Blogthru the NT – Part 1 (Matthew)

28 01 2009

Its been a slow week for blogging. I’m not sure what to write about. There are too many things in my head right I’m not sure I’d be able to put them down into a coherent post. Perhaps recounting where I am at will help. Im studying the New Testament at the moment, going through each book. I’m looking for theological emphases, and distinctions. If I could put it down to a word, I’m soaking myself in the text, and keeping an open mind to see where the Spirit leads. I’ve read the New Testament through many times, late last year I read it in 2 weeks, but nothing beats going through it with a fine tooth comb. I’ll share some brief insights I’ve learned from the Gospels so far.

In Matthew the biggest theme I can see is that Jesus constantly redefines what it means to be a true Israelite. This is done in a variety of ways. Firstly Jesus is presented as the fufillment of many Old Testament Prophecies. Matthew is also eager to show Jesus as a new Moses. Like Moses, Jesus delivers a new law to his followers on a mountain. Ironically isn’t new, it’s the Old Mosaic Law that has been redefined. A good first century Jew who wanted to show where his allegience to YHWH would do so by following the Mosaic Law. It was a boundary marker, something that made Jews distinct from others. Moss gave the Law on YHWH’s authority, Jesus redefined it on his own. Matthew makes a point of showing the continuity with the Old Testament stories, and how those stories have reached their fufillment in Jesus.

We see similar themes repeated in the parables. Current Israel are cast as Wicked Tenants (21:33-45), Bad Soil (13:1-20) , ones who pay lipservice to the law (21:28-31), grumpy workers (20:1-16), unfaithful to laws original intent (19:1-11), the yeast that makes “bread” go bad (16:5-12), weeds that will be pulled up and burnt (13:24-29), and so forth. Implicit in those claims is that who are obedient to Jesus are good tenants, good soil, doers of the law, workers who are hired at the last minute, good yeast, wheat and not weeds etc. You can see why the Pharisees get so worked up. They had their boundary markers of what meant it meant to be a good Jew, one who was faithful to YHWH. They thought they were in the right. However Jesus comes along and casts them in the worst possible light. It would be like Jesus coming and telling Calvinists they’d got it wrong, and they should have been listening to Charles Finney all along.

We see this again when Jesus chose his twelve disciples. We may not know how many people are in my MMP parliament or in the United States Senate, but every Jew knew how many tribes there were in Israel. Some had all but been wiped out at this stage. Any good first century Jew would have seen this as a renewal of Israel. The big difference was that the renewed, restored Israel was no longer reconstituted around traditional boundary markers. The new boundary marker was (and still is) faith in Jesus Christ as Israel’s Messiah, not the Torah, circumcision or Nationalistic Zeal.

Another random point I picked up in Matthew is Judas’ greeting to Jesus on the night when He was betrayed. Judas, although a disciple, calls Jesus “Rabbi”. Why on earth would he do that? The only other people who did that were the Pharisees and Sadduccees. Clearly Judas was showing where his allegiance lay, and it was not with Jesus.

Lastly I want to talk about Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (12:22-37). This passage has been misunderstood by many throughout the years, and I had an epiphany about it while reading Matthew. Let me start 0ut by saying that I don’t think this section refers to believers. Jesus criticism is levelled against the Pharisees and not the crowds for a very specific charge levelled against him. When Jesus heals the demon possessed man the crowds reaction hint that they coming to terms with his true identity  “Could this be the son of David?” (12:23). In other words they were asking is this the long awaited messiah come to bring our story to its climax? Contrast that with the reaction of the Pharisees who claim Jesus’ miracle was done by the power of Beelzebub (12:24). The distinction is clear. Those who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit see Jesus’ miracles as a sign pointing towards messianship. Those who have not attribute it to Satan. Note that neither side can deny his miracle working power.

