The Didache and its Relevance for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

The image featured above, intended to symbolize the Two Ways of Life and Death, which are of central importance to the Didache, was photographed by Imen Bouhajja in Ghar Elmelh, Tunisia (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

1. The Didache

A portrait of Philotheos Bryennios found opposite the title page of Philip Schaff’s The Oldest Church Manual Called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (1885). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1873, Philotheos Bryennios, the metropolitan of Serres (Serrae) in Macedonia, discovered a Greek parchment manuscript in the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople. The document contained several early Christian writings, including the text of the famous Didache. Bryennios edited the treatise in 1883. In 1887, the manuscript was transferred to the Greek patriarchate in Jerusalem where it is still preserved today as Hierosolymitanus 54. In the colophon of the manuscript (folium 120, front side) the name of the scribe and the date are preserved. “Leon the scribe and sinner” was the one who produced this codex, which he completed on Tuesday, 11 June 1056.

The ancient textual basis of the eleventh-century minuscule copied by Leon should be narrowed down to its central part only (fol. 39front-80back). The source of this text, extending from the Letter of Barnabas to the end of the Didache, may have originated in the patristic period.[1] In this article, the text of the Didache (fol. 76front-80back) is studied in isolation from the other works contained in the Jerusalem Manuscript. Of course, there are also a few smaller and fractional witnesses to the text of the Didache. For the establishment of the text of the Didache, however, the bearing of these fragments is meagre.

1.1. The Contents of the Didache

The Didache is a compilation of several older sources which are structured into four clearly separated thematic sections: The Two Ways document (chs. 1-6), a liturgical treatise (chs. 7-10), an exposition on church organization (chs. 11-15) and a section relating to the end time (ch. 16). Each individual part belongs to a different literary genre, evolved over a period of time, and makes up a coherent unity.

Two Ways
The opening line of the Didache, “There are two ways, one of life (zōē), the other of death” (1:1), introduces the subject treated in its first part. The Way of Life (Did. 1-4) covers moral instruction, which is expounded at greater length than the Way of Death, which contains a mere list of warnings (Did. 5). Let’s have a first look at the opening of the Two Ways document (1:1-3a):

There are two ways, one of life, the other of death, and between the two ways there is a great difference. Now the way of life is this: First, you shall love God who created you, then your neighbour as yourself, and do not yourself do to another what you would not want done to you. The teaching [that flows] from these words is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies,….

The Way of Life begins with a conventional summary of the Law consisting of the double love command (the “love of God” and the “love of neighbour”) and the Golden Rule in its negative form (“do not yourself do to another what you would not want done to you”).[2] The topic clause in 1:3a (“The teaching [that flows] from these words is this”) shows the following part to be interpretation.

This interpretation continues all the way through three chapters before reaching its conclusion in 4:14b. It includes first a series of positive admonitions found in verses 1:3b-2:1, which reflect some of the radical requirements of the Sermon on the Mount and are particularly close to Synoptic tradition. Then follows a list of precepts intended to cover the essentials of the second table of the Ten Commandments (2:2-7), a distinctive literary unit (3:1-6) that closely reflects the Decalogue themes of the preceding chapter and, finally, two chapters dealing with morals, humility and constructive social behaviour (3:7-4:14). The Way of Death in fact represents a catalogue consisting of twenty-three vices in the first part and a list of nineteen evildoers in the second (5:1-2).

Two things may be noted about the form of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6. Firstly, one would expect the exhortation in 6:1 to conclude the Two Ways section of the Didache: “See to it that no one leads you astray from this way of the teaching, for such a person teaches you apart from God.” Both formulation and content suggest that the Two Ways doctrine comes to a close in Did. 6:1. This impression is strengthened by the predominant tenor in the following verses (6:2-3), which appear to reflect an atmosphere of concession. At the end of the comprehensive ethical treatise, Did. 6:2 suddenly grants that partial compliance with all previous admonitions suffices. Furthermore, with respect to food, everyone is allowed to determine what is to be eaten, and only a minimum requirement is laid down (6:3). As will be corroborated below, the statements in Did. 6:2-3 appear to be a later addition to a basic tradition of the Two Ways.

A second remarkable feature occurs in Did. 1:3b-2:1. The passage clearly interrupts the connection between Did. 1:3a and 2:2 and it stands out from the immediate context in chs. 1-6 with respect to its high number of close parallels to the Gospels of Luke and, especially, Matthew. This is all the more striking because a similar accumulation of traditional Gospel motifs is absent from the remainder of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6. The situation is in fact such that apart from the collection of Jesus tradition in 1:3b-2:1 (and the concessive items in 6:2-3), there is hardly any reference to specific Christian doctrine in the Two Ways manual. Nowhere are obvious soteriological and Christological motifs such as the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ to be found. By inserting the “Evangelical Section” right after 1:3a, the explanation of the double love command and the Golden Rule (1:2) was Christianized while the traditional Jewish interpretation in Did. 2:2-7 accordingly became the “second commandment” (2:1). On the other hand, it has been observed that the text in Did. 1:1-3a. 2:2-6:1 displays numerous links with materials in sources of early Judaism.[3] It is closely related to traditional Jewish materials in the Testament of Asher 1:3-5, the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies VII, 3, 3-5; 7, 1-2 and the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides. For these reasons, it was argued as early as the end of the nineteenth century that this or a similar form of the Two Ways is derived from a Jewish origin.

The view that a Jewish tradition is behind the present form of the Two Ways in the Didache—with the exception of Did. 1:3a-2:1 and 6:2-3—may be substantiated as follows. In addition to the Didache, the Two Ways tradition ranges across a variety of Christian documents from the first five centuries, including the Doctrina Apostolorum, the Letter of Barnabas 18-20 and some five later writings.[4] Each of these writings represents an independent witness to the ancient Two Ways tradition in which the basic pattern is essentially the same, particularly the appearance of the two ways and the presence of a double catalogue of virtues and vices in which each of the ways consists. It is interesting to see, however, that the various forms of the Two Ways demonstrate no familiarity with the collection of Jesus tradition in Did. 1:3b-2:1 and the supplement in Did. 6:2-3. Moreover, they do not display any acquaintance with Did. 7-16. The obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that these Christian documents are somehow affiliated with a form of the Two Ways tradition lacking these parts.

Since we do not have a copy of the original source extant, our knowledge is at best indirect, being only deducible from the Doctrina, Didache, and Barnabas. The late David Flusser and I have attempted to reconstruct the Jewish prototype of this teaching, which we called the ‘Greek Two Ways’ (GTW) because the text of this pre-Didache source was in Greek. As a matter of fact, this (hypothetical) version of the pre-Didache source, except the Christianized sections of 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3, is reflected by and large in the wording of the Didache.

The ancient Greek Two Ways, freed from the secondary context as provided in the Didache, was constructed, preserved, and handed on within pious Jewish circles that maintained highly refined ethical standards.[5] The text shows an undeniable relationship with a particular type of rabbinic literature called Derekh Erets (“The Way on Earth”). Both the Greek Two Ways and the rabbinic Derekh Erets tractates reveal a specific trend in early Jewish thought that calls on a newly refined moral sensitivity. Part of the oral tracts with subjects concerning Derekh Erets reflect the teachings of pious Jewish circles in the first and second centuries C.E. on moral behavior.[6] These men constituted Hasidic groups within the society of the rabbis, practicing charities and performing friendly deeds of compassion.[7] Thus, the tradition of the Two Ways was transmitted and kept alive within virtuous Jewish factions. At the same time, however, the ancient Two Ways also developed into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles in the Didache community and, as we will see below, probably in other first-century Christian communities as well.

Liturgical Treatise
The ritual of baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, and the eucharistic celebration in Did. 7-10, are deeply affected by the pattern of Jewish daily worship. Did. 7 is linked to the preceding Chapters 1-6 by a directive (7:1b) that the Two Ways doctrine should be the substance of the teaching of candidates for baptism:

As for baptism, baptize this way. After you have said all these things [i.e., all that is written above], baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot [do so] in cold [water], then [do so] in warm [water]. But if you have neither, pour water on the head thrice in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit (Did. 7:1-3).

The baptism of Jesus as depicted in a catacomb painting from Rome. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Did. 7 is the earliest surviving description of the administration of baptism.[8] It is likely that in the days of the Didache’s composition, the Two Ways as presented in the first section served as a basic catechetical instruction prior to baptism. At the same time, the interest in ritual purity is still paramount in Did. 7 as the text reflects the concern that one should use the most appropriate water available for baptism. In the Hebrew Bible, purification was necessary before participating in Temple worship and this remained for ancient Jews, first and foremost, the prerequisite for encountering the sacred. Ritual impurity bars a person from God’s presence and it is a biblical principle that it forms a barrier that must be removed (Num. 19:20).

The directives in Did. 7:1c-3a with regard to the kinds of water to be used in baptism are clearly borrowed from Judaism. The discussion of the various types of water alludes to Jewish ablutions for ritual purification, and the directives in Did. 7 seem to have their parallels in Jewish halakhic instructions about water for ritual washings. It was a principal issue to determine what sort of water was needed for the purificatory washing. In rabbinic sources, six types of water supply are distinguished in an ascending order of value beginning with the lower qualities of water and proceeding to the higher ones (m. Miqw. 1:1-8).

The text in Did. 7:1c-3a itself, however, may reflect a development that abandoned an originally strict ritual practice. On the one hand, the purity required to approach God is still attained through the performance of ablutions or immersions. On the other hand, the text does not reflect a continuous, strong adherence to Jewish halakhot governing ritual purity. The normal condition of the water found in the rite of Christian baptism is indicated by the phrase “living water” (Acts 8:36; 16:13), and also in the Mishnah it has the highest rank within the classification of kinds of water. But the Didache regulations give the impression that the importance of the baptismal instruction with regard to correct practice is diminishing.[9] They embody concessions toward a formerly strict practice. Should circumstances so demand, the rules permit performance of the rite of baptism “in another kind of water” (Did. 7:2a). And if there is neither cold nor warm water, one was allowed to pour water onto the person’s head instead of immersing them in it. This is an even further concession to the rigorous standards regarding the water for baptism: mere affusion is allowed in case water is scarce. Whereas the interest in ritual purity is still paramount in Did. 7, the rules governing ritual purity were losing their significance.

A ritual immersion bath (mikveh) discovered at Magdala. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Interestingly, the directives in Did. 7 are influenced by Jewish halakhic debates on ritual washings, but at the same time reflect a liberalization of the rigorous demands with respect to the baptismal water. The ritual is on its way to a stage in which the effect of baptism is unquestioned, even if the water is less suitable. The prefacing of the baptismal ceremony in Did. 7 with the original Jewish instruction of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6 resulted in an “ethicization” of the baptism ritual. Because baptism is not limited here to a mere cultic action but has taken an ethical shape as a result of being preceded by the original Jewish Two Ways instruction, its precise ritual details become less relevant. What is important is that baptism in Did. 7 carried with it a commitment to a right conduct (Did. 1-6). The Didache still does articulate an interest in issues relating to ritual impurity but probably prioritized the maintenance of moral impurity over the preservation of ritual impurity.[10]

The mention of a pre-baptismal fast in 7:4 appears to have prompted the observation about fasting as an independent phenomenon in 8:1, that is, the stationary fast. Whereas the “hypocrites” fast on Mondays and Thursdays, the readers of the Didache should keep Wednesdays and Fridays as their fast-days. In the same way, a transition is made by the word “hypocrites” to a further differentiation between two practices in the next verse. Instead of “praying as the hypocrites” do, the members of the community are required to recite the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (8:2-3). The Lord’s Prayer is offered in an obligatory text without mentioning or quoting additional prayers. This circumstance, and the requirement to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, may indicate that this prayer took the place of the Jewish Tefillah, which was recited three times a day as well.[11] One may assume that individual members of the Didache community still prayed the Tefillah, and when the number of Gentiles in the community increased, this practice undoubtedly caused a strong tension between non-Jewish Christians and Judaizing Christians. The prayer formulary in Did. 8 may have served as a means to prevent people within the Didache community from imitating Jewish practices. The version of the Lord’s Prayer written out in full here, varies from Matt. 6:9-13 in some details only but, even so, probably is not dependent on Matthew. Both the redactor of Did. 8:1-3 and Matthew might have known the prayer from its regular use in their respective church traditions. The agreements are probably to be assigned to the liturgical tradition they have in common.

The congregation is required to distinguish itself from the “hypocrites” by fasting on different days and observing divergent prayer customs. Opponents are disparagingly characterized as “hypocrites” here and again in the next verse. Who were these hypocrites? A possible suggestion, which is widely advocated, proposes that the term reflects the rivalry between a Jewish-Christian faction within the boundary of Judaism and another Jewish group. It has repeatedly been suggested that the label ‘hypocrites’ might refer to Pharisees in particular.[12] For in the period after the Jewish war, the rise of rabbinism led to promulgations of legal decisions which laid claim to religious authority. Members of the Didache community might have felt bitter about the Jewish central authority’s attempts to manage their lives and resented the rabbis gaining control of the public sphere.

But was the community of the Didache still a competing group within the larger fabric of Judaism in its day or had it already ceased to consider itself a variety of Judaism? And if the latter applies, what may have caused the congregation to move away from its roots? One thing is clear: The Didache obviously was composed for the initiation of Gentiles into the community. This already becomes noticeable in the supplementary long title of the Didache (“Doctrine of the Lord [brought] to the Nations by the Twelve Apostles”). The Two Ways doctrine of chs. 1-6 apparently was intended as a prescriptive code principally for Gentiles who had grown up in households in which pagan gods and pagan standards of morality abounded. The Two Ways dichotomy served as a framework for understanding the radical alteration in behaviour and commitments that the Gentile convert was expected to make. Thus, the rules for Jewish life were modified into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles entering the community. These circumstances might have moved the Sages to harbour suspicions. Moreover, this is the period during which the Birkat Ha-Minim, the benediction against the heretics, appears to have been inserted into the Jewish liturgy.[13] It not impossible, then, that at this stage the Didache community shared a consciousness of their views being suppressed by contemporary Judaism in general. Jewish Christians are likely to have been a major target of this synagogue denouncement. Within this framework the term “hypocrites” in Did. 8 might reflect the deteriorated relations between the particular Didache community and its Jewish opponents in general.

The title and the opening words of the Didache as these appear in MS Hierosolymitanus 54. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Chapters 9 and 10 present the prayers, rubrics and regulations for the Eucharist. Binding formulae are given for the pertinent prayers. The eucharistic celebration is introduced in 9:2-4 by blessings over the cup and the bread based on Jewish prayers of blessing. After the first table prayer in 9:2-4, a rubrical comment follows in Did. 9:5, emphasizing that no one who has not been baptized is allowed to eat and drink of the Eucharist. It is the only place in the Didache outside Did. 7 that mentions the verb ‘to baptize’ or ‘baptism’:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, for concerning this the Lord has spoken, “Do not give what is holy to dogs” (Did. 9:5).

The term “Eucharist” in this verse not only refers to the utterance of the thanksgiving prayer like that in 9:1, but also to the Eucharistic food over which the blessing is spoken. In Did. 9:5, baptism is indeed referred to as the general prerequisite authorizing participation in the Eucharist and preventing pagans from sharing the meal. Didachic baptism is a ritual act marking the initiation of new members into the community and, at the same time, seems to set the acceptable limits of table fellowship.

As we see in the rubric of Did. 10:1, a regular meal follows upon these prayers which is concluded by an additional prayer of thanksgiving. This is the second part of the eucharistic prayer in Did. 9-10. In recent decades has it come to be generally accepted that the ultimate roots of the eucharistic prayers in Did. 9-10 lay in Jewish liturgical practice. Attempts have been made to link the prayer in Did. 10:2-5 with the rabbinic Birkat ha-Mazon, the prayer that concludes the Jewish meal.[14] In the last few years, however, this supposition has become controversial as Jewish liturgical traditions of Temple times are no longer taken to be as fixed and uniform as was once supposed. We should therefore be cautious and not be too eager to draw the conclusion that these prayers had a standardized form in the first century.[15] On the other hand, it is of importance to note that, in spite of this variation in wording, the Jewish after-dinner prayer Did. have a number of stable elements. The general structure of this prayer was probably already known to the author of the Book of Jubilees in the second century B.C.E. When Abraham says Grace after meals (Jub. 22:6-9), we find him uttering a three-part prayer, i.e. a benediction, a thanksgiving, and finally a supplication,[16] a pattern very much like the later texts of the Birkat Ha-Mazon.

The prayers in Did. 9:2-4 and 10:2-5 encircling a real meal represent some vestiges of Gentile Christian usage as well. The petitions in 9:4 and 10:5 regarding the gathering of the church are bound up with the biblical expectation of salvation that the dispersed of Israel will be collected in the day of salvation (Deut. 30:3-5a; Isa. 11:12b-c; Ezek. 37:21). Later this desire was kept alive in the tenth benediction of the Tefillah. The transfer of this concept to the Christian church in Did. 9:4 and 10:5, however, involving a gathering of the church without further reference to the Jewish people, is a conspicuous characteristic of Christian refashioning. It is clear that a petition for the gathering of the dispersed people of Israel is beyond the liturgical range of the community of the Didache. The formulation reflects a Gentile, rather than a particular Jewish position and perspective.[17] One may therefore assume that the supplications in Did. 9:4 and 10:5 were formulated in a Gentile Christian community. They clearly illustrate the fact that, as the church won more and more Gentiles, it gradually alienated itself from its Jewish background.

Church Organization
What follows next is the section comprising Did. 11-15 with guidelines for good order and church discipline. These chapters present authoritative ‘apostolic’ rules on matters of ecclesiastical organization that end in 15:4, just before the doctrine concerning the things that will happen at the end of the world in Chapter 16. The instructions give a glimpse of the local church or churches for which the Didache was written. A variety of disciplinary measures is presented, designed particularly to correct abuses in the life of the Didache community. The regulations in this section specify how certain classes of visitors must be tested so as to protect the community from troublesome visitors. In Did. 11:1-12:5, the emphasis is on testing Christians who would stop over at the Didache community. The passage provides guidelines by which to ascertain the legitimacy of these Christians, whether they claim to be apostles, prophets or just laymen. Although these preachers could expect a hospitable reception within the community, they all had to be subjected to an examination. The community reserved the right to judge outsiders in order to prevent a number of charlatans from taking advantage of its hospitality.

The apostles are the first class of visitors considered here. They are persons sent out on a mission from elsewhere and because they were in transit, they were not allowed to stay longer than two days or to ask for money (11:4-6). The second class of strangers dealt with here are the prophets. It was rather difficult, however, to equip the community with criteria enabling them to differentiate between true and false prophets. Since prophets were regarded as speaking in the Spirit, they had a privileged status that distinguished them from other teachers. The Didache, however, sanctions the prophetic gifts without endangering the community. While preserving the high valuation of speaking in the Spirit, the manual recommends an examination of a prophet’s lifestyle as a chief criterion for credibility (11:7-12).

Discussing ordinary people who come to the community and claim to be Christians, the Didache in the next chapter demands a further testing and setting of conditions as well. If a travelling Christian layman wants to settle in the community, the general rule is that such a person must earn his own living with a trade (12:1-5). Christians wishing to reside within the community will have to work for a living: “If he wants to settle in with you, … , let him work and [thus] eat” (12:3). In this context, the passage in 13:1-7 is not some peculiar afterthought or a part not reflected upon in Did. 11. The connection between Did. 13 and 12:3-5 is clearly indicated in the phrase “wanting to settle in with you” in 13:1 (and 12:3). Apparently, the instruction in Did. 13 is meant to counteract the wording of 12:3-5 insofar as the classes of the prophets and teachers are regarded. This instruction does not apply in the case of a teacher and a genuine prophet. When true prophets or genuine teachers desire to settle down in the community, they are to be given material support as a reward for their labours (13:1-2).

Visiting prophets (and even traveling apostles) were still active in the church by the time of the redaction of the Didache, and this phenomenon fits the general mobility of contemporary religious teachers of popular Hellenistic religion.[18] At the time when the Didache was composed, the number of itinerant religious propagandists appears to have increased to such an extent, however, that it opened the door for abuses to set in. Because Christians were generally expected to offer a generous and cordial welcome to guests and strangers, this hospitable attitude could easily be misused.

In Did. 14, the concern is no longer with the attitude of the local community towards outsiders, towards those who visit the community, but rather with circumstances within the settled community itself. The successive topics are loosely connected. The confession of sins and reconciliation is the central theme. Both rules are laid down as a requirement for the admission to the celebration of the Eucharist.[19] The pleonastic phrase “on the Sunday of the Lord” with reference to the Eucharist in 14:1 might indicate a polemic against those who still preferred the Sabbath to the Lord’s day for the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.[20] The author once again seems to be taking a stand against Judaizing Christians. Evidence from other sources (Gal 4:8-11; Col 2:16-17 and Ignatius, Magnesians 9:1-2), indicating that some Christian circles conti-nued to observe the Sabbath, strengthens this impression. The phrase, then, might suggest that these Christians should exchange the Sabbath for the Sunday as the day of the celebration of the Eucharist. In 15:1-2, another theme is introduced. The community members are advised to select for themselves bishops and deacons who are qualified for their offices. They are to be honest, unassuming and not greedy. After the digression in 15:1-2, the statement in 15:3 reminds of the admonition in 14:3. Someone who, in spite of the congregation’s correction, continues to wrong his brother has to be peacefully excluded from the community until he repents.

The End Time

The final page of the Didache as it appears in MS Hierosolymitanus 54. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The concluding section in ch. 16, which is incomplete in the manuscript left to us (Hierosolymitanus 54), contains a premonition related to the end of human history and the return of Christ to ensure obedience to the preceding provisions in Did. 1-15. The hortatory passage of vv. 1-2 functions as a warning to the reader for the retribution at the end of time. This parenetic passage includes two concrete admonitions, i.e., a call for vigilance (16:1a) and an admonition to meet frequently (16:2a). Both incentives are substantiated by a succinct portentous scenario (16:3-8), which portrays the events at the end, starting with the multiplication of false prophets and corrupters.

1.2. Conclusion

The first section specifies how new Gentile members are to be instructed prior to baptism (Did. 1-6/7). There are good grounds for arguing that the materials in Did. 1-6 represent at least two layers of composition, related to two different stages in the literary history of the Two Ways. In fact, it appears that this part of the Didache attests to a separate circulation of a form of the Two Ways, closely related to Did. 1-6 but without the Christian materials in 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3.

The ultimate roots of Christian baptism in Did. 7:1-3 lay in the Jewish immersion ceremony carried out whenever one was preparing to visit the Temple. In Did. 7:1c-3a, various types of water are mentioned, which shows a paramount interest in ritual purity as it reflects the central concern that one should use the most appropriate water available for baptism. But, at the same time, baptism in Did. 7 appears to embody concessions with regard to a formerly strict practice. The fading interest in a stringent performance of this purity ritual can be explained by reference to the increasing emphasis on the ethical dimension of baptism by the prefix of the Two Ways in Did. 1-6.

In Did. 7-10, a section follows giving rules for those having been baptized and providing the required text of the Lord’s prayer and the Eucharist (Did. 7-10). It is not unrealistic to assume that at a later stage of the development of the Didache, the community included a variety of groups. There probably was an increasing quantity of Gentiles grown up in non-Jewish households, a number of members who were Jewish in their own self-conception and halakhic practice, and various shades of other believers-in-Jesus in the middle. The Didache attempts to overcome the tension between these groups and movements by replacing Jewish traditions and prayers that might have been operative earlier in his community with a modified and transformed worship reflecting the liturgical traditions that were maintained by the majority at a later time. The presence of the Christianized parts (1:3b-2:1; 6:1-2) in the prebaptismal catechesis, the Lord’s Prayer taking the place of the Jewish Tefillah (8:2), the supplications (9:4; 10:5) in the set of eucharistic prayers and also the substitution of the Sabbath for the Sunday (14:1) are intended to prevent a seemingly irreversible division within the community.

In addition to the admission of Gentiles into the Didache community, also the hospitable treatment of transient outsiders caused significant problems. The manual offers an appropriate set of rules in Did. 11-15 to prevent the community’s hospitality from being exploited. Did. 16, finally, may be regarded as a reaffirmation of the grave importance of the instructions given in the preceding chapters.

To sum up: since the Didache was composed in a time of transition, its major concern was to safeguard the unity and identity of the community against threats from the inside and outside world.

2. The Relevance of the Didache for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

The common assumption is that Matthew’s gospel took shape at some point in the years between 80 and 100 C.E.[21] If we want to examine this gospel in light of the Didache, we are faced with an array of difficult questions, one of them pertaining to the Jewish parent body and the identity of the Matthean community. Who were the Christians standing behind the Didache and Matthew? Did. the Didache and Matthew indeed emanate from the same geographical, social and cultural setting? Can we trace the developing interests of the respective community or communities in the different textual layers of the Didache and Matthew?

2.1. The Nature of the Agreements between Didache and Matthew

Both writings, the Didache and Matthew, show significant agreements as these share words, phrases and motifs. The collection of Jesus sayings in the Evangelical Section of Did. 1:3-2:1 is very close to the Sermon on the Mount. The radical exposition about the love of one’s neighbour as love of one’s enemies (Did. 1:3b-d) recalls Synoptic tradition in Matt. 5:44. 46-47 and Luke 6:27-28. 32-33. Besides this paragraph, the Evangelical Section includes two additional passages comparable to the Synoptics articulating the prohibition of violent resistance (Did. 1:4; par. Matt. 5:39-41; Luke 6:29) and the exhortation to be charitable (Did. 1:5-6; par. Matt. 5:25c-26. 40; Luke 6:30; 12:58c-59).

Additionally, the correspondence of the Trinitarian baptismal formula in the Didache and Matthew (Did. 7 and Matt. 28:19) as well as the similar shape of the Lord’s Prayer (Did. 8 and Matt. 6:5-13) apparently reflect the use of resembling oral forms of church traditions. Moreover, both the community of the Didache (Did. 11-13) and Matthew (Matt. 7:15-23; 10:5-15.40-42; 24:11.24) were visited by itinerant apostles and prophets, some of whom were illegitimate. There is also the admonition in Did. 16:1-2 to always be on the alert and watch over one’s life (par. Matt. 24:42.44; 25:13) which are followed by a succinct revelatory scenario in Did. 16:3-8 portraying the events at the end of time (par. Matt. 24-25).

Also other instructions, sayings, phrases and motifs in the Didache are shared with Matthew: Did. 11:2.4 commands that the messengers of the Lord are to be received as the Lord himself (par. Matt. 10:40); in Did. 11:7 the warning is given not to put those who speak in the Spirit to the test since that would be a sin against the Holy Spirit (Did. 11:7; par. Matt. 12:31); according to Did. 13:1-2 it is the community’s duty to provide for the daily needs of a genuine prophet and true teacher because they are “worthy of their food” (par. Matt. 10:10); and in Did. 14:2, the rule is articulated that Christians who have a quarrel with a companion may not participate in worship until they have been reconciled (par. Matt. 5:23-24).

A main obstacle in the investigation of the extent to which the Didache might be relevant to the interpretation of Matthew is of course the question whether the composer of the Didache was familiar with the finished gospel of Matthew or vice versa. Scholars time and again have assumed that the Didache draws on the final form of the Gospel of Matthew.[22] And, indeed, if the document was composed in the second half of the second century or later, as some believed,[23] the Didache would present a strong case for the use of the gospels as we have them. In recent scholarship, however, a new consensus is emerging for a date of the Didache’s composition about the turn of the first century C.E. If the Didache was redacted that early, the view of dependence of the document on one of the Synoptic Gospels becomes all but a certainty. An alternative solution might be that Matthew is dependent on the Didache as a direct source.[24] But this proposal is problematic too, as it would imply a very early date for the composition of the Didache. It is more likely, therefore, that the close relationship between the documents might equally suggest that both documents were created in the same cultural, historical and geographical setting, for example in the Greek-speaking part of Syria.

In comparison with Matthew, the Didache is a ‘primitive’ teaching manual, largely unaffected by theological developments. Now, if the Didache is not dependent on the Gospel of Matthew but reflects materials used by Matthew, it would mean that we have in the Didache a window on the social and religious milieu out of which the Gospel of Matthew arose. In the next subdivision, we will present examples of this ‘primitive’ teaching manual in Did. 9:5 and 15:3. These instances are particularly interesting as they display traces of the historical situation behind Matthew’s text (2.2).

But there is more. One must differentiate between the text as presented in Did. 1-6 and the one offered in Did. 7-16, since the earlier layer of Did. 1-6 is closely connected with a Jewish pattern of the Two Ways. This teaching was conceivably taken as its basic framework. In the above section on the Didache, it was ascertained that this Jewish form was modified once the Two Ways came to be used as an initiatory catechesis for Gentile catechumens in the Didache community. Still, the basic tradition of the Two Ways doctrine put forward in Did. 1:1-3a.2:2-6:1 may have circulated for a long time in Jewish and Christian communities apart from its eventual incorporation and modification in the Didache. We will see that the Two Ways doctrine was also known to the Matthean community. Like the Didache, also Matthew in all probability made use of the Two Ways in both his Sermon on the Mount and the Story of the Rich Young Man (2.3).

2.2. Matthew in Light of Didache 7-16: Two Examples

It is worth noticing that Did. 9:5d and 15:3 are two instances in the Didache unambiguously referring to the “gospel” and “the Lord has spoken” while providing explicit echoes more or less corresponding to particular occurrences in Matt. 7:6a and Matt. 18:15-17, respectively. The following section will demonstrate that the passages in Did. 9:5 and 15:3 are related in their dependence on a common tradition used by Matthew as well.

Matt. 7:6 in Light of Did. 9:5
If we pay attention to the saying “do not give what is holy to dogs” in Did. 9:5 a parallel with Matt. 7:6 can easily be found. Since the saying is introduced by the formula “concerning this the Lord has spoken,” there are scholars who take the Didache to be quoting Matthew’s Gospel here. [25]

The saying in Did. 9:5d is verbally identical to the first part of the dual saying in Matthew, which has no parallel in Mark and Luke:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine lest they trample them under foot and tear you to pieces. (Matt. 7:6)

Does the saying indicate that the Didache has ripped it from its original Matthean context and applied it wrongly to the issue of correct participation in the Eucharistic observance? Since after the instructions for blessing the wine (9:2) and blessing the bread (9:3-4), the Didache verse reads as follows:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, for concerning this the Lord has spoken, “Do not give what is holy (to hagion) to dogs.” (Did. 9:5)

The saying in Did. 9:5d (“Do not give what is holy to dogs”) is undoubtedly quoted as a conclusive word of the Lord to emphasize that all those who have not been baptized are to be excluded from the Eucharist.

The tenor of the clause supporting this exclusion (9:5d) is particularly close to that of the Temple purity terminology. The wording “what is holy” (to hagion) probably refers to sacrificial food, a meaning suggested by its usage in the Septuagint translation of Exod 29:33; Lev. 2:3; 22:6.7.10-16; Num. 18:8-19; Ezra 2:63 and its parallel text in Neh 7:65. Particularly relevant to our investigation is the following passage in the Septuagint translation of Lev. 22:6-7.10:

…he shall not eat of the holy things (apo tōn hagiōn) unless he has bathed his body in water. When the sun is down he shall be clean; and then shall he eat of the holy things (tōn hagiōn), for they are his bread. … And no stranger shall eat the holy things (hagia): a sojourner of the priest’s or a hired servant shall not eat the holy things (hagia).

The term “holy things” refers to the animal meat or agricultural produce designated for sacrifice in the Temple. Since the expression in Did. 9:5d deals with “what is holy” (to hagion), it has a cultic ring to it and suggests a customary Jewish sacrificial Temple ritual. The eucharistic prayers in 9:2-4 and 10:2-5, therefore, encircle a real meal and the food consumed is not understood as ordinary food, but as something special. The holy food was set aside exclusively for baptized members of the community, while the non-baptized were prohibited from taking part in the Eucharist “since the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs’” (9:5d).

The idea of dogs devouring dedicated food was felt to be particularly horrifying in the Second Temple period. This concern is reflected in the Qumran scrolls. In the halakhic letter 4QMMT (Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah or Some Precepts of the Law), written by members of the Qumran community against their opponents, there was a prohibition against dogs in Jerusalem in order to prevent the defilement of the Temple and the holy city (4QMMT 58-62).[26] The saying “Do not give what is holy to dogs” represents a Jewish maxim, which has its roots in the Jewish purity discussions. Maybe the opponents of the sect took precautions to avoid defilement of the Temple by keeping dogs out of the sanctuary, whereas the Qumran group had extended the field of defilement to the whole of Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem is the “camp of holiness” (4QMMT 60), dogs are not allowed to enter.[27]

Also relevant to our subject is a passage in the pseudepigraphic work Joseph and Aseneth, which was probably composed for Jews between the first century B.C.E. and the second century C.E. The pagan Egyptian girl Aseneth, daughter of the priest of Heliopolis, expresses her disgust with her ancestral religion when she converts to the worship of the God of Israel by throwing the sacrifices through the window to the dogs as food (10:14). A similar thought may be expressed in Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities of which the original (Hebrew) form according to many scholars was composed between 70 and 135 C.E. in Jewish Palestine. The pertinent text concerns the rage of God against Jephthah’s rash and careless vow in Judg 11:30-31 to offer to God “whatever meets him first on the way” since his sacrifice might also have consisted of something unclean like a dog (BA 39:11).

The particular antonymy of the holy thing(s) and dogs in Did. 9:5 provides the Eucharist with distinct features of a sacrificial offering in the sanctuary. Whereas the longer Matthean saying is not found in Jewish writings at all, the shorter saying in Did. 9:5 bears a marked similarity with a common expression in rabbinic literature. The adage “Holy things (dedicated sacrifices) are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs” was widely disseminated and the extent of this spread is attested to by many references in rabbinic writings in the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud until far into the fourth century C.E.[28] In view of the early examples mentioned above, it is not unlikely that the fixed rabbinic formula itself was widespread as early as the first century C.E.

First-century C.E. mosaic from Pompeii of a guard dog chained to a post. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But what does the verb “to be redeemed” mean in the above adage? For the Jewish Sages, the admonition “holy things are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs” was obviously a standard reason for prohibiting the sacrificial food belonging exclusively to God ever to coincide with the most forbidden impurity. Holy animals were set apart and dedicated to God. In midrash Siphre on Num. 18:15,[29] it says that even if an animal meant to be sacrificed died, it should be treated as sacred food. The owner was not allowed to pay the Temple redemption money so that the animal could be used to any advantage. Consumption of its meat was prohibited and the animal had to be buried. This accords with another early witness found in the Mishnah suggesting that a dedicated animal, although blemished, still has a lasting status of belonging to the divine sphere (m. Tem. 6:5). It does not lose its holiness and still belongs to God. The release of holy things from divine ownership (by paying redemption money) was forbidden. Blemished animals or those slain were unqualified to be sacrificed in accordance with biblical law, but even so, redeeming them was the equivalent of feeding them to the dogs. The feeding of holy things to dogs was so appalling and scandalous that it underlies the denial of one’s right to dispose freely of sacrificial meat.

In Did. 9:5d the use of “what is holy” (to hagion) involves a degree of transference. The status of being explicitly sacrificial, originally restricted to the Temple service, is conferred on what in essence is not a sacrificial meal.[30] The saying “Do not give what is holy to dogs” shows the application of the cultic terminology to an extra-Temple domain and to figurative dogs. The established proverb is used in a metaphorical way as it is meant to enforce and justify the exclusion of the unbaptized—characterized here as (scavenging) dogs—from the eucharistic food. Dogs represent the Gentiles in their impure state. The Jewish requirement of being in a state of ritual purity became the precondition for partaking in the ceremony of eating holy food within the community of the Didache.

Although it is impossible to say with certainty how the saying in Matt. 7:6 was given its present form, the following reconstruction of its history of transmission seems likely. Initially, there was a separate short statement presupposing the Jewish proverb “Holy things are not to be redeemed to feed them to dogs.” The maxim in the Didache suggesting a different cultic setting and associating “dogs” with Gentiles reflects a second stage in the development of the tradition. It may have been a genuine saying of Jesus (“for concerning this the Lord has spoken”), but it is equally possible that the maxim was attributed to Jesus in a later period. In any case, the verbal identity of the Greek wording suggests the use of a common Greek source as far as the one-member clause in Did. 9:5d and Matt. 7:6a is concerned. The entirety of Matt. 7:6 apparently represents some further point in history where the line about the pearls and the swine came to be coupled to the basic saying about the holy and dogs. The focus on purity as a separate concern disappeared and the former meaning gave way altogether to a new sense. It remains difficult to tell, however, whether the latter modification in Matt. 7:6 emerged only in the final stage of the editing of the gospel or whether it had already taken place in the tradition before it came to Matthew.

Matt. 18:15-17 in Light of Did. 15:3
The section in Matt. 18:15-20 outlines the procedure to be adopted when a fellow believer digresses from the norms of the community. The text in Matt. 18:15-17, missing in both Mark and Luke, contains a halakhic rule for how to respond to a personal offence committed by a fellow believer:

18:15If your brother sins against you, go and reprove him (elenxon), between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.

The offender is given three chances to settle the issue. If a brother has sinned against another, the offended party should reprove his brother in private and discuss the issue in such a way as to lead him to accept his fault. If this first admonishment fails, the wronged individual should take along two witnesses according to Jewish law (Deut. 19:15). If this second effort likewise does not bring about a satisfactory resolution, the matter is to be brought before the whole community. When the offender remains recalcitrant and refuses to listen to the “church,” he should be treated like a “Gentile and tax-collector,” meaning that the associations with the sinner are broken off.[31] He is declared to be outside the limits of the community. Verses 18-20, though in contrast to the immediately preceding text addressing the audience in the second person plural, continue the section with some proverbial statements by Jesus that ground the jurisdiction of the church in these matters. The decision of the community after the three-step legal process is immediately ratified in heaven.

In Jesus’ presentation the ill-treated party takes the initiative to resolve a grievance in three well-defined stages: first, privately, then with the help of a few witnesses, and finally with the force of the entire community. Those who have been persistently reluctant to recognize the criticism of their sinfulness end up being shunned. The conditional sentences (eight times in vv. 15-20) are typical of casuistic law as they describe various situations that might arise. The judicial style of our passage is underscored by the reference to witnesses who may be called by the prosecution.

There is widespread recognition that the contents of Did. 15:3 match those of Matt. 18:15-17 as both passages deal with reproof.[32] In Did. 15:3, it is the instruction itself which displays an intense preoccupation with the spirit in which reproof is undertaken:

Reprove one another (elenchete de allēlous) not in anger (en orgē) but in peace (en eirēnē), as you have it in the gospel; and let no one speak to anyone who wrongs another—let him not hear [a word] from you—until he has repented. (Did. 15:3)

Here it concerns the “reproof of a brother,” implying someone being confronted in a friendly manner with an error he or she has committed. If the errant brother (or sister), despite this reproof, continues to wrong his fellow believer, the members of the community are prohibited from further relating to him until he repents. The Didache appeals to “the gospel” here. The directive to reprove one another not in a hostile way, but with a respectful attitude, is something that can be read or heard in the “gospel.” In this specific case where the statement attached to this introduction formula provides a quotation or allusion showing detailed textual agreement with the Gospel of Matthew, one might expect the Didache to be dependent on Matthew.

Before going into the subject, however, it is of significance to point out that in addition to Matt. 18:15-17 and Did. 15:3, the act of reproof is also found elsewhere in the Jewish cultural world at the time. The forensic course of proceedings connected with reproof which probably lies buried in the text of Matt. 18:15-17 was developed exclusively by the Qumran community.[33] It was not part of the legal system in the rest of Palestine. The most relevant passage in this respect is found in the following part of the Community Rule (1QS):

23They shall register them in the rule, one before the other, according to his insight and his works that they may all obey one another, the lower one (in rank obeying) the higher one (in rank). In order to examine
24their spirit and their works year after year that they may promote each according to his insight and the perfection of his way, or to demote him according to his failings. They shall reprove (lehokhiakh)
25one another in t[ru]th, humility, and compassionate love (be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed) toward man.—empty space—Let no one speak to his neighbour with anger or with a snarl,
26or with a [stiff] neck [or in a jealous] spirit of wickedness. And he must not hate him [in the fores]k[in] of his heart but let him reprove him (yokhikhenu) on the same day lest
VI, 1he incur a sin because of him. And in addition, let no man bring a matter against his neighbour before the Many except after reproof before witnesses (1QS V, 23b-VI, 1b).

This segment deals with the annual examination of all members of the Qumran community and the reproof of fellow members. Interestingly, in the middle of line 25, the scribe of 1QS left a space, and made a mark in the margin as a paragraph sign. Since this is also the point at which the third person plural changes into the singular, these features may indicate a distinct break in the literary pattern and leave us with a basic division of the passage. The lines 24b-25a are closely linked to 23c-24a, which describe the annual inspection of the position of each member of the community’s complex hierarchic system. The statements are linked grammatically by the third person plural. The reproach is to be administered “in truth, and humility and compassionate love.” This passage thus reveals a particular concern for the offender. Reproof in 23b-25a seems to belong to the private sphere of relationships where the precepts are formulated in terms of warm encouragement. In this segment, reproof does not function within the judicial framework of a violation of the Law of Moses but serves as part of the annual examination and classification of the Qumran members. The notion of reproof occurs in 1QS V, 23b-25b in the context of the setback in status due to disloyalty to the community’s moral instruction in the preceding year.[34]

The substance of the second part (1QS V, 25b-VI, 1) enlarges on the exegesis of the biblical reproof passage in the Damascus Document, that is, CD IX, 2-8, 16-23. In the two units, not presented here for brevity’s sake, reproof is part of a judicial procedure. Reproof in front of witnesses, it is stated in CD IX, 2-8, was a legal requirement to be carried out prior to the judicial decision. The other passage in the same document (CD IX, 16-23) deals with the duty of witnesses to reprove. Reproving is again a necessary part of the legal process. At variance with CD IX, 2-8, however, in which the “elders” are the instance before whom the reproof is brought, here it is the “Examiner” (or the “Overseer”) in whose presence the process must take place. Anyway, the statements in CD IX, 2-8 (3-4) and 16-23 (17-19) show that reproof in front of witnesses is required when carrying out a legal action. Instead of reproving a fellow privately, it must be part of a formal procedure in the presence of witnesses. Also in 1QS, the reproaching of one’s fellow seems at first sight to be presented as a preliminary step in the judicial process: one must reproach one’s fellow before bringing the case before witnesses and in a later stage before “the many” (ha-rabim), a technical term referring to the full members of the community. The statements in 1QS VI, 1; CD IX, 3-4 and 17-19 show that reproof in front of witnesses is required when carrying out a legal action. Instead of reproving a fellow privately, it must be part of a formal procedure in the presence of witnesses. In general, reproof had a juridical character in Qumran.[35]

The caves at Qumran. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

It is doubtful, however, whether 1QS shows the same extent of legality as do the two passages in the Damascus Document. The passage V, 23b-VI, 1b reveals a particular concern for the offender. Even if it belongs to a forensic procedure that must be executed in accordance with specific legal norms, it has no judicial air to it. Each year, the community is to convene in a special session to examine the spiritual qualities and actions even of full members so as to re-allot their positions in the community. The verb lehokhiakh (‘to reprove, expose, uncover, demonstrate the mistake or guilt’) in line 24 conceivably prepares for the phrase “let him reprove him (yokhikhenu)” in the second part of the unit (V, 25b-VI, 1). The members are apparently stimulated to solve their difficulties between themselves, and they should appeal to the legal system when this fails. In 1QS the first act of the reproach is to take place privately (in the form of a moral exhortation) between the two contenders alone[36] whereas, in CD, the presence of witnesses is vital for reproving from the very first step. While in CD IX, 2-8, 16-23, the process of reproving occurs in two stages, in 1QS, the member at fault has three chances to have the problem solved. Since the judicial scenario of reproach was developed uniquely by the sect, the Matthean tradition must have been influenced by (a document or oral tradition from) Qumran or a similar community. Reproof in 1QS V, 23-VI, 1, as in Matthew, involves a three-step process: in private (V, 23-26 = Matt. 18:15), before witnesses (VI, 1 = Matt. 18:16), and before the Many (VI, 1 = Matt. 18:17).

The evidence is thus almost completely against the hypothesis that the composer of the Didache took the reproof materials from Matt. 18:15-17. Comparing the reproof passage in Did. 15:3 with the one in Matt. 18:15-17, one can only conclude that these passages are very different, as the former displays a striking concern for charity toward the offender. Whereas Matthew emphasizes reproof as a necessary part of the legal process, any legal connotation is missing in Did. 15:3. On the contrary, Did. 15:3 does not even mention witnesses! The act of reproving is marked by brotherly love. Moreover, the Didache limits the duration of expulsion to the moment of repentance whereas in Matthew we find a rigidly official procedure emphasizing the possibility of permanent expulsion without any indication that the offender can be received back again in the community.[37]

It might be appropriate, therefore, to suggest that 1QS V, 24b-25 or a similar text was the source for Did. 15:3a:

They shall reprove one another (lehokhiakh ish et re’eho) in t[ru]th, humility, and compassionate love (be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed) toward man. Let no one speak to his neighbour with anger (be’af) or with a snarl,…. (1QS V,24b-25)

The Greek phrase “reprove one another” (elenchete de allēlous) in Did. 15:3a may even be a translation of its Hebrew counterpart “they shall reprove one another” (lehokhiakh ish et re’eho) in 1QS V, 24b-25. Moreover, the circumstances in which mutual correction is to take place should not be rage or agitation (en orgē // Hebrew par. be’af) but harmony and friendliness (en eirēnē // Hebrew par. be’e[met] we’anwah we’ahavat khesed).[38] Both passages, Did. 15:3a and 1QS V, 24b-25, emphasizing fraternal reproof in a spirit of generosity, friendliness, and compassion demonstrate similarity in that they are almost identical verbally. The reproof passages in Matthew and the Didache show clear indications of having been developed from a text closely related to the one in 1QS V, 23-VI, 1.

Conclusion: The Relevance of Did. 7-16 for the interpretation of Matthew

The term “gospel” in Did. 15:3 or the phrase “the Lord has spoken” in Did. 9:5c do not seem to entail a dependence on Matthew. On the contrary, these designations are probably best understood as references to oral or written collections of sayings ascribed to the authority of Jesus upon which both Didache and Matthew drew. The text of these collections was likely to be circulating among its hearers and readers.

As we have seen, there are more instances in Did. 7-16 showing agreement with Matthew.[39] They too may be reproducing Jewish or Jewish Christian sources. Apparently independently of each other, Didache and Matthew drew these materials from a common pool of traditions, but reworked and contextualized them differently. In any case, it is significant to know that the Didache, in specific cases, reflects sayings at an earlier stage of their development than their parallels in Matthew.

2.3. Matthew in Light of Didache 1-6: The Two Ways

The motif of the Two Ways in Matthew 7:13-14 recalls the beginning of the Two Ways teaching in the first six chapters of the Didache. The Matthean passage has often been taken to be the source of Did. 1:1.[40] We have seen that in the Didache, the statement on two contrasting moral ways serves as a framework for the subsequent exposition of two sets of opposing ethical characteristics or antagonistic groups of people associated with the way of life (Did. 1-4) and the way of death (Did. 5), respectively. In Matt. 7:13-14, however, the metaphor has a different function. There it refers to reactions to the main body of Jesus’ explanation of the Law in the preceding part of the Sermon on the Mount (5:17-7:12). This brings us to a range of difficult questions about the Law in Matthew’s gospel. How does Matthew understand Jesus’ attitude towards the Torah? How does this Sermon relate to the Greek Two Ways? What was the relationship of Matthew’s community to Judaism? What is the role of the Torah in Matthew’s Gospel? How should we portray the type of Judaism Matthew is in dispute with?

As seen above (section 1.1), early versions of the Two Ways, found in Did. 1-6, Barnabas 18-20, and the Doctrina Apostolorum, attest to a separate circulation of a form of the Two Ways very much akin to Did. 1-6 and prove that the doctrine was widely known in the first Christian centuries. For our purposes it is important to realise that the (hypothetical) version generally reflects the wording of the Two Ways in the Didache, except for the Christianised sections 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3. Therefore, this paper will stick with the Christian Didache excluding those parts and details differing from the hypothesized Greek Two Ways.

The following pages will clarify that Didache 1-6 Did. not draw on Matthew but, rather that Matthew in all probability made use of the Two Ways in both his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27) and the Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30).

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27) in Light of the Two Ways

Within first-century Christian circles, the doctrine of the Two Ways was employed in pre-baptismal instruction. This is explicitly stated in Did. 7:1, in a verse that directly follows the rendering of the Two Ways section: “As for baptism, baptize this way. After you have said all these things [i.e., all that is written above], baptize” (7:1). The candidate who applied for baptism was instructed in the ethical catechesis as contained in a written or oral Two Ways tradition. It is possible that the supposed life situation of a Two Ways tradition used by Matthew—that is the setting of the Two Ways before it was introduced into the present context of the Gospel—might have also been a catechetical situation, perhaps even an instruction for neophytes.[41]

Essentials of the Two Ways are particularly similar to elements of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:3-7:27. The Sermon on the Mount, bracketed by the ascent of and descent from the mountain in 5:1 and 8:1, is the first detailed portrayal of Jesus as a teacher in Matthew’s Gospel. In the Sermon we can distinguish three main parts:

  1. the introduction (5:3-16),
  2. the main body (5:17-7:12) and
  3. the last section representing concluding warnings (7:13-27).

For our purpose, it is important to note that the outlook and practice promoted in the Beatitudes of the first part of the Sermon are thoroughly Jewish.

1. These proclamations (5:3-12) are pervaded with a tone of promise but, at the same time they breathe an atmosphere of exhortation and moral admonition on appropriate attitudes and correct conduct. Matthew shares four Beatitudes with Luke (6:20-22), referring to the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted.

The additional five Beatitudes in his gospel (Matt. 5:5-9) show a great interest in highly developed ethical behaviour. This advanced standard of morality, permeating the entire Sermon on the Mount, reflects the views operative in Hasidic Jewish circles,[42] a distinct group within the society of Pharisees and rabbis practising an austere interpretation of halakhoth, performing good deeds and showing a far-reaching trust in God and providence.[43] Rather than emphasising a strictly legal, halakhic approach to the Law, their instructions display a moral, personal and ethical attitude to life. As seen above (section 1.1), it was especially the early layer of this Derekh Erets literature that embodied a refined human ethic, highlighting acts of charity, modesty and humility. Prominent in this doctrine is a rigorous attitude towards the prevailing halakha and the propensity for good deeds in public life, such as the redemption of captives, the restoration of property, the consolation of mourners, the giving of alms, etc. Because they believed that a literal interpretation of the commandments resulted from a lack of positive motivation, they Did. more than the Law required. In Matt. 5:5-9, God’s blessing is promised to those disciples who exhibit attitudes of meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace making.

2. The central section of the Sermon in Matthew opens and closes with references to “the Law and the Prophets” (5:17 and 7:12). This section in turn is divided into two further parts. The first part is the unit in 5:17-48, which presents a collection of materials dealing with the Law. This unit begins with an introduction containing a programmatic statement on the validity of the Torah in Matt. 5:17-20. In the next segment of this first unit (5:21-48), the so-called “antitheses” occur, each of which is made up of two parts including an initial quotation from the Law and, so it seems at first glance, Jesus’ refutation of it. The second half of the Decalogue is likely to be at the background of this section.[44]

Both the introduction (Matt. 5:17-20) and the antitheses (5:21-48) presuppose a similar spiritual and ethical thought that can also be found within the pious Jewish circles mentioned above. They believed that fulfilment of explicit halakhic duty was not in itself enough in that it Did. not exhaust one’s moral responsibility and, as a consequence, they Did. more than the literal interpretation of the Law required. The traditional material behind Matt. 5:17-48 may have been derived from a source that was identical or similar to the child (teknon) passage in Did. 3:1-6. In order to really appreciate the relevance of this unit a more detailed comment is needed.

Did. 3:1-6 consists of five small strophes, each structured according to the same distinctive, symmetrical pattern not present elsewhere in the Two Ways. Apart from some slight changes, they are built in the same framework and employ the same terminology. The verses 2-6 display a particular repetitive pattern in that each is divided into two parallel halves. The first half contains a warning against a specific minor transgression because such a sin, so it says, “leads to” a major transgression. Then, in the second half, an admonishment is offered against two or more minor sins, for these too are considered to “give birth to” a major transgression. With respect to Matt. 5:17-48 the first three verses are rendered here:

(3:1) My child (teknon mou), flee from all evil and from everything like it.

(3:2) a. Be not angry,

b. for anger leads to murder,

c. nor jealous nor irascible nor hot-tempered

d. for from these murders are born.

(3:3) a. My child, be not desirous,

b. for desire leads to sexual immorality,

c. nor foul-mouthed nor indiscreetly peering

d. for from all these adulteries are born.

Theme and terminology of Did. 3:1-6 betray close affinities with material collected and preserved in the pious milieu of early Hasidic Sages. The concept presupposed in Did. 3:1-6 is the Jewish distinction between “minor and major” or “light and heavy” commandments. The emphasis is on minor transgressions like, for example, in 4 Macc. 5:19-21. Dismissing the suggestion that less weighty sins are less serious, these verses say:

Accordingly, you must not regard it as a minor sin for us to eat unclean food; minor sins are just as weighty as great sins, for in each case the Law is despised.

The focus on the light commandments also occurs in instances of rabbinic literature like m. ’Abot 2:1; m. ’Abot 4:2 and in various other cases.[45] Moreover, an echo of the rabbinic usage of “light” and “weighty” precepts is found in the wording of Jesus: “and you have neglected the weightier matters of the Law” in Matt. 23:23b. Although explicit statements with regard to light and weighty directives are not found in the Greek Two Ways, the section in 3:1-6 is related to these views. It explains the connection between a light sin and a heavy one as the transgression of a minor precept (no anger, envy, irascibleness, etc.) leading to a transgression of a major one (murder etc.). The passage not only requires strict observance of the major precepts, but adherence to the minor commandments as well.

The most pertinent parallel to the preamble in Did. 3:1 and the subsequent strophes in 3:2-6 is found in the rabbinic Derekh Erets tractates. In these tracts, the following ethical rule serves as a résumé of moral codes:

Keep aloof from that which leads to transgression, keep aloof from everything hideous and from what even seems hideous. Shudder from committing a minor transgression, lest it leads you to commit a major transgression. Hurry to (perform) a minor precept, for this will lead you to (perform) a major precept.[46]

Certain things, not forbidden by the Law, were taken in these pious circles to be actual transgressions and are referred to as light sins. The saying shows that the popular adage, to be as careful of an unimportant precept as of an important one, in its original meaning was an alternative form of the counsel:

My child, flee from all evil and from anything resembling it. (Did. 3:1)

The preoccupation of this teknon-section as a whole, with its repetitive use of the phrase teknon mou (“my child”) is expressed in the introductory sentence of 3:1. It is intended to highlight the avoidance of anything resembling evil because it leads to evil itself. The tradition is the basis upon which the hasidically-oriented materials have been formulated as a moral guide for Derekh Erets.

The opening unit in Matt. 5:17-20 has the programmatic significance of supplying the reader with a clue as to the right interpretation of the Scripture quotations in the subsequent antitheses. In this opening section, we face the transparent principles of hermeneutics which are applied to the traditional commandments of the Scripture in Matt. 5:21-48. It is not difficult to envisage that the sayings in Matt. 5:19 and GTW 3:1 belong to the same particular strand of Jewish tradition:

5:18For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

When Matthew has Jesus demand that the disciples’ righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), he not only validates the maintenance of the Torah (v. 18) but also the keeping of the “least of these commandments” (v. 19). The jot and tittle stand for both the smallest graphic elements of the Law in a literal (v. 18) and figurative (v. 19) sense. The Matthe-an features become particularly clear in Matt. 5:20, which certainly exhibits Matthew’s favorite diction, that is, his choice of words and phraseology.[47] Through redactional shaping Matthew seems to be countering contemporary issues of authority. The “scribes and Pharisees,” his opponents, are negative counterparts to the disciples.[48] The expression about “righteousness” going “beyond” that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20) is echoed in 5:48: “You, therefore, must be perfect (teleioi), as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios).” The idea of greater righteousness is found again in the idea of perfection in 5:48 and both verses 5:20 and 48 serve to frame the six antitheses in 5:21-47.

In Matt. 5:21-48, Jesus is presented as an authoritative teacher in order to establish a binding interpretation of the Torah against the views of a contending party. His counterstatement radicalises, intensifies and transcends the premise rather than revoking or changing it.[49] The sayings concern anger and murder, lust and adultery, divorce, and teachings about oaths, retaliation, and love of one’s enemy. Their meaning boils down to the following: Not only must you not kill, you must not even reach that level of anger (5:21-22). Not only must you not commit adultery, you must not even look desirously at another man’s wife (5:27-28) and so forth.[50]

This was also the quintessence of pious ethics. The maxim “be heedful of a light precept as of a weighty one” (m. ’Abot 2:1) serves as a recapitulation of morality found in the refined ethics represented by the Derekh Erets tracts.[51] The saying provides the critical principle by which the Law is to be read, interpreted and evaluated within the early milieu of Derekh Erets and within the circles in which the Two Ways and Matt. 5:17-48 were originally kept alive. In Matt. 5:21-48 Jesus carries forward the teaching already implicit in the weighty commandments by expounding them within the parameters of the maxim that a light commandment is as important as a weighty one.[52]

The second division (Matt. 6:1-7:12) of the central section of the Sermon on the Mount is only indirectly connected with issues of the Law and is somewhat loosely related to the other Sermon elements as well. In 7:12, finally, this middle section is brought to a close by a positive formulation of the Golden Rule:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew’s version of the Golden Rule is somewhat peculiar as compared with Luke since in Matt. 7:12c the ensuing phrase is provided, indicating that the Golden Rule can serve as an underlying principle of “the Law and the Prophets.” The clause is missing in the parallel verse in Luke 6:31. It may have been inserted by Matthew to create a deliberate link between the Golden Rule and the almost identical phrase in 5:17.

The vv. 5:17 and 7:12, then, form a thematic inclusion around the core of the middle section. Inserted at the end of the main body of the Sermon, the Golden Rule occupies a significant position. Matthew perceives the Golden Rule as an eminent summary and decisive climax of the preceding demands, prohibitions, and ethical discussion in 5:17-7:12.[53] In the final resolution, the Law is reaffirmed and joined with the principle of love of neighbour. To love God and one’s neighbour embraces the entirety of the Law and the prophets (Matt. 22:34-40). At this point it is essential to note that the same phenomenon occurs in the teaching of Didache 1-6. In the Greek Two Ways 1:2, the double love commandment, i.e., love of God and love of neighbour, and the Golden Rule serve as the essential components of the Way of Life.[54]

The importance of this observation increases when one sees that Matthew—unlike Mark and Luke—places the Golden Rule in close proximity to a statement on the Two Ways in Matt. 7:13-14:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life (zōē), and those who find it are few.

These verses show close affinities to Luke 13:23-24:

And someone said to him: ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

Both Matthew and Luke might have drawn on the common Q source. We cannot deal with this verse extensively here, but suffice it to note that according to many scholars Luke has retained the statement in a more authentic form.[55] Because the Two Ways motif in Matthew appears to seriously interfere with the structural pattern of the statement on the gates in Luke, it may have been added to the proclamation at a later stage.[56] In that case, Matthew or his tradition adapted and expanded the original gate saying by the inclusion of the Two Ways emphasis.

3. At the beginning of the final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew opens a general drift of two opposing paradigms by presenting the Two Ways (7:13-14), contrasting the way that leads to destruction with the way that leads to life. In these concluding units he confronts the readers with an ultimatum. The choice is between these alternatives and there is no middle way. They represent the dualistic trend of answering Jesus’ call for acceptance of his words. The metaphor of the Two Ways and its elaboration in Matt. 7:13-27 reflects the reactions to Jesus’ explanation of the Law in the preceding part of the Sermon on the Mount. The admonition against false prophets (7:15-23) offers a polarity of good trees and virtuous fruit (good natures generating good deeds) with bad trees and evil fruit (bad natures producing bad deeds). The community is warned against false prophets who are hard to identify. But since a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit, the disciples can discern these disguised false prophets by their practices and lifestyle. In 7:19 the Matthean Jesus depicts their fate at the final judgment. The tree that bears bad fruit will be cut down for firewood.[57]

This subject of false prophets continues through vv. 21-23, mentioning those who do the will of the Father as opposed to those who do not. Although the false prophets confess Jesus as Lord, prophesy in his name and perform other mighty works, Matthew has Jesus radically dismiss them with the words from Ps 6:9 as “workers of lawlessness” (7:23). They fail to do the will of the Father. In the subsequent parable of the two builders (7:24-27), the antithesis is between those hearing and obeying the words of Jesus and those hearing but not obeying them. He who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them is compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. On the other hand, he who hears Jesus’ words and does not obey them is compared to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The first house built on the solid foundation (that is, those who hear and follow the teachings of Jesus) will survive the overwhelming and threatening storm and flood, that is, final judgment,[58] whereas the latter (those who hear but do not follow Jesus’ teachings) will be entirely devastated.

The Way of Life and the Way of Death as metaphor in Matt. 7:13-14 have been given an orientation toward the ultimate destiny of humankind. Closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways, Jesus is the one who definitively interprets the Law so that his words provide the basis for “life” (5:21-48; 7:24-27; 12:1-14). Entering the narrow gate or going down the constricted way by means of bearing good fruit (7:17), performing the will of the Father (7:21), or complying with the words of Jesus (7:24) ultimately leads to a state of unending blessedness. Going the right way is responding to the words of Jesus which, in fact, comes down to living in accordance with his exposition of the Law (5:17 and 7:12) as it is delivered in the Sermon on the Mount.

Examining the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, one establishes that the Two Ways motif (Matt. 7:13-14) appears close to the Golden Rule (7:12), which is the essential scope and climax of the preceding rules of conduct for believers. Furthermore, it was observed that the section in 5:17-48 reflects the second half of the Decalogue and emphasizes a distinct characteristic of Derekh Erets.[59] Finally, the macarisms (beatitudes) in 5:3-12 embodied the type of norms and values which pious Hasidic Jews strived for. The same elements are found in the Greek Two Ways, albeit in an inverted position. There the metaphor of the Way of Life (1:1) is followed by the Golden Rule and the double love command as the fundamental principles underlying the further explanation of the Way of Life (1:2). Did. 2:2-7 contains a list of precepts clearly meant to illustrate, expand and expound upon the second half of the Decalogue.[60] A similar catalogue of Decalogue materials is found in the vices listed in the teknon-unit in Did. 3:1-6. This part of the Two Ways is followed by and concluded with a list of moral values in which counsel about social conduct, acquiescent meekness and a gentle heart prevails (3:7-4:14). The portions Matt. 5:3-12, 17-48; 7:12, 13-14 probably represent a reworking of a pre-Matthean Q source which is also reflected in Luke 6:20-49 and 13:23-24. Matthew may have considerably revised the Q sermon here under the influence of an ancient Two Ways version.

The Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30) in Light of the Two Ways

In addition to the Sermon on the Mount, the Matthean version of the story of the Rich Young Man is also coloured by a form of the Two Ways. Matthew’s acquaintance with the Two Ways suggests the possibility that he read the Markan version of the rich man’s account in a similar vein.

The story—as reported by Matthew—consists of three parts.[61] In the first subsection (19:16-22) a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of the second half of the Decalogue. The young man claims he has observed them and Jesus then instructs him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. This proves too much to ask of the young man. He goes away sad. The second and third subsections render Jesus’ discussions with his disciples. He first (vv. 23-26) instructs them about wealth, emphasizing that it will be as impossible for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The disciples ask whether anyone can be saved and Jesus replies that God is able to do everything. The third subsection (vv. 27-30) contrasts the rich man’s refusal to give away his wealth with the disciples’ response of leaving families and possessions. Peter asks what he and the other disciples who have left everything and followed Jesus will receive as their reward.

The Matthean version of the story as a whole is based upon Mark 10:17-31. Both accounts evidence the basic idea of a fundamental contrast between possessions and property in this life and the treasures of the coming kingdom. Closer examination, however, shows that Matthew has exercised considerable freedom in rewriting Mark’s account. The story of the rich young man opens with the question in Matt. 19:16: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life (zōē aiōnion)?” The first usage of the word “life” in Matthew’s Gospel is found in Matt. 7:13-14, where there is mention of an easy way “that leads to destruction” and a hard way “that leads to life (zōē).” The antithetical parallelism recalls the beginning of a teaching of the Two Ways section passed on in the first six chapters of the Didache.

Matthew might have read the Markan version of the rich man’s story along the same lines. What changes does he make to his Markan source? Right at the beginning, Matthew has the rich young man ask: “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life? (19:16). Matthew has Jesus reply in v. 17 by replacing the man’s wording of “to have” with “to enter” and changing “eternal life” to just “life”: “If you wish to enter life (zōē), keep the commandments.” A first indication suggesting an image of a way or road is found right at the beginning of Jesus’ dialogue with the rich man. This revision is redactional and seems to reflect an attempt to conceive the question within the framework of the Two Ways. It “transfers the man from the market to the road and implies that he must make a pilgrimage instead of a purchase.”[62]

Another remarkable change in comparison to Mark is Matthew’s transformation of the man into a young man in v. 20. Matthew drops the phrase “from my youth” in Mark 10:20 and labels him “the young man” twice (19:20, 22). In Luke 18:18 the young man is called a “ruler” which may be considered another hint of his being mature in age. Why Did. Matthew alter the man’s age? Matthew may have identified the questioner as a “young man” so as to emphasize the instruction needed to enter a new life. We have seen that the Two Ways often served as a basic catechetical instruction preceding the ritual of baptism. Since the life situation (Sitz-im-Leben) of the teaching used by Matthew was a catechetical one, perhaps even an instruction for neophytes, Matthew compared the rich man to a convert and calls him “young.”[63]

Additional alterations introduced in Mark’s version of the story betray Two Ways traits as well. Matthew’s negative formulation of the commandments—all having the Greek negative ou (“not”) followed by a second person future indicative instead of (“not”) followed by an aorist subjunctive—deviates from Mark’s wording. Matthew Did. not assimilate the rendering of Scripture here to the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, but instead adapted Mark’s rendering of the commandments to the phraseology of his Two Ways version. In his usage of the negative ou followed by a second person future indicative, Matthew falls back on the Two Ways wording that exhibits the same phraseology.[64]

More important is the adjustment in Matt. 19:18-19. Jesus instructs the questioner to keep the second table of the Decalogue in order to enter life. The link between “life” and commandments was quite common in Jewish tradition.[65] Matt. 19:18-19 might thus reflect traces of a common catechism, a view that is substantiated by the Greek article to (“the”) preceding the Decalogue commands in Matt. 19:18. When Matthew, deviating from Mark 10:19 (and Luke 18:20), appends this to, he as much as says he is reproducing familiar (catechetical) material. And there is something else here that is significant. Unlike Mark, Matthew attaches the summary command of Lev. 19:18 as well. The commands from the second table of the Decalogue are associated with neighbourly love:

You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt. 19:18b-19)

By stressing the triad of life (zōē in v. 16 and again in v. 17), the second table of the Decalogue (vv. 18b-19a), and the principle of neighbourly love (v. 19b) Matthew’s version of the Rich Man’s episode reflects a substantial part of the Two Ways teaching.[66] For we have seen that the reconstructed Way of Life is defined first by a fusion of the commandments of divine and altruistic love, the subsequent Golden Rule and a list of precepts covering the second table of the Ten Commandments in Did. 2:2-7.[67] By introducing this material through the article to Matthew was able to recall the whole of the common instruction about the Way of Life.

