification."

Third: The Apocrypha is not part of the OT canon but can be read with edification to understand Jewish backgrounds for the NT.

Fourth: Quotations from the "Septuagint" in the NT do not mean that the entire "Septuagint" itself is inspired.

A Major Concern:

There is, however, at least one highly significant aspect of this study of the Septuagint that some confessional readers, in particular, might rightly question. This aspect is the authors’ contention that the Septuagint might be used to “reconstruct” the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, or, to use the language in their discussion regarding the framework of authority, that it bears at least some “normative” authority with respect to establishing the text of the Old Testament.

Closing Analysis:

First, this approach appears to clash with the classic Protestant view of the providential preservation of Scripture as outlined in Westminster Confession of Faith 1:8.

Second, this approach is at odds with a distinct tradition in Protestant scholasticism that rejected the use of the Septuagint and other ancient versions to “correct” the traditional text of the Hebrew Old Testament (see Owen and Turretin).

Third, this approach presents a view which many will perceive to be problematic with respect to its proposal of the Septuagint as holding some measure of normative authority for Christianity. 

JTR

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Vision (1.27.23): Straining at a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel

 


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 23:23-33.

Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgement, mercy, faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

In Matthew 23, Christ acts as the Great Prophet declaring a series of woes against the scribes and Pharisees for the sin of religious and spiritual hypocrisy.

In v. 23, he condemns them for their scrupulosity in tithing even the herbs in their gardens (mint, dill, and cummin), while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith.” They were good at meticulously counting the seeds of their herbs, but not so good at keeping the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12) or the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).

In v. 24 Christ offers a negative application of this principle. In their effort to avoid minor infractions of the law, they had committed major infractions.

Notice, he addresses them again as “blind guides” (v. 24a; cf. vv. 17, 19).

He then offers one of the most memorable statements in the Bible, as he says these men, “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (v. 24b).

One Study Bible explains: “Some Pharisees would strain their beverages through fine cloth to make sure they did not inadvertently swallow a gnat—the smallest of unclean animals (Lev 11:23). The camel was the largest of all the unclean animals” (MacArthur Study Bible).

The point: Spiritual hypocrites obsess over minor details and neglect major commandments, major areas of obedience.

Charles Spurgeon observed, “There are gnat strainers among us still, who apparently have little difficulty in swallowing a camel, ‘hump and all’” (Matthew Commentary, 357).

We are being called upon by this text not to pass judgement on first century scribes and Pharisees or even on any contemporary phonies and hypocrites. We are being called upon to look soberly into the mirror of God’s Word at ourselves.

We are meant to ask: What is Christ saying about me? What warning is he giving to me?

Have I had a tendency overscrupulously to obsess upon lesser things, while omitting the weightier matters of the law? How have I failed to love God and how have I failed to love my neighbor as myself? And have I been guilty of using a veil of religiosity to justify my disobedience?

Have I in my zeal to strain at a gnat, swallowed a camel?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Brent Evans' "Preaching in the Name of the Amen" article now available in French

Glad to see that Brent Evans' article "Preaching in the Name of the Amen" has been translated into French and can be read online here.

JTR

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Byzantine Colophons Suggesting Dates for the Four Canonical Gospels


Note: Taken from twitter: @Riddle1689:

Dating the Gospels is a longstanding challenge in NT studies.

R. A. Boyd's Text-Critical English NT: Byzantine Text Version includes colophons with some conjectures offered by Byzantine scribes:

Matthew: 8 years post-ascension. Mark: 10 years post-ascension. Luke: 15 years post-asension.
John: 32 years post-ascension.







Update (1.25.23):

Nelson Hsieh noted on Twitter that Tommy Wassermen and his student Conrad Thorup Elmelund addressed this colophon tradition in a 2022 SBL paper suggesting that the subscription was taken from Hippolytus of Thebes and reflects a "cascading error" in the entries on Mark-Luke-John with the time reference being not to years after the ascension but the writing of the previous work.

If this is correct, this tradition would suggest the following timeline:

Matthew: 8 years post-ascension.

Mark: 10 years post-Matthew (18 years post-ascension).

Luke: 15 years post-Mark (33 years post-ascension).

John: 32 years post-Luke (65 years post-ascension).

Interesting. Even assuming the "cascading error" this traditon assumes the priority of Matthew (and not Mark!) and the chronological ordering Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. It also suggests Matthew was written early and not multiple decades after the ascension and indeed places the first three Gospels as all being pre-AD 70.

JTR

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Vision (1.22.23): Shutting up the Kingdom of Heaven

 


Image: Early morning view of the moon, North Garden, Virginia, January 2023.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 23:13-22 (audio not yet available).

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).

In Matthew 23 Christ shows himself to be our great Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet he declares God’s Word. Eight times he pronounces a prophet woe on the failed religious leaders, beginning in v. 13 (cf. vv. 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).