Jesus changes tack and carries the Pharisees logic to its final conclusion. If Satan is casting out Satan then his kingdom is divided and cannot stand. Even more, the followers of and the Pharisees themselves must also be working by the power of Satan. Jesus’ references to the bound strong man are clearly a reference to his own defeat and binding of Satan. But then we get this peculiar statement:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (12:30-32)
 

There are a few key scriptures we need to consider about the Spirit when we look at this verse. First off it is remeniscent of Joel 2:28-32. The day of the Lord is marked by the outpouring of the Spirit on all of God’s people. We get a hint of it in Numbers 11:29 when Moses says “I wish that all the Lords people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them” No longer is the Spirit associated purely with the divinely appointed mediators of the covenant (Kings, Priests, & Prophets) but with all of God’s people. This day of the Lord or new age is also marked by a new heart, a heart of flesh that replaces the heart of stone (Ezekiel 36). Gods people will now be able to follow God’s commands because their hearts have been dealt with. They are no longer part of the problem but part of the solution.

Those, in Matthews Gospel, who are recognising Jesus’ true identity as Israels messiah are showing signs of the Spirit, and signs of being true Israelites. Those who attribute to Jesus the work of Satan are showing a very clear lack of the Spirit. Without the Spirit it is impossible to repent, because it is the Spirit that grants faith and repentance. It is the Spirit that opens our eyes to understand who Jesus is. Compare the disciples responses to Jesus before and after pentecost if you don’t believe me.  Eventually this kind of resistance to the Spirit and willfull attribution of the work of Jesus to Satans power becomes permanent. God allows that person to become permanently hardened. But this is clearly not something believers do. People who have the Spirit of God do not do this. The context of Matthew 12:33-35 where Jesus says the hearts of the Pharisees are the problem should make this clear. They bring forth evil words from their hearts because their hearts have not been renewed. In contrast to those who are God’s people who have renewed hearts of flesh.

I hope I have shown you that worrying about the “unforgiveable sin” is a needless worry, and is very unlikely (impossible) that anyone could commit it. Live life in the freedom that comes from knowing you are a child of God, kept secure by his power forever.

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7 responses

29 01 2009
Mason

Grant,
Good insights here, sounding more Wright-esq in your take on the Gospels all the time. Boundary markers, Jesus’ followers as restored/renewed Israel, present Israel in the parables… Carson and Piper would not be pleased, but I’m right there with you.

This quote especially stood out to me,
“We see this again when Jesus chose his twelve disciples…Any good first century Jew would have seen this as a renewal of Israel. The big difference was that the renewed, restored Israel was no longer reconstituted around traditional boundary markers. The new boundary marker was (and still is) faith in Jesus Christ as Israel’s Messiah, not the Torah, circumcision or Nationalistic Zeal.”

I’ve done some longer writing on this topic (not blogging, I did a 2 credit independent study class centered on a paper involving the end of the exile and the nature of the people of God), and would be curious how exactly you would see this playing out.
In other words, do you think then that the church is in some sense the renewed/restored/returned from exile Israel of God?

Oh, and as far as the ‘unforgivable sin’ goes I’d pretty much agree with your take on it, though can’t say I think much about it because A. I don’t believe I have or could commit it, and B. if I have there is nothing I can do about it now so why worry right?

29 01 2009
aworthydiscussion

Thanks Mason, I’m really enjoying a lot of what Wright has to say. Especially in regards to the Gospels. People don’t often know what to do with them because they are stories and not letters correcting problems or doctrines. As to Piper and Carson, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I’ve read a lot of other authors who say things very similar to Wright. Gordon Fee’s book “Paul the Spirit and the people of God” comes to mind, as does Graeme Goldsworthy’s “According to plan”. Wright seems to be the poster boy for attacks on the New Perspective. Having read a lot of his stuff, he is a staunch defender of all things orthodox and traditional within reformed Christianity. How ironic that he most disliked amongst the reformed community? I’m still wrestling with his views on justification, but I don’t see it as a threat to reformed Christianity.

