Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Matthew and Mark: Intertextuality ... again

So, yesterday we took a small part of Matthew 24 and showed how most of it is adopted directly from Mark 13, word for word. There were a few small changes, however, some deletions and some additions, which- I infer- indicate the difference in the situation that Mark was facing (65-70 CE, siege and destruction of the temple) and the situation that Matthew was facing (80-85 CE, diaspora of Jews and Jewish Christians).

More importantly is the difference in how Mark and Matthew use the pronouncements in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Remember, these are the chapters that seem to figure prominently into Left Behind Theology, putting words of woe and future catastrophe into Jesus' mouth. But, as we've already seen, Mark seems to be addressing his own situation, the catastrophe of the temple's destruction (again), which explains why he relied to much on the book of Daniel, also concerned about the destruction of the earlier temples.

The best resource that I know of regarding what Mark is up to in chapters 11-16 is The Last Week, by Marcus Borg and Jon Dominic Crossan. There are many good books on Mark out there, but this one seems to capture the flow of those latter chapters of Mark so well, noting that Mark deliberately follows each day of Jesus' last week prior to the crucifixion. The 13th chapter needs to be read in that context to take Mark's gospel seriously.

Although Matthew uses much of Mark 13 in his 24th chapter, he takes Jesus' words in an entirely different direction. For Matthew, chapters 24-25 make one big, long discourse. The 'frames' of this one big, long discourse are 24:3 and 26:1: "When [Jesus] was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying 'Tell us, when will this be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'" That's the beginning of this one big, long discourse. The end is 26:1, "When Jesus had finished saying all these thing...." EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN MATTHEW 24:3 AND 26:1 IS ONE BIG, LONG DISCOURSE. (Please repeat that after me!)

"So what?" you may be asking. Good question! Here's what happens in between Matthew 24:3 and 26:1, which- by the way- is one big, long discourse.

- Matthew takes Mark's words from Mark 13 and includes them (again, I think this reflects Matthew's opinion that of all the writings out there about Jesus, this is the primary and most reliable one!)
- Matthew adds more to Mark's words. The parable of the faithful and unfaithful slaves is not in Mark, but Matthew adds it in 24:45-51. (Luke has this parable in his gospel, but not as part of this final discourse. It comes much earlier in Luke.)
- In addition, Matthew concludes this one big, long discourse with some completely unique material that is found nowhere in Mark or Luke (or John). Matthew 25 is comprised of 3 stories: The parable of the 10 bridesmaids (vv.1-13) The parable of the talents (vv.14-30) and the judgment scene of the sheep and goats (vv.31-46).
- The key for understanding what Matthew is saying, which is different from Mark because the immediate crisis that Mark was facing is passed, is to see how Matthew adopts Mark's text and uses it differently.

So, here's my take: Since Matthew 24-25 is one big, long discourse, we should read it as one big, long discourse. It moves. It goes from a starting point to a concluding point. The starting point is that the temple will be destroyed and the discourse is a response to the question of the sign of this event and the end of the age. The ending point is the judgment story of the sheep and the goats. That story is the end point, the conclusion, the destination the whole point of this one big, long discourse.

LEFT BEHIND THEOLOGIANS BEWARE: You are not going to like what Matthew is up to here. If the story of the judgment- as Matthew describes it!- is the point of this one big, long discourse, then the whole idea that the rapture may come at any moment and that we have to be savvy to the signs and to figure out precisely what God is up to at every moment is simply bull manure. (I would put it a little more candidly, but there are some ridiculously savant 3 year olds that follow this blog closely.)

So, tomorrow we will look at the story of the judgment, Matthew 25:31-46, which is the conclusion, the whole point, of this one big, long discourse about the end of the age in Matthew's gospel. Please join the 3 year old savants and me for the fun!

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