In the first woe he speaks about the kingdom of heaven. This is the rule or the reign of God that began with the first coming of Christ and will be fulfilled at his second coming.

It was at the heart of Christ’s early preaching, as he declared, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

In the Sermon on the Mount, he exhorted his disciples, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Experiencing the kingdom of God in the here and now is having the rule and reign of Christ invade your life, your present existence, and transform it for the glory of God and for your good and the good of others.

This is what Christ spoke about when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the first woe of Matthew 23, Christ says that one of the chief sins of the spiritual hypocrites is that they shut up the kingdom of heaven (v. 13b). They do so in two ways:

First, they shut themselves out of the kingdom: “for ye neither go in yourselves.”

Second, they shut out others from entering the kingdom: “neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

Imagine a hospital where those with sickness can be cured, and there is sick man who not only refuses to go into the hospital and be cured, but he tries to dissuade others who are sick from entering. He even shuts the doors and throws his body across the entrance to keep them out.

How does the hypocrite do this? He does so by saying that he is a believer, by saying he is a disciple, but by then failing to believe and live and act as a disciple. Christ says, “for they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:3).

How do we respond to this teaching? We are meant to examine our own hearts and to ask: How am I like the scribes and Pharisees? What warning is Christ giving to me?

Have I shut myself off from the kingdom and have I shut others off from the kingdom through my spiritual hypocrisy?

Let us soberly look at ourselves, repent of our failings, and turn to Christ who always stands ready to forgive and redirect sinners.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Sermon by Ryan Davidson: Accusers, a Sinner, and Jesus (John 7:53--8:11)

 


I enjoyed listening to this recent sermon by Ryan Davidson of Grace Baptist Chapel in  Hampton, Virginia. Good model for acknowledging textual challenges in the PA, affirming its authenticity, and drawing solid pastoral applications.

JTR 

Sermon by Pastor Sam Caldwell: The Infallible Word (Matthew 5:18)

 

 

This is a sermon by Pastor Sam Caldwell of Grace and Glory Church in Portland, Maine. In it, he focuses on Matthew 5:18 and the infallibility and preservation of Scripture.

JTR

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Vision (1.13.23): Although the fig tree shall not blossom

 


Image: Frozen pond, North Garden, Virginia, January 2023

Note: Devotion taken from the afternoon sermon at CRBC on Sunday, January 1, 2023.

The final chapter of Habakkuk is described as “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet” (3:1). This prayer concludes in 3:17-29 with an affirmation of faith and a confident declaration that God is to be worshipped regardless of the external circumstances his people must face.

Pagan religions are based on a quid pro quo. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. But Biblical faith is not like that. The one true God is to be worshipped no matter what comes our way, no matter what the Lord in his all-wise providence decrees for us.

In contrast to the pagan view, Habakkuk declares:

3:17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail; and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The evidence of a mature faith is not that you praise the LORD when things are going well, but that you turn to him when things seem awful and beyond your control. There is confidence even in such times that the Lord will be our strength and that he will cause us like the deer to walk in high places once again (v. 19).

This is the kind of faith that Job had. When he had lost everything, Job declared, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

It is the kind of faith that the three Hebrew youths had when threatened with the fiery furnace. They said to the king, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king, But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

It is the kind of faith that the apostle Paul had when he wrote from a Roman prison, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

Friends, we know not what will come our way this year. It may be our last year.

We pray it will be filled with great outward prosperity and blessing, but do we have that sort of mature faith, so that even if it is a year of emptiness we are still resolved to rejoice in the Lord, to joy in the God of our salvation, and to acknowledge him as our strength, even in our weakness?

I pray we will have the same spiritual orientation as the prophet Habakkuk in this year before us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, January 12, 2023

WM 262: Schäfer’s Jesus in the Talmud & An Internal Argument for the PA

 



My notes:

Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007): 210 pp.

This book is about references to Jesus of Nazareth in the Talmud (both Palestinian and Babylonian), the “the foundation document of rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity” (1).

The author sees the scattered references to Jesus, Mary, and his followers as evidence of the early conflict between Jews and Christians (or, we might say, Christianity as a sect emerging out of Judaism).

Chapter One: Jesus’ Family

This traces rabbinic traditions that deny the virgin birth by saying that Jesus instead was conceived through an adulterous relationship between Miriam (who grew her hair long as a sign of promiscuity) and a Roman soldier named Pandera/Panthera.

This Jewish slur on Jesus was picked up on by the pagan writer Celsus.

Chapter Two: The Son/Disciple Who Turned Out Badly

Vague references are made to Jesus as a failed son/disciple who succumbed to sexual immorality.

The author notes here the Gnostic connection of Jesus with Mary Magdalene as his wife.

Chapter Three: The Frivolous Disciple

Jesus is presented as a heretical and idolatrous disciple of the rabbis who practiced magic and even worshipped a brick (!).

