BTh Essays – Module 4 – The Synoptic Gospels

Complete three gobbets (short comment questions). Chosen texts: Matthew 2:14-15; Mark 4:38-39; Luke 8:48.

Matthew 2:14-15

This is a notoriously difficult text (Beale, 2012). Luke, the only other synoptic recording Jesus’ early life, provides no parallel;[1] but once we understand Luke and Matthew differ in their primary purpose and audience, it becomes clear that the text’s role is unique to Matthew’s intent. The latter, however, seems to be subject of debate, too (Carson, 2017), with some suggesting we should never look for a single audience and purpose (Blomberg, 1992). Blomberg, Carson, and many others seem to believe Matthew does not state his purpose clearly, though Blomberg does conclude that Matthew’s theological emphasis points to the primary purpose being apologetics directed to a Jewish audience.

We find ourselves more in agreement with Walvoord (1974) when he says Matthew’s intent is obvious. He calls Jesus “the Messiah” from the outset (1:1), and in the same verse he makes sure two key people in His geneaology stand out: He is the Son of David, thus Messiah King; and the Son of Abraham, thus a true Israelite, a Jewish brother to Israel (cf. Heb 2:16-17), as well as the Seed in whom all nations would be blessed (Gn 22:18). Therefore, our text falls within Matthew’s primary purpose for citing the old testament: prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

However, at a first glance, Matthew seems to be misusing a historical passage about Israel (Hos 11:1) as messianic prophecy. Enns (2000, as in Beale, 2012) says it is an example of how the NT uses the OT with no interest in reproducing the original meaning. Beegle (1973, as in Beale, 2012) thinks Matthew was simply mistaken. Boring (1995, as in Beale, 2012) states that Matthew could be accused of manipulating the evidence. Other opinions range from a case of sensus plenior to a Spirit-inspired usage of faulty heremenutics used in Judaism (Beale, 2012). Most of these conclusions are usually being drawn because the passage is being judged by a particular understanding of “grammatical-historical” hermeneutics.

The most widely accepted resolution to this problem is that Matthew sees Jesus as a typological recapitulation of Israel (Carson, 2017). This, too, comes with its challenges: the hermeneutical legitimacy of such typological interpretation is not easy to prove (Beale, 2012).

Beale’s approach broadly accepts the “typological recapitulation” view, but with a twist: “Matthew’s typological interpretation of Hos 11:1 was stimulated by Hosea’s own typological understanding of that verse, much of which can even be discerned by a broad grammatical-historical exegesis” (p. 699). Beale also suggests Matthew complemented a balanced grammatical-historical approach with a likewise viable biblical-theological approach, thus interpreting Hos 11:1 in light of the whole book of Hosea. The argument is that Hosea himself understood the exodus from Egypt to be a type for a new exodus in Israel’s eschatological future. Thus, Matthew’s usage of Hosea is compatible with Hosea’s own method.

Some have further commented that Mt 2:15 is misplaced, since Jesus and the family are reported as coming out of Egypt only in verse 21. We find the charge unwarranted, as Matthew does mention they would remain there until Herod’s death (and then leave). Nonetheless, commentators who accept the seemingly odd placement of 2:15 have provided answers that are in keeping with Matthew’s understanding of Hosea (Beale, 2012).

Finally, there are various reasons that could justify Matthew’s application of corporate (Israel) language to the single (Jesus). One such theory, in keeping with the biblical-theological approach, is that Matthew sees Jesus’ departure from Egypt as inauguration of the eschatological exodus of Israel; this due to Hosea telling us that, at the time of their future restoration, Israel “will be led by ‘one leader’” (Beale, 2012, p. 708). Another possibility is that Matthew uses the same kind of corporate hermeneutics that Hosea uses to compare Israel to the patriachs.

In light of all this, Beale asks whether it can be mere coincidence that Hos 10:14-15,11:1 echoes what we find in the immediate context for our text (Mt 2:13-21); he believes this, too, may show that Matthew knew exactly why he was citing Hos 11:1 the way he did.

Mark 4:38-39

These two verses are from Mark’s account of Jesus stilling the sea (Mk 4:35-41), a miracle found in all the synoptics (cf. Mt 8:23-27; Lk 8:22-25). Mark places the passage during the later Galilean ministry of Jesus, soon after the parables of the kingdom. Luke does the same. Matthew, instead, takes the passage out of its biographical context, placing it in a series of miracles following the sermon on the mount (Feiler, 1983).

With the regards to the source of this pericope, we must consider the noteworthy peculiarities found in Matthew, and the nearly inexistent parallels between Matthew and the other two synoptics. Feiler suggests the story comes from either Q or Mark, with Matthew either using an independent tradition or significantly changing Mark’s account.

The ultimate goal of this particular miracle seems to be Christological; the doctrine is taught in a way that fits well with Mark’s gospel, where explicit Christology is the lowest of the four gospels, but implicit Christology seems to be the highest (Geddert, 2015).

While a storm is raging (Mk 4:37), Jesus falls asleep in the stern of the boat (4:38), after He had suggested going “to the other side” of the lake (4:35); from Mark we learn that there are other boats with them (4:36). In all parallels, the disciples wake Jesus in fear of perishing, but we have different details. In Mark (4:38), we seem to read a tone of accusation in the words of the disciples: “do you not care?”. In Matthew, they add “save us”. The title by which Jesus is addressed in Mark is “teacher”, and in Luke is “master”, both standing in contrast with “Lord” used in the Matthean parallel. Jesus then rebukes the elements (4:39),[2] the storm quietens (4:40), and He charges the disciples with “lack of faith” (cf. Lk 8:25). The Matthean account differs again, reversing the order between the miracle and the rebuke to the disciples. The latter is also slightly different: Jesus says they have “little faith” (Mt 8:26) rather than no faith at all. Finally (4:41), the story ends with the disciples fearfully in awe: they clearly did not expect Jesus to do what He did.

From the Marcan account[3] it appears the disciples approached Jesus as the prophet they believed He was, and probably expected Him to simply intercede with God (Geddert, 2015). The often-noticed parallel to the Jonah narrative (Jon 1:3-16) seems to support this view: both Jonah and Jesus were asleep when asked for help in the middle of a storm, and Jonah was simply asked to call upon his God; a reader familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would likely think the disciples are doing the same thing with Jesus. The contrast becomes evident when, instead, Jesus acts as God Himself (Ps 107:23-32), leaving the disciples fearing the Lord incarnate, just as the men in Jonah’s story were left fearing God (Baker, 2002).

The significance of being delivered by the threat of water should also not go unnoticed. In Semitic cultures large body of waters were often symbols of that which was evil, as it can be seen in the Bible, too (Sproul, 2010); in this sense, Jesus displays supremacy over evil, too. The attentive reader is thus provided with a very high Christology of Jesus.

With regards to the Matthean parallel, the original Christological intent seems to be preserved (especially with the ending left intact); however, Matthew seems to add a new dimension to the story: by having the disciples calling Jesus Lord, possessing little faith, and asking Him to save[4] them, the miracle now fits the larger Matthean context of nine miracles, where Jesus is called Lord, is approached in faith, and performs healings.

Luke 8:48

This verse concludes Luke’s narrative about the haemorrhaging woman. The story, that uniquely portraits Jesus as having a “passive” role in a miracle (Powell, 2005), is present in all the synoptics, with Mark providing the most detailed account,[5] Matthew the briefest.

The pericope about the woman (Lk 8:43-48) is placed within a larger one (8:40-56), where a synagogue official, Jairus, had reached out to Jesus because of his severely ill daughter. Broadening the context further, the eighth chapter of Luke’s Gospel shows an emphasis on the sufficiency of faith for accessing salvation.

In 8:43 we read the woman had been in this condition for years. The Marcan parallel (5:26) further details her desperation, recording she had spent all she had on doctors who only made her worse.[6] The constant haemorrhage meant the woman was a zavah rather than niddah.[7] She would normally be unclean (Lv 15), but would not have made Jesus unclean by touching him if she had washed her hands (Wassen, 2008). This could be one reason why this issue is not expounded upon. Another reason could be found in a deeper symbolism: what we see happening is that the woman becomes clean as Jesus is supposedly made unclean,[8] which symbolically echoes what Paul says in 2 Cor 5:21. If we accept the tradition that she was a Gentile (Eusebius, 2007),[9] she would have been considered unclean regardless (Neusner, 1991),[10] and she would have definitely not been preoccupied with washing her hands.

In 8:44 she reaches out to the fringe[11] of Jesus’ cloak,[12] as she had faith the contact would make her well (Mk 5:28); she is healed instantly. Jesus realises what happened and asks who had touched Him (Lk 8:45-46). The question, which puzzles the disciples (Mk 5:31), is clearly designed to draw her out, since we read in Mark (5:32) that Jesus already knew it had been a woman. She comes out (Lk 8:47) in an attitude of divine reverence,[13] telling the truth. It is here that Jesus commends her faith (8:48).

This is one of many healings where Jesus declares “your faith has made you well”. In fact, Luke’s Gospel is the one using this phrase the most (Grindheim, 2005), which is in line with the intent of the author. These nonetheless historical healings are meant to glorify Jesus as the Saviour (Grindheim, 2005); miracles aimed at explaining that God’s spiritual healing, the permanent and total forgiveness of sins, is available to all who believe. The Greek word sózó can be used both for healing (“made well”) and salvation. Jesus himself referred to sinners as “the sick” in need of a doctor (Mk 2:17). Nonetheless, some do try to extrapolate, from these passages, general rules about the role of faith in divine physical healing; an approach that seems untenable (Grindheim, 2005).

We must also acknowledge that the larger pericope about Jairus’ daughter provides the basic framework for the narrative (Powell, 2005). The two stories have several points of connection: the impurity issue is present in both cases;[14] the woman had been ill for as long as the child had been alive; the woman’s faith corresponds to Jesus’ exhortation to Jairus, “only believe” (8:50). Likewise, there are several contrasts between the woman and Jairus: they had opposite social status, wealth, and honour. The woman’s name is unknown. The woman had to approach Jesus surreptitiously, whilst Jairus could approach Him directly. In fact, as persons, they only shared three things: “they had heard about Jesus, they desperately desired healing, and they had no other options” (Powell, 2005, p. 70).

Another noteworthy way of interpreting this passage comes from the medieval tradition of allegorical interpretations (Zwiep, 2015). This has long seen the woman as type of the Gentiles, and Jairus’ daughter as a type of Israel. Following the symbols of one such view, the Gentile world’s sickness was exposed when Israel was born at the giving of the Law, which made the whole world accountable to God (Rm 3:19). The gods of the Gentiles had only made things worse, so they hear of the true God and surreptitiously approach Him in faith (cf. Mt 15:21-28) while He is on His way to save a likewise sick and dying Israel (Mt 15:24). Jesus lets them and opens up His plan of salvation for Gentiles. But it is not over for Israel (Rm 11:25-26).

Bibliography

Baker, D. W. (2002). The Wind and the Waves Biblical Theology in Protology and Eschatology. Ashland Theological Journal, 34(0), 13-28.

Beale, G. K. (2012). The Use Of Hosea 11:1 In Matthew 2:15: One More Time. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 55(4), 697-715.

Blomberg, C. L. (1992). Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. In E. R. Clendenen, New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

Carson, D. A. (2017). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

Eusebius. (2007). Eusebius: The Church History. (P. L. Maier, Ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic.

Feiler, P. F. (1983). The Stilling Of The Storm In Matthew: A Response To Günther Bornkamm. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 26(4), 399-406.

Geddert, T. J. (2015). The Implied YHWH Christology Of Mark’s Gospel: Mark’s Challenge To The Reader To “Connect The Dots”. Bulletin for Biblical Research, 25(3), 325-340.

Grindheim, S. (2005). “Everything Is Possible for One Who Believes” Faith and Healing in the NT. Trinity Journal, 26(1), 11-17.

Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. (2015). Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version (TLV). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Neusner, J. (1991). Uncleanness: A Moral Or An Ontological Category In The Early Centuries A.D.? Bulletin for Biblical Research, 01(1), 63-88.

Powell, C. E. (2005, January). The “Passivity” of Jesus in Mark 5:25–34. Bibliotheca Sacra, 162(645), 66-75.

Sproul, R. C. (2010). Surprised by suffering. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Tenney, M. C. (1985). New Testament Survey. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Walvoord, J. F. (1974). Matthew. Thy Kingdom Come. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Wassen, C. (2008). Jesus and the Hemorrhaging Woman in Mark 5:24-34: Insights from Purity Laws from Qumran. In A. Voitila, & J. Jokiranta, Scripture in Transition: Essays on Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of Raija Sollamo (Vol. 126, pp. 641-660). Leiden: Brill.

Zwiep, A. W. (2015). Jairus, His Daughter and the Haemorrhaging Woman (Mk 5.21-43; Mt. 9.18-26; Lk. 8.40-56): Research Survey of a Gospel Story about People in Distress. Currents in Biblical Research, 13(3), 351–387.

[1] Making the text at hand “special Matthew” material.

[2] His words are recorded by Mark alone.

[3] From Luke, too.

[4] Greek sózó (strong #4982); it can mean “heal” but also “save”, spiritual sense included.

[5] This would fit the “Marcan priority” theory.

[6] Luke only hints to the other physicians; this is usually taken as indication that he was a physician himself (Tenney, 1985).

[7] That is, a woman with abnormal genital bleeding rather than menstruation.

[8] It must be noted that the Law prescribed what to do in these circumstances.

[9] The location is Galilee (Lk 8:26,40), also called “of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:12-16).

[10] See also Mt 15:26; Acts 10:28.

[11] Possibly one of the four tassels required by the Law (Dt 22:12), the tzitzit (Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015, Lk 8:44).

[12] The act is reminiscent of Zc 8:23, where it is said numerous Gentiles will follow the Jews of the millennial kingdom.

[13] Fearing (Mark 5:33), trembling, and falling down.

[14] Touching a dead body would cause uncleanness (Lv 21:11).

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