Friday, June 17, 2011

Verses Out of Rhythm

Before sending the Twelve Apostles out on their first missionary trip, to spread the Gospel to the Jews, Jesus prepared them with instructions. Mark's and Luke's instructions were brief, but Matthew's version has a chapter's worth of details. All three discussed how entire towns were to be condemned if they were not welcoming to the Good News. We continue our exploration of those instructions.

Verses Out of Rhythm
In a classic song by Simon and Garfunkel, called “The Dangling Conversation,” is a set of verses which go “Like a poem poorly written / we are verses out of rhythm / couplets out of rhyme / in syncopated time.” It is a sad song about a married couple, in that most intimate of relationships, yet completely out of tune with one another. Sadly, the Bible has similar verses in intimate relationship with each other, and yet are discordant as a fiddle and a gong, such as in the instructions which Jesus gave the Twelve Disciples for their first mission.

Matthew 10 is completely devoted to the instructions which Jesus had given the Apostles for the mission. In Matthew 10:18-20, Jesus told them that when they get brought before the local authorities, they do not have to worry about what to say, because God's Holy Spirit will speak through them. That seems like good news, but there are some discordant details in Matthew 10:18 which just do not make sense:
“On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” NIV
For those of you who are somewhat familiar with the Bible, in considering this verse your mind may begin to wander to the book of Acts. There, starting with Acts 16 and continuing through to the end of the book, Paul is passed from authority to authority, including appearance in front of King Agrippa II, but hat is more than you should permit you mind to wander. Paul was not one of these Twelve Apostles, meaning that he was not one of the ones receiving these instructions from Jesus.

More significantly, however, is that Jesus had so limited the scope of this mission as to make the words of Matthew 10:18 impossible to fulfill at this time. In Matthew 10:5-6, we read:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel." NIV
Jesus forbid His Disciples from going to the Gentiles or Samaritans. At most, they could have spoken with King Agrippa I (a.k.a. Herod Agrippa), but still they would fail to completely fulfill the words of Matthew 10:18 on this mission.

Matthew 10:18-20 is completely out of rhythm with the purpose of the instructions Jesus was providing at that time. Those verses would only make sense in a different context, one of general instruction to the Disciples to inform them of the future ahead instead of specific instructions for a particular mission which could never come to pass. Curiously enough, that is exactly how Luke 12 frames the conversation, with the bit about the Holy Spirit coming in at Luke 12:11-12.

What does this tell us? Nothing for sure. However, it suggests something very significant; that the author of Matthew was not an eyewitness, nor was it a tale directly originating from one eyewitness.

It suggests that the author of Matthew was an aggregator. The author “Matthew” was taking little snippets and anecdotes, and perhaps an early version of the Gospel of Mark, and combining these pieces into one conglomerate mass of a Gospel. Sometimes, Matthew did a pretty good job, like with the Sermon on the Mount (which, by the way, is probably why you do not find that epic sermon mentioned in any of the other Gospels, but rather find parts of it scattered elsewhere). Other times, like what we see here, his craftsmanship is less than adequate.

This, in turn, weakly suggests that the Gospel of Matthew is, at least in part, fictitious. Weakly, because it does not mean that each of those little snippets never happened despite their haphazard assembly into a Gospel. Yet if author of Matthew could not be concerned enough to consult actual eyewitness for the proper assembly, you have to wonder just how much scrutiny he applied to ensure the veracity of those episodes. Because of that, you should be skeptical of any doctrine which is exclusively held in the Gospel of Matthew.

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