Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Gospel of Matthew and the New Prophecies

In this post, I am continuing a review of various New Testament writings and particularly how they handle "new prophecies" -- that is, prophecies of the future made during the New Testament era, and particularly how they are handled by the authors who wrote the canonical gospels.

In the Gospel of Matthew, I trace the same three prophecies as in the Gospel of Mark: Jesus' prophecy of Peter's denial, Jesus' prophecy of his execution and resurrection, and Jesus' prophecy of the sack of Jerusalem along with the destruction of the Temple.

Jesus' prophecy of Peter's denial

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' prophecy in words that are very close to those used in the Gospel of Mark:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very tonight, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." (Matthew 26:34)
As in Mark, the fulfillment is recorded later in the same chapter, and ends with the following:
Then he [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:74-75, emphasis added)
As in Mark, the author recorded both the prophecy and the fulfillment, and again the fulfillment includes a remembrance of the original prophecy. It bears noticing that the wording of Matthew is very close to that of Mark; I think few people would conclude that these accounts are wholly independent of each other.

Jesus' prophecy of his execution and resurrection

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection on several occasions, some of them just the same as seen in Mark. Matthew 16:21 is parallel to Mark 8:31. Matthew 17:9 is parallel to Mark 9:9, though here we meet one of the instances where Mark has more information than Matthew, as Matthew has no note of the disciples' incomprehension of the prophecy as mentioned at that point by Mark. The prediction at Matthew 20:18-19 parallels Mark 10:33-34.

With this prophecy, Matthew provides a somewhat different follow-up on the fulfillment than Mark. They do both have the "told you so" scene with the messenger at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:5-7), with some slight differences but still recognizably the same material as relayed in Mark 16:6-7.
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." (Matthew 28:5-7, emphasis added)
Here Matthew has the "told you so" about the prophecy placed closer to the mention of the prophecy's fulfillment rather than with the "go to Galilee" instructions, which are now followed with a separate "told you" about these instructions, here simply meaning that the messenger had relayed his message.

Matthew also includes another recollection of the prophecy not seen in Mark:
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate, "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." (Matthew 27:62-64, emphasis added)
Here again we see that the author recorded both the prophecy and the fulfillment. Matthew spends more time on recollecting the prophecy than Mark, with both the "told you so" from the messenger at the tomb and the "we remember" from the chief priests which included a recap of the prophecy.

Again, there is no doubt that with Matthew, as with Mark, the author's agenda included making sure the readers knew that the prophecy had been made and was fulfilled. Here with this prophecy we see Matthew working beyond the material paralleled in Mark, with Matthew recording more material on the recollection of the prophecy. The additional material here in Matthew is independent of that found in Mark, and demonstrates that the author's own narrative purposes did include mentioning additional material supporting the claim of fulfilled prophecy.

Jesus' prophecy of the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple

Finally, we come to Matthew's record of Jesus' prophecy of the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. As with Mark, the prophecy is made at some length; see Matthew 24 and Mark 13. There are some interesting points of difference with Mark, but first a few points of similarity:
  1. Again, we do not have a "fulfillment" record.
  2. Again, we have a "hesitancy" clause: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36; compare to Mark 13:32)
  3. We have an extended admonition to "keep watch" for these events (24:42-25:13).
The hesitancy clause in Matthew is handled differently than in Mark. While Mark simply records it, in Matthew we have varying repetitions of it. In Matthew 24:36 we have the closest parallel to Mark: the mention that "no one knows the day or hour, not the angels nor the Son but only the Father" follows closely on the words that the prophecies previously mentioned would occur in the days of the generation that heard them made. (A footnote indicates some manuscripts have omitted 'nor the Son', which might be an interesting separate study but is beyond the level of detail intended here in this survey of the material.) Matthew 24:42 has a variation in which what is unknown is not in a text associated with the destruction of the Temple; it is the hour of the Lord's arrival. Matthew 24:44 again associates the unexpected hour with the arrival of the Son of Man. In case the point isn't driven home quite yet, Matthew 24:50 places the unexpected day and hour with the return of 'the master' from a long journey, as Matthew 25:30 places the unexpected day and hour with the arrival of 'the bridegroom'. These last two returns from a journey are the first two of what could be called 'parables of a long absence', in which there are three illustrations of problems caused by a long delay of an expected return (see the emphasis of the delay in Matthew 24:48, 25:5, 25:19). After these three parables of the long absence, Matthew continues to record the famous 'last judgment' scene in the New Testament with the sheep and the goats.