The term “perfect” (teleios) in the clause “if you wish to be perfect” (v. 21) has no Markan counterpart and, aside from the additional occurrence in Matt. 5:48, it is not found anywhere else in the Gospels. In Matt. 5:48 it serves to conclude 5:21-48, the pericope which presents examples of what it means to abide by a “greater righteousness.” Jesus’ requirement in 5:20 that the disciples’ righteousness must “go beyond” than that of the scribes and Pharisees[68] is echoed in 5:48: “You, therefore, must be perfect (teleioi), as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios).” The charge in Matt. 19:21 corresponds to the greater righteousness announced in Matt. 5:20, implying that more Torah must be done than the legal minimum.[69] Following Jesus requires observing the commandments along with their explanation by Jesus. Since the word teleios is lacking in the other Gospels it is surprising to find it in the Didache twice. In Did. 1:4 the phrase “and you will be perfect” occurs in a context of non-retaliation, while in Did. 6:2a those who are able to carry the “whole yoke of the Lord” are called “perfect.” As already indicated, I believe Did. 1:3b-2:1 and 6:2-3 to be later Christian additions to a basic Jewish Two Ways tradition. On the other hand, the repeated occurrence of the term “perfect” in precisely those Matthean contexts which display a close affinity with the Two Ways may indicate that Matthew was acquainted with a copy of the Two Ways that included Did. 6:2-3. Matthew might have used a Christianized Two Ways since the instruction probably preceded baptism in his community.

We can draw the conclusion, then, that the Two Ways teaching sheds light on the story of the rich young man in Matt. 19:16-22 in two respects. First, it is clear that observance of the second table of the Decalogue in vv. 18-19 does not suffice to be qualified for eternal life. In Matthew the rich man asks: “What do I still lack” (v. 20b)? Obviously the speaker believes he has faithfully observed the Law, but in spite of his obedience Matthew shows him to be aware of his failure to enter life. Matthew has Jesus reply in v. 21: “If you wish to be perfect (teleios), then go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor.” This higher ethical standard is not an additional requirement but the concrete enactment of the command to love one’s neighbour.[70]

This brings us to the second point. There appears to be a significant distinction between keeping Torah within a normal Jewish framework of expectations (vv. 18-19) and keeping Torah as defined by the love command (vv. 18-22). In Matthew, the emphasis on obeying the second half of the Decalogue is far more than simply a quantitative demand for compliance with every commandment; it is a requirement to live out all the implications of loving one’s neighbour. Of course, Matthew’s presentation varies from the pattern in the Two Ways tradition since he relies significantly on Mark’s Gospel and largely follows his word order. Yet, by adding the love commandment to the second part of the Decalogue, Matthew indicates that rather than considering all injunctions of the Torah of equal weight, he prioritizes values. In Matthew and the Two Ways the love commandment is a principle of primary significance. The Law is subordinated to a single dominant perspective through which all the other commandments and directives are interpreted.[71]

It is important to establish that in describing Jesus’ general statement about the rich in vv. 23-26, Matthew still follows Mark’s narrative quite closely and preserves the same solution: ultimately only God makes salvation possible (v. 26). In v. 23 Matthew largely agrees with the phraseology of Mark 10:23 where Jesus turns from the rich man to his disciples commenting on what has just happened: “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.’” The next verse in Mark, however, is not found in Matthew: “And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard is it to enter the kingdom of God!’” It is striking that after 19:23 Matthew omits the wide-ranging statement of Mark 10:24. Whereas Mark has changed the subject from the rich man to all men, Matthew keeps the discussion on the subject of riches and the kingdom.[72] He finds it impossible for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.

According to Matthew, one either lives by God’s values or by those based on wealth. A similar dualistic trend is found in Matt. 7:13-14 where the Two Ways theme sets the stage for the contrasting replies to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that follow in the final section (7:13-27). The Two Ways represent the dualistic trend of answering Jesus’ call for acceptance of his words. The deeds or behaviour of the false prophets (7:15-23) offers a polarity of good trees and virtuous fruit with bad trees and evil fruit. This subject continues through vv. 21-23, mentioning those who do the will of the Father as opposed to those who do not. Also, in the subsequent parable of the two builders (7:24-27) the antithesis is between those hearing and practising the words of Jesus and those hearing but not practising them.

The call for voluntary poverty in Matt. 19:21 was not answered in v. 22. For the sake of his wealth the rich man rejected Jesus’ offer of eternal life by walking the right path. In 19:23-26, the image of the two ways is applied in terms of a behavioural contrast between the wealthy and others. Wealth and prosperity is a power that forces a rich man to choose between God and his possessions, between treasure in heaven and treasure on earth. In Mark 10:21, Jesus looks at the man and loves him. In Matthew there is no mention of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. After all, this man has forfeited life (see also 6:24 and 16:26) since when given the choice he opted for mammon.

At the beginning of the final section (vv. 27-30), Peter, picking up on Jesus’ promise to the rich man of a “treasure in heaven” (19:21), asks about the disciples’ future and reward (19:27). For in contrast to the rich man, they were not trapped by wealth but “left everything and followed you.” Where the rich man fails, Peter and others succeed. Jesus responds in vv. 28-30. It would take too much space to enter into details here.[73] Suffice it to say that Jesus’ response focuses on the disciples’ fortune at the Last Judgment.

In order to understand we must turn to Matt. 7:13-27 again since that passage closely parallels 19:23-30. We noted above that Matt. 7:13-27 offers the Two Ways (7:13-14) as interpreting two mutually exclusive modes of answering Jesus’ call. The ways of life and death take on new meanings here. In 7:19 the Matthean Jesus depicts the fate at the final judgment of trees that bear bad fruit. They will be cut down for firewood. This is followed by the solemn declaration of a primary criterion of divine judgment in 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The concluding passage in 7:24-27 sets out stark alternatives again. The first house built on the solid foundation will survive the overwhelming and threatening storm and flood, that is, Last Judgment, whereas the latter will be entirely shattered. The Way of Life and the Way of Death as metaphor in Matt. 7:13-14 have been given an eschatological connotation, an explanation targeted at the End Time. Closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways, Jesus is the one who definitively interprets the Law such that his words provide the basis for “life” (5:21-48; 7:24-27).

A similar Two Ways interpretation seems to be presupposed in Matt. 19:27-30. Since following Jesus involved complete fulfilment of the Torah’s requirements in accordance with Jesus’ exposition, the Twelve are rewarded with the special privilege of sitting on twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 28c).[74] The themes of life and death are interpreted in the perspective of the ultimate destiny of the world. Obedience to the right way is not determined by its puny earthly reward, but instead is remunerated by the infinitely greater post-Judgment reward. This reward is not expected in this mortal life, but as an eschatological good to be realized in immortality. With respect to the approaching End, the word “life” comes to indicate divine exoneration and acquittal contrary to conviction and being found guilty. The interpretation of the terms “life” and “death” is updated to eternal life and eternal death. By his present conduct, by following Jesus, that is, by carrying out the ethical mandates provided, man can also become worthy of eternal life.

3. General Conclusions

It is worth noticing that Did. 9:5d and 15:3 are two instances in the Didache unambiguously referring to “the Lord has spoken” and the “gospel” while at the same time reflecting explicit quotations more or less corresponding to particular occurrences in Matthew. If this meant that the text of the manual derives from Matthew then it would be hard to corroborate, substantiate or readjust a portrayal of the historical situation behind Matthew’s text. In light of the above evidence the conclusion seems justified, however, that rather than the Didache referring to Matthew, both Matthew and the Didache independently transmuted and rewrote similar Jewish traditions. This practice may have been a result of the immediate ties each work had with the community where these traditions were transmitted. It is thus not far-fetched to suppose that at least parts of the text of the Didache 7-16 were compiled in fairly close contact with the community in which Matthew’s gospel arose.

It seems unlikely that the Two Ways teaching, orally or in writing, was restricted to the community from which the Didache is derived. The instruction might have been used as a pre-baptismal catechesis in many local Christian communities other than the Didache. This opens up a whole new area of research that awaits further fruitful exploration with respect to New Testament literature because it allows us additional insight into the situation of the writer and hearers. If familiarity with the Two Ways’ catechesis preceding the rite of baptism was indeed widespread among first-century Christian communities, we will gain a deeper insight in the preconception of early Christians and this would help us better understand their documents.[75] The identification of a pre-literary tradition in literary texts grants us knowledge about the situation of the writer and hearers that otherwise may be overlooked. When we restrict ourselves to the example of the Rich Young Man in Matt. 19:16-30, this line of approach helps us to discover the significance of various themes in vv. 16-22, that is, the question about life, the second half of the Decalogue, the addition of the love command and the reference to perfection. Moreover, this approach also clarifies why Matthew left out most of Mark 10:24 and inserted the eschatological role of the Twelve in Matt. 19:28. Matthew applies the conceptual tool of a choice between life and death by drawing a sharp contrast between voluntary poverty and wealth. Wealthy people cannot enter eternal life (vv. 16-22. 23-26). Only when one observes the rulings of the right Way, “life” becomes “eternal life” which lies entirely in the future (vv. 27-30). Choosing the right way leads to eternal life. Matthew probably envisaged a role for the Two Ways in this Rich Man narrative because he and his intended readers—all baptized followers of Jesus—might have been reminded of their initiation into the Matthean community by reading Mark’s story of discipleship, wealth and eternal life. For this reason, Matthew even emphasizes the rich man’s youth.

It would be conjectural to restore here the form of the Two Ways version that guided Matthew in systematizing his material for the gospel. The tradition of the Two Ways was kept alive within virtuous Jewish factions but developed within the Didache community into a pre-baptismal catechesis for Gentiles. As a result of their education, Jews generally would have grasped what God required of them. For non-Jews, however, the Jewish Two Ways dichotomy served as a framework for understanding the radical alteration in behaviour and commitments that the Gentile convert was expected to make. On the other hand, Matthew also assumed there to be a great difference between his community’s ethos and that of Jewish outsiders. He describes the substantial discrepancy between the tougher standards of his group’s elevated ethics and the circles of scribes and Pharisees as a “going beyond” relation expressed in the ideal of attaining a “perfect” (teleios) moral behaviour. In order to set apart his community from its Jewish environment he probably used a Christianized version of the Two Ways. The insiders were considered a Law-fulfilling community whose righteousness—based on Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah—was even greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20).

The basic ethical unit of the Two Ways finds its best explanation in the light of traditions that were current in Jewish Hasidic circles, i.e., those pious Jewish groups responsible for the formation of the earliest kernel of Derekh Erets literature. The early portions of Derekh Erets and the Two Ways as well as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (which I did not deal with here), represent a well-defined trend in early Judaism, which met a definite local need in providing humane ethical principles. It is possible that Jesus belonged to these Hasidim. In any case, his moral views of life and humanity, especially his position in the Sermon on the Mount, are so closely related to the ethics of the Greek Two Ways that his approach seems to have evolved out of these very circles.

Of course, Matthew’s portrait of Jesus’ attitude towards the Law must not be separated from Matthew’s own attitude towards the Law and that of his community. We should constantly be aware that in exploring Jesus’ attitude towards the Law, one is, in fact, investigating Jesus’ attitude towards the Law according to Matthew. This is not to deny, however, that some form of the Golden Rule, being a summary of all provisions of the Torah, may have its ultimate roots in Jesus’ ministry. As seen above, the diverse precepts in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5:17-7:12 and the Way of Life in Did. 1:2-4:14 are organized by and subsumed under the love command (Matt. 7:12 and Did. 1:2). In Matthew, the absolute importance of this principle of love for interpreting the law is also emphasized in many other ways. The love command of Lev. 19:18 is quoted as many as three times in Matthew (5:43; 19:19; 22:39). Moreover, it is also repeatedly articulated with the help of cognates expressing the concept of “mercy” like eleos (9:13; 12:7; 23:23), eleein (“to have pity” in 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30. 31) and splanchnizesthai (“feel compassion / mercy” in 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34). The emphasis on the love commandments and mercy serve both the community in its internal orientation and in its contrast to other groups.

However, this theme is not just found in Matthew. Evidence in other New Testament writings (Mark 22:31 par.; Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14) indicates that also for Jesus himself the love commandment probably served as the centre of Law. Thus, although the precise formulation and location of the Golden Rule in Matt. 7:12 might be Matthew’s, it hardly seems likely that it would not represent what Jesus actually taught.

  • [1] Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, (Compendia rerum iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 3/5; Assen: Van Gorcum-Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 16-24.
  • [2] This latter rule is not only reflected in the Two Ways 1:2c but is frequently found throughout Jewish, Christian, and Hellenistic sources. About the so called “Golden Rule,” see Philip S. Alexander, “Jesus and the Golden Rule,” in Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (ed. J. H. Charlesworth and L. L. Johns; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 363-388.
  • [3] Willy Rordorf and André Tuilier, La Doctrine des douze Apôtres (Didachè) (2nd ed.; Sources Chrétiennes 248 bis; Paris: Cerf, 1998), 24; Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: A Commentary (trans. L. M. Maloney; Hermeneia, Minneapolis; Fortress, 1998), 36-38.59-63.
  • [4] Such as the Apostolic Church Order, the Epitome of the Canons of the Holy Apostles, the Arabic Life of Shenute, the Ps.-Athanasian Syntagma Doctrinae, and the Fides CCCXVIII Patrum.
  • [5] Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 155-182.
  • [6] The early layer of these tractates reflects a lifestyle which is called “derekh hasidut,” the way of the pious. It reveals the teachings of the early Hasidim who, according to Myron B. Lerner, “The External Tractates,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. S. Safrai; Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 2/3; Assen: Van Gorcum-Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 367-404 (380), “placed extreme stress on self-deprival and the performance of good deeds and acts of loving kindness.”
  • [7] See, e.g., “Hasidim,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols.; Jerusalem: Keter, 1962), 7:1383-1388; Heinz Kremers, “Die Ethik der galiläischen Chassidim und die Ethik Jesu,” in K. Ebert, Alltagswelt und Ethik (Wuppertal: Peter Hammer Verlag, 1988), 143-156.
  • [8] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 202.
  • [9] Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, for example, considers the “allowance of pouring instead of immersion” as an “anomaly” and “a break with Jewish practice” (206). However, this need not necessarily be a rupture with its Jewish environment. The highlighting of “moral purity,” common in early Christian literature, was also widespread in in Philo’s works and in the Qumran scrolls, see Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 64-66; 48-56, 67-91. One may thus view this change in emphasis as an inner-Jewish phenomenon.
  • [10] This is not the appropriate place to dig deeper into the distinction between “ritual” and “moral” impurity. Whereas the sources of ritual impurity are mostly confined to natural phenomena, including childbirth, the carcasses of animals, menstrual and seminal emissions, skin disease, or a human corpse, moral impurity results from immoral acts such as sexual sins (Lev. 18:24-30), idolatry (Lev. 19:31; 20:1-3), and bloodshed (Num. 35:33-34). See Klawans, Impurity and Sin, 21-31.
  • [11] See for instance Dan. 6:11; 2 En. 51:4; m. Ber. 4:1 (and see also 4:3.7).
  • [12] See for example Peter J. Tomson, “The wars against Rome, the rise of Rabbinic Judaism and of Apostolic Gentile Christianity, and the Judaeo-Christians; elements for a synthesis,” in The Image of the Judaeo-Christians in Ancient Jewish and Christian Literature (ed. P. J. Tomson and D. Lambers-Petry; Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 158; Tübingen: Mohr, 2003), 1-31 (9-10 and n. 40); Marcello Del Verme, Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work (New York-London: T&T Clark, 2004), 185; Jonathan A. Draper, “Christian Self-Definition against the ‘Hypocrites’ in Didache VIII,” in The Didache in Modern Research (ed. J. A. Draper; Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 37; Leiden: Brill, 1996), 223-243.
  • [13] Peter J. Tomson, “The Lord’s Prayer (Didache 8) at the Faultline of Judaism and Christianity,” in The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity (ed. J. A. Draper and C. N. Jefford; Early Christianity and Its Literature 14; Atlanta: SBL, 2015), 165-187 (183-185).
  • [14] See for example Enrico Mazza, The Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer (trans. R. E. Lane; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1995), 13-18; Niederwimmer, The Didache, 156-160; Alan J. P. Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (Journal for the Study of the New Testament—Supplement Series 254, London: T&T Clark, 2004), 17-19; Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 309-329; etc.
  • [15] See also Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (New York: Newman, 2003), 416-421; Jonathan A. Draper, “Ritual Process and Ritual Symbol in Didache 7-10,” Vigiliae Christianae 54 (2000): 121-158; Matthias Klinghardt, Gemeinschaftsmahl und Mahlgemeinschaft: Soziologie und Liturgie frühchristlicher Mahlfeiern (Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter 13, Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 1996), 407-427.
  • [16] Jonathan Schwiebert, Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom: The Didache’s Meal Ritual and its Place in Early Christianity (Library of New Testament Studies 373, London: T&T Clark, 2008), 119; Mazza, Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer, 156-159; Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 316-318.
  • [17] Huub van de Sandt, “The Gathering of the Church in the Kingdom: The Self-Understanding of the Didache Community in the Eucharistic Prayers,” in Society of Biblical Literature—Seminar Papers 42 (Atlanta: SBL, 2003), 69-88.
  • [18] See Van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 340-341.
  • [19] The community is required to “break bread, and give thanks,” expressions that correspond with “broken bread” and “giving thanks” in Did. 9-10. The descriptions in Did. 14:1 seem to refer to one and the same eucharistic ritual. The text associates this meal with the idea of sacrifice (thysia); see Schwiebert, Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom, 167.
  • [20] Rordorf and Tuilier, La Doctrine, 64-65.
  • [21] William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (3rd ed.; International Critical Commentary; vols. 1-3, London-New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 1:127-138 and see the list of scholars there adopting a similar position (128).
  • [22] For references, see John S. Kloppenborg, “The Use of the Synoptics or Q in Did. 1:3b-2:1,” in Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (ed. H. van de Sandt; Assen: Van Gorcum-Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 105-129 (105, n. 2).
  • [23] R. Hugh Connolly, “Canon Streeter on the Didache,” Journal of Theological Studies 38 (1937): 364-379 (367-370); Frederick E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache. Fact or Fiction, Heresy or Catholicism? (The Church Historical Society 32; London: SPCK, 1938), 51-61.
  • [24] Minus Did. 8:2b; 11:3b; 15:3-4 and 16:7 according to Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence.
  • [25] Édouard Massaux, Influence de l’Évangile de saint Matthieu sur la littérature chrétienne avant saint Irénée (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 75; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 1950; repr. Leuven, 1986), 604-646 (618); Donald A. Hagner, The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome (Novum Testamentum Supplements 34; Leiden: Brill, 1973), 280; Kurt Wengst, Didache (Apostellehre): Barnabasbrief. Zweiter Klemensbrief. Schrift an Diognet (Schriften des Urchristentums 2; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1984), 28; Helmut Köster, Synoptische Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern (Texte und Untersuchungen 65, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957), at first leaves the question open (198-200), but after having dealt with other similar instances in the Didache, he is inclined to believe that the document is not dependent on (one of) the Synoptic Gospels (240). For a more elaborate version of this section, see my ‘“Do not Give What is Holy to the Dogs” (Did. 9:5d and Matt. 7:6a): the Eucharistic Food of the Didache in its Jewish Purity Setting’, Vigiliae Christianae 56 (2002): 223-46.
  • [26] See Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, Qumran Cave 4 5: Miqsat Maʻaśe ha-Torah (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 10; Oxford: Clarendon 1994), 52-53. A similar ban applied to chickens as well; see also Elisha Qimron, “The Chicken and the Dog and the Temple Scroll,” Tarbiz 64 (1994) 473-476 (Hebrew) (for an English translation of Qimron’s article, click here). Joshua Tilton kindly provided me with this publication.
  • [27] It has been noted that the acquaintance with the above halakha was not restricted to the Qumran community only since it is probably echoed in Rev 22:15 where it says: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood” (compare 21:8). The author of Revelation apparently was familiar with the established halakha of 4QMMT and explains the rule in a spiritual way (See Marc Philonenko, “’Dehors les chiens.’ Apocalypse 22.16 et 4QMMT B 58-62,” New Testament Studies 43 [1997] 445-450). He applies it to the heavenly Jerusalem and considers the “dogs outside” to represent the apostates and false teachers. The text suggests the disciplinary measure of excluding false teachers and those who commit the most grievous sins (the sorcerers, fornicators, murderers and idolaters) from the city.
  • [28] Such as in m. Temurah 6:5; t. Temurah 4:11; y. Maʻaśer Šeni 2:5, 53c; b. Temurah 17a; 31a; 33a-b; b. Bekorot 15a (2x); b. Šebuʻot 11b. For the specific quotations of these instances, see the notes in my ‘“Do not Give What is Holy to the Dogs,”’ 229-231.
  • [29] Pisqa 118; see H. S. Horovitz (ed.), Siphre d’be Rab I: Siphre ad Numeros adjecto Siphre zutta (Corpus Tannaiticum 3/1; Leipzig 1917; corr. repr Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1966), 138.
  • [30] The Qumran Essenes seem to have anticipated the propensity to extend the sacred meals beyond the altar and the temple in Jerusalem and, like the Qumran group, many other Jews of the Second Temple period observed ritual purity when participating in secular meals; see Huub van de Sandt, “Why does the Didache Conceive of the Eucharist as a Holy Meal?” Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011): 1-20.
  • [31] The wording “as a gentile and tax-collector” in Matt. 18:17b, referring to the punishment of expulsion, stands out from the Matthean gospel as a whole with respect to its pejorative tone. The gist of the expression applies neither to the life of Jesus nor to the Gospel of Matthew. It is improbable that the historical Jesus, who extended the possibility of conversion to the toll-collectors and sinners, would have used this phraseology in such a context. With regard to Matthew, the expression appears to contradict the favourable attitude toward pagans and tax-collectors displayed throughout Matthew’s gospel. It is therefore unlikely that we are dealing here with words pronounced by Jesus or created by Matthew.
  • [32] For references, see Niederwimmer, The Didache, 204, n. 10. For a more detailed treatment of this subject, see my “Two Windows on a Developing Jewish-Christian Reproof Practice: Matt. 18:15-17 and Did. 15:3,” in Van de Sandt (ed.), Matthew and the Didache, 173-192.
  • [33] See Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment,” in Sectarian Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Courts, Testimony and the Penal Code (ed. L. H. Schiffman; Brown Judaic Studies 33; Chico Calif.: Scholars, 1983), 89-109 (97-98); this article was published in an almost identical version as “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment in the Law of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Jewish Law Association Studies 2: The Jerusalem Conference Volume (ed. B. S. Jackson; The Jewish Law Association. Papers and Proceedings; Atlanta Ga: Scholars, 1986), 59-74; Moshe Weinfeld, The Organizational Pattern and the Penal Code of the Qumran Sect: A Comparison with Guilds and Religious Associations of the Hellenistic-Roman Period (Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 74-76; Bernard S. Jackson, “Testes singulares in Early Jewish Law and the New Testament,” in Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History (ed. B. S. Jackson; Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 10; Leiden: Brill, 1975), 172-201 (175-76) and n. 6.
  • [34] See Van de Sandt, “Two Windows,” 185-186.
  • [35] Florentino García Martínez, “La Reprensión fraterna en Qumrán y Mt 18,15-17,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 2 (1989): 23-40; trans. “Brotherly Rebuke in Qumran and Mt 18:15-17,” in The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Writings, Beliefs and Practices (ed. F. García Martínez and J. Trebolle Barrera; Leiden: Brill, 1995), 221-232; Schiffman, “Reproof as a Requisite for Punishment,” 94-96.
  • [36] See Weinfeld, The Organizational Pattern, 38-41, 75; Jacob Licht, The Rule Scroll: A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judaea: 1QS – 1QSa – 1QSb (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1965), 137 (Hebr.); Michael Knibb, The Qumran Community (Cambridge Commentaries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200 BC to AD 200; Cambridge: University Press, 1987), 115.
  • [37] “There is nothing to indicate that he can be received back again;” see Goran Forkman, The Limits of the Religious Community: Expulsion from the Religious Community within the Qumran Sect, within Rabbinic Judaism, and within Primitive Christianity (Coniectanea neotestamentica or Coniectanea biblica: New Testament Series 5; Lund: Gleerup, 1972), 129. See also Ingrid Goldhahn-Müller, Die Grenze der Gemeinde: Studien zum Problem der Zweiten Busse im Neuen Testament unter Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung im 2. Jh. bis Tertullian (Göttinger Theologischer Arbeiten 39; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 181; Alois Schenk-Ziegler, Correctio fraterna im Neuen Testament: Die “brüderliche Zurechtweisung” in biblischen, frühjüdischen und hellenistischen Schriften (Forschung zur Bibel 84; Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1997), 298.
    On the other hand, Matthew may have incorporated this unit precisely at this very position in his gospel for a special purpose. In Matt. 18, the forensic process passage is set within a literary context of humility (1-5), responsibility (6-9), individual loving care (12-14), forgiveness, and mercy (21-35). Matthew surrounds the traditional segment on fraternal reproof with material promoting a spirit of generosity and unbounded compassionate love. In the light of the wider context of Matt. 18, the regulation in Matt. 18:15-17 displays an essential correspondence with the reproof passage in Did. 15:3. The act of reproach here might have the same purpose as the one in Did. 15:3, that is, to gain a brother by having him listen to the evidence of his culpability and admit his sin.
  • [38] See Jean-Paul Audet, La Didachè: Instructions des apôtres (Études bibliques; Paris: Gabalda, 1958), 180 and Schenk-Ziegler, Correctio fraterna, 126-58 (130-32). A more distant parallel is found in T. Gad 6:3: “Therefore, love one another from the heart, and if a man sins against you, speak to him in peace (en eirēnē)….”
  • [39] Like for example Did. 7:1.3 (par. Matt. 28:19); Did. 11:2.4 (par. Matt. 10:40); Did. 11:7 (par. Matt. 12:31); Did. 13:1-2 (par. Matt. 10:10); Did. 14:2 (par. Matt. 5:23-24); Did. 16:1-2 (par. Matt. 24:42.44; 25:13); and Did. 16:3-8 (par. Matt. 24-25). See also above, pp. 12-13.
  • [40] See Philip Schaff, The Oldest Church Manual, Called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886), 18 (on top); James Muilenburg, The Literary Relations of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, (Marburg, n.p., 1929), 73; Frederick E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache: Fact or Fiction, Heresy or Catholicism? (The Church Historical Society 32; London: SPCK; New York: Macmillan 1938), 19; etc.
  • [41] Georg Braumann, “Zum Traditionsgeschichtlichen Problem der Seligpreisungen MT V 3-12,” Novum Testamentum 4 (1960): 253-260 (259-260); Wiard Popkes, “Die Gerechtigkeitstradition im Matthäus-Evangelium,” in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche (1989), 1-23 (17).
  • [42] See Martin Hengel, “Zur matthäischen Bergpredigt und ihrem jüdischen Hintergrund,” Theologische Rundschau 52 (1987): 355-356; see also 379-380. For the ideological and literary affinity of the first three Beatitudes with the Dead Sea Scrolls, see David Flusser, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity. Collected articles (ed. D. Flusser; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 102-114; repr. from Israel Exploration Journal 10 (1960): 1-13; idem, “Some Notes to the Beatitudes,” in Judaism, 115-125; repr. from Immanuel 8 (1978), 37-47.
  • [43] See Shmuel Safrai, “Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 16 (1965), 15-33 (32-33); idem, “Hasidim we-Anshei Maase,” Zion 50 (1984-85), 133-154 (144-154); idem, “Jesus and the Hasidim,” Jerusalem Perspective (1994) 3-22; idem, “Jesus and the Hasidic Movement,” in The Jews in the Hellenistic Roman World. Studies in Memory of Menahem Stern (ed. I. M. Gafni, A. Oppenheimer and D. R. Schwartz; Jerusalem: Graphit, 1996), 413-436 (415) (Hebr.).
  • [44] The second half of the Decalogue is even more likely to stand in the background of Matt. 5:21-48 since the last unit (5:43-48) stresses the love of one’s neighbor which, as we have seen, is often used in early Judaism to express in crystalized form the second table of the Decalogue (see Matt. 19:18-19; Rom. 13:8-10; Jas 2:8-11). Rather interestingly, the items “murder” and “adultery” (in this order) also head the rather long catalogue of prohibitions in GTW 2:1-7 and again the list of vices that serves as an explication of the Way of Death in Greek Two Ways 5. Altogether, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the first two items in the arrangement of the lists, which are modeled after the second tablet of the Decalogue, are more strung together by tradition than the remainder, which rather seems a haphazard and free adaptation in the various lists.
  • [45] b. Menah. 44a, top; b. Ned. 39b; y. Pe’ah 1,15d; Siphre Deut. 79 to Deut. 12:28 in Louis Finkelstein (ed.), Siphre ad Deuteronomium (Corpus Tannaiticum 3/2; Berlin: Jüdischer Kulturbund, 1939; repr. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1969), 145; Siphre Deut. 82 to Deut. 13:1 (ibid., 148), Siphre Deut. 96 to Deut. 13:19 (ibid., 157).
  • [46] See the treatise Yir’at Het (“fear of transgression,” and a separate denotation of chapters I-IV and IX of the Derekh Erets Zuta tract) II, 16-17 or Derekh Erets Zuta II, 16-17 according to Marcus van Loopik, ed., The Ways of the Sages and the Way of the World (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 26: Tübingen: Mohr, 1991), 229-231 (with commentary) = Massekhet Derekh Erets I, 26 according to Michael Higger, ed., The Treatises Derek Erez: Masseket Derek Erez; Pirke Ben Azzai; Tosefta Derek Erez (2 vols.; New York 1935; repr., Jerusalem: Makor, 1970), 1:78-79 (Hebr.) and 2:38 (English Translation).
  • [47] See Ulrich Luz, “Die Erfüllung des Gesetzes bei Matthäus (Mt 5,17-20),” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 75 (1978): 398-435; repr., in trans. “The Fulfilment of the Law in Matthew (Matt. 5:17-20),” in Studies in Matthew (ed. U. Luz; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 185-218 (197); Robert Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding (2nd ed.; Waco TX: Word, 1983), 135. 156; Luz, Matthäus, 1:230; Albert Descamps, “Essai d’interprétation de Mt 5,17-48: Formgeschichte ou Redactionsgeschichte?,” Studia Evangelica 1 (1959): 156-173 (163); Jacques Dupont, Les Béatitudes 3: Les évangélistes (Études Bibliques; Paris: Gabalda, 1973), 251, n. 2; J. P. Meier, Law and History in Matthew’s Gospel: A Redactional Study of Mt. 5:17-48 (Analecta biblica 71; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1976), 116-119; Davies and Allison, Matthew 1:501.
  • [48] See also Matt. 23, where Matthew levels the usual charge of hypocrisy (vv. 4-7) against the “scribes and Pharisees” and attacks the Jewish community leadership (of his own post A.D. 70 situation?) in seven woe oracles, in which Jesus condemns the “scribes and Pharisees” seven times; see David C. Sim, The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community (Studies of the New Testament and Its World; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 130-131. See also Petri Luomanen, Entering the Kingdom of Heaven: A Study on the Structure of Matthew’s View of Salvation (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/101; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 85. 120.
  • [49] See also Matthias Konradt, “Rezeption und Interpretation des Dekalogs im Matthäusevangelium” in The Gospel of Matthew at the Crossroads of Early Christianity (ed. D. Senior; Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 243; Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 131-158 (135-154).
  • [50] Most commonly, the specific antithetical formulations of the first, second, and fourth antitheses (Matt. 5:21-22. 27-28. 33-34a) are considered pre-Matthean while the antithetical pattern in the remainder of the series is assumed to be a secondary arrangement on the basis of the earlier three. This means that those antitheses, showing a radicalisation of the commandments rather than a direct opposite character, are generally considered to have been received by Matthew in antithetical form. In short, the first, second and fourth antitheses are traditional (pre-Matthean) while the other three (with Lukan parallels) are assigned to Matthew’s redaction; see Rudolph Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (8th ed.; Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 29; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1970), 143-144; Ulrich Luz, Matthäus: Mt 1-7 (Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 1/1; Zürich: Benziger-Verlag, 1985), 246 (though he is inclined to believe that the fourth antithesis is redactional too); Maarten J. J.Menken, Matthew’s Bible: The Old Testament Text of the Evangelist (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 173; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 2004), 265-266; Jan Lambrecht, The Sermon on the Mount. Proclamation and Exhortation (Good News Studies 14; Wilmington Del: Glazier, 1985), 94-95; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:504-505 and many others.
  • [51] See Van de Sandt and Flusser, Didache, 176-179, 216-234.
  • [52] See above, p. 26 (“keep aloof from everything hideous and from what even seems hideous”) and compare also the following statement:

    Keep aloof from everything hideous and from whatever seems hideous lest others suspect you of transgression

    in Yir’at Het I, 13 according to Van Loopik, The Ways, 194-197 (with commentary) = Massekhet Derek Erets I, 12 according to Higger, The Treatises Derek Erez, 1:63 (Hebr.) and 2:35 (English translation).

  • [53] Graham N. Stanton, A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992), 303-304; Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 360-363, 379-381; Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49) (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 518; etc.
  • [54] Jewish tradition attributes a negative form of this saying to Hillel who presents the Rule as the summation of the Law. According to b. Shab 31a, Hillel summarized the essence of the whole Law by rendering the negative form of the Golden Rule (“Whatever is hateful to you, do it not unto your fellow”) and adding: “the rest is a mere specification.” The reduction of the laws to basic principles very much resembles our passage in Did. 1:2-3. In 1:2, the essential core of the Way of life is found in the double love commandment combined with the negative form of the Golden Rule. These three precepts which have special prominence and serve as the basic elements of the Way of Life are then followed by the clause: “The explanation of these words is as follows.”
  • [55] See Georg Strecker, Die Bergpredigt: Ein exegetischer Kommentar (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), 161; Luz, Matthäus 1:395-396; Clayton N. Jefford, The Sayings of Jesus in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 11; Leiden: Brill, 1989), 25-26 and the Appendix A (146-159). See also Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:696-698.
  • [56] Adelbert Denaux, “Der Spruch von den zwei Wegen im Rahmen des Epilogs der Bergpredigt (Mt 7,13-14 par. Lk 13,23-24): Tradition und Redaktion,” in Logia. Les Paroles de Jésus—The Sayings of Jesus (ed. J. Delobel; Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 59; Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 1982, 305-335 (322-323); Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:696-698.
  • [57] John the Baptist had previously employed this image of judgment in Matt. 3:10 against the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Matthew everyone, whether disciples, Pharisees and Sadducees, are judged by one law.
  • [58] See Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:721-722; Luz, Matthäus, 1:537-538; Joachim Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 1/2; Freiburg: Herder, 1988), 1:282; W. Wiefel, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament 1; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1998), 156; Floyd V. Filson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (2nd ed.; Black’s New Testament commentaries; London: Black, 1971), 108
  • [59] In his treatment of the minor sins, Jesus’ argument in Matthew seems rather more rigorous than the line of reasoning in the Two Ways or in the early stratum of Derekh Erets. Although the loss of temper, a lustful look, or the taking of an oath do not replace the acts of murder, infidelity and perjury, they are valued in the Sermon on the Mount as sins in their own right, incurring the same penalty as murder or adultery. The view that anger equals murder and that lust equals adultery, is toned down in the Greek Two Ways 3:1-6 (and in, say, Yir’at Het II, 16-17 as well). The passage in the Greek Two Ways 3:1-3 appears largely to represent preventive measures to protect someone from transgressing weighty commandments.
  • [60] In addition to the double love commandment and the single commandment to love one’s neighbour (or its variant version in the Golden Rule) also the second table of the Decalogue was commonly seen as summarizing the essentials of the Law as may be derived from instances in Pseudo-Phocylides, Sentences 3-7 and Rom. 13:8-10.
  • [61] See, e.g., Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:38; Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (The Bible and Liberation Series; Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 2000), 387; Luz, Matthäus, 3:120. For a more elaborate version of this section, see my “Eternal Life as Reward for Choosing the Right Way: The Story of the Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-30),” in Life Beyond Death in Matthew’s Gospel: Religious Metaphor or Bodily Reality? (ed. W. Weren, H. van de Sandt, J. Verheyden; Biblical Tools and Studies 13; Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 107-127.
  • [62] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:43.
  • [63] See Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile selon Saint Matthieu (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 2/1; 4th ed.; Genève: Labor et Fides, 2002), 288: “ce mot est peut-être une allusion aux catéchumènes de l’Église matthéenne.”
  • [64] See also Menken, Matthew’s Bible, 211-212.
  • [65] See Deut. 30:15-20; Lev. 18:5; Prov. 6:23; Mal. 2:4-5; Bar. 3:9; Ps. Sol. 14:2; Rom. 7:10; 4 Ezra 14:30; m.’Abot 2:7.
  • [66] See for example also Jefford, The Sayings of Jesus, 54-56. 62; Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence, 240-241, 247-248.
  • [67] The second table of the Decalogue has nevertheless been expanded here with specific elements, including pederasty, magic, sorcery, abortion, infanticide and additional injunctions.
  • [68] See Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 135. 156; Luz, Matthäus, 1:230; Meier, Law and History, 116-119; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:501.
  • [69] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:46; Warren Carter, Households and Discipleship: A Study of Matthew 19-20 (Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series 103; Sheffield: JSOT, 1994), 117; Luz, Matthäus, 3:46. 123-125; Joachim Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (1988), 2:165.
  • [70] See also Wim J. C. Weren, “The Ideal Community According to Matthew, James, and the Didache,” in Studies in Matthew’s Gospel: Literary Design, Intertextuality, and Social Setting (ed. W. J. C. Weren; Biblical Interpretation Series 130; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 222-247 (232-235); Matthias Konradt, “Die volkommene Erfüllung der Tora und der Konflikt mit den Pharisäern im Matthäusevangelium,” in Das Gesetz in frühen Judentum und im Neuen Testament (ed. D. Sänger, M. Konradt and C. Burchard; Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 57; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 129-152 (152); idem, “The Love Command in Matthew, James, and the Didache,” in Matthew, James and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings (ed. H. van de Sandt and J. K. Zangenberg; Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series 45; Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 271-288 (274-278); William R. G. Loader, Jesus’ Attitude towards the Law: A Study of the Gospels (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/97; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 226-227. 269.
  • [71] As seen above, the diverse precepts in the Sermon in Matt. 5:17-7:12 and the Way of Life in Did. 1:2-4:14 are organized by and subsumed under the love command (Matt. 7:12 and Did. 1:2).
  • [72] See also C. Coulot, “La Structuration de la péricope de l’homme riche et ses différentes lectures (Mc 10,17-31; Mt 19,16-30; Lc 18,18-30),” Recherches de Science Religieuse 56 (1982): 240-252 (249).
  • [73] For more specifics, see my “Eternal Life as Reward,” 121-124.
  • [74] Jacques Dupont, “Le logion des douze thrônes (Mt 19,28; Lc 22,28-30),” Biblica 45 (1964): 355-92 (378); Filson, Gospel According to St. Matthew, 210. Jesus was the judge who authoritatively interprets Torah. In the Antitheses of Matt. 5:21-48 Jesus seems to use the controlling clause “but I say to you” to expound the demands of Torah and in Matt. 11:27 the power to disclose “these things” to infants is delivered to the Son so as to reveal the Father to whom he chooses.
  • [75] See also Huub van de Sandt, “James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways Tradition 3,1-6,” Biblica 88 (2007): 38-63; Darian R. Lockett, “Structure or Communicative Strategy: The ‘Two Ways’ Motif in James’ Theological Instruction,” Neotestamentica 42 (2008): 269-287. See also Matthew Larsen, and Michael Svigel, “The First Century Two Ways Catechesis and Hebrews 6:1-6,” in Draper and Jefford, The Didache, 477-496.

Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

For Kathy Ann Jewett Tilton (Mama).


An obtuse man cannot know, nor can a fool understand this: when wicked people sprout like grass and all the workers of iniquity blossom, it is in order to destroy them forever. (Psalm 92:6-7)

For people of conscience, it is deeply distressing to see abusive and reckless persons placed in positions of power and influence and to witness liars, cheats, crooks, and charlatans reveling in their success and enjoying the spoils of their dishonest behavior. For those of us who believe in a God of justice, however, the prosperity of the wicked poses a serious challenge to our worldview. How can evil flourish if the universe is governed by a completely good and all-powerful deity?

Ossuary of the high priest Joseph Caiaphas photographed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem by Joshua N. Tilton.
Ossuary of the high priest Joseph Caiaphas. Photographed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem by Joshua N. Tilton.

For Judaism of the Second Temple period this problem was particularly acute. The return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple implied that the punishment for their sins in the days of the Israelite monarchy had been paid in full (cf. Isa. 40:2). Nevertheless, the Jewish people continued to be subject to Gentile kingdoms whose rulers were guilty of idolatry, bloodshed, sexual transgressions, and every sort of wickedness. The Jewish people lived in a world that daily challenged the view that riches, power, happiness, and success are proof of God’s blessing and approval. All too often it was those who colluded with Israel’s oppressors who were awarded riches and honor, whether it be King Herod and his sons or the high priestly families who were infamous for their abuses (cf. t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a). Meanwhile, it was the pious who experienced humiliation and the faithful who suffered for their steadfast loyalty to their God and his Torah. The resolution to this contradiction offered by the Psalmist quoted above—that the temporary good fortune of evildoers ultimately leads to their destruction—was developed in ancient Judaism and is also reflected in the New Testament.

Using Up Their Reward

The Psalmist does not explain how the prosperity of the wicked ultimately leads to their destruction. One explanation put forward by the Sages of Israel was that God permits the wicked to thrive with impunity, and even rewards the wicked for every deed that might redound to their credit during their lifetime, so that at the final judgment the wicked will have no grounds for complaint when they are punished. The reward for every good deed they had performed would already have been paid in full during their lifetime, while the entire debt of sin would remain outstanding at the final judgment. According to the Sages, the reverse was true for the righteous. No good deed the righteous performed would be rewarded during their lifetime, but even the smallest infraction would be punished in this world so that at the final judgment there would be nothing to hand out but recompense for their faithfulness. Thus we read in an early rabbinic commentary on Deuteronomy:

Just as he [i.e., God—JNT] pays the wholly righteous the wage for a commandment that he performed in this world only in the world to come, so he pays the wholly wicked the wage for whatever minor commandment he may have performed in this world only in this world. And just as he punishes the wholly wicked for a transgression that he committed in this world only in the world to come, so he punishes the wholly righteous for whatever minor transgression he may have committed in this world only in this world. (Sifre Deut. §307 [ed. Finkelstein, 345])

Similarly, the Sages warned:

When a person sees that what is in his hand succeeds, let him not say, “Because I have merited it the Omnipresent one has given me food and drink in this world, while the principal is stored up for me in the world to come!” Rather, let him say, “Woe is me, lest before him there has not been found for me anything more than only one meritorious deed, so he has given me food and drink in this world in order that he may destroy me in the world to come!” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 9 [ed. Schechter, 42])

Rewarding the Wicked in the Teachings of Jesus

In the Gospels we encounter a comparable notion to the rabbinic idea that the wicked use up all their reward in this world so that all that remains in store for them is punishment in the world to come. Three times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers to those who ostentatiously perform good works in order to be praised by the members of their community. In each instance, with respect to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, Jesus comments, “Amen! I say to you, they have received their wage” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). Because these individuals acted out of a desire for self-aggrandizement rather than for the sake of Heaven, Jesus declared that they received both what they sought and what they deserved: the empty praise of mortal flesh, but no notice from their Father in Heaven.

A more sinister articulation of the principle that rewards in this world can detract from rewards in the world to come is found in the woes that accompany Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Plain:

Woe to you who are wealthy, for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who stuff yourselves now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe when all the people speak well of you, for that is how their fathers spoke of the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)

The woes that Jesus pronounced imply that enjoying a reward in the present time will detract from one’s enjoyment of the coming redemption. This attitude toward present comfort and luxury, so similar to that which is expressed in the quotation from Avot de-Rabbi Natan cited above, is also found in even starker terms in the Epistle of James:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. (James 5:1-6; RSV)

Tales of Hanina ben Dosa

First-century fresco from Herculaneum depicting a three-legged table. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
First-century fresco from Herculaneum depicting a three-legged table. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Many tales are told in rabbinic sources about Hanina ben Dosa, a Galilean hasid who lived at the end of the Second Temple period and who was known for his vibrant piety as well as his extreme poverty. One story preserved in the Babylonian Talmud illustrates the understanding that enjoying rewards for good deeds in the present time subtracts from the reward that will be received in the world to come. The hasidic tale recounts how Hanina ben Dosa’s wife became fed up with their hardships and privations and demanded that her husband pray for God to give them something to relieve their poverty. Hanina ben Dosa’s prayer was immediately answered as the figure of a hand was revealed to them holding out to them a golden table leg. That night in a dream, however, Hanina ben Dosa saw a vision of the word to come in which everyone sat at golden tables with three legs—nearly all tables were of the three-legged variety in first-century Israel—but Hanina and his wife were sitting at a golden table with only two legs, in other words, at a table that was perfectly useless because it could not stand. When he awoke, Hanina ben Dosa prayed that the golden table leg they had received would be taken back so that his present enjoyment of riches would not mar his happiness in the world to come, and this prayer too was answered (b. Taan. 25a).


Carob tree (Botanical Garden, Mount Scopus). Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.
Carob tree (Botanical Garden, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem). Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

The stories and musings we have considered above were meant to alleviate, if not resolve, the contradiction between the conviction that God is powerful and just and the empirical fact that the wicked often prosper. The solution we have examined proposes that the temporary good fortune of the wicked paradoxically underscores God’s justice, for by giving them ample reward in the present time for the few good deeds that may have accrued to their credit, there can be no grounds of complaint when all that is reserved for them is punishment in the world to come. By enjoying success, comfort, and acclamation in the present the wicked are using up their empty reward. On the other hand, pious individuals like Jesus and Hanina ben Dosa suffer hardships and privations in the present time, but their lack of worldly success is no sign of divine disapproval. On the contrary, the Son of Man who had no place to rest his head was also the Son in whom God was well pleased (cf. Luke 9:58; 3:22). And of Hanina ben Dosa it was said that a heavenly voice daily proclaimed from Mount Horeb: “The whole world is sustained for the sake of Hanina, my son, but for Hanina, my son, a kav of carobs is enough from one Sabbath eve to the next” (b. Ber. 17b; cf. b. Taan. 24b).


My wife and I recently had the privilege of visiting the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where we saw displayed, within a few feet of each other, the likely sarcophagus of Herod the Great and the ossuary of Joseph Caiaphas the high priest. According to the Gospels, each of these men attempted to take Jesus’ life, the former failing to achieve his design when Jesus was an infant, the latter succeeding with the help of his friend, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Each of these men enjoyed lavish lifestyles, exercised power, and boasted of success in their lifetimes. They received their reward in full. But now their bones have crumbled into dust and their success, their wealth, and their power are meaningless. My wife in particular found this testimony to God’s righteous judgment to be a comfort when she saw them.

Likely sarcophagus of Herod the Great discovered by archaeologist Ehud Netzer at the Herodium. Photographed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem by Joshua N. Tilton.
Likely sarcophagus of Herod the Great discovered by archaeologist Ehud Netzer at the Herodium. Photographed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem by Joshua N. Tilton.

Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town

Matt. 10:11-15; 11:1; Mark 6:10-13; Luke 9:4-6; 10:5-12

(Huck 58, 63, 109, 139; Aland 99, 105, 142, 177; Crook 105-109, 121, 162, 200-201)[1]

Revised: 21-November-2017

וּלְאֵי זֶה בַּיִת שֶׁתִכָּנְסוּ אִמְרוּ תְּחִילָה שָׁלוֹם לַבַּיִת הַזֶּה וְאִם יֵשׁ שָׁם בֶּן שָׁלוֹם יָנוּחַ עָלָיו שְׁלוֹמְכֶם וְאִם לָאו עֲלֵיכֶם יָשׁוּב וּבְאוֹתוֹ הַבַּיִת שְׁבוּ אוֹכְלִים וְשׁוֹתִים לָהֶם כִּי כְּדַי הַפּוֹעֵל לִשְׂכָרוֹ אַל תֵּצְאוּ מִבַּיִת לְבַיִת וּלְאֵי זוֹ עִיר שֶׁתִכָּנְסוּ וִיקַבְּלוּ אֶתְכֶם רַפְּאוּ אֶת הַחוֹלִים בָּהּ וְאִמְרוּ לָהֶם הִגִּיעָה עֲלֵיכֶם מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם וּלְאֵי זוֹ עִיר שֶׁתִכָּנְסוּ וְלֹא יְקַבְּלוּ אֶתְכֶם צְאוּ מִן הָעִיר הַהִיא וְאֶת הָאָבָק מֵעַל רַגְלֵיכֶם נַעֲרוּ לְעֵדָה בָּהֶם אָמֵן אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם נוֹחַ יִהְיֶה לִסְדוֹם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא מֵהָעִיר הַהִיא

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘May this family have peace!’ If a person who is committed to peace is there, the peace you offer will remain with him. But if no such person resides there, the peace you offered will not remain. Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they have to share, for the worker deserves his pay. Don’t hop around from family to family.

“If you enter a town where they receive you, heal the sick who are there and say, ‘God’s redeeming reign is here!’ But if you enter a town where they won’t receive you, leave the town and shake the dust off your feet as a sign that makes them face up to their inhospitable treatment toward strangers. Yes! It will go easier for Sodom on the day of reckoning than for a town that fails to show you hospitality.[2]










To view the reconstructed text of Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town click on the link below:

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Story Placement

Having instructed his emissaries about how they were to conduct themselves on the road, Jesus continued the Sending discourse with instructions about how the apostles were to act when they arrived in a town or village. We believe the Conduct in Town pericope is but one section of a larger literary complex that described the selection of the apostles, their commissioning, their sending out, their successful return, and Jesus’ response to the apostles’ good report. To see an overview of the entire “Mission of the Twelve” complex, click here.



Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua.


Conjectured Stages of Transmission

Conduct in TownThe Synoptic Gospels preserve four versions of the Conduct in Town pericope (Matt. 10:11-15; 11:1; Mark 6:10-13; Luke 9:4-6; 10:5-12).[3] The version in Luke 10:5-12 appears to be based on the Anthology (Anth.), although the author of Luke made some editorial changes to his source. Luke 9:4-6 appears to reflect the First Reconstruction’s (FR’s) abbreviated version of the Anthology’s Conduct in Town pericope. Mark 6:10-13 represents the author of Mark’s reworked version of Luke 9:4-6. The author of Matthew based his version of the Conduct in Town pericope mainly on Mark 6:10-13, but the minor agreements with the version in Luke 9:4-6 and the similarities to Luke 10:5-12—most notably the instructions about greetings (Matt. 10:12; Luke 10:5) and the comparison of the fate of any town that does not accept the apostles to the judgment of Sodom (Matt. 10:15; Luke 10:12)—demonstrate that the author of Matthew also relied on the Anthology.

Crucial Issues

  1. What is the meaning of “son of peace” in Luke 10:6?
  2. What is the significance of the instruction to eat and drink with the people in whose home the apostles were invited to stay (Luke 10:7)?
  3. How are we to interpret the command to “shake the dust from your feet” when a town or village declined to accept Jesus’ apostles?


L79 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς (Mark 6:10). In the Conduct on the Road pericope, where Matthew and Luke give Jesus’ instructions in direct speech, the author of Mark begins in the third person in Mark 6:8, but slips into direct speech at the end of Mark 6:9.[4] As if to acknowledge the transition, the author of Mark added “And he was saying to them” at the opening of Mark 6:10. The use of ἔλεγεν/ἔλεγον is characteristic of Mark’s editorial style, occurring with a much higher frequency in Mark than in either Luke or Matthew.[5] The construction is also un-Hebraic,[6] and we have accordingly omitted L79 from GR and HR.

L80 εἰς ἣν δ᾿ ἂν (GR). Opposite Mark’s ὅπου ἐὰν, Luke 9:4 and Matt. 10:11 have εἰς ἣν + ἄν, a minor agreement that establishes εἰς ἣν + ἄν as the reading of Anth.[7] The opening phrases of Luke 9:4 and Luke 10:5 are identical apart from the conjunction. Since Matt. 10:11 agrees with Luke 10:5 to use δέ (de, “and,” “but”), we have adopted εἰς ἣν δ᾿ ἂν for GR. This is a fascinating example of how, because of his use of Anth., Matthew’s version of the Conduct in Town pericope often is closer to both of Luke’s versions than to Mark’s. In NT the phrase εἰς ἣν δ᾿ ἂν occurs exclusively in the Conduct in Town pericope (Matt. 10:11; Luke 10:5, 10). The phrase καὶ εἰς ἣν ἂν is likewise confined to this pericope (Luke 9:4; 10:8).

וּלְאֵי זֶה (HR). Since neither εἰς ἣν δ᾿ ἄν nor καὶ εἰς ἣν ἄν occurs in LXX we have searched for models in MH upon which to base our reconstruction. Segal notes that “The interrogative pronoun אֵיזֶה,‎ אֵיזוֹ is used as a demonstrative to specify one out of a number of objects.”[8] The examples Segal cites of this usage include some of the following:

וַחֲכָמִ′ אוֹמְ′ [מברך] עַל אֵי זֶה מֵהֶן שֶׁיִּרְצֶה

The sages say, “He recites a blessing over whichever of them he wants.” (m. Ber. 6:4)

רְ′ יְהוּדָה או′ לְאֵי זֶה רוּחַ שֶׁיִּרְצֶה יֵלֵךְ

Rabbi Yehudah says, “In whatever direction he wants, he may walk.” (m. Eruv. 4:5)

ר′ שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹ′ מְיַיבֵּם לְאֵי זוֹ שֶׁיִּרְצֶה [[א]]וֹ חוֹלֵץ לְאֵי זוֹ שֶׁיִּרְצֶה

Rabbi Shimon says, “He contracts levirite marriage with whichever [sister-in-law] he wishes or performs the rite of halitzah with whichever [sister-in-law] he wishes.” (m. Yev. 2:2; cf. m. Yev. 3:9; 10:9)

אָמַ′ לַלִּיבְלָר כְּתוֹב אֵי זוֹ שֶׁאֶרְצֶה אֲגָרֵשׁ פָּסוּל מִלְּגָרֵשׁ בּוֹ

[If a man] said to a clerk, “Write [a bill of divorce such that it may be used for] whichever [wife] I want to divorce,” it is not valid to use for divorcing her. (m. Git. 3:1)

ר′ יוֹסֵה אוֹ′ שְׁתֵי נָשִׁים שֶׁלָּקְחוּ קִינֵּיהֶן בְּעֵירוּב אוֹ שֶׁנָּתְנוּ דְמֵי קִינֵיהֶן לַכֹּהֵן לְאֵיזוֹ שֶׁיִּרְצֶה כֹהֵן יַקְרִיב חַטָּאת וּ[[לְ]]אֵיזוֹ שֶׁיְּרְצֶה יַקְרִיב עוֹלָה

Rabbi Yose says, “If two women bought their pairs of doves jointly or if they gave the price of their pairs of doves to the priest, the priest can offer whichever [pair of doves] he wishes for a sin offering and whichever [pair of doves] he wishes for a whole burnt offering.” (m. Kin. 1:4)

As Segal notes, “In the older texts…the…components are still kept separate,”[9] which can be observed in most of the examples of אֵי זֶה from MS Kaufmann cited above. Since the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua would be among the very oldest examples of a MH text, we have written אֵי זֶה as two separate words in HR.

L81 πόλιν ἢ κώμην εἰσέλθητε (Matt. 10:11). Instead of recording two sets of instructions for how the apostles were to conduct themselves—one set pertaining to their behavior in a home and the second set pertaining to their behavior in a town—as in the Lukan and Markan versions of the Conduct in Town pericope, Matthew presents a single set of instructions about how the apostles were to behave when they enter a “city or village.” In doing so, the author of Matthew echoes his earlier description of Jesus going through the towns and villages on a teaching and healing mission (Matt. 9:35).[10] We attribute this departure from the Lukan and Markan versions of the Conduct in Town pericope to the author of Matthew’s editorial activity.

L82-83 The command to carefully investigate who in the town is worthy of the apostles’ fellowship is unique to Matthew. Not only does this command harp on the Matthean theme of worthiness, which is so prominent in Matthew’s version of the Sending discourse,[11] it is at odds with Jesus’ practice of eating with tax collectors and sinners (cf., e.g., Matt. 9:10; 11:19; Luke 19:1-9) and with the underlying assumption of the instructions in Matt. 10:13 and Luke 10:6 that the apostles had not previously vetted their host. The command to search out a worthy person is therefore likely to be redactional.[12] Although the practice of seeking out a like-minded stranger upon arrival in a city has parallels in Jewish sources,[13] it appears that Matt. 10:11 is an adaptation introduced by the author of Matthew to reflect circumstances at the time he composed his Gospel.[14] We have already observed that the author of Matthew may have modified the instructions for the Twelve in order to safeguard his community from potential abuses of itinerant teachers.[15] Perhaps the command to search out a worthy host reflects the conditions of itinerant teachers in Matthew’s day who, upon arriving in a new city, would seek out a church, which would then serve as the base of their operations.[16]

L84 κἀκεῖ μείνατε ἕως ἂν ἐξέλθητε (Matt. 10:11). Matthew’s streamlining of the instructions about the apostles’ behavior (see above, Comment to L81) caused him to move the command to stay in one house to an earlier point than its placement in the Lukan and Markan versions of the Conduct in Town pericope (L93-94), with the awkward result that the apostles are told to “stay there” before actually mentioning a house. Having found a worthy person, we would have expected Jesus to say, “Stay with him”; the command to “stay there” is retained from Matthew’s sources.

L85 בַּיִת שֶׁתִכָּנְסוּ (HR). For our decision to reconstruct εἰσέρχεσθαι (eiserchesthai, “to enter”) with נִכְנַס (nichnas, “enter”), see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L5. The expected Hebraic word order weighs in favor of οἰκίαν εἰσέλθητε (oikian eiselthēte, “house you may enter”; Luke 9:4) for GR. This may be a case where FR, as preserved in Luke 9, is closer to the Anthology’s original wording than the version of the Conduct in Town pericope in Luke 10, which we believe is based directly on Anth. It appears that the author of Luke edited the version of the Conduct in Town pericope he copied from Anth. more thoroughly than he edited the version he copied from FR.

L86-92 Luke’s FR version of the Conduct in Town pericope (Luke 9:4-6) omits the instructions about greetings, as does Mark. Although he used the Gospel of Mark as his main source, the author of Matthew restored the greeting instructions on the basis of Anth. In this way agreement was achieved between the versions of the Conduct in Town pericope in Matt. 10 and Luke 10.

L86 אִמְרוּ תְּחִילָה (HR). Numerous examples of imperative forms of אָמַר (’āmar, “say”) occur in the Mishnah.[17] For our decision to reconstruct πρῶτος (prōtos, “first”) with תְּחִילָה (teḥilāh, “first”), and the verb + תְּחִילָה construction, see Tower Builder and King Going to War Similes, Comment to L3.

L87 ἀσπάσασθε αὐτήν (Matt. 10:12). In place of “say, ‘Peace to this house,’” (Luke 10:5), Matthew has “greet it.” Matthew’s version is almost certainly an attempt to clarify the Hebrew idiom he found in Anth.[18] By changing “say, ‘Peace…’” to “greet,” the author of Matthew has obscured the connection between the greeting and the explanation about the peace remaining with the host or returning to the apostles.[19] Matthew’s revision also betrays a misunderstanding of his source, since the author of Matthew wrote “greet it [i.e., the house],” whereas the words of the greeting in Luke 10:5 mean “peace to this family.”[20] Matthew’s version of the Conduct on the Road pericope omits the command not to greet anyone on the road (καὶ μηδένα κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἀσπάσησθε; Luke 10:4), but perhaps the author of Matthew decided to retain the verb ἀσπάζεσθαι (aspazesthai, “to greet”) as a replacement for the words of the greeting here in the Conduct in Town pericope.[21]

שָׁלוֹם לַבַּיִת הַזֶּה (HR). The use of שָׁלוֹם (shālōm, “peace”) as a salutation is attested in MT and rabbinic literature.[22] In MT wishes for peace are usually formulated as שָׁלוֹם combined with the preposition -לְ (“peace to…”),[23] and less often as שָׁלוֹם עַל (“peace upon…”).[24] In rabbinic sources, on the other hand, wishes for peace are usually expressed with the phrase שָׁלוֹם עַל.‎[25] For HR we have opted for שָׁלוֹם לַבַּיִת הַזֶּה (“Peace to this house”) because the dative in Greek points to the preposition -לְ. On reconstructing οἶκος (oikos, “house”) as בַּיִת (bayit, “house”), see “Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple,” Comment to L33.

Parallels to the greeting “Peace to this house” include the following:

וַאֲמַרְתֶּם כֹֹּה לֶחָי וְאַתָּה שָׁלוֹם וּבֵיתְךָ שָׁלוֹם וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

“…and say, ‘All hail! To you peace, and to your house peace, and to all you have peace.’” (1 Sam. 25:6)

The verse in 1 Samuel describes David’s instructions about greeting Nabal. This is the only verse in the Hebrew Bible where a greeting of peace is given to a house. “Peace to this house” (εἰρήνη τῷ οἴκῳ τούτῳ) in Luke 10:5 cannot be explained as an attempt to imitate LXX style since this verse is not rendered literally in LXX:

καὶ ἐρεῖτε τάδε Εἰς ὥρας· καὶ σὺ ὑγιαίνων, καὶ ὁ οἶκός σου καὶ πάντα τὰ σὰ ὑγιαίνοντα

“…and you shall say this: ‘To good times; may you be in good health and your house, and all that you have be in good health!’” (1 Kgdms. 25:6; NETS)

The Hebraic idiom in Luke 10:5 is best explained as reflecting a Hebraic source.[26]

Another parallel to the greeting Jesus instructed the apostles to deliver is found in a seventh-century B.C.E. papyrus containing the following sentence:

‏[ש]לח שלוח את שלום ביתך

I hereby send greetings to your house. (papMur 17a, 1)[27]

The blessing of a house with peace is also attested in a comment on Num. 6:26 made by a sage from the end of the Second Temple period:

ר′ חנניה סגן הכהנים אומר וישם לך שלום בביתך

Rabbi Hananiah the prefect of the priests says, “And grant you peace [Num. 6:26] in your house.” (Sifre Num., Naso chpt. 42)

Yet another example of the importance of peace in the home is found in a saying of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, also from the end of the Second Temple period:

רבי שמעון בן גמליאל אומר כל המשים שלום בתוך ביתו מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו משים שלום בישראל על כל אחד ואחד וכל המטיל קנאה ותחרות בתוך ביתו כאלו מטיל קנאה ותחרות בישראל לפי שכל אחד ואחד מלך בתוך ביתו שנאמר להיות כל איש שורר בביתו

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, “Everyone who establishes peace in his house, Scripture attributes it to him as though he established peace among everyone in Israel. But everyone who establishes zeal [or ‘jealousy’—DNB and JNT] and strife in his house, it is as if he established zeal [or ‘jealousy’—DNB and JNT] and strife in Israel, for everyone is a king in his house, as it says, Let every man be ruler in his house [Esth. 1:22].” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 28:3 [ed. Schechter, 85])

Shimon ben Gamliel’s saying is not an illustration of a greeting, but it may afford us a deeper understanding of the cultural context in which peace in the home was considered to be of such great importance. How we understand Shimon ben Gamliel’s comment depends on the meaning of קִנְאָה (qin’āh, “zeal,” “jealousy”) in his saying. Did he refer to general feelings of jealousy and a quarrelsome temperament, or did he intend a more specific meaning? The latter possibility should be considered, given Shimon ben Gamliel’s political career as an opponent of zeal ideology. According to Josephus, Shimon ben Gamliel opposed the Zealots in Jerusalem during the revolt against Rome (J.W. 4:158-161). Perhaps Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s above-quoted saying is best understood, therefore, as polemic against zeal ideology. Strife in the home over whether to support the aims of zealous revolutionaries or whether to attempt to live in peace under imperial rule may provide an important clue for understanding the prominent place given to peace in Jesus’ instructions to his apostles (see below, Comment to L88).

L88 καὶ ἐὰν μὲν ᾖ ἡ οἰκία ἀξία (Matt. 10:13). The parallel with Luke 10:6 shows that the author of Matthew copied καὶ ἐὰν…ᾖ (kai ean…ē, “And if…may be”) from Anth., but he changed the wording of his source, which referred to a “son of peace” (as in Luke), to “And if indeed the house is worthy….”[28] This adaptation is the combined result of the author of Matthew’s emphasis on worthiness (see above, Comment to L87) and his misapprehension that it was literally the house, rather than the family, that the apostles addressed. We have accordingly adopted Luke’s Hebraic-looking “son of peace” in GR and HR.

וְאִם יֵשׁ שָׁם בֶּן שָׁלוֹם (HR). In MH conditional sentences do not require an imperfect verb (e.g., יִהְיֶה) when the condition is unfulfilled but capable of fulfillment in the present or future.[29] Despite the presence of a subjunctive form of the verb “to be” in Matt. 10:13 and Luke 10:6, and therefore the strong likelihood that this was the reading of Anth., the subjunctive verb was probably supplied by the Greek translator of the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. In the Mishnah, אִם + imperfect of הָיָה occurs only 3xx (m. Shab. 9:3; m. Avot 2:8 [2xx]), and one of these (m. Shab. 9:3) is a Scripture quotation. By contrast, the combination אִם יֵשׁ occurs over 170xx in the Mishnah.

Although there are some parallels to the figurative use of υἱός in non-Jewish Greek sources,[30] these occur primarily as honorary titles conferred by a polis or some other official entity.[31] Since Luke’s υἱὸς εἰρήνης (hūios eirēnēs, “son of peace”) does not appear to be normal Greek, some scholars have described it as a “Septuagintism,”[32] in other words an attempt by the author of Luke (or his source) to imitate LXX style. However, the phrase “son of peace” never occurs in LXX nor does it appear anywhere else in ancient Jewish sources.[33] What might be the meaning of “son of peace” in Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve?

One possibility that can be ruled out is that “son of peace” refers to someone who was already a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were required to leave their homes and families and abandon their professions and property in order to itinerate with Jesus.[34] Therefore, someone who was already a disciple would not be home to show the apostles hospitality.[35] Moreover, the underlying assumption of Jesus’ instructions is that the apostles were to seek hospitality from strangers.[36] People who were already Jesus’ followers, on the other hand, would likely be known to the apostles.[37]

Perhaps the most fruitful approach is to examine the term “son of peace” in relation to Jesus’ other sayings about peace. In the Matthean form of the Beatitudes Jesus links peacemaking with sonship (Matt. 5:9), although he does not use the term “son of peace.”[38] Menahem Kister has drawn attention to the striking correspondence between the peacemaking beatitude and Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies:

Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:44-48
μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν…ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους…. ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God. Love your enemies…so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The parallelism between “sons of God” and “sons of your heavenly Father” is self-evident, and the similarity between the concepts of peacemaking and loving one’s enemies might be granted, but the organic connection between these two passages becomes unmistakable when viewed from a Hebraic perspective, for it is likely that the Hebrew word behind τέλειος (teleios, “perfect,” “complete”) was שָׁלֵם (shālēm, “whole,” “complete”).[39] In other words, Jesus’ instructions about loving one’s enemies may play on different senses of the Hebrew root שׁ-ל-מ. Playing on the different senses of שׁ-ל-מ is known from other ancient Jewish sources. Compare, for example, the following rabbinic homily on Deut. 27:6:

הרי הוא או′ אבנים שלמות תבנה את מזבח יי אלהיך אבנים שמטילות שלום והלא דברים קל וחומר ומה אם אבנים שאינן לא רואות ולא שומעות ולא מדברות על שמטילות שלום בין ישראל לאביהם שבשמים אמ′ המקום יהיו שלימות לפני בני תורה שהן שלום בעולם על אחת כמה וכמה שיהיו שלימים לפני המקום

Behold, it says, [From] whole stones [אבנים שלמות; avānim shelēmōt] you shall build the altar of the LORD your God [Deut. 27:6], that is, stones that establish peace [שלום; shālōm]. And is it not a matter of kal vahomer? If the Omnipresent One said of the stones of the altar—which neither see nor hear nor speak—“Let them be perfect [שלימות; shelēmōt] before me,” simply because they establish peace between Israel and their Father in heaven, how much more in the case of the Sons of Torah[40] who are peace in the world that they should be perfect [שלימים; shelēmim] before the Omnipresent One? (t. Bab. Kam. 7:7; Vienna MS; cf. Semaḥot 8:16)

The ancient Israelite temple in Arad had an altar built with unhewn stones, shown here (cube-saped object in lower right). Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.
The ancient Israelite temple in Arad had an altar built with unhewn stones, shown here (cube-shaped platform in lower right). Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

In the above translation we have rendered שָׁלֵם as “perfect” in order to emphasize the similarity of this midrash to Jesus’ saying in Matt. 5:48, but the homily itself plays with two meanings of שָׁלֵם, namely, “whole” and “at peace” or “friendly.” The point of the rabbinic homily is that the Sons of Torah (i.e., disciples of the sages) are to make peace between Israel and their Father in heaven. The point of Jesus’ homily in Matt. 5:44-48 is slightly different: Jesus’ disciples are to emulate God’s friendliness by being peaceable in the world, loving their enemies, showing mercy, and offering forgiveness (cf. Luke 6:35). Nevertheless, the similarities are quite impressive; both Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies and the rabbinic homily on whole stones emphasize the fatherhood of God and draw the conclusion that disciples are to be שָׁלֵם/τέλειος. One wonders whether some form of the rabbinic homily was already in circulation in the time of Jesus and whether Jesus exploited the similarity of the Hebrew words for “son” (בֵּן; bēn) and “stone” (אֶבֶן; ’even) to coin the term “son of peace” (בֶּן שָׁלוֹם; ben shālōm).[41]

That the homily on whole stones did circulate at the end of the Second Temple period, and was modified in order to suit the views and opinions of the sage who refashioned it, is suggested by an alternate version of the homily reported in the name of Yohanan ben Zakkai:

רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אומר הרי הוא אומר אבנים שלמות תבנה אבנים שמטילות שלום והרי דברים קל וחומר ומה אם אבני המזבח שאינן לא רואות ולא שומעות ולא מדברות על שהן מטילות שלום בין ישראל לאביהם שבשמים אמר הקב″ה לא תניף עליהם ברזל המטיל שלום בין איש לאיש בין איש לאשתו בין עיר לעיר בין אומה לאומה בין משפחה למשפחה בין ממשלה לממשלה על אחת כמה וכמה שלא תבואהו פורענות

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai says, “Behold, it says, [From] whole stones [אבנים שלמות; avānim shelēmōt] you shall build [the altar] [Deut. 27:6]. That is, stones that establish peace [שלום; shālōm]. And it is a matter of kal vahomer: if the Holy One, blessed be he, said, Raise no iron against them [Deut. 27:5] of the stones of the altar—which neither see nor hear nor speak—simply because they establish peace between Israel and their Father in heaven, how much more in the case of a human being who establishes peace between one person and another, or a man and his wife, between one city and another, or one people and another, between two families, or between two governments, that for such a man no retribution should come to him?” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaḤodesh chpt. 11 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:352-353]; cf. Sifra, Kedoshim chpt. 10 [ed. Weiss, 92d])

In this version of the homily, Yohanan ben Zakkai is critical of those who “raise iron” (i.e., wield weapons) against people who advocate peace. Peacemakers, he argues, should be treated with the same dignity as the whole stones of the altar. It seems likely that Yohanan ben Zakkai’s version of the homily was directed against the Sicarii and other adherents of zeal ideology who, according to Josephus, persecuted those who opposed war with Rome (cf., e.g., J.W. 2:254-257; 7:254-255).[42] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s homily could be paraphrased as, “If God forbids violence toward a whole stone (אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה) of the altar, how much more so toward a son of peace (בֶּן שָׁלוֹם)?”

This coin, struck in 71 C.E., depicts the inevitable result of revolt against Rome. The emperor Vespasian stands with his foot on his helmet victorious over Judea, represented by a woman in mourning seated beneath a palm tree. The Latin inscription reads IVDAEA CAPTA ("Judea Captive"). Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group.
This coin, struck in 71 C.E., depicts the inevitable result of revolt against Rome. Emperor Vespasian stands with his foot on his helmet, victorious over Judea who is represented by a woman in mourning seated beneath a palm tree. The Latin inscription reads IVDAEA CAPTA (“Judea Captive”). Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group.

Perhaps Jesus’ use of “son of peace” in Luke 10:6 is an expression of his anti-militant worldview.[43] The mission of the apostles was to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s redeeming reign over Israel, which would result in the restoration of the twelve tribes and the vindication of Israel in the presence of all its enemies.[44] The healing of “every disease and sickness” (Matt. 10:1; cf. Luke 9:1) was a sign that the curse of exile was being lifted,[45] and the driving out of demons spelled the doom of idolatrous empires that kept Israel under their thumb.[46] An important aspect of Jesus’ message, however, was that redemption would not come about through violent insurgency, as the militant Jewish nationalists believed. According to Jesus, acts of mercy and compassion, forgiveness, and loving one’s enemies would be the catalyst for redemption.[47]

Jesus evidently regarded armed resistance against the Roman Empire to be a hopeless endeavor. War against Rome would only lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.[48] A kingdom of flesh and blood could not throw off the yoke of the empire. Only by following Jesus’ way of peace could catastrophe be averted and the redemption of Israel through the Kingdom of Heaven take place. That is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem:

Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace [τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην]! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:42-44; RSV)[49]

Upon his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem Jesus knew that the things that made for peace—his own teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven—had not been accepted by the majority of his fellow countrymen. But earlier, at the sending of the Twelve, there was still time and hope that his message would be embraced. It seems that a central purpose of the apostles’ mission was to garner support for Jesus’ way of peace as an alternative to the destructive—and ultimately doomed—path of the militant Jewish nationalists.[50]

If Jesus’ anti-militant message is the proper context for interpreting the term “son of peace” in Luke 10:6, then the greeting in Luke 10:5 takes on a deeper significance: “Peace to this house” was more than an ordinary salutation, it was rather the preamble to the apostles’ entire message. The peace the apostles spoke of when they entered a house would remain with the family so long as a son of peace—someone receptive to Jesus’ message of peace—was there. If there was not a son of peace—no one who accepted Jesus’ message—then it was all too likely that zeal and strife would be established in that home (cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 28:3 [ed. Schechter, 85]; cited above in Comment to L87).

L89 ἐπαναπαήσεται ἐπ᾿ αὐτὸν ἡ εἰρήνη ὑμῶν (GR). According to Luke, the apostles’ blessing of peace will rest upon a son of peace. Only a son of peace would be willing to accept the full implications of the apostles’ greeting, namely, that peacemaking and love for one’s enemies are the only means by which Israel’s redemption will be achieved.

Matthew’s version continues to make reference to the house. Matthew’s version, stated as an imperative, also makes the determination of whether the apostles’ blessing will remain depend not upon the disposition of the recipient, but on the apostles’ scrutiny of the worthiness of the home. These editorial changes reflect the author of Matthew’s interests and concerns.[51]

The verb ἐπαναπαύεσθαι (epanapavesthai, “to rest”) occurs 11xx in LXX,[52] where it translates the verb נָח (nāḥ, “rest”) 4xx.[53] In each of those four instances the subject of the verb is always the Holy Spirit.

L90 וְאִם לָאו (HR). Luke’s more succinct formula (εἰ δὲ μή γε) is probably closer to the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text than Matthew’s more detailed version (Matt. 10:13; L90-91). In Hebrew, the opposite of a condition that has already been articulated can simply be expressed with וְאִם לָאו (“And if not…”), without restating a complete conditional sentence.[54] On the reconstruction of εἰ δὲ μή γε with וְאִם לָאו see Tower Builder and King Going to War Similes, Comment to L16.

L92 ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς ἀνακάμψει (GR). Luke’s version, in which the outcome depends on the disposition of the members of the household, is to be preferred. By making the sentence a command, the author of Matthew transferred to the apostles the responsibility of recalling the peace.

עֲלֵיכֶם יָשׁוּב (HR). The verb ἀνακάμπτειν (anakamptein, “to return”) occurs 18xx in LXX,[55] where, with but a single exception, it always translates שָׁב (shāv, “return”) if there is an underlying Hebrew text in MT.[56] In MH הֵשִׁיב שָׁלוֹם (hēshiv shālōm) means “return a greeting.” For example:

וּבַפְּרָקִים שׁוֹאֵל מִפְּנֵי הַכָּבוֹד וּמֵשִׁיב וּבָאֶמְצָע שׁוֹאֵל מִפְּנֵי הַיִּרְאָה וּמֵשִׁיב דִּבְרֵי רְ′ מֵאִיר ר′ יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵ′ בָּאֶמְצַע שׁוֹאֵל מִפְּנֵי הַיִּרְאָה וּמֵשִׁיב מִפְּנֵי הַכָּבוֹד וּבַפְּרָקִים שׁוֹאֵל מִפְּנֵי הַכָּבוֹד וּמֵשִׁיב שָׁלוֹם לְכָל הָאָדָם

Between sections [of the Shema] he may greet [a person] out of respect and return a greeting, but in the middle [of recitation] he may greet [a person only] out of fear [of him] and return his greeting, so says Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehudah says, “In the middle [of recitation] he may greet [a person only] out of fear and return a greeting out of respect, and between sections [of the Shema] he may greet out of respect and return a greeting [וּמֵשִׁיב שָׁלוֹם] to anyone.” (m. Ber. 2:1)[57]

It appears that in his instructions to the apostles Jesus played on the two meanings of שָׁלוֹם: “peace” and “salutation.” Whereas in a context of issuing a greeting one might have expected to read about returning a salutation, Jesus spoke about the blessing of peace returning to the apostles.

Examples of the verb שָׁב combined with the preposition עַל are found in Gen. 29:3; 40:13; Exod. 15:19; Num. 33:7; 2 Sam. 16:8; 1 Kgs. 17:22; Jer. 16:15; Mal. 3:24; Prov. 26:11; Eccl. 12:7.

L93 ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ οἰκίᾳ (Luke 10:7). Scholars have noted the awkwardness of Luke’s phrase. We might have expected Luke to write ἐν ἐκείνῃ δὲ τῇ οἰκίᾳ (“And in that house”), but what are we to make of ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ οἰκίᾳ (“And in it the house”)? Similar constructions, such as ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ (“in that very hour”),[58] ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ (“in that very time”)[59] and ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ (“in that very day”),[60] are found elsewhere in Luke,[61] but always as expressions of time. In LXX analogous constructions are found only in the book of Esther, where ἐν αὐταῖς ταῖς ἡμέραις is the translation of בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם (“in those days”; Esth. 1:2) and ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ is the translation of בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא (“on that day”; Esth. 8:1; 9:11). We have reconstructed Luke’s phrase as וּבְאוֹתוֹ הַבַּיִת (“And in the same house”), which is slightly closer to the Greek text than reconstructing L93 as וּבַבַּיִת הַהוּא (“And in that house”). In MT we do not find examples of the preposition -אֶת + בְּ + suffix, but such examples do occur in the Mishnah, for example: בְּאוֹתָהּ הָעִיר (“in the same city”; m. Eruv. 8:5; m. Ket. 7:8; m. Ned. 5:4, 5); בְּאוֹתָהּ שַׁבָּת (“on the same Sabbath”; m. Eruv. 9:3); בְּאוֹתוֹ הַמִּשְׁמָר (“in the same priestly course”; m. Taan. 4:2); בְּאוֹתָהּ הָאָרֶץ (“in the same land”; m. Ket. 13:10); בְּאוֹתוֹ הַמָּקוֹם (“in the same place”; m. Kid. 3:3); בְּאוֹתָהּ הַשָׂדֶה (“in the same field”; m. Bab. Kam. 6:2); etc. If a Greek translator encountered the phrase וּבְאוֹתוֹ הַבַּיִת in his Hebrew source, ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ οἰκίᾳ is probably the most literal translation he could have achieved. We would then understand Jesus’ instructions to mean, “Stay in that same house where you offered a greeting of peace, etc.”

L94 שְׁבוּ (HR). In LXX μένειν (menein, “to remain”) is usually the translation of עָמַד (‘āmad, “stand”) or קָם (qām, “stand”). There are, however, four instances in LXX where μένειν is the translation of יָשַׁב (yāshav, “sit,” “dwell”).[62] Since in the context of Luke 10:7 neither עָמַד nor קָם are a suitable reconstruction, we have opted for an imperative of יָשַׁב for HR.[63]

L95-96 אוֹכְלִים וְשׁוֹתִים לָהֶם (HR). The pairing of אָכַל (’āchal, “eat”) and שָׁתָה (shātāh, “drink”) is typical in Hebrew.[64] In NT the pairing of ἐσθίειν (esthiein, “to eat”) and πίνειν (pinein, “to drink”) is concentrated in the Synoptic Gospels (17xx) and in 1 Corinthians (7xx).[65]

Luke 10:7 reads, ἔσθοντες καὶ πείνοντες τὰ παρ᾿ αὐτῶν (“eating and drinking what is from them”). In LXX παρά + αὐτός (gen.) is usually the translation of מֵאֵת + suffix (where אֵת is the preposition “with,” not a dir. obj. marker), for instance:

וְזֹאת הַתְּרוּמָה אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ מֵאִתָּם

καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀπαρχή, ἣν λήμψεσθε παρ᾿ αὐτῶν

And this is the offering that you will receive from them…. (Exod. 25:3)

קַח מֵאִתָּם וְהָיוּ לַעֲבֹד אֶת עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד

Λαβὲ παρ᾿ αὐτῶν, καὶ ἔσονται πρὸς τὰ ἔργα τὰ λειτουργικὰ τῆς σκηνῆς τοῦ μαρτυρίου

Receive from them and they will be for the worship of the divine service in the Tent of Meeting. (Num. 7:5)

אֹכֶל תִּשְׁבְּרוּ מֵאִתָּם בַּכֶּסֶף וַאֲכַלְתֶּם וְגַם מַיִם תִּכְרוּ מֵאִתָּם בַּכֶּסֶף וּשְׁתִיתֶם

βρώματα ἀργυρίου ἀγοράσατε παρ᾿ αὐτῶν καὶ φάγεσθε καὶ ὕδωρ μέτρῳ λήμψεσθε παρ᾿ αὐτῶν ἀργυρίου καὶ πίεσθε

Buy food from them with silver so that you can eat, and likewise trade with them for water with silver so that you can drink. (Deut. 2:6)[66]

Examples of מֵאֵת + suffix are also found in DSS, for example:

ואיש ברבים ילך רכיל לשלח הואה מאתם ולוא ישוב עוד

And a man who goes as a talebearer against the Many: he shall be sent out from them and may never return. (1QS VII, 16-17)

לכה המלחמה ומאתכה הגבורה ולוא לנו

The battle is yours, the power is from you and is not ours. (1QM XI, 4-5)

ומאתך דרך כול חי

And from you is the path of every living thing. (1QHa VII, 25)

We have decided against reconstructing with מֵאֵת + suffix, however, since, apart from biblical quotations, this construction does not occur in Tannaitic sources, which we believe are closest to the Hebrew spoken by Jesus. Therefore, we have reconstructed τά παρ᾿ αὐτῶν as לָהֶם, in which case we would understand Jesus’ instructions to mean, “eating and drinking what is theirs.” Compare the following examples from rabbinic literature:

מוּרְחֲק אֲנִי מִמָּךְ שֶׁאֵנִי אוֹכֵל לָךְ

May I be distanced from you if I eat what is yours! (m. Ned. 1:1)

הָאוֹמֵר קוֹרְבַּן עוֹלָה וּמִנְחָה חַטָּאת תּוֹדָה וּשְׁלָמִים שֶׁאֵנִי אוֹכַל לָךְ אָסוּר

The one who says, “[Let it be] a whole burnt offering…” or “…a grain offering…” or “…a sin offering…” or “…a thank offering…” or “…a peace offering if I eat what is yours!”—[the vow] is binding. (m. Ned. 1:4)

וְאֵילּוּ מוּתָּרִין חוּלִּין שֶׁאוֹכַל לָךְ

And these [vows] are not binding: “[Let it be like] hulin if I eat what is yours!” (m. Ned. 2:1)

קָורְבָּן לֹא אוֹכַל לָךְ וְקָורְבָּן שֶׁאוֹכַל לָךְ לֹא קָורְבָּן לֹא אוֹכַל לָךְ מוּתָּר שְׁבוּעָה לֹא אוֹכַל לָךְ שְׁבוּעָה {שבועה} שֶׁאוֹכַל לָךְ לֹא שְׁבוּעָה לֹא אוֹכַל לָךְ אָסוּר

[If one says:] “An offering if I do not eat what is yours!” or “An offering if I eat what is yours!” or “Not an offering if I do not eat what is yours!” [the vow] is not binding. [If one says:] “By an oath I will not eat what is yours!” or “By an oath I will eat what is yours!” or “Not by an oath I will not eat what is yours!”—[the vow] is binding. (m. Ned. 2:2)

וכן היה בן זומא אומר אורח טוב מה הוא אומר זכור בעל הבית לטוב כמה מיני יינות הביא לפנינו כמה מיני חתיכות הביא לפנינו כמה מיני גלוסקאות הביא לפנינו כל שעשה לא עשה אלא בשבילי אבל אורח רע מה הוא אומר וכי מה אכלתי לו פת אחת אכלתי לו חתיכה אחת אכלתי לו כוס אחד שתיתי לו כל מה שעשה לא עשה אלא בשביל אשתו ובניו

And thus Ben Zoma used to say: “A good guest, what does he say? ‘May the master of the house be remembered for good! How many kinds of wine has he set before us! How many kinds of meats has he set before us! How many kinds of cakes has he set before us! All that he did was for my sole benefit!’ But a bad guest, what does he say? ‘And indeed what have I eaten of his [מה אכלתי לו]? I ate one piece of his [bread], and one slice of his [meat], and I drank one cup of his [wine]. All that he did was only for his wife and his children.’” (t. Ber. 6[7]:5; Zuckermandel)[67]

Ben Zoma’s comment not only supplies a linguistic parallel, it also provides a context in which to understand Jesus’ instructions. The apostles were to eat and drink what their hosts provided with gratitude and humility. They were to be good guests in accordance with the accepted standards of etiquette surrounding ancient hospitality.[68] The apostles were forbidden to make special requests or to demand something other than what had been served.

Being good guests was essential because itinerant sages and their disciples relied heavily on the hospitality of others. This reliance on hospitality is attested in sayings such as “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages” (m. Avot 1:4) and the comments on this saying in Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 6:1 (ed. Schechter, 27); Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 11 (ed. Schechter, 27-28). We also find evidence of the itinerant lifestyle of some of the sages and their consequent reliance on hospitality in the application of the phrase עֲנִיִּים מְרוּדִים (aniyim merūdim, “homeless poor”; Isa. 58:7) to the sages and their disciples in Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 14 (ed. Schechter, 34).[69]

Jesus’ instructions about receiving hospitality must also be understood in relation to the practices of the Essenes as described in the Dead Sea Scrolls. From statements in their writings it is clear that the Essenes regarded the wealth of outsiders as morally and spiritually tainted:

לוא יוכל מהונם כול ולוא ישתה ולוא יקח מידם כול מאומה אשר לוא במחיר כאשר כתוב חדלו לכם מן האדם אשר נשמה באפו כיא במה נחשב הואה כיא כול אשר לוא נחשבו בבריתו להבדיל אותם ואת כול אשר להם. ולוא ישען איש הקודש על כול מעשי הבל כיא הבל כול אשר לוא ידעו את בריתו וכול מנאצי דברו ישמיד מתבל וכול מעשיהם לנדה לפניו וטמא בכול הונם

[A member of the Community] may not eat from any of their possessions or drink or receive anything from their hand except by payment, as it is written: Keep yourselves away from the man whose breath is in his nostrils, for of what account is he? [Isa. 2:22]. For all those who are not accounted in his covenant will be separated, they and all that is theirs. And the man of holiness must not depend on any of the works of futility, for all those who do not know his covenant are futile and all who reject his word will be wiped from the earth and all their works are like menstrual impurity before him and impure in all their wealth. (1QS V, 16-20)[70]

Because they viewed the wealth of outsiders as impure, the Essenes maintained a strict economic separation from non-sectarians:

אל יתערב הונם עם הון אנשי הרמיה אשר לוא הזכו דרכם להבדל מעול וללכת בתמים דרך

Do not mix their [i.e., the sectarians’—DNB and JNT][71] wealth with the wealth of the men of deceit who have not purified their way to become separate from iniquity and to walk in perfection of way. (1QS IX, 8-9)[72]

Jesus, who freely associated with sinners, eating and drinking with tax collectors (Matt. 9:10-11; Luke 7:34; 15:2) in order to call them to repentance (Luke 5:32; cf. Matt. 9:13 // Mark 2:17), rejected the Essene practice of economic separation.[73] Unlike the Essenes, who separated themselves from the majority (4QMMTd 14-21 I, 7), Jesus expected his apostles to have fellowship with “outsiders” in order to gather into God’s Kingdom as many as possible.[74] Far from refusing to accept food or drink from “outsiders” without returning its price (1QS V, 17), Jesus regarded the food and drink his apostles received as their rightful wage (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; see below, Comment to L97).

An internal community of goods was the corollary to the Essenes’ external economic separation. Upon entering the sectarian covenant, new members placed their property at the disposal of the community (1QS VI, 19; Jos., J.W. 2:122). Josephus noted that when the Essenes traveled from place to place they had no need to carry equipment for their journey:

On the arrival of any of the sect from elsewhere, all the resources of the community are put at their disposal, just as if they were their own; and they enter the houses of men whom they have never seen before as though they were their most intimate friends. (J.W. 2:124; Loeb)

Jesus’ prohibition against the apostles taking equipment for the road (Luke 9:3; 10:4) bears an outward resemblance to Josephus’ description of the Essenes, but the ideological underpinnings of the Essene practice and Jesus’ instructions are diametrically opposed. Whereas the Essenes maintained a closed community of goods which supported their radical separation from outsiders, Jesus’ demand that the apostles go unequipped forced them to have fellowship with “outsiders.” This contrived contact created an opportunity for mutuality and reciprocity: the hosts shared their homes and their meals with the apostles, and in exchange the apostles shared with the hosts Jesus’ message of peace.

L97 ἄξιος γὰρ ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ (GR). In light of the contrast with Essene practice discussed above (Comment to L95-96), Luke’s placement of “the worker is worthy” saying seems preferable to Matthew’s.[75] Jesus’ insistence that the apostles accept the hospitality of “outsiders” as their rightful wage is to be understood as a conscious rejection of the Essene concept of “the wealth of unrighteousness.”[76] It was the author of Matthew who made “the worker is worthy” saying a conclusion to the list of items the apostles were forbidden (in Matthew’s version) to acquire.[77]

Not only is Luke’s placement of “the worker is worthy” saying to be preferred, but his wording, according to which a worker deserves a wage, is also preferable to Matthew’s version.[78] “Food” does not fit the actual saying, since it is a wage that workers earn. The author of Matthew secondarily worked the application of the saying into the saying itself in order to emphasize that “food” is all that apostles are permitted to acquire in the course of their itinerary.[79] As we have discussed elsewhere (see above, Comment to L82-83), these editorial changes may be a reaction to the abuses of itinerant teachers who posed problems for Matthew’s community.[80]

כִּי כְּדַי הַפּוֹעֵל לִשְׂכָרוֹ (HR). In LXX the adjective ἄξιος (axios, “worthy”) occurs 40xx, but only 11xx in books included in MT, and only 8xx where it translates a word in the underlying Hebrew text. The adjective מָלֵא (mālē’, “full”) is translated with ἄξιος 3xx,[81] the verb שָׁוָה (shāvāh, “be like,” “be comparable”) is translated with ἄξιος 4xx,[82] and the remaining instance is the translation of בֵּן (bēn, “son”; Deut. 25:2). None of these options are suitable for HR. Delitzsch translated ἄξιος as רָאוּי (rā’ūy) in Matt. 10:10 and Luke 10:7; however, רָאוּי usually means “suitable” or “qualified” rather than “deserving.”[83] We have therefore chosen to reconstruct ἄξιος with כְּדַי (kedai, “worthy,” “deserving”), a usage unknown in BH, but well attested in rabbinic sources, for example:

אֵין הָעוֹלָם כּוּלּוֹ כְּדַיי כְּיוֹם שֵׁנִיתְּנָה שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁכֹּל הַכְּתוּבִים קוֹדֶשׁ וְשִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים קוֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים

The entire world is not as worthy as the day when Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is holy of holies. (m. Yad. 3:5)

נבוכדנצר אמ′ אין באי העולם כדי לדור ביניהם

Nebuchadnezzar said, “The inhabitants of the world are not worthy that I should dwell among them.” (t. Sot. 3:19; Vienna MS)

רבי נחמיה אומר…כל המקבל עליו מצוה אחת באמנה כדאי הוא שתשרה עליו רוח הקדש

Rabbi Nehemiah says, “…everyone who accepts one commandment in faith is worthy to have the Holy Spirit dwell upon him.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Beshalah chpt. 7 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:167])

אפילו איני כדיי אתם עיקמו עלי את הדרך

Even though I am not worthy, divert your course toward me. (Gen. Rab. 50:4 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:520])

Alternative options for “worthy” in HR include זָכָה (zāchāh) and כָּשֵׁר (kāshēr).[84]

L98 μὴ ἐξέρχεσθε ἐξ οἰκίας εἰς οἰκίαν (GR). In Luke 10:7 we encounter the negative imperative μὴ μεταβαίνετε (mē metabainete, “Do not depart”). We suspect that the author of Luke introduced μεταβαίνειν as an improvement to his text. In LXX μεταβαίνειν occurs exclusively in books originally composed in Greek.[85] In the parallels to Luke 10:7 we find the verb ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out”; Matt. 10:11; Mark 6:10; Luke 9:4; L99), and it is possible that Luke’s FR version of the Conduct in Town pericope (Luke 9:4) preserves the verb found in Anth.

אַל תֵּצְאוּ מִבַּיִת לְבַיִת (HR). In LXX ἐξέρχεσθαι is the translation of יָצָא (yātzā’, “go out”) over 500xx, far more than any other Hebrew verb.[86] Likewise no other Greek verb was used more often than ἐξέρχεσθαι to translate יָצָא.‎[87] There can be little doubt, therefore, that יָצָא is the best option for HR.

The phrase ἐξ οἰκίας εἰς οἰκίαν (“out of a house into a house”) is found only once in LXX:

ἐπὶ μικρῷ καὶ μεγάλῳ εὐδοκίαν ἔχε καὶ ὀνειδισμὸν παροικίας οὐ μὴ ἀκούσῃς ζωὴ πονηρὰ ἐξ οἰκίας εἰς οἰκίαν καὶ οὗ παροικήσεις οὐκ ἀνοίξεις στόμα

With little or much have contentment, and you will never hear reproach for being a sojourner. It is a miserable life going from house to house, and where you will be a sojourner, you shall not open your mouth. (Sir. 29:23-24; NETS)

Unfortunately, the Hebrew underlying this verse has not been preserved in any ancient manuscript.

In rabbinic literature, although not in earlier Hebrew sources, we find the phrase מִבַּיִת לְבַיִת (mibayit levayit, “from house to house”), which is an exact equivalent of ἐξ οἰκίας εἰς οἰκίαν:

הָאִשָּׁה שֶׁהִיא מְקַשָּׁה לֵילֵד וְהוֹצִיאוּהָ מִבַּיִת לְבַיִת הָרִאשׁוֹן טָמֵא בְסָפֵק וְהַשֵּׁינִי וַודַּיִי

A woman who has difficulty in giving birth so that they took her out from house to house [and gives birth to a stillborn baby], the first [house] is [treated as] impure because of doubt, and the second is certainly [impure]. (m. Ohol. 7:4)[88]

המוציא כזית בשר מבית לבית ומחבורה לחבורה בשעת אכילה הרי זה חייב

The one who takes an olive’s bulk of meat from house to house or from one company to another at the time of eating, behold he is liable…. (t. Pes. 6:11; Vienna MS; cf. t. Mak. 4:1)

In the above examples a more idiomatic translation of “from house to house” would be “from one house to another.”

Jesus forbade the apostles to move from one house to another in the same village. The apostles were neither to “upgrade” their accommodations by moving to the home of another (possibly more wealthy) family, which would be insulting to their original host, nor appear to fleece all the families in the village by staying with each of them. Instead, the apostles were to honor the host family that first offered them hospitality by staying with them until their work in that village reached its completion.

L100 וּלְאֵי זוֹ עִיר שֶׁתִכָּנְסוּ (HR). On the reconstruction of εἰς ἣν ἂν with וּלְאֵי זוֹ, see above, Comment to L80.

In LXX εἰσέρχεσθαι (eiserchesthai, “to enter”) + πόλις (polis, “city”) is usually the translation of בָּא (bā’, “come,” “arrive,” “enter”) + עִיר (‘ir, “city”).[89] In the Mishnah, however, the verb נִכְנַס (nichnas, “enter”) replaced בָּא, including in the phrase “enter a city.”[90]

L101 וִיקַבְּלוּ אֶתְכֶם (HR). In Hebrew it is common to express an idea, which in Greek (or English) would be expressed as a passive, in the third person plural.[91] For example, “and you are received” would be more natural in Greek (and English) than “and they receive you.” The impersonal “they receive you” may reflect a literal translation of a Hebrew source.

In LXX the verb δέχεσθαι (dechesthai, “to receive”)[92] often translates לָקַח (lāqaḥ, “take,” “receive”);[93] however, in books composed in late Biblical Hebrew, δέχεσθαι sometimes translates the verb קִבֵּל (qibēl, “receive,” “accept”).[94] We have used קִבֵּל for HR since this agrees with MH style, which we prefer when reconstructing direct speech.[95]

L102 ἐσθίετε τὰ παρατιθέμενα ὑμῖν (Luke 10:8). In LXX παρατιθέναι (paratithenai, “to set before”) is sometimes the translation of שָׂם לִפְנֵי (sām lifnē, “set before,” “serve”).[96] We have omitted the injunction to “eat what is set before you” from GR and HR, in part because it seems redundant (cf. Luke 10:7; L95-96), and in part because the command more properly belongs to instructions about conduct in private homes than conduct in public places. This command may have been inserted here by the author of Luke.[97]

It is possible that the author of Luke conformed the instruction to “eat what is set before you” to Paul’s teaching about believing Gentiles eating with Gentile non-believers.[98] According to Paul,

If one of the non-believers invites you and you want to go, eat everything that is served to you [πᾶν τὸ παρατιθέμενον ὑμῖν ἐσθίετε] without questioning because of consciousness.[99] (1 Cor. 10:27)

The similarity between 1 Cor. 10:27 and Luke 10:8 is unmistakable. Paul’s statement has nothing to do with the laws of kashrut, which do not pertain to Gentiles, but with the issue of foods tainted by idolatry.[100] In essence, Paul recommended that if the non-believing host did not treat the food like an idol offering, neither should a believing Gentile. Perhaps the author of Luke, who wrote for a Gentile audience, inserted this Pauline language in order to make Jesus’ instructions in the Conduct in Town pericope more directly applicable to situations his readers were likely to encounter.

L103 θεραπεύετε τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ ἀσθενεῖς (GR). The command to heal the sick in Luke 10:9 is paralleled in Matt. 10:8. Matthew’s command to heal is likely an expanded paraphrase of the Anthology’s equivalent to Luke 10:9.[101] Since we omitted the injunction to “eat what is set before you” in L102 from GR and HR, we have also omitted καί (kai, “and”) here in L103.

רַפְּאוּ אֶת הַחוֹלִים בָּהּ (HR). On reconstructing θεραπεύειν (therapevein, “to treat,” “to heal”) with רִפֵּא (ripē’, “heal”), see Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comment to L22-23. In LXX the adjective ἀσθενής (asthenēs, “sick,” “weak”) is relatively rare and there is no standard word in the underlying Hebrew text that it translates.[102] For HR we have chosen חוֹלִים (ḥōlim), which in rabbinic literature can be used as a generic term for sick people (cf., e.g., m. Ber. 5:5; m. Ter. 11:10).

L104 וְאִמְרוּ לָהֶם (HR). On the imperative of אָמַר see above, Comment to L86.

L105 ἤγγικεν ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (GR). Matthew’s parallel to Luke 10:9 has changed the order from “heal…proclaim” to “proclaim…heal” (Matt. 10:7-8). Although we regard Luke’s order as more original,[103] we regard Matthew’s ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (hē basileia tōn ouranōn, “the Kingdom of Heaven”) to be the wording of Anth.[104] Luke consistently changed “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Kingdom of God” for the sake of his non-Jewish Greek readers who might not have grasped the meaning of the Hebrew idiom.[105]

הִגִּיעָה עַלֵיכֶם מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (HR). The most common roots that are translated with ἐγγίζειν (engizein, “to draw near,” “to approach”) in LXX are ק-ר-ב and נ-ג-שׁ, however we have decided to reconstruct ἐγγίζειν in L105 as הִגִּיעַ (higia‘, “arrive”) due to the following considerations:[106]

  1.  While the Gospels usually report Jesus’ message as ἤγγικεν…ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν/τοῦ θεοῦ (“The Kingdom of Heaven/God has come near”; Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11), we also find ἔφθασεν…ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“The Kingdom of God has arrived”) on one occasion (Matt. 12:28 // Luke 11:20).
  2. It seems likely to us that Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of Heaven was consistent and that the verbs ἐγγίζειν and φθάνειν (fthanein, “to arrive”) are simply variant renderings of the same Hebrew verb.
  3. In LXX הִגִּיעַ is translated with φθάνειν 7xx[107] and ἐγγίζειν 3xx.[108]

An example of הִגִּיעַ combined with the preposition עַל is found in the following expression:

עַל קַן צִיפּוֹר יַגִּיעוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ

Your compassion reaches [or, extends as far as] a bird’s nest. (m. Meg. 4:9; cf. m. Ber. 5:3)

An alternative for HR would be to reconstruct ἐγγίζειν with קָרַב (qārav, “approach,” “be near”). Sometimes the meaning of ק-ר-ב can be “to be present.” For instance, Moses encouraged the Israelites, saying:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא…כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ

This command that I command you with today is not too wonderful for you, neither is it far away…for the word is very near [קָרוֹב] to you: it is in your mouth and in your heart to do it. (Deut. 30:11, 14)

In this example קָרוֹב (qārōv, “near”) has the force of “here,” since according to Moses the word is already in the Israelites’ mouths and within their hearts. Whichever reconstruction we adopt, we would understand the apostles’ declaration to mean that the Kingdom of Heaven has become a present reality, which was visible through the miraculous healings they had been granted the authority to perform.[109]

L106 καὶ ὃς ἂν τόπος (Mark 6:11). Matthew 10:14 and Luke 9:5 agree against Mark to omit the word τόπος (topos, “place”). Mark never uses the word πόλις (polis, “city”) anywhere in the Sending discourse, whereas Matthew’s version of the Conduct in Town pericope and both of Luke’s versions discuss the non-acceptance of the apostles in “cities” or, more properly speaking, “towns” (Matt. 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:10). In both of these respects Matthew and Luke more accurately reflect the wording of Anth. than does Mark.[110]

L107 καὶ μὴ δέχωνται ὑμᾶς (GR). Only Matthew omits the verb δέχεσθαι (dechesthai, “to receive”). Both of Luke’s versions have μὴ δέχωνται ὑμᾶς (“they may not receive you”). By changing the verb to the third person singular, the author of Mark eliminated Luke’s Hebraic third person plural as a substitute for the passive form (on which, see above, Comment to L101).

L108 μηδὲ ἀκούσωσιν ὑμῶν (Mark 6:11). Having changed the verb to a third person singular in the previous line, the author of Mark now adds a third person plural verb, ἀκούσωσιν (akousōsin, “they might hear”). Perhaps Mark picked up the idea of “hearing” from Luke’s version of the Apostle and Sender saying: “The one who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16; cf. Matt. 10:40), which occurs in a section of the Sending discourse that Mark omitted.[111] The author of Matthew evidently preferred Mark’s language of “hearing” so much that he eliminated “may not accept you” in L107 and expanded “hear you” into “hear your words.”

L109 ἐκπορευόμενοι ἐκεῖθεν (Mark 6:11). Matthew and Luke agree against Mark to use ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out”; Matt. 10:14; Luke 9:5) instead of Mark’s ἐκπορεύεσθαι (ekporevesthai, “to go out”). Matthew and Luke also agree to omit Mark’s ἐκεῖθεν (ekeithen, “from there”). In addition, there is a Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark to include τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνης (“that city”).

ἐξερχόμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνης (GR). Without Matthew we might have assumed that the version in Luke 10:10-11, in which the disciples go out into the streets and address the inhabitants of the town, is closer to Anth. The Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark in L109, however, demonstrate that in Luke 10:10-11 the author of Luke edited his source, and consequently Luke’s FR version of the Conduct in Town pericope preserves the wording of Anth.

The editorial activity in Luke 10:10-11 creates an address the apostles are to deliver if they are not accepted in a city, an address that parallels the message they are to proclaim in a city where they are accepted. Evidently the author of Luke wanted to convey the notion that the coming of the Kingdom did not depend on whether or not the apostles were accepted (see below, Comment to L114). This Lukan innovation is a development away from the original concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven: on the one hand, as the human acceptance of God’s reign (hence the identification of receiving the Kingdom of Heaven with the recitation of the Shema in rabbinic literature), and on the other hand, as a divine activity in which God rescues his people (hence the appeal to miraculous healings as proof of this divine activity).

We further note that πλατεῖα (plateia, “street,” “square”; Luke 10:10) is rare in LXX, occuring only 3xx (Esth. 6:9, 11; Tob. 13:17).[112]

The author of Matthew, who conflated the instructions about the apostles’ conduct in homes with the instructions about their conduct in town (see above, Comment to L81), added τῆς οἰκίας (“of the house”) in Matt. 10:14. We have therefore omitted τῆς οἰκίας from GR.

צְאוּ מִן הָעִיר הַהִיא (HR). On the reconstruction of ἐξέρχεσθαι with יָצָא, see above, Comment to L98.[113]

L110 ἐκτινάξατε τὸν χοῦν (Mark 6:11). Matthew’s version of the Conduct in Town pericope and both of Luke’s versions are in agreement against Mark to use κονιορτός (koniortos) instead of χοῦς (chous) for “dust.” However, Matthew agrees with Mark to use the verb ἐκτινάσσειν (ektinassein; Matt. 10:14; Mark 6:11) for “shake off,” whereas Luke has ἀποτινάσσειν (apotinassein, “to shake off”; L113) in Luke 9:5 and ἀπομάσσειν (apomassein, “to wipe away”; L113) in Luke 10:11.

Although the difference between ἐκτινάσσειν (Mark-Matt.) and ἀποτινάσσειν (Luke) might initially seem insignificant, the variation in vocabulary becomes important when we discover that, in Acts, the author of Luke used ἐκτινάσσειν—the same verb used in Mark and Matthew in the Conduct in Town pericope—for Paul’s wiping off the dust from his feet (Acts 13:51; cf. Acts 18:6).[114] Adherents to the theory of Markan Priority must suppose that in Luke 9:5 the author of Luke changed Mark’s ἐκτινάσσειν to ἀποτινάσσειν, but they cannot explain why the author of Luke would have rejected Mark’s ἐκτινάσσειν even though this verb was Luke’s preferred vocabulary for situations in which a person wipes the dust from his feet.[115] Lindsey’s solution to the Synoptic Problem, according to which the author of Mark used the Gospel of Luke as his primary source, allows for a plausible explanation: the author of Luke copied ἀποτινάσσειν (despite his personal preference for ἐκτινάσσειν) from his source (FR). The author of Mark, who was familiar with the writings of Luke, including Acts, changed ἀποτινάσσειν in Luke 9:5 to ἐκτινάσσειν because he remembered that this was the verb used in the stories about Paul, and because he liked to create verbal links between the story of Jesus and the stories in Acts.[116]

καὶ τὸν κονιορτὸν (GR). The Lukan-Matthean agreement to use κονιορτός instead of Mark’s χοῦς for “dust” establishes κονιορτός as the reading in Anth. Since we believe ἐκτινάσσειν is Mark’s replacement for Luke’s ἀποτινάσσειν, we have not only adopted Luke’s vocabulary, we have also accepted Luke’s placement of the verb at L113 in GR.

וְאֶת הָאָבָק (HR). A good case can be made for reconstructing κονιορτός either with עָפָר (‘āfār, “dust”) or with אָבָק (’āvāq, “dust”). Both nouns are used to describe dust on one’s feet. We have identified three examples of the phrase “dust of the feet” written with עָפָר:

וַעֲפַר רַגְלַיִךְ יְלַחֵכוּ

καὶ τὸν χοῦν τῶν ποδῶν σου λείξουσιν

And the dust of your feet they will lick. (Isa. 49:23)

וֶהֱוֵוי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם

Dust yourself in the dust of their feet. (m. Avot 1:4)

עשה זאת בני והנצל לך והדבק בעפר רגליו וקבל מלכותו ואדנותו

Do this [Gen. 43:11], my son: throw yourself down, go and cling to the dust of his feet and receive his kingdom and lordship. (Gen. Rab. 93:1)

Since עָפָר is a much more common word than אָבָק,‎[117] one might suppose that עָפָר is the better candidate for HR. However, in combination with רֶגֶל (regel, “foot”), we found אָבָק to be more usual than עָפָר:

וְעָנָן אֲבַק רַגְלָיו

καὶ νεφέλαι κονιορτὸς ποδῶν αὐτοῦ

…and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nah. 1:3)

לֹא יִכָּנֵס לְהַר הַבָּיִת…וּבַאֲבַק שֶׁעַל רגְלוֹ

He may not enter the Temple Mount…with dust on his feet. (m. Ber. 9:5)[118]

לֹא יִטְבּוֹל בַּאֲבַק שֶׁעַל רַגְלָיו

He may not immerse with dust on his feet. (m. Mik. 9:2)

ולינו ורחצו רגליכם אברהם מקרים רחיצה ללינה ולוט מקרים לינה לרחיצה…. ויש אומרים אף זה עשה כשורה כדי שיצאו ויראו אבק רגליהם שלא יאמרו איכן לנו

“..and stay the night and wash your feet” [Gen. 19:2]. Abraham invited them to wash and then spend the night, but Lot invited them to stay the night and only then to wash their feet…. There are those who say, “He [Lot—DNB and JNT] did this intentionally so that when they [the angels—DNB and JNT] would go out and they [the people of Sodom—DNB and JNT] would see the dust on their feet, they would not say, ‘Where did they spend the night?’”[119] (Gen. Rab. 50:4 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:520])

יראו אותן באבק שעל רגליהם ויאמרו לא באו מן הדרך אלא עכשיו

They [the people of Sodom—DNB and JNT] will see them [the angels—DNB and JNT] with dust on their feet and say, “They have not come in from the road until just now.” (Derech Eretz Rabbah 4:2 [56b]; cf. Kalah Rabbati chpt. 7)

לך התרפס באבק רגליהם של שרים וגדולים ממך

Go humble yourself in the dust of the feet of princes and those greater than yourself. (Exod. Rab. 27:9)

What is the significance of shaking dust off the apostles’ feet? The prevailing opinion among scholars has been that shaking off the dust of the feet was a symbolic action intended to imply that the inhabitants of the town were henceforth to be regarded as Gentiles who were no longer a part of the true Israel.[120] This dubious interpretation, which has been advanced since at least the seventeenth century,[121] rests on the fact that, according to rabbinic halachah, soil from Gentile lands is deemed to be ritually defiling.[122] Thus, the instruction to shake the dust from their feet is understood to be an act of purification from the soil of a town that had, by virtue of rejecting Jesus’ message, forfeited its Jewish status.[123] In support of this interpretation many scholars appeal to an alleged ancient Jewish rite of dust shaking that was performed when Jewish travelers entered the Holy Land after visiting Gentile territory. However, there is no mention of any such dust-shaking ceremony in any ancient Jewish source.[124]

Sculpture of a foot from the sanctuary of Asclepius in Corinth. Photo by Todd Bolen, courtesy of
Sculpture of a foot from the sanctuary of Asclepius in Corinth. Photo by Todd Bolen, courtesy of

The earliest appeal to an alleged Jewish rite of dust shaking to support this interpretation that we have been able to find[125] dates from the second half of the nineteenth century in Henry Alford’s The New Testament for English Readers.[126] Already at the dawn of the twentieth century Abbott noted that “…nothing…justifies Alford (without alleging authority) in asserting: ‘It was a custom of the Pharisees, when they entered Judaea from a Gentile land, to do this act.’”[127] Despite Abbott’s objection, however, the myth of an ancient Jewish dust-shaking ceremony gained wide acceptance, probably due to the influence of Strack and Billerbeck’s Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1922-1928).[128] Strack and Billerbeck actually claim less than those who cite them as an authority on the dust-shaking rite usually suppose.[129] Whereas Strack and Billerbeck merely presume that Jews would carefully remove dust from their shoes and clothing upon entering the Holy Land, scholars who cite Strack and Billerbeck typically appeal to the dust-shaking ceremony as an established fact.[130]

Since there is no evidence that an ancient Jewish dust-shaking rite upon entering the Holy Land ever existed, and since excluding fellow Jews from membership in Israel is contrary to Jesus’ own claims that his mission was to seek out the lost and bring them back into the fold, a different interpretation of the command that the apostles shake the dust from their feet is necessary. Fortunately, an alternative explanation is at hand, one that relates to the issue of inhospitality—which is the occasion for the command to shake off the dust—and that helps us understand the comparison between a town that rejects the apostles and the city of Sodom. This explanation presented itself when we read the aggadic retellings of the story of the angels who were entertained by Lot (cited above; Gen. Rab. 50:4; Derech Eretz Rabbah 4:2 [56b]),[131] according to which Lot intentionally avoided washing the angels’ feet so that the people of Sodom would not suspect that anyone had shown hospitality to the angels. Lot hoped that when the people of Sodom saw that the angels’ feet were still covered with dust from the road, the Sodomites would assume that the angels had just arrived and not suspect that they had spent the previous night in Lot’s home.

Abraham entertains his angelic guests, performing all the duties of a hospitable host in this painting by Rembrandt. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Abraham entertains his angelic guests, performing all the duties of a hospitable host in this painting by Rembrandt. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The underlying assumption of the aggadic retelling of the story of Lot and the angels is that it was considered rude and inhospitable not to welcome strangers into the home, to deny them food, or to fail to wash their feet.[132] That the angels still had dust on their feet was proof that Lot had been less than hospitable.[133] Likewise, the fact that the apostles still had dust on their feet when they left the town was proof that the townsfolk had not fulfilled their duties toward strangers who had entered their town. The connection between the town’s non-reception of the apostles, the apostles’ dust-shaking gesture, and the comment about the fate of that town being worse than Sodom’s, becomes clear when we recall that in Jewish tradition Sodom was notorious for its inhospitality.[134] Shaking the dust from their feet was a symbolic gesture that confronted the inhabitants of the town with their failure to show hospitality; it was not an act of repudiation of the townsfolk as part of the Jewish people. Since the inhabitants had failed to show proper hospitality to the apostles by washing their feet when they arrived, the apostles took it upon themselves to shake the dust from the road off their feet when they departed. Shaking off the dust from their feet drove their point home, because if the inhabitants of the town had shown Jesus’ apostles proper hospitality in the first place, the apostles could not have performed the dramatic gesture since there would have been no dust for them to shake off.

L111 τὸν ὑποκάτω (Mark 6:11). Neither Matthew’s version of the Conduct in Town pericope nor either of Luke’s versions describe the dust as “under” the apostles’ feet. This detail was added by the author of Mark.

τὸν κολληθέντα ἡμῖν ἐκ τῆς πόλεως ὑμῶν (Luke 10:11). The apostles’ speech upon their departure from an inhospitable town is an elaboration which the author of Luke added to his source (see above, Comment to L109). The secondary nature of the apostles’ speech is demonstrated by the misunderstanding of the dust-shaking gesture implied by the comment “the dust of your city that clings to us.” If our interpretation of the dust-shaking gesture is correct, then the apostles did not shake off the dust their feet had picked up in the town, but rather the dust they had picked up from the road prior to entering the town.[135]

L112 ἀπὸ τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν (GR). In Matt. 10:14 the author of Matthew seems to have been weaving together the wording of his two main sources (Mark and Anth.) while also adding a few touches of his own. In L109 the author of Matthew partly followed Anth., but added “outside of the house.” In L110 the author of Matthew accepted ἐκτινάξατε (“shake off”) from Mark, but κονιορτὸν from the Anthology. Matthew omitted Mark’s “under” in L111, but τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν (“of your feet”) in L112 is identical to the wording in Mark.

By omitting τόν ὑποκάτω the author of Matthew inadvertently created what looks like a Hebrew construct phrase, since τόν κονιορτὸν τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν (“the dust of your feet”) could easily be reconstructed as אֲבַק רַגְלֵיכֶם (“the dust of your feet”), but we believe this potential Hebraism is more apparent than real. We have accepted Luke’s ἀπό (apo, “from”) because Luke 9:5, while based on FR, seems to preserve the wording of Anth. more accurately than the parallels in Luke 10:11, Mark 6:11 or Matt. 10:14.

מֵעַל רַגְלֵיכֶם (HR). In the Hebrew sources cited in Comment to L110 above, when “dust of the feet” occurred it was stated either as a construct phrase (אֲבַק רֶגֶל, “dust of the foot”; Nah. 1:3; Gen. Rab. 50:4; Exod. Rab. 27:9) or as אָבָק שֶׁעַל רֶגֶל (“dust that is on the foot”; m. Ber. 9:5; m. Mik. 9:2; t. Ber. 7:19; Derech Eretz Rabbah 4:2 [56b]). Our reconstruction is built on the analogy of the latter formulation, but with the preposition מִן (“from”) instead of the relative pronoun -שֶׁ (“that”).

L113 ἀποτινάσσετε (GR). Since the author of Luke appears to have taken liberties with his source in Luke 10:11, and since the author of Mark appears to have exchanged ἐκτινάσσειν for ἀποτινάσσειν (see above, Comment to L110), we have accepted the imperative in Luke 9:5 for GR. In LXX ἀποτινάσσειν occurs in Judg. 16:20; 1 Kgdms. 10:2; and Lam. 2:7. In Judg. 16:20 ἀποτινάσσειν translates the root נ-ע-ר (“shake”) and in Lam. 2:7 the LXX translators evidently read נִאֵר (ni’ēr, “abhor”) as נִעֵר (ni‘ēr, “shake”). Since in rabbinic literature נָעַר is a common verb for “shake,” we have adopted it for HR.[136]

L114 πλὴν τοῦτο γεινώσκετε ὅτι ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Luke 10:11). We noted above (Comment to L109) that the author of Luke uses the term “Kingdom of God” here in a way that is foreign to Jesus’ normal way of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is a divine redemptive activity in which human beings can participate when they obey God’s commandments. Jesus also used the Kingdom of Heaven to refer to his own band of itinerating disciples who were actively participating in God’s redemptive mission. The Kingdom of Heaven was happening wherever Jesus was, or, by extension, wherever the apostles were received, but not where the apostles were rejected. The author of Luke added this comment, probably in order to assert that God’s Kingdom cannot be thwarted by unbelief, but this is a development away from the original concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.

εἰς μαρτύριον ἐπ᾿ αὐτούς (GR). Luke 9:5 probably preserves the reading of Anth. In LXX εἰς μαρτύριον (eis martūrion, “for a testimony”) is typically the translation of לְעֵד (le‘ēd, “for a testimony”) or לְעֵדָה (le‘ēdāh, “for a testimony”).[137] In LXX we usually find ἐν σοὶ εἰς μαρτύριον (en soi eis martūrion, “in you for a testimony”) as the translation of בְּךָ לְעֵד/עֵדָה (bechā le‘ēd/‘ēdāh, “against you for a testimony”). Supposing that the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text read לְעֵדָה בָּהֶם (leēdāh bāhem, “for a testimony against them”), the use of the preposition ἐπί (epi, “on”) rather than ἐν (en, “in”) as the translation of -בְּ is non-Septuagintal.

לְעֵדָה בָּהֶם (HR). In MH עֵדוּת (‘ēdūt) is the usual word for “testimony,” but עֵדָה also occurs in rabbinic literature as a synonym for “testimony.”[138] We have chosen to reconstruct with עֵדָה because we have not found any instances of “testimony against” with עֵדוּת.

L115-122 The comparison of an inhospitable town to Sodom is found in Matthew’s account of Sending the Twelve (Matt. 10:15) and Luke’s account of the Seventy-two (Luke 10:12). Matthew also preserves a variant form of this saying in Jesus’ woe against Capernaum (Matt. 11:24). The wording of this saying is similar in all three versions, but there are some important differences.

Matthew 10:15 Matthew 11:24 Luke 10:12
1 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι
2 ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται
3 γῇ Σοδόμων καὶ Γομόρρων γῇ Σοδόμων Σοδόμοις
4 ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται
5 ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ
6 ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται
7 ἢ τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ ἢ σοί ἢ τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ

The most prominent difference between the three versions is that whereas in Matt. 10:15 and Luke 10:12 the town is referred to in the third person (τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ), the Matt. 11:24 version is phrased in the second person (σοί). We believe the author of Matthew is responsible for the direct address in the Matt. 11:24 version, which he introduced in order to adapt the saying into its new context of a woe against Capernaum. Luke’s parallel to the woe against Capernaum (Luke 10:15) omits the comparison to Sodom. Another prominent disagreement between the versions has to do with the placement of ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται (“more bearable it will be”), which appears at a different location in each of the versions. Other differences between the three versions will be mentioned in the discussion below.

L115 ἀμὴν (Matt. 10:15). Among the three versions of the saying comparing a town to Sodom, only Matt. 10:15 opens with “Amen.” We have retained “amen” in GR and HR not only because it agrees with Hebraic usage,[139] but also because Luke frequently omitted “amen” or used a synonym where “amen” appears in the Matthean parallel.[140] Perhaps the author of Luke omitted “amen” because its meaning was not familiar to his non-Jewish Greek readers.[141] Ἀμήν (amēn, “amen”) is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew word אָמֵן (’āmēn) and was therefore meaningless for Greek speakers unacquainted with Judaism.[142] Justin Martyr, who likewise wrote for non-Jewish Greek-speaking audiences, found it necessary to explain the term “amen” to his readers.[143]

L116 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι (GR). We have retained ὅτι (hoti, “that”) in GR because ὅτι occurs in the Lukan and the Matt. 11:24 versions of the comparison to Sodom saying, and because ὅτι frequently introduces direct speech in Anth.[144] Since Hebrew does not require a word corresponding to ὅτι (such as כִּי or -שֶׁ) to introduce direct speech, there is no equivalent to ὅτι in HR.[145]

L117 נוֹחַ יִהְיֶה (HR). As we noted above, there is no agreement between the three versions of the comparison to Sodom saying as to the placement of the phrase ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται (“more bearable it will be”). We have chosen to follow Matt. 10:15 for the placement of this phrase in GR because this is the most natural place for it to occur in HR.

We have reconstructed ἀνεκτότερος (anektoteros, “more bearable”) with נוֹחַ (nōaḥ, “easy”) + preposition מִן (min, “from”), the standard construction for expression of degrees of comparison in Hebrew, which lacks superlatives.[146] For a similarly structured comparison in Hebrew to נוֹחַ יִהְיֶה לִסְדוֹם…מֵהָעִיר הַהִיא (“Easier it will be for Sodom…than for that city”; L117-122), note the following examples:

הוא היה אומר נוח למלוך על כל העולם כולו מלישב בפני בני אדם העטופים בסדינין

He would say, “It is easier to rule the whole world than to sit before people clothed in linen.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 25:5 [ed. Schechter, 82])

נוח למלוך על כל האדם מלדבר על פי שנים עדים ועל פי שלשה עדים עטופי סדינים

It is easier to rule over all humankind than to speak on the basis of two or three witnesses clothed in linen.[147] (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 33 [ed. Schechter, 73])

Sodom and Gomorrha as painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner (ca. 1920). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Sodom and Gomorrah oil on canvas painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner (ca. 1920). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L118 γῇ Σοδόμων καὶ Γομόρρων (Matt. 10:15). Since neither the Lukan version nor the Matt. 11:24 version of the saying mention Gomorrah, and since the balance of the saying is better if the future judgment of one inhospitable town (τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ; L122) is compared to the fate of one inhospitable city in the biblical past (Sodom), we regard “and Gomorrah” in Matt. 10:15 as an editorial addition.[148]

Both Matthean versions refer to the “land of Sodom,” whereas the Lukan version simply names the city. Again, the comparison of one city to another is better than the comparison of the fate of one city to that of an entire region. We also note that “land of Sodom” does not occur in Hebrew sources, whether MT, DSS, or rabbinic literature, but “land of Sodom” is found in Aramaic.[149] There is some evidence that the author of Matthew knew or was influenced by Aramaic.[150] Perhaps this is another example of Aramaic influence in Matthew.

L119-120 ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ (GR). Deciding between “in the day of judgment” (Matt. 10:15; 11:24) and “in that day” (Luke 10:12) is difficult.[151] In the Gospels the phrase ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως (en hēmera kriseōs, “in the day of judgment”) is unique to Matthew, where it occurs 4xx (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36).[152] We might therefore regard ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως as a Matthean addition, and prefer Luke’s ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ (en tē hēmera ekeinē, “in that day”). The phrase “in that day” occurs over a hundred times in the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible as a reference to a coming day of reckoning, and would certainly have been familiar to the apostles, to whom Jesus’ statement was addressed.[153] On the other hand, יום הדין (yōm hadin, “the day of judgment”) is attested in rabbinic sources.[154] In the end we decided in favor of Luke’s reading for GR for the following three reasons:

  1. We have already encountered evidence of Matthean editorial activity in this part of the verse (namely, “land of Sodom” and the addition of “and Gomorrah”), which increases the likelihood that “day of judgment” is editorial, too.
  2. In the Matthean and the Lukan versions of the comparison to Sodom saying we have the preposition ἐν, which we would normally reconstruct with -בְּ, but in Hebrew we only found examples of ליום הדין, never ביום הדין, for “on the day of judgment.” Therefore, if “on the day of judgment” had been present in the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text, we would have expected to find εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως in Matthew rather than ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως.[155]
  3. Luke’s ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ is exactly what we would expect to find if the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text read בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.‎[156]

Does this warning refer to the judgment at the end of time, or does Jesus refer to a reckoning that will be worked out in the course of history? The latter interpretation might be preferable, since it could tie together the entire pericope with a single underlying thought. If, as we discussed above (Comment to L88), Jesus understood an important aspect of his calling to be a prophetic mission to call the people to repentance so as to avert a national crisis that would result from armed rebellion against the Roman Empire,[157] then the judgment Jesus envisions in Matt. 10:15 and Luke 10:12 could be none other than the crushing defeat by the Roman legions of the towns that had rejected Jesus’ message of peace. As Wright suggested, “Jesus had offered these Galilean towns the way of peace. By following him, they would find the god-given golden thread to guide them through the dark labyrinth of current political aspirations and machinations, and on to vindication as the true people of the creator and covenant god. If they refused, they were choosing the way that led, inevitably, to confrontation with Rome, and so, to unavoidable ruin.”[158] In the book of Judges and in the prophetic books of the Bible God’s judgment is often carried out by Gentile kingdoms.[159]

L124-132 The Luke 9 (FR) version of the Sending discourse concludes with a description of the apostles setting out to spread their message and to heal (Luke 9:6). The high concentration of participles in Luke 9:6, the use of the verbs διέρχεσθαι (dierchesthai, “to go through”) and ἐυαγγελίζειν (evangelizein, “to proclaim good news”), both of which occur in the writings of Luke with a much greater frequency than in the Gospels of Mark or Matthew,[160] the presence of πανταχοῦ (pantachou, “everywhere”), which occurs only once in LXX,[161] and the similarity of Luke 9:6 to other concluding summary statements in the Lukan corpus (cf. Luke 8:1; Acts 8:4, 25, 40), all suggest that Luke 9:6 was either composed either by the author of Luke himself, or possibly adapted from a conclusion composed by the First Reconstructor. In any case, it does not seem possible to recover a Hebrew source behind Luke 9:6.

Mark’s version of the Sending discourse, which is based on Luke 9:1-6, also concludes with a description of the apostles’ departure. That Mark 6:12-13 is a loose paraphrase of Luke 9:6 can be seen from Mark’s use of a different form of the verb ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out”) in L124, a synonym for “proclaim” in L126, and Mark’s agreement with Luke 9:6 to mention healing in L131.

L127 ἵνα μετανοῶσιν (Mark 6:12). The ἵνα + subjunctive construction is often indicative of Greek composition. The translations of Delitzsch (וַיִּקְרְאוּ לָשׁוּב בִּתְשׁוּבָה) and Lindsey (וַיִּקְרְאוּ לָאֲנָשִׁים לָשׁוּב מִדַּרְכָּם; HTGM, 107) demonstrate how difficult it is to reconstruct ἐκήρυξαν ἵνα μετανοῶσιν in Hebrew.

L129 καὶ ἤλειφον ἐλαίῳ (Mark 6:13). Mark is unique in describing the apostles as anointing the sick with oil. Lindsey suggested that the author of Mark picked up the notion of anointing the sick from James 5:14, since this is the only other mention of healing the sick by anointing with oil in NT.[162]

L130 πολλοὺς ἀρρώστους (Mark 6:13). In NT ἄρρωστος (arrōstos) for “sick person” is rare; of the five instances, three are in Mark.[163] In Mark 6:5 and Mark 6:13 the author of Mark uses ἄρρωστος in summary statements of Jesus’ activity, which are likely redactional. The third instance of ἄρρωστος in Mark appears in the spurious ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:18). In LXX ἄρρωστος is the translation of חֹלֶה (ḥoleh, “sick person”) on only two occasions (3 Kgdms. 14:5; Mal. 1:8), thus ἄρρωστος is not typical of translation Greek. The presence of ἄρρωστος in Mark 6:13, therefore, is another hint that this verse does not reflect an original Hebrew source.

L133-136 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς διατάσσων τοῖς δώδεκα μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν καὶ κηρύσσειν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐτῶν (Matt. 11:1). The first half of Matt. 11:1 (L133-134) is nearly identical to the conclusions of the other major Matthean discourses (Matt. 7:28; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), which is a strong indication of Matthean composition, since the discourses themselves were compiled by the author of Matthew.[164] It is unlikely that any part of Matt. 11:1 reflects an underlying Hebraic source.[165]

L134 διατάσσων τοῖς δώδεκα μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ (Matt. 11:1). The verb διατάσσειν (diatassein, “to instruct”) occurs 20xx in LXX, half of which are in books not included in MT, and διατάσσειν is not the standard translation of any Hebrew verb.[166] The reference to the “twelve disciples” instead of the “twelve apostles” is characteristic of Matthean redaction.[167]

L135 μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν καὶ κηρύσσειν (Matt. 11:1). We have had occasion to note that the author of Matthew was far more interested in the instructions given to the apostles than he was in their actual mission. There can hardly be a better illustration of this fact than Matt. 11:1, which concludes the Sending discourse not with a description of the apostles going out to teach, as in Mark 6:12-13 and Luke 9:6, but of Jesus heading out on a teaching tour.[168]

The verb μεταβαίνειν (metabainein, “to depart”) occurs 12xx in NT, half of which are in the Gospel of Matthew, compared to zero instances of μεταβαίνειν in Mark and only one instance in Luke (Luke 10:7).[169] All but one of the remaining NT instances of μεταβαίνειν occur in Johannine literature, which is un-Hebraic.[170] In LXX μεταβαίνειν occurs exclusively in books originally composed in Greek.[171] It therefore seems unlikely that the author of Matthew copied μεταβαίνειν from Anth. The adverb ἐκεῖθεν (ekeithen, “from there”) is also Matthean, occurring 12xx in Matthew compared to 6xx in Mark and 4xx in Luke.[172] In several instances where Matthew has ἐκεῖθεν it is lacking in the Lukan and/or Markan parallel.[173] Likewise, the combination of μεταβαίνειν + ἐκεῖθεν is found in the Gospels only in Matthew (Matt. 11:1; 12:9; 15:29). All the evidence in L135 points to Matthean composition.

L136 ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐτῶν (Matt. 11:1). The author of Matthew speaks of Jesus teaching and preaching “in their cities,” a phrasing that expresses discontinuity and alienation from the Jewish setting Matthew describes, similar to “their synagogues” in Matt. 9:35.[174] These are not the words of a Jewish eyewitness, who would have written “our cities” and “our synagogues.”

Redaction Analysis

The four versions of the Conduct in Town pericope are, despite many important differences, relatively unified in their descriptions of how the apostles were to behave when they arrived in a new town. Each version gives instructions about entering homes and how to respond to inhospitality. The Luke 9 and Mark 6 versions are closely related, as are the Matthew 10 and Luke 10 versions. We believe this to be the result of Mark’s preference for FR pericopae, hence his similarity to the Luke 9 version of the Conduct in Town pericope, whereas Matthew preferred the Anthology’s fuller version to the version in Mark 6, which caused Matthew’s version to resemble the version in Luke 10, which was also based on Anth.

Luke’s Versions

The Luke 10 version of the Conduct in Town pericope is, generally speaking, closer to Anth. than any of the other versions. Nevertheless, the author of Luke did not simply replicate Anth. in Luke 10:5-12. Sometimes the author of Luke made minor stylistic improvements, such as the transposition of two words (L85), supplying a synonym to replace a word in his source (L98), or omitting a foreign word that might have been unfamiliar to his readers (L115). At other times, however, the author of Luke adapted Anth. in more conspicuous ways. For instance, it is likely that the author of Luke added the command to “eat whatever is set before you” (L102) in order to “update” the instructions for his own time. An even more significant change is the addition of an entire speech in which the apostles voiced their reproach against an inhospitable town (L109-114). Perhaps, as a traveling companion of Paul, the author of Luke experienced the command to shake off the dust of their feet in a deeply personal way, since Paul had carried out this instruction on at least one occasion (Acts 13:51). Whatever the motivation, Luke’s editorial activity slightly changed the meaning of the dust-shaking action, since originally it was the dust from their travels on the road that the apostles were to shake off their feet as a token of the failure of the townsfolk to provide them with water to wash themselves. The author of Luke, however, made it the dust of the inhospitable town that was to be shaken off the apostles’ feet (L111). An even more significant change is the introduction of the idea that Jewish non-acceptance of the Gospel cannot hinder the Kingdom of God (L114). This is a departure from the original concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, according to which the Kingdom is a divine activity in which human beings can participate as they receive God as their king.

The Luke 9 version of the Conduct in Town pericope is based on FR’s improved-Greek epitome of the Anthology’s version. The First Reconstructor (the creator of FR) omitted the instructions about greeting the family (L86-92), “the worker is worthy” saying (L97), the instructions about conduct in a town that welcomes the apostles (L100-105), and the comparison to Sodom saying (L115-122). Despite these omissions, however, the First Reconstructor sometimes preserved the wording of Anth. more faithfully than did the author of Luke in the Luke 10 version because, as we have just discussed, at certain points the author of Luke modified the wording of Anth. in Luke 10:5-12. The most easily identifiable point at which the Luke 9 version of the Conduct in Town pericope preserves the wording of Anth. better than the Luke 10 version is in the instructions about shaking the dust from the apostles’ feet, for there the Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark were achieved by Matthew’s and FR’s adherence to Anth. (L109). Other places at which the Luke 9 version may have preserved the Anthology’s wording more accurately than the Luke 10 version are L85, where the word order in Luke 9:4 (οἰκίαν εἰσέλθητε) is more Hebraic than in Luke 10:5 (εἰσέλθητε οἰκίαν); L99, where we suspect that ἐξέρχεσθε in Luke 9:4 is more Hebraic than μεταβαίνετε in Luke 10:7 (L98); and L114, where “for a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5) is more Hebraic than “nevertheless know this: that the Kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:11). The examples in L85 and L114 lack support in Matthew, but their more Hebraic quality, as compared to what is in the Luke 10 version, makes it possible to identify them as ultimately stemming from Anth.

Mark’s Version

The Markan version of the Conduct in Town pericope reproduces the Luke 9 version with minimal editorial activity. Occasionally the author of Mark replaced a word in Luke 9 with a synonym (L109, L110) or added an additional detail, such as specifying that it was the dust under the apostles’ feet that they were to shake off (L111). In one instance the author of Mark may have exchanged the verb for “shake off” that he found in Luke 9 for the verb for “shake off” in Acts 13:51 in order to emphasize the continuity between Jesus’ instructions and the actions of the Apostle Paul (L110). By supplying the words “place” (L106) and “from there” (L109), the author of Mark avoided using the word πόλις (polis, “city”) in the Conduct in Town pericope, but it is unlikely that this avoidance had a particular ideological or theological motivation. It is simply an example of Mark paraphrasing Luke, his primary source.

Matthew’s Version

Perhaps the author of Matthew preferred the Anthology’s version of the Conduct in Town pericope over Mark’s version simply because he intended to make the sending of the Twelve the occasion for the second major discourse in his Gospel, and the Anthology’s more detailed version better suited this purpose than Mark’s bare-bones version. Whatever the motivation, Matthew’s preference for Anth. led to the many similarities between the Matthean and Luke 10 versions of the Conduct in Town pericope.

An overriding ideological concern, however, caused Matthew to significantly alter the Anthology’s wording. This ideological concern had to do with worthiness: the worthiness of the apostles to receive hospitality, and the worthiness of the hosts to receive the apostles. The author of Matthew wished to ensure that the apostles would be above reproach, especially with respect to the accusation that the apostles were seeking personal gain. This concern explains why Matthew moved “the worker is worthy” saying (L97) from its original position as a comment about receiving hospitality, and attached it to the command prohibiting the apostles from acquiring possessions in the course of their mission. It seems probable that Matthew’s concern about the apostles making personal gains at the expense of their hosts is a response to actual abuses experienced within Matthew’s community. It is also likely that Matthew’s concern about the host’s worthiness (L83, L88, L90) also reflects circumstances that were current at the time the author of Matthew composed his Gospel. In Matthew’s time itinerant teachers would stay with families who belonged to the community of believers. Upon arriving in a new city, the itinerant teachers would inquire of the Church leaders where they ought to stay. These circumstances are very different from what was envisioned when Jesus sent the apostles to places they had not visited and where there was no Church, because the Church, as Matthew used this term, had not yet come into existence. The Luke 10 version of the Conduct in Town pericope preserves the more original instructions, according to which the apostles were to stay with strangers, making no distinction between who was “worthy” to receive them and who was not.

Stylistic concerns also led to Matthew’s adaptation of the Anthology. Wishing to streamline the pericope’s content, the author of Matthew conflated the instructions about conduct in private homes with the instructions about public behavior in towns. This conflation resulted in the awkward sequence of giving a command to “stay there” (L84) before the house where the apostles were to stay was actually mentioned (L85). It also appears that the author of Matthew misunderstood his source, assuming that it was literally the house that was addressed with a greeting, rather than the family that dwelt within it (L87). In the comparison to Sodom saying the author of Matthew altered the wording of Anth. slightly by adding “and Gomorrah” (L118) and changing “that day” to “day of judgment” (L119-120). Adding “and Gomorrah” adversely affected the balance of the original saying in which one inhospitable town in the present was compared to one infamously inhospitable city (Sodom) in the biblical past. Likewise, by changing “that day” to “day of judgment” the author of Matthew destroyed the original agreement between τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ (L119-120) and τῇ πόλει ἐκείνῃ (L122) that was preserved in Luke 10:12.

Results of this Research

1. What is the meaning of “son of peace” in Luke 10:6? It is unlikely that “son of peace” simply meant “friendly” or “hospitable person,” because the members of the household who had invited the apostles to stay with them had already proven themselves to be friendly and hospitable. It is also unlikely that “son of peace” meant someone who was already a disciple of Jesus, because the apostles, who had been with Jesus since he had begun training disciples, would almost certainly have recognized someone who had been a disciple of Jesus. From the instructions Jesus gave to the apostles, it is clear that when they greeted the household with peace they did not know beforehand whether or not anyone in the family would turn out to be a “son of peace.” Perhaps the term “son of peace” is related to Jesus’ other teachings about peace. According to Jesus, someone who is a peacemaker is called a son of God (Matt. 5:9). Evidently, Jesus defined peacemakers as people who loved even their enemies, for in this way they emulated their Father in heaven (Matt. 5:44-45). Just as God is peaceable toward the world, which is often at enmity with God, so are human beings to be peaceable toward one another (Matt. 5:48). Jesus’ teachings on peace in these related passages may be based on an ancient homily on the stones of the altar, according to which the disciples of the sages are required to be peaceable (שְׁלֵמִים; shelēmim), just as the stones of the altar were required to be whole (שְׁלֵמוֹת; shelēmōt). If such a homily undergirds Jesus’ teachings on peace, then it is possible that “son of peace,” בֶּן שָׁלוֹם (ben shālōm), is a wordplay on the term אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה (’even shelēmāh, “whole stone”).

2. What is the significance of the instruction to eat and drink with the people in whose home the apostles were invited to stay (Luke 10:7)? On the most basic level, Jesus instructed his apostles to be gracious guests who did not demand special treatment from their hosts. The apostles were to gratefully accept whatever they were offered, whether it was little or much, whether the quality was fine or coarse. On a deeper level, Jesus’ expectation that the apostles should have fellowship with strangers without testing their moral character or social standing contrasts sharply with the practice of the Essenes who maintained a strict separation between insiders and outsiders. The separation the Essenes maintained was not merely attitudinal, reserving love and friendliness exclusively for members of the sect, the Essenes also maintained an economic separation between covenanters and non-members, to the extent that they would not accept a gift from an outsider. Anything they received from outsiders had to be paid for, since to the Essenes having fellowship with outsiders meant participating in their wickedness. Jesus rejected the Essene demand for separation from sinners. According to Jesus, it was precisely through fellowship that “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” would be returned to the fold. That is why Jesus ate with tax collectors and required the apostles to associate with strangers.

3. How are we to interpret the command to “shake the dust from your feet” when a town or village declined to accept Jesus’ apostles? The long-held interpretation of the command to shake off the dust from the apostles’ feet, according to which the town was henceforth cut off from Israel and was to be regarded as equal to the impure land of the Gentiles, has to be abandoned, not only because this interpretation is based on a fictitious ceremony, but because it is contrary to Jesus’ worldview.[175] Whereas the Essenes might view fellow Jews who did not join their sect as cut off from Israel, Jesus rejected sharp divisions between “insiders” and “outsiders.” Jesus understood his mission to be about the restoration of Israel by calling the entire people to repentance. Declaring anyone to be irrevocably cut off from Israel is antithetical to the very spirit of Jesus’ teachings.

Instead of being an act of utter repudiation, shaking the dust from their feet is best understood as a dramatic demonstration on the part of Jesus’ apostles, a demonstration which highlights the town’s inhospitality toward strangers. Had the townspeople shown the apostles the basic hospitality that was expected to be offered to all strangers, there would have been no dust on the apostles’ feet to shake off, since supplying water for foot washing was considered to be as essential to hospitality as providing food and drink for one’s guests.[176] Understanding the shaking off of the dust from the apostles’ feet as a symbolic demonstration of the town’s inhospitality has the benefit of clarifying the connection between the inhospitable town, the apostles’ action, and the comparison of the inhospitable town to Sodom, the biblical archetype of inhospitable cities.


In the Conduct in Town pericope Jesus explained to his apostles how they were to behave when arriving in a town. The apostles were to accept hospitality from strangers and share their message of peace which would avert national catastrophe. The apostles were to demonstrate the inbreaking of God’s redemptive reign by healing the sick. If a town refused to extend hospitality to the apostles, then, as they departed, the apostles were to confront the townsfolk with dramatic proof of the town’s inhospitality: they were to shake off the dust that the townspeople ought to have washed from their feet when they arrived. Jesus commented on the fate of towns that are inhospitable to strangers: on the day of reckoning it will be worse for such towns than it will be for Sodom.

Adam Elsheimer, Jupiter and Mercury in the House of Philemon and Baucis (ca. 1608). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Adam Elsheimer, Jupiter and Mercury in the House of Philemon and Baucis (ca. 1608). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] A version of the Conduct in Town pericope also appears in the Gospel of Thomas, where we read:

    And if you go into any land and wander in the regions, if they receive you, eat what they set before you, heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what will defile you. (Gos. Thom. §14 [ed. Guillaumont, 11])

  • [4] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L74.
  • [5] See Hawkins, 12; Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” thesis 7; Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups,” under the entry for Mark 2:16.
  • [6] See Sending the Twelve: “The Harvest Is Plentiful” and “A Flock Among Wolves,” Comment to L40-41.
  • [7] For a discussion of the importance of the Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark for reconstructing the wording of Anth., see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L63-67.
  • [8] Segal, 202 §415.
  • [9] Segal, 44 §80.
  • [10] On the sources of Matt. 9:35, see Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comments to L1-7, L6.
  • [11] Of the nine instances of ἄξιος (axios, “worthy”) in the Gospel of Matthew, seven occur in Matt. 10. See Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L10.
  • [12] Cf. Marshall, 419; Davies-Allison, 2:175.
  • [13] Compare Matt. 10:11 to the following passage in the Mishnah:

    הַנִּכְנַס לָעִיר וְאֵינוּ מַכִּיר אָדָם שָׁם וְאָמַר מִיכָן נֶאֱמָן וּמִיכָן מְעַשֵּׂר אָמַּ′ לוֹ אֶחָד אֲנִי אֵינו נֶאֱמָן אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי הֲרֵי זֶה נֶאֱמָן הָלַךְ וְלָקַח מִמֶּנּוּ

    The one who enters a city and does not know anyone there and he said, “Who here is faithful and who here tithes?” and someone said to him, “I am such a one,” he is not trusted, but if he said, “So-and-so,” behold this one is trusted, and he goes and takes from him. (m. Dem. 4:6)

  • [14] See Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 188.
  • [15] On changes the author of Matthew made to the Conduct on the Road pericope in response to itinerant teachers, see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comments to L52-62, L62, L63, and under the subheading “Redaction Analysis: Matthew’s Version.”
  • [16] We have intentionally used the word “church” here, since this was the term the author of Matthew used for his community. In the Synoptic Gospels the noun ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia, “church”) occurs exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 16:18; 18:17 [2xx]).
  • [17] Examples of אָמַר in the imperative are found in m. Rosh Hash. 2:6; m. Yev. 16:7; m. Ned. 3:4; m. Bab. Metz. 7:1; m. Sanh. 3:6; 6:2; 7:5, 10; m. Avot 1:15; m. Arach. 8:7; m. Neg. 3:1; m. Yad. 4:3.
  • [18] Fitzmyer, 2:847.
  • [19] See Werner Foerster, “εἰρήνη,” TDNT, 2:413 n. 77.
  • [20] On the Hebraic use of “house” in the sense of “family” see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L113.
  • [21] Cf. Luz, 2:71 n. 9. For the prohibition against greetings on the road, see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L77.
  • [22] Examples of שָׁלוֹם as a greeting are found in Judg. 19:20; 1 Sam. 25:6; m. Mid. 1:2; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 41:1 (ed. Schechter, 131); Gen. Rab. 92:1; 100:7 (end).
  • [23] We find examples of -שָׁלוֹם לְ in wishes for peace in Gen. 29:6; 43:23; Judg. 6:23; 19:20; Isa. 57:19; Dan. 10:19; 1 Chr. 12:19.
  • [24] Examples of שָׁלוֹם עַל in MT are found in Ps. 125:5; 128:6. Both are examples of the formula שָׁלוֹם עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל (“Peace [be] upon Israel”), rendered in both places by LXX as εἰρήνη ἐπὶ τὸν Ισραηλ (“Peace [be] upon the Israel”).
  • [25] Examples of שָׁלוֹם עַל in rabbinic literature include m. Mid. 1:2; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 41:1 (ed. Schechter, 131); Gen. Rab. 100:7 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1291); y. Ber. 2:1 [13a]; y. Moed Kat. 3:7 [18b]; y. Naz. 4:1 [16b]; y. Shevu. 2:4 [11a]; b. Ber. 3a (2xx); b. Rosh Hash. 25b; b. Taan. 20b (2xx).
  • [26] See Albert L. A. Hogeterp, “New Testament Greek as Popular Speech: Adolf Deissmann in Retrospect,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 102 (2011): 178-200, esp. 197.
  • [27] Cited by Hogeterp, “New Testament Greek as Popular Speech,” 197.
  • [28] Cf. Francis Wright Beare, “The Mission of the Disciples and the Mission Charge: Matthew 10 and Parallels,” Journal of Biblical Literature 89 (1970): 1-13, esp. 11-12; Davies-Allison, 2:175-176; Nolland, Luke, 2:552.
  • [29] See Segal, 229 §486.
  • [30] See Moulton-Milligan, 649.
  • [31] See Wilfred Lawrence Knox, The Sources of the Synoptic Gospels (2 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 1:90 n. 1; Hogeterp, “New Testament Greek as Popular Speech,” 186-190.
  • [32] See Fitzmyer, 2:848.
  • [33] According to Zimmerman, “…‘son of peace’ is an unparalleled locution except in Aramaic where בר שלמותא which means ‘one of the same mind, one of the same conviction’ i.e., one who is a kindred spirit”; however, the sources Zimmerman cites are Syriac, and may be influenced by the language of the New Testament. See Frank Zimmerman, The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels (New York: Ktav, 1979), 127.
  • [34] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comments to L45-47, L97; Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L17.
  • [35] Bivin notes, however, that since the duration of a disciple’s study with a rabbinic sage could be as little as a few months due to family and work obligations, there could have been scores of Jesus’ disciples in the Galilee who had studied with him for a period of time and returned home prior to the mission of the Twelve.
  • [36] That the hosts were strangers is clear from the fact that it was not until after the apostles had accepted the invitation and entered the house that they learned whether or not a “son of peace” lived there.
  • [37] The implication of Acts 1:21-22 is that the twelve apostles had been with Jesus since the beginning of his teaching career. It seems highly unlikely, therefore, that Jesus would have had any disciples who were not personally known to the twelve apostles. In MT אִישׁ שָׁלוֹם (’ish shālōm; Jer. 38:22; Obad. 7; Ps. 41:10) usually means “friend” (and cf. אֱנוֹשׁ שָׁלוֹם; enōsh shālōm in Jer. 20:10). However, אִישׁ שָׁלוֹם is best translated as “man of peace” in Ps. 37:37. Perhaps Jesus refrained from using the term “man of peace” in his instructions to the Twelve in order to eliminate the misconception that the Twelve were to stay only with those who were either friends of Jesus or already known to be sympathetic to his message.
  • [38] On the Hebraic quality of the Beatitudes, especially in their Matthean form, see David Flusser, “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit…” (Flusser, JOC, 102-114); idem, “Some Notes to the Beatitudes” (Flusser, JOC, 115-125); Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [39] See Menahem Kister, “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (Cahiers de la Revue Biblique 60; ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: J. Gabalda, 2005), 115-147, esp. 131-133.
  • [40] On the designation בן תורה see Anthony J. Saldarini, trans., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (Abot de Rabbi Nathan) Version B (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 109 n. 4.
  • [41] Other examples of the אֶבֶן/בֵּן wordplay are found in John the Baptist’s claim that “from these stones God can raise up sons for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8), and the rejected son/stone imagery of the Wicked Tenants parable (Matt. 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-18). Yet another example of this wordplay is found in Jos., J.W. 5:272. See Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS” (JS1, 299-300); Daniel R. Schwartz, “On the Jewish Background of Christianity,” in Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity: Text and Context (ed. Dan Jaffé; Leiden: Brill, 2010), 87-105, esp. 100. Note that the wordplay between “son” and “stone” does not work in Aramaic.
  • [42] Yohanan ben Zakkai’s saying in t. Sot. 14:1-4, in which he bemoans murders that took place in the open, may also be a polemic against militant Jewish nationalists. Compare t. Sot. 14:1-4 with Josephus’ statement that the Sicarii committed murder in broad daylight (J.W. 2:254). See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  • [43] On Jesus’ rejection of Jewish militant nationalist ideology, see Flusser, Jesus, 105-107; idem, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus”; R. Steven Notley, “‘Give unto Caesar’: Jesus, the Zealots and the Imago Dei”; David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect.”
  • [44] On the appointment of twelve apostles to signify the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L10-11.
  • [45] On the significance of the phrase “every disease and sickness” in the commissioning of the apostles, see Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comment to L22-23.
  • [46] On idolatry as the worship of demons, see 1 Cor. 10:20.
  • [47] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus’ Jewish Hermeneutical Method in the Nazareth Synagogue,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality (2 vols.; ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009), 2:46-59, esp. 56.
  • [48] See David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel.”
  • [49] On this passage, see Flusser, Jesus, 244-245.
  • [50] According to Caird, “the sending out of the Twelve was not so much an evangelistic mission as a political manifesto. Jesus…believed that Israel was facing a great national crisis…and that she must choose either to follow Jesus in His programme of national renewal under the rule of God or else to follow the policy of nationalism to its inevitable and disastrous climax of war with Rome.” See George B. Caird, “Uncomfortable Words II. Shake off the Dust from Your Feet (Mk 611),” Expository Times 81 (1969): 40-43, esp. 41.
  • [51] Cf. Bovon, 2:23.
  • [52] In LXX ἐπαναπαύεσθαι is found in Num. 11:25, 26; Judg. 16:26; 4 Kgdms. 2:15; 5:18; 7:2, 17; 1 Macc. 8:11; Mic. 3:11; Ezek. 29:7; Isa. 11:2 (Sinaiticus).
  • [53] The verb ἐπαναπαύεσθαι is the translation of נָח in Num. 11:25, 26; 4 Kgdms. 2:15; Isa. 11:2.
  • [54] See Segal, 230 §489.
  • [55] In LXX ἀνακάμπτειν is found in Exod. 32:27; Judg. 11:39; 2 Kgdms. 1:22; 8:13; 3 Kgdms. 12:20; 1 Chr. 19:5; 1 Esd. 8:84; 4 Macc. 1:35 (Sinaiticus); Job 39:4; Sir. 40:11; Zech. 9:8; Jer. 3:1 (3xx); 15:5; Ezek. 1:13[14] (Alexandrinus); 7:13 (Alexandrinus); Sus. 14 (Theodotion).
  • [56] In Jer. 15:5 ἀνακάμπτειν translates סָר (sār, “turn aside”).
  • [57] There are also examples of הֶחֱזִיר שָׁלוֹם (heḥezir shālōm) in the sense of “return a greeting.” Cf. m. Avot 6:9 in printed editions of the Mishnah.
  • [58] See Luke 12:12; 13:31; 20:19.
  • [59] See Luke 13:1.
  • [60] See Luke 23:12; 24:13.
  • [61] Plummer (Luke, 274) notes that opposite these expressions, “The other Evangelists prefer ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὤρᾳ, κ.τ.λ.”
  • [62] In LXX μένειν translates יָשַׁב in Gen. 24:55; Ps. 9:8; 101[102]:13; Zech. 14:10.
  • [63] On the reconstruction of μένειν with יָשַׁב, see Robert L. Lindsey, “The Major Importance of the ‘Minor’ Agreements,” under the subheading “A Written Hebrew Source Behind the Synoptic Gospels?”
  • [64] In MT we find אָכַל paired with שָׁתָה numerous times. Cf., e.g., Gen. 24:54; 25:34; 26:30; Exod. 24:11; 32:6; Deut. 32:38; Judg. 9:27; 19:4, 21; 1 Sam. 30:16; 2 Sam. 11:11; 1 Kgs. 1:25; 4:20; 18:41, 42; 19:6, 8; 2 Kgs. 6:22, 23; 7:8; 9:34; Isa. 21:5; 22:13; Jer. 16:8; 22:15; Job 1:4, 13, 18; Prov. 23:7; Ruth 3:3; Eccl. 2:24; 3:13; 5:17; 8:15; Neh. 8:12; 1 Chr. 12:40; 29:22. In the Mishnah we find אָכַל וְשָׁתָה in m. Yom. 8:3; m. Suk. 2:4; m. Taan. 1:4, 5, 6; 3:9; m. Ned. 3:2; 5:6; m. Shevu. 3:1.
  • [65] In NT ἐσθίειν and πίνειν appear together in Matt. 6:31; 11:18, 19; 24:49; Luke 5:30, 33; 7:33, 34; 10:7; 12:19, 29, 45; 13:26; 17:8, 27, 28; 22:30; Acts 9:9; 23:12, 21; Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 9:4; 10:7, 31; 11:22, 27, 29; 15:32.
  • [66] Additional examples where παρά + αὐτός (gen.) is the translation of מֵאֵת + suffix are found in Num. 17:17; 18:26; 31:51; Deut. 3:4; 1 Kgdms. 8:10; 2 Kgdms. 2:31 (מֵתוּ reading as מֵאִתּוֹ); 4 Kgdms. 3:11; 4:5; 5:20; 8:8; 2 Chr. 18:6.
  • [67] A different version of Ben Zoma’s saying is found in a baraita:

    הוא היה אומר אורח טוב מהו אומר כמה טרחות טרח בעל הבית בשבילי כמה בשר הביא לפני כמה יין הביא לפני כמה גלוסקאות הביא לפני וכל מה שטרח לא טרח אלא בשבילי אבל אורח רע מהו אומר מה טורח טרח בעל הבית זה פת אחת אכלתי חתיכה אחת אכלתי כוס אחד שתיתי כל טורח שטרח בעל הבית זה לא טרח אלא בשביל אשתו ובניו

    He [Ben Zoma] used to say, “What does a good guest say? ‘What trouble the master of the house has undertaken for my comfort! He has set so much meat before me! He has set so much wine before me! He has set so many cakes before me! And all the trouble he took was done solely for me!’ But what does a bad guest say? ‘What does the trouble the master of the house has undertaken amount to? I have eaten one piece [of bread] and one slice [of meat] and I have drunk one cup [of wine]. All the trouble the master of the house undertook was only for the sake of his wife and children!’” (b. Ber. 58a)

  • [68] See Andrew Arterbury, Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in its Mediterranean Setting (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2005), 143. On the virtue of hospitality in Jewish and Christian traditions, see Marvin R. Wilson, “Hospitality: Heritage of the Church.”
  • [69] On the application of the designation “homeless poor” to the sages and their disciples, see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L14.
  • [70] Note that there is not the slightest suggestion that the Essenes were to avoid the food and drink of “outsiders” because it might be non-kosher. Not even the Essenes suspected fellow Jews of eating meats forbidden in the Torah. Their possessions might be morally and spiritually tainted, but if the food was paid for it could be consumed, which would not have been the case for forbidden meats. Likewise, Jesus’ command to eat and drink “what is theirs” has nothing to do with suspending or abolishing the Torah’s dietary laws. Among Jews of the Second Temple period in the land of Israel, the issue of serving (or being served) non-kosher food was inconceivable.
  • [71] “Their wealth” refers to “the wealth of the men of holiness who walk in perfection” (הון אנשי הקודש ההולכים בתמים), who are mentioned in the previous sentence.
  • [72] Cf. CD VI, 15.
  • [73] Flusser suggested that the Shrewd Manager parable (Luke 16:1-12) constitutes Jesus’ critique of the Essenes’ economic separatism. See David Flusser, “Jesus’ Opinion About the Essenes” (Flusser, JOC, 150-168).
  • [74] This is another reason why “son of peace” probably does not refer to someone who was already a follower of Jesus. The point of the mission was not to visit friends, but to spread Jesus’ message to people who were not familiar with it already.
  • [75] See Marshall, 420; cf. A. E. Harvey, “‘The Workman is Worthy of his Hire’ Fortunes of a Proverb in the Early Church,” Novum Testamentum 24 (1982): 209-221, esp. 218-219.
  • [76] Terms such as הון רשעה (“wealth of wickedness”; CD VI, 15; VIII, 5; XIX, 17) and הון חמס (“wealth of unrighteousness”; 1QS X, 19; 1QHa XVIII, 25) are characteristic of the outlook of the authors of the sectarian scrolls.
  • [77] See Nolland, Matt., 418; Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L78.
  • [78] See Lindsey, HTGM, 79 n. 1. For a different view, see Ze’ev Safrai and Peter J. Tomson, “Paul’s ‘Collection for the Saints’ (2 Cor 8-9) and Financial Support of Leaders in Early Christianity and Judaism,” in Second Corinthians in the Perspective of Late Second Temple Judaism (ed. Reimund Bieringer, Emmanuel Nathan, Didier Pollefeyt, and Peter J. Tomson; CRINT 14; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 132-220, esp. 185-186, 190.
  • [79] See Gundry, Matthew, 187.
  • [80] For a fuller discussion of the author of Matthew’s adaptations of the instructions Jesus gave to the apostles in order to respond to circumstances within his own community, see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comments to L62, L63 and L70.
  • [81] In LXX ἄξιος is the translation of מָלֵא in Gen. 23:9; 1 Chr. 21:22, 24.
  • [82] In LXX ἄξιος is the translation of שָׁוָה in Esth. 7:4; Prov. 3:15; 8:11; Job 33:27.
  • [83] In the following examples רָאוּי means “suitable” or “qualified” without the connotation of merit:

    הֲרֵי זֶה רָאוּיִ לִהְיוֹת כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל

    Behold, this one is qualified to be a high priest. (m. Yev. 7:6)

    אִם אָמַ′ עַל מִי שֶׁהוּא רָאוּיִ לִירוּשָּׁה דְּבָרָיו קַיָּימִין וְעַל מִי שֶׁאֵינוּ רָאוּיִ לִירוּשָּׁה אֵין דְּבָרָיו קַיָּימִין

    If he said it about someone who was qualified to inherit, his words are upheld, but if about someone who was not qualified to inherit, they are not upheld. (m. Bab. Bat. 8:5)

    הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת הָרָאוּיִ לוֹ

    The altar sanctifies whatever is qualified to [be offered on] it. (m. Zev. 9:1)

    כָּל שֶׁאֵינוּ רָאוּיִ לַעֲבוֹדָה אֵינוּ חוֹלֵק בַּבָּשָׂר

    Any [priest] who is not qualified for the divine service may not share in the meat [of the sacrifices]. (m. Zev. 12:1)

  • [84] For an example of זָכָה in the sense of “worthy,” cf. אם זכה הוא מתפרנס בהם (“If he is worthy he makes a living by them”; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 27 [ed. Schechter, 55]). For an example of כָּשֵׁר in the sense of “worthy,” cf. יכנס כשר הוא (“Let him enter, he is worthy”; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 28 [ed. Schechter, 57]).
  • [85] See below, Comment to L134.
  • [86] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:491-495.
  • [87] See Dos Santos, 84-84.
  • [88] Additional examples of מִבַּיִת לְבַיִת in the Mishnah are found in m. Pes. 1:2; m. Moed Kat. 2:4.
  • [89] In LXX εἰσέρχεσθαι + πόλις translates עִיר + בָּא in Gen. 34:25; Josh. 10:19; Ruth 2:18; 3:15; 1 Kgdms. 4:13; 9:13; 10:5; 21:1; 23:7; 2 Kgdms. 10:14; 17:17; 19:4; 4 Kgdms. 7:4, 12; 19:32, 33; 24:11; Hos. 11:9; Jonah 3:4; Isa. 37:33; Jer. 4:5; 8:14; 14:18; 48[41]:7.
  • [90] For examples in the Mishnah of “enter a city” with the verb נִכְנַס, see m. Dem. 4:6, 7; m. Avod. Zar. 5:6; cf. t. Ber. 6:16 (“enter a metropolis [כְּרָךְ]”).
  • [91] See Moule, 180-181; Morton Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels (2d ed.; Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1968), 198 n. 6.
  • [92] On δέχεσθαι in the sense of “receive hospitably,” see Walter Grundmann, “δέχομαι,” TDNT, 2:51-52. N.B.: In Nazi Germany Walter Grundmann served as director of the Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben (Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life). Our citation of Grundmann’s scholarship in no way endorses his anti-Semitic worldview. On Grundmann, see Susannah Heschel, “Nazifying Christian Theology: Walter Grundmann and the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life,” Church History 63.4 (1994): 587-605.
  • [93] In LXX δέχεσθαι translates לָקַח in Gen. 4:11; 33:10; Exod. 29:5 (Alexandrinus); 32:4; Deut. 32:11; Judg. 13:23; Ps. 49[50]:9; Prov. 1:3; 2:1; 4:10; 10:8; 21:11; Job 4:12; 40:24; Hos. 4:11; 10:6; Amos 5:11; Zeph. 3:2, 7; Isa. 40:2; Jer. 2:30; 5:3; 7:27[28]; 9:19; 17:23; 32[25]:28.
  • [94] In LXX δέχεσθαι translates קִבֵּל in 2 Chr. 29:16, 22; 2 Esd. 8:30; Job 2:10.
  • [95] On the verb קִבֵּל in late Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew, see Hurvitz, 213-216.
  • [96] In LXX παρατιθέναι is the translation of שָׂם לִפְנֵי in Gen. 24:33; Exod. 19:7; 21:1; Deut. 4:44; 1 Kgdms. 9:24 (2xx); 28:22; 4 Kgdms. 6:22. In Gen. 43:32 and 2 Kgdms. 12:20 παρατιθέναι is the translation of -שָׂם לְ, while in Gen. 18:8 παρατιθέναι is the translation of נָתַן לִפְנֵי (nātan lifnē, “give before,” i.e., “serve”).
  • [97] See Bovon, 2:24.
  • [98] See Marshall, 421; David R. Catchpole, “The Mission Charge in Q,” Semeia 55 (1991): 147-174, esp. 165-166.
  • [99] The translation of συνείδησις (sūneidēsis) as “consciousness,” rather than “conscience,” is intentional. In 1 Cor. 10:29 Paul makes it clear that it is the συνείδησις of the non-believer, not the believer, that is the issue. The question is not whether the non-believing Gentile would have a bad conscience for eating idol-food—he obviously would not—but whether in the non-believer’s mind, in his consciousness, the food was consecrated to a pagan diety. If the non-believer did not treat the food as consecrated, then neither should the believer. On this understanding of συνείδησις, see Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (CRINT III.1; Fortress: Minneapolis, 1990), 208-216.
  • [100] See Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 216-220.
  • [101] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L58-62.
  • [102] In LXX ἀσθενής occurs 16xx in books that are included in MT, where it translates eleven different Hebrew words. See Hatch-Redpath, 1:172.
  • [103] See Bovon, 2:24.
  • [104] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L57.
  • [105] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “Which is correct: ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ or ‘Kingdom of God’?”
  • [106] After arriving at this conclusion, we discovered a handwritten note in the margins of Robert Lindsey’s copy of the Novum Testamentum Graece (ed. S. C. E. Legg), wherein Lindsey also suggested reconstructing ἐγγίζειν with הִגִּיעַ in Matt. 10:7.
  • [107] In LXX φθάνειν translates הִגִּיעַ in 2 Chr. 28:9; Eccl. 8:14 (2xx); 12:1; Song 2:12; Dan. 8:7 (Theodotion); 12:12 (Theodotion).
  • [108] In LXX ἐγγίζειν is the translation of הִגִּיעַ in Ps. 31[32]:6; 87[88]:4; 106[107]:18.
  • [109] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom of God: God’s Power Among Believers.”
  • [110] See Caird, “Uncomfortable Words II. Shake off the Dust from Your Feet,” 41.
  • [111] See Sending the Twelve: Apostle and Sender, Comment to L137.
  • [112] In Esth. 6:9, 11 πλατεῖα is the translation of רְחוֹב (reḥōv, “street,” “square”).
  • [113] For imperative forms of יָצָא in MH, cf., e.g., m. Ter. 4:4; m. Shab. 9:1; m. Pes. 4:2; 7:2; 8:2; 9:9; m. Yom. 3:1; m. Taan. 3:8, 9; m. Avot 2:9; m. Tam. 3:2; m. Mik. 7:1.
  • [114] As Cadbury noted, the pseudepigraphical Acts of Barnabas describes shaking off the dust of the feet on two occasions. See Henry J. Cadbury, “Note XXIV: Dust and Garments” (Foakes Jackson-Lake, 5:269-277, esp. 269 n. 6). In both instances, the verb used for “shake off” is ἐκτινάσσειν (Acts Barn. §20, 21). These descriptions are probably influenced by Acts 13:51.
  • [115] See Cadbury, “Dust and Garments” (Foakes Jackson-Lake, 5:269 n. 4).
  • [116] Lindsey referred to the vocabulary in Mark borrowed from Acts as “Markan pick-ups.”
  • [117] In MT אָבָק occurs 6xx, whereas עָפָר occurs 110xx. Likewise, in the Mishnah אָבָק occurs 6xx, whereas עָפָר occurs 62xx.
  • [118] The Tosefta’s parallel has אבק שעל רגליו (t. Ber. 7:19; Vienna MS).
  • [119] The sages noted that whereas Abraham first washed the angels’ feet and then offered them hospitality, Lot first invited the angels to stay the night and then offered to wash their feet (cf. Gen. 18:4; 19:2).
  • [120] See, for instance, Henry Barclay Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark (3d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1913), 118; W. Manson, 101; T. W. Manson, 76; Taylor, 305; Davies-Allison, 2:178 n. 47; B. Green, 110.
  • [121] Commenting on Matt. 10:14 in his Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae (1658), Lightfoot wrote:

    Therefore that Rite of shaking the dust off the feet commanded the disciples, speaks thus much; “Wheresoever a City of Israel shall not receive you; when ye depart, by shaking off the dust from your feet, shew that ye esteem that City, however a City of Israel, for a Heathen, prophane, impure City, and as such abhor it.”

  • [122] Cf., e.g., m. Ohol. 2:3; m. Toh. 4:5; b. Git. 8a-b; b. Sanh. 12b. For a discussion of the rabbinic concept of the ritual impurity of Gentile land, see Shmuel Safrai, “The Land of Israel in Tannaitic Halacha,” in Das Land Israel in biblischer Zeit (ed. Georg Strecker; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), 201-215, esp. 206-207.
  • [123] Accordingly, Edwards writes: “In applying a Gentile figure of speech to a Jewish village, Jesus desacralizes Eretz Israel, and with it the presumption of salvation on the basis of ethnicity, nation, or race.” See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 263; cf. 309.
  • [124] Scholars who cite the supposed Jewish dust-shaking ceremony include Plummer (Luke, 240): “It is said that Pharisees performed this action when re-entering Judæa from heathen lands”; Caird (“Uncomfortable Words II. Shake off the Dust from Your Feet,” 41): “the shaking off of dust from the feet was a Jewish gesture directed against Gentiles…. The astonishing thing about Jesus’ instruction…is that this Jewish gesture is now to be employed against Jews”; Marshall (354): “The action of shaking off the dust of a gentile city from one’s feet was practiced by Jews”; Fitzmyer (1:754): “Jews returning to Palestine were expected to do the same”; France (Mark, 250): “The rabbis shook the dust off their feet when leaving Gentile territory, to avoid carrying its defilement with them”; Keener (320): “But those who rejected Christ’s agents…were to be treated like spiritual pagans [(Matt.) 10:14]. Just as Jewish people returning to the holy land might shake the dust of Gentile lands from their feet, or those entering the holy temple might shake the relatively profane dust of the land of Israel from their feet…, so Jesus’ disciples were to treat as unholy those who rejected their message”; Hagner (1:273): “Jews shook the dust off their sandals when they returned from travelling in [unclean] gentile territory”; Guelich (322): “The Jews customarily shook dust from their feet when returning from gentile territory”; Vermes (276): “The mention of shaking dust from their feet recalls an old Jewish custom, which consisted in pilgrims and travellers cleansing themselves of the unclean dust of foreign lands before they entered the Holy Land”; Edwards (262): “When Jews traveled outside Palestine, they were commanded to shake themselves free of dust when returning to Israel, lest they pollute the Holy Land.” The most egregious example is probably that of Joel Green, who writes:

    Ordinarily an action related to self-purification, here it [shaking off dust—DNB and JNT] is specifically interpreted as a performative testimony against the village—designed not, then, to render the traveler clean (again), but to declare the village “unclean.” That is, Jesus’ instructions, albeit in a subtle way, circumvent ordinary rules of purity by turning them on their head. Jesus performed no such act of self-purification upon his return from the land of the Gentiles and the domain of the unclean in [Luke] 8:40, for he had found responsive faith even in the midst of impurity and rejection ([Luke] 8:26-39). No longer working narrowly within an ethnic definition of Israel as the people of God, he now declares that those who refuse the salvific visitation of God…are to be regarded as though they were outside the people of God. (J. Green, 360)

    Not only does Green base his interpretation on a custom that never existed, but on the basis of this fantasy he attempts to prove that Jesus abolished ancient Judaism’s system of ritual purity and that Jesus rejected “ethnic” Israel as the people of God.

    Even among scholars who reject the interpretation that the command to shake the dust from the apostles’ feet was a symbolic gesture implying that the Jewish inhabitants of the town that did not receive the apostles were henceforth to be regarded as Gentiles, there is often a failure to mention that no Jewish dust-shaking ceremony is ever attested in the ancient sources. See, for instance, Nolland (Luke, 1:428): “It probably has no relationship to the rabbinic tradition of carefully removing the dust of foreign lands before returning to the Holy Land”; Witherington (222): “Probably the action of Jesus’ disciples in shaking the dust off their feet has nothing to do with the later rabbinic gesture of shaking the dust off one’s feet when one leaves a Gentile country.”

  • [125] Gill, writing in the 1740s, for instance, made no reference to an alleged Jewish dust-shaking rite.
  • [126] Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (2 vols.; 2d ed.; Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., 1868-1872), 1:70.
  • [127] See Edwin A. Abbott, The Corrections of Mark Adopted by Matthew and Luke (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1901), 106.
  • [128] See Strack-Billerbeck, 1:571. Marcus (384) writes: “Strack-Billerbeck (1.571) asserts that Jews returning to the Holy Land from abroad would shake off the dust of the unclean pagan lands in which they had been sojourning, but the passages they cite (e.g., m. Ohol. 2:3; b. Ber. 19b) do not support this assertion.” Cf. Luz (2:81 n. 93): “The (later) rabbinical conviction that gentile land is unclean (references in Str-B 1.571) did not lead to a rite of shaking off the dust; this has been created (!) by Billerbeck.”
  • [129] Our thanks to Guido Baltes for consulting with us on Strack and Billerbeck’s interpretation of Matt. 10:14.
  • [130] Kosmala’s warning is apropos: “NT scholars should study the original texts and BILLERBECK’s translations and conclusions with care, and should not be too rash with their own conclusions.” See Hans Kosmala, “‘In My Name,’” Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 5 (1967): 87-109; quotation on 87-88.
  • [131] Subsequently, we discovered that this interpretation of Jesus’ command to shake the dust from the feet has been suggested by other scholars, though not in connection with the aggadic treatments of the story of Lot and the angels. See Andrew Arterbury, Entertaining Angels, 140, 143, cited by Mikeal C. Parsons, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 147.
  • [132] On the expectation that foot washing was a normal part of hospitality, cf. Luke 7:44; 1 Tim. 5:10; Gen. Rab. 72:5. Abraham, who was the paradigm of Jewish hospitality, welcomed wayfaring strangers and washed their feet before serving them food (Gen. 18:4; Philo, Abr. §107, 114; Jos., Ant. 1:196, 200; T. Ab. (A) 3:7-9).
  • [133] For differing views in modern scholarship on Lot’s hospitality toward the angels in comparison with Abraham’s, see Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg, “Was Lot a Good Host? Was Lot Saved from Sodom as a Reward for His Hospitality?” and Jonathan D. Safren, “Hospitality Compared: Abraham and Lot as Hosts,” both in Universalism and Particularism at Sodom and Gomorrah: Essays in Memory of Ron Pirson (ed. Diana Lipton; Leiden: Brill, 2012), 129-156 (Peleg), 157-178 (Safren).
  • [134] On inhospitality and greed as the sin of Sodom, see Ezek. 16:49; Wis. 19:14; Jos., Ant. 1:194; m. Avot 5:10; Sifre Deut. §43, on Deut. 11:6; b. Sanh. 109a. Given that the inhospitality of Sodom was proverbial, it is unnecessary to suppose that the aggadic treatments of the story of Lot that mention the dust on the angels’ feet already existed in the time of Jesus. All that is necessary is the cultural assumption that, had proper hospitality been shown to the apostles, there would no longer be any dust on their feet when they departed the town.
  • [135] On the other hand, the change to “dust…from your town” could be an intentional reworking of the tradition in order to allude to the concept of the condemned city (עיר הנדחת), the dust of which is forbidden for all uses (cf. b. Hul. 89a). We are indebted to Ze’ev Safrai for this suggestion (personal communication).
  • [136] For examples of נָעַר in rabbinic literature, see m. Shab. 21:2, 3; m. Maksh. 1:4; t. Avod. Zar. 4:11; t. Maksh. 3:12.
  • [137] In LXX the phrase εἰς μαρτύριον is the translation of לְעֵד‎ 5xx (Gen. 31:44; Deut. 31:19, 26; Job 16:8; Mic. 1:2) and the translation of לְעֵדָה‎ 3xx (Gen. 21:30; Josh. 24:27 [2xx]).
  • [138] See Jastrow, 1043.
  • [139] Lindsey observed that in the Synoptic Gospels Jesus usually says “Amen!” as an affirmative response to something someone else said or as a reaffirmation and amplification of something Jesus himself had just said, which conforms to the responsive use of “amen” in Hebrew sources. See Robert L. Lindsey, “‘Verily’ or ‘Amen’—What Did Jesus Say?
  • [140] In the following Matthean-Lukan parallels Luke omits ἀμήν or uses a synonym:

    • Matt. 5:26 (ἀμὴν λέγω σοι) // Luke 12:59 (λέγω σοι); DT.
    • Matt. 8:10 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 7:9 (λέγω ὑμῖν); DT. Since the author of Matthew redacted this pericope, the authenticity of this instance of ἀμήν is in doubt.
    • Matt. 10:15 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 10:12 (λέγω ὑμῖν); DT.
    • Matt. 11:11 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 7:28 (λέγω ὑμῖν); DT.
    • Matt. 13:17 (ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 10:24 (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν); DT.
    • Matt. 16:28 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 9:27 (λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ἀληθῶς); cf. Mark 9:1 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν).
    • Matt. 18:13 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 15:5 (—); DT. Matthew’s un-Hebraic usage of ἀμήν in an interrogative sentence leads us to prefer Luke’s omission of ἀμήν in this instance.
    • Matt. 23:36 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 11:51 (ναὶ λέγω ὑμῖν); DT.
    • Matt. 24:47 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) // Luke 12:44 (ἀληθῶς λέγω ὑμῖν); DT.
    • Matt. 26:34 (ἀμὴν λέγω σοι) // Luke 22:34 (λέγω σοι); cf. Mark 14:30 (ἀμὴν λέγω σοι). In this pericope Matthew seems to be following Mark rather than Anth. The usage of ἀμήν is un-Hebraic since it introduces a contrary statement, not an affirmation. Luke is probably to be preferred in this instance.

    See the discussion of Luke’s use of ἀμήν in Cadbury, 157.

  • [141] So Dalman, 227.
  • [142] On transliterated words in the Synoptic Gospels, see Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “LOY Excursus: Greek Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels.”
  • [143] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L102.
  • [144] For examples of recitative ὅτι in Anth., see Widow’s Son in Nain, L22, L23; Tower Builder and King Going to War Similes, L8; Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L102; Blessedness of the Twelve, L10.
  • [145] See Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L22.
  • [146] For a similar example, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L76.
  • [147] Saldarini interprets “clothed in linen” as a reference to people who are wealthy, since linen was worn by the well-to-do. In support of his view, Saldarini cites Luke 16:19, where the rich man in the parable wears garments of linen. See Saldarini, trans., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, 197 n. 18.
  • [148] See Marshall, 424; Luz, 2:71 n. 10; Bovon, 2:24.
  • [149] In b. Shab. 67a we find a reference to מלאכי דאישתלחו מארעא דסדום (“angels sent from the land of Sodom”).
  • [150] On Aramaic influence in Matthew, see Randall Buth, “Matthew’s Aramaic Glue.”
  • [151] See Harnack, 13.
  • [152] Parallel to ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως (“in the day of judgment”) Luke has ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ (“in that day”; Luke 10:12 opposite Matt. 10:15; 11:24) or ἐν τῇ κρίσει (“in the judgment”; Luke 10:14 opposite Matt. 11:22). There is no Lukan parallel to Matt. 12:36.
  • [153] On reconstructing ἡμέρα (hēmera, “day”) as יוֹם (yōm, “day”), see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L5.
  • [154] The following passages contain examples of “the day of judgment” in rabbinic literature:

    רבי אלעזר אומר אם תזכו לשמור את השבת תנצלו משלש פורעניות מיומו של גוג ומחבלו של משיח ומיום דין הגדול

    Rabbi Eliezer says, “If you succeed in keeping the Sabbath you will be spared three tribulations: [you will be spared] from the day of Gog, from the tribulations preceding the Messiah, and from the Great Day of Judgment.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 5 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:245])

    תניא בית שמאי אומרים שלש כתות הן ליום הדין אחת של צדיקים גמורין ואחת של רשעים גמורין ואחת של בינוניים

    It was taught [in a baraita]: The House of Shammai say, “There are three divisions on the Day of Judgment: one is of the completely righteous, one is of the completely wicked, and the other is of the mixed type.” (b. Rosh Hash. 16b)

    וכל העובר עבירה אחת בעוה″ז מלפפתו והולכת לפניו ליום הדין

    …and whoever commits one sin, it clings to him in this world and goes on ahead of him to the Day of Judgment…. (b. Sot. 3b; cf. b. Avod. Zar. 5a)

    עונות שאדם דש בעקביו בעולם הזה מסובין לו ליום הדין

    Sins that a man grinds with his heels [i.e., treats as insignificant—DNB and JNT] in this world surround him on the Day of Judgment. (b. Avod. Zar. 18a)

  • [155] In fact, we do find εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως in 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7. In Jude 6 we find εἰς κρίσιν μεγάλης ἡμέρας—a near perfect equivalent for ליום דין הגדול—which we encountered in Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa chpt. 5 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:245]. In 1 John 4:17, which is remote from Hebrew influence, we find ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς κρίσεως.
  • [156] See Marshall, 424; Bovon, 2:24.
  • [157] Flusser characterized Jesus as a second Jeremiah, who called for repentance in order to avert a national crisis (Flusser, Jesus, 200).
  • [158] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 330.
  • [159] Note that in response to the Assyrian invasion of the kingdom of Judah by Sennacherib, the prophet Isaiah exclaimed, “Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9; NIV). Thus, according to Isaiah, suffering a fate like Sodom’s can come as a judgment from God via human actions.
  • [160] The verb διέρχεσθαι occurs 2xx in Matthew (Matt 12:43; 19:24) and 2xx in Mark (Mark 4:35; 10:25), compared to 10xx in Luke and 21xx in Acts (Luke 2:15, 35; 4:30; 5:15; 8:22; 9:6; 11:24; 17:11; 19:1, 4; Acts 8:4, 40; 9:32, 38; 10:38; 11:19, 22; 12:10; 13:6, 14; 14:24; 15:3, 41; 16:6; 17:23; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 21; 20:2, 25). Likewise, the verb ἐυαγγελίζειν occurs once in Matthew (Matt. 11:5) and not at all in Mark, compared to 10xx in Luke and 15xx in Acts (Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1; Acts 5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18).
  • [161] The adverb πανταχοῦ occurs in Isa. 42:22.
  • [162] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Further Proof of Mark’s Dependence on Luke”; Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups,” under the entry for Mark 6:13.
  • [163] The two other instances of ἄρρωστος in NT are in Matt. 14:14 and 1 Cor. 11:30.
  • [164] See Beare, 87. The following diagram demonstrates how similar the conclusions of the five Matthean discourses are:

    Matthew 7:28 Matthew 11:1 Matthew 13:53 Matthew 19:1 Matthew 26:1
    1 Καὶ ἐγένετο Καὶ ἐγένετο Καὶ ἐγένετο Καὶ ἐγένετο Καὶ ἐγένετο
    2 ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν
    3 ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
    4 πάντας
    5 τοὺς λόγους τοὺς λόγους τοὺς λόγους
    6 τὰς παραβολὰς
    7 τούτους…. ταύτας…. τούτους…. τούτους….
    8 διατάσσων
    9 τοῖς δώδεκα μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ….

  • [165] See Luz, 2:123.
  • [166] In LXX διατάσσειν occurs in Judg. 5:9; 1 Kgdms. 13:11; 3 Kgdms. 11:18; 1 Chr. 9:33; 2 Chr. 5:11; Jdt. 2:16; 1 Macc. 6:35; 2 Macc. 5:3; 12:20; 14:22; 3 Macc. 1:19; 5:44; 4 Macc. 8:3; Prov. 9:12; Wis. 11:20; Pss. Sol. 18:10; Ezek. 21:24, 25; 42:20; 44:8.
  • [167] See Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L7.
  • [168] See Schweizer, 253-254; Gundry, Matthew, 203; Davies-Allison, 2:239.
  • [169] Note, moreover, that we regard μεταβαίνειν in Luke 10:7 as redactional. See above, Comment to L98.
  • [170] In the Johannine corpus μεταβαίνειν occurs in John 5:24; 7:3; 13:1; 1 John 3:14. The only other instance of μεταβαίνειν in NT is in the un-Hebraic second half of Acts (Acts 18:7).
  • [171] In LXX μεταβαίνειν occurs in 2 Macc. 6:1, 9, 24; Wis. 7:27; 19:19.
  • [172] In the Synoptic Gospels we find ἐκεῖθεν in Matt. 4:21; 5:26; 9:9, 27; 11:1; 12:9, 15; 13:53; 14:13; 15:21, 29; 19:15; Mark 6:1, 10, 11; 7:24; 9:30 (κἀκεῖθεν); 10:1; Luke 9:4; 11:53 (κἀκεῖθεν); 12:59; 16:26.
  • [173] Matthew has ἐκεῖθεν where it is absent in the Lukan and/or Markan parallels in Matt. 4:21 (opposite Mark 1:19; Luke 5:2); Matt. 9:9 (opposite Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27); Matt. 12:9 (opposite Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6); Matt. 12:15 (opposite Mark 3:7; Luke 6:17); Matt. 14:13 (opposite Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10); Matt. 15:29 (opposite Mark 7:31; no Lukan parallel); Matt. 19:15 (opposite Mark 10:16; no Lukan parallel).
  • [174] See Gundry, Matthew, 203; Hagner, 1:297; Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comment to L6.
  • [175] See Joshua N. Tilton, “‘Shake the Dust from Your Feet’: What Did the Apostles’ Action Signify?
  • [176] In the broader Greco-Roman culture, as well as in ancient Jewish society, it was considered proper to wash the feet of one’s guests prior to serving them a meal. See Blake Leyerle, “Meal Customs in the Greco-Roman World,” in Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (ed. Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman; Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 29-61, esp. 40.

The Good Samaritan

This article is a sample chapter from Windows into the Bible: Cultural & Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers by Marc Turnage. Reproduced on with the kind permission of the publisher.

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is perhaps one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. The origin of the parable derives from an exchange between Jesus and an expert in the Law. The scribe asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded to his question in a very Jewish manner with another question, asking the scribe to summarize the Law. The scribe responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul…” and Leviticus 19:18, “and your neighbor as yourself.”

Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are two of three passages within the Old Testament that begin with the phrase וְאָהַבְתָּ (ve’āhavtā; “and you will love”). Jewish interpreters, like Jesus and Paul, connected biblical passages due to shared language between the two verses. The hermeneutical method was known as gezerah shevah. Language, not theology, drove the hermeneutic. Ancient Jewish interpreters assumed that God, who inspired the biblical writers, intended connections between passages that had shared vocabulary even if the passages came from different books. In their handling of Scripture, when they found passages that had shared vocabulary, language drove the hermeneutical method and by bringing the passages together the theological idea was birthed. Quite often, one passage was viewed as esoteric or abstract and the other passage provided a tangible, practical way to interpret the first passage. Loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength is abstract. Ancient Jewish interpreters would understand that the shared language between Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 pointed to Leviticus 19:18—“Love your neighbor who is like yourself”—providing a tangible, practical way one loved God: by loving the one created in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). The second passage interprets the first.

Deuteronomy 6:5 is part of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel”), which was recited daily by Jews in the first century (m. Berachot 1.1). Some believed that by reciting the Shema one accepted upon oneself the kingdom of heaven (m. Berachot 2.2). The second passage, Leviticus 19:18, played a central role in the developing humane spirit within ancient Judaism.[1] Certain circles identified Leviticus 19:18 as the great summary of the Torah (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8; Avot de Rabbi Nathan version B, 26; Sifra Kedoshim 45). Jesus Himself identified these two passages as the great commandments of the Torah (Matt. 22:34-30; Mark 12:28-34; see Didache 1:2).

Jesus replied to the scribe that he had answered correctly, “do this and you will live” (see Matt. 7:24-27; Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). The scribe proceeded to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” His question asked Jesus to draw a line indicating who was inside and who was outside the commandment, and thus, whom he was obligated to love.

In this video Marc Turnage discusses the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

To answer his question, Jesus told a parable based upon the third Old Testament passage that begins with וְאָהַבְתָּ (ve’āhavtā; “and you shall love”) Leviticus 19:34: “And you shall love him (the foreigner) as yourself….” This exchange demonstrates the erudition and Torah learning of Jesus, and that He functioned at the highest level of Jewish academic training. It also betrays His incredibly creative genius.

The Parable and its Spiritual Setting

Jesus’ story relates the common occurrence of a man traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Walking along the road, passing through the wilderness, the man fell among robbers, who beat him and left him “half-dead.” Jesus’ description of the man as “half-dead” indicates that he was on the threshold of dying. The man’s status as “half-dead” seems inconsequential to modern readers, apart from the fact that he was in desperate need of assistance. However, Jesus’ original audience would have immediately understood that in addition to the man’s dire need, his state raised concerns of ritual purity. The beaten man’s status as “half-dead” introduces the tension within Jesus’ story.

Remains of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photographed by Todd Bolen courtesy of
Remains of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photographed by Todd Bolen courtesy of

Ritual purity was a major issue within ancient Jewish spirituality.[2] It stood at the heart of many of the debates and differences of interpretation between the various streams of Jewish piety, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The New Testament mentions that Mary and Paul both participated in acts of ritual purification due to their impurity (Luke 2:22; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18; see also John 11:55). Anytime we find Jesus, His followers, or His family at the Jerusalem temple, we can assume that prior to ascending onto the temple platform they ritually immersed, which was required by Jewish law. Archaeological excavations near to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have uncovered a small clay seal with the inscription “Pure for the Lord.” The archaeologists have suggested that this seal represents a “ticket” that pilgrims received after immersing themselves in the ritual immersion pools (mikva’ot) around the Temple Mount for them to show the guards of the temple, proving their purity in order to enter onto the temple platform and into the sacred area.[3]

First-century C.E. seal discovered in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount with the Aramaic inscription דכא ליה ("Pure to the Lord").
First-century C.E. seal discovered in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount with the Aramaic inscription דכא ליה (“Pure to the LORD”).

Within ancient Judaism, ritual purity had nothing to do with sin. It primarily pertained to the temple, its holy things, and eating “sacred” foods. One contracted ritual impurity within the course of daily life: a woman’s menstrual period, a man and his wife after sexual relations, childbirth, contact with leprosy, and coming in contact with a corpse. None of these things were sinful; they simply made one impure so that they could not enter the sacred area of the temple and participate in certain religious ceremonies while they were impure. The Torah outlines that different actions cause different levels of ritual impurity. For example, a man and his wife after sexual relations had to bathe and were purified at sundown (Lev. 15:16-18; Deut. 22:10-12). A person who came into contact with a corpse was unclean for seven days and could only be purified by water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer (Num. 19:11-19).

Of those things that caused ritual impurity, corpse impurity was one of the more serious. According to the Torah, corpses make those who touch them and those under the same roof impure (Num. 19). As previously stated, corpse impurity was not wrong and had nothing to do with sin. Burial of the dead was considered one of the principal acts of piety within Judaism (Deut. 21:23; Tobit 1.17-20; 2.1-9; Josephus, Apion 2.211; Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42). The Law of Moses, however, decreed that priests could not defile themselves for any dead among the people except for their closest relatives (Lev. 21:1-4). The Levitical command continues that a priest cannot enter where there is a dead body, even for his father and mother (Lev. 21:11; see Ezek. 44:25-27).
As Judaism developed and different streams of Jewish piety emerged, the biblical laws of purity evolved within each group, e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, and between the groups. For example, the humane spirit that emerged within Pharisaic Judaism caused the sages to question the biblical injunction that forbade a priest and a Nazirite from burying a neglected corpse.

A high priest or a Nazirite may not contract uncleanness because of their [dead] kindred, but they may contract uncleanness because of a neglected corpse (מת מצווה; mēt mitzvāh). If they were on a journey and found a neglected corpse, Rabbi Eliezer says: “The high priest may contract uncleanness but the Nazirite may not contract uncleanness.” But the sages say: “The Nazirite may contract uncleanness but the high priest may not contract uncleanness.” Rabbi Eliezer said to them: “Rather let the priest contract uncleanness for he needs not to bring an offering because of uncleanness, and let not the Nazirite contract uncleanness for he must bring an offering because of his uncleanness” (see Num. 6:19). They answered: “Rather let the Nazirite contract uncleanness, for his sanctity is not a lifelong sanctity, and let not the priest contract uncleanness, for his sanctity is a lifelong sanctity.” (m. Nazir 7.1)

It should be recognized first of all that the debate between Rabbi Eliezer (second century AD) and the sages sets aside the clear biblical command that priests cannot have contact with a corpse that was not a part of their immediate family (Lev. 21:1-4, 11; Ezek. 44:25-27). The argument assumes that care for the dead (one created in the image of God; Gen. 1:27) superseded the biblical command. This debate also shows that the actions a priest should take who came upon a corpse were not self-evident at the end of the first and beginning of the second century AD.[4] A difference of opinions existed as to how the priest should respond in this situation.

Josephus describes the Pharisees as being “naturally lenient in the matter of punishments” (Ant. 13.294). He says this in the context of describing a debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees in which the Pharisees took a more lenient stance in the application of penal law. Instead of calling for the execution of the offender, they felt he should have been beaten and imprisoned (Ant. 13.293-98). Josephus relates that the Pharisees “passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed” (Ant. 13.297). Josephus here outlines a key difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees accepted the Written Law (the Old Testament) and the Oral Law (the traditions of interpretation on the Written Law orally passed down). The Sadducees, however, only accepted the Written Law, and therefore interpreted the biblical text quite literally and conservatively. Due to their more humane approach, the Pharisees tended to be more lenient regarding purity and penal laws than the Sadducees (Josephus, Ant. 20.199). In other words, as we saw with the discussion about the neglected corpse, the Pharisees could set aside the written Law with an oral law (see John 7:53-8:11). This was unacceptable to the more literal Sadducees who were stricter with regard to purity and punitive laws (Ant. 13.293-298; 20.199).

Josephus’ portrayal of the Sadducees as severely strict with regard to penal law and their adherence to a literal and strict interpretation of Scripture is remembered in the rabbinic commentary to Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient list of fast days:

“Upon the fourth of Tammuz the Book of Decrees became defunct.” For a Book of Decrees was written down and deposited with the Sadducees: “These are to be stoned, these are to be burnt, these are to be decapitated, these are to be strangled.” Were one to ask them during the session, then they showed the book; were one to ask for argumentation…then they knew not how to answer. The Sages said to them: “Is it not written, ‘According to [literally: to the mouth of] the Torah which they teach you’ (Deut. 17:11)—that teaches us that halakhot are not to be written down.” Another interpretation: “The Book of Decrees.” For the Boethusians (a group attached to the Sadducees) were accustomed to saying: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exod. 21:24)—if someone hits another’s tooth out, then he must hit one of his out; if someone makes another’s eye blind, then he must make his eye blind, so that they are equal. (Scholion to Megillat Ta’anit, 10 Tammuz)[5]

Instead of reading the biblical commandment “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” literally as the Sadducees, the Pharisees interpreted these verses in a lenient manner, referring to financial compensation equal to the physical injury.

Large ritual immersion pool (mikveh) at the Temple Mount—possibly used by priests for their ritual washing. Photograph by Todd Bolen courtesy of
Large ritual immersion pool (mikveh) at the Temple Mount—possibly used by priests for their ritual washing. Photograph by Todd Bolen courtesy of

In the first century, prior to the destruction of the temple (AD 70), the majority of the priests and Levites belonged to the party of the Sadducees (see Acts 5:17; Josephus, Ant. 20.199; t. Parah 3.6-7).[6] The Sadducees focused upon the temple, its worship and priesthood, and a more strict understanding of purity and penal law based upon their literal, conservative interpretation of Scripture, which led them to reject the more humane spirit developing within Pharisaic circles. This Sadducean concern for purity over human life appears in a story preserved in rabbinic tradition.[7]

Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that two priests were side by side as they ran to mount the ramp [to the altar in the temple]. When one of them came first within four cubits of the altar, the other took a knife and thrust it into his heart. Rabbi Zadok stood on the steps of the Hall [leading to the interior of the temple] and proclaimed: “Our brethren of the house of Israel, listen carefully! Behold it says, ‘If one be found slain in the land…then your elders and judges shall come forth’ (Deut. 21:1). On whose behalf shall we offer the heifer whose neck is to be broken, on behalf of the city or on behalf of the Temple?” All the people burst out weeping. The father [also a priest] of the young man came and found him still in convulsions. He said: “May he be an atonement for you. My son is still in convulsions and the knife has not become unclean.” [His remark] comes to teach you that the cleanness of their vessels was of greater concern to them even than the shedding of blood. Thus it was also said: “More over Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other (2 Kings 21:16).” (b. Yoma 23a; t. Yoma 1.12)

Rather than assist the dying man, the concern of his father, a priest, centered on the purity of the knife to perform the temple service. The spirit of this tale fits with what we have seen regarding the Sadducean concern for purity and biblical literalness instead of a humane concern. It also fits the tension of Jesus’ story: the man, half-dead on the side of the road, presented a purity concern for the priest and Levite, both of whom most likely belonged to the party of the Sadducees.

The man on the side of the road was not a corpse, yet. He was “half-dead.” Pharisaic oral tradition permitted the violation of almost any commandment for the preservation of life (פִּיקוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ; piqūaḥ

Whence do we know that the duty of saving life supersedes the Sabbath laws? Rabbi Ishmael answered, “even shedding of blood, which defiles the land and causes the Shekinah to remove, is to supersede the laws of the Sabbath, how much more should the duty of saving life supersede the Sabbath law!”…Rabbi Akiva says: “If punishment for murder sets aside even the Temple service, which in turn supersedes the Sabbath, how much more should the duty of saving life supersede the Sabbath laws (see Matt. 12:1-8)!” (Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exod. 31:12; see also b. Yoma 85a)

This oral tradition, however, did not fit the biblical literalness of the Sadducees and their strict concern for purity, especially for priests (Lev. 21:1-4, 11). The Hebrew term behind Luke’s Greek phrase “half-dead” was גוֹסֵס (gōsēs).[8] This refers to someone whose condition is so bad that death is most likely imminent (b. Arakhin 18a; and b. Gittin 28a). Pharisaic tradition afforded the same legal status to a dying man (גוֹסֵס; gōsēs) as to a living man (Semahot 1.1). The Sadducees and their concerns for purity, however, would not have embraced this humane spirit that saw in the dying man the image of God.

This explains the priest’s and Levite’s avoidance in helping the man. If they helped him, and he died, they would have become ritually impure from contact with a corpse, which was forbidden according to the Law of Moses (Lev. 21:1-4, 11; Ezek. 44:25-27). Herein lies the tension of the parable: purity and the Law of God versus the needs of the human individual.

The Samaritan

The tension between Jews and Samaritans in the first century is well known (War 2.232-49; Ant. 18.29-30; 20.118-36; Luke 9:52-53; John 4:9; and m. Rosh Hashanah 2.2). Samaritans at times waylaid and harassed Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem (Ant. 20.118-36; Luke 9:52-53). Interpretations of Jesus’ parable usually focus only on these cultural tensions for understanding the appearance of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable.

A question as to the legal status of Samaritans existed within ancient Judaism. Were Samaritans considered Jews, half-Jews, or Gentiles? Differences of opinion existed within Judaism (Ant. 11.341; t. Terumot 4.12, 14; see also Ben Sira 50:26; b. Hullin 6a).[9] Jesus belonged to those Jews who viewed Samaritans as Gentiles. Luke records an event where Jesus healed ten lepers, one of whom was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). Of the ten, only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus. Jesus responded, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner (ἀλλογενὴς; allogenēs)” (Luke 17:17-18)?

A view of Mount Gerizim from the city of Shechem photographed by David Bivin. This photograph belongs to the collection Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin.
A view of Mount Gerizim from the city of Shechem photographed by David Bivin. This photograph belongs to the collection Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin.

Jesus’ description of the Samaritan as a “foreigner” indicates that He viewed Samaritans as equal to Gentiles. Within the Jerusalem temple, the outer court was separated from the sacred area by a low wall, the balustrade, and on this wall, were inscriptions in Greek and Latin that warned foreigners, Gentiles, not to pass that point or they would forfeit their lives (War 5.193-94; Ant. 15.417). Paul was arrested due to a riot that broke out in the temple because it was believed he took Trophimus the Ephesian past the barrier (Acts 21:26-36; see also Eph. 2:14). Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem in 1871 and 1935 uncovered two copies of the Greek inscription from this wall, which begins “No foreigner (ἀλλογενὴ; allogenē) is to enter within the balustrade….”[10] This inscription used the same Greek term to describe all foreigners that is used in Luke to describe the Samaritan who returned to give thanks. Jesus’ identification of Samaritans as Gentiles becomes an important detail to the thrust of His story.

To the lawyer’s summary of the Torah, citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus told a story in response to the lawyer’s follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor,” built off the third verse that begins “and you will love”: Leviticus 19:34, “And you shall love him (the stranger) as yourself.”[11] In the parable, the Samaritan behaves according to the Leviticus 19:34 passage. The Samaritan, a foreigner, acts to save the life of the half-dead man, a Jew. The Samaritan loved the foreigner (the man on the road) as himself. His actions stand in stark contrast to the priest and Levite, whose concern for ritual purity led them to pass by the one dying on the roadside.

The rhetorical punch of Jesus’ story is not simply the tensions between Jews and Samaritans. Rather, He portrays even a Gentile knowing and acting in a manner to save human life, something the religious elite would not do because of their strict concern for purity. The Samaritan, a Gentile, behaved in accordance with the Torah (Rom. 2:14), while the priest and the Levite missed the heart of the Torah.

Jesus would often use Gentiles in both positive and negative ways for rhetorical contrast in His teachings (Matt. 5:47; 6:7; Luke 7:9; and 12:30). When He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), He used two examples of God showing mercy to Gentiles, those outside the covenant community (Luke 4:25-27), as a means of demonstrating that God does not distinguish to whom He shows mercy, and neither should Jesus’ listeners (see Matt. 5:45-48). In this parable, the Gentile Samaritan, not the priest and Levite, exemplified Leviticus 19:34.[12]

The parable came as a response to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted Jesus to draw a circle defining who is inside, and therefore the neighbor I must love, and who is outside. Jesus, by using Leviticus 19:34, ingeniously turned the lawyer’s question on its head: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus refused to allow the man to draw a circle defining insiders and outsiders. His response: be the neighbor. Jesus viewed God as showing no partiality to His creation in His mercy:

For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust…. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:45-48).[13]

For Jesus, God does not distinguish in His mercy, and neither should we!

Theology of the Parable

In the centuries leading up to the first century, Judaism experienced a theological revolution that evolved into a new sensitivity of the value of the human individual.[14] Two biblical verses stood at the heart of this revolution: Leviticus 19:18, which came to be read, “Love your neighbor who is like yourself” and Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God created He them.” Human beings bear the image of God and, therefore, have intrinsic value. Moreover, in the manner in which I treat a person created in the image of God, who is like myself, God will respond to me.

The scribe Jesus ben Sira, writing at the beginning of the second century BC, stated, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy toward another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir. 28:2-4). In the book of Jubilees, written around the same time as Ben Sira, we find, “And among yourselves, my sons, be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him, and acting together on the earth, and loving each other as themselves” (Sir. 36:4). Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar said, “This word: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ has been proclaimed with a ‘great oath’: I—the Lord, have created him (i.e., your neighbor). If you love him, I can be relied upon to reward you, but if you do not love him—I can be relied upon to visit my judgment on you” (Avot de Rabbi Nathan version A, 16).

Although this humane spirit began to emerge in the centuries prior to Jesus, it was not wholly embraced within Judaism. To many, this new sensitivity would have seemed like heresy. Judaism eventually came to accept this humane approach as the heart of its moral philosophy, but that only came after three devastating and tragic revolts in the first and second centuries AD. Jesus embraced this emerging Jewish humanism and its emphasis upon the value of the human individual, as well as God acting toward us in the manner we act toward others. He stood on the cutting edge of this developing new sensitivity, and in a time of great ethnic, social, and religious tension, He exhibited the boldness to make the radical leap: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

The question of the lawyer in Luke 10:29 sought to further clarify who is my neighbor. Jesus answered this question by building a parable upon Leviticus 19:34 and making the hero of the parable a Samaritan, someone outside of the Jewish community, who showed mercy (Luke 10:37) towards one like himself. In response to Jesus’ question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer replied, “The one who showed (literally, did) mercy with him.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan as depicted in the sixth-century Rossano Gospels manuscript. This depiction is an example of an allegorical interpretation according to which Jesus himself plays the part of the Good Samaritan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The parable of the Good Samaritan as depicted in the sixth-century C.E. Rossano Gospels manuscript. This depiction is an example of an allegorical interpretation according to which Jesus himself plays the part of the Good Samaritan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The new sensitivity created a certain tension because of the emphasis it placed upon the value of the “one” to God (Luke 15:1-10; m. Sanhedrin 4.5). The needs, then, of a single human being can run in conflict with religious obligation, like ritual purity and Sabbath. This is the tension of the parable of the Good Samaritan. For Jesus, the needs of the one created in the image of God supersede the commands of purity. A similar tension, although concerning the Sabbath, is reflected in the story of Abba Tahnah, the Hasid:

Abba Tahnah, the Hasid, was entering his city on the Sabbath-eve at dusk with his bundle slung over his shoulder, when he met a man afflicted with boils lying at the cross-roads. The latter said to him, “Rabbi, do me an act of charity and carry me into the city.” He remarked, “If I abandon my bundle, from where shall I and my household support ourselves? But if I abandon this afflicted man I will forfeit my life!” What did he do? He allowed the Good Inclination to master the Evil Inclination, and carried the afflicted man into the city. He then returned for his bundle and entered at sunset. Everybody was astonished and exclaimed, “Is this Abba Tahnah, the Hasid?” He too felt uneasy in his heart and said, “Do you think that I perhaps desecrated the Sabbath?” At that time the Holy One, blessed be He, caused the sun to shine, as it is written, “But unto you that fear My name shall the sun of righteousness arise (Mal. 3:20).” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 9:7)

Abba Tahnah acted mercifully to the one hurt along the side of the road, and, therefore, God extended the day so that he would not break the Sabbath. This is indicative of the new sensitivity. But not everyone accepted this humane spirit in the first century. The Sadducees, with their literal reading of Scripture and strict adherence to ritual and penal laws, did not embrace the value of the “one.” And this is the contrast of Jesus’ parable. The priest and Levite acted to rigidly protect their ritual purity; the Samaritan, a Gentile, acted in a humane manner.

Shimon the Righteous, a sage who lived in the third century BC, stated, “On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the Temple service, and on deeds of loving-kindness” (m. Avot 1:2). The order of the three indicates their priority according to Shimon, so for him, Torah study was preeminent but the temple service superseded deeds of loving-kindness. The attitude reflects that of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable: their ritual duty, their calling, was more important than the needs of the human individual. For Jesus, however, something greater than the temple existed (Matt. 12:6): the needs of the human individual and our need before God to show mercy towards others like ourselves.[15]

Windows Into the Bible


This article is just one chapter of Marc Turnage’s, Windows into the Bible: Cultural and Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers (Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2016). If you enjoyed this chapter, be sure to check out the entire book!


  • [1] David Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 469-89; and Marc Turnage, “Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees” in Windows into the Bible: Cultural and Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers (Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2016).
  • [2] Shmuel Safrai, “Religion in Everyday Life,” in The Jewish People in the First Century (2 vols.; ed. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 2:828.
  • [3] See Eli Shukron, “Did Herod Build the Foundations of the Western Wall?” in City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem. The 13th Annual Conference (Jerusalem: Megalim, 2012), 13-26.
  • [4] Thomas Kazen, Issues of Impurity in Early Judaism (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 45; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2010), 146.
  • [5] Vered Noam, Megillat Ta’anit. Versions, Interpretation, History with a Critical Edition (Jerusalem: Yad ben-Zvi Press, 2003), 78-79, 211-14 [Hebrew].
  • [6] Menahem Stern, “Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes,” in The Jewish People in the First Century (2 vols.; ed. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern; Philadelphia: Fortress), 2:596-612.
  • [7] See Brad Young, The ParablesParables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998), 113.
  • [8] Young, The Parables, 111-13.
  • [9] Gedalyahu Alon, Jews, Judaism and the Classical World (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1977), 354-73.
  • [10] See Cotton, Di Segni, Eck, et al., eds. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Volume 1, Jerusalem, 42-45.
  • [11] See also R. Steven Notley and Jeffery P. Garcia, “Hebrew-Only Exegesis: A Philological Approach to Jesus’ Use of the Hebrew Bible,” in The Language Environment of First-Century Judaea (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 362-66.
  • [12] There is a certain irony in the parable, for although Jesus considered Samaritans as Gentiles, they had the Five Books of Moses as their Bible with certain Samaritan readings. The Samaritans, more or less, had the same Bible as the Sadducees, yet only the Samaritan acted in accordance with Leviticus 19:34.
  • [13] “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” Luke 6:36.
  • [14] Flusser, “A New Sensitivity,” 469-89; Marc Turnage, “Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees” in Windows Into the Bible; idem, “Who’s Image?” Enrichment Journal (Summer, 2011): 116; idem, “The Three Pillars of Jesus’ Faith,” Enrichment Journal (Fall, 2001): 100.
  • [15] Many interpreters of Matthew 12:6 assume that, when Jesus’ spoke about “something greater” than the temple, He referred to Himself, particularly in light of His statement, “The son
    of man is lord of the Sabbath.” There are two problems with this interpretation: (1) the Greek of Matthew 12:6 for “something greater” is in the neuter case, and therefore, cannot refer to Jesus, which would have been in the masculine case. Charity towards others fits the neuter case. (2) Jesus’ statement about the “son of man is lord of the Sabbath” does not refer to Jesus either as the parallel in Mark makes clear: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” The son of man in this instance is the common use of the term in Hebrew meaning “a human being” (see Psalm 8). In the Gospels, Jesus used the term son of man in three ways: (1) meaning a human being, the everyman, (2) as part of the Passion predictions, and (3) to speak about the future end-of-days judge. Quite simply, the only one of these three meanings that makes sense in the context of Matthew 12:6 is “the everyman.” The son of man is not a messianic title. Moreover, we find an exact parallel to the Markan statement, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” in the earliest rabbinic commentary on Exodus, the Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, which verifies my reading of the sentence that “the son of man (i.e., a human being) is lord of the Sabbath.” This statement, too, is not about Jesus; see “One Is Here Greater Than the Temple” in my Windows into the Bible, 387-98.

Parables on the Character of God

R. Steven Notley is co-author with Ze’ev Safrai of Parables of the Sages (Jerusalem: Carta, 2011).

<i>Jerusalem Perspective is excited to announce that in the coming months Dr. R. Steven Notley will be sharing a series of blogs on Jesus’ parables with our readers. In anticipation of these blogs, and as a preview of what we might expect from Dr. Notley, we are sharing two sermons on the parables that Dr. Notley delivered to the Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem. Enjoy!



Matthew 18:21-35: The Unforgiving Servant (16-Jan.-2016)

In this sermon Dr. Notley discusses how the concept of creation in the image of God came into its own in the Second Temple period and how this concept gave rise to new ways of thinking about human relationships to God and neighbor. On the one hand, human beings are to emulate God’s attribute of mercy in our relations to one another. On the other hand, God will relate to us the way we relate to one another.


Luke 15:11-32: The Generous Father (1-Feb.-2010)

This sermon is a new take on the Prodigal Son parable, in which Dr. Notley points out that neither son understood their father’s unconditional love.

Unforgiving Servant
Domenico Fetti, Parable of the Wicked Servant, oil on canvas (ca. 1620). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Character Profile: Rabban Gamliel the Elder

The ancient Jewish sage Rabban Gamliel is mentioned not only in rabbinic literature, but also twice in the New Testament. In Acts 5:34-39 Gamliel (or “Gamaliel”) speaks out in the Sanhedrin on behalf of the early followers of Jesus, while in Acts 22:3 the Apostle Paul mentions that he was at one time a student of Gamliel. In the video below Marc Turnage introduces us to this important figure in the history of Judaism and Christianity.

To learn more about Gamliel, we recommend the following article on Jerusalem Perspective:

This illumination from the fourteenth-century Sarajevo Haggada pictures Rabban Gamliel. The picture may be of Rabban Gamliel II, grandson of the Rabban Gamliel who was the Apostle Paul’s teacher. The younger Gamliel, unlike his grandfather, was known for his severe disposition.

Video Clip: Brad Young on “Why Rabbinic Literature is Pertinent to the Study of the Gospels”

In this video, excerpted from his lecture “Why Rabbinic Literature is Pertinent to the Study of the Gospels,” delivered at the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective Conference, “Insights into Jesus of Nazareth: His Words, His Wisdom, His World,” Brad Young discusses why rabbinic literature is, unfortunately, so often dismissed as a valuable source for understanding Jesus’ message.

JP-Conference-LogoThe complete lecture, along with the rest of the presentations delivered at the 2006 Jerusalem Perspective conference, is available through the En-Gedi Resource Center. To purchase the lectures in audio MP3 format, or to purchase video recordings of the lectures included in an 8 DVD set, click here.











LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua

Revised: 29-June-2016




















A key concept in Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] The Kingdom of Heaven is the subject of many of Jesus’ parables and is at the heart of his proclamation. The Kingdom of Heaven has, nevertheless, frequently been misunderstood and misconstrued by numerous scholars. The Kingdom of Heaven is neither a place we can visit nor a time for which we must wait.[2] According to Jesus’ teachings, the Kingdom is not up in heaven, it is taking place here on earth. Likewise, for Jesus the Kingdom is not in the near or distant future, the Kingdom has already begun.[3]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature

“The Kingdom of Heaven” is not a phrase that is familiar from the Hebrew Bible, because it does not appear in the Jewish Scriptures.[4] Neither can the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” be found in the writings of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha[5] or in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[6] “The Kingdom of Heaven” is not known from the writings of Hellenistic Judaism. The phrase is common only to the New Testament and rabbinic literature.[7] This fact is one example of Jesus’ familiarity with and sympathy for the teachings of the Jewish sages.

In rabbinic literature מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, “the Kingdom of Heaven”) refers to the reign of Israel’s God over his people and over his creation. “Heaven” in the rabbinic phrase does not refer to a place (i.e., heaven) but stands as a substitute for the divine name (i.e., the Tetragrammaton).[8] It should also be noted that in Hebrew the word for “kingdom” in the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is a verbal noun,[9] which suggests that the focus of the term is on divine activity (God’s reign) rather than a sphere of influence.[10]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Shema and the Kingdom of Heaven

Becker has shown that rabbinic references to the Kingdom of Heaven are most often linked either to the recitation of the Shema or to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.[11] Rabbinic literature refers to reciting the Shema as קִבּוּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibūl malchūt shāmayim, “receiving the Kingdom of Heaven”; Sifre Num. § 115 [ed. Horovitz, 126]). According to Safrai, “The essence of the Kingdom of Heaven is not in the first verse, which proclaims the unity of God (Deut. 6:4), but in the continuation: the requirement to love God and to do his commandments.”[12] This usage indicates a relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven: God reigns over a human being when that person determines to perform God’s commandments.[13] The relational aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven can be observed in the following examples:

אָמַ′ רֶ′ יְהוֹשֻׁע בֶּן קָרְחָה וְלָמָּה קָדְמָהּ שְׁמַע לִוְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ אֶלָּא יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם תְּחִילָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah said: “Why does the section Hear, O Israel precede And it shall come to pass if you obey? So that a person may first accept the Kingdom of Heaven and afterwards accept the yoke of the commandments.” (m. Ber. 2:2)[14]

מַעֲשֶׂה בְרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵ′ שֶׁנָּשָׂא וְקָרָא בְלַיְלָה שֶׁנָּשָׂא אָמְרוּ לוֹ לֹא לִימַּדְתָּנוּ שֶׁחָתָן פָּטוּר מִקִּרְיַת שְׁמַע בְּלַיְלָה הָרִאשׁוֹן אָמָ′ לָהֶן אֵינִי שׁוֹמֵעַ לָכֶם לְבַטֵּל מִמֶּנִּי מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם שָׁעָה אַחַת

An anecdote about Rabban Gamaliel: When he got married he recited the Shema on his wedding night. His disciples said to him, “Didn’t you teach us that a bridegroom is exempt from reciting the Shema on the first night?” He said to them, “I will not listen to you to annul the Kingdom of Heaven[15] even for a moment.” (m. Ber. 2:5)

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Kingdom of Heaven and Israel’s History

The rabbinic association of the Kingdom of Heaven with the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai connects the relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven to another facet of the Kingdom of Heaven concept: the Kingdom of Heaven’s connotations of redemptive history. Rabbinic tradition identifies the celebration of God’s victory at the Red Sea as the first allusion to the Kingdom of Heaven in Scripture. In response to the defeat of Pharaoh, Israel sang “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exod. 15:18).[16] Thus it is through the LORD’s redemptive intervention in history that the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed. In response to God’s salvation, the children of Israel gladly accepted the Torah as their constitution:

אנכי ה′ אלהיך. מפני מה לא נאמרו עשרת הדברות בתחלת התורה משלו משל למה הדבר דומה לאחד שנכנס במדינה אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו כלום עשית לנו שתמלוך עלינו מה עשה בנה להם את החומ′ הכניס להם את המים עשה להם מלחמות אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. כך המקום הוציא ישראל ממצרים קרע להם הים הוריד להם המן העלה להם הבאר הגיז להם השלו עשה להם מלחמת עמלק אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. רבי אומר להודיע שבחן של ישראל שכשעמדו כולן על הר סיני לקבל התורה השוו כלם לב אחד לקבל מלכות שמים בשמחה.‏

I am the Lord Thy God. Why were the Ten Commandments not said at the beginning of the Torah? A parable is told, to what may the matter be compared? To one who entered a country and said, “May I rule over you?” They replied to him, “Have you done anything good for us that you should rule over us?” What did he do? He built the [city] wall for them, brought water [into the city] for them and fought battles for them. Then he said to them, “May I rule over you?” They replied, “Yes, yes.” So, also the Omnipresent brought Israel out of Egypt, parted the sea for them, brought down the manna for them, raised the well for them, brought the quail for them and fought the battle against Amalek for them. He said to them, “May I rule over you?” and they responded, “Yes, yes.” Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi] says: This makes the excellence of Israel known, for when they all stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they were all of one mind to receive the Kingdom of Heaven joyfully.[17] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaHodesh chpt. 5, on Exod. 20:2)[18]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Future Completion of the Kingdom of Heaven

Thus, the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven is linked to Israel’s redemptive history and God’s relationship to Israel as a redeemer. The Kingdom of Heaven is revealed when God acts as Israel’s savior, and in response Israel cheerfully accepts the LORD as their king. The connection of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s redemption history encompasses not only events from the biblical past, but also looks forward to future instances of God’s redemptive action. According to one rabbinic tradition, Israel’s song at the sea alludes to the future rebuilding of the Temple:

אימתי תבנהו בשתי ידיך. משל ללסטים שנכנסו לפלטרין של מלך בזזו נכסיו והרגו פמליא של מלך והחריצו פלטרין של מלך לאחר זמן ישב מלך עמהם בדין תפש מהם הרג מהם צלב מהן וישב בפלטרין שלו ואחר כך נתודעה מלכותו לעולם לכך נאמר מקדש ה′ כוננו ידיך ה′ ימלוך לעולם ועד.‏

The LORD shall reign [Exod. 15:18]. When? When you build it [i.e., the Temple—DNB and JNT] with your two hands. A parable. [To what may the matter be compared?] To robbers who entered the palace of the king, stole his property, killed the royal servants and destroyed the palace of the king. After awhile the king sat in judgment over them. He imprisoned some, he executed some and he crucified some. He dwelt in his palace and afterwards his reign [מלכותו] was recognized in the world. Accordingly, it says, The sanctuary, O LORD, your hands established [Exod. 15:17].[19] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

From the point of view of this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits a future completion. The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to an earthly king whose palace has been destroyed. Only when the king’s authority is recognized in the world is his kingdom established. Likewise, only when the LORD’s authority is recognized by all the peoples of the world will the Kingdom of Heaven be complete. As Notely-Safrai note (109), this midrash on Exod. 15:17-18 looks forward to a fuller realization of the Kingdom of Heaven in the future, when the nations of the world are made to recognize God’s reign by vindicating Israel through the rebuilding of the Temple and punishment of Israel’s enemies.

Similarly, commenting upon the story of the war with Amalek (Exod. 17), Rabbi Eliezer said:

אימתי יאבד שמן של אלו בשעה שנעקר עבודה זרה היא ועובדיה ויהא המקו′ יחידי בעולם ותהי מלכותו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים באותה שעה (שם י″ד) ויצא ה′ ונלחם בגוים ההם והיה ה’ למלך וגו′.‏

When will the name of these people [the Amalekites—DNB and JNT] perish? In the hour when idolatry is uprooted together with the idolaters and the Omnipresent will be unique [i.e., worshipped exclusively—DNB and JNT] in the world and his Kingdom [מלכותו] will be [established—DNB and JNT] forever and ever. In that hour, the LORD will go out and wage war etc. [Zech. 14:3], and the LORD will be king [over all the earth, and on that day the LORD will be one, and his name one (Zech. 14:9)]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 2, on Exod. 17:14)[20]

Rabbi Eliezer’s comment unites all the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven we have discussed thus far, and highlights another facet yet to be explored. Here we see the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven linked to Israel’s redemptive history—the defeat of Amalek—which awaits completion in the final redemption when Israel is vindicated before the nations and idolatry is uprooted from the earth. On that day the LORD will be one, and his name one, an allusion to the Shema. Rabbi Eliezer’s comment also makes it clear that Israel’s redemption is not merely a spiritual concept, but anticipates a this-worldly transformation of social and political realities. The realization of the Kingdom of Heaven involves the abolition of idolatry, the liberation of Israel from foreign oppression, and the submission of the Gentiles to God’s rule (or even their complete destruction). Just as the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed through Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt, so the completion of the Kingdom of Heaven will result in a future political liberation of Israel from foreign oppression. Thus the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political as well as a religious dimension.[21]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven[22]

Flusser discussed the political aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, arguing that originally “the Kingdom of Heaven” was an anti-Zealot slogan.[23] At the end of the Second Temple period there were various groups of militant Jewish nationalists who advocated armed revolt against the Roman Empire. These insurgent groups believed that national liberation could be achieved through violent means. They believed that their armed struggle would provoke divine intervention on Israel’s behalf and the eschatological events of the final redemption would be set in motion as a result of their terrorist activities. It seems likely that at least one stream of militant Jewish nationalism emerged from the School of Shammai.[24] This militant Jewish nationalist ideology was countered by the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism[25] with the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.[26] According to Hillelite ideology, violent militant insurgence can only replace the Roman Empire with a kingdom of flesh and blood:

רבי חנניה סגן הכהנים אומר כל הנותן דברי תורה על לבו מבטלין ממנו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. וכל שאינו נותן דברי תורה על לבו נותנין לו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. הוא היה אומר אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש [בני אמי נחרו בי שמוני נוטרה את הכרמים כרמי שלי לא נטרתי (שיר השירים א′ ו′). אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש בני אמי נחרו בי] אלו בולאות שביהודה שפרקו עולו של הקב″ה מעליהם והמליכו עליהם מלך ב″ו י.‏

Rabbi Hananiah,[27] prefect of the priests, says: He who takes to heart the words of the Torah is relieved of many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. But he who does not take to heart the words of the Torah is given over to many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. He used to say: Do not look at me because I am dark and the sun has tanned me [my mother’s sons were angry with me (Song 1:6)]—these are the assemblies of Judah who broke off the yoke of the Holy One, blessed be he, and caused a king of flesh and blood to reign over them.[28] (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 20 [ed. Schechter, 70-72])[29]

In contrast to the aspirations of the militant Jewish nationalists who hoped to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression by resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is realized through the performance of mitzvot and acts of mercy:

אילו הסתכלו ישראל במה שאמר להם יעקב אביהם לא שלטה בהם אומה ומלכות ומה אמר להם קבלו עליכם מלכות שמים והכריעו זה את זה ביראת שמים [והתנהגו זה את זה בגמילות חסדים] וכ″ו

If Israel had kept the words that Jacob, their father, spoke to them, no people or kingdom would rule over them. And what did he say to them? “Take upon yourselves the Kingdom of Heaven and emulate one another in the fear of Heaven [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] and practice kindness to one another. (Sifre, Ha’azinu chpt. 18, on Deut. 32:29 [Finkelstein, 372])

Despite this peaceful approach, the concept of redemption (גְּאוּלָּה; ge’ūlāh) itself was not spiritualized: the peace-seeking Hillelites still retained hope for political liberation from foreign oppression.[30] This hope for political freedom is expressed in statements such as the following:

ר′ נְחוֹנְיָה בֶן הַקָּנָה אוֹ′ כָּל הַמְקַבֵּל <עָלָיו> [[עוֹל]] תּוֹרָה מַעֲבִירִים מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ וְכָל הַפּוֹרֵק מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל תּוֹרָה נוֹתְנִים עָלָיו עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ

Rabbi Nehunyah ben ha-Kanah says: Anyone who receives the yoke of the Torah removes from himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows, but anyone who breaks himself away from the yoke of the Torah takes upon himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows. (m. Avot 3:5)[31]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is also present in a saying attributed to Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili.[32] Commenting on the grammar of Exod. 15:18, he said:

רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלו אמרו ישראל על הים יי מלך עולם ועד לא היתה אומה ומלכות שולטת בהן לעולם אלא אמרו יי ימלוך לעולם ועד לעתיד לבא.‏

If at the [Red] Sea Israel had said, “The LORD reigns forever and ever,” no nation or kingdom would ever have ruled over them. But they said, The LORD shall reign forever and ever,—in the future tense…. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

In other words, had the children of Israel recognized the Kingdom of Heaven in the present, and not merely as a future event, God’s reign would have continued uninterrupted from the time of the splitting of the Red Sea until today. Only God, and no one else, would ever have reigned over Israel. The political aspect of Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili’s statement is clear: the Kingdom of Heaven and the reign of foreign powers over Israel cannot coexist. Kingdoms of flesh and blood are displaced wherever the Kingdom of Heaven has been realized.[33]

Thus, there is a certain tension in the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. The sages who articulated this concept rejected the violent tactics of the militant Jewish nationalists, yet they clung to the hope that Israel would be liberated through the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven.[34] The means, and not the ends, were the locus of their disagreement with those who called for armed revolt against the Roman Empire. Rather than resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism insisted that redemption would be achieved through unswerving loyalty to the Torah.

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is highlighted in the Babylonian Talmud’s version of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom:

תנו רבנן פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה. אמר ליה: עקיבא, אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות…. אמרו לא היו ימים מועטים עד שתפסוהו לרבי עקיבא וחבשוהו בבית האסורים, ותפסו לפפוס בן יהודה וחבשוהו אצלו אמר לו פפוס מי הביאך לכאן אמר ליה אשריך רבי עקיבא שנתפסת על דברי תורה אוי לו לפפוס שנתפס על דברים בטלים בשעה שהוציאו את רבי עקיבא להריגה זמן קריאת שמע היה והיו סורקים את בשרו במסרקות של ברזל והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים…. היה מאריך באחד עד שיצתה נשמתו באחד

Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government [מלכות הרשעה] issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practice the Torah. Pappus b. Judah came and found R. Akiba publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He said to him: Akiba, are you not afraid of the Government [מלכות]?… It is related that soon afterwards R. Akiba was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus b. Judah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, R. Akiba, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When R. Akiba was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema’, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven [והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים]…. He prolonged the word ehad [“one”] until he expired while saying it. (b. Ber. 61b; Soncino [adapted])

In this story, the Roman Empire (מלכות הרשעה; lit., “the wicked kingdom”) is opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven. Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven leads to his defiance of the emperor’s decree and costs him his life. Simply reciting the Shema was a political act, because it meant declaring loyalty to the God of Israel in defiance of Caesar’s decree. As Harvey writes, “…allegiance to the metaphysical malkhut of God enjoins resistance to the tyrannical malkhut of Rome. The Roman government (malkhut) had prohibited the study of Torah, but Rabbi Akiva continued teaching and was imprisoned and sentenced to death by torture…. Proclaiming in extremis the divine oneness, Rabbi Akiva affirmed his absolute allegiance to the kingdom of God while defying the imperial oppressors.”[35]

Comparison of the versions of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom in the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds is instructive. In the Jerusalem Talmud’s version, the phrases “the wicked kingdom” and “the Kingdom of Heaven” do not appear. The version in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 9:5 [67b]; y. Sot. 5:5 [25a-b]) does not report the reasons for Rabbi Akiva’s execution, whereas the version in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber. 61b) stresses that Rabbi Akiva was martyred simply for teaching Torah in defiance of Caesar’s decree. Although both versions omit any mention of Rabbi Akiva’s support for Bar Kochva’s revolt, it is clear that the Babylonian version intentionally suppressed Rabbi Akiva’s pro-revolutionary stance in order to portray him as a martyr who was executed solely for his commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven.[36] It therefore appears that the Babylonian version has manipulated its source in order to express the anti-revolutionary ideology expressed by the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Nevertheless, even in the Babylonian Talmud’s recasting of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom, Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven remains a political act every bit as much as it was also religious. This reformulation of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom shows that the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven could express an anti-revolutionary sentiment and a critique of the Roman Empire at the same time. The rejection of militant Jewish nationalism did not imply support for Rome. In the minds of the Jewish sages who developed the Kingdom of Heaven concept, anti-revolutionary sentiment and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin.[37]

The rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is multifaceted. As Becker writes, “the term malkhut shamayim points to a bundle of closely associated and interconnected motifs: God’s unity, his presence in his realm, his redeeming acts in the present and future, his precepts for Israel by which Israel realizes God’s kingdom in the present…and the idea of martyrdom for heaven’s sake.”[38]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Many of the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven that we observe in rabbinic literature are also discernible in Jesus’ teaching, but we also find that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in distinctive ways.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Divine Activity

Jesus referred to the healing of the sick and the driving out of impure spirits as evidence that God was actively working through Jesus to redeem his people. When he sent out his twelve apostles to heal and exorcise demons, Jesus instructed them to proclaim that Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“The Kingdom of God has come near to you”; Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, L105; Luke 10:9; cf. Matt. 10:7). In other words, God’s redemptive power has broken into the human sphere.

On another occasion Jesus declared: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). As Notley observed, the phrase “the finger of God” appears only three times in the Hebrew Bible: once in reference to the plagues in Egypt, when Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the LORD’s power (Exod. 8:19), and twice in reference to the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10).[39] By this sophisticated biblical allusion, Jesus connected the divine activity taking place through his healing and teaching mission to Israel’s redemption history. In much the same way as the sages connected the Kingdom of Heaven to the redemption from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, Jesus drew a connection between the first redemption and the redemption breaking out through his own mission.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect[40]

It also seems that, as in rabbinic sources, the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect in Jesus’ teaching.[41] Like the Hillelite Pharisees, the political opponents of the militant Jewish nationalist parties, Jesus opposed armed rebellion against the Roman Empire.[42] This much is clear from Jesus’ statement that taxes must be paid to Caesar (Question Concerning Tribute to Caesar; Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) and that one must turn the other cheek, and walk the extra mile (On Retaliation; Matt. 5:38-42).[43] Jesus’ opposition to armed rebellion is likewise evident in his blessing of the peacemakers, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Beatitudes; Matt. 5:9). But Jesus’ political opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists included more than sharing the opinion of the Hillelites that armed resistance was futile and perilous; Jesus also adopted their terminology: the anti-Zealot slogan “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

As with the Hillelite concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus stressed that love of neighbor (including even love for one’s enemy), forgiveness of debt, repentance and faithfulness to the Torah would be the catalyst for Israel’s redemption.[44] Nevertheless, Jesus’ understanding of redemption was not spiritualized. According to Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem, Jesus envisioned a time when the “days of the Gentiles” would come to an end (Luke 21:24).[45] Jesus did not abandon the hope for Israel’s freedom and vindication, rather he abandoned the notion that redemption would be achieved through violent means.[46]

Jesus’ opposition to revolt, therefore, should not be equated with support for the Roman Empire. We have already seen that, in the minds of the Jewish sages who formulated the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin. Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven is likewise a rejection of militant Jewish nationalist ideology on the one hand and Roman imperialist policy on the other.[47] Jesus explicitly critiques the Roman Empire in his teaching on greatness among his disciples (i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven):

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26; RSV)[48]

Jesus’ command to “render unto Caesar” (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) should not be taken as an affirmation of the Roman occupation of the land of Israel.[49] Rather, Jesus’ teaching on paying tribute can be compared to the Essene doctrine to relinquish one’s goods “like one oppressed before someone domineering him” (1QS IX, 22-23). According to Jesus, Caesar might be able to demand tribute because the coins with which it was paid bore his image, but one’s life and one’s being is owed to God in whose image human beings are made.[50] This highly subversive saying contrasts the claims and the rights of Caesar with those of God.[51] The negative comparison of God and Caesar is hardly complimentary toward the empire.[52]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is also seen in his association of the Kingdom of Heaven with persecution and martyrdom. As with the Jewish martyrs, for whom faithfulness to the Torah became an action within the political arena,[53] Jesus recognized that proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven could earn the enmity of the Roman authorities and even those within the Jewish community who benefitted from the status quo. Although Jesus did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, Jesus’ message that God was actively redeeming Israel through his healing and teaching ministry would not have been welcomed by the Roman Empire, which had no interest in seeing Israel’s liberation. It was the policy of the Romans to stamp out messianic expectations, and it is unlikely that they would have distinguished between peaceful and militant movements.[54] From the Roman point of view, it was the hope of redemption, not only the means, that was threatening.[55] Hope, as all oppressive regimes recognize, is subversive, which is why, throughout history, oppressive regimes have gone to great lengths to crush the hopes of the people who are under their control.[56] One of the most effective means for crushing the hopes of Israel that was practiced by the Roman Empire was the brutal practice of crucifixion.[57]

The strongest link between the Kingdom of Heaven and martyrdom in Jesus’ teaching, however, is located in his statement that “Whoever does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Demands of Discipleship; Luke 14:27; cf. Matt. 10:38).[58] The connection of this saying to the Kingdom of Heaven may not be immediately apparent; however, as we will demonstrate below, Jesus referred to his band of itinerating disciples as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ equation of discipleship with the Kingdom of Heaven, and his warning that his disciples might face persecution and even martyrdom at the hands of the Roman authorities,[59] indicates that Jesus understood that proclaiming God’s reign was a religious action that was also felt within the political arena.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is a distinctive usage in Jesus’ teaching. In rabbinic literature we find the phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,”[60] but not “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive usage highlights an important innovation to the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching.

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God” is found in the following statements:

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:20)

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it. (Luke 18:17)

The wealthy enter the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (Matt. 19:23; cf. Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24)

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25)

The statement in Luke 18:17 that “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it” demonstrates that Jesus was familiar with the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” and also marks a point of departure for Jesus’ distinctive usage. In Jesus’ teaching, entering the Kingdom of Heaven refers to joining a clearly defined community.

Jesus’ innovative use of the the Kingdom of Heaven to refer to a community that is united for a common purpose is most clearly illustrated in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident, in which Jesus compared entering the Kingdom of Heaven to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Many interpreters have supposed that the rich man forfeited his share in the life of the world to come by declining Jesus’ invitation to follow him, but this conclusion does not concur with Jesus’ prior affirmation that by observing the commandments the rich man would inherit eternal life. What the rich man declined was not eternal life, but an opportunity to join Jesus’ band of disciples, a process Jesus described as “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”[61] In other words, Jesus referred to the community of disciples who joined his itinerating mission, who studied his interpretation of Torah and practiced his halachah, as the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, for Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was not only a divine activity—God’s rescue mission to redeem Israel—the Kingdom of Heaven was also the community of Jesus’ disciples who participated with God in his redemptive mission.[62]

That in Jesus’ teachings the Kingdom of Heaven refers to a specific community is also indicated by the way Jesus could speak of gradations within the Kingdom of Heaven. For example: “Whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and teaches other people to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Yeshua’s Words about Torah; Matt. 5:19). Or again: “No one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Yeshua’s Words about Yohanan the Immerser; Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28). The first example indicates that there are members of great standing within Jesus’ band of disciples, and there are some of lesser standing. Disciples who do not neglect the least, or the “light,”[63] commandments will attain respect and recognition among Jesus’ followers. In the second example we find that Jesus considered John the Baptist, who did not become one of his disciples, to be a great human being. But belonging to his band of disciples meant participating in something of such great significance—for it was through his Kingdom of Heaven movement that God was bringing redemption to Israel—that it surpassed John’s individual greatness.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Between Qumran and the Bet Midrash

Perhaps Jesus coined the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in order to highlight the communal aspect of his understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as opposed to the private and individual connotations of the Pharisaic-rabbinic use of “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” to refer to the recitation of the Shema. But why chose the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in particular?

A few Jerusalem School scholars have suggested that the expression “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” combines the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” with the Essene phrase “enter the covenant.”[64] Like “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in rabbinic sources, “enter the covenant” is sometimes used in DSS to refer to the recitation of the Shema,[65] but more often “enter the covenant” means “join the Essene community.”[66] The semantic overlap between “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition and “enter the covenant” in Essene terminology makes the fusion of these two phrases plausible, while the communal aspect of the Essene phrase “enter the covenant” explains why Jesus might have found such a fusion to be desirable: conjoining the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene phrases allowed Jesus to indicate his indebtedness to Pharisaic-rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven while at the same time extending its meaning to include a communal dimension.[67]

If Buth’s suggestion is correct, “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is one of a handful of examples of Pharisaic-rabbinic/Essene hybrid phrases that Jesus coined.[68] Other such hybrid phrases include “mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven”[69] and the combination of “poor in spirit” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3).[70]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect

A second distinctive usage of the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Gospels is found in Jesus’ statement that “the prophets prophesied until John,” but “from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking through” (Matt. 11:12-13). Jesus’ words can be compared to the following statement in rabbinic literature:

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל לעולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך

Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah. But as for the world to come, the eye has not seen, O God, except you [Isa. 64:3].” (b. Ber. 34b; cf. b. Shab. 63a; b. Sanh. 99a)

This rabbinic statement testifies to a tripartite division of history: the days of the prophets, the days of the Messiah, and the world to come.[71] This same tripartite division of history appears to be implied in Jesus’ saying about John the Baptist; however, in place of “the days of the Messiah,” Jesus speaks about “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ tripartite division of history is also implied in the Blessedness of the Twelve pronouncement: “Many prophets and messengers desired to see what you see [i.e., the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven], but did not see it” (Matt. 13:17; Luke 10:24).[72] As in the statement “the prophets prophesied until John,” so too, in this saying, Jesus divides history into the days of the prophets, and the present era that is witnessing the dawning of messianic redemption. Likewise, in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven pericope, where a rich man refused Jesus’ invitation to join his band of disciples, Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of Heaven in the present and inheriting eternal life in the world to come.

According to Flusser, “Jesus made a tripartite division of the history of salvation. The first was the ‘biblical’ period, which climaxed with the career of John the Baptist. The second period began with his own ministry in which the kingdom of heaven was breaking through. The third period will be inaugurated with the coming of the Son of Man and the Last Judgement at a future time which is unknown to anyone.”[73]

Jesus’ tripartite division of history conflicted with the two-part division of history witnessed in the sayings of John the Baptist, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in certain rabbinic traditions. According to the writings of the Essenes, the eschatological era might commence at any moment. The end of history was close at hand. The final judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous was imminent. This two-part division of history is also attested in the sayings of John the Baptist: “Already the axe is at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire…. One is coming after me who is more powerful than I…the winnowing fork is in his hand and he will purify his threshing floor and gather the wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will destroy with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:10-12). For John the Baptist, then, the end of the present age was coming quickly, and fast on its heels was the final judgment.

For Jesus, however, there was an intervening period between the normal course of history and the final judgment. In this intervening period, the righteous would coexist with the wicked, for this would be a period of grace in which sinners were called to repentance and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. In this middle period, God’s redemptive mission would be breaking into the human sphere through acts of faithfulness, mercy and love. In this messianic era of redemption, which Jesus referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven,” evil would indeed be uprooted, but not through coercion, warfare or violence. The Kingdom of Heaven would advance through peacemaking, forgiveness, and discerning the divine image in one’s fellow human being, even discerning it in the face of one’s enemy.

In order to counter the expectation of imminent judgment, Jesus told parables in which he compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a net that scoops up good fish together with the bad (Matt. 13:47-50), and to a field in which tares grow among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). At the final judgment the evil will be sorted from the good, but in the intervening period saints and sinners continue to coexist.

Summary: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c.1490 – 1530).
Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c. 1490 – 1530). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the teachings of Jesus we find numerous points of contact with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. In agreement with the Jewish sages, Jesus linked the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s history of redemption, both present and future. As with the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism, which used “the Kingdom of Heaven” as an anti-Zealot slogan,[74] Jesus adopted this phrase because it agreed with his understanding of the means by which God intended to redeem Israel. And, like the sages, Jesus could not escape the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. Although Jesus did not have political ambitions, he was aware that the totalitarian Roman regime would perceive his absolute commitment to the reign of God to be subversive, and he knew that he might be opposed even by some members of the Jewish community who stood to gain from the status quo.

These points of agreement with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven notwithstanding, Jesus’ appropriation of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven also involved innovation. We do not find that Jesus connected the Kingdom of Heaven with the recitation of the Shema. To claim that Jesus rejected this connection would be going too far, but absence of this connection in the Synoptic Gospels cannot be ignored. We also find that, although Jesus was familiar with the rabbinic phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus more frequently spoke about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive vocabulary appears to be the result of Jesus’ unique application of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to his own band of itinerating disciples. Finally, Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven to signal his understanding of a tripartite division of history. The Kingdom of Heaven, in this sense, referred to the messianic period of redemption, an era of grace and repentance, which would be concluded at some future date with the advent of the Son of Man to render judgment on the earth and inaugurate the eschatological era.

For Jesus the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was multifaceted, and the different nuances of the concept could all be present to varying degrees at the same time. It is not always necessary to choose which nuance of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus intended in a given saying, and to do so can actually distort his meaning because the many aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven are not mutually exclusive.

FR’s Secondary Use of “Kingdom of God” as a Substitute for “Coming of the Son of Man”

Lindsey observed that, in a handful of cases, Luke uses the Kingdom of God in a way that does not agree with the nuances of the Kingdom of Heaven we have outlined above. Lindsey further observed that these anomalous usages appeared in the more refined, less Hebraic of Luke’s sources (First Reconstruction or FR). Certain passages where Luke copied FR are easily identifiable because they consist entirely of Lukan doublets, sayings that appear twice in Luke’s Gospel, albeit in slightly different forms. Lindsey noted that the Lukan doublets can be sorted into two groups: those that appear in collections of pithy statements that are only loosely connected, and those that appear in longer contexts and are stylistically poorer Greek and markedly Hebraic in form.[75] One collection of Lukan doublets from FR appears in Luke 9:23-27. Each of the verses in this passage have counterparts elsewhere in Luke that are more Hebraic in form. The one exception is Luke 9:27, which is a doublet, but its counterpart also appears to have been the product of FR:

FR Version Anth. Version
Luke 9:23 Luke 14:26-27
Luke 9:24 Luke 17:33
Luke 9:25 Luke 12:19-21
Luke 9:26 Luke 12:8-9
Luke 9:27 = 21:[31-]32

Let us examine Luke 9:26-27, which will help us to understand FR’s anomalous usage of “the Kingdom of God”:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. (RSV)

In this passage, FR appears to equate the coming of the Son of Man with the future revelation of the Kingdom of God. The entire section, Luke 9:23-27, is derived from FR, but only Luke 9:27, which contains the anomalous usage of Kingdom of God, lacks a parallel in Anthology (Luke’s Hebraic source). This unusual fact suggests the Luke 9:27 is the product of FR’s own editorial creativity, and not the reflection of an original Hebrew saying of Jesus. The counterpart to Luke 9:27 is found in Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem. According to Luke 21:29-33, Jesus said:

Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. When they put out [fruit],[76] seeing it for yourselves you know that already summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, you will know that near is the Kingdom of God. Amen! I say to you, this generation will not pass away until everything has happened. The heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This passage probably does go back to a Hebrew source, but there are indications that the text has suffered redaction at the hand of a Greek editor. The phrase “and all the trees” (Luke 21:29), for instance, interrupts the flow of Jesus’ simile, and is likely secondary.[77] Also, the phrase “Kingdom of God” destroys what looks to be a wordplay in Hebrew between קַיִץ (qayitz, “summer,” “summer fruit”) and קֵיץ (qētz, “end”).[78] It seems probable that, in its original form, the saying meant that just as when a fig tree begins to put forth fruit a person knows the summer (קַיִץ) is near, so when the disciples see Jerusalem surrounded by armies they will know that the end (קֵיץ) is near. The editor of Luke’s source either did not understand the wordplay after it had been translated into Greek, or perhaps he intentionally changed the reading to say, “you will know that the Kingdom of God is near.”[79] The verses immediately following this prediction (Luke 21:34-36) describe the coming of the Son of Man. So, in the context of Jesus’ prophecy, it appears that the First Reconstructor (the creator of FR) again equated the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Son of Man. The opinion that the Kingdom of God will be revealed in the generation of the apostles appears to be the innovation of FR, for originally Jesus spoke not of the Kingdom of God, but of the destruction of Jerusalem as the event that would take place during the apostles’ lifetime. The First Reconstructor imported the idea of the Kingdom of God into Jesus’ prophecy, and he evidently repeated the notion that the Kingdom of God would be revealed through the coming of the Son of Man during the apostles’ lifetime in Luke 9:26-27.

Once the equation of the coming of the Son of Man with the Kingdom of God is recognized as a secondary feature of FR’s redactional activity, other instances of this secondary usage become more easily identifiable. Lindsey suggested that Luke 17:20-21 is simply FR’s secondary reworking of Jesus’ saying in Luke 17:22-24. Presenting these verses in parallel columns will enable readers to observe their similarity:

Luke 17:20-21 Luke 17:22-24
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, And he said to the disciples,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it.
nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ or ‘Lo, here!’ Do not go, do not follow them.
for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (RSV) For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day.” (RSV)

In the saying about the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:22-24), Jesus tells his disciples that they should not listen to people who report that the Son of Man has come, because on the Day of the Son of Man everyone will be aware of his arrival. The First Reconstructor refashioned this authentic saying into a saying about the Kingdom of God that does not accord with Jesus’ habitual manner of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven. Ordinarily, Jesus claimed “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” or “the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you.” He did not speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as something that cannot be observed, but rather as a divine activity with empirical results.

The redactional activity of FR has given the mistaken impression that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something distinct from his healing and teaching mission, something that was to be revealed in the apostles’ lifetime following the destruction of Jerusalem. In these passages FR described the Kingdom of God in terms of and in conjunction with the coming of the Son of Man. Luke, who used FR as one of the primary sources for his Gospel, incorporated FR’s secondary usage of the Kingdom of God, but this anomalous usage did not originate with Jesus.

Which is Correct: “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God”?

Perceptive readers will have noticed that in our discussion of FR’s secondary usage of Kingdom vocabulary, the phrase we considered was “Kingdom of God,” or in Greek, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The phrase Jesus himself would have spoken in Hebrew is מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, lit., “kingdom of heavens”).[80] In the Gospels we find both ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (hē basileia tou theou, “the kingdom of the god”) and ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (hē basileia tōn ouranōn, “the kingdom of the heavens”). However, the distribution of “Kingdom of Heaven” vs. “Kingdom of God” is far from even. Luke and Mark exclusively write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, whereas Matthew predominantly writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, but occasionally writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. How are we to account for this unusual phenomenon?

First, it is clear that one of the Synoptic writers (or one of their sources) is responsible for changing the reading either from Kingdom of God to Kingdom of Heaven or from Kingdom of Heaven to Kingdom of God. We find that in Triple Tradition pericopae where Luke and Mark agree to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew often (but not always) writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[81] In Double Tradition pericopae where Luke has ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew always has ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[82] From the perspective of a Markan priorist the solution is simple. Since Luke and Matthew are based on Mark, and since Mark never writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and since Luke follows Mark in writing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, it must be Matthew who is responsible for the change. But since we accept Lindsey’s synoptic hypothesis, the problem is not so straightforward. According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, Mark copied Luke, and therefore Mark’s agreement with Luke to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ proves nothing more than that Mark copied Luke in those places. Matthew, on the other hand, had access to one of Luke’s pre-synoptic sources, and therefore it is possible that Matthew reflects an earlier reading, which Luke for some reason decided to change. Let us examine the two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[83] According to this view, when the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was translated into Greek, the translator made an exception to his usual practice of rendering his Hebrew source in a highly literal style and chose instead to translate מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם as ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The Greek translator’s motivation for making this exception to his usual practice may have been to avoid confusion for his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. For Gentile readers, “Kingdom of Heaven” might have been unclear in two ways: 1) it might have sounded as though the kingdom were located in heaven or even in the sky; 2) “heavens” might suggest a multiplicity of deities (the Greek pantheon) to Gentiles from a polytheistic background.[84] Once the Greek Translation was made, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ was copied by Anthology, followed by FR, followed by Luke, followed by Mark. Matthew, however, decided to change ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν for reasons of his own.

Support for the hypothesis that Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is found in the few places where Matthew actually does write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Matt. 12:28; Matt. 19:24; Matt. 21:31, 43). Matthew 19:24 is a Triple Tradition pericope (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven), and is therefore the weakest example, since it is possible that in this instance Matthew simply copied the reading he found in Mark 10:25. Matthew 21:31 and Matt. 21:43 are much stronger examples since Matt. 21:31 comes from a unique Matthean pericope (Two Sons parable), and Matt. 21:43 is unique to Matthew, despite belonging to a Triple Tradition pericope (Wicked Tenants parable). These examples may therefore reflect the reading of Matthew’s non-Markan source. Matthew 12:28 is also a very strong example since this verse appears in a Triple Tradition pericope (The Finger of God), but in a verse that is omitted in Mark. The only way Matthew and Luke could have agreed against Mark to include this verse is by relying on their shared, non-Markan source, and therefore their agreement to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in this pericope strongly suggests that this was the reading they both found in Anthology.

Hypothesis 2: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. According to this view, the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua did not make an exception to his highly literal style of translation when it came to מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם. The editor of Anthology copied ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν from the Greek Translation, but the First Reconstructor sometimes, perhaps always, changed ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ for the sake of his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. That the First Reconstructor would make such a change conforms to his usual practice of improving the Greek style of his revised material. Luke observed the change to ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in FR, adopted it, and decided to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν wherever he found it in Anthology, for the same reason that had motivated FR: Luke addressed his Gospel to a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience. The author of Luke, who was a traveling companion of Paul, was probably aware that Paul himself used the phrase “Kingdom of God” when writing in Greek (cf. 1 Cor. 6:10; 15:50), as shown, for example, in Acts 14:22 (cf. Acts 19:8). Luke’s desire to use Paul’s vocabulary may have been an additional factor that influenced his decision to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν with ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

When Matthew sat down to compose his Gospel, he found “Kingdom of God” in Mark and “Kingdom of Heaven” in Anthology. When copying a pericope, Matthew’s habit was to weave words from Anthology’s parallel into the text of Mark[85] with the result that Matthew often replaced “Kingdom of God” in Mark with “Kingdom of Heaven.” In Double Tradition pericopae, where Matthew’s source was Anthology, we find that Matthew always writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and in unique Matthean pericopae, where Matthew must either be relying on Anthology or writing his own composition,[86] Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven” 12xx and “Kingdom of God” 1x.

Verdict: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.[87] Although it is impossible to be certain, we believe that the following arguments should cause us to favor Hypothesis 2:

  1. Luke is known to de-Judaize his material in order to make it more understandable for a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience.[88] For example, Luke changed “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), a phrase familiar from Qumran, to “the poor” (Luke 6:20).[89] Luke changed “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), a familiar phrase from rabbinic literature, to “Father” (Luke 11:2) because Greek doesn’t like possessive pronouns and “in heaven” could be misleading to a Gentile audience.[90] We also find that Luke often omitted “amen,” or changed it to “truly” or “yes” when he found it in his sources, presumably because amen is a foreign word that would not have been familiar to non-Jewish Greek-speakers.[91]
  2. Matthew’s tendency is not toward Judaism, but is rather distinctly anti-Jewish.[92] Only Matthew has the Jews say “Let his blood be upon us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Only Matthew implicates the Pharisees in Jesus’ passion.[93] Only Matthew has Jesus reject the “Sons of the Kingdom” in favor of “another nation” (cf. Matt. 8:12; 21:43). The passages in Matthew that appear to be more especially Jewish are not the result of his feelings of sympathy for Jews and Judaism, but evidence of his reliance on an excellent Hebraic Greek source.[94]
  3. An author who is totally consistent in his use of terminology may be suspected of editing his sources to achieve consistency. In other words, total consistency may be indicative of an agenda. Luke is totally consistent in his use of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. Matthew, on the other hand, is inconsistent. On one occasion Matthew accepted ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ from Mark (cf. Matt. 19:24). On two other occasions Matthew wrote ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ even though we believe his source probably read ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (Matt. 12:28; 21:31).[95] If Matthew had an ideological motivation for replacing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ with ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, why was he unsuccessful in three instances?[96]
  4. In order for Matthew to know that behind ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in the pre-synoptic sources was the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, Matthew would have needed to know Hebrew, since the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is not found in LXX or in Jewish literature composed in Greek.[97] But there is no evidence that the author of Matthew knew Hebrew.[98] To the contrary, in the passages that are unique to Matthew and clearly the product of Matthew’s pen, Matthew writes in a popular Greek style, not in Hebraic Greek.[99]
  5. Lindsey’s hypothesis predicts that where Matthew is independent of Mark, his text is likely to be as Hebraic as Luke’s, or even more Hebraic than Luke’s,[100] because Matthew’s only source apart from Mark is the very Hebraic Anthology. In pericopae where Luke relied on FR and Matthew relied on Anthology, Matthew was often able to achieve a more Hebraic text than Luke’s. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find that in Double Tradition pericopae Matthew has the more Hebraic ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν opposite Luke’s ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

Of course, not all instances of ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew are necessarily copied from Anthology. Having seen ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν so frequently in Anthology, Matthew sometimes inserted the phrase where it did not originally belong. In a similar way, we have seen that some instances of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Luke do not reflect Jesus’ usage of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם.


Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching

I have some hesitation about Tilton’s understanding of the political aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Here are the reasons why.

The political chaos that swirled around Jesus—the desire for vengeance upon the Roman occupiers, especially in the Galilee, yes, even in Jesus’ own hometown synagogue, the inept Roman governors and evil Jewish kings, ethnarch and tetrarchs (such as Herod the Great and his sons, including Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee)—makes Jesus’ reading of the Prophets in the Nazareth synagogue recorded in Luke 4:18-19 (Isa. 61:1-2; 58:6; especially his purposeful omission of “a day of vengeance of our God”), and his message to John in Luke 7:22 (= Matt. 11:5), stand out. In both places, in similar words, Jesus spelled out his agenda:

εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς…κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν, ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει, κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν

To preach good news to the humble…to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)[101]

τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται

The blind receive sight and the lame walk, lepers are cured, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the humble have good news preached to them. (Luke 7:22; Matt. 11:5)[102]

Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it. It distracted and detracted from the urgent necessity of getting more and more people under God’s reign.

While the winds of despair and rebellion engulfing the land of Israel swirled around Jesus, although he wasn’t a pacifist,[103] he never waivered in his belief that armed resistance to the Roman rulers was wasted time and energy—there were just too many dead, oppressed, lepers, blind, deaf and lame, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Now was the long-awaited time of salvation, and in spite of, and even because of, the political situation, the work of Jesus and his disciples was of extreme urgency.

In the midst of passionate cries for armed rebellion, in the midst of a deteriorating political situation, Jesus consistently proclaimed that now was the time of salvation and spiritual redemption. Jesus’ interest was in יְשׁוּעָה (yeshū‘āh, “help”), in the physical senses of this word, but more importantly, in its spiritual senses (“salvation”).

The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom, although some who perhaps had not listened long enough or closely enough to their message may have misunderstood it, taking “kingdom” in a political sense as meaning an armed struggle, and taking Jesus’ claim to be the long-awaited Messiah as a call to armed resistance. Rather, when Jesus and his disciples referred to “kingdom,” they meant a kingdom of personal surrender to a loving and benevolent God who brings down his rain on saints and sinners alike (Matt. 5:45), a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Jesus’ call to discipleship meant putting God’s Kingdom first in one’s life, even putting it above life itself. It meant being willing to die for the Kingdom, but Jesus’ “taking up your cross” did not mean joining the armed resistance. Jesus was likely talking about the difficulty of a disciple’s life of service to a sage (שימוש חכמים, shimūsh ḥachāmim). Davies suggested that “take up your cross” was a rabbinic technical term for following a rabbi as his servant.[104]

Although frequently Roman authorities, ignorant of Jewish custom and insensitive to Jewish religious feelings, caused civil disobedience, too often responsibility for outbreaks of violence could be laid at the feet of Jewish residents of the land of Israel who fell prey to human emotions and calls by zealots and terrorists for revenge on the Romans and throwing off of the foreign yoke. Inept Roman administrators and cruel and adulterous[105] Jewish kings, such as Herod the Great and his sons, made matters much worse, but it was those whose hearts Jesus’ message had not reached who, following their own human passions, indirectly contributed to the deaths of a huge part of the Jewish residents of the land, as well as the destruction of their Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus was well able to show righteous indignation, for instance, when he saw the commercialism and graft in the Holy Temple of God. He took aside the hawkers (from whose profits the Sadducean high-priestly mafia took a huge cut) and chastised them for their impious activities, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves'” (Luke 19:45-46; cf. Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11).

Often, perhaps every year since his birth, as was the custom of his parents (Luke 2:41), Jesus had made a pilgrimage to the Temple. He noticed with pain the change that had taken place during his lifetime in the way the Temple was administered. Year after year graft and corruption increased. The Sadducean high priestly families, a cartel who controlled the income connected with the Temple, were indeed a mafia, eliminating anyone who was a threat to their profits:

Abba Saul ben Bothnith said in the name of Abba Joseph ben Hanan: “Woe is me because of the house of Boethus; woe is me because of their staves. Woe is me because of the house of Hanan; woe is me because of their whisperings [i.e., informing to the civil authorities, apparently]. Woe is me because of the house of Kathros; woe is me because of their pens.[106] Woe is me because of the house of Ishmael ben Phiabi; woe is me because of their fists. For they are high priests, and their sons are [temple] treasurers, and their sons-in-law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves.” (t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)[107]

Jesus was arrested by the Gentile[108] slaves of the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3, 57), who instigated his death, bringing him to the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges. Still later, the Sadducean priestly families persecuted Jesus’ disciples, executing, for example, Jesus’ brother James in 62 C.E. (Jos., Ant. 20:197-200). This execution took place during the high priesthood of Ananus the son of Ananus, greatly offending some of the Pharisees of the city (Jos., Ant. 20:201) who viewed James as a righteous man.[109]

Tilton Responds to Bivin’s Rebuttal

Bivin and I are in substantial agreement on a number of issues regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Most importantly, Bivin and I agree that Jesus was not a zealot and had no intention of leading a military uprising. I believe that Jesus’ ethic of peacemaking and universal love was explicitly opposed to vengeance, hatred and violence.[110] We agree, as Bivin has it, that “The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom.” Bivin and I also agree that Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth was provocative precisely because Jesus did not call for vengeance upon the enemies of Israel. It appears that the school of Shammai, which dominated the Pharisaic party in the first century C.E., was closer to the nationalist populist center of the political spectrum in Jesus’ time. It was not until after the destruction of the Temple that the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism became dominant.[111] Thus, Jesus’ anti-militant stance was probably a minority position in Nazareth, and may have seemed disloyal and unpatriotic to the members of the synagogue who listened to his sermon. Finally, I agree with Bivin that “Jesus’ ‘taking up your cross’ did not mean joining the armed resistance.” One did not have to be a militant Jewish nationalist to resent the injustice of foreign oppression. Twentieth-century disciples of Jesus such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu prove that nonviolent religious movements can have a profound political aspect without attempting to topple governments by resorting to violence.[112]

I believe our difference of opinion regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is one of nuance and emphasis. Bivin maintains that “Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it.” Thus, in Bivin’s opinion there appears to be a dichotomy between the political and the spiritual. Essentially, Jesus abandoned the hope of political liberation in favor of a spiritual experience of salvation. I regard Bivin’s alternatives as a false dichotomy, and maintain that one need not choose between the political and the spiritual dimensions of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, I believe that Jesus shared the yearning of his people for political liberation from the Roman Empire. Although I am convinced that Jesus rejected violent resistance, it appears to me that Jesus expected that God would miraculously bring about Israel’s redemption without weapons or bloodshed by means of his followers’ participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Israel’s liberation from the Roman Empire was, in my opinion, only one aspect of Jesus’ rich concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Complete redemption would include the liberation of the whole creation from the power of Satan. Political oppression is only one manifestation of Satan’s reign, but there are others: fear, disease, ignorance, inequality, injustice, idolatry, sexual immorality and violence are all aspects of Satan’s reign that the Kingdom of Heaven dismantles. The rule of one people by another is inherently unjust, and is one of the evils that the Kingdom of Heaven addresses. Therefore, I cannot say that Jesus ignored the injustice his people suffered, and I have attempted to demonstrate that many of Jesus’ statements were critical of Roman imperialism.

It is true, as Bivin points out, that the Roman-appointed high priests caught up with Jesus before the Romans did. On the other hand, Antipas, the Roman-appointed tetrarch of the Galilee (Jos., J.W. 17:94), had been seeking to execute Jesus for some time (Luke 13:31), and when the high priests handed Jesus over to the Roman governor of Judea, Pilate executed Jesus as an enemy of the Roman state. I do not regard the fact that the pro-Roman high priests got to Jesus first as proof that the Roman authorities looked favorably on Jesus’ message, his movement, or his hope for redemption. It seems to me that the pro-Roman high priests understood the subversive political implications inherent in Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and perceived that it struck at the basis of their power: the Roman military presence in the land of Israel.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] Pace Schweitzer, who regarded the Kingdom of God as a purely eschatological concept. Cf. Albert Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (trans. Walter Lowrie; New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1914). For a critique of Schweitzer’s hypothesis, see Young, JHJP, 191-194. On the temporal aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching, see the subsection entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect” below.
  • [3] Pope and Buth stress that “the Kingdom of Heaven” is not a concept that pertains to the afterlife, i.e., going to heaven after you die. See Anthony Pope and Randall Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” Notes On Translation 119 (1987): 1-31, esp. 7.
  • [4] Cf. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. Israel Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 4; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 3.
  • [5] Young notes, however, that there are phrases that come close to “the Kingdom of Heaven” in pseudepigraphical literature (Young, JHJP, 194). Note, for example, T. Benj. 9:1 (ἡ βασιλεία κυρίου; “the Kingdom of the Lord”); Sib. Or. 3:47-48 (βασιλεία μεγίστη ἀθανάτου βασιλῆος; “great Kingdom of the immortal king”); Pss. Sol. 17:4 (ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν; “the Kingdom of our God”). Nevertheless, Young stresses that “The expression itself, ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ in early Jewish apocalyptic literature is unknown and variations of the term are quite rare even if the concept does surface from the background in a number of texts” (Young, JHJP, 196).
  • [6] See Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 6.
  • [7] This point was emphasized by Safrai. See Shmuel Safrai, “Sidebar,” in Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers.”
  • [8] See Kaufmann Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 2. The use of “Heaven” as a substitute for “God,” “Lord” or the Tetragrammaton is attested already in 1 Maccabees. See Daniel R. Schwartz, Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 122 n. 26, 123 n. 32.
  • [9] The noun מַלְכוּת occurs 91xx in MT, 58xx in DSS and 20xx in the Mishnah. The most common translation of מַלְכוּת in LXX is βασιλεία (81xx). In several cases where βασιλεία is the translation of מַלְכוּת, the meaning of both terms is clearly “reign” as opposed to “kingdom.” Examples include:

    וּבְמַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּתְחִלַּת מַלְכוּתוֹ כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה עַל־יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם (Ezra 4:6)

    καὶ ἐν βασιλείᾳ Ασουηρου ἐν ἀρχῇ βασιλείας αὐτοῦ ἔγραψαν ἐπιστολὴν ἐπὶ οἰκοῦντας Ιουδα καὶ Ιερουσαλημ (2 Esdr. 4:6)

    And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:6)

    וְאַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּמַלְכוּת אַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס עֶזְרָא בֶּן־שְׂרָיָה בֶּן־עֲזַרְיָה בֶּן־חִלְקִיָּה (Ezra 7:1)

    καὶ μετὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα ἐν βασιλείᾳ Αρθασασθα βασιλέως Περσῶν ἀνέβη Εσδρας υἱὸς Σαραιου υἱοῦ Αζαριου υἱοῦ Ελκια…. (2 Esdr. 7:1)

    And after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra son of Seria, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah…. (Ezra 7:1)

     וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל־בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי הוּא־חֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת בִּשְׁנַת־שֶׁבַע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ

    καὶ εἰσῆλθεν Εσθηρ πρὸς Ἀρταξέρξην τὸν βασιλέα τῷ δωδεκάτῳ μηνί ὅς ἐστιν Αδαρ τῷ ἑβδόμῳ ἔτει τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ

    And Esther took herself to king Ahasuerus, to the royal house, in the tenth month, the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign. (Esther 2:16)

    וּבִשְׁנַת שְׁתַּיִם לְמַלְכוּת נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חָלַם נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חֲלֹמוֹת

    καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔτει τῷ δευτέρῳ τῆς βασιλείας Ναβουχοδονοσορ συνέβη εἰς ὁράματα….

    And in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams…. (Dan. 2:1)

    There are further examples in the MT and LXX where βασιλεία/מַלְכוּת could mean either “reign” or “kingdom.” There are also examples in DSS where מלכות likely means “reign” rather than “kingdom,” for instance:

    פשרו על מנשה לקץ האחרון אשר תשפל מלכותו ביש[ראל]‏

    Its interpretation concerns Manasseh in the final end when his reign will weaken in Is[rael.] (4QpNah [4Q169] 3-4 IV, 3)

  • [10] See Young, JHJP, 196; cf. Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (trans. Irene and Fraser McLuskey; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 200 n.1.
  • [11] Hans-Jürgen Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck on the Kingdom of Heaven,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (Cahiers de la Revue Biblique 60; ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: J. Gabalda, 2005), 57-69, esp. 62.
  • [12] Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Tora,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:93.
  • [13] Cf. Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 4; and Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 63.
  • [14] The phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which appears in printed editions of the Mishnah, is a secondary reading, as its absence from the Kaufmann, Cambridge and Parma codices of the Mishnah and the parallel version of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah’s saying in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 2:3 [4b]) proves. The addition of the word “yoke” appears to be an assimilation to the phrase “yoke of the commandments” which is juxtaposed to “the Kingdom of Heaven.” One can easily see what happened. The word עוֹל (“yoke”) was added to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם (“will receive upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven”) because it stands parallel to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת (“will receive upon himself the yoke of the mitzvot [commandments]”), a phrase which is identical in form, except for the addition of the word “yoke.” Afterwards, the expression “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” was proliferated in rabbinic literature (e.g., m. Ber. 2:5). See Young, JHJP, 227 n. 30a; and David N. Bivin, “Jesus’ Yoke and Burden,” n. 34. An additional example of the proliferation of “yoke” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in inferior mss. of tannaic literature is found in Sifre, Ha’azinu, Piska 23, on Deut. 32:29 (cited below). Cf. Finkelstein’s critical edition: Sifre on Deuteronomy (ed. Louis Finkelstein; New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1969), 372.
  • [15] On the phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which occurs in some printed editions of this mishnah, but which is absent in the Kaufmann manuscript, see the preceding footnote.
  • [16] The connection between the Kingdom of Heaven and Exod. 15:18 is explicit in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer (of uncertain date). The connection between the events at the Red Sea and the Kingdom of Heaven is implicit in the tradition regarding the right of Judah to rule over the other tribes of Israel (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BeShallah chpt. 6, on Exod. 14:22), and in a saying of Rabbi Eliezer (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 3, on Exod. 15:2 [ed. Horovitz-Rabin, 126, lines 19-20]; see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-18).
  • [17] In other words, Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi means that Israel happily accepted God’s reign over the people as a collective.
  • [18] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 112.
  • [19] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 108.
  • [20] According to Schechter, Rabbi Eliezer’s statement was “calculated to give the kingdom of heaven a national aspect, when we remember that Amalek is only another name for his ancestor Esau…who is but a prototype for Rome” (Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud [New York: Schocken, 1961], 99).
  • [21] In Tilton’s view, the Kingdom of Heaven metaphor is inherently political. The designation of God as a king, and the description of God’s activity as reigning, derive from the political lexicon. See Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Fancisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 170.
  • [22] The view presented in this section reflects Tilton’s opinion. Bivin believes that the mainstream Pharisaic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was not directed against the Roman regime.
  • [23] See Flusser, Jesus, 105-108; cf. Shimon Applebaum, “The Zealots: The Case for Revaluation,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 155-170, esp. 161.
  • [24] On the origins of the Zealot and Sicarii movements, two prominent militant Jewish nationalist groups in the first cent. C.E., and their distinctions, see Menahem Stern, “Zealots,” in Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book 1973 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1973), 135-152. See also, Uriel Rappaport, “Who Were the Sicarii?” in Jewish Revolt Against Rome: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (ed. Mladen Popovic; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 323-342. On the emergence of militant Jewish nationalism from the School of Shammai, see David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus,” under the subheading “Nicodemus”; Peter J. Tomson, “Zavim 5:12—Reflections on Dating Mishnaic Halakhah,” in History and Form: Dutch Studies in the Mishnah (ed. A. Kuyt and N. A. van Uchelen; Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1988), 53-69; idem, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (CRINT III.1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 173-177; idem, “Gamaliel’s Counsel and the Apologetic Strategy of Luke-Acts,” in The Unity of Luke-Acts (ed. J. Verheyden; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 585-604, esp. 588.
  • [25] During the first century C.E., the Pharisees were divided into two main branches, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. On these two Pharisaic schools, see Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:185-194; idem, “Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006), 3:530-533.
  • [26] See David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus.”
  • [27] Rabbi Hananiah, who lived before the destruction of the Temple, belonged to circles that opposed revolt against the Roman Empire, as sayings such as “Pray for the peace of the ruling power, since but for fear of it, men would have swallowed up each other alive” (m. Avot 3:2) make clear.
  • [28] Another saying that seems to refer to the tumultuous period leading up to the Jewish revolt against Rome is found in the mouth of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai who survived the destruction of Jerusalem:

    רבי יוחנן בן זכאי אומר משרבו הרצחנים בטלה עגלה ערופה לפי שאין עגלה ערופה באה אלא על הספק עכשיו רבו ההורגין בגלוי משרבו המנאפין פסקו מי מרים לפי שאין מי מרים באין אלא על הספק עכשיו כבר רבו הרואין בגלוי משרבו בעלי הנאות בא חרון אף לעולם ובטל כבוד תורה משרבו לוחשי לחישות בב″ד נתעותו המעשים ונתקלקלו הדינין ופסקה השכינה מישראל משרבו רואין לפנים בטל (דברים א) לא תכירו פנים במשפט ולא תגורו מפני איש ופרקו מהן עול שמים והמליכו עליהם עול בשר ודם

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai says, “From the time murderers increased, the calf’s neck rite was annulled, because the calf’s neck rite is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now murderers increased in the open. From the time adulterers increased, they stopped the ordeal of the bitter waters, because the ordeal of the bitter waters is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now those who see [their lovers] in the open are many. From the time the lovers of pleasure increased, wrath came to the world and the glory of the Torah was annulled. From the time whisperers increased in the Sanhedrin, deeds were perverted, the judges were cursed, and the Shekhinah ceased from Israel. From the time respecters of persons increased, You must not show partiality in judgment…you must not respect persons [Deut. 1:17] was annulled and they cast off the yoke of Heaven and caused a yoke of flesh and blood to reign over them. (t. Sot. 14:1[1-4])

    In this saying Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticizes those who set up a yoke of flesh and blood and who cast off the yoke of Heaven. The terminology is similar to that of Hananiah the prefect of the priests. Does “murderers” who kill “in the open” refer to terrorist groups like the Sicarii? Does “whisperers…in the Sanhedrin” refer to the chief priests, and in particular those of the House of Hanan (cf. t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)? If so, then Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticized both the militant Jewish nationalists on one extreme and the high priests who colluded with the Romans on the other. If so, Jesus was not unique in his rejection of violent insurgence and condemnation of the corrupt priesthood.

  • [29] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 107.
  • [30] According to Flusser, “the term ge’ullah is applied almost exclusively to national redemption, and became a synonym for national freedom. This idea of national freedom from the subjection to other states is the main element in the yearnings of the people for the redemption of Israel, and it became even more pronounced during the period of Roman domination” (David Flusser, “Redemption: In the Talmud,” in Encyclopedia Judaica [2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006], 17:152). For redemption in the sense of the political liberation of Israel in Second Temple Jewish literature, see also the “Additional Note” to David Flusser’s “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem.” On the sages’ view that the rule of foreign empires over the Holy Land was illegitimate, see Louis Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 86-88.
  • [31] According to Young (JHJP, 198), Rabbi Nehunyah’s statement refers to “the yoke of political oppression,” and that “the yoke of God’s sovereignty can be contrasted to the yoke of an earthly regime.”
  • [32] On Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili, see Shmuel Safrai, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century,” under the subheading “Rabbi Jose ha-Galili.”
  • [33] A later rabbinic source (fifth or sixth cent. C.E.) explicitly contrasts the Kingdom of Heaven with the Roman Empire:

    הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרשעה שתעקר מן העולם, הגיע זמנה של מלכות השמים שתגלה, והיה י″י למלך על כל הארץ וג′. וקול התור נשמע בארצינו, א″ר יוחנן קול תייר טב נשמע בארצינו, זה מלך המשיח

    The time has arrived when the wicked kingdom will be uprooted from the world, the time has come when the Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed, and the LORD will be king over all the earth [Zech. 14:9]. And the voice of the turtle dove will be heard in our land [Song 2:12]: Rabbi Yohanan said, “the voice of the good guide will be heard in our land, this is the anointed king [i.e., the Messiah—DNB and JNT].” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 5:9 [ed. Mandelbaum, 1:97)

    The “wicked kingdom” is a common designation for the Roman Empire in talmudic literature. According to this source, Israel’s longed-for redemption will come about through the downfall of Rome, and the Kingdom of Heaven will be ushered in by the Messiah.

  • [34] That slavery of any kind was considered to be antithetical to God’s reign is expressed in a midrash on Exod. 21:6 which stipulates that any slave who prefers to continue serving his master rather than go free at the end of seven years must have his ear pierced with an awl:

    תני רבי אליעזר בן יעקב אומר ולמה אל הדלת שעל ידי דלת יצאו מעבדות לחירות שאלו התלמידים את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי מה ראה העבד הזה לירצע באזנו יותר מכל איבריו אמר להן אוזן ששמעה מהר סיני (שמות כ) לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני ופירקה מעליה עול מלכות שמים וקיבלה עליה עול בשר ודם אוזן ששמעה לפני הר סיני (ויקרא כה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים והלך זה וקנה אדון אחר לפיכך תבוא האוזן ותירצע לפי שלא שמר מה ששמעה אזנו

    It is taught [in a baraita]: Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says, “And why unto the door [Exod. 21:6]? Because by the door they go out from slavery to freedom.” The disciples asked Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “Why does [Scripture] see fit that this slave [who is discussed in Exod. 21—DNB and JNT] should be pierced in his ear rather than any of his other limbs?” He said to them, “The ear that heard from Mount Sinai, There shall be no other gods before me [Exod. 20:3] and cast off from itself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and received upon itself the yoke of flesh and blood is the ear that heard from Mount Sinai For the children of Israel are my slaves [Lev. 25:55] yet this [slave] went and acquired another master. For this reason the ear will come and be pierced, since he did not keep what his ear heard.” (y. Kid. 1:2 [11b]; cf. t. Bab. Kam. 7:5; b. Kid. 22b. In the parallel version we find the phrase “yoke of Heaven” rather than “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which may be a scribal error.)

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai regarded choosing servitude over freedom to be an affront to God’s reign. It seems inconceivable that if he regarded servitude of an individual to be antithetical to the Kingdom of Heaven that he could regard the subjection of the entire people of Israel to a foreign power with indifference. Although Yohanan ben Zakkai advocated peace, one should not assume that he abandoned hope for Israel’s redemption from political oppression.

  • [35] Warren Zev Harvey, “Kingdom of God מלכות שמים,” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr; New York: Scribner’s, 1987), 521-525, quotation on 523.
  • [36] See Moshe David Herr, “Persecutions and Martyrdom in Hadrian’s Days,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 23 (1972): 85-125, esp. 111-112 n. 88.
  • [37] It should be noted that although the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect, it does not have, so to speak, a political agenda. As we have seen, the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven was articulated in opposition to political insurgents. The Kingdom of Heaven would not be a kingdom of flesh and blood. The Kingdom of Heaven is conceived of as a divine activity. Acts of mercy and observance of the commandments would be the catalyst for redemption, not direct political action.
  • [38] Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 65.
  • [39] See R. Steven Notley, “By the Finger of God.”
  • [40] This section of “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua” represents Tilton’s view. Bivin views the Roman government as more benevolent than Tilton does, and Bivin sees the Sadducean high priestly families as the main culprits in the arrest and accusation of Jesus before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. See the addendum below, “Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching.”
  • [41] Tilton believes that in Jesus’ teaching the Kingdom of Heaven is (among other things) a political metaphor that carries with it an implied critique of all human governments. See Kohler, who defined “Kingdom of God” as “Reign or sovereignty of God as contrasted with the kingdom of the worldly powers” (Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502). Jesus contrasts the reign of flawed human beings, who are often unjust, cruel, greedy and self-aggrandizing (cf. Luke 22:25), with God’s better reign. God is generous, merciful, fair and open-hearted (Luke 6:38). He seeks the welfare of all human beings: the evil as well as the good, the deserving and the undeserving alike (Matt. 5:45). Tilton regards Jesus’ implied critique of human governments as an expression of Israel’s prophetic tradition. On the prophetic critique of human governments, see Moshe Weinfeld, “The Protest against Imperialism in Ancient Israelite Prophecy,” in The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations (ed. S. N. Eisenstadt; Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1986), 169-182; Binyamin Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” Immanuel 18 (1984): 7-21.
  • [42] In this respect, Jesus followed in the tradition of the prophet Jeremiah who urged the politcal leaders of his day to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke (Jer. 27:11). Jeremiah did not forsake the hope for the restoration of the Davidic throne and the liberation of Israel (cf. Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:15-16), but he realized that armed revolt would only lead to disaster. See Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” 19-29. In a similar way, Jesus opposed the ideology of the militant Jewish nationalists, and called the people to repentance, for only in this way would Israel be spared the destruction of the Temple (Luke 13:34-35; 19:42-44). See Flusser, Jesus, 200; R. Steven Notley, “‘Give unto Caesar’: Jesus, the Zealots and the Imago Dei.”
  • [43] Jesus’ command to walk the extra mile was likely given in reference to the Roman practice of pressing subjects into forced service. The word for “mile” in the Greek text of Matt. 5:41, μίλιον, is a loanword from the Latin mille. It is possible that μίλιον translates the Hebrew מִיל, also from Latin (via Greek). מִיל occurs 9xx in the Mishnah: m. Yom. 6:4; m. Yom. 6:8 (4xx); m. Bab. Metz. 6:3 (2xx); m. Bech. 9:2 (2xx).
  • [44] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus’ Jewish Hermeneutical Method in the Nazareth Synagogue,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality (2 vols.; ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 2:46-59, esp. 56.
  • [45] On the hope for political liberation that Jesus expressed in this prophecy, see David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel.” Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 106.
  • [46] According to Flusser, Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem expresses his opposition to revolt against Rome: “He did not share the belief or the hope that Jerusalem would survive the war” (David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel”).
  • [47] In Tilton’s opinion, there is an implied critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus contrasted with human governments. On the political critique implied by proclaiming God’s reign, see Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 124-125.

    Tilton also detects a critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation (Matt. 5:38-41). See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, 61.

  • [48] On this passage, cf. Flusser, Jesus, 76-77.
  • [49] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 104-105.
  • [50] See Randall Buth, “Your Money or Your Life.”
  • [51] It must be recognized that Jesus could not have opposed payment of tribute without supporting revolt, for they amounted to the same thing. Refusing to pay tribute is tantamount to a declaration of independence. Such a political act would unavoidably provoke war with Rome, the very thing Jesus hoped to avoid. A similar political action, refusal to offer sacrifices in the Temple on Caesar’s behalf, did spark the revolt that resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. (cf. Jos., J.W. 2:409). On taxation as the primary concern of the Roman government in the provinces, see Graham Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” in The Roman World (2d ed.; 2 vols.; ed. John Wacher; New York: Routledge, 2002), 1:423-439, esp. 423 where Burton writes, “The Roman government did not pursue many of the goals which, today, are conventionally associated with the exercise of political power by the state, e.g. the control or modification of economic developments, social welfare, education. Its concerns were more limited, above all the regular exaction of taxes and maintenance of internal order.” See also Martin Goodman, The Roman World 44 BC—AD 180 (New York: Routledge, 1997), 100-101.
  • [52] See Peter J. Tomson, “Jesus and his Judaism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (ed. Markus Bockmuehl; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 25-40, esp. 31.
  • [53] The persecutions in the days of Antiochus IV (second cent. B.C.E.), for example, were primarily motivated by political interests. According to 1 Macc. 1:41, Antiochus sought to unite his empire by abolishing the ancestral customs of the various peoples he ruled. By creating a single national identity, Antiochus sought to solidify his political hegemony. Jewish commitment to Torah in the face of persecution was motivated by religious piety, but their loyalty to the God of their fathers entered the political arena because it interfered with Antiochus’ political program.

    The memory of the Antiochene persecutions was still vivid in the time of Jesus, in part because Jews in the land of Israel continued to feel that their religious liberty was threatened by the Roman occupation. During Jesus’ time Roman interference in Jewish religious life included the appointment of high priests by the Roman governor (cf. Jos., Ant. 18:26, 34-35), Roman control of the high priestly vestments (Ant. 18:93-94), and constant surveillance of the Temple from the Antonia Fortress. In addition, Roman officials sometimes interfered in the collection (Cicero, Pro Flacco 26:67; Jos., J.W. 14:112; 16:28, 166; cf. Safrai-Stern, 2:678) and use of the half-shekel (J.W. 2:175; Ant. 18:60). We also hear reports of Jewish pilgrims who were massacred in Jerusalem during the feasts (Luke 13:1). Zechariah’s song in Luke is one expression of the Jewish perception of the danger inherent in the practicing of Judaism under foreign rule: Zechariah anticipates the coming of salvation that would bring with it the freedom to serve God (i.e., worship) without fear (Luke 1:74). All of these instances show that at least an important segment of the Jewish population in the land of Israel regarded the Roman Empire as a threatening presence. From their perspective, adherence to their ancestral faith might cost them their lives. It is reasonable, therefore, that Jesus, who proclaimed a message of liberation, anticipated the potential for his martyrdom and the martyrdom of his disciples at the hands of the Roman authorities.

  • [54] On the limits of the Roman empire’s policy of religious tolerance, see Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 45.
  • [55] Caesar Augustus, for instance, ordered the burning of books composed in Greek and Latin that contained prophecies of the downfall of the Roman Empire (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 2:31). Likewise, Justin Martyr mentions that a sentence of death had been decreed against persons who read certain oracular books (1 Apol. 44:12). The prophecies did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, rather the books were burned and the people who read them were killed because they inspired hope among the conquered peoples of the Roman Empire. See David Flusser, “Hystaspes and John of Patmos,” (Flusser, JOC, 393); idem, “The Roman Empire in Hasmonean and Essene Eyes” (Flusser, JSTP1, 199).
  • [56] According to Goodman, the “[Roman] emperors employed a huge military force whose main but unstated purpose was the suppression of dissent.” See the chapter “Military Autocracy,” in Martin Goodman, The Roman World, 81-86, quotation on 81; idem, “Opponents of Rome: Jews and Others,” in Images of Empire (ed. Loveday Alexander; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 222-238.
  • [57] As N. T. Wright observed, crucifixion was an action of the state that sent a strong political message, viz., Caesar is in control (N. T. Wright, “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans,” in A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically: A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan [ed. Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song, Al Wolters; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002], 173-193, esp. 182). Since Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, the message was even more pointed. Crucifixion reminded the Jewish people of their political status as a subjugated population who did not have legal standing or civil rights within the empire. Crucifixion was the seruile supplicium (“slave’s punishment”), and its use for the punishment of Jews reflects the opinion of the Roman elite that the Jews are “a people born to be enslaved” (Cicero, Prov. cons. 5:10; cf. Pro Flacco 28:69; Jos., J.W. 6:42; Apion 2:125). Cf. Jean-Jacques Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” in Speculum Iuris: Roman Law as a Reflection of Social and Economic Life in Antiquity (ed. Jean-Jacques Aubert and Adriaan Johan Boudewijn Sirks; Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 121. According to Aubert, “Among all penalties in use in Roman times, crucifixion conveys the clearest message regarding the symbolism attached to capital punishment and its victims’ status” (111); “Its primary purpose is to emphasize the victim’s final irrevocable rejection from the civic and international community and the total denial of any form of legal protection based on the rights guaranteed by ius civile [i.e., citizen law—DNB and JNT] and ius gentium [i.e., international law—DNB and JNT] and attached to any legal status above slavery” (116).
  • [58] Bivin and Tilton disagree with respect to the meaning of Jesus’ cross-carrying saying (Luke 14:27). Bivin believes that Jesus used crucifixion as a metaphor for the hardships of first-century discipleship. Tilton believes Jesus’ cross-bearing saying is a warning to would-be disciples that joining his movement required accepting the risk of martyrdom for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • [59] In the land of Israel during Jesus’ lifetime the threat of crucifixion came from Roman authorities. Although there are reports of Jewish authorities who practiced crucifixion (e.g., Jos., J.W. 1:97; 4Q169 [4QpNah] 3-4 I, 6-8; Gen. Rab. 65:22; y. Sanh. 6:6 [23c]; y. Hag. 2:2 [78a]), and although the Essenes evidently sanctioned crucifixion for certain crimes (11Q19 [11QTemplea] LXIV, 6-13), in the time of Jesus capital punishment had become the sole prerogative of the Roman government (cf. John 18:31; Jos., J.W. 2:117-118; y. Sanh. 18a; 24b). See Brad H. Young, “An Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 196-199); Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” 123. On crucifixion in DSS, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40.4 (1978): 493-513. On crucifixion in Pharisaic-rabbinic halachah, see David J. Halperin, “Crucifixion, the Nahum Pesher, and the Rabbinic Penalty of Strangulation,” Journal of Jewish Studies 32.1 (1981): 32-46.
  • [60] The phrase קִבֵּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibēl malchūt shāmayim, “receive the Kingdom of Heaven”) is found, for example, in m. Ber. 2:2; Sifre. Deut. § 323, on Deut. 32:29 (ed. Finkelstein, 372); b. Ber. 10b, 13a, 14b, 61b.
  • [61] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64.
  • [62] According to Shmuel Safrai and David Flusser, this usage is unique to Jesus (oral communication to DNB). See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Movement.”
  • [63] See David N. Bivin, “Matthew 5:19: The Importance of ‘Light’ Commandments”; Sandt-Flusser, 220-225.
  • [64] Buth discussed this idea at the 2015 Lindsey Legacy Conference in the “Shabbat Morning Bible Study: Panel Discussion with David Bivin, Randall Buth, Brad Young, Steven Notley and Halvor Ronning on the Kingdom of Heaven,” at about the one hour mark. Frankovic also touched on this idea in Joseph Frankovic, “Beyond an Inheritance,” footnote 28.
  • [65] The statement עם מבוא יום ולילה אבואה בברית אל (“With the coming of the day and night I will enter the covenant of God”; 1QS X, 10) evidently refers to the recitation of the Shema. See Moshe Weinfeld, “Prayer and Liturgical Practice in the Qumran Sect,” in his Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 53-167, esp. 54-55.
  • [66] In DSS we encounter the phrase בא בברית with the meaning “join the Essene community” in CD XV, 5; XIX, 33; 1QS II, 12; V, 8, 20. Similarly, the phrase באי [ה]ברית (“those who enter the covenant”) refers to members of the sect in CD II, 2; VI, 19; VIII, 1, 21; XIII, 14; XX, 25; 1QS II, 18; 1QHa XIII, 23. We should stress that the Essenes did not invent the terminology of entering a covenant, which is borrowed from Scripture (cf. 1 Sam. 20:8; Jer. 34:10; Ezek. 16:8; 2 Chr. 15:12) and is also found in the writings of Ben Sira (cf. Sir. 44:20). Nevertheless the Essenes do appear to have been unique in using this terminology to refer to the recitation of the Shema, and to the joining of their sect.
  • [67] If the fusion of the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene expressions was based on their common meaning of “recite the Shema,” however, it is curious that no where in the Gospels does the term Kingdom of Heaven have this connotation.
  • [68] On the reconstruction of the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” in Hebrew, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comments to L63, L64-65.
  • [69] See Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L7.
  • [70] The phrase “poor of spirit” (עניי רוח) is a term the Essenes applied to themselves (1QM XIV, 7; cf. ענוי רוח [‘anvē rūaḥ, “meek of spirit”] in 1QHa VI, 3). See David Flusser, “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” (JOC, 102-114); Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [71] A tripartite division of history is also attested in Sifre Deut. § 34 (ed. Finkelstein, 62); Sifre Deut. § 47 (ed. Finkelstein, 104); and Ruth Rab. 5:6, which make reference to this world (העולם הזה), to the days of the Messiah (ימות המשיח), and to the world to come (העולם הבא). On the tendency in rabbinic sources to conflate the world to come with the messianic era, see David Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History According to John the Baptist and Jesus” (Flusser, Jesus, 258-275, esp.269, 273).
  • [72] The translation given here is of our suggested Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ statement. On the temporal aspect of this saying, see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-19.
  • [73] Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History” (Flusser, Jesus, 262).
  • [74] See the discussion above, under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  • [75] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets”; idem, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets: Sayings Doublets.”
  • [76] The verb προβάλωσιν (probalōsin, “they put forth”) in Jesus’ saying lacks a direct object. English translations provide the word “leaves,” but it is more likely that Jesus referred to fruit. See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108, 112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [77] R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3).
  • [78] See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 110-112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [79] See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “An Examination of the Editorial Activity of the First Reconstructor.” Cf. R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3, 111).
  • [80] The Aramaic equivalent of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא (malchūtā’ dishmayā’). Thus, whether one assumes that Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, there remains the problem of a shift in language from “Heaven” in the Semitic original to “God” in Greek.  See Tomson, “Jesus and His Judaism,” 29. It must be stressed, however, that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” does not appear in Aramaic except in very late sources. In the Mishnah, Tosefta, the Tanaitic Midrashim, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, for example, the term “Kingdom of Heaven” appears exclusively in Hebrew. The complete absence of the Aramaic term מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא in early rabbinic texts makes Dodd’s comment that “there can be no doubt that the expression before us [i.e., ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in the Gospels—DNB and JNT] represents an Aramaic phrase well-established in Jewish usage,” (emphasis ours) puzzling in the extreme. See C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (rev. ed.; New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1961), 21; cf. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “βασιλεία” (TDNT, 1:582).
  • [81]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Triple Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 3:2 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke 3:3 κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας

    2 Matt. 4:17 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 1:15 ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 4:15 ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν

    3 Matt. 10:7 Ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    (Luke 9:2 κηρύσσειν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ)

    Luke 10:9 Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 12:28 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Mark (–)

    Luke 11:20 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 13:11 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 4:11 τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 8:10 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ

    6 Matt. 13:31 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 4:30 Πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 13:18 Τίνι ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 16:19 δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke (–)

    8 Matt. 18:1 Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 9:35 Εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος

    Luke (–)

    9 (Matt. 18:3) εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:15 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 18:17 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    10 Matt. 18:4 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    Luke 9:48 ὁ γὰρ μικρότερος ἐν πᾶσιν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχων οὗτός ἐστιν μέγας

    11 Matt. 19:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    Luke 18:16 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    12 Matt. 19:23 εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark 10:23 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελεύσονται

    Luke 18:24 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται

    13 Matt. 19:24 εἰσελθεῖν…εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    Mark 10:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν

    Luke 18:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν

    14 Matt. 21:43 ἀρθήσεται ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς

    Mark (–)

    Luke (–)

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [82]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Double Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:3 ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 6:20 ὅτι ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    2 Matt. 7:21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι Κύριε κύριε εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 6:46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω

    3 Matt. 8:11 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 13:28 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 11:11 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 7:28 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 11:12 ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται

    Luke 16:16 ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται

    6 Matt. 13:33 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 13:20 Τίνι ὁμοιώσω τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 22:2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Luke 14:15 Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    8 Matt. 23:13 κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων

    Luke 11:52 ἤρατε τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως· αὐτοὶ οὐκ εἰσήλθατε καὶ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἐκωλύσατε

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [83] Allen (203) accounts for the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew by suggesting that “it is probable that the editor [of Matthew—DNB and JNT] was a Jewish Christian who…judaised, or rather rabbinised Christ’s sayings.”
  • [84] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 21).
  • [85] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Approach to the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Mark Secondary to Luke.”
  • [86] We count 12 unique Matthean verses where Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven/God.” Of these we consider only one to be a Matthean composition (Matt. 19:12), and in this instance Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Unique Matthean Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:19 κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν
    2 Matt. 5:20 εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν
    3 Matt. 13:24 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    4 Matt. 13:44 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    5 Matt. 13:45 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    6 Matt. 13:47 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    7 Matt. 13:52 τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅμοιός ἐστιν
    8 Matt. 18:23 ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    9 Matt. 19:12 καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν

    Mark (–)

    10 Matt. 20:1 Ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    11 Matt. 21:31 οἱ τελῶναι καὶ αἱ πόρναι προάγουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ
    12 Matt. 25:1 Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Robert L. Lindsey’s Greek Concordance of the Synoptic Gospels (3 vols.; Jerusalem: Dugith, 1985-1989).

  • [87] Cf. Dalman, 93.
  • [88] Here, our use of the term “de-Judaize” is not intended to indicate that Luke was anti-Jewish. To the contrary, the author of Luke demonstrates a high regard for Judaism and great sensitivity and openness toward the Jewish people (on this point see especially Tomson, 214-247). We use “de-Judaize” to describe Luke’s tendency to downplay that which is specifically Jewish that might seem alien or incomprehensible to Gentile readers. The author of Luke was motivated to make his material universally applicable since he was writing for a non-Jewish audience.
  • [89] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [90] See Disciples’ Prayer, Comment to L10.
  • [91] “Amen,” which appears with such high frequency in the sayings of Jesus, would have seemed strange even to non-Jewish readers who were familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although אָמֵן occurs 30xx in the MT, ἀμήν occurs only 8xx in LXX (1 Chr. 16:36; 1 Esdr. 9:47; Neh. 5:13; 8:6; Tob. 8:8; 3 Macc. 7:23; 4 Macc. 18:24; Pr. Man. 15), all in later books and, with the exception of Neh. 5:13, exclusively in the context of a blessing or prayer (in Neh. 5:13 “amen” appears in the context of a curse). The standard LXX translation of אָמֵן is γένοιτο (23xx).
  • [92] On the anti-Jewish tendency of the author of Matthew, see David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 552-560); idem, “Matthew’s Verus Israel” (Flusser, JOC, 561-574); idem, “Anti-Jewish Sentiment in the Gospel of Matthew” (Flusser, JSTP2, 351-353); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People”; Tomson, 255-289.
  • [93] Matthew is unique in numbering the Pharisees among those indicted by Jesus’ Wicked Tenants parable ( Matt. 21:45). The chronology of Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees in Matt. 23 is artificially relocated to Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Also, according to Matthew, the chief priests and the Pharisees conspire together to put a guard at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62). On this point, see Tomson, 272-276.
  • [94] See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 558-559); cf. Tomson, 281.
  • [95] Matthew’s source for Matt. 12:28, a verse appearing in a Triple Tradition pericope, but not found in Mark, was Anthology. In agreement with Luke, Matthew writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. However, in Matt. 12:28 Matthew omits an important Hebraism preserved in Luke’s parallel. Instead of “by the finger of God” (Luke 11:20), which alludes to the story of Moses, Matthew writes “by the Spirit of God,” which was probably easier for non-Jewish Greek-speakers to comprehend. Since we already have one example of Matthew’s editorial activity in this verse, it is possible that ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Matt. 12:28 is also editorial, and that the agreement with Luke is coincidental.
  • [96] The authors wish to thank Lauren Asperschlager for making this point (personal communication).
  • [97] As noted above, there is no evidence for an Aramaic equivalent to “Kingdom of Heaven” in ancient Jewish sources.
  • [98] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 35).
  • [99] Instances of Matthew’s writing not dependent on a source include Matt. 19:10-12; 27:3-8; 27:62-66; 28:11-15. See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 560); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People.”
  • [100] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” point number 4; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Further Proof of Mark’s Dependence on Luke”; David Flusser, “Flusser on Lindsey’s Synoptic Hypothesis.”
  • [101] In this passage, Luke seems to be preserving Anthology.
  • [102] In this DT tradition, there is identical wording, with the exception of a few instances of καί.
  • [103] See David N. Bivin, “‘Do Not Resist Evil’: Jesus’ View of Pacifism.”
  • [104] W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 422ff.
  • [105] E.g., Herod Antipas, who married his half-brother (by the same father; Ant. 18:136) Herod’s wife, Herodias (Mark 6:17-18). Herodias left her first husband, Herod (son of Herod the Great and Mariamme II) to marry his half-brother Antipas (son of Malthace the Samaritan)—not to marry Philip, as Mark erroneously reports.
  • [106] H. Freedman’s note in Soncino English version: “With which they wrote their evil decrees.”
  • [107] See Shmuel Safrai, “Insulting God’s High Priest,” sub-section “On the Sadducean High Priests and Their Families”; David N. Bivin, “Another Look at the ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ Story,” esp. footnote 10.
  • [108] Jewish halachah did not allow Jewish slaves.
  • [109] Note that Paul, equipped with letters of authority from the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 9:2), was persecuting followers of Jesus, even traveling as far as Damascus (Acts 9:3ff.).
  • [110] See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, esp. 73-79.
  • [111] See Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:194-196.
  • [112] On a few of the sayings that challenge Bivin’s assertion that Jesus was not opposed to violence in principle (i.e., that Jesus was not a “pacifist”), see Joshua N. Tilton, “Whole Stones That Make Peace,” idem, “Perfect Children.”

The Apostolic Decree and the Noahide Commandments

Translated by Halvor Ronning[1]

Dedicated to the memory of Gregory Steen[2]

In August 1769 Lavater urged Moses Mendelssohn to undergo conversion to Christianity, thereby causing much distress to Mendelssohn.[3] For our subject it is especially productive to consider the letter that Mendelssohn wrote to the Crown Prince of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuettel.[4] Among other things, he wrote: “The founder of the Christian religion never explicitly said he wanted to remove the Mosaic Law, nor to dispense with the Jews. Such a notion, I do not find in any of the Evangelists. For a long time the apostles and disciples still had their doubts as to whether Gentile believers must accept the Mosaic Law and be circumcised. Eventually, it was decided ‘not to lay too heavy a burden upon them’ (Acts 15:28). This agrees completely with the teaching of the rabbis, as I noted in my letter to Lavater. But as regards the Jews, when they accept Christianity, I find no basis in the New Testament for exempting them from the Mosaic commandments. On the contrary, the apostle himself had Timothy circumcised. Therefore, it should be clear that there is no way that I could free myself from the Mosaic Law.”

When Mendelssohn spoke of “the teaching of the rabbis,” he was referring to what he had written to Lavater, “All our rabbis are united in teaching that the written and oral commandments, of which our religion consists, are binding only on our nation…all other peoples of the earth, we believe, are commanded by God to obey the law of nature and the religion of the patriarchs.”[5]

In order to clarify this latter statement, Mendelssohn gave a list of those ordinances that the peoples of the earth must obey. “The seven main commandments of the Noahides, which encompass the essential ordinances of natural law, are avoidance of: 1) idolatry; 2) blasphemy; 3) shedding of blood; 4) incest[6] ; 5) theft; 6) perverting of justice—these six ordinances were understood to have been revealed to Adam—and finally, 7) the prohibition, revealed to Noah, against eating from the limb of a living animal (b. Avod. Zar. 64; Maimonides on Kings 8,10).”[7]

Mendelssohn’s fundamental insights were:

a) According to the New Testament, a Jew is not obligated to abandon the Mosaic Law when he or she accepts Christianity. It follows, then, that Christians who are of Jewish origin, the so-called Jewish Christians, are obligated to observe Torah according to the teaching of the Apostolic Church.

b) According to Acts it was decided not to lay too heavy a burden on the Gentile believers. Rather, they were to be freed from the Mosaic Law and were obligated to follow only the prohibitions that make up the so-called Apostolic Decree.

c) This teaching of the Early Church is completely compatible with the unanimous rabbinic view that the Mosaic Law is obligatory for the Jewish people only, and that God has directed the rest of the peoples of the earth to follow only the seven main Noahide commandments.

Mendelssohn’s conclusions are historically correct as was demonstrated in an earlier article.[8] In this article we will discuss the two forms of the Apostolic Decree, the canonical and the non-canonical.

Mendelssohn equated the rabbinic Noahide commandments with the prohibitions of the Apostolic Council. Since the Apostolic Decree differs significantly from the rabbinic Noahide commandments, was he precise in making this equation? The rabbis listed seven Noahide commandments. According to Acts 15:19-20, the apostles accepted the suggestion of James, the Lord’s brother, that “one should not make difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles, but rather should require of them only that they abstain from defilement of idols, from fornication, from strangled [meat] and from blood.” The Mishnah, likewise, refers to defilement as a result of idolatry (m. Shab. 9:1). From Acts 15:28-29 and 21:25, the parallels to Acts 15:19-20, we learn that the early church understood “the defilement of idols” to mean, “meat offered to idols.”

The “western” text of Acts, whose most important representative is Codex Bezae, presents us with an alternative form of the Apostolic Decree. In 1905 Gotthold Resch drew attention to the importance of this alternative form.[9] According to the western text, Gentiles who turn to God are to avoid meat sacrificed to idols, blood and fornication. Resch correctly understood that “blood” refers to murder, and not to the eating of blood. In the western form of the text, at Acts 15:20 and 15:29, there is an addition: “Whatever you do not want others to do to you, you should not do to others.” This is the usual negative form of the so-called Golden Rule.[10]

In our view, Resch succeeded in presenting the philological proof that the western text of the Apostolic Decree is the more original, but his theological understanding was limited to his contemporary situation. Furthermore, the historical support that he adduces for his arguments is often of little value. For this reason his suggestion was quickly forgotten, despite being happily accepted at the time by Harnack. Today it is generally accepted that the usual, or canonical, form of the Apostolic Decree is the more original.

One exception to this consensus is Harald Sahlin.[11] He argued correctly that, “The Decree must be understood against its Jewish background…the formulation ‘idolatry, blood and fornication’ is almost identical to the well-known rabbinic formulation of the three central sins, ‘idolatry, bloodshed and fornication.’” We would argue that the rabbinic and the western text of the Apostolic Decree, are not identical by chance, and that this identity is decisive proof for the authenticity of the western text. Resch did discern the matter correctly, but failed to prove decisively the correctness of his observation. His reason for preferring the western form of the Apostolic Decree was his mistaken notion that its ethical content expressed the break with Jewish ceremonial requirements that was supposedly intended by Jesus and finally spelled out by the Apostles.

Resch’s studies of the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree helped three Jewish researchers independently to get on the right track.[12] All three noted the relationship between the western form of the Apostolic Decree and the decision of the rabbinic synod of Lydda. This synod met in the year 120 C.E. and handed down the following decision: “Of all the trespasses forbidden in the Torah it holds true that if you are told, ‘trespass or be killed,’ you may trespass them all, except for idolatry, fornication and bloodshed [murder].”[13]

It is enlightening to take a closer look at the words of the third researcher, Gedalyahu Alon, to learn from them and also to apply them to other areas of Jewish and Christian traditions of faith. Alon demonstrated that there was a tendency in ancient Judaism (and later in Christianity) to summarize the essence of one’s religion in formulations. Such a formulation could be called a credo, a confession of faith, or a statement of principles [Regula]. The purpose of such declarations was to achieve a formulation of the quintessence of Judaism. Alon rightly commented that the aim of these ancient Jewish definitions was not usually to make a dogmatic statement about the contents of the faith, but rather to set out the essence of the Jewish ethic—the fruit of which is the performance of individual commandments.[14] Moreover, these moral rules, whether positive commands or prohibitions, are not the “light” but the “heavy” commandments. At issue is the keeping of the “least of these commandments,” to use the language of Matthew 5:19. Reference to commandments as “light” usually occurs when the point being made is that small trespasses soon lead to large trespasses.[15]

It would be worthwhile to examine in ancient Judaism the various axiomatic statements of the essence of Judaism. Sometimes this can be accomplished by looking at ancient Jewish catalogues of virtues and vices, or by considering the so-called “household codes” found in the New Testament (e.g., Eph. 5:21-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1). Especially widespread was the view that the Ten Commandments are to be considered the expression of the religion of Israel,[16] with preference given to the second half of the Decalogue. In order to define the essence of Judaism, people used formulations such as the Golden Rule, or selected Bible verses. Not only in Matthew 22:34-40, but also in Jewish sources, two main rules were adduced: one must love God (Deut. 6:5); one must love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18).[17] In the rabbinic view, the command to love one’s neighbor (or its equivalent, the Golden Rule) was seen as the essence of the Mosaic Law. This tendency makes it clear why it was that the summation of the Torah was understood to be the second half of the Decalogue, which deals with prohibitions relating to one’s neighbor.

Johann Kaspar Lavater cover page
Johann Kaspar Lavater cover page

The last five commandments of the Decalogue served as a starting point for new formulations. Sometimes, not all of the last five were quoted, and sometimes other ethical admonitions were inserted into this list. In terms of genre, these formulations were attached either to the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) or, to its equivalent, the Golden Rule. To this genre belong the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27).[18] The fact that following Jesus’ words we find the command to honor one’s parents, which according to the original Jewish reckoning belongs to the first half of the Decalogue, seems to indicate that the command to honor one’s parents was only later added to Jesus’ words. Matthew concluded Jesus’ words to the youth with the command to love one’s neighbor. Admittedly, this conclusion is not original, but it is stylistically genuine: love for one’s neighbor, according to the understanding at that time, does belong to the second half of the Decalogue.

Another especially important example of a summation of the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-18) on the basis of the second half of the Decalogue is the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-48).[19] Here, too, we find that not all of the five commandments of the second half of the Decalogue are dealt with, but that other ethical requirements are introduced. Again, the unit is concluded with the command to love one’s neighbor (Matt. 5:43-48)—entirely in accord with the rules of this genre.

For our purposes the most important representative of this genre is the early Christian Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache),[20] or, more precisely, its Jewish source, the so-called “Two Ways.” In the first part of this document (chapters 1-4), the way of life is described; in the second part (chapters 5-6), the way of death: “This now is the way of life. First, you shall love God who created you. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Moreover, anything that you do not want to happen to you, you shall not do to another” (Didache 1:2). We see that the way of life is characterized by both the double rule of loving God and neighbor, and also by the Golden Rule.

To this same genre belongs the western form of the Apostolic Decree, in our opinion the Decree’s more original formulation. Two of the three sins it lists are found in the second half of the Decalogue—bloodshed (i.e, murder) and fornication—the sixth and seventh commandments,[21] and the other central sin, idolatry, is mentioned in the first half of the Ten.[22] Accordingly, it is stylistically authentic that in the first two references to the Apostolic Decree according to the western text (Acts 15:19-20 and 15:28-29), the decree concludes with the negative form of the Golden Rule. However, in the third reference to the Decree (Acts 21:25), the Golden Rule would have disturbed the context. It is difficult to decide whether the Golden Rule really belongs to the Apostolic Decree. Those who doubt that it belongs can note the fact that it is lacking in the canonical text, and that in Matthew 19:16-19 the command to love one’s neighbor is a Matthean addition. However, as we have pointed out, the Golden Rule fits the Apostolic Decree in terms of genre authenticity.[23]

The western form of the Apostolic Decree is composed of three sins.[24] These are the sins that a Jew cannot commit under any circumstances. Additionally, these three sins are the first three Noahide commandments. We align ourselves with Alon’s view that these three sins express the focus of ethical behavior. They are also a succinct formulation of that which Judaism most strongly abhors and seeks to avoid. In a special way, the list defines the essence of Judaism. This is true for this list and for other such summary statements in Judaism (and in Christianity). There is often a peculiar dialectic that is involved; ancient Judaism did not attempt to establish dogmatic confessions of faith, but rather to lay down rules of ethics. Attempts to encapsulate the essence of Judaism kept their distance from the ceremonial, ritualistic, legalistic side of Judaism. One reason for this paradox is that religions like Judaism, in which the legal side is strongly developed, do not need to concern themselves with the legalities when they come to summarize the essential, because the legal aspect is taken for granted. In Judaism, existence, as formulated through these summary statements, is essentially theological-ethical.[25] Accordingly, Rabbi Akiva, who knew how to spin myriad halachoth from every tittle of Torah,[26] nevertheless declared that the command to love one’s neighbor is the greatest principle of Jewish learning (Lev. 19:18).[27]

Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn

Understanding how existence is summarized in Judaism is important for the correct understanding of the western form of the Apostolic Decree, which is composed of the three Jewish prime sins. As long as it has to do with the inner Jewish ethic, it is the ethical-theological aspect, and not the ritual, that is the definitive factor in the choice of these three sins. However, when one steps out of inner Jewish boundaries in an attempt to determine correct behavior for non-Jews, there is a tendency to erect ritual limits. For Jews ritual limits are superfluous, since they are already “under the law.” This truth will become clearer in the course of our study as we now turn to the developmental stages of the Noahide commandments, comparing the extra-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree with the canonical form.

This list, like other formulations of its kind, was originally designed to shed light on the essence of Judaism as a religious system and lay bare its roots. Granted that such formulations are aimed at expressing the essential, nevertheless, whether they do or do not intend it, they cast a certain shadow over everything else and gain an intrinsic worth and independence. This is especially so in the case of the normative, formulated Christian confessions of faith, which led to the labeling of others with differing opinions as heretics. Ancient Judaism did not have such creedal statements, yet, after a fashion, the Jewish regulae fidei do present a certain self-understanding. The “three-sin doctrine” was well suited not just to express the inner Jewish way-of-life in the face of external pressures, but also to provide minimal moral limitations for non-Jewish God-fearers. The western text of the Apostolic Decree admonished believing Gentiles to avoid the three crucial sins, and we assume that these were at the time the original content of the Noahide commandments. Thus, the early apostolic church simply accepted Jewish legal practice relating to believing non-Jews.

Unfortunately, our sources do not allow us to determine what were the external circumstances that led the early church to begin using the Lydda ruling as a measure applicable to its own needs for discipline. We know only that the ruling came into use by the church sometime after 120 C.E., almost certainly before the year 200.[28] At that time, exclusion from the church was the punishment for lapsing into idolatry, sexual transgression and murder. If the morally fallen were truly repentant, they could not attain forgiveness during their lifetime, however, they were still granted a hope of forgiveness in the world to come. At that time the three major sins in Christian circles were called the peccata capitalia (capital sins) or the peccata mortalia (mortal sins).[29] The oldest witness to this trio of sins is Irenaeus who wrote (between 180 and 185 C.E.) that the unjust, idolaters and whores had lost eternal life and would be thrown into everlasting fire.[30] Furthermore, two church fathers, Tertullian and Hippolytus, mention the three mortal sins.[31] Apparently, Hippolytus, as well as Tertullian, emphasized the importance of the mortal sins in connection with the laxity of Pope Kallistus. We may conclude that the original text of the Apostolic Decree prohibited the three primary sins and that these prohibitions were the same prohibitions that early Judaism laid down for non-Jewish God-fearers. These were also the sins that, according to the Lydda decision, no Jew could commit even if it meant the loss of one’s own life. This Jewish ruling was accepted by the church in the course of the second century. It was applied to Christians who had sinned greatly and whose repentance was not adequate. The result was that the church was influenced twice by the Jewish prohibition of the three prime sins: the first time by the original form of the Noahide commandments in the older (Western) form of the Apostolic Decree; the second time by the disciplinary decision reached at Lydda, which was followed by similar disciplinary measures in the early church. From the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree, Tertullian concluded that after Christian baptism one’s violation of the three mortal sins could not be atoned for by repentance. In referring to the mortal sins, the first sin he mentioned was offerings to idols (sacrificia), yet in his commentary, he spoke of worshiping idols (idolatria).[32] In addition, the later ecclesiastical writers sometimes changed the wording of the Apostolic Decree by substituting “meat offered to idols” for “idolatry,” because they, too, identified the Apostolic Decree, in which meat offered to idols was prohibited, with the later ecclesiastical rules of discipline, according to which idolatry was unforgiveable.

From this proceeds an important fact that one can check on the basis of the texts. The western form of the Apostolic Decree also spoke of meat offered to idols. This means that from the prohibition of idolatry in the three Noahide commandments, the apostles derived the prohibition of meat offered to idols. That idolatry was forbidden to all believing Christians was, of course, totally obvious; however, the eating of the meat sacrificed to idols was not so obvious. Paul and the Revelation of John provide testimony that the Apostolic Decree expressly forbid Christians the eating of meat offered to idols.[33] John of Patmos, who in Rev. 2:24-25 is certainly referring to the Apostolic Decree when he says, “I will not impose any other burden on you,”[34] prohibits in Rev. 2:14 and 2:20 the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Anyone who takes a look at 1 Cor. 8 and 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1 will see that Paul also dealt with the problem of the prohibition of meat offered to idols and found a penetrating solution.[35] In other words, the apostles took the Jewish rejection of idolatry and sharpened it by forbidding the Christians of Gentile origin to eat offerings to idols.

We assume that under no circumstances was a Jew to trespass the three capital sins, but also that non-Jews were equally obligated if they wanted to participate in the salvation of Israel. We assume, therefore, that by a decision of the apostolic church in Jerusalem, these mortal sins also were forbidden to believers of Gentile origin. We now turn to the Jewish background of the Apostolic Decree and ask ourselves whether or not, of the seven Noahide commandments, it was indeed these three that were especially suited to be carried over to the behavior of non-Jews. In rabbinic literature it is assumed that Ishmael, the son of Abraham, and Esau[36] and the inhabitants of Sodom had all committed the three central sins.[37] Debauchery[38] and the giving of false testimony[39] were considered as serious as idolatry, fornication and murder. It is evident also here that the decisive seriousness of the three major sins relates not only to the non-Jews (Ishmael, Esau, Sodom), but to all mankind and, therefore, includes Jews. On the Day of Atonement the scapegoat brings reconciliation for the uncleanness of the children of Israel as regards idolatry, fornication and bloodshed (i.e., murder).[40] These three sins apply not only to inner-Jewish but also to extra-Jewish matters as well, since these sins are part of the Jewish religious system as well as being universally applicable—they are foundational principles.[41]

Painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Seated are Lavater (left) and Mendelssohn (right).
Painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Seated are Lavater (left) and Mendelssohn (right).

We have determined that in their original form the Noahide commandments were limited to three prohibitions.

The number three is as suitable for such a list as is seven. Three is the number of the Noahide main commandments in the Book of Jubilees, but they are not identical with the usual triad.

In the twenty-eighth Jubilee Noah began to offer to his grandchildren the ordinances and commandments that he knew. He prescribed and testified to his children that they should act justly and that they should cover the shame of their nakedness and that they should bless their Creator and honor their father and mother and that each should love his neighbor and that each should protect himself from fornication and uncleanness and all injustice. The reason being that it was because of these three that the flood covered the earth. (Jub. 7:20-21)

Here we have, along with other moral ordinances, three prohibitions attributed to Noah: fornication, uncleanness, and injustice. Similar descriptions are given about the antediluvian giants and about Sodom:

And he (Abraham) told them (his children) about the judgment upon the giants and the judgment of Sodom, how they were judged because of their badness, because of fornication and uncleanness and perversity with each other and fornication worthy of death. “So you must keep yourselves from all fornication and uncleanness and from every taint of sin.” (Jub. 20:5-6)

About the judgments at the end of time it is said: “All this will come over this evil generation because the earth allowed such sins in the impurity of fornication and in blemishing and in the hideousness of their deeds” since “all their work is impurity and hideousness and all their works are blemishing and impurity and perversity” (Jub. 23:14, 17).

And in Jub. 30:15 there is threat of discipline and curse:

…both when someone does these deeds, and also when one makes his eyes blind to these deeds, when they act impurely and when they profane the holiness of the Lord and stain His Holy Name—they will all be judged….

All these places in the Book of Jubilees deal with the same theme, in which the three sins are named that brought the Flood upon the earth, namely, fornication, uncleanness and injustice (Jub. 7:20f).[42]

A closely related list of three main sins is found in the Damascus Document (CD 4:13-19).[43] The Book of Jubilees was composed in the second century B.C.E. and belongs to the same Jewish movement as that out of which the Essene sect of Qumran arose. The Damascus Document comes from a sister congregation of this sect; fragments of this document were found in the caves of Qumran. In the Damascus Document there is reference to Isa. 24:17:

“Terror and pit and snare confront you, O inhabitant of the earth.” The meaning of this refers to the three nets of Belial about which Levi, the son of Jacob, has said that he [Belial] uses them to ensnare Israel and he gives them the appearance of three types of righteousness; the first is fornication, the second is riches, and the third is defiling the sanctuary. Whoever escapes one of these nets falls into the next, and whoever escapes that net falls into the next.[44]

The Damascus Document here mentions—doubtless on the backdrop of the older Testament of Levi[45] —three main sins, namely, fornication, riches, and profanation of the Holy, whereas the Book of Jubilees (7:20f.) names fornication, impurity and injustice as the three main sins. That the two triads are related cannot be doubted; it is only that the list in the Damascus document has become more “Essenic.” Fornication remains, but instead of speaking in general about impurity and injustice, the Damascus Document speaks of impurity of Satan (Belial) and of riches.

It is known that the “poor in spirit,” the Essenes, saw in riches a gate that leads to sin, and considered the contemporary devil in Jerusalem as unclean. If we compare the three Noahide prohibitions of the Book of Jubilees with the rabbinic and early Christian triads, we notice the following: the two triads agree not only in respect to fornication, but also in that they both relate to Noahides, that is, non-Jews. However, in contrast to the triad of the book of Jubilees (and the related triad in the Damascus Document), the rabbinic and early Christian triads list idolatry, murder and fornication as the three major sins. And it is precisely this latter triad that also is included in the normative form of the seven Noahides commandments, in the decision of Lydda, and in the early church’s list of mortal sins. These same three serious trespasses are the ones forbidden in the extra-canonical text of the Apostolic Decree.

From what we have seen in the Book of Jubilees (and in the Damascus Document), it is obvious that there existed three Noahide prohibitions from the beginning. This supports our assumption that the original Noahide commandments named only the three mortal sins and that the apostolic church simply applied these to the Noahide God-fearers who had come to faith in Christ. In support of our argument is a generally known fact that is also decisive, that is, the seven Noahide commandments that are now binding in Judaism, are first mentioned only after the Hadrianic persecution, that is, from the second half of the second century.

It is therefore not an accident that the contents of the Apostolic Decree were at that time identical with the Noahide commandments. It is very noteworthy that in both cases a similar tendency was at work, a tendency that was responsible for the present usual forms both of the Noahide commandments and of the Apostolic Decree. In both cases there was a tendency to enhance the basic universally human ethical principles by means of additional ritual requirements for Gentile God-fearers who were not ritually bound. Such requirements for those who already lived under the law were superfluous.

For the Apostolic Decree, taken formally, the change was simple: one need only add the word “strangled.”[46] Blood is thereby not understood as shedding of blood, i.e., murder, but as the prohibition of eating blood. This shows that the simple change in the text is not to be explained primarily as a matter of literary-critical considerations, but that this other version, the canonical text, is preserving an actual practice that set in within certain circles of the ancient church. There is no lack of evidence that there were Christians who observed the eating regulations of the canonical Apostolic Decree. We can even assume that the Christians who were the teachers of Mohammed were followers of this “halachic” tradition, a tradition that we know from the canonical text of the Apostolic Council. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain the similarity of the verses in the Koran about eating meat with the usual form of the Apostolic Decree.[47]

We will now seek to show that the halachic approach of the canonical Apostolic Decree is based on the Jewish regulations for Noahides. However, we must not forget that in the time of the Church Fathers the extra-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree did not exist off in some hidden corner. The most important of the Church Fathers knew it and used it.

From rabbinic sources it is easy to see that there was a tendency not to be restricted just to the seven Noahide commandments. Various rabbis wanted to impose additional rules on the God-fearers from among the nations. Some even went so far as to propose thirty Noahide commandments.[48] Naturally, one can ask whether the additional suggested regulations were actually so intended, i.e., as a further burden—though well-meant—to be laid on the Gentiles, or whether at least part of this list of extra-canonical Noahide commandments simply came out of the period before the seven Noahide commandments were fixed in their normative form. The usual form of the Apostolic Decree demonstrates that the second option is the correct one, and points to the fact that these earlier, non-normative Noahide rules were in fact observed by some of the God-fearers. This is the only way one can explain how the prohibitions of blood and the strangled parallels show up precisely in the Jewish “extra-canonical” forms of the commandments.[49] As to the meaning of “things strangled” in the canonical formulation of the Apostolic Decree, one needs to consult the old church fathers because they still observed this regulation.[50] Origen names as strangled any meat from which the blood had not been extracted. John Chrysostom defines it as “meat with the blood of the soul.” [51] He points to Gen. 9:4: “the flesh in its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.”

What is important is that Judaism used exactly the same verse to draw conclusions about the prohibition of eating morsels of the living. Augustine (354-430 C.E.), referring to the matter of strangulation, asserts that Gentile Christians of his day no longer felt bound to abstain from eating the meat of a bird from which its blood had not been drained, or a hare killed by a blow to the neck (without a bleeding wound), evidence that such abstention had been practiced previously by Gentile Christians. [52] What was meant in this matter was that “the meat of such animals that were neither slaughtered nor shot, but killed in some external way without the spilling of blood, so that their blood—without any wound through which it could bleed—was trapped in them.”[53] In the most important text[54] of the tannaic discussion of the Noahide commandments we read:

If one [a non-Jew] strangles and eats a bird that is smaller than an olive, he is allowed to do it. R. Hananiah ben Gamaliel[55] said: “The non-Jew also is prohibited from eating the blood of a living animal.” (t. Avod. Zar. 8:4-8 [p. 473f.])

There existed, therefore, the opinion that not only was it forbidden for a God-fearer from among the Gentiles to eat a piece of a living animal, but that this God-fearer was also not allowed to eat the blood of a living animal. As one can deduce from the canonical Apostolic Decree, this was not just a matter of learned reflection by a rabbinic authority, rather in ancient times there really were God-fearers who actually did abstain from the blood of animals.

The rabbinic sources that speak about the prohibitions of strangulation and blood for Noahides seem to show that both variants of the Apostolic Decree, i.e., both the extra-canonical and the canonical, are nothing other than variants of the Jewish regulations for non-Jews, before these regulations stabilized into the customary seven Noahide commandments. How could it have been otherwise? Once Gentiles, too, began coming to faith in the Messiah Jesus, it was natural to apply the Noahide commandments to them. At first, according to the “extra-canonical” text, they were required to follow the oldest form of the Noahide commandments, that is, abstaining from the three central sins: idolatry, fornication and bloodshed. Later the text was adapted to a second form of the Noahide commandments, one probably practiced by Christians native to another locale, the commandments that Jews of that local expected of God-fearing Gentiles. It was this second form that eventually became the dominant textual variant.

Let us take a closer look at the earlier stages of the present seven Noahide commandments. As has been demonstrated, there were only three such stages. The first stage consisted of the prohibition of the three main sins. The second stage involved the five basic principles without which the maintenance of human social order is unthinkable. The third stage was the six Adamic commandments. [56] At the end of this development stand the customary seven Noahide commandments.

We do not want to argue that this is a matter of a strict historical development; we would rather speak in terms of the development of a principle. Also when considered chronologically, these four systems of expressing the basic principles existed contemporaneously. To what extent each of the four formulations were not more than ideologically learned constructions, or to what extent they also had practical applications, is difficult for us to discern today. But one should not forget that both practice-oriented regulations and also “philosophical” principles of justice were meaningful, and not only in Judaism. In any case, it is certain that at least the first and the last stages did function as halachically concrete regulations. As to the primarily halachic meaning of the seven Noahide commandments, we need not elaborate.

As to the first stage, we have concluded that these original three prohibitions required by the Jewish religion system, were also the ones required of non-Jews. The immutable prohibitions against idolatry, fornication and bloodshed (i.e., murder) were adopted by the church in the course of the second century. (Whether or not the five basic principles and the six Adamic commandments actually influenced the behavior of people we cannot know.)

Perhaps the developmental history of the five basic principles, without which the maintenance of human social order would be unthinkable, is the most interesting.[57] Added to the three prime sins are the sins of theft[58] and blasphemy.

“My judgments” [Lev. 18:4], these are the words of the Torah, which, if they had not been written, would have had to be written and added. They are the following[59] : theft, fornication, idolatry, blasphemy and bloodshed. Had these not been written, they would have had to be written and added.

Afterwards, more such regulations of ritual nature were added against which objections were raised both by human reasoning and also by the Gentiles. Five of the customary Noahide commandments are mentioned here as being natural laws that can be derived from human and humanitarian necessity. Perhaps it is no accident that these five ordinances are negative rather than positive commandments. These five natural laws are also an extension of the three major sins. One could perhaps surmise that the five basic laws are a pure invention of the rabbis that came about by simply excluding two of the seven Noahide commandments. This is not the case, because these same five serious sins can be found in an entirely different kind of Jewish source, the so-called Didache.[60] It has earlier been noted that Didache 3:1-6 is an independent unit which the Jewish writer of this tractate has adapted to the context. The unit belongs to a genre already mentioned. Other instances of this genre are the seven Noahide commandments and their earlier stages, as well as the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-48). As we will see, Didache 3:1-6 is related to both the Noahide commandments and also to the Sermon on the Mount. But before we demonstrate this, we will attempt a reconstruction of the unit as it may have been worded before it was adapted by the composer of the Jewish source of the Didache[61] :

3:1 My child, flee from every evil thing and what resembles it.

3:2 Don’t be prone to anger, because anger leads to murder.

3:3 Don’t be lustful, because lust leads to fornication.

3:4 Don’t be a bird watcher, because bird watching leads to idolatry.

3:5 Don’t be a liar, because lying leads to theft.

3:6 Don’t be a complainer, because complaining leads to blasphemy.[62]

The relatedness between the background of Didache 3:1-6 and the first part of the Sermon on the Mount cannot be doubted. The warning against evil and all that is similar to it (Did. 3:1) corresponds to the admonition of Jesus to attend to the least of the commandments as well as the most important (Matt. 5:17-20). That anger leads to murder is not something we learn only in Didache 3:2, but also in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22). We learn in Didache 3:3 that lustful cravings lead to fornication; the same is said in Matt. 5:27-28. Additionally, both in the Sermon on the Mount and in Didache we find the same approach as in the general introductory warning to the sixth and seventh commandments in the Decalogue, in fact, the same method of movement from “light” to “heavy.” The relationship between the Didache and the first part of the Sermon on the Mount can be said to be firmly established.

It is important to note that in Didache 3:1-6, fornication, idolatry, theft and blasphemy are listed as the heavy sins. About this last heavy sin, Wengst rightly commented: “When murmuring leads to blasphemy, murmuring is hereby presented as quarreling with destiny, though it has been sent by God. Whoever, then, complains against his destiny stands in constant danger of blaspheming God.” [63] But the most noteworthy thing about the heavy sins mentioned in Didache 3:1-6 is that they are identical with the list of the five central sins in older rabbinic sources (see Sifra on Lev. 18:4, and b. Yoma 67b), namely, theft, fornication, idolatry, blasphemy and murder (lit., shedding of blood). One must not forget that these are five of the seven Noahide commandments.[64]

Before indicating the importance of this section of Didache for the chronology of the history of the Noahide commandments, let us take a closer look at one of the heavy sins, the sin of blasphemy against God; it is found in the Didache, in rabbinic teaching, and in the Noahide commandments.[65] This fits very well with the parenthetical section of the Didache, since it, as well as the entire Jewish source, is meant primarily for Jews—and so the mention of blasphemy is understandable. Surely this source was also meant for pious God-fearing non-Jews, and, therefore, could have been edited and expanded by a very early Christian of Gentile background; it arose from the teaching of the twelve apostles. The distant possibility did exist that a pious non-Jewish, God-fearer might blaspheme God in a weak moment. But the general Jewish view at the time was that a non-Jew was not obligated to believe specifically in the God of Israel—he was only to avoid idolatrous worship. The prohibition of blasphemy against God is easy then to understand as a warning to Jews against a really terrible sin, but what is the prohibition against the blasphemy of God doing among the ordinances that are binding on all mankind? It is not difficult to suppose that a universalistic definition of Judaism involved a binding formulation of the prohibition of blasphemy as applying to all of mankind. However this may be, the prohibition against blasphemy does show up among the universalistic Noahide commandments as representative of the sin of atheism, which throughout all antiquity was considered criminal. Plutarch (De Iside et osiride, ch. 23) says that faith is implanted in nearly all people at birth. According to Gen. 20:11, Abraham excuses himself before Abimelech for passing off his wife as his sister: “I thought that there is no fear of God in this place, and therefore you might kill me because of my wife.”

In the Septuagint the word for “fear of God” in this passage is translated as theosebeia, which means reverence for God, piety or religion.[66] The idea is that if one is at a place where there is no religion, in that place life is not secure. In a Midrash on this verse, we read:

Fear of God is a great thing, because as regards anyone who fears Heaven (i.e., God), it can be assumed that he does not sin, but in contrast, as regards anyone who has no fear of God, it can be assumed that there is no sin from which he will desist. [67]

It seems, then, that the general rejection of irreligiosity makes it plausible that the prohibition of blasphemy against God was meant also to be applied to non-Jews.

Now we return to the five basic sins enumerated in the rabbinic dictum quoted above and in the Didache. The appearance of the same catalog of sins both in Jewish sources and in the Didache demonstrates that this list of the five basic sins did not come to life as some kind of learned reduction of the seven Noahide commandments. The reason is that these five, “heavy” sins are found in a completely different context in the Didache, and they serve a completely different function there than they do in the rabbinic dictum quoted above and in the Noahide commandments. The dating of the lists therefore depends on the dating of the early Christian Didache. The final form of this document came into existence before the end of the first century, but the Jewish source is older than the Didache. We tend toward the assumption that Didache 3:1-6 was an independent unit and was taken over by the author of the Jewish source. It would seem advisable to set the time of origin of this passage as not later than 50 C.E. This leads to the conclusion that the five commandments’ composition took place at the same time the apostolic church was applying the three prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree to Christians of Gentile origin. The second stage of the Noahide commandments’ existence, then, most likely was at the time when the Noahide commandments’ early form was still authoritative for the relationship of non-Jews to Judaism.

We have attempted to demonstrate that the list of the five basic commandments is not a matter of some historico-cultural theory of development from Adam to Noah. To what extent the six Adamic commandments arose independently of the seven Noahide commandments is very difficult to determine.

How many obligations were laid [by God] on Adam, the first human? The sages have taught: “Adam was required to observe six prohibitions: idolatry, blasphemy, justice, bloodshed, fornication and theft.” (Deut. Rab. 2:17, on Deut. 4:41)

In contrast to the seven Noahide commandments, the eating of a limb of a living animal is lacking, and in comparison with the list of the five basic ordinances, justice has been added. May we assume that justice, in contrast to all the prohibitions, is to be considered a positive commandment? That is not at all sure. The universal necessity of having some structured system of justice is basically there to hinder criminal capriciousness in dealing with people’s rights. Thus, the command to respect justice in the Adamic and Noahide versions of the commandments is also to be understood primarily as a negative commandment.

To the six Adamic commandments the descendants of Noah received a seventh, namely, the prohibition against eating a limb of a living animal. Biblically considered, this prohibition was senseless before the Flood, since according to God’s will Adam lived as a vegetarian. Noahides were allowed meat, but with limitations. There were limitations also for the non-Jews, but they were not adopted in the “canonical” form of the seven Noahide commandments. As we have attempted to demonstrate, it is precisely the ritual food laws of the secondary form of the Apostolic Decree that go back to two extra-canonical Jewish restrictions. The original form of the Apostolic Decree was purely ethical and was identical with the three Mosaic obligations for non-Jews, i.e., with the original (three) Noahide commandments.

 This progressive ritualization needs a short explanation. Neither the original, purely ethical form nor the two final “ritualized” forms are difficult to explain. The Noahide commandments and the closely related Apostolic Decree go back to formulations of the basic ideas of Judaism. The content of such summaries is ethical and universal. These summaries are by their nature intended as generally applicable and aimed at all mankind, also the non-Jews. That is how they could be considered as binding for non-Jews.

But is the purely ethical enough for the natural law of mankind? The five basic ordinances already added to the primary sins both the prohibitions of theft and blasphemy, and the six Adamic commandments added the obligation of justice. Judaism—whose self-definition involves being bound by rituals—can manage with purely ethical definitions of basic principles. But does that mean that non-Jews should live with no ritual obligations whatsoever? This is why a moral-ritualistic obligation appears amid the Noahide commandments, that is, the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal. There were other practical suggestions in this direction, and two of these prohibitions were adopted in the canonical text of the Apostolic Decree.

We started out to show that the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree was the original, and that the original content of the Noahide commandments was the prohibition of the three sins of idolatry, murder and fornication.[68] The Apostolic Decree sharpened the prohibition of idolatry and expressly forbid the eating of meat offered to idols. A proof for the importance in Judaism of the three major prohibitions is the decision of Lydda, according to which no circumstance would justify a Jew’s committing these three sins. This decision also was taken over by the young church into its discipline in the course of the second century. We also have tried to show that the original prohibition of these three central sins developed into the seven Noahide commandments. The canonical Apostolic Decree also developed out of Jewish premises. It appears to us that the results of our investigation not only have meaningful implications for the history of early Christendom, but they also cast light on the relationship between early Judaism and Christianity.



Title page of Toland's book, Nazarenus: Or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity.
Title page of Toland’s book, Nazarenus: Or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity.

At the beginning of this essay, we referred to the words of Moses Mendelssohn. He was of the opinion that, according to New Testament teaching, a Jew, even if a believer in the Messiah, was still obligated to keep the Jewish ordinances. In contrast, a Christian of Gentile background, in accordance with Jewish halachah, is bound by the Noahide commandments. A similar view had been reached earlier by the English deist, John Toland (1670-1722) in his book, “Nazarenus.”[69] Unfortunately, this important book did not receive sufficient recognition. We could find no evidence that Toland’s work was known to scholars of the German Enlightenment. We must suppose that Mendelssohn, too, had no knowledge of Toland’s thinking.

Toland viewed the twin streams of the early church—the Torah-keeping Jewish Christians and the non-Jewish Christians, as the “original plan of Christianity” from which it would be damaging to deviate. That is why he says, similarly to the later Mendelssohn, that: “It follows indeed that the Jews, whether becoming Christians or not, are forever bound to the Law of Moses, as not limited; and he that thinks they were absolved from the observation of it by Jesus, or that it is a fault in them still to adhere to it, does err not knowing the Scriptures” (Introduction, VI).

Toland held the view that Jewish Christians were forever obligated to observe the Law of Moses, while the Christians of Gentile background, who lived among them, needed only to observe the Noahide commandments, abstaining from eating blood and making offerings to idols.[70] He, of course, knew only the “canonical” text of the Apostolic Decree; however, he tended to accept the hypothesis of a researcher from the century before who had surmised that the mention of the strangled offerings was a secondary interpolation, since it was not mentioned by many of the old church fathers.[71] Resch reached the same conclusion. This subject is worthy of further investigation.

  • [1] The translator would like to thank Horst Krüger, Christina Krüger, and especially Dr. Guido Baltes, for their invaluable assistance in preparing this translation.
  • [2] This article’s translation to English was made possible through the generous financial assistance of Paul, Clarice and Jeffery Steen, the loving father, mother and brother of Gregory. Jerusalem Perspective wishes to thank Dr. Volker Hampel and Neukirchener Verlag ( for permission to publish this article in English.
  • [3] David Flusser, “Lavater and Nathan, the Wise,” in Bemerkungen eines Juden zur christlichen Theologie (1984): 82-93.
  • [4] M. Mendelssohn, Schriften zum Judentum (1930), 1:303.
  • [5] Ibid., 10-11.
  • [6] “Fornication” would be a more accurate translation.
  • [7] Regarding the Noahide commandments, see E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (1909; reprint 1970), 2:178f.; H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (1926), 3:36-38; A. Lichenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah (1981). The most important reference is t. Avod. Zar. 8:4-6 (473, 12-25). See also Gen. Rab. 17.17 (on Gen. 2:17; ed. Theodor-Albeck, 149-151), and notes; Gen. Rab. 34.8 (on Gen. 8:19 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, 316-17).
  • [8] D. Flusser, “Die Christenheit nach dem Apostelkonzil,” in Antijudaismus im Neuen Testament: Exegetische und systematische Beiträge (eds. W. P. Eckert, N. P. Levinson and M. Stöhr; 1967), 60-81.
  • [9] G. Resch, “Das Aposteldekret nach seiner ausserkanonischen Textgestalt untersucht,” in Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, NTF (1905), 3:1-179.
  • [10] A. Diehle, Die Goldene Regel (1962), 107.
  • [11] H. Sahlin, “Die drei Kardinalsünden und das Neue Testament,” Studia Theologica 20.1 (1970): 93-112, esp. 109. Regarding the three central sins, see also L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1947), 5:292, n. 147; cf. 6:388, n. 16.
  • [12] The three Jewish researchers are: L. Venetianer, Die Beschlüsse zu Lydda und das Aposteldekret zu Jerusalem, Festschrift für A. Schwarz (1917), 417-19; M. Guttmann, Das Judentum und sein Umwelt (1917), 118; and G. Alon, “The Halachah in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” in Studies in Jewish History (1978), 1:274-94 (Hebrew), published previously in Tarbiz 11 (1939-1940).
  • [13] See Billerbeck, 1:221-24.
  • [14] G. Alon, op. cit., 279, n. 27.
  • [15] Cf. D. Flusser, “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” in Heinz Kremers (ed.), Juden und Christen lesen dieselbe Bibel (Duisburger Hochschulbeitraege 2) (1977), 102-113. In rabbinic parlance, one can speak of “great” and “small” commandments (Billerbeck, 1:903f.).
  • [16] Cf. D. Flusser, “The Ten Commandments and the New Testament,” in The Ten Commandments (ed. Ben-Zion Segal; 1985), 118-187 (Hebrew); see also G. Alon, op. cit., 278, and Y. Amir, “Die Zehn Gebote bei Philon von Alexandrien,” in ibid., Die hellenistische Gestalt des Judentums bei Philon von Alexandrien (1983), 131-63. On p. 135 Amir refers to a midrash: “Just like in the ocean there are little waves between two huge waves, so likewise between every pair of the ten commandments there are the individual prescriptions and regulations of the Torah” (j. Shek. 1, 9, 60d). A similar notion is found in the case of Hananiah, the nephew of Yehoshua: see W. Bacher, Die Aggada der Tannaiten (1903), 1:388. Similar is Gen. Rab. 8, line 16 (ed. Ch. Albeck; 1940), and see the note to that line. Targum Jonathan to Exod. 24:12 reads: “I will give you stone tablets on which the words of the Torah are explained, and the 613 commandments.”
  • [17] Cf. D. Flusser, “Neue Sensibilität im Judentum und die christliche Botschaft,” in ibid., Bemerkungen eines Juden zur christlichen Theologie (1984), 35-53 (see also n. 40).
  • [18] Ibid., 166-69.
  • [19] D. Flusser, op. cit. (see n. 16), 175-77.
  • [20] The most recent annotated editions of the Didache are: K. Wengst, Schriften des Urchristentums (1984), 3-100, and La doctrine des Douze Apotres (Didache), SC 248 (eds. W. Rordorf and A. Tuillier; 1978); there (203-226) one finds a critical edition of the Jewish sources of the text. Regarding these Jewish sources, see also D. Flusser, “The Two Ways,” in Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (1982), 235-252 (Hebrew). Regarding Philo, see p. 239 in that article. For our purposes, an important list of sins can be found in Philo in his discussion of the individual laws (Spec. Laws 2, 13): “theft, temple robbery, addiction, adultery, bodily injury, murder or like scandalous deeds.” The list is given in the context of the second half of the Decalogue, but more important is the similarity with the description of a disobedient Jew in Rom. 2:21-22: “You who instruct others, do you learn nothing yourself? You who preach that one ought not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idolatry, do you rob your temple?”
  • [21] The seven Noahide commandments include yet a third commandment from the second half of the Decalogue, namely, the prohibition of robbery (there, as a fifth commandment). The Hebrew word for “robbery” (as well as the verb “to rob”) gained the meaning of “theft.” The old biblical word for robbery was not used any more in the spoken language. In the Noahide commandments, then, we see that the sixth, seventh and eighth commandments of the Decalogue are preserved. But in the “canonical” form of the Apostolic Decree, by contrast, all the prohibitions of the second half of the Decalogue have disappeared. From bloodshed, we have moved to the eating of blood, and the prohibition of meat offered to idols is shifted to the first half of the Decalogue. On the text of the Apostolic Decree see also B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971), 429-35. For more recent literature see n. 12, and M. Simon, The Apostolic Decree and Its Setting in the Ancient Church, BJRL 52 (1969-1970), 437-60, and F. Siegert, Gottesfuerchtige und Sympatisanten, JSJ (1973), 109-164.
  • [22] The Apostolic Decree is mentioned in Acts three times: Acts 15:19-20; 28-29; 21:25. In the first formulation, Gentiles are admonished to avoid the “pollutions of idols.” This corresponds to the “contamination by idolatry” referred to in m. Shab. 9:1. In the second and third formulations, meat offered to idols is mentioned specifically.
  • [23] From G. Resch, op. cit., 15-17, one can learn that sometimes the Golden Rule was in fact attached to the canonical form of the Apostolic Decree. One cannot, however, therefore automatically conclude that the Golden Rule belongs to the Apostolic Decree; in these cases, we may be dealing with a mixed textual form.
  • [24] Who was the first to formulate the western form cannot be determined. W. Bacher (op. cit., vol. 2, 336) has mentioned a saying from the School of Ishmael (b. Ber. 19a, Tractate Tehilim on Ps 125, at the end): “Uttering slander is as great a sin as the three capital sins” (idolatry, murder and fornication). See also j. Peah 15d; Midrash ha-Gadol to Gen. 49:9 (see notes in M. Margulies edition, 664). S. Schechter also discusses the three capital sins in Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1961), 205-207 and 222-27 (see esp., 222). See n. 31 below.
  • [25] In m. Avot (the Sayings of the Fathers) these commandments are scarcely mentioned.
  • [26] W. Bacher, op. cit., vol. 1, 263f.
  • [27] Ibid., vol. 4, 278.
  • [28] Regarding the three mortal sins in the ancient church, see among others W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (1965), 56, 75, 374, 378. Although no friend of the Jews, Frend did recognize the Jewish parallels to the early Christian “mortal” sins. Cf. also A. Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmensgeschichte (1913), 1:439-44, and K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, vol. XI: “Fruehe Bussgeschichte” (1973), esp. 91, 183 189. Especially important is the decision of the rigoristic Synod of Elvira (Spain, 306), which begins as follows: “Qui post idoli idolaturus accesserit et fecerit quo est crimen capitale, quia est summi sceleris, placuit nec infine eum communionem accipere. Flamines, qui post fidem lavacri et regenerationis sacrificaverunt, eo quod geminaverint scelera accedente nomicidio vel triplicaverint facinus cohaerente moechia, placuit eos nec in finem accipere communionem” (Acta et symbola conciliorum, ed. E. J. Jonkers, Textus minores, vol. XIX, [1954], 5). One sees here how similar is the position taken regarding the three mortal sins to the decision of Lydda.
  • [29] Cf. A. Blaise, Dictionnaire latino francais des autors chretiens (1954), 130.
  • [30] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:27. Perhaps the reference to the three mortal sins can be placed even earlier. At the end of the Revelation of John (Rev. 22:15) it is said: “Outside are the dogs, the poisoners, the fornicators, the murderers, and the idolaters and all those who love and do lies”; similarly also in Rev. 21:8. This implies the application of a measure of discipline for preventing the acceptance of such sinners into the congregation and the expulsion of such when discovered. H. Kraft, Die Offenbarung Johannes (1974), 279f., is on the right track.
  • [31] Regarding Tertullian, see B. Altaner and A. Stuiber, Patrologie (1966), 189; regarding Hippolytus, see loc. cit., 166. Hippolytus writes against Pope Callistus (217-222) in Refutation of All Heresies 9:11-13. Tertullian writes about the mortal sins in De pudicitia, probably his last work. When he wrote about the “pontifex maximus, quod est episcopus episcoporum” who was lax in church discipline, it is argued by some that he did not mean, as Hippolytus did, Pope Callistus. See the bibliography in Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (ed. F. L. Cross; 1974), 221, s.v. “Callistus.” The three mortal sins are mentioned by Hippolytus in a surviving fragment of his commentary on Proverbs (GCS 1:163f.).
  • [32] Tertullian, De pudicitia, ch. 12; similarly also Augustine (see G. Resch, op. cit., 12, n. 21).
  • [33] See also G. Resch, op. cit., 21f.41 and 37, n. 1.
  • [34] Cf. W. Bousset, Die Offenbarung Johannis (1906; repr. 1966), 221.
  • [35] Cf. also H. Conzelmann, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (1969), 162-64. Also in Did. 6:2-3 the non-Jews are warned against meat offered to idols.
  • [36] t. Sot. 6:6 on Esau; Gen. Rab. 63.12 (on Gen. 25:29; ed. Theodor-Albeck, 694-95).
  • [37] t. Sanh. 13:8. See the Aramaic Targums on Gen. 13:13.
  • [38] S. Eli. Rab. 13 (ed. M. Friedmann, p. 61).
  • [39] See n. 25.
  • [40] Sifra to Lev. 16:16 and b. Shevi. 7b.
  • [41] This is not the place to discuss whether the concept of natural law existed in ancient Judaism, however, this issue has been discussed. See I. Heinemann, Die Lehre vom ungeschriebenen Gesetz im juedischen Schrifttum, HUCA 4 (1921), 149-171 and H. A. Wolfson, Philo (1948), 2:180-191. It is perhaps preferable to speak of the Jewish categories of injustice and foundational principles, which include, as we will see, the Noahide commandments, both in their early stages as well as in their final form.
  • [42] On pp. 39-40 of “Neue Sensibilität im Judentum und die christliche Botschaft,” quoted above (n. 18), D. Flusser has shown that the Book of Jubilees is the earliest witness for the double command of love.
  • [43] Cf. H. Kosmala, “The Three Nets of Belial,” ASTI 4 (1965): 91-113.
  • [44] This explanation is meant to paraphrase Isa. 24:18.
  • [45] Cf. J. Becker, Die Testamente der zwoelf Patriachen [T. 12 Patr.], JSHRZ 3 (1974), 227. See the translation on pp. 139-152.
  • [46] Porneia (fornication) is missing in some manuscripts of Acts 15:20, 29, but not of Acts 21:25! See also M. Simon, op. cit., 430f.
  • [47] The Koran 2:168: “He (Allah) has forbidden for you only carrion and blood and pork and whatever has been offered to another than Allah,” i.e., meat offered to idols. The same statement is found in 6:145 and 16:115f. In 5:4 the Islamic eating regulations are extended: “Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, pork and whatever has been offered to another than Allah (by slaughtering); the strangled, the slain, what has died by falling or by being gored, a carcass of an animal killed by wild beasts (except for what you purify), and what has been slaughtered on (idol) stones” [Ronning’s English trans. of M. Henig’s German translation of 1966]. Cf. also G. Resch, op. cit., 28f.
  • [48] Cf. A. Sperbaum, “The Thirty Noahide Commandments of Rav Samuel ben Hofni,” Sinai 72 (1973): 205-221 (Hebrew); A. Sperbaum, The Biblical Commentary of Rav Samuel ben Hofni Gaon (1978), 52-58 (Hebrew).
  • [49] It seems to us that variations in respect to what belongs in the Noahide commandments does not have much to do with the differences between the Pauline and the Petrine views of Christian legal requirements. It can be assumed that at the time the entire church accepted the Apostolic Decree with its three central sins as authoritatively binding. The difference is that Peter considered the Apostolic Decree as the minimum required, and Paul as the maximum. Peter and his followers represented the general Jewish opinion of the time, which was that the Noahide commandments were binding on God-fearers, but that it was up to them to willingly assume more of the standard Jewish practices. See also D. Flusser, op. cit. (n. 9).
  • [50] Cf. Resch, op. cit., 23-26.
  • [51] Hom. Gen. 27.
  • [52] Augustine, Faust. 32.13.
  • [53] G. Resch, op. cit., 24.
  • [54] The sentence about strangulation in b. Hull. 102b is misunderstood.
  • [55] Billerbeck (II, 738) notes the opinion of R. Hananiah ben Gamaliel preserved in b. Sanh. 59a. R. Hananiah interprets Gen. 9:4 as follows: “Its blood, while it is still living, you shall not eat.”
  • [56] In addition to the three central sins, the additional three stages are discussed in Billerbeck III, 36-38.
  • [57] The text is found in Sifra to Lev. 18:4 (ed. Weiss, 86a), and in b. Yoma 67b.
  • [58] This also includes theft (see n. 22 above).
  • [59] This is the correct reading.
  • [60] For bibliography see n. 21. We were alerted to the importance of this passage by Malcolm Lowe.
  • [61] In the unit Did. 3:2-6, each of the verses is composed of two halves. We consider the first half of each verse to be the original. For example, in the first half of Did. 3:4 reference is made to “bird watcher” (augur; soothsayer; diviner of omens); in the second half, to “enchanter,” “astrologer” and “magician.” We have retained “bird watcher,” although we cannot be sure of exactly what pagan superstition we are being warned. In the first half of Did. 3:3, “fornication” is mentioned; in the second half, “adultery.” We have retained “fornication” in our reconstruction; nevertheless, “adultery” appears to be the original reading since it appears in the Decalogue and also in Matt. 5:27-28.
  • [62] On the basis of this unit in the Didache (3:1-6) one recognizes once again how complex are the relationships between the various homilies in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. We will compare the reconstruction of the unit, which we have just made, with the list in 1 Cor. 10:5-11 of the sins of Israel in the wilderness, for the sake of which they had to remain in the wilderness. “These things are examples for us. They happened so that we will not lust after evil the way that they lusted. Don’t be idolaters like some of them…Let us not commit fornication like some of them did fornicate…Don’t complain like some of them complained…”

    The similarities:

    1 Cor. 10:6 lustful Didache 3:3 lust
    1 Cor. 10:7 idolaters Didache 3:4 idolatry
    1 Cor. 10:8 fornicators Didache 3:3 fornication
    1 Cor. 10:10 complainers Didache 3:6 complaining

    In the four parallel expressions we find two “light” sins (lust and complaining) and two “heavy” sins (idolatry and fornication).

  • [63] Cf. K. Wengst, op. cit., 71, n. 19.
  • [64] A very interesting historico-spiritual investigation of the Noahide commandments can be found at the beginning of the Introduction to Tractate Berachot in the Babylonian Talmud, which was composed by Nissim Gaon from Kairuan, North Africa (ca. 990-1062). Regarding the five basic principles, see also E. E. Urbach, The Sages (1979), 320f.
  • [65] Regarding the prohibition of blasphemy for non-Jews, see b. Sanh. 56a. The Talmud deduces this Noahide prohibition from Lev. 24:16; the story tells of a blasphemer, whose father was Egyptian—only later did having a Jewish mother become decisive for whether one was Jewish—and this passage closes with these words: “Whether the person involved is a stranger or a native, if he blasphemes the Name [of the Lord], he shall be put to death.”
  • [66] Cf. W. Bauer, Griechisch-deutsches Woeterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments (1958), 708.
  • [67] Midrash ha-Gadol to Gen. 20:11 (M. Margulies edition, 330)
  • [68] That the original Noahide commandments were only three comes directly out of b. Sanh. 57a: “A Noahide is to be executed on the basis of three transgressions: fornication, bloodshed and blasphemy,” that is, he will not be executed for transgression of the other commandments.
  • [69] J. Toland, Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile or Mahometan Christianity (1718). For the text of Toland’s work, see:
  • [70] Op. cit., 65 and 68.
  • [71] Ibid., 181. This scholar was Curcelleus. Toland, in n. 38, cites Curcelleus: “Sed merito nobis suspecta est, cum a multis Patribus non agnoscatur, immo tamquam supposita diserte reiiciatur” (Diatriba de esu snguinis, chapter 11, p. 131). The scholar was not aware that there were manuscripts of the New Testament in which the word “strangled” is missing.

Lord’s Prayer

Matt. 6:9-15; Mark 11:25; Luke 11:1-4
(Huck 30, 146, 201b; Aland 62, 185, 275b; Crook 43-44, 210, 311)[1]

Revised: 3-January-2018

וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בִּמְקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל וּכְכַלֹּתוֹ אָמַר לוֹ אֶחַד מִתַּלְמִידָיו אֲדוֹנֵנוּ לַמְּדֵנוּ לְהִתְפַּלֵּל כְּשֵׁם שֶׁיוֹחָנָן לִמֵּד אֶת תַּלְמִידָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם כְּשֶׁאַתֶּם מִתְפַּלְּלִים אִמְרוּ אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם יִתְקַדֵּשׁ שִׁמְךָ תָּבֹא מַלְכוּתְךָ יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ אֶת לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ תֵּן לָנוּ הַיּוֹם וּמְחוֹל לָנוּ עַל חֹבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁאַף אָנוּ מָחַלְנוּ לְחַיָּבֵינוּ וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ בְּנִסָּיוֹן אֶלָּא הַצִּילֵנוּ מִן הָרָע

On one occasion, Yeshua was praying at a certain location. After he finished his prayers, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as Yohanan the Immerser taught his disciples to pray.” So Yeshua told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Heavenly Father, may you be praised throughout the earth by everyone—including us! Reign soon over everyone—and over us, as well! May your will be done everywhere—and in our lives, too! Give us what’s necessary for the day ahead, neither more nor less than we need! Forgive the things we can’t make up to you, since even we forgive the things others ought to make up to us. Don’t let us fall when we’re tested, but rescue us from bad things that might occur.’”[2]










To view the reconstructed text of the Lord’s Prayer click on the link below:

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Story Placement

The author of Matthew, who preferred to organize his Gospel into long discourses composed of sayings that were scattered throughout his sources, incorporated the Lord’s Prayer into the Sermon on the Mount, but it is unlikely that the Sermon on the Mount was the original context of the Lord’s Prayer. This can be seen from the fact that the Lord’s Prayer disturbs the natural flow of the three topics: “When you give alms [Matt. 6:1-4]…when you pray [Matt. 6:5-8]…when you fast [Matt. 6:16-18]….”[3] In Luke, on the other hand, the Lord’s Prayer is given in response to the disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), which became the impetus for an extended teaching on prayer (Luke 11:2-13).

It appears that the author of Luke copied this block of material on prayer from the Anthology (Anth.), which preserved a nearly intact teaching complex on prayer. In this conjectured complex Jesus not only taught his disciples what to pray, he also gave the disciples instruction regarding the character of the God to whom they prayed. For an overview of this conjectured literary complex, which we have entitled “How to Pray,” click here. We have placed this reconstructed complex in the section of the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua entitled “Calling and Training Disciples.”



Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua.


Conjectured Stages of Transmission

Our statement above that the author of Luke copied the block of material on prayer that comprises Luke 11:1-13 from Anth., must be modified slightly. It appears that for the text of the prayer itself (Luke 11:2b-4) the author of Luke relied instead upon the First Reconstruction (FR), since, compared to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Luke’s version is much less Hebraic and far more congenial to a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience.[4]

Because Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter and simpler than Matthew’s, many scholars have assumed that Luke’s version represents a more primitive and original form of the Lord’s Prayer. These scholars usually assume that the author of Matthew added the Jewish elements not found in Luke’s version to the Lord’s Prayer in order to appeal to his Jewish or Jewish-Christian audience. However, Judaizing texts is contrary to Matthew’s redactional method, who, given the opportunity, imparted his sources an anti-Jewish slant.[5] When a Matthean version of a pericope is more “Jewish” or more Hebraic, therefore, this is more likely due to his use of a Hebraic source (i.e., Anth.) than to a Judaizing redactional tendency on the part of the author of Matthew.[6] Thus, we conclude that Matthew’s more Hebraic version of the Lord’s Prayer reflects the more primitive and original form as it was preserved in Anth.[7]

Matthew’s version of the prayer is nearly identical to another early attestation of the Lord’s Prayer that was preserved in the Didache, a late first-century or early second-century C.E. composition, also known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.[8] The Didache’s version of the Lord’s Prayer reads:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου, ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς˙ τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον, καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν, καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ˙ ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

Our Father who is in heaven, may your name be sanctified, may your Kingdom come, may your will be done, as in heaven also upon earth. Our daily bread give to us today, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and do not lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil, because yours are the power and glory into eternity. (Did. 8:2)

Flusser and van de Sandt contend that the Didache’s version of the Lord’s Prayer does not depend on the canonical Gospels: “On the contrary, it makes more sense to assume that he [i.e., the Christian editor of this section of the Didache—DNB and JNT] is citing the liturgical, that is, the oral form of public prayer…. The agreements between Matthew and the Didache are to be assigned, then, to the liturgical tradition they have in common.”[9] If their assessment is correct, then the Didache is an important independent witness to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer at an early stage.

The hypothesis that the Lukan and Matthean versions of the Lord’s Prayer represent independent translations of a single Hebrew (or Aramaic) original fails to explain the verbal agreements that are common to the two versions, especially the problematic phrase τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (“our bread [for] the coming [day]”; Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3; Did. 8:2; L16).[10] It is practically inconceivable that two Greek translators would have independently chosen to render the Hebrew or Aramaic behind this phrase using the same adjective, ἐπιούσιος (epiousios), which, in all of Greek literature, occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer. It is much more likely that the Matthean and Lukan versions are based on a common Greek translation, and that this Greek version was either expanded and Hebraized by the author of Matthew (or his source), or abridged and Grecized by the author of Luke (or his source). We believe the latter scenario is more likely; Matthew’s version is closer to the original Greek translation of the Lord’s Prayer, whereas Luke’s version is based on a redacted version of the original Greek translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Crucial Issues

  1. Did Jesus teach his disciples to pray in Hebrew or Aramaic?
  2. Did Jesus intend the Lord’s Prayer for public or private use?
  3. Did Jesus transcend the bounds of Judaism when he taught his disciples to address God as “Father”?
  4. What is the meaning of the petition for “daily bread”?
  5. “Debts” or “trespasses”—which is it?
  6. Deliver us “from evil” or “from the Evil One”—which is it?


L1-9 The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer lacks a narrative introduction such as the one recorded in Luke, but this is because the author of Matthew incorporated the Lord’s Prayer into the Sermon on the Mount. On the other hand, the disciples’ request described in Luke 11:1 is historically plausible,[11] and although Luke’s introduction presents the Hebrew reconstructor with a few challenges (on which, see below), they are not so severe as to rule out the possibility that the narrative framework ultimately goes back to a Hebrew source. Probably the narrative introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1 was redacted by the author of Luke, who attempted to polish the Greek style of his source.[12]

L1 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν (Luke 11:1). The construction καὶ ἐγένετο + intervening time phrase + finite verb (here, εἶπεν in L4) is a Hebraic structure[13] not typical of the author of Luke’s personal writing style, since it never appears in the second half of Acts,[14] where Luke’s personal style is most clearly on display. The καὶ ἐγένετο + intervening time phrase + finite verb construction is rather an indication that the author of Luke depended on a source with Hebraic features. Despite his redactional activity, signs of an underlying Hebrew substratum still shine though Luke’s introduction to the Lord’s Prayer.

וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתוֹ (HR). The construction ἐν τῷ εἶναι + pronoun occurs 6xx in LXX,[15] and in each of those instances it is the translation of בִּהְיוֹתוֹ (bihyōtō, “in his being”), בִּהְיוֹתֵנוּ (bihyōtēnū, “in our being”), בִּהְיוֹתְכֶם (bihyōtechem, “in your being”) or בִּהְיוֹתָם (bihyōtām, “in their being”). An exact parallel to our reconstruction in L1 is found in the early chapters of Genesis:

וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ

And it was in their being in the field, and Cain rose against Abel, his brother, and slew him. (Gen. 4:8)

καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ πεδίῳ καὶ ἀνέστη Καιν ἐπὶ Αβελ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτόν.

And it was in their being in the plain, and Cain rose against Abel, his brother, and slew him. (Gen. 4:8)

Notice that just as in Gen. 4:8 וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם/καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτούς is followed by the specification of a locality, so in Luke 11:1 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτόν is immediately followed by the mention of a location.

L2 ἐν τόπῳ τινὶ καὶ προσηύξατο (GR). Whereas Luke 11:1 has the participle προσευχόμενον (prosevchomenon, “praying”), we have conjectured that the pre-synoptic source behind Luke 11:1 read καὶ προσηύξατο (kai prosēvxato, “and he prayed”). We have based this conjecture on the observation that in Gen. 4:8 (see above, Comment to L1) וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם is followed by another vav-consecutive. The LXX translators rendered this second vav-consecutive as καί + aorist. We suspect that, whereas Anth. (the source behind Luke 11:1) had the more Hebraic καὶ προσηύξατο, the author of Luke changed this to a participle as a minor Greek stylistic improvement.

בִּמְקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל (HR). In LXX the phrase ἐν τόπῳ (en topō, “in a place”) is frequently the translation of בְּמָקוֹם (bemāqōm, “in a place”).[16] The combination of מָקוֹם ‎+ פְּלוֹנִי occurs twice in MT (1 Sam. 21:3; 2 Kgs. 6:8)[17] and is common in rabbinic literature, for instance:

הָאוֹמֵר לִשְׁלוּחוֹ צֵא וְקַדֵּשׁ לִי אִשָּׁה פְלָנֵית בִּמְקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי וְהָלַךְ וְקִדְּשָׁהּ בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר אֵינָה מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת

The one who says to his agent, “Go and betroth to me such-and-such woman in such-and-such place,” and he [i.e., the agent—DNB and JNT] goes and betroths her in a different place—she is not betrothed.[18] (m. Kid. 2:4)[19]

Our reconstruction represents a blend of BH and MH styles, such as is found in the baraita in b. Kid. 66a, which may have come from a written source composed in the first century C.E.[20]

In LXX προσεύχεσθαι (prosevchesthai, “to pray”) is almost always the translation of הִתְפַּלֵּל (hitpalēl, “pray”).[21] Likewise, הִתְפַּלֵּל is translated as προσεύχεσθαι in LXX far more frequently than any other Greek verb.[22]

L3 καὶ ὡς ἐπαύσατο (GR). Simply by adding καί (kai, “and”) to GR, we have achieved a Hebraic-looking structure equivalent to וּכְכַלֹּתוֹ (ūchechalotō, “and as he completed”). We suspect that the author of Luke dropped the καί as a stylistic improvement to the wording of his source (Anth.).

וּכְכַלֹּתוֹ (HR). We considered various options for reconstructing παύειν (pavein, “to stop”), including גָּמַר (gāmar, “finish,” “complete”), הִפְסִיק (hifsiq, “break off”) and כִּלָּה (kilāh, “finish,” “complete”).[23] In MT כִּלָּה is used for completing prayers (1 Kgs. 8:54; 2 Chr. 7:1; cf. Ps. 72:20),[24] and since the LXX translators sometimes used ὡς + παύειν to translate כְּכַלּוֹת in LXX,[25] we consider כִּלָּה to be the best option for HR.

L4 אָמַר לוֹ אֶחַד מִתַּלְמִידָיו (HR). The noun תַּלְמִיד (talmid, “student,” “disciple”) is a late-BH word that appears only once in MT (1 Chr. 25:8) and does not occur at all in the Hebrew fragments of Ben Sira, or in DSS. In the Mishnah, by contrast, תַּלְמִיד occurs over 40xx.[26] First-century discipleship was a Pharisaic-rabbinic innovation. The fact that Jesus had disciples is evidence of his affinity with the world of the Jewish sages (cf., e.g., m. Avot 1:1).[27]

L5 אֲדוֹנֵנוּ לַמְּדֵנוּ לְהִתְפַּלֵּל (HR). In LXX the vocative κύριε (kūrie, “Lord!”) is often the translation of אֲדֹנִי (adoni, “my lord”), the translators frequently omitting an equivalent to the pronominal suffix (see below, Comment to L10).[28] Here we have reconstructed κύριε with אֲדוֹנֵנוּ (adōnēnū, “our lord”), since it is probable that the disciple spoke on behalf of all his fellow disciples (“…teach us to pray…”) and in their presence, rather than in private on his own behalf.

In LXX διδάσκειν (didaskein, “to teach”) is usually the translation of לִמֵּד (limēd, “teach”).[29] We considered two options for reconstructing the imperative δίδαξον ἡμᾶς (didaxon hēmas, “teach us”), namely יְלַמְּדֵנוּ (yelamdēnū, “let him teach us”) and לַמְּדֵנוּ (lamdēnū, “teach us”). Examples of the former option, יְלַמְּדֵנוּ, include the following rabbinic sources:

מעשה בר′ טרפון שהיה מיסב בצילו של שובך במנחה בשבת הביאו לפניו דלי של צונין או′ להם לתלמידיו השותה מים לצמאו מאי מברך אמרו לו ילמדנו רבינו אמ′ להם בורא נפשות וחסרונן אמ′ להם אשאל אמרו לו ילמדנו רבינו אמ′ להם הרי הוא או′ וישבו לאכל לחם וישאו עיניהם ויראו וגו′ והלא אין דרכן של ערביים להיות נושאין אלא עורות ריח רעה ועטרן אלא שנתנו אותו צדיק בין דברים חבובין והלא דברים קל וחומר ומה אם בשעת כעסן של צדיקים מרחמין עליהן בשעת הרחמים על אחת כמה וכמה

An anecdote about Rabbi Tarfon, who was reclining in the shadow of a dovecote during a Sabbath afternoon. They brought him a bucket of cold water and he said to his disciples, “What blessing ought the one who drinks water to slake his thirst recite?” They said to him, “Teach us, Rabbi!” He said to them, “[Blessed is he]…who creates living beings and their needs.” He said to them, “Shall I ask a question?” They said, “Teach us, Rabbi!” He said to them, “The Scriptures say, And they sat down to eat bread and they lifted up their eyes and they saw [and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were bearing gum, and balm, and myrrh, and they were heading down to Egypt (Gen. 37:25)]. And is it not the way of the Arabs to carry nothing but bad-smelling skins and resin? Nevertheless, they [i.e., the Ishmaelites—DNB and JNT] put that righteous person [i.e., Joseph—DNB and JNT] among cherished things. And is this not a matter of kal vahomer? If at a time of wrath toward the righteous they are shown mercy, in a time of mercy will this not be even more surely the case?” (t. Ber. 4:16; Vienna MS)

מעשה בארבעה זקנים שהיו יושבין בבית שער של ר′ יהושע אלעזר בן מתיא חנניא בן כינאי ושמעון בן עזאי ושמעון התימני והיו עסוקין במה ששנה להם ר′ עקיבא מפני מה זכה יהודה למלכות מפני שהודה בתמר…אמ′ להם וכי נותנין שכר על העבירה אלא מפני מה זכה יהודה למלכות…. אמרו לו ילמדנו רבינו אמ′ להם מפני שקידש שמו של הקב″ה על הים

An anecdote about four elders who were sitting in Rabbi Yehoshua’s gatehouse. [They were] Elazar ben Matya, Hananya ben Kinai and Shimon ben Azzai and Shimon the Temanite, and they were occupied with what Rabbi Akiva taught them about why [the tribe of] Judah earned the kingship, “Because he confessed about Tamar?” He said to them, “And do they give a reward for transgression? Of course not. So why did [the tribe of] Judah earn the kingship?”…. They said to him, “Teach us, Rabbi!” He said to them, “It is because [Judah] sanctified the name of the Holy One, blessed be he, at the sea.” (t. Ber. 4:18; Vienna MS)

Examples of the latter option, לַמְּדֵנוּ, are found in a parallel to the sources cited above:

היה רבי טרפון וזקנים יושבין בצלו של שובך של יבנה…אמרו לו רבינו למדנו השותה מים לצמאו כיצד הוא מברך אמר להם בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונן אמרו לו למדתנו רבינו אמרו לו רבינו למדנו באיזו זכות זכה יהודה למלכות

Rabbi Tarfon and the elders were sitting in the shade of a dovecote in Yavneh…they said to him, “Master, teach us what blessing ought the one who drinks water to slake his thirst to recite.” He said to them, “[Blessed is he…] who creates many living beings and their needs.” They said, “You have taught us, master.” They said to him, “Master, teach us with which meritorious deed [the tribe of] Judah earned the kingship.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BeShallaḥ chpt. 6 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:156])

Since the address רַבֵּינוּ לַמְּדֵנוּ in this example is closer to the wording of the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1 (κύριε δίδαξον ἡμᾶς), we have chosen the latter of the two options, לַמְּדֵנוּ, for HR.

L6 καθὼς Ἰωάνης ἐδίδαξε (GR). We have omitted the καί after καθώς (kathōs, “as”) in GR, regarding it as a stylistic improvement introduced by the author of Luke. In LXX the combination καθὼς καί occurs only twice in books also included in MT. In both instances (Exod. 34:1; Ps. 77[78]:57) the καί was supplied by the Greek translators and does not correspond to anything in the underlying Hebrew text.

כְּשֵׁם שֶׁיוֹחָנָן לִמֵּד (HR). The construction -כְּשֵׁם שֶׁ (keshēm she-, “just as”) is not found in BH, but is common in MH, which we prefer for reconstructing direct speech. The following story about the first-century B.C.E. Hasid, Honi the circle-drawer, provides an example of -כְּשֵׁם שֶׁ from the Mishnah:

עָלוּ יִשְׂרָאֵ′ מִירוּשָׁ′ לְהַר הַבָּיִת מִפְּנֵי הַגְּשָׁמִים אָמְ′ לוֹ כַּשֵּׁם שֶׁהִתְפַּלַּלְּתָּה עֲלֵיהֶם שֶׁיֵּרֵדוּ כָּךְ הִיתְפַּלֵּל שֶׁיֵּלְכוּ לָהֶם

…the Israelites went up from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because of the rain. They said to him, “Just as you prayed for the rains, that they might fall, so now pray that they will go away!” (m. Taan. 3:8)

Tomson notes that whereas in Matthew and the Didache the Lord’s Prayer appears in polemical contexts where the prayer practices of the “hypocrites” are contrasted with those of Jesus’ followers (Matt. 6:5-6; Did. 8:2), the Lukan context of the Lord’s Prayer is free of antagonism toward the prayer practices of other groups within Judaism.[30] The Lord’s Prayer is not contrasted with, but compared to, the prayers of other first-century Jewish teachers.

Jesus’ disciples made this request at a time prior to the codification of the Eighteen Benedictions of the Amidah under Rabban Gamliel the younger (b. Ber. 28b; b. Meg. 17b), when there was greater fluidity with respect to prayer practices.[31] It appears to have been common in the period before the destruction of the Temple for Jewish teachers to formulate various model prayers for their disciples.[32]

Lord's Prayer-TertullianL9 καὶ ὅταν στήκητε προσευχόμενοι (Mark 11:25). The Gospel of Mark does not contain the Lord’s Prayer, but Mark 11:25 is a distillation of one of the most basic principles contained in the Lord’s Prayer. Since Mark 11:25 contains some un-Hebraic features, including an ἵνα + subjunctive clause, and the use of παράπτωμα (paraptōma, “false step,” “slip,” “blunder”) for “sin,”[33] it seems unlikely that this verse was copied from a Hebraic-Greek source. It seems rather to be the author of Mark’s paraphrase of a principle contained in the Lord’s Prayer. According to Tomson, Mark 11:25 “seem[s] to betray knowledge of the Lord’s Prayer in a primitive form related to the one in Matthew and the Didache.”[34]

כְּשֶׁאַתֶּם מִתְפַּלְּלִים אִמְרוּ (HR). Compare our reconstruction to Rabbi Shimon’s advice:

וּכְשֶׁאַתָּה מִתְפַּלֵּל אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִילָּתַךְ קְבַע

And when you are praying do not make your prayer fixed…. (m. Avot 2:13)

On imperatival forms of אָמַר (’āmar, “say”), see Conduct in Town, Comment to L86.

L10 πάτερ ἡμῶν (Matt. 6:9). In normative Koine, we might expect the interjection (ō, “O”) before πάτερ (pater, “Father”), either ὦ πάτερ ἡμῶν (ō pater hēmōn, “O our Father”), or ὦ ἡμῶν πάτερ (ō hēmōn pater, “O our Father”), or even ὦ πάτερ (ō pater, “O Father”) without the possessive pronoun.[35]

Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer merely has πάτερ (pater, “Father”).[36] The omission of ἡμῶν in Luke 11:2 is probably a Greek stylistic improvement introduced by the editor of FR. Even the Greek translators of LXX frequently omitted pronominal suffixes from words such as “lord” and “master” (see below).

אָבִינוּ (HR). Many New Testament scholars assume that since Jesus habitually addressed God as אַבָּא (’abā’, “Abba,” “Father”), he must have instructed his disciples to do the same. Accordingly, these scholars usually conclude that Luke’s version of the opening address in the Lord’s Prayer (“Father” = “Abba”; Luke 11:2) is the more original, while Matthew’s address (“Our Father who is in the heavens”; Matt. 6:9) is an expansion.[37] The assumption that Jesus addressed God as “Abba” is so widely held and is repeated so frequently that it is not uncommon to encounter assertions in scholarly literature that behind every instance of “my Father” on the lips of Jesus stands an original Aramaic “Abba.”[38] These confident assertions notwithstanding, the assumption that Jesus habitually addressed God as “Abba” is actually built on extremely flimsy evidence.

The evidence scholars present for Jesus’ use of “Abba” in reference to God is twofold. First, there is Mark’s version of the prayer in Gethsemane, where Jesus is said to cry out, αββα ὁ πατήρ (“Abba, Father…”; Mark 14:36). Second is the claim that by the time of Jesus the form אָבִי (’āvi, “my father”) had become obsolete, so that if Jesus wanted to refer to God as “Father,” he had no choice but to say “Abba,” whether in Hebrew or Aramaic.[39]

Lord's Prayer Quote 1To take these foundations of the “Abba” thesis in reverse order, the claim that “Avi” (אָבִי) had become obsolete in Hebrew by the time of Jesus is simply false. In DSS the form אָבִי is encountered in ancient,[40] non-sectarian writings such as the Hebrew fragments of Tobit (4QTobe [4Q200] 4 I, 5; 5 I, 3), but אָבִי also appears in the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa XVII, 29, 35), which date from the first century B.C.E.[41] Likewise, in rabbinic literature, although אַבָּא (“Abba”) became more common, including in contexts where the meaning is clearly “my father,” the form אָבִי (“Avi”) had by no means disappeared, as the following examples demonstrate:

מכות אלו גרמו לי ליאהב לאבי שבשמים

These injuries caused me to be loved by my Father [אבי] who is in heaven. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Baḥodesh chpt. 6 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:325])[42]

כיון שמת משה היה יהושע בוכה ומצעק ומתאבל עליו במרד והיה אומר אבי אבי רבי רבי אבי שגדלני רבי שלמדני תורה

Upon the death of Moses, Joshua was weeping and crying and mourning over him with bitterness, and he was saying, “My father [אבי]! My father [אבי]! My master! My master! My father [אבי] who raised me! My master who taught me Torah!” (Sifre Deut. §305 [ed. Finkelstein, 327])

יאבד יום אולד בו והלילה אמר הורה גבר. יאבד יום שבא אבי אצל אמי ואמרה לו אני הרה

May the day on which I was born perish, and the night when it was said, “A male baby is born” [Job 3:3]. May the day perish when my father [אבי] came to my mother and she said to him, “I am pregnant.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 37:13 [ed. Schechter, 112])

מהו ויאמר עשו בלבו אמר קין הרג אחיו ולא עשה לו הקב″ה כלום וסוף שהוליד אדם בנים אחרים וירשו עמו את העולם, אף אני אהרג את אבי תחילה ואחרכך את אחי ואירש את העולם לבדי

What is the meaning of And Esau said in his heart [Gen. 27:41]? He said, “Cain murdered his brother and the Holy One, blessed be he, did nothing to him, and the result was that Adam fathered other children and they inherited the world with him. So I will murder my father [אבי] first and only afterward my brother so that I will inherit the world all to myself.” (Gen. Rab. 75:9 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:888])

In each of the above examples אָבִי appears in normal MH-style sentences. There is no hint that the authors of these sentences were attempting to imitate BH or adopt an archaic style. Rather, these examples show that אָבִי continued to be used in everyday speech. Thus, the second point of the “Abba” thesis fails. If Jesus had wanted to address God as “my Father” in Hebrew, nothing would have required him to say “Abba.” He could just as easily have said “Avi.”

But what about the NT evidence that Jesus did call God “Abba”? Here the evidence is much less unequivocal than many scholars have been willing to admit. Although Mark 14:36 does place “Abba” on Jesus’ lips, the parallels to this verse in Matthew and Luke omit “Abba.”[43] This Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark strongly suggests that “Abba” did not appear in the pre-synoptic source that stands behind the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Rather than reflecting the actual words spoken by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba” in Mark 14:36 may have been added by the author of Mark in order to reflect the prayer practices that had developed in the early Christian communities (cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) for whom the Gospel of Mark was written.[44] Without Mark 14:36 there would be no reason to suppose that Jesus ever addressed God as “Abba.” While Mark 14:36 raises the interesting possibility that Jesus did refer to God as “Abba” on one occasion, it hardly provides solid grounds for supposing that Jesus habitually referred to God as “Abba,” or that he taught his disciples to refer to God in this way, or that Luke preserves the more original form of the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer.

Even if we agreed that Luke’s simple address—πάτερ (“Father”) without the possessive pronoun—is more original than Matthew’s πάτερ ἡμῶν (“Our Father”), אָבִינוּ (’āvinū, “Our Father”) would remain a more probable option for HR than אַבָּא (“Abba”), since Greek translators of Hebrew texts often omitted translating pronominal suffixes attached to words such as “father,”[45] “mother,”[46] “son,”[47] “daughter,”[48] “brother”[49] and “lord.”[50]

From the perspective of Lindsey’s hypothesis, however, it is much more likely that either the author of Luke or, more probably, his source (FR) simply dropped the possessive pronoun ἡμῶν (hēmōn, “our”) from the opening address in order to produce a more polished Greek version of the Lord’s Prayer.

L11 ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς (Matt. 6:9). Matthew’s “in the heavens [plur.]” is a Hebraism.[51] Normal Greek idiom preferred the singular, as the Didache’s reading, ὁ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ (“the one in the heaven [sing.]”; Did. 8:2), demonstrates.[52]

Although Jeremias believed that Luke’s version, which omits the phrase “who art in heaven,” is more original,[53] Flusser offered a cogent explanation for why Luke (or his source) might have been motivated to drop ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. Since Luke’s Gospel is addressed to Gentile readers, “purely Jewish, especially rabbinical material” was eliminated in order to avoid misunderstanding. As Flusser explained, in the time of Jesus Greek-speaking Gentiles “no longer believed that the gods resided in heaven. If they had perceived that [what] the new religion now offered to them was so retrograded, they would not have been prone to accept the Christian message.”[54] This motivation fits well with the tendency of FR to remove overt Hebraisms that might be incomprehensible to Greek speakers.

שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם (HR). The phrase אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם (“our Father who is in heaven”) also occurs in rabbinic literature.[55] Thus, when Jesus taught the disciples to address God as “our Father who is in heaven,” he used the same vocabulary as the Jewish sages.

L12 יִתְקַדֵּשׁ שִׁמְךָ (HR). Sanctifying God’s name means causing God’s reputation to be honored.[56] We have already cited one rabbinic source in Comment to L5 that elucidates the meaning of this petition. According to Rabbi Akiva, the tribe of Judah was given the honor of kingship because its members sanctified God’s name on the shores of the Red Sea (t. Ber. 4:18). The tribe of Judah sanctified God’s name by obeying God’s command to enter the sea, which, according to rabbinic tradition, the other tribes were afraid to do.

Lord's Prayer Quote 5Judah’s daring action on the shore of the Red Sea is an example of the Jewish concept of קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם (qidūsh hashēm), “sanctifying the name.”[57] In later Jewish sources “sanctifying the name” came to refer specifically to martyrdom, but as Safrai has shown, “sanctifying the name” originally referred to obeying God’s commandments, especially under difficult circumstances.[58]

In some ancient Jewish sources God sanctifies his own name by redeeming his people through miraculous interventions that cause the nations to recognize God’s greatness and power, as in the following rabbinic discussion:

ומנין שלא הביא המקום פורענות ולא הביא עשר מכות על פרעה ועל מצרים אלא בשביל לקדש את שמו הגדול בעולם, שמתחלת הענין הוא אומר מי ה′ אשר אשמע בקולו ובסוף הענין אמר ה′ הצדיק ואני ועמי הרשעים ומנין שלא עשה המקום נסים וגבורות על הים ועל הירדן ועל נחלי ארנון אלא בשביל לקדש את שמו בעולם שנאמר ויהי כשמוע כל מלכי האמורי אשר בעבר הירדן ימה וכל מלכי וגו′ וכן רחב אומרת לשלוחי יהושע כי שמענו את אשר הוביש ה′ את מי ים סוף מפניכם תלמוד לומר כי שם ה′ אקרא. ומנין שלא ירד דניאל לגוב אריות אלא בשביל שיעשה לו הקדוש ברוך הוא נסים וגבורות ובשביל לקדש שמו הגדול בעולם שנאמר כי שם ה′ אקרא, ואומר מן קדמי שים טעם די בכל שולטן מלכותי ליהוון זיעין ודחלין מן קדם אלהא די דניאל ומנין אתה אומר שלא ירדו חנניה מישאל ועזריה לתוך כבשן האש אלא כדי שיעשה להם הקדוש ברוך הוא נסים וגבורות בשביל לקדש את שמו הגדול בעולם שנאמר אתיא ותמיהיא דיעבד עמי אלהא עילאה שפר קדמי להחויא, ואומר אתוהי כמה רברבין ותמהוהי כמה תקיפין

And whence do we learn that God brought punishment and the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt only in order to sanctify His great name in the world? From the fact that at the beginning of the matter Pharaoh says, Who is the Lord, that I should hearken unto his voice? (Exod. 5:2), but at the conclusion of it he says, The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked (Exod. 9:27).

And whence do we learn that God worked miracles and mighty deeds at the (Red) Sea, and at the Jordan, and at the valleys of Arnon only in order to sanctify His name in the world? From the verse, And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan westward, and all the kings (of the Canaanites, that were by the sea, heard how the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel, until they were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was their spirit in them any more) (Josh. 5:1). Similarly Rahab says to Joshua’s messengers, For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you (when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, unto Sihon and to Og, whom ye utterly destroyed) (Josh. 2:10). Therefore the verse here states, For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. And whence do we learn that Daniel went down into the lions’ den only so that the Holy One, blessed be He, might work miracles and mighty deeds for him and in order to sanctify His great name in the world? From the verses, For I will proclaim the name of the Lord, and I make a decree, that in all the dominions of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel…. (He worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth) (Dan. 6:27-28). And whence do we learn that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah went down into the fiery furnace only so that the Holy One, blessed be He, might work miracles and mighty deeds in order to sanctify His great name in the world? From the verse, It hath seemed good unto me to declare the signs and wonders that God Most High hath wrought toward me…. How great are his signs! And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (Dan. 3:32-33). (Sifre Deut. §306 [ed. Finkelstein, 342-343]; trans. Hammer)

The above passage demonstrates that there is a certain reciprocity to the rabbinic concept of “sanctifying the name.”[59] God performed miracles on Israel’s behalf in order to win renown among the nations, but on the other hand, individuals like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faithfully endured times of testing in order for God’s name to be sanctified. Anyone who prays for God to sanctify his name must be prepared to accept trials and suffering for the sake of God’s name.

The passive voice in this petition suggests that Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray for God’s intervention in history to redeem Israel. Just as God sanctified his name in the past by leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land, accomplishing this through miraculous signs and wonders, the disciples prayed that God would again intervene with miraculous power to liberate Israel.

This petition for God to act, and the willingness to patiently endure hardships for the sake of Israel’s redemption, are diametrically opposed to zeal ideology, which held that liberation could be achieved through direct political action. Militant Jewish nationalists hoped that by taking matters into their own hands they could provoke God to act on Israel’s behalf. Jesus’ petition for God to sanctify his name is consistent with his message of peace.[60]

We have used הִתְקַדֵּשׁ (hitqadēsh, “be sanctified”) to reconstruct the passive form of the verb ἁγιάζειν (hagiazein, “to sanctify”). Numerous instances of הִתְקַדֵּשׁ occur in rabbinic literature, as in the following examples:

הָאוֹמֵר לָאִשָּׁה הִתְקַדְּשִׁי לִי בִתְמָרָה זוֹ הִתְקַדְּשִׁי לִי בָזוֹ…אִם יֵשׁ בְאַחַת מֵהֶן שׁוֶֹה פְרוּטָה מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת וְאִם לָאיו אֵינָה מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת

The one who says to a woman, “Be sanctified [i.e., become engaged—DNB and JNT] to me with this date or with this…,” if any of them has the value of a perutah she is sanctified [i.e., engaged to be married—DNB and JNT], and if not, she is not engaged. (m. Kid. 2:1)

הָאִשָּׁה מִתְקַדֶּשֶׁת בְּדִינַר וּבְ′שׁוֶֹוה דִינָר כְּדִבְרֵי <בֵית שַׁמַּיִ> וּבֵית הֶלֵּל אוֹ′ בִּפְרוּטָה וּבְשׁוֶֹה פְרוּטָה

A woman is sanctified [i.e., becomes engaged—DNB and JNT] with a dinar or the value of a dinar. This is the view of the School of Shammai. But the School of Hillel says, “with a perutah or the value of a perutah.” (m. Edu. 4:7; cf. m. Nid. 5:4)

Although in the examples cited above הִתְקַדֵּשׁ appears in the context of contracting marriages, the basic meaning of setting something or someone aside for special honor is the same as in HR. Examples of הִתְקַדֵּשׁ in reference to sanctifying God’s name include the following:

רבי יהודה בר יחזקאל אמר אבא מברך על ירידת גשמים יתגדל ויתקדש ויתברך ויתרומם שמך מלכינו על כל טיפה וטיפה שאת מוריד לנו שאת ממניען זו מזו שנאמר כי יגרע נטפי מים יזקו מטר לאדו

Rabbi Yehudah bar Yehezkiel[61] said, “Father would recite this blessing when it rained: ‘May your name be magnified, sanctified, blessed and exalted, O our king, for every drop that you cause to descend on us you keep separate from all the others, as it is said, he draws up the drops of water, he refines the rain into his mist [Job 36:27].’” (y. Ber. 9:2 [65b]; cf. y. Taan. 1:3 [4b])

אמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יהוצדק מוטב שתעקר אות אחת מן התורה ויתקדש שם שמים בפרהסיא

Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehozadak,[62] “It is good that one letter be uprooted from the Torah in order that the name of Heaven be sanctified in public.” (b. Yev. 79a)

יתגדל ויתקדש שמו של הקב″ה בעולם כולו שברא מסוף העולם ועד סופו

May the name of the Holy One, blessed be he, be magnified and sanctified in all the world, which he created, from one end of the world to the other. (Eliyahu Rabbah 12:2 [ed. Friedmann, 56]; cf. 12:4 [ed. Friedmann, 58])

L13 תָּבֹא מַלְכוּתְךָ (HR). Although Young proposed reconstructing ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου (“let your kingdom come”) as תַּמְלִיךְ מַלְכוּתְךָ (“may you cause your kingdom to reign”),[63] the verb ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to come,” “to enter”) is never used to translate הִמְלִיךְ (himlich, “cause to reign”) in LXX. Usually in LXX ἔρχεσθαι is the translation of בָּא (bā’, “come,” “enter”), and this is the verb we have selected for HR.[64]

Lord's Prayer Quote 4Young is right to point out that it is unusual in both Greek and Hebrew to speak of a kingdom that “comes,” but this expression fits with Jesus’ unique usage of “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which we have reconstructed as בָּא בְּמַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L63). There is a strong dialectical dimension to many of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. For example, the disciples call upon God to sanctify his name, but his name is sanctified when the righteous take leaps of faith in times of testing. Here the disciples pray for God’s Kingdom to come, but God’s reign expands as people enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The prayer for forgiveness of debts as the petitioners forgive their debtors is yet another example of the dialectical structure of the Lord’s Prayer. Although at first glance the Lord’s Prayer seems to be passive, calling upon God to take action, each petition actually demands a high level of commitment from the person who recites this prayer. Therefore, although this petition’s formulation is unusual, we regard “let your kingdom come” as an accurate reflection of the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text precisely because it echoes Jesus’ unique usage of “enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In Comment to L12 we observed the connection between the first and third petitions, “May your name be sanctified” and “May your will be done.” The second petition, “May your kingdom come,” may seem to interrupt the logical flow of the Lord’s Prayer, but this is not the case. According to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha, it is necessary “to first receive the Kingdom of Heaven, and afterward to receive the yoke of the commandments” (m. Ber. 2:2). In other words, God’s kingship must be recognized in order to carry out his will.

In rabbinic literature the tribe of Judah not only sanctified God’s name at the Red Sea (t. Ber. 4:18; quoted above in Comment to L5), it also caused God’s kingship to be proclaimed:

רבי יהודה אומר כשעמדו ישראל על הים זה אומר אין אני יורד תחלה לים וזה אומר אין אני יורד תחלה לים שנאמר סבבוני בכחש אפרים ובמרמה בית ישראל מתוך שהיו עומדין ונוטלין עצה קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב וירד תחלה לים ונפל לו לגלי הים עליו הוא אומר הושיעני אלהים כי באו מים עד נפש טבעתי ביון מצולה ואין מעמד באתי במעמקי מים ושבולת שטפתני ואומר אל תשטפני שבולת מים ואל תבלעני מצולה ואל תאטר עלי באר פיה באותה שעה היה עומד משה ומאריך בתפלה לפני הקב″ה אמר לו הקב″ה משה ידידי משוקע במים והים סוגר ושונא רודף ואתה עומד ומאריך בתפלה לפני אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם ומה בידי לעשות אמר לו ואתה הרם את מטך וגו′ וכי מה אמרו ישראל על הים יי ימלוך לעולם ועד אמר הקב″ה מי שהמליכני על הים אעשנו מלך על ישראל

Rabbi Yehudah says, “When Israel stood at the sea, this one said, ‘I’m not going down first to the sea,’ and that one said, ‘I’m not going down first to the sea,’ as it is said, Ephraim surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit [Hos. 12:1]. As they were standing and taking counsel, Nahshon son of Aminadav [head of the tribe of Judah] jumped up and went down first to the sea and fell into its waves. About him it is said, Save me, O God, for the waters have come even to my soul, I have sunk in deep mire and there is no place to stand. I have come into deep waters, and the flood has enveloped me [Ps. 69:2-3]. And it says, Do not let the flood waters envelop me nor let the deep swallow me nor let the pit close its mouth over me [Ps. 69:16]. In that hour Moses was standing and making lengthy prayers before the Holy One, blessed be he. The Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, ‘Moses, my friend is sinking in the water and the sea is closing upon him and the enemy is in pursuit and you are standing and making lengthy prayers before me!’ Moses said to him, ‘Master of the universe, what is in my power to do?’ He said to him, And you, raise your staff [and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the children of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground] [Exod. 14:16]. And what did Israel say at the sea [in response to this]? The LORD shall reign forever and ever! [Exod. 15:18]. The Holy One, blessed be he, said, ‘The one who caused me to be proclaimed King at the sea is the one I will make king over Israel.’” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BeShallaḥ chpt. 6 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:155-156])

"Splitting of the Red Sea" by Israeli artist Lidia Kozenitzky. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“Splitting of the Red Sea” by Israeli artist Lidia Kozenitzky. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Plunging into the waters—a huge leap of faith—was an act of sanctifying God’s name that became the catalyst for God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of Israel and the cause for Israel to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven (“The LORD shall reign forever and ever”; Exod. 15:18). It is as though taking a personal risk for the sake of God’s honor is what opens the door for God’s redeeming power to enter the world, and the working of his redeeming power is what causes God’s Kingdom to be proclaimed.

The redemption of Israel through the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven also sanctifies God’s name—that is, boosts his reputation—among the Gentiles. For in as much as the children of Israel were scattered in foreign lands and ruled by foreign kings in their ancient homeland, many Gentiles scorned Israel’s God.[65] In a rabbinic discussion on the interpretation of astronomical phenomena we find this comment:

אין לך כל אומה ואומה שלוקה שאין אלהיה לוקה עמה שנאמר ובכל אלהי מצרים אעשה שפטים

You will not find any nation that is brought low whose gods are not also brought low with it, as it is said, And I will render judgments against all the gods of Egypt [Exod. 12:12]. (b. Suk. 29a)

Although in the above quotation the application of this rule is directed against the gods of the Gentiles, many Gentiles would have agreed with the underlying principle and concluded that because the Jews were subjects of the Roman Empire, the God of Israel must be weaker than the gods of Rome (cf. Cicero, Pro Flacco 28:69; Jos., Ag. Ap. 2:125; Origen, Cels. 8:69).[66] The disdain the Roman conquerors felt toward the God of Israel is illustrated in a rabbinic recollection of the destruction of the Temple:

יקומו ויעזרכם…רבי נחמיה אומר זה טיטוס הרשע בן אשתו של אספסיינוס שנכנס לבית קדש הקדשים וגדר שתי פרוכות בסייף ואמר אם אלוה הוא יבוא וימחה. אשר חלב זבחימו יאכלו, אמר הללו משה הטעם ואמר להם בנו לכם מזבח והעלו עליו עולות והסכו עליו נסכים כענין שנאמר את הכבש אחד תעשה בבוקר ואת הכבש השני תעשה בין הערבים, יקומו ויעזרכם יהי עליכם סתרה, על הכל הקודש ברוך הוא מוחל על חילול השם פורע מיד

let them rise up and help you ([Deut.] 32:38): …R. Nehemiah says: This refers to the wicked Titus,[67] son of Vespasian’s wife, who entered the Holy of Holies, cut down the two curtains with this sword, and said, “If He is God, let Him come and stop me!” Who did eat the fat of their sacrifices…—Titus said, “Moses misled these people and told them, ‘Build for yourselves an altar, and upon it offer up burnt offerings and pour out libations,’” as it is said, The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at dusk (Num. 28:4)—let Him rise up and help you, let Him be your protection ([Deut.] 32:38): The Holy One, blessed be He, will forgive anything, but desecration of His name He will requite immediately. (Sifre Deut. §328 [ed. Finkelstein, 378-379]; trans. Hammer)

In this story Titus profaned God’s name, the very opposite of the request in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s name be sanctified.

It was a commonly-held Jewish belief that the redemption of Israel would lead to the recognition among the Gentiles that the God of Israel is the only true God (cf., e.g., Isa. 2:2-4; Zech. 8:23; Tob. 14:6; 1 En. 91:14; Sir. 36:1-11).[68] Only when the children of Israel were vindicated for their loyalty to their God would the Gentiles be made to see that Israel’s God is King of kings and Lord of lords.

The conceptual link between Israel’s redemption through the Kingdom of Heaven and the sanctification of God’s name among the Gentiles is vividly illustrated in the following midrash on the Song at the Sea, which, according to rabbinic tradition, was the first occasion on which the Kingdom of Heaven was proclaimed:

מי כמוכה באלים יי כיון שראו ישראל שאבד פרעה וחילו בים סוף ובטלה מלכותן של מצריים ושפטים נעשו בעבודה זרה שלהן פתחו כולם פיהם ואמרו מי כמוכה באלים יי ולא ישראל בלבד אמרו שירה אלא אף אומות העולם אמרו שירה כיון ששמעו אומות העולם שאבד פרעה וחילו בים ובטלה מלכותן של מצריים ושפטים נעשו בעבודה זרה שלהן כפרו כולן בעבודה זרה שלהן ופתחו כולן פיהם והודו במקום ואמרו מי כמוכה באלים יי וכן את מוצא שעתידין אומות לכפור בעבודה זרה שלהן שנאמר יי עוזי ומעוזי ומנוסי ביום צרה אליך גוים יבאו וגו′ היעשה לו אדם אלהים וגו′ ואומר ביום ההוא ישליך האדם את אלילי כספו ואומר לבא בנקרת הצורים וגו′ ואחריו מה כתיב והאלילים כליל יחלוף

Who is like you among the gods, O LORD? [Exod. 15:11]. As soon as Israel saw that Pharaoh and his army had perished in the Red Sea and that the reign of the Egyptians was abolished and that judgments were carried out against their idols, everyone opened their mouths and said, “Who is like you among the gods, O LORD?” And not only Israel recited this song, but even the nations of the world recited this song. When the nations of the world heard that Pharaoh and his army had perished in the sea and that the reign of the Egyptians was abolished and that judgments were carried out against their idols everyone renounced their idols and opened their mouths and praised the Omnipresent one and said, “Who is like you among the gods, O LORD?” And so you find in the future redemption the nations will renounce their idols, as it is said, O LORD my strength, my stronghold and my refuge and in the day of tribulation the Gentiles will come to you [Jer. 16:19], etc., and Will a man make gods for himself? [Jer. 16:20]. And it says, In that day a man will throw away his gods of silver [Isa. 2:20], etc., and to come to the cleft of the rocks [Isa. 2:21]. And after that what is written? And the false gods will utterly pass away [Isa. 2:18]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 8 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:206-207])

Thus, sanctifying God’s name and the redemption of Israel through the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven were linked in the minds of ancient Jews.[69] When considering the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, we should not be deaf to the overtones of Israel’s longing for political independence (cf. Acts 1:6; 3:21) in the prayer for God’s Kingdom. First-century Jews expected that God’s reign would displace the yoke of foreign oppression. Where God ruled there was no room for Pharaoh or Caesar or any other king. Redemption from slavery and liberation from oppression were at the core of Jewish messianic expectations. Jesus was neither immune to nor aloof from this national-political sentiment. Although he repudiated armed insurgency, Jesus believed that the Kingdom of Heaven would overcome and overturn the powers and institutions that stood in the way of Israel’s redemption.[70]

L14 γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου (Matt. 6:10). Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer lacks the petition “Thy will be done.” Probably this petition was already lacking in Luke’s source (FR), but it is possible that it was omitted by the author of Luke himself.

The following rabbinic sources illustrate the connections between God’s Kingdom and the doing of his will:

ר′ אלעזר בן עזריה אומר מנין שלא יאמר אדם אי איפשי ללבוש שעטנז אי איפשי לאכול בשר חזיר. אי איפשי לבוא על הערוה. אבל איפשי מה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי כך ת″ל ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי נמצא פורש מן העבירה ומקבל עליו מלכות שמים

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says, “Where do we learn that a person should not say, ‘It is not my desire to put on clothes made of two kinds of material. It is not my desire to eat pork. It is not my desire to have prohibited sexual relations’? Rather, ‘It is my desire. But what can I do, since my Father in heaven has forbidden me [to do these things]?’ Even so, Scripture says, And I have separated you from the peoples to be my own [Lev. 20:26]. So we find that the one who separates from transgression also receives upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Sifra, Kedoshim chpt. 11 [ed. Weiss, 93d])

According to this source, submitting one’s own will and desires to God’s commands is the means by which one receives the Kingdom of Heaven. Another rabbinic source offers a different perspective on the connection between the Kingdom of Heaven and the doing of God’s will:

רבי אלכסנדרי בתר דמצלי אמר הכי רבון העולמים גלוי וידוע לפניך שרצוננו לעשות רצונך ומי מעכב שאור שבעיסה ושעבוד מלכיות יהי רצון מלפניך שתצילנו מידם ונשוב לעשות חוקי רצונך בלבב שלם

On concluding his prayer Rabbi Alechsandri used to add, “Master of the worlds, it is revealed and known before you that our will is to do your will, but who prevents us? The leaven in the dough and the oppression of the [Gentile] kingdoms. May it be your will to deliver us from their hand so that we may return to perform the statutes of your will with an undivided heart.” (b. Ber. 17a)

According to Rabbi Alechsandri, there are both internal and external hindrances to doing God’s will. The yeast in the dough refers to the evil inclination within human beings (cf. 1 Cor. 5:6-8),[71] which resists God’s will, but Israel’s performance of God’s will is also thwarted by their subjection to foreign empires (cf. Luke 1:74). In order to fulfill God’s will it was necessary not only to receive the Kingdom of Heaven in a personal sense on the individual level, it was also necessary for the Kingdom of Heaven—God’s reign over Israel—to be manifest on the communal level, which involved the redemption of Israel from foreign rule.

Perhaps closest in spirit to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s will to be done is found in a rabbinic comment on Israel’s Song at the Sea:

ימינך יי נאדרי בכח כשישראל עושין רצונו של מקום הן עושין שמאל ימין שנאמר ימינך יי ימינך יי שני פעמים וכשאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום הן עושין ימין שמאל שנאמר השיב אחור ימינו כשישראל עושין רצונו של מקום אין שינה לפניו שנאמר הנה לא ינום ולא יישן וגו′ וכשאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום כביכול שינה לפניו שנאמר ויקץ כישן יי כשישראל עושין רצונו של מקום אין חימה לפניו שנאמר חימה אין לי וכשאין עושין רצונו של מקום כביכול חימה לפניו שנאמר וחרה אף יי כשישראל עושין רצונו של מקום הוא נלחם להם שנאמר יי ילחם לכם וכשאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום הוא נלחם בם שנאמר ויהפך להם לאויב והוא נלחם בם ולא עוד אלא שהן עושין רחמן אכזרי שנאמר היה יי כאויב

Your right hand, O LORD, is glorious in power [Exod. 15:6]. When Israel is doing the will of the Omnipresent one they make his left hand into a right hand, as it says, Your right hand, O LORD…your right hand, O LORD [Exod. 15:6] twice [implying that both of God’s hands are “right hands,” i.e., working for Israel’s redemption—DNB and JNT]. But when Israel is not doing the will of the Omnipresent one they make his right hand into a left hand, as it is said, He has withdrawn his right hand [Lam. 2:3]. When Israel is doing the will of the Omnipresent one there is no sleep before him, as it is said, Behold, he neither slumbers nor sleeps [Ps. 121:4], etc. But when Israel is not doing the will of the Omnipresent one it is as though sleep was before him, as it is said, And the LORD awoke like one sleeping [Ps. 78:65]. When Israel is doing the will of the Omnipresent one there is no anger before him, as it is said, I have no anger [Isa. 27:4]. But when they are not doing the will of the Omnipresent one it is as though there was anger before him, as it is said, And the LORD’s anger will burn [Deut. 11:17]. When Israel is doing the will of the Omnipresent one he does battle for them, as it is said, The LORD will do battle for you [Exod. 14:14]. But when Israel is not doing the will of the Omnipresent one he does battle against them, as it is said, And he was turned into their enemy: he did battle against them [Isa. 63:10], and not only that, but they make the Merciful one cruel, as it says, The LORD became like an enemy [Lam. 2:5]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 5 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:195])

According to this source, Israel’s redemption is contingent upon Israel collectively doing God’s will. Only when the whole people is engaged in pursuing God’s will is the way opened for God to intervene on Israel’s behalf. It is not enough for private individuals to cultivate personal righteousness; in order for the whole people of Israel to be redeemed there must be collective participation in the observance of Torah.[72] The petition for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s Prayer is probably best understood as expressing a desire for God’s will to be done by everyone in Israel so that there will not be any barriers to Israel’s redemption.

Lord's Prayer Quote 2

Thus, we have found that in its first three petitions the Lord’s Prayer is simultaneously operative on a personal and a communal level. On the personal level the disciple reciting the Lord’s Prayer commits himself or herself to sanctifying God’s name, to entering his Kingdom, and to doing his will. And on the communal level the disciple prays that God will sanctify his name and cause his Kingdom to enter the world so that Israel can be redeemed; and the disciple prays that Israel as a whole will pursue God’s will so that nothing will stand in the way of its redemption.

יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ (HR). Many Jewish prayers employ the phrase יְהִי רָצוֹן (yehi rātzōn, “may it be [your] will”),[73] and the imperative form γενηθήτω (genēthētō, “let it be”) frequently translates יְהִי (yehi, “let it be”) in LXX.[74] Nevertheless, יְהִי is not a viable option for HR, since in the Lord’s Prayer the petitioner does not ask that some request might be God’s will, rather the petitioner asks that God’s will might be done. There are two cases in LXX, however, where γενηθήτω translates the root ע-שׂ-ה (2 Chr. 24:8; 2 Esd. 10:3).[75] In the latter of these two instances we find the phrase καὶ ὡς ὁ νόμος γενηθήτω (“and according to the law let it be done”; 2 Esd. 10:3) as the translation of וְכַתּוֹרָה יֵעָשֶׂה (“and according to the Torah let it be done”; Ezra 10:3). This example demonstrates that our reconstruction of γενηθήτω with יֵעָשֶׂה is not unprecedented.

In MT there are several examples of “do your will” or “do his will” in the active voice,[76] and likewise there are admonitions to do God’s will in rabbinic sources (cf., e.g., m. Avot 2:4), but passive forms of “let God’s will be done” are less common. Fortunately, there is one clear example of יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ (yē‘āseh retzōnechā, “let your will be done”), which is attested in the prayer of a first-century Jewish sage:

ר′ ליעזר או′ יעשה רצונך בשמים ממעל ותן נחת רוח ליראיך והטוב בעיניך עשה ברוך שומע תפלה

Rabbi Liezer says: “May your will be done in heaven above, grant peace of mind to those who fear you [below], and do what seems best to you. Blessed is he who hears prayer.” (t. Ber. 3:7; Vienna MS; cf. b. Ber. 29b)

The phrase יעשה רצונך בשמים (“may your will be done in heaven”) in Rabbi Liezer’s (Eliezer’s) prayer is parallel to γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ (“may your will be done as in heaven”) in Matt. 6:10.

In some rabbinic sources doing God’s will is linked to the fatherhood of God:

יְהוּדָהּ בֶן תֵימָה אוֹמֵ′ הֱוֵוי עַז כַּנָּמֵר וְקַל כַּנֶּשֶׁר וְרָץ כַּצְּבִי וְגִיבּוֹר כַּאֲרִי לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹן אָבִיךָ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם

Yehudah ben Tema says: “Be strong as a leopard and swift as an eagle and quick as a gazelle and brave as a lion to do the will of your Father who is in heaven.” (m. Avot 5:20)

אם עשה אדם תורה ועשה רצון אביו שבשמים הרי הוא כבריות של מעלה שנאמר אני אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כלכם לא עשה תורה ולא עשה רצון אביו שבשמים הרי הוא כבריות של מטה שנאמר אכן כאדם תמותון

If a person does Torah and does the will of his Father who is in heaven, behold, he is like a creature from above, as it is said, I said you are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High [Ps. 82:6]. [If a person] does not do Torah and does not do the will of his Father who is in heaven, behold, he is like a creature from below, as it is said, therefore you will die like a mortal being [Ps. 82:7]. (Sifre Deut. §306 [ed. Finkelstein, 341])

This last source presupposes that God’s will is done by the creatures (i.e., angels) that live in heaven, but God’s will is not necessarily carried out by the creatures that live on earth. Note, too, that doing the will of the heavenly Father is equated in this source with doing the Torah. From the Jewish perspective, God’s will was not hidden or mysterious: God’s will for humankind has been revealed in the Torah. Jesus’ disciples would have had no doubt that it was God’s will for them to live according to Jesus’ authoritative interpretation of the Torah’s commandments (Jesus’ halachah). Since God’s will was already known to them, the disciples did not need to pray for discernment,[77] but rather for strength and courage to do God’s will as Jesus had taught them.

As with the previous petitions, although the form of the request is passive, the petition implies and demands active participation from the one who recites the Lord’s Prayer. A person cannot sincerely pray “May your will be done” without also attempting to do God’s will for himself or herself. The prayer is both a call for God to act and a personal commitment to act.

L15 ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς (Matt. 6:10). Some scholars of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research have suggested that the particle ὡς (hōs, “as”) in Matt. 6:10 should be regarded as a copyist’s error (a dittography) caused by the presence of ὡς in Matt. 6:12 (L20).[78] However, the ὡς is well attested in NT manuscripts, making dittography an unlikely explanation.[79] Moreover, the Didache also has ὡς in this petition, which means that if the ὡς is a scribal error, the dittography must have taken place at a pre-synoptic stage (i.e., before the composition of Matthew’s Gospel), since the Didache probably did not rely on the Gospel of Matthew for its version of the Lord’s Prayer. We conclude that ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ etc. is the authentic reading of Anth., and have accordingly retained ὡς in GR.

בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ (HR). Two notable differences between GR and HR in L15 are the absence of anything in Hebrew corresponding to ὡς in the Greek text, and the definite forms of “heaven” and “earth” in Hebrew in contrast to the anarthrous forms in the Greek text.

Regarding our omission in HR of anything corresponding to ὡς, we note that sometimes the LXX translators supplied ὡς even when there was nothing corresponding to ὡς in the underlying Hebrew text.[80] For example, where the Hebrew text reads:

וַיַּעֲשׂוּ עַל שׁוּלֵי הַמְּעִיל רִמּוֹנֵי תְּכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי מָשְׁזָר

On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, twisted. (Exod. 39:24; JPS)

the LXX reads:

καὶ ἐποίησαν ἐπὶ τοῦ λώματος τοῦ ὑποδύτου κάτωθεν ὡς ἐξανθούσης ῥόας ῥοίσκους ἐξ ὑακίνθου καὶ πορφύρας καὶ κοκκίνου νενησμένου καὶ βύσσου κεκλωσμένης

And they made on the hem of the undergarment below little pomegranates as [ὡς] of a flowering pomegranate tree, from blue and purple and spun scarlet and twisted linen. (Exod. 36:31; NETS)

Or, to take another example, where the Hebrew text reads:

לֹא אִישׁ אֵל וִיכַזֵּב וּבֶן אָדָם וְיִתְנֶחָם

God is not a man that he should lie or the son of man that he should relent. (Num. 23:19)

the LXX text has:

οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς διαρτηθῆναι οὐδὲ ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἀπειληθῆναι

God is not like [ὡς] a man to be deceived, or like [ὡς] a son of man to be threatened. (Num. 23:19)

Specifically in cases where ὡς and ἐν are combined, of which there are 14 in LXX that also have an underlying Hebrew text,[81] we find two instances where ὡς ἐν is simply the translation of the preposition -בְּ:

וְלֹא בְדַרְכֵיהֶן הָלַכְתְּ

And in their ways you did not walk…. (Ezek. 16:47)

καὶ οὐδ᾿ ὧς ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς αὐτῶν ἐπορεύθης

And you did not walk as in their ways…. (Ezek. 16:47)

וְנִלְווּ עֲלֵיהֶם רַבִּים בַּחֲלַקְלַקּוֹת

…and many will join themselves to them in flattery. (Dan. 11:34)

καὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς πολλοὶ ἐπὶ πόλεως καὶ πολλοὶ ὡς ἐν κληροδοσίᾳ

And many will be gathered to them [—in the city also many—] as by an allotment. (Dan. 11:34; NETS)

Since ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς (“as in heaven also on earth”) is difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew, we suspect that the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text simply read בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ (“in the heavens and in the earth”), and we suppose that ὡς was supplied by the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua. It is possible that there were theological motivations for adding ὡς to this petition, since “may your will be done in heaven and on earth” might imply that God’s will is not being done in heaven, and the Greek translator may have wished to avoid giving this troubling impression. Probably the meaning of “may your will be done in heaven and on earth” is simply “may your will be done everywhere” or “throughout your creation,” but it is also possible that Jesus really did envision a cosmic struggle in the heavenly realms that is also playing out on earth.[82] In any case, whether out of theological concerns or for stylistic purposes, it seems likely to us that ὡς was introduced by the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

Peter-El Greco
“The Repentant Peter” by El Greco (ca. 1600). Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As to the definite forms in HR in contrast to the anarthrous forms in GR, we note that the formula בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ (bashāmayim ūvā’āretz, “in the heavens and in the earth”) is found in the Hebrew Scriptures,[83] DSS[84] and rabbinic literature.[85] We further note that the definite phrase בַּשָּׁמַיִם (bashāmayim, “in the heavens”) is often rendered ἐν οὐρανῷ, without the definite article, in LXX.[86] Likewise, we find that the definite phase בָּאָרֶץ (bā’āretz, “in the land/earth”) is sometimes rendered in LXX without a definite article as ἐπὶ γῆς[87] or ἐν γῇ.[88] Given these examples, we believe that the Greek translator simply rendered the phrase בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ in the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text without definite articles.

L16 τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3). The opening line of the petition for bread is identical in the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer for bread is a plea for the basic necessities of life. Bread, which was made either from wheat or barley,[89] was the primary staple in the diet of Jews in the land of Israel in the first century.[90] According to Broshi, “The poor masses ate black bread whose flour had been minimally sifted (called kibar bread, from the Latin panis cibarius), but the wealthy could afford ‘clean bread’ (Mishnah, Makhshirin 2, 8 and passim).”[91] Breadmaking was an intensive process.[92] The grinding of grain into flour was an hours-long process that was culturally regarded as women’s work (m. Ket. 5:5),[93] as was the process of kneading dough (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pisḥa chpt. 10 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:57]) and baking bread (m. Ket. 5:5; cf. Pliny, Nat. Hist. 18:28).[94] Disciples who itinerated with Jesus did not have their wives with them to cook for them, nor did they have time to make their own bread, and, having left their possessions and livelihoods behind in order to follow Jesus, they lacked a steady income with which to purchase bread. The petition for bread in the Lord’s Prayer not only attests to the precarious existence of itinerant disciples, it also expresses a commitment to trust God to provide for their needs while the disciples busy themselves with the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.

lords-prayer-quote-origenA great deal of ink has been spilled over the interpretation of the adjective ἐπιούσιος (epiousios),[95] a word that is unattested in Greek apart from the Lord’s Prayer and writings about the Lord’s Prayer.[96] As early as the third century C.E. scholars had begun debating the meaning of this term.[97] Today, the scholarly consensus is that ἐπιούσιος is an adjectival form of ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (hē epiousa, “the coming [day]”), a substantival participle from the verb ἐπιέναι (epienai, “to come”).[98] If this derivation is correct, then ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος (artos epiousios) in the Lord’s Prayer probably means “bread for the day ahead.”

לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ (HR). Many scholars agree that the phrase τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (ton arton hēmōn ton epiousion, “our bread [for] the coming [day]”) is an attempt to represent a Hebrew or Aramaic original in Greek. This is not only because the adjective ἐπιούσιος is unknown in ancient Greek sources not influenced by the Gospels, but also because there are other, more natural, ways of referring to one’s daily sustenance in Greek, such as ἐφήμερος τροφή (efēmeros trofē, “daily food”; cf. Jas. 2:15). We considered three main options for reconstructing this difficult phrase in Hebrew: 1) לַחְמֵנוּ לְמָחָר (laḥmēnū lemāḥār, “our bread for tomorrow”); 2) לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ (leḥem ḥuqēnū, “our prescribed portion of bread”); and 3) לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם (laḥmēnū layōm, “our bread for the day”).

Option 1: In support of the first option, לַחְמֵנוּ לְמָחָר, we have the testimony of the fourth-century C.E. church father Jerome, who wrote:

In Evangelio quod appellatur ‘secundum Hebraeos’ pro ‘supersubstantiali pane’ reperi Mahar, quod dicitur crastinum—ut sit sensus ‘Panem nostrum crastinum’, id est, futurum, ‘da nobis hodie’.[99]

In the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews[100] instead of “essential to existence” I found “maḥar”, which means “of tomorrow”, so that the sense is:
Our bread of tomorrow—that is, of the future—give us this day. (Comm. Matt., Book 1, on Matt. 6:11)[101]

How much importance should be ascribed to the evidence from this Jewish-Christian gospel, however, is a matter of debate, since it is probable that Jerome’s Jewish-Christian source was a translation into Hebrew or Aramaic of the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew.[102] In other words, all things being equal, we would expect Jerome’s Jewish-Christian gospel to tell us how a Hebrew or Aramaic speaker understood the word ἐπιούσιος rather than revealing what Semitic term originally stood behind ἐπιούσιος.[103] Nevertheless, some scholars contend that all things are not equal since, in this one instance, Jerome’s Jewish-Christian source may have relied not on the canonical Greek text of Matthew, but on an unbroken chain of oral tradition from the earliest Semitic-speaking disciples of Jesus until the time when the Hebrew or Aramaic gospel was composed.[104]

Jeremias cited the use of מָחָר in Jerome’s Jewish-Christian gospel in support of his eschatological interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, according to which Jesus taught the disciples that they would be sustained by the bread of the future age of salvation,[105] since, “in ancient Judaism maḥar, ‘tomorrow’, meant not only the next day but also the great Tomorrow, the final consummation.”[106]

Carmignac is another scholar who lent credence to the reading מָחָר in Jerome’s Jewish-Christian gospel, but he adopted a non-eschatological interpretation, arguing that by adding the preposition -לְ to מָחָר the meaning would be “until tomorrow,” thus לחמנו למחר תן לנו יום יום (Carmignac’s reconstruction)[107] should be interpreted as “Give us today our bread until tomorrow.”[108] But is Carmignac’s interpretation of לַחְמֵנוּ לְמָחָר correct?

In support of his contention that לְמָחָר (lemāḥār) can mean “until tomorrow,” Carmignac cites two verses from MT—Num. 11:18 and Josh. 7:13—but these verses do not prove his case:

וְאֶל הָעָם תֹּאמַר הִתְקַדְּשׁוּ לְמָחָר וַאֲכַלְתֶּם בָּשָׂר

And unto the people say: “Consecrate yourselves lemāḥār and you will eat meat.” (Num. 11:18)

The meaning of this verse is that the people should consecrate themselves today, so that they will be fit to receive the meat tomorrow. In other words, lemāḥār means “for tomorrow” not “until tomorrow” in Num. 11:18. The same is true in Carmignac’s second example:

קֻם קַדֵּשׁ אֶת הָעָם וְאָמַרְתָּ הִתְקַדְּשׁוּ לְמָחָר

Arise, consecrate the people, and say: “Consecrate yourselves lemāḥār.” (Josh. 7:13)

Here again, the people were to consecrate themselves on the day they received this instruction in preparation for the next day (לְמָחָר) when they would be brought into God’s presence.

There are only five examples of לְמָחָר in MT,[109] but examples in the Mishnah make the contrast between הַיּוֹם (hayōm, “today”) and לְמָחָר (lemāḥār, “for tomorrow”) unmistakable, for instance:

רָאָה אַחַת הַיּוֹם וּשְׁתַּיִם לְמָחָר שְׁתַּיִם הַיּוֹם וְאַחַת לְמָחָר

If he sees one today [הַיּוֹם] and two tomorrow [לְמָחָר], or two today [הַיּוֹם] and one tomorrow [לְמָחָר]…. (m. Zav. 1:3)

There are even examples of לֶחֶם לְמָחָר (leḥem lemāḥār) in rabbinic literature where lemāḥār clearly means “the next day”:

הַכְּבָשִׂים מְפַגְּלִים אֶת הַלֶּחֶם וְהַלֶּחֶם אֵינוּ מְפַגֵּל אֶת הַכְּבָשִׂים כֵּיצַד הַשּׁוֹחֵט אֶת הַכְּבָשִׂים לֹאכַל מֵהֶן לְמָחָר הֵן וְהַלֶּחֶם מְפוּגָּלִים לֹאכַל מִן הַלֶּחֶם לְמָחָר הַלֶּחֶם מְפוּגָּל וְהַכְּבָשִׂים אֵינָן מְפֻגָּלִין

The lambs can invalidate the bread,[110] but the bread cannot invalidate the lambs. How so? The one who slaughters the lambs in order to eat from them on the next day [לְמָחָר], they [i.e., the lambs—DNB and JNT] and the bread are invalidated. [If he offered them with the intention] of eating from the bread on the next day, the bread is invalidated but the lambs are not invalidated. (m. Men. 2:3; cf. t. Men. 5:5)

Given these examples, it is difficult to believe that לַחְמֵנוּ לְמָחָר could mean anything other than “our bread for tomorrow.” But it is precisely on the critical issue of timing that the reconstruction לַחְמֵנוּ לְמָחָר founders, since the petition for bread is almost certainly related to God’s provision of manna for Israel, which could only be gathered on the day it was consumed. Anyone who gathered manna for tomorrow discovered that it turned to worms and began to stink (Exod. 16:20). Praying to have tomorrow’s bread today flies in the face of normal Jewish piety (see below, Comment to L17), which held that praying for tomorrow’s bread demonstrates lack of faith.[111]

Option 2: Translating τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον into Hebrew as אֶת לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ (“our allotted portion of bread”)[112] supposes that in this petition for bread Jesus alluded to a verse in Proverbs:

שָׁוְא וּדְבַר כָּזָב הַרְחֵק מִמֶּנִּי רֵאשׁ וָעֹשֶׁר אַל תִּתֶּן לִי הַטְרִיפֵנִי לֶחֶם חֻקִּי

Falsehood and a lying word keep far from me, poverty and riches do not give me. Let me eat my allotted bread. (Prov. 30:8)

If the above reconstruction is adopted, an allusion to Prov. 30:8 is virtually assured, since the phrase לֶחֶם חֹק does not occur anywhere else in MT, nor does it appear in ancient post-biblical Jewish sources except when quoting or alluding to this verse in Proverbs. The fact that לֶחֶם חֹק is rare and somewhat difficult to translate into Greek, yet also a construction that is actually known to have existed in ancient Jewish sources, is an advantage to reconstructing with לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ, since these factors might explain why the person who translated the Lord’s Prayer into Greek might have invented such an unusual phrase as τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον.

One weakness of this reconstruction, however, is that the grammatical correspondence between אֶת לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ and τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον is not very precise: τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν (“our bread”) suggests that we should expect a pronominal suffix to be attached to לֶחֶם (“bread”), while ἐπιούσιος (“of the coming [day]”) is an unusually free translation of חֻקֵּנוּ (“our allotted portion”) compared to what we generally expect from the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

Option 3: The third option, לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם (laḥmēnū layōm, “our bread for the day”) is constructed on the analogy of similar phrases found in the Hebrew Bible. For instance, in the description of King Solomon’s expenditures we read:

וַיְהִי לֶחֶם שְׁלֹמֹה לְיוֹם אֶחָד שְׁלֹשִׁים כֹּר סֹלֶת וְשִׁשִּׁים כֹּר קָמַח

And Solomon’s bread for one day was thirty kors of fine flour and sixty kors of meal…. (1 Kings 5:2)

In the above example לֶחֶם שְׁלֹמֹה לְיוֹם אֶחָד means “Solomon’s provision for one day,” and it is reasonable to suppose that לֶחֶם לַיּוֹם could mean “provision for the day” or “provision for today,” since in Hebrew הַיּוֹם (hayōm) can mean either “the day” or “today.”

In the story of Jeremiah’s imprisonment we find another example that might support the reconstruction לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם:

וַיְצַוֶּה הַמֶּלֶךְ צִדְקִיָּהוּ וַיַּפְקִדוּ אֶת יִרְמְיָהוּ בַּחֲצַר הַמַּטָּרָה וְנָתֹן לוֹ כִכַּר לֶחֶם לַיּוֹם מִחוּץ הָאֹפִים עַד תֹּם כָּל־הַלֶּחֶם מִן הָעִיר

And King Zedekiah gave the command and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guard, and a loaf of bread was given to him for the day from the baker’s street until all the bread was gone from the city. (Jer. 37:21)

In this example a כִּכַּר לֶחֶם (kikar leḥem, “a loaf of bread”) is given to Jeremiah as his provision “for the day,” or perhaps better, “as his daily bread.”[113] Another example of a food allotment for the day is found in the story of how Ezekiel was commanded to symbolically enact the siege of Jerusalem:

וּמַאֲכָלְךָ אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכֲלֶנּוּ בְּמִשְׁקוֹל עֶשְׂרִים שֶׁקֶל לַיּוֹם מֵעֵת עַד עֵת תֹּאכֲלֶנּוּ

And your food that you will eat will be by weight: twenty shekels for the day. From one set time to the next you will eat it. (Ezek. 4:10)

Here, too, לַיּוֹם can be understood in the sense of “for the day” or “daily.”

Reconstructing τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (“our bread [for] the coming [day]”) with לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם (“our bread for the day,” or even, “our daily bread”) has the advantage of being much closer to the word order of the Greek text, since, as we mentioned in our discussion of Option 2, the phrase τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν would lead us to expect the form לַחְמֵנוּ in the underlying Hebrew text,[114] while τὸν ἐπιούσιον (“[for] the coming [day]”) is a reasonable translation of לַיּוֹם (“for the day,” “daily”), especially when we consider that ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (hē epiousa, “the coming [day]”) can mean either “tomorrow” or “the day ahead,” that is, “today.”[115] In addition, לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם also retains the crucial temporal aspect that seems to be operative in the petition for bread. Like the manna that came from God each day to sustain the children of Israel in the desert, the disciples prayed, “our bread for the day, please give us today.”

The authors’ opinions are split between the second and third options. Whereas Bivin prefers לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ, Tilton prefers לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם. However, since לֶחֶם חֹק is known to have existed in the time of Jesus and has some explanatory power for the unusual Greek in the petition for bread, we have agreed to adopt לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ for HR.

Note that in a comment on Gen. 47:22, which mentions a food allowance (חֹק) given to the Egyptian priests that enabled them to avoid selling their land to Joseph during the famine in Egypt, Rashi explains:

חֹק לַכֹּהֲנִים חֹק כָּךְ וָכָךְ לֶחֶם לְיּוֹם

a prescribed portion for the priests: a prescribed portion for each one of bread for a day. (Rashi on Gen. 47:22)

Rashi’s comment equating חֹק with לֶחֶם לְיּוֹם suggests that whether we adopt לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ or לַחְמֵנוּ לַיּוֹם for HR, we are in the right neighborhood.

The petition for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer is comparable to the following prayer found in rabbinic literature:

צרכי עמך ישראל מרובין ודעתם קצרה יהי רצון מלפניך ה′ אלהינו שתתן לכל אחד ואחד כדי פרנסתו ולכל גויה וגויה די מחסורה ברוך אתה ה′ שומע תפלה

The needs of your people Israel are many, but their understanding is limited. May it be your will, O LORD our God, to give each and every one according to what is sufficient for his sustenance and to every creature enough for its needs. Blessed are you, O LORD, who listens to prayer. (b. Ber. 29b)

In this rabbinic prayer, the supplicant asks only for needs of the present. It is a humble prayer, which requests only that which is necessary for the moment, not for a surplus against the uncertain future.

L17 δίδου ἡμεῖν τὸ καθ᾿ ἡμέραν (Luke 11:3). The second half of Luke’s version of the petition for bread (“be giving to us day by day”) looks like an attempt to explain the meaning of the adjective ἐπιούσιος in the first half of this petition.[116] Many scholars who regard Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer to be the more original form overall nevertheless regard Matthew’s δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον (“give to us today”) to be the older version.[117] The prepositional phrase καθ᾿ ἡμέραν (kath hēmeran, “day by day”) is unique to Luke among the Synoptic Gospels,[118] and we have found that καθ᾿ ἡμέραν was likely added to one other saying (Luke 9:23) by the editor of FR.[119] We have therefore accepted δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον for GR, the reading in Matt. 6:11 and Did. 8:2.

According to Flusser, Luke’s version of the second half of the petition for bread (“be giving to us day by day”) is not only secondary, it also obscures the crucial temporal aspect of the original prayer.[120] Whereas the Lukan version focuses on the future (“keep on giving every day”), in the Matthean and Didache versions the focus of the petition is on the present (“give to us today”). The Matthean version of the petition for bread can be compared to ancient Jewish comments on the story of God’s provision of manna for Israel in the desert, in which the Israelites were commanded to collect a day’s portion each day (Exod. 16:4):

ὁ δὲ πάντα μετιὼν ἀθρόα δυσελπιστίαν καὶ ἀπιστίαν μετὰ πολλῆς ἀνοίας κτᾶται· δύσελπις μὲν γίνεται, εἰ νῦν μόνον ἀλλὰ μὴ καὶ αὖθις ἐλπίζει τὸν θεὸν ὀμβρήσειν αὐτῷ ἀγαθά, ἄπιστος δέ, εἰ μὴ πεπίστευκε καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ τὰς τοῦ θεοῦ χάριτας ἀφθόνως τοῖς ἀξίοις προσνέμεσθαι, ἄνους δέ, εἰ οἴεται τῶν συναχθέντων ἱκανὸς ἔσεσθαι φύλαξ ἄκοντος θεοῦ· μικρὰ γὰρ ῥοπὴ τὸν ἀσφάλειαν καὶ βεβαιότητα περιάπτοντα νοῦν ὑπὸ μεγαλαυχίας ἑαυτῷ ἄκυρον καὶ ἀβέβαιον ὧν ἐδόκει φύλαξ εἶναι πάντων ἐποίησε.

He that would fain have all at once earns for himself lack of hope and trust, as well as great lack of sense. He lacks hope if he expects that now only but not in the future also will God shower on him good things; he lacks faith, if he has no belief that both in the present and always the good gifts of God are lavishly bestowed on those worthy of them; he lacks sense, if he imagines that he will be, though God will it not, a sufficient guardian of what he has gathered together; for the mind that vaingloriously ascribes to itself sureness and security has many a time been rendered by a slight turn of the scale a feeble and insecure guardian of all that it looked on as in its safe-keeping. (Philo, Leg. 3:164; Loeb)[121]

ר′ אליעזר אומר שלא ילקט אדם מן היום למחר. וכן היה ר′ אליעזר אומר מי שיש לו מה שיאכל היום ויאמר מה אני אוכל למחר הרי זה ממחוסרי אמנה שנ′ דבר יום ביומו. מי שברא יום ברא פרנסתו.‏

Rabbi Eliezer [ben Hyrcanus] says, “[A day’s portion in its day means] that a person should not gather today’s manna for tomorrow.” And thus Rabbi Eliezer would say: “Whoever has something that he can eat today but says what will I eat tomorrow, behold this one is among those who lack faith, as it is said, a day’s portion in its day [Exod. 16:4]. The one who created day created its sustenance. (Mechilta de Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai, BeShallaḥ 16:4 [ed. Epstein-Melamed, 106])[122]

For Jesus’ disciples, who had given up their livelihoods in order to follow him,[123] meeting their daily needs must have been a pressing concern.[124] Nevertheless, Jesus wanted the disciples to trust God to provide for their needs. Similar concerns were evidently expressed by the disciples of other sages, since exhortations not to worry about how disciples were to meet their needs are also found in rabbinic sources. For instance,

ר′ אליעזר אומר לא ניתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן. הא כאיזה צד היה אדם יושב ושונה ואינו יודע מאין יאכל וישתה ומאין ילבש ויתכסה הא לא ניתנה תורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן שנייה להן לאוכלי תרומה

Rabbi Eliezer [ben Hyrcanus] says, “The Torah was not given for study except to the eaters of manna. For how can someone be sitting and repeating [his lessons] and not know from where he will eat and drink, or from where he will dress and covers himself? Thus, the Torah was not given for study except to the eaters of manna, and second to them are eaters of terumah [i.e., priests—DNB and JNT].” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, BeShallaḥ 16:4 [ed. Epstein-Melamed, 107]; cf. Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 3 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:235])

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, a sage of the first an second centuries C.E., explicitly connected the full-time disciples’ dependence on God’s provision to the story of the manna in the desert. The notion that full-time disciples will be nourished with manna is reiterated in another rabbinic comment on the manna from heaven story:

ותן שמה מלא העומר מן והנח אותו לפני יי למשמרת לדורותיכם…. רבי אליעזר אומר לימות ירמיה הנביא שבשעה שאמר ירמיה לישראל מפני מה אין אתם עוסקין בתורה אמרו לו אם אנו מתעסקין בדברי תורה במה נתפרנס באותה שעה הוציא להם ירמיה צלוחית של מן ואמר להם הדור אתם ראו דבר יי וגו′ אבותיכם שהיו עוסקין בדברי תורה ראו ממה נתפרנסו אף אתם אם עוסקין בדברי תורה המקום יפרנס אתכם מזה. וזה אחד משלשה דברים שעתיד אליהו להעמיד לישראל צלוחית של מן וצלוחית של מים וצלוחית של שמן המשחה ויש אומרים אף מקלו של אהרן בשקדיו ופרחיו שנאמר השב את מטה אהרן וגו′‏

And put there [i.e., in God’s presence—DNB and JNT] a full omer of manna and leave it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations [Exod. 16:33]…. Rabbi Eliezer says, “For the days of Jeremiah the prophet, for when Jeremiah said to Israel, ‘Why are you not occupied with the Torah?’ they said to him, ‘If we occupy ourselves with words of Torah with what will we be sustained?’ At that very hour Jeremiah brought out for them the container of manna and said to them, O generation, you see the thing of the LORD [Jer. 2:31], etc. See from what [provision] your fathers, who were occupied with words of Torah, were sustained, and so will the Omnipresent one sustain you from this [provision] if you are occupied with words of Torah. And this is one of the three things that Elijah will restore to Israel in the future: the container of manna, the container of water, and the container of oil for anointing. And there are those who say also the staff of Aaron with its almonds and blossoms, as it is said, Return the rod of Aaron [Num. 17:25], etc.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 6 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:249])

This source entertains two notions about God’s provision of manna: first, that the manna is available to every generation that occupies itself with Torah study, and second, that the provision of manna will be restored at the time of the messianic redemption. Since both Torah study and the messianic redemption are closely related to joining Jesus’ band of full-time disciples (a process Jesus referred to as “entering the Kingdom of Heaven”),[125] it would hardly be surprising to find the notion that the provision of manna was available to the full-time disciples who itinerated with Jesus. Thus, it seems more than plausible that the petition for bread in the Lord’s Prayer also alludes to the manna story. In Exodus, the manna that appeared every day is called “bread”:

וַיֹּאמֶר יי אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן הַשָּׁמָיִם

And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am causing bread to rain down to you from the heavens.” (Exod. 16:4)

Thus “bread” in the Lord’s Prayer could be an allusion to the manna in the desert story. Strengthening this supposition is a rabbinic comment on Exod. 16:4, which states:

מן השמים מאוצר הטוב של שמים שנאמר יפתח יי לך את אוצרו הטוב את השמים

From the heavens [Exod. 16:4]. From the good treasure of Heaven, as it is said, The LORD will open for you his good treasure, the heavens [Deut. 28:12]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 3 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:234]; cf. t. Maas. Shen. 5:25).

According to this source, the manna (bread from heaven) was God’s treasure in heaven which he rained down upon Israel each day to sustain them during their wanderings in the desert, where they had no livelihoods or means of producing food of their own. In a similar fashion, Jesus promised disciples—those who left behind their possessions, crafts and trades in order to follow him—treasure in heaven (Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). Given the identification in rabbinic sources of “treasure in heaven” with “manna,” and Rabbi Eliezer’s saying that disciples must be “eaters of manna,” it seems possible that Jesus’ assurance that disciples will receive treasure in heaven meant that when the disciples cast themselves solely on God’s providence, God would provide for their needs, just as he had provided for Israel in the desert.[126]

Whether or not the petition for today’s bread was tied to the manna in the desert story or the promise of treasure in heaven, it is impossible to deny the economic aspect of this petition in the Lord’s Prayer.[127] The disciples who were taught to pray this prayer had exchanged a life of self-sufficiency for a life of complete dependence on God’s providential care in order to follow Jesus.[128]

δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον (GR). Although it is more common in Jewish private prayer to petition God with the formula “May it be your will…,” Heinemann noted several Jewish private prayers that employ a more direct imperative style, much like “Give us today…” in the Lord’s Prayer.[129] Compare the following examples:

הוֹשַׁע יָיי אֶת עַמְּךָ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ′ כָּל פָּרָשַׁת הַ(צִּ)[[עִ]]יבּוּר {העבר} צוֹרְכֵיהֶם מִלְּפָנֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יָיי שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִילָּה

Save, O LORD, your people Israel. At their every crossroad let their needs come before you. Blessed are you, O LORD, who hears prayer. (m. Ber. 4:4)

אלהי נצור לשוני מרע ושפתותי מדבר מרמה ולמקללי נפשי תדום ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה

My God, preserve my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful words, and to those that curse me may my soul be silent and may my soul be as dust to everyone…. (b. Ber. 17a)

In the above examples the prayers begin with imperatives.[130] The direct imperative style of petition in the Lord’s Prayer is tempered by the preliminary expressions of praise in L10-15.[131]

תֵּן לָנוּ הַיּוֹם (HR). In LXX the command δὸς ἡμῖν (dos hēmin, “give to us”) translates the Hebrew commands הָבָה לָּנוּ (hāvāh lānū, “give to us”; Gen. 47:15; Ps. 59[60]:13; 107[108]:13), תְּנוּ לָנוּ (tenū lānū, “you [plur.] give to us”; Exod. 17:2) and תְּנָה לָּנוּ (tenāh lānū, “give to us”; Num. 11:13; 1 Kgdms. 8:6).[132] The example in Gen. 47:15 is of particular interest, since it is a request for bread:

Δὸς ἡμῖν ἄρτους

הָבָה לָּנוּ לֶחֶם

“Give us bread!”

This request is addressed to Joseph and is voiced by the Egyptians who were starving during the famine. In the tannaic midrash Genesis Rabbah, this story was paraphrased in the following manner:

כיון שחזק הרעב במצרים באו מצריים אצלו אמ′ תן לנו לחם

When the famine in Egypt became severe the Egyptians came to him. They said, “Give us bread!” (Gen. Rab. 91:5)

This rewording of the story from Genesis indicates that the imperative הָבָה had become antiquated in MH, and that תֵּן לָנוּ was the MH equivalent of the biblical ‎הָבָה לָּנוּ.‎[133] We have accordingly adopted תֵּן לָנוּ for HR.

The adverb σήμερον (sēmeron, “today”) is usually the LXX translation of הַיּוֹם (hayōm, “today”), making הַיּוֹם the obvious choice for HR.[134]

L18-21 Up to this point the Lord’s Prayer has focused on the vertical relationship between the petitioner and the Creator. With the fifth petition a new dimension is introduced as the horizontal relationship between the petitioner and his or her fellow human beings is brought into play. The prayer for forgiveness from God as the petitioner forgives others is an expression of what Flusser called a “new sensitivity” that emerged in Second Temple Judaism, which emphasized the inherent reciprocity between one’s relationship toward God and one’s relationship toward one’s neighbor.[135] According to this new sensitivity, how I treat my neighbor affects how God relates to me, and how I want God to relate to me must be mirrored in how I relate to my neighbor. An early example of this triangular relationship between God, self and neighbor is found in the writings of Ben Sira:

ὁ ἐκδικῶν παρὰ κυρίου εὑρήσει ἐκδίκησιν, καὶ τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτοῦ διατηρῶν διατηρήσει. ἄφες ἀδίκημα τῷ πλησίον σου, καὶ τότε δεηθέντος σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι σου λυθήσονται. ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπῳ συντηρεῖ ὀργήν, καὶ παρὰ κυρίου ζητεῖ ἴασιν; ἐπ᾿ ἄνθρωπον ὅμοιον αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔχει ἔλεος, καὶ περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτοῦ δεῖται;

He who avenges will discover vengeance from the Lord, and when he observes carefully, he will carefully observe his sins. Forgive your neighbor a wrong, and then, when you petition [God—DNB and JNT], your sins will be pardoned. A person harbors wrath against a person—and will he seek healing from the Lord? Does he not have mercy on a person like himself and petition concerning his sins? (Sir. 28:1-4; NETS)[136]

Just as in this passage from Ben Sira, the Lord’s Prayer demands that forgiveness be granted to one’s fellow human beings in order for one’s requests for pardon to be favorably received by God.[137]

Lord's Prayer-Tertullian2In Matthew and Luke the structure and content of the petition for forgiveness is very similar, despite the many variations between the two versions. The main point of disagreement between the two versions is that whereas the Matthean version asks for God to forgive “debts,” the Lukan version beseeches God to forgive “sins” (L19). Significantly, both the Matthean and the Lukan versions agree in the second half of the petition that the disciples who recite this prayer are to forgive the debts that are owed to them (L20-21). The consistent reference to indebtedness in both halves of the petition in Matt. 6:12 (cf. Did. 8:2) suggests that Matthew’s version, “forgive us our debts,” was the original version of the prayer, and that the editor of FR changed “debts” to “sins,” probably for the sake of non-Jewish Greek readers who might not be familiar with debt as a metaphor for sin,[138] a concept that emerged in Second Temple Judaism. That the Lukan version retains debt vocabulary in the second half of the petition suggests that neither the author of Luke nor the editor of FR were willing to completely spiritualize the content of this portion of the Lord’s Prayer.[139] The economic aspect of the petition in relation to one’s fellow human being—the duty to release them from debts—is not concealed and remains fully in force (see below, Comment to L19).

The relationship between this petition and the preceding petitions that were related to the redemption of Israel might not be immediately obvious to modern readers, but it would have been self-evident in a first-century Jewish context. It was because of sin that Israel had been sent into exile, and although a portion of Israel had returned to their ancestral land to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the redemption was not considered to be complete; ten of Israel’s twelve tribes had not returned from exile and all of Israel was still subject to imperial rule. Forgiveness of sin was the prerequisite for redemption.

In ancient agrarian societies indebtedness posed a constant threat to peasant families of estrangement from their ancestral lands.[140] The vast majority of the population in the ancient world lived as subsistence farmers whose income may have been supplemented by practicing a trade. Peasants lived on a very tight margin and a single crop failure could easily lead to indebtedness, either to private moneylenders or to the government in the form of unpaid taxes. Unable to pay their debts, peasant farmers in such a situation could be forced to sell their land and become day laborers, or even, if their indebtedness was severe, to sell themselves or their children into slavery.[141] The parallels between peasant farmers evicted from their land on account of indebtedness and Israel’s exile from their homeland because of sin made debt a natural metaphor for sin in Second Temple Judaism.[142]

In order to reverse such unjust economic trends as we have just described, it became the practice of ancient Near Eastern rulers, upon their ascension to the throne, to proclaim liberation of slaves, the restoration of ancestral lands, and the cancellation of debts for their subjects.[143] This practice, which continued into the Hellenistic period,[144] restored balance to the economy and justice to the social order, and influenced the Israelite monarchy[145] and the Hebrew prophetic tradition (cf. Isa. 58:5-7; 61:1-2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Ezek. 45:8-12).[146] In this way, the belief emerged that the final redemption of Israel would be accomplished, in part, through a proclamation of liberty and the cancellation of debt when God’s Kingdom was finally realized.

It is natural, therefore, that the forgiveness of debts became a central part of Jesus’ message, since he proclaimed the inauguration of God’s reign that was taking place in and through his band of itinerating disciples. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus instructs the disciples that their request for forgiveness must be related to their willingness to forgive others. It seems that, according to Jesus, God’s redemptive reign breaks into the world through our emulation of God’s character. Since God is a righteous king who proclaims the cancellation of debt upon his ascension, so should Jesus’ followers cancel the debts that are owed to them, because this is how redemption comes into the world.[147]

L18 וּמְחוֹל לָנוּ (HR). In LXX the verb ἀφιέναι (afienai, “to release,” “to forsake”) translates a variety of Hebrew verbs including נָשָׂא (nāsā’) and סָלַח (sālaḥ), both of which can mean “forgive.” We have chosen to reconstruct this petition with מָחַל (māḥal), a verb that does not occur in MT, but which is common in MH and is specific to the remittance of debts. This verb was also used metaphorically to refer to forgiveness of sins and personal insults (cf. m. Bab. Kam. 8:7).[148]

Examples of מָחַל in the imperative include the following:

אמרו בת עשר שנים הייתה רחב בשעה שיצאו ישראל ממצרים וכל אותן ארבעים שנה שהיו ישראל במדבר זנתה לסוף חמישים שנה נתגיירה והיא אומרת לפני הקב″ה רבונו של עולם בשלשה דברים חטאתי בשלשה דברים מחול לי בחבל בחלון ובחומה שנאמר ותורידם בחבל בעד החלון כי ביתה בקיר החומה ובחומה היא יושבת

They say Rahab was ten years old when Israel went out from Egypt and all those forty years that Israel was in the desert she was a prostitute. At the end of fifty years she becomes a proselyte and says before the Holy one, blessed be he, “Master of the universe, in three things I have sinned, by three things forgive me [מְחוֹל לִי]: by the rope, by the window, and by the wall.” As it is said, And she lowered them with a rope from the window, for her house was in the side of the wall, and she dwells within the wall [Josh. 2:15]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 3 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:272])

The above example is addressed to God in a prayer, which makes it a particularly apt illustration for reconstructing the Lord’s Prayer. In the next example, imperatives of מָחַל are addressed to Elijah, whom Rabbi Shimon unwittingly insulted when Elijah appeared to him disguised as an extremely ugly wanderer:

כיון שידע רבי שמעון שחטא ירד מן החמור והיה משתטח לפניו. אמר לו נעניתי לך מחול לי. אמר לו איני מוחל לך עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ותאמר כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. רץ אחריו שלשה מילין. יצאו אנשי העיר לקראתו אמרו לו שלום עליך רבי. אמר להם למי אתם קוראים רבי. אמרו למי שמטייל אחריך. אמר להם אם זה רבי אל ירבו כמותו בישראל. אמרו לו חס ושלום מה עשה לך. אמר להם כך וכך עשה לי. אמרו לו אף על פי כן מחול לו. אמר להם הריני מוחל ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל לעשות כן.‏

As soon as Rabbi Shimon knew that he had sinned, he got down from his donkey and prostrated himself before him [i.e., Elijah—DNB and JNT]. He said to him, “I beg of you, forgive me [מְחוֹל לִי]!” He said to him, “I am not forgiving you until you go to the craftsman who made me and you say, ‘How ugly is this vessel you have made!’” [Rabbi Shimon] ran after him three miles. The people of the city went out to meet him. They said to him, “Peace upon you, Rabbi.” [Elijah] said, “Who are you calling ‘Rabbi’?” They said, “To the one who is traveling behind you.” He said to them, “If this is a rabbi, may there not be many like him in Israel.” They said to him, “Heaven forbid! What has he done to you?” He said to them, “Thus and so he did to me.” They said to him, “Nevertheless, forgive him [מְחוֹל לוֹ].” He said to them, “I forgive him on condition that he not make a habit of doing this.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 41:1 [ed. Schechter, 131])

In the final example, King David is depicted in prayer:

אמר דוד לפני הקב″ה רבונו של עולם מחול לי על אותו עון אמר לו מחול לך

David said before the Holy one, blessed be he, “Master of the universe, forgive me [מְחוֹל לִי] for this sin.” He said to him, “It is forgiven you.” (b. Shab. 30a)

L19 τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν (Luke 11:4). We stated above (Comment to L18-21) that the editor of FR likely replaced the original reading ὀφειλήματα (ofeilēmata, “debts”) with ἁμαρτίας (hamartias, “sins”).[149] We note, however, that in non-Jewish Greek sources one expects to find the verb ἀφιέναι (“to release”) paired with the noun ὀφείλημα (ofeilēma, “debt”),[150] whereas the mixing of metaphors (using a verb for “cancel a debt” with a noun for “sin”), such as we find in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, is typical of Jewish sources, whether in Greek[151] or Hebrew.

The mixing of metaphors for debt and sin in Hebrew sources can be observed in the passages cited above in Comment to L18, where imperatival forms of מָחַל (māḥal, “cancel a debt”) are paired with the usual terms for sin. Thus, Rahab said, “in three things I have sinned” (בשלשה דברים חטאתי), Rabbi Shimon realized that he had sinned (ידע רבי שמעון שחטא), and David prayed, “forgive me for this sin” (עון). In fact, we have not found a single example of מָחַל paired with חוֹב (ḥōv, “debt”) where חוֹב means “sin.” Instead we find examples, like those already mentioned, where מָחַל is used with nouns such as עָוֹן (‘āvon, “iniquity”), עֲבֵירָה (avērāh, “transgression”), פֶּשַׁע (pesha‘, “rebellion”) or חַטָּאָה (ḥaṭā’āh, “sin”), or with verbs such as חָטָא (ḥāṭā’, “sin”).[152] Conversely, we have found no examples of חוֹב in the sense of “sin” where the verb for “forgive” is מָחַל. Instead, we find examples such as this:

במאזנים לעלות במאזנים הוא מתכפר להם בחדש שמזלו מאזנים ואיזה זה חדש תשרי תשרי ותשבוק ותכפר על חובי עמך

To rise in the scales [Ps. 62:10]. In the scales atonement will be made for them, that is, in the month whose zodiac sign is the scales [i.e., Libra—DNB and JNT]. And which month is that? Tishri [תשרי] you will dissolve [תשרי] and pardon and atone for the debts of your people. (Lev. Rab. 29:8)

Likewise, in the synagogue liturgy for the ten days of repentance between the New Year (Rosh HaShanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) we find:

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ סְלַח וּמְחַל לְכָל־עֲוֹנוֹתֵינוּ
אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ מְחֵה וְהַעֲבֵר פְּשָׁעֵינוּ מִנֶּגֶד עֵינֶיךָ
אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ מְחוֹק בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים כָּל־שִׁטְרֵי חוֹבוֹתֵינוּ

Our Father, our King! forgive and pardon all our iniquities.
Our Father, our King! blot out our transgressions, and make them pass away from before thine eyes.
Our Father, our King! erase in thine abundant mercies all the records of our guilt [lit., “bills of our debts”—DNB and JNT].[153]

In this synagogue prayer, although the petition mentioning debts uses concrete imagery (“erase all the bills of our debts”), מָחַל appears in conjunction with עָוֹן (“iniquity”).

The parallels from ancient Jewish sources that we have cited would have led us to expect עוונותינו or perhaps עבירותינו in the original Hebrew version of the prayer, and therefore ἁμαρτίας, as in the Lukan version. What prevents us from drawing this conclusion is the high improbability that anyone finding ἁμαρτίας (“sins”) in the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer would amend it to ὀφειλήματα (“debts”). The verb ἀφιέναι appears in conjunction with ἁμαρτία elsewhere in Matthew (Matt. 9:2, 5, 6; 12:31; cf. Matt. 26:28), so there is no reason for the author of Matthew to have replaced ἁμαρτίας with ὀφειλήματα in the Lord’s Prayer. Exchanging ἁμαρτίας with ὀφειλήματα in an attempt to make the Lord’s Prayer more appealing to Jewish audiences is unconvincing, since, as we have seen, the use of ἀφιέναι with ἁμαρτία is conventionally Jewish. And exchanging ἁμαρτίας with ὀφειλήματα as a concession to Gentile readers is equally unconvincing, since the sin-as-debt metaphor would have been foreign to Gentile audiences. The most reasonable conclusion is that Matthew’s version with “debts” reflects the original wording of the Lord’s Prayer.

But if ὀφειλήματα (“debts”) is the more authentic version, then Jesus’ use of both a verb and a noun relating to debt in a petition for forgiveness is somewhat distinctive. Perhaps Jesus preferred to use “debts” in the first half of the petition simply because this preserves the parallelism with “debtors” in the second half of the parallelism. Or perhaps Jesus preferred to use “debts” in the first half of the petition in relation to God because the second half of the petition had a real-life application in relation to fellow human beings. That is to say, perhaps Jesus expected his followers to forgive wrongs not merely in a spiritual sense; he may also have expected them to cancel actual monetary debts that were owed to them. A real-life application of the petition in the fiscal realm might explain why Jesus adopted debt terminology throughout the petition.

While it is clear that in the Lord’s Prayer debts and their remittance are metaphors for the spiritual concepts of sin and forgiveness, this does not exclude the possibility that Jesus intended the literal meaning of these words to be put into practice as well.[154] The Torah makes provision for the literal cancellation of debts (Lev. 25:8ff.; Deut. 15:1-9), and the problem of indebtedness was a real-life concern in the first century, just as it is today. In his sermon in the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus claimed that he was anointed “to proclaim liberty” (Luke 4:18; cf. Isa. 61:1: לִקְרֹא…דְּרֹור), a reference to the Jubilee year, which included the cancellation of debts (Lev. 25:10: וּקְרָאתֶם דְּרֹור). We should consider, therefore, whether driving a wedge between the spiritual and the literal applications of the petition for forgiveness does violence to Jesus’ first-century message.

Jesus’ demand that his followers cancel debts might be a reaction to the enactment of the prosbol, a mechanism for circumventing the Torah’s demand that debts be forgiven in the Sabbatical Year, which Hillel either invented or endorsed in the generation before Jesus (cf. m. Shev. 10:3). Although Hillel’s motives for enacting the prosbol were undoubtedly well-intentioned (cf. m. Git. 4:3), aiming to ease the difficulty farmers faced in obtaining financing as the Sabbatical Year approached, the long-term effect was often detrimental to peasant farmers because it put them even deeper into debt.[155] Jesus may have advocated a return to the Torah’s demand for the remission of all debts in the Sabbatical Year, or, more broadly, Jesus may have expected his disciples to renounce any debts that were owed to them when they left behind home, family and livelihood in order to itinerate with him full time.

That Jesus’ moral teachings should have an economic, as well as a spiritual, application is hardly surprising. It is in the social, political and economic spheres of human activity that all great moral teachings bear their spiritual fruit.

L20 καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφείομεν (Luke 11:4). In contrast to the Matthean version, which reads “as also we forgave,”[156] the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer has “for we ourselves forgive.” Luke’s version may be an attempt to avoid the quid pro quo arrangement the Matthean version seems to suggest.[157] We noted above (Comment to L18-21), however, that Ben Sira admonished his readers to forgive others before presuming to ask God for forgiveness (Sir. 28:1-4), and Matthew’s wording in the aorist tense (“we forgave”) is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that one should first seek reconciliation with his neighbor before offering a sacrifice (of atonement?) to God (Matt. 5:23-24).[158] Thus, Matthew’s wording, which is probably the original, is not a quid pro quo, but demonstrates sensitivity to the impropriety of asking God for forgiveness while still holding a grudge against another person. Luke’s version, on the other hand, reflects the continuing obligation to forgive. We noted a similar change in Luke’s version of the petition for bread (“be giving to us day by day”; L17), which also emphasizes continuity.[159] Both changes were probably introduced by the editor of FR. We have therefore accepted Matthew’s version for GR. The Didache strikes a middle ground between Matthew and Luke, reading ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν (“as also we forgive [pres.]”; Did. 8:2).

שֶׁאַף אָנוּ מָחַלְנוּ (HR). In Greek and Hebrew a personal pronoun is unnecessary, since “we” is already implied by the conjugation of the verb. Here the personal prounoun is for emphasis, and since there is no obvious reason why the Greek translator or later Greek editors would have introduced such emphasis, and since Matthew, Luke and the Didache all emphasize “we,” though in different ways, it is likely that the emphasis was already present in the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text.

In contexts of direct speech we prefer to reconstruct in MH style, and have therefore used אַף אָנוּ (’af ’ānū, “also we”) instead of גַּם אֲנַחְנוּ (gam ’anaḥnū, “also we”) as in BH.[160]

We have not found any examples of כְּשֶׁאַף (keshe’af, “as that also”), which ὡς καὶ (hōs kai, “as also”) might lead us to expect, but in a survey of all the instances of ὡς in the five books of Moses, we found several instances where ὡς is the translation of אֲשֶׁר (asher, “that”), the BH equivalent of -שֶׁ.‎[161] Among the examples of ὡς as the translation of אֲשֶׁר that are most pertinent to our present inquiry are the following:

וַיָּמָת בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַזֹּאת לָיְלָה אֲשֶׁר שָׁכְבָה עָלָיו

And this woman’s son died at night because [אֲשֶׁר] she lay on him. (1 Kgs. 3:19)

καὶ ἀπέθανεν ὁ υἱὸς τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης τὴν νύκτα, ὡς ἐπεκοιμήθη ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν

And this woman’s son died in the night, as [ὡς] she lay on him. (3 Kgdms. 3:19; NETS)

כִּי לְמַעַן דָּוִד נָתַן יי אֱלֹהָיו לוֹ נִיר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם לְהָקִים אֶת בְּנוֹ אַחֲרָיו וּלְהַעֲמִיד אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה דָוִד אֶת הַיָּשָׁר בֶּעֵינֵי יי

But for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by establishing his son after him and by supporting Jerusalem because [אֲשֶׁר] David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD. (1 Kgs. 15:4-5)

ὅτι διὰ Δαυιδ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ κύριος κατάλειμμα, ἵνα στήσῃ τέκνα αὐτοῦ μετ᾿ αὐτὸν καὶ στήσῃ τὴν Ιερουσαλημ, ὡς ἐποίησεν Δαυιδ τὸ εὐθὲς ἐνώπιον κυρίου

For because of Dauid the Lord gave him a remnant, that he might establish his children after him and establish Ierousalem; as [ὡς] Dauid did what was right before the Lord. (3 Kgdms. 15:4-5; NETS)

In these examples אֲשֶׁר with a causal meaning (“because”) is translated with ὡς (“as”), in a manner similar to our reconstruction.[162]

Instances of שֶׁאַף (she’af, “that also,” “that even”) do occur in rabbinic sources,[163] often to show emphasis, for example:

מלמד שאף עכן הוא עמהם לעולם הבא

…it teaches that even Achan is with them in the world to come. (t. Sanh. 9:5 [ed. Zuckermandel, 429])

ומנין שאף יעקב בחר בו ביה

…and whence do we learn that even Jacob chose the LORD for himself? (Sifre Deut. §312 [ed. Finkelstein, 354])

מלמד שאף אהרן היה בקצפון

…it teaches that even Aaron was included in the wrath. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 37:12 [ed. Schechter, 111])

The emphatic שֶׁאַף אָנוּ מָחַלְנוּ (“for even we have canceled [debts]”) not only impresses upon the disciples the impropriety of asking for God’s forgiveness prior to granting pardon to others, it is also an example of the forceful style of prayer characteristic of the first-century Jewish pietists known as the Hasidim (cf., e.g., m. Taan. 3:8).

On reconstructing ἀφιέναι with מָחַל, see above, Comment to L18.

L21 παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν (Luke 11:4). “Everyone owing [a debt] to us” probably represents FR’s paraphrase of the original wording as preserved in Matthew.[164] For GR have accepted Matthew’s reading, τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν (“our debtors”), which is also the reading found in the Didache. In Luke 13:4 we find the noun ὀφειλέτης (ofeiletēs, “debtor”) used in the sense of “sinner,” just as in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

לְחַיָּבֵינוּ (HR). An example of חַיָּב (ḥayāv, “debtor”) in the context of prayer is found in the following account:

ר′ יוסי בר יעקב סלק מבקרה לר′ יודן מגדלאה, שמע קליה מברך אלף אלפין וריבי ריבוון אנו צריכין להודות לשמך על כל טיפה וטיפה שאתה מוריד לנו שאתה משלם טובה לחייבין

Rabbi Yose bar Yaakov went up from a visit to Rabbi Yudan of Magdala. He heard a voice reciting a blessing: “A thousand thousand and myriad myriad times over we need to give thanks to your name for each and every raindrop that you cause to descend for us, for you repay good to debtors.” (Gen. Rab. 13:15; cf. y. Taan. 1:3 [4b])

L22-23 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν (Matt. 6:13; Luke 11:4). The Lukan, Matthean and Didache versions of the Lord’s Prayer are in complete verbal agreement in the petition dealing with temptation.

The noun πειρασμός (peirasmos) can refer both to “temptation” and to “trial” or “testing.” It is not always easy to distinguish between the two senses, since in a time of testing one is tempted to disobey God’s commands. Temptation can come from within, as one is tempted by his or her own impulses and desires, or from without, when one is placed in a trying situation when it would be easier to give in to pressure to commit what God has forbidden or to omit