Chapter Four: The Torah Teacher

The focus here is on Jews who had become followers of Jesus. One is a disciple named Jacob (James?). Another is called Rabbi Eliezer who was accused of sexual immorality with a prostitute and use of magic.

Chapter Five: Healing in the Name of Jesus

Discussion is given here to depictions of the followers of Jesus as “tricksters and imposters” (62) who use of the name of Jesus as a magical formula to perform exorcisms and healings.

Chapter Six: Jesus’ Execution

This chapter traces vague references to Jesus as one who was put to death by stoning and hanging for idolatry. The “Bavli narrative” even reveals “the precise day of his execution: he was hanged on the even of the Passover, that is, the day before the Passover” (72).

Schäfer notes that the rabbinic authors even stress that “the Jews took upon themselves the responsibility for Jesus’ execution” (74). He summarizes the message the rabbinic authors wanted to convey:

… yes, the Roman governor wanted to set him free, but we did not give in. He was a blasphemer and idolater, and although the Romans probably could not care less, we insisted that he get what he deserved. We even convinced the Roman governor (or more precisely forced him to accept) that this heretic and imposter needed to be executed—and we are proud of it (74).

He concludes, “What we have in the Bavli is a powerful confirmation of the New Testament Passion narrative, a creative rereading, however, that not only knows some of its distinct details but proudly proclaims Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ execution” (74).

The Talmud thus sees the death of Jesus as “the rightful execution of a blasphemer and idolater” (74).

Chapter Seven: Jesus’ Disciples

This chapter discusses a tradition in the Bavli following the execution of Jesus which says he had five disciples (one of whom was named Mattai—Matthew?) who were also put on trial and executed.

The author suggests that “this forms the climax of the Bavli’s discussion of Jesus and Christianity…. Jesus was rightly killed, and there is nothing that remains of him and his teaching after his death” (81).

Chapter Eight: Jesus’ Punishment in Hell

This final section relays a Talmudic tradition about three notorious heretical figures in hell: Titus (the destroyer of Jerusalem); Balaam (the pagan prophet); and Jesus the Nazarene.

Titus must repeatedly be burned and have his ashes scattered over the seven seas.

Balaam is forever placed in boiling semen.

And Jesus is forever placed in boiling excrement.

Final Summary: Jesus in the Talmud

In the closing chapter Schäfer gives a summary of the Talmudic attack on Jesus and early Christianity.

First, he says “the most prominent characteristic” that dominates is the charge of “sexual promiscuity” and immorality (97). Jesus is a bastard. Christianity is an “orgiastic cult” (99). They even engage in ritualistic cannibalism of babies (a parody of the eucharist).

These charges were also picked up by pagan critics.

Second, they charge Jesus with being a magician and deceiver.

Third, they charge him and his followers with idolatry and blasphemy.

Rather than being raised from the dead, his fate will be to sit in excrement in hell.

The author notes that the stronger attacks on Christianity are found not in the Palestinian Talmud but in the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud).

He surmises this is due to the fact that “Palestinian Judaism was under the direct and continuously growing impact of Christianity in the Holy Land” (115), so it is no surprise that the “most graphic polemic against Jesus” was found in the Babylonian Talmud composed outside of Palestine (122).

He suggests that the Rabbis likely had access to the NT (perhaps through Tatian’s Diatessaron or through the Syriac Peshitta) (123).

He takes special interest in John since it seems it seems to be “the most strongly anti-Jewish Gospel of the four Gospels” (124). He sees it as having been written in Asia Minor sometime after AD 100.

He adds:

Having been written in the Jewish Diaspora of Asia Minor, it bears all the characteristics of a bitter struggle between the established Jewish and emerging Christian communities, a struggle that was waged by both sides with the gloves off (128).

He ends: “Taken together, the texts in the Bablyonian Talmud, although fragmentary and scattered, become a daring and powerful counter-Gospel to the New Testament in general and to John in particular” (129).

Observation: In the current context the NT is often accused of being antisemitic (Matthew and John, in particular). This study is refreshing in that it acknowledges that this was a conflict in which both Jews and Christians were mutually engaged and that the rabbis, at the least, gave as much as they received.

On the PA:

Toward the end, the author makes reference to the way in which the PA fits within the overall themes of this conflict between Jesus and his disciples and the Jews or Pharisees. The discussion begins, “Some of the confrontations are portrayed as direct discussions between Jesus and ‘the Jews’ or the Pharisees. When Jesus prevents the stoning of the adulterous woman…” (127-128). He sees the content of John 8:17ff, in particular, as related to the earlier challenge of the forgiveness of the adulterous woman.

Schäfer assumes that the PA is part of the authentic text of John that it fits with the overall theme of conflict or confrontation. Thus, he presents a cogent internal argument for the authenticity of this passage and how it fits within the overall narrative and literary goals of John.

This shows that is it no way irrational to posit that the PA is consistent with the rest of John, but instead exposes the folly of those who reject it or scorn it as their “favorite story that’s not really in the Bible.”

JTR