Real Bible Studies, Matthew and Mark

Tradition of the Elders

Chapters 15-16 of Matthew are an almost word for word insertion from Mark 7-8 though Matthew makes several changes to the source material. Both cite passages from various scriptures in condemning the Pharisees and Scribes for dishonoring their elders (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9). Given that Yeshua himself has shown a lack of connection with his family, these references seem designed more to criticize his rivals than to instruct his followers, as his citation from Isaiah suggests.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

Matthew 15:8-9

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Mark 7:6-7

The prophecy cited is from Isaiah 29.

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote; therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid.”

Isaiah 29:13-14

This verse, like most from Isaiah, references Ephraim and the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians which is a theme echoed in both Gospels.

Things that defile

The criticism continues into the next episode, where Yeshua proclaims that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, rather what comes out of the mouth. In Mark, the Disciples ask Yeshua to explain it in private to them, which he does. Mark concludes that Yeshua is proclaiming all food as clean. Matthew has Yeshua make the statement then the Disciples report that the Scribes and Pharisees take issue with it and ask for an explanation. Matthew, who seems more in favor of preserving the Law, does not conclude that Yeshua is dismissing the dietary laws as a result, and, instead makes it about eating with unclean hands, rather than food.

Canaanite Woman

A curious episode is related with a woman, who, in Mark is identified as a Syrophoenician, but who, in Matthew, is referred to as a Canaanite. She asks Yeshua to drive a demon from her daughter and receives a rebuke from him.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15:24-26

And he said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Mark 7:27-28

Yeshua’s response is in keeping with his overall message and the notion that he’s there as the Messiah to restore Judea. The woman’s response, however, causes him to reconsider and he drives out the demon. In some sense, though, it’s in keeping with the theme of these parallel chapters, that a foreign woman recognizes Yeshua as an important redeemer while the Pharisees and Scribes who should be welcoming him do not.

Healing and Feeding Four Thousand

Mark relates the story of Yeshua healing a deaf and dumb man. Yeshua pulls him aside and heals him in private and asks him not to say anything, but to no avail. People continue to proclaim his miracles and are confounded by them. Matthew doesn’t single out a particular individual but states Yeshua healed the multitudes and they glorified God as a result.

Matthew includes feeding of the four thousand at the end of Chapter 15, whereas Mark begins Chapter 8 with it. Mark does not connect it to the healing miracle as does Matthew and, at the end, Yeshua leaves to go to Dalmanu’tha, while Matthew has him traveling to Mag’adan. The RSV has Mark claim four thousand “people” while Matthew specifies four thousand men, including women and children. This feeding is very similar to the previous one, though not occurring in a lonely place. Still, a gathering of that size would have caught the attention of officials regardless of the composition of the crowd.

Demand for a Sign

Both Gospels continue to bash the Scribes and Pharisees, having them demand a sign from heaven from Yeshua. How they respond differs, though ultimately, his answer is the same. In Mark, he simply asks why they require a sign and tells them that none shall be given. Matthew gives a more detailed reply.

He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

Matthew 16:2-4

He doesn’t spell out what the sign of Jonah entails, but given his later discussion with the Disciples, many interpret that to mean he’s referring to the fact that Jonah was in the fish three days and nights, as the Son of Man will be in the tomb, but the only real similarity between the two events is the amount of time, which is moot, because Yeshua won’t be in the tomb three days and nights.

The reference to Jonah has another implication, though, given how reluctant Jonah was to go to Nineveh, and how disappointed he was that he succeeded in getting the population to change its ways. Yeshua seems to be using it as another opportunity to jab at his rivals. Jonah was successful in reaching the people with his message, despite how reluctant he was to go and as reticent as he was at the accomplishment, whereas the people of Yeshua’s generation have the Messiah himself among them, and continue to live contrary to God’s will. So far, Yeshua has not explicitly claimed to be the Messiah, but that’s all about to change.

Yeast of the Pharisees

Matthew and Mark relate slightly different accounts of a boat trip in which the Disciples find they neglected to get bread. Mark says they have one loaf, but Matthew says they forgot to bring bread. In Mark, Yeshua tells them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, but Matthew says Pharisees and Sadducees. Mark goes into much more detail about the numbers: twelve baskets of leftovers from feeding the five thousand and seven from feeding the four thousand. Matthew concentrates more on the meaning, and this is one of the instances where Matthew clarifies an account that’s not clear in Mark’s telling of it. Mark has Yeshua become frustrated with the Disciples for not understanding his meaning, and doesn’t explain it to them, but Matthew wraps up the account by stating that the Disciples understood it was the teachings of the Pharisees and Scribes and not the bread Yeshua was getting at through his statement.

Mark then relates a story of Yeshua attempting to heal a blind man at Bethsaida and meeting with less than his usual success. First, he leads the man away from the village before making his attempt. On his first try, he restores partial sight, so he tries again, this time giving the man full vision. It’s not fully clear exactly what Mark means here, unless it’s to imply that people are taking longer to realize who Yeshua is. Afterward, he instructs the man to go directly home and not to any village.

Peter, Destiny, Self-Denial

At last, both Gospels get to the heart of the story, the Big Reveal, so to speak and both reach this point at practically the midpoint of the respective Gospel. Once again, it’s Matthew with the more detailed account.

And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare′a Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Eli′jah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he charged them to tell no one about him.

Mark 8:27-30

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Matthew 16:13-20

It’s possible that there was some later Christian interpolation in the passage from Matthew, though, if the Gospel has a satirical intention behind it, then Matthew would use this type of language to highlight this. Since Matthew was a Jew writing for other Jews, he knew he could rely upon his readers to know what he intended. Yeshua goes from making vague references to the “Son of Man” to explicitly asking, “Who do you say I am?”

From here, Yeshua goes through a series of explanations about how he needs to go to Jerusalem and what’s going to happen to him there. Mark is more vague in the wording, using the distancing language of the “Son of Man” while Matthew makes it clearer that it’s Yeshua who has to endure these indignities, but otherwise, the accounts are very close. Peter gives what sounds like a ritualistic response and is rebuked. This entire section uses much more refined Christian language than the Jewish Messiah would be expected to employ, suggesting considerable interpolation by a later editor. Since the Gospel was written during the period when Christianity was largely a work in progress, it’s doubtful Yeshua would have employed such advanced Christian concepts and terminology.

The Messiah was intended as an Earthly king, the ruler of an independent Jerusalem from the house of David, not a cosmic entity here to redeem all humankind through death and resurrection. Equally, talk of crosses seems divorced from the Messianic aspirations of a rebel leader. Yeshua says he must be in the tomb three days and nights, and nothing about dying on the cross, though he would have known the punishment meted out to those who opposed Roman rule. The phrasing of “three days and nights” is from Christian orthodoxy, not from an actual physical occurrence, since Yeshua will be buried before the Sabbath and no longer be in the tomb when the women show up the morning after and Matthew’s readers already know this. Nevertheless, from this point on, both Gospels begin the journey to Jerusalem and Yeshua’s ultimate fate.

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