Thinking about Matt 4:21......

by jula71 35 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Leolaia
    hmike..the greater value of love and compassion was in fact the very opinion of the Pharisee Rabbis.

    For instance: "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. R. Akiba said: This is the great general principle in the Torah" (Sifra Qedoshim, 4). This injunction is from the Torah (cf. Leviticus 19:18), and it was combined with Deuteronomy 6:4 as the epitome of all the laws of the Torah. This view was also expressed by Philo of Alexandria: "But among the vast number of particular truths and principles studied, two, one might almost say, stand out higher than all the rest, that of relating to God through piety and holiness, and that of relating to fellow man through a love of mankind and of righteousness" (Special Laws, 2.63). The view in Matthew is also expressed in Paul (cf. Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14) and in James 2:8. The difference between Paul and Matthew is that Paul dispenses with the so-called minor commandments in favor of the general principle, while Matthew stresses their lasting importance: "Anyone who relaxes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:18-19). The same view is expressed in James: "For whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it" (2:10). This too was a rabbinical view common with the Pharisees. We thus read: "Rabbi said: 'Be careful with a minor commandment as with a major one, for you do not know what reward is given for keeping one commandment or another.' Ben Azzai said: 'Run after a minor commandment just as after a major one' " (m. Abot 2:1, 4:2). The same thought also occurs in the first-century 4 Maccabees: "To transgress the Law in matters either small or great is quite the same, for in either case the Law is being treated with disdain" (5:20).

    The Jesus of Matthew and to a lesser extent of Luke is presented as engaged in the rabbinical disputes of his time, and as delivering halacha on the Torah. The dispute in Luke 10:25-29 is based on the interpretation of Leviticus 19:17, and the interpretation Jesus rejects in that passage (which is stated explicitly in Matthew 5:43: "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy"), rejects the view found in 4 Maccabees 2:13 and 1QS 9:16-21 that assumes that such love applies only to "friends" and does not include love for enemies. The view expressed on marriage in Matthew 5:31-32 is well rooted in rabbinical disputes between the schools of Hillel and Shammai on the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and Jesus comes out on the side of Shammai and the Essenes (cf. 11QTemple 57:15-19; Damascus Document 4:20-5:2; m. Gittin 9:10: "Let not a man divorce his wife unless he found in her some matter of indecency"). The forbidding of oaths in Matthew 5:33-37 (echoed in James 5:12) is based on an application of Exodus 20:7 that extended an original prohibition of using God's name in vain to the uttering of vain oaths (cf. Sirach 23:9-10; Philo, Special Laws 2.2; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 3.91; 1QS 6:27; Midrash Tanhuma, Mattot 1). Most of ch. 5 of Matthew (especially v. 21-48) is an extended interpretation of various commandments in the Law, 9:10-13 interprets Hosea 6:6 as another principle governing observance of the Law, the dispute on picking corn on the sabbath in 12:1-8 is a classic example of Matthean rabbinical interpretation which supports its argument with a midrash of 1 Samuel 21:4-7 and again uses Hosea 6:6 as a general principle, and ch. 15 and 16 give many other examples. One crucial text is Matthew 15:2 (= Mark 7:1-13) in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus and his disciples "break away from the tradition of the elders". This refers to the oral halacha of the Pharisees. Jesus replies that the Pharisees have themselves broken away "from the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition" (v. 3). In no sense is Jesus here trying to get rid of the Torah or abolish it. Instead he presents himself as more faithful to the Torah than the Pharisees. The oral halacha that the rabbi Jesus (cf. 26:25, 49) delivers is regarded by the authors of Mark and Matthew as the correct interpretation of God's "commandments" whereas the halacha of the Pharisees supplants the Torah with their own tradition (cf. their example of cursing parents, drawn from Leviticus 20:9 and Deuteronomy 5:16). It is interesting to compare this with the charge in Acts 21:21 that Paul has instructed "Jews living among the pagans to break away from Moses". The Jewish Christians associated with James the Just, according to the author of Acts, would put Paul into the same group that the authors of Mark and Matthew put the Pharisees: those who break away from the commandments of Moses in the Torah. Of course, Matthew has greatly intensified the anti-Pharisee rhetoric found in Mark; especially in the addition of the incinderary ch. 23. Kenneth Newport has an interesting book on The Sources of Sitz im Leben of Matthew 23 which, tho I disagree with the overall thesis, presents some convincing evidence that the author of this chapter was in close enough contact with the Pharisees to know their common practices. At the same time, there clearly was a good deal of ideological distance (e.g. "their synagogues" in 4:23, 9:35 when addressing fellow Christians and "your synagogues" in 23:34 when addressing the Pharisees), but the polemical and stereotypical language is actually evidence of the proximity of the two groups rather than of the distance between Matthean Christians and an otherwise distant and ambiguous group (cf. Sims, p. 186).

