This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Sermon on the Mount (5)

In this post i present my final reason why the Sermon on the Mount should be understood as Jesus confrontation and correction of Pharisaical teaching about the Old Testament.

5. Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah of OT prophecy, and as having frequent antagonistic encounters with the Pharisees.

The author of Matthew aims to show that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in OT prophecy.  He wants Jewish readers to see Jesus as the Messiah they've been waiting for.  The clearest sign of this purpose is Matthew's repeated mention that events in Jesus' life were the fulfillment of specific OT prophecies.  

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord 
had said through the prophet (Matt 1:22)
And so was fulfilled what the Lord 
had said through the prophet (Matt 2:15)
Then what was said through the prophet 
Jeremiah was fulfilled (Matt 2:17)
So was fulfilled what was said 
through the prophets (Matt 2:23)
to fulfill what was said through 
the prophet Isaiah (Matt 4:14)
This was to fulfill what was spoken 
through the prophet Isaiah (Matt 8:17)
This was to fulfill what was spoken through 
the prophet Isaiah (Matt 12:17)
So was fulfilled what was spoken 
through the prophet (Matt 13:35)
This took place to fulfill what was spoken 
through the prophet (Matt 21:4)
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah 
the prophet was fulfilled  (Matt 27:9)

Since Matthew's purpose was to make a case that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for, it would be counterproductive to present Jesus opening sermon as a critique of the Old Testament.  Matthew is using the OT as the basis for Jesus' identity.  Matthew needs to present the OT as a trustworthy source.  If Matthew presents Jesus as delivering a sermon that casts any shadow of doubt on the teachings of the OT, then the very basis on which Matthew is basing the identity of Jesus, the very basis which Matthew is using to persuade his readers of who Jesus is, is called into question.  Thus, Jesus' identity would also be called into question.  

Not only this, but Matthew nowhere else presents Jesus as antagonistic to the OT.  Matthew does, however, repeatedly portray Jesus as having an antagonistic relationship with the Pharisees.  

The Pharisees are already portrayed as villainous even before the start of Jesus public ministry when John the Baptist chides them (Matt 3:7).  The Pharisees are portrayed as in constant scrutiny of Jesus, questioning His associations (Matt 9:11), why His disciples don't fast (Matt 9:14), and why His disciples don't observe tradition (Matt 15:1f).  The Pharisees are portrayed as trying to trap Jesus in His words, using controversial subjects like divorce (Matt 19:3), paying taxes (Matt 22:15f), and priority of OT commandments (Matt 22:34f).  The Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform signs in their presence (Matt 12:38; 16:1), yet when He performed signs, they dismissively claimed Jesus' power was from Satan rather than God (Matt 12:24).  The Pharisees were so antagonistic to Jesus that they plotted how they could kill Him (Matt 12:14).

This relationship is not one-sided.  Jesus is also presented as viewing the Pharisees antagonistically.  Jesus told parables aimed against the Pharisees (Matt 21:45).  Jesus specifically warned His disciples about the teaching of the Pharisees (Matt 16:6, 11-12).  And then, of course, one of Jesus' lengthy speeches recorded by Matthew is a diatribe aimed directly against the Pharisees (Matt 23).  

The point is that the OT vs. NT view of the Sermon on the Mount is incompatible with Matthew's purpose for writing, and it does not fit into Matthew's sub-themes.  But there is a well-established sub-theme in Matthew of the antagonism between Jesus' and the Pharisees.  It is reasonable then that Matthew means for the Sermon on the Mount to harmonize with the rest of his account.  All the surrounding data in Matthew's account suggests that the Sermon on the Mount is intended to fit into this particular sub-theme, that Jesus aims to confront and correct the lifestyle and teaching of the Pharisees.

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