Thursday, May 12, 2016

MATTHEW 4, which we should probably break up into two parts. So let's!

From Reader David:


1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

So, let's talk about Matthew's Christology. I'm gonna put all my cards on the table: based on this chapter, I don't think Matthew believes that Jesus = God. Verse 9 makes that screamingly obvious (to me, at least), but when I took a closer look, it was just all over the text. 

So far, I think the fairest reading is that Matthew thinks Jesus is, indeed, the son of God, but not God incarnate. Possibly I'll come across something in the later chapters that changes my mind, but for now, that's where I come down.

CHRISTOLOGY WATCH: Jesus is distinct from the Spirit; possibly he's subordinate to it (because he's “led by” it). He's subject to temptations and – I'm sure we'll all be relieved to hear – he's also not the devil. 

Jesus did choose to subordinate Himself to the Spirit. Exactly how that works, I'm not sure. This is why many Christians are Trinitarian; they believe God is one entity with three natures/person, co-equal, existing since before time began, yet one. The Son chose to humble Himself and submit to the will of the Father in all things in order to bring salvation to human kind.

I have some problems with this, though I certainly see the point. 

All I can really say is I've read the rest of the book(s), so have that perspective. I don't really know exactly how Matthew would have described the Jesus/God relationship. 

2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

I believe the proper word here would be “dead” much more than “hungry,” since, in Jewish usage, a fast also entails not drinking water.

But I don't think we're bound to take “forty days and forty nights” as a literal number; it's an obvious callback to the Flood and, of course, the 40 years the Jews spent in the wilderness. So maybe read it as “some indeterminate period of time.”

Well, instead of saying the scripture doesn't mean what it says, I'll say I believe the Jews get it wrong to include drinking water. Satan didn't tempt Jesus with drink, only food, so I would think he had water.

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3. When I went back to check this for context, I went “WHOA!”, because... is it just me, or was Matthew looking at 8:2 when he wrote this whole passage?

Deut. 8:2: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Strikingly similar, isn't it? One might say it's almost exactly a word-for-word summary of what we've just read.

But note that Matthew, in choosing to crib from 8:2, is suggesting that the relationship between God and Jesus that's parallel to the relationship between God and Israel. And guess what? Israel isn't God. Israel may be special to God, but is firmly subordinate to Him.

So by extension... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Yes, though I would say God chose to bring Israel's travel (and Moses' two fasts, and Elijah's fast) to mind with having Jesus go through this temptation, or that Israel's 40 is a type and shadow of Jesus coming 40.

40 days is the longest a human can physically fast.

Just a difference of perspective :-)

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

Until this moment, I hadn't realized the terrible irony that the Puritans hanged people for witchcraft, on the grounds that they'd been seen flying through the air by the power of Satan.

Golly gee, folks. Golly GEE.

(N.B. This isn't an attack on Puritans or Christianity. I know it could be seen that way, but I don't mean it as a cheap shot at all. People do dumb, awful things when they're in the grip of panic, and it's worth remembering that after the panic died down, many of the key players in the Salem witch trials looked back on their roles with regret. So no, I don't think the Puritans were especially evil. I just also don't think they were especially virtuous. Or wise. They were just people.)

I don't take it as an attack. They were as human as we all are.

Did Jesus fly there or did Satan have teleportation? :-D
Or was it something as boring as he led Him to walk there or a vision?

Nah. I like flying better.

6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

A reference to Psalm 91. Possibly this is the origin of the old Christian saying that the Devil can quote scripture if it suits him? Though of course I should point out that Psalm 91 isn't really suggesting you should jump off a roof and your faith in God will protect you. 

CHRISTOLOGY WATCH: It's worth noting that “Son of God” and “God” aren't inherently the same thing. In fact, taken on its own terms, “Son of God” implies something separate from God, does it not? I mean, in the same way that “son of Phil” implies a being separate from Phil.

Well, John 5:18 says "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."

So evidently the Jews of the time thought being the Son and being God were at least equal.

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”

If Satan tells you to jump off a high ledge, don't do it. Good instincts there, Jesus.

LOL Yeah, you think?

The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:16; here again Matthew has left out one part of the verse. The verse reads in full: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” So why did he leave out the rest of the quote? It's reasonable to say “brevity” and then move on, so why don't we?

FWIW, I think it's also reasonable to say “because he found the reference to Massah embarrassing.” The callback is to Exodus 17:1-7, where the Israelites are at fault because they CONSTANTLY demand miracles as proof of God's presence.  

Whereas the early Christians are like, “Look at all these miracles! See? Proof of God's presence!”

The difference is the Jews asked for miracles, and best I can tell the Christians didn't. They just happened. We're back to the heart....

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

This! This is the smoking gun! This offer makes NO sense if Jesus is God – the idea of God worshiping ANYONE is a non-starter, right? But the offer makes a LOT of sense if Jesus is a dude who has a special relationship to God.

Also: if Jesus is God, then everything the Devil is offering already belongs /to/ Jesus. It's like saying: “The contents of your wallet I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”*

It was the humanity that was being tempted. I do see your problem with it though. See notes at the end.

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Also, if Matthew thought Jesus was God, I assume verse 10 would read, “Then Jesus smote Satan for his chutzpah, which indeed passed all belief.”

In this entire passage Matthew is speaking of Jesus and God as two distinct entities, with Jesus as the lesser of the two.

It does appear some of the writers of the New Testament thought of God as two and some as one. As I've said, it's a hard issue and one that has divided the Christian world for 2000 years, how exactly to define Jesus.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Here the lights go dim, and the audience shuffles out for an INTERMISSION.

Awe, shucks :-)

* Now, there's an alternate reading here, one that would rescue Jesus-as-God but comes at an unfortunate price. Under this reading, “All this I will give you” is NOT an empty promise, because in fact, God doesn't have mastery over earthly affairs; Satan does. So it turns out it really is in Satan's power to give the earth to Jesus. 

Two objections:
A) this reading clashes with the entire story of the Exodus. Like, the ENTIRE story. God causes all of that from start to finish. Also,
B) if God gives the Promised Land to the Israelites, how is He DOING that unless it's His to dispose of? (And there's a third and probably more obvious one: this reading requires Satan to be independent of God and perhaps coequal with Him. Otherwise it makes no sense for Satan to ask for God's “worship." So we'd be getting into some Zoroastrian territory, here.)

I'm not sure what would be the reply to these objections, because I'm not St. Thomas Aquinas.

Well, I'm not ole' Tommy either, but I'll give it a try :-)

Can we just agree to rule out the third possibility? That's a whole bunch of different religions than we are discussing here.

Each human being chooses who is their king, God or Satan. God chose to give us that freedom.

Since most humans choose Satan in one form or another, he is the ruler of their hearts, and by extension, ruler of the world through them. 

God is sovereign and can interfere when He wants to (i.e Israel and Canaan's land), but generally chooses to allow us this freedom. 

What I believe Satan was offering the human part of Jesus was fame and fortune in this material life; to make Him his "right-hand-man" in the physical realm. Maybe he had in mind giving Jesus the power to raise an army and conquer Rome? Don't know.

Certainly God could have had Jesus conquer Rome (or whatever) if He wanted Him too, but He had bigger plans.

Jesus came to rule a greater realm- the spiritual one. Though He could have shot Satan down with the obvious "What you have is piddling nothin' compared to what I'm getting from the Father." He chose to respond in principle as an example; Don't worship anything but God.

How's that? :-)

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