Thursday, February 02, 2006

Is Matthew Jewish?

Phil Harland's recent blogpost A Very Jewish Jesus: The Gospel of Matthew's portrait (NT4) raises a very relevant concern for me. He writes:
Something I often stress to students of early Christianity is that this Jesus movement was very much a form of Judaism in its origins. The peasant Jesus was a Jew, and all the earliest followers of Jesus were Jews, Jews who continued to feel that following the law (the Torah) was humanity’s response to God’s covenant with his people (Paul, the Jewish Pharisee, was a bit of an exception in not requiring that gentiles follow the Jewish law in order to join, but in other ways was also very much a Jew and did not object to Jewish followers of Jesus following the law).
This as it stands I do not have a problem with at all. The original Jesus, if he existed, was definitely Jewish, and most likely so were the earliest Christians. My post here is a strong piece of evidence I found for it, and that there's an issue with Paul and James at all suggests that early Christianity was wholly Jewish.

I also do not have a problem with Phil relating Jesus to Moses:
Furthermore, Jesus is often presented as the new Moses, as in the birth narrative. This continuing theme of Jesus as the expected prophet like Moses continues in what Matthew has as the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).
This idea, actually, plays a central part in my theory on Matthew that I introduced here back in July last year. Since then, I've even gotten a good portion of my paper written and reviewed by various people. So far, the reviews have been very positive, which gladdens me. (Although, Loren Rossen, if you're reading this, what did you think of it? I've got some more revisions to do, but your input is always helpful, although to be honest I know you must disagree with it.)

However, I do think that his view of Matthew is not accurate. To be sure, his view is the common one circulating now - the status quo of Matthean studies is his fidelity to the Law. In my paper, I argue that Matthew is not a Jewish gospel. Au contraire, Matthew is a Christian gospel which denies the Torah.

Phil quotes Matthew 5.17-20 in favor of Matthew's Judaism. However, in context with larger Matthew, the verse takes upon a different meaning altogether. For Matthew, Jesus was Jewish, and he accepted that, but he had to explain why they weren't Jewish anymore. "If Jesus was Jewish, why shouldn't we be Jewish also?" he may have asked himself. The gospel fully explores this question and answering it is fundamental to understanding Matthew's ecclesiology.

I regret to not release my paper yet, as it is not anywhere near finished, but I can bring up some key points.

  1. Matthew does affirm the entire Law, but only until everything is fulfilled. We can't say certainly when fulfillment occurs, but it definitely is prior to Matthew's writing. The top candidates are either the death and resurrection of Jesus or the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
  2. Matthew clearly in several places nullifies the Law and sums the entire Law up in one or two phrases. (Mt. 5.11, 7.12, 23.23).
  3. Matthew foreshadows the stripping of Israel from the Jews and the giving of it to the faithful (Mt. 8.7-8.12).
In the paper, I make much more explicit, and hopefully I can finish that soon enough so everyone can read it.


Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Hi Chris,

I was waiting for your guaranteed reaction to Phil's post. I have read your paper and may blog a bit about Phil's post and yours (I assume you don't want the paper itself discussed publicly). Stay tuned...

4:37 AM  
Blogger Chris Weimer said...

Hey Loren,

The paper can be discussed publicly, although I don't exactly want all the contents immediately revieled. If you want to, I wouldn't mind bringing up "talking points" or key points in the paper, just no quotes.

Sorry to appear stingy on this, but I've been doing a lot of editing so I can't guarantee that what you quote will be in the final draft, and I'm also looking for journal publication, so that may appear a problem.



12:22 PM  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Well, Chris, that's not stingy, just sane and sensible.

3:47 PM  

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