In terms of the Church as a renewed/restored/returned from exile Israel, I’m not too sure. What I do think is that we are in the already/not yet phase. Who would say Rev 21-22 has been fufilled already?. In Jesus the return from exile began, we are being renewed in the present and one day will be renewed in full. It helps to call the Church a renewed Israel to show continuity with the original plan of God to have his people in his place under his rule. But it must always be properly nuanced to show that God does not have two peoples (like some dispensationalists would say).

BTW – you are 100% right on the unforgivable sin. I doubt anyone knows Jesus that well to be able to do it, and if they had then why worry? Eat drink and be merry because you’ve got no other chance too LOL!

30 01 2009
Mason

” Wright seems to be the poster boy for attacks on the New Perspective.”
He does doesn’t he? Piper gives some hint about why that is in the beginning of The Future of Justification when he answers why go after Wright by describing how influential Wright is, especially through his more popular writings.
I think part of the reason Piper, Carson, and company get so worked up is that Wright has a wider following than others in the debate, and because he challenges the status of what McKnight called the “neo-Reformed” as the defenders of orthodoxy in evangelicalism.
You never really see the same hostility or concern about Dunn (who I quite like as well, and try to read whenever I get the chance) even though he is no closer than Wright is to that crowd. Yet Dunn does not write on as popular a though so he gets a pass.

“it must always be properly nuanced to show that God does not have two peoples (like some dispensationalists would say).”
Having far more experience with dispensationalism than I could hope to get into here I would say that if you can affirm the Church as the reformed/renewed/coming out of exile Israel of God, then you have effectively cut off a dispensational understandings of God’s people at the knees.

30 01 2009
aworthydiscussion

Yeah although at some points Wright should be criticised. In his book Surpised by Hope he says he talks about praying to the saints. While he has a problem with that he says its ok to pray for the saints departed. I found that a bit strange, to be honest there is very little in the Bible about that sort of thing. Its a minor contention.

30 01 2009
Mason

I found that one odd as well, figured it made more sense with an Anglican background (which I don’t have) but still like you I don’t see much basis for it. I did not feel like he was at all slipping into a pre-Reformation cult of the saints sort of thing, but I still thought it could have been addressed differently.

30 01 2009
Kurt Willems

I really enjoy your insights about Jesus and the parallels to Judaism. Matthew and the other evangelists are full of beautiful imagery that demonstrates the continuity between the ministry of Jesus and Moses and the Prophets.

I do have to say that I disagree with your comment on Judas’ usage of ‘rabbi.’ This was a term of endearment at times and respect. Now, it is possible that Judas used it sarcastically in this instance; but Mark and John have this term to demonstrate that Jesus was a respected and endeared teacher. Disciples would have gathered around Jesus acknowledging him as their ‘rabbi’ or teacher. (I realize that the offical title of Rabbi did not get much usage until after the fall of Jerusalem in 70ad, but the word was used to denote the same basic thing without necesarily being understood as an offical office during the ministry of Jesus. Great article on this: http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=2753 )

Good stuff overall and i will look forward to hearing more about your detailed look at the New Testament Scriptures!!!

1 02 2009
aworthydiscussion

Thanks Kurt, my goal is to finish the new testament and have blogged a fair portion of it before March, because thats when my course starts.

I think you make a fair comment about the term Rabbi, it could be a term of endearment. Paul Barnett wrote in his book that the term “Abba” is not “Daddy” but rather the term of endearment from an adult. There can be diversity in opinion on the matter.

Personally I think the “Rabbi” term Judas used would have been more sarcastic. The guy says nothing during the whole book of Matthew until he goes to betray Jesus. Then when he brings the soldiers to take Jesus away, he kisses him and calls him Rabbi – somehow I have a hard time seeing that as a term of endearment. The circumstances surrounding it give weight to the interpretation. Secondly, its used in a similar way when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus and when the Sadduccees try to question the Jewish belief in Resurrection. Both times they call him Rabbi.

Thirdly if we take Matthews theme as “Redefining what a true Israelite is” then it makes even more sense. Judas aligns himself with those who constantly fight against, and seek to destroy Jesus.

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