Here a comparison to Mark is in order: Mark does contain a small sampling of the same material. In Mark's section urging people to keep watch, we also find a condensed, one-verse version of one of these parables of absence (see Mark 13:34). In the comments on this parable also (Mark 13:35), the unknown day or hour is the time when the owner of the house returns. So there is some precedent in Mark for the unknown day or hour referring to the return rather than the sack of Jerusalem, though it is not clearly differentiated in the text.

Questions then arise about the reasons for the differences between Mark and Matthew's treatment of the material. Most scholars work on the assumption that Matthew copied Mark, and if we work with that assumption then I think the most obvious agenda of Matthew compared to Mark must have been this: to provide additional material. Matthew is roughly twice the length of Mark. There are times when a sentence or two from Mark is paralleled by an entire chapter or series of chapters in Matthew. Mark has only a few scattered sayings from the Sermon on the Mount (see, for example, Mark 4:21-25), a sermon to which Matthew devotes three chapters (Matthew 5-7), adding much material not known from Mark. A mere two verses in Mark (12:28-29) likewise become an entire chapter in Matthew (Matthew 23), again with much additional material.

So here, in our current discussion, we see six verses from Mark (13:32-37) occupying the same narrative place as a chapter and a half in Matthew. Did Matthew add the additional material simply because Mark did not record very much of what Jesus said? Was there any reason for their selection other than seeing the short attention given in Mark and deciding to give a fuller treatment, as with the Sermon on the Mount? Or did Matthew record these particular things because he saw a need to emphasize that the sack of Jerusalem and the end of the world were separated by a long absence, that the unknown day and hour was the day of judgment? Mark saw no need to emphasize a long absence. Did Matthew see such a need, or did he simply think that he should place those three additional parables of Jesus -- along with the depiction of the Last Judgment -- at the proper place?


The questions raised by the different treatment of the "no one knows" passages between Matthew and Mark are not the type of questions that can be answered definitely from the texts of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark alone. It bears mentioning that, once again, the prophecies which we know were certainly fulfilled before the text was written are pointed out as fulfilled by the author. It bears notice that we can demonstrate that the author of Matthew also has an agenda of making sure that fulfilled prophecies are noted and remembered. Again, it would be odd for the author to omit mentioning the fulfillment of the prophecy, given that he has demonstrated a pattern of highlighting the fulfillment of prophecy. His borrowings (we assume) from Mark are not quite enough to explain this, as Matthew has a track record of independently adding material.

However, we are not quite at a loss about the date of Matthew; many consider it probable enough that Luke was either written about the same time as Matthew or that Luke may have been written a little bit later. The material written by Luke has some unique features which are worth noting in discussing the dates of the various New Testament writings.

Next: an analysis of how Luke handles the "new prophecies" made in the New Testament era.


BruceA said...

So I'm not sure whether you're saying Matthew was written before or after the destruction of the Temple. Will the post about Luke clear that up?

Weekend Fisher said...

I'm saying the internal evidence from Matthew may not settle the question whether Matthew was written before or after the destruction of the Temple. I'm trying to give a fair shake to both sides of the argument, and with Matthew the internal evidence is far more complicated than Mark's, which I think is the only clear take-home conclusion from Matthew as a standalone study or even in comparison to Mark.

Luke has more points of interest in his writings as far as dating goes, so I think in the case of the Gospel of Luke the evidence is clearer. Any conclusions drawn from there about Matthew will depend on whether you hold the view that the Gospel of Matthew was written before, or at least not after, Luke's writings. Which is the post I'm drafting now, though probably won't be finished today ...

Btw I think I'm going to break "Let the reader understand" into its own post besides Luke's writings, just in case you're keeping an eye on that angle also.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF