Saturday, July 7, 2007

Were Matthew and Luke Monotheists?

Mark 12:28-34 tells the story of a friendly encounter between Jesus and a Jewish scribe, in which the two men discuss Gods fundamental commandments and the path to salvation. Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as a source, seem to have been highly disturbed by Mark's account, partly because it shows Jesus having a friendly respectful conversation with a knowledgeable Jew and partly because it suggests that Jesus endorsed the Jewish idea that the way to salvation was to endorse the Jewish view of one and only one God.

Here is Mark's version of the story (NRSV).

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Emphasis added.)

Jesus' answer, based on Duet 6:4-6 ("Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might"), is one of the fundamental principles of Judaism, down to this day. Orthodox Jews repeat this prayer twice a day. It is the passage placed inside the mezuzah posted on Jewish doorposts. In Mark, Jesus endorses the principle of this prayer as part of the road to salvation. Let's look at how Matthew and Luke handle this story.

Matthew's account appears at 22:32-40. Matthew, upon reading of this friendly respectful encounter between Jesus and the Jewish scribe, must have gotten his toga in a twist. Can't have Jews friendly with Jesus in Matthew. Here's his version of the story.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Note here that Matthew has eliminated all the friendly mutual respect Jesus shared with the scribe and has placed the scribe in a somewhat more hostile framework, portraying the scribe as one a group of disgruntled Pharisees. But, more importantly, notice what Matthew has left out from Mark's version of Jesus' answer. 1) 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 2) you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 3) "You are not far from the kingdom of God;" In Matthew, therefore, it would appear that God is not one, there is another beside him, and the belief that God is one has no role in reaching salvation.

While I can understand why Matthew might balk at depicting Jesus as the Jewish fundamentalist that he was, why would Matthew leave out the part about "The Lord is one" unless he had some sort of problem with that expression. This omission strongly suggests that Matthew didn't endorse that principle, that he saw Jesus as a separate deity from the God of Israel, and that he believed that Jesus and the god of Israel were two separate entities. This, of course, is not only contrary to all forms of mainstream Judaism but also to the logically impossible Trinitarian view of mainstream Christianity.

Luke, who champions the Gentile entry into Christianity, seems to have shared Matthew's concern, especially as Jesus appears to take a pro-Jewish and implicitly anti-Gentile approach to salvation. He, too, trashes Mark's version of the story and he, too, omits the phrases "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one" and "you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other.'" But, unlike Matthew, he does leave in the part about this redacted commandment playing a role in salvation. Here is the first part of Luke's version, 10:25-28.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

First, notice the role reversal here. It is Jesus who asks what is written in the law and it is the lawyer who responds and omits the phrase "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Now it's one thing when Matthew pretends that Jesus didn't endorse this fundamental Jewish principle, but it's quite another when Luke has the Jewish lawyer drop the phrase. Why would the Jewish lawyer omit this fundamental Jewish principle from his reading of the law? The reason is apparent from Jesus' reply in Luke's version. "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." Since Jesus says that the answer is correct, Luke must believe that there was something wrong with the principle "the Lord is one." Like Matthew, he probably saw Jesus as a secondary deity, separate and apart from the God of Israel. It was necessary, therefore, for Luke to remove the offensive phrase from Jesus' own theology and present a different Jesus from Mark, one more in touch with the Gentile audience of Luke.

Luke then goes on to further humiliate the Jewish lawyer. He has the fellow in a self-righteous snit ask who his neighbor is. Jesus then replies with the anecdote of the Good Samaritan.

In summary then, Matthew and Luke both felt it necessary not only to transform Mark's friendly encounter between Jesus and a Jew into a hostile one, but to also excise from Jesus' theology the Jewish principles that "the Lord our God, the Lord is one," and "besides him there is no other. 'The only reasonable explanation for this omission would seem to be that neither evangelist endorsed this view, that they thought that Jesus was a deity separate and apart from the god of Israel.

1 comment:

Dr. T. Jacob Thomas said...

Very interesting argument. Worth exploring
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