  • hmike

    I'm proposing the possibility that there were members of the Pharisees (not necessarily the majority) who did not live out the principles of Pharisaic teaching.

    In the epistles of Paul, which are obviously independent of Matthew, we have the account of Saul of Tarsus as a Pharisee who was a zealous persecuter of members of the Way. Couldn't he have been representative of at least a faction that considered the Way to be dangerous (as opposed to a moderate like Gamaliel [Acts 5])? Isn't it normal for those established in power to want to neutralize any group that publicly questions their positions? Is this so much different than what happened with Luther?

  • Leolaia

    There were plenty of reasons for the Pharisees to reject and condemn the Law-observant faction of early Christianity. The Pharisees believed that their own oral halacha derived from Moses himself, as his oral teaching (cf. Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 12:2; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 3.93-94), and constituted a second Torah that originated in the Sinai revelation along with the written Torah:

    "Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and passed it on (e.g. orally) to Joshua and Joshua to the elders and the elders to the prophets and the prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly" (m. Abot 1:1; cf. m. Pe'ah 2:6; 'Eduyyot 8:7).
    "It happened that some stood before Shammai and said to him, 'Rabbi, how many Torahs do you have?' He said, ' Two, one that is written and one that is oral' " (Abot de R. Natan, 15).
    "These are the statutes and the ordinances and the laws which the Lord made between him and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai by Moses....The phrase 'and the laws' indicates that two Torahs were given to Israel, one in writing and one orally" (Sifra Behuqqotai, 8).
    "That which the prophets were later to prophesy in every subsequent age, they received here at Mount Sinai...And so not only did all the prophets receive their prophesies from Sinai, but also the sages who were to arise in every generation, each one of them received his teaching from Sinai" (Midrash Tanhuma, Yitro 11).

    Thus for the Pharisees, their oral halacha had Mosaic authority and they did not accept the Jewish-Christian distinction that only the written Torah had authority. The Essenes rejected some Pharisee halacha as authoritative as well and issued their own interpretation, whereas the Sadducees abided only by the written Torah: "The Pharisees had passed on to the people certain ordinances handed down by the fathers and not written in the Law of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the sect of the Sadducees, who hold that only those ordinances should be considered valid which were written down" (Josephus, Antiquities 13.297; cf. 13.408, 17.41). If Christianity derived from an earlier Essene group, their Law-observant yet anti-Pharisee stance may have its roots in Essene teaching. It is interesting that Paul refers to himself as a former Pharisee in Philippians 3:5 (if the passage is original to Paul), and in Galatians 1:13-14 he said that he persecuted the early Christians because he was "extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers". This phrase tón patrikón mou paradoseón "traditions of my fathers" most likely refers to traditional oral halacha, as the similar phrase tén paradosin tón presbuterón "traditions of the elders" has this sense in Mark 7:3-5 (= Matthew 15:1-20), and elsewhere in early Jewish literature we encounter such phrases as "traditions of the Torah" (2 Baruch 84:9), "laws of our fathers" in 4 Ezra 4:23, and so forth. "Saul of Tarsus" would have thus been zealous to stop the early church because it was a new form of apostasy from the Law; cf. also Philippians 3:6, in which Paul said his zeal was rooted in a desire to have "righteousness in the Law" (dikaiosunén tén en nomó). It is possible that Saul and/or the Pharisees believed that the new interpretations of the Christians constituted a "false Torah", or that a second Moses (= Jesus, as especially portrayed in the synoptics) had come to deliver false teaching. There is just such a rejection in the rabbinics of the idea that a second Moses would reveal a new Torah:

    "Moses said to them: 'I say this lest you say that another Moses is going to arise and he will give us another Torah from the heavens. Therefore, as of now I am telling you that [such a Torah] is not in heaven, that nothing of it exists in heaven' " (Deuteronomy Rabba, 8:6).

    Philo (Special Laws 4.149) claimed that Proverbs 22:28 prohibits people from dispensing with the "unwritten laws approved by men of old, not inscribed on monuments nor leaves of paper" (cf. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 4.225), and R. Simeon b. Yochai similarly declared on the authority of Proverbs 22:28: "If you see a custom of your forefathers observed, do not reject it" (Midrash on Proverbs, 22). Thus the Pharisees would have easily seen Law-observent Jewish Christians adopting different practices and altering traditional ones as disregarding the counsel in Proverbs 22:28. In fact, the Damascus Document (1:14-16, 5:20-21, 19:13-16) refers to the "man of wickedness, who poured out for Israel from the waters of falsehood and caused them to go astray in a trackless wilderness" as similarly acting contrary to what is described in Proverbs 22:28.

    The claim that Jesus rose from the dead (and/or is the eschatological Son of Man, and/or Lord) would have also been heretical for Pharisees as well, for obvious reasons.

  • Narkissos

    Imo one must be very cautious in retrojecting both post-70 rabbinical self-presentation and NT caricature on pre-70 Pharisaism. The whole concept of "oral Torah" really came to the fore in the wake of the Jewish War which meant the end of the Sadducees and Essenes. Before, one can only imagine Pharisaism as an unremarkable piety movement among many, whose basic idea of adapting (through "tradition") the ritual rules of temple worship to the everyday life of lay disciples turned out to be "prophetic" (with the optical illusions that this word always implies) after the end of the temple. It was certainly not thought of as an "orthodoxy" before.

    As has often been pointed out, what we now call Judaism and Christianity are rather "(un)fraternal twins" than "father and son". The rabbinical traditions and Jewish Christianity actually respond to each other and build themselves against each other.

  • peacefulpete

    what does pre-70 Pharisaism have to do with the NT?

  • hmike

    Thanks for the replies on this particular issue of the conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus. I did some further research, and now I have a better understanding of the how the oral law and the fences of the Mishna were the real points of contention. So there definitely was a conflict as Jesus openly opposed the burden of the Mishna and how it sometimes actually interfered with keeping the intent of the Law, and he refused to work within their system. The Pharisees dedicated themselves to not breaking the 600+ laws, thereby not putting the nation in danger of God's wrath, but in so doing, created shakles that prevented them from helping people.

    So, Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees so much as they condemned themselves by not accepting his correction.

    Does this look like a reasonable understanding?

  • Leolaia

    Narkissos....You are certainly right to remind us that there was no such thing as normative pre-AD 70 Judaism, and that the rabbinical writings contain concepts later than the first century. I suspect the "two Torahs" idea is a later development of an earlier concept that rabbinical halacha had Mosaic authority, but this earlier more general concept probably was in place pre-AD 70, considering that there are echoes of it in Josephus (Antiquities, 3:93-94) and Pseudo-Philo (Biblical Antiquities, 12:2). The interpretation of Proverbs 22:28 and its application to "the unwritten laws approved by the men of old" is also clearly pre-AD 70, as it appears in Philo of Alexandria and has echoes as well at Qumran. I disagree that Pharisaism was only an "unremarkable" movement among many in pre-AD 70 Judaism. Indeed, the socio-religious landscape of second Temple Judaism was very diverse (as indicated also by the various schools of thought within Pharisaism), but the Pharisees had to be remarkable enough for Josephus to mention them as on the three great varieties of Judaism. Josephus was absolutely reductionist in his characterization of Judaism, no doubt about that, but for him to name Pharisaism as significant, I think it probably indicates that it was more of a major than a minor movement in comparison to other movements (unless its prominence is during the more recent AD 70-90 period), tho all these groups were rather minor in comparison to the population in general, the majority of whom belonged to no sect. It's also interesting that Josephus mentioned the oral regulations as a defining feature of the Pharisees in contrast to the Sadducees, suggesting that he is thinking of the pre-70 situation when the Sadducees were still functioning as a group.

    I agree totally that the Pharisees of Matthew are post-AD 70 Pharisees contemporaneous with the Matthean community, and are not to be construed as necessarily representing the Pharisees of the 30s, tho doubtless they had a lot in common.

  • Honesty
    I was sitting and thinking of what to write in a DA letter, as I've been inspired in a way by a letter I read today. And one thought I am putting in, is that I have a clean, clear conscience because I believe a loving and understanding God would know that I choose this path due to honest and sincere feelings about the organization. And I believe a loving God would not destroy a person based on that. But the then I thought of a scripture that has been used to show that even sincere will ones will be destroyed. Matt 4:21-23 " 21 Not everyone saying to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name? 23 And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness." To me that just does not make sense that God would kill people that truly believe they are doing the right thing. I believe that scripture is meant to show that people using God?s name for dishonest reasons would see adverse judgment. Any idea's out there?

    The WTBTS is in some deep trouble if what Jesus said is literal.

  • Narkissos


    So there definitely was a conflict as Jesus openly opposed the burden of the Mishna and how it sometimes actually interfered with keeping the intent of the Law, and he refused to work within their system.

    The Gospel controversies between "Jesus" and the "Pharisees" raise many questions. For instance:

    (1) In the Gospels the "Pharisees" appear in a position of authority which they historically gained after 70 AD -- not in the first half of the century which is supposed to be "Jesus"' time.

    (2) "Jesus"' anti-Pharisaic criticisms in the Gospels seem to emerge from opposite standpoints, both anti-legalistic (Mark 7 on "unclean food", which would reflect a Hellenistic stance according to which morals makes ritual observation unnecessary) or hyper-legalistic (Matthew 5:32 etc. on repudiation, which would rather fit the Essene stance as several Qumran parallels suggest), whereas other texts (as those listed by Leolaia above) actually have Jesus arguing for a Pharisaic stance against the Pharisees.

    To me the best explanation is that those controversies do not reflect the time of Jesus at all, but a post-70 situation in which different Jewish traditions have merged into a specific Jewish-Christian blend (e.g. the Sermon of the Mount) which in turn is opposed to "official" Pharisaism (partly as it really has become, partly as a bogeyman).

  • Narkissos


    My impression is indeed that Josephus, for religious and political reasons, chose to bet on the non-zealot kind of Pharisaism which gained tolerance and even protection from Rome after 70 AD, and that his presentation of earlier Pharisaism reflects this personal bias: it was Josephus' interest to make Pharisaism appear as a moderate (i.e. harmless) and popular (i.e. representative) movement.

    There is no doubt that earlier Pharisaism had developed a specific concept of oral tradition (and Philo's reference to Proverbs 22:28 suggests that such a concept was not limited to Pharisaism), however I doubt it would have been construed as equal to the written Torah before 70 (this might have sounded definitely blasphemous back then).

    all these groups were rather minor in comparison to the population in general, the majority of whom belonged to no sect.
    That's actually what I meant by speaking of an "unremarkable" group "among many," although this wording was probably not the best.

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