Friday, February 24, 2006

Is Matthew anti-Pauline?
David C. Sim has recently argued (again!) that Matthew wrote specifically with an agenda of anti-Pauline rhetoric: ‘Matthew’s Anti-Paulinism: A Neglected Feature of Matthean Studies’, Hervormde Teologiese Studies 58 (2002), pp. 767-83. This is based on previous research, particularly on his 1998 book, The Gospel of Mathew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community, where these views are developed more elaborately; see for an excellent short review by the blogfather.

Apart from the “negative” references to Gentiles, Sim’s argument revolves around what “keeping the law” means for M (the whole book, not the source!). But up front we should note that Paul in fact thinks he is teaching people how to keep the law in the sense of accomplishing what it was that the law sought (Romans 13:8, Galatians 6:2), but that the flesh apart from the Spirit could not accomplish. We’ll need to see specific disagreement on details, not just semantic expressions that prima facie oppose one another.

In point of fact, M and P agree on a remarkable array of core issues: the central goal for both is clearly “making the nations obedient to Jesus”; the central measure of Christian living for both writers could be summed up as “loving others as you would love yourself,” though Paul would have something to say about the Spirit. (Note also that both teach eschatological judgment by works.) Sim fails to see that these might be the strongest points of contact, and this leads him to search for M’s opinion of P in other matters.

Not to flatten the two writers out. They certainly do have different ways of articulating what they’re saying, with P’s multiple ways of referring to the “law” (very positive and very negative—even in the same letter) one of the most interesting differences.

The biggest argument against Sim is that M doesn’t mention the hot-button issues. If he was really writing anti-Pauline polemic, why would he not address head-on issues such as circumcision, diet, etc., in relation to the Gentiles? After all, these were the core issues that placed Paul on the proverbial rack. Are we to believe that he was consumed with ‘defeating’ Pauline Christianity, yet never touched on the distinctive elements of P opposed for his Gentile converts? If we accept Sim’s account, M has simply done a stellar job of not historicizing the issue of circumcision et al into Jesus’ day; surely this is a difficult way to prove one’s case. Moreover, the positive roles assigned to uncircumcised, non-proselyte characters (Magi, Centurion in Mt 8, and Canaanite woman; possibly the Roman troops at crucifixion) hardly speak of the need for conversion to Judaic Law; nor does M use such vitriol as “uncircumcised” when he references the Gentiles—who admittedly need to change (Mt 6.7, 6.32, 12:18-21; compare 1 Cor 6:9-11;) in accord with Jesus’ teaching.

And Sim may overvalue Matt's commitment to Torah qua Torah. M does note that the letter of the law is not an adequate representation of love and mercy and righteousness (23:23), nor can the letter substitute for fidelity to Jesus (19:20-22), nor can tradition (the equivalent of Torah for at least some in his day) be equated with the letter (5:17ff). Above all, “righteousness” means practicing things that the Law never required, good as it was (5.17ff), and J’s followers will be judged on the basis of commitment acts of love related to, but not specified by, Torah (25.31-46, 19.1-9, 6.14-15).

Question for more thought:

Does Sim’s critique underestimate Paul’s Jewishness, or the extent to which Paul defines his mission as making “nations obedient to Jesus”? (I happen to stand in broad agree with Sim and others against Stanton et al on the “Jewishness” of Matt, vs. other views such as church v synagogue and the anachronistic “Christians v Jews”)


Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

Jase, I take a dig at Sim in an article on the Gospel community hypothesis in a forthcoming article.

5:25 AM, February 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually find Sim's argument compelling, and a valued inclusion in the understanding of Matthew.
His point that we need to stop approaching Matthew from through a Pauline Lens is one that has some weight.
Nthoanaki Thaba

2:55 AM, April 14, 2006  

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