Real Bible Studies: Matthew 19-20, Mark 10


Once again, Matthew breaks into separate chapters a series of stories that Mark relates as a continuous set of events. In this case, both writers start with Yeshua being questioned about divorce, but, as usual, Matthew rearranges the details in his telling of the event. Matthew’s version is the more concise of the two accounts.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Mark 10:2-12 (RSV)

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:3-9 (RSV)

In this instance, Mark has the Disciples question Yeshua about the meaning, while Matthew uses the same response as an opportunity for Yeshua to school his opponents, the Pharisees. Matthew’s version is delivered more as a pronouncement and less as an interpretation as with Yeshua’s counseling of the Disciples in Mark.

There is almost always a detachment in Mark that lends itself to the belief that the author is an impartial observer with no stake in the outcome beyond reporting on Yeshua’s claims of being the Messiah. Matthew is clearly part of a particular faction competing for the attention of exiles scattered throughout the Middle East, as is shown in Yeshua’s jabs at the Pharisees, for instance, and in Matthew’s portrayal of Yeshua’s actions as being within The Law. Mark often portrays these actions as superseding The Law.

Here, Matthew leads with the statement of man and wife being one flesh, and lets the Pharisees ask about Moses. Mark has Yeshua bring up Moses and the reason for his rules on divorce, then concludes with the statement “what God has joined…” It’s not until the Disciples ask that Yeshua mentions adultery. In Matthew Yeshua proclaims it to the Pharisees as though he’s the authority.

Marriage and the little children

When the Disciples question Yeshua about the point of marriage, Matthew has him give an odd example of eunuchs, without clarifying how they factor into the discussion. Among the various beliefs that informed early Christianity were the followers of Attis, and adherents to this cult were said to go into a frenzy and castrate themselves during religious observances. Some Gnostic sects discouraged procreation, preferring to grow their belief system through converts rather than by producing children as did the Shakers many generations later in the United States. This could also reference Paul’s followers, since Paul stated a preference toward celibacy, only condoning sex within marriage. Since both Mark and Matthew segue into Yeshua blessing the children, it’s possible Matthew is juxtaposing two related themes to draw attention to them.

Mark gives a slightly more elaborate rendering of the story of Yeshua blessing the children, but otherwise, the accounts in Mark and Matthew agree. People bring children to be blessed, the Disciples give them a hard time and Yeshua rebukes the Disciples. Mark adds:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (RSV)

Eye of a needle

Both Gospels then tell the story of the rich man, with Matthew clarifying that the rich man is young. Modern adherents to the so-called Prosperity Gospel probably don’t like this story very much or give it some sort of interpretive spin, hoping to portray Yeshua as an entrepreneurial Savior waiting to shower the faithful with riches in this world. Here, we learn Yeshua’s actual thoughts on the matter.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 19:23-24 (RSV)

There exist many different interpretations for “eye of a needle” but there’s no reason to believe Yeshua wasn’t speaking literally. In other instances, he’s opposed to riches on this Earth, preferring, instead, the rewards of Heaven. A needle is a needle in Mark and Matthew.

Matthew has Peter question Yeshua about the reward he and the other Disciples will receive for leaving behind all they had to join the movement. Yeshua tells him that they’ll receive a hundred times what they’ve left behind and will sit in judgment of the twelve tribes of Israel, further clarifying that Yeshua’s focus is on the Kingdom, not earthly concerns.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

Matthew 19:28-29 (RSV)

Foretelling, rewarding, healing

It’s at this point that Matthew starts a new chapter, while Mark stays the course. Matthew relates a parable about workers in a vineyard that seems to be a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven, while Mark goes straight into Yeshua predicting his death once again. All these predictions are easy to insert months, or even years after the events being depicted. As is usual, the Son of Man will be in the tomb three days and three nights, which doesn’t match the reality of what actually happened. Matthew finally catches up with Yeshua “foretelling” his death.

Both Gospels then relate a request from James and John, but, as usual, Matthew tells it differently than Mark. In Mark’s Gospel, it’s related that James and John approach Yeshua to be at his right and left hand in the Kingdom. Matthew assigns this request to James and John’s mother. Yeshua’s response is the same, regardless, that they must be willing to endure what he must endure and be baptized as he is baptized. Neither has a problem with that, but the remaining Disciples have a big problem with James and John asking for special treatment. In Mark and Matthew, Yeshua repeats a variation of his “first must be last” rhetoric.

The accounts end with Yeshua doing what he does best, healing people. In Mark, it’s blind Bartimeus, but Matthew makes it two blind guys who are not named. In Matthew, the crowd tells the blind men to be silent, but Yeshua heals them anyway and, as is customary, they join his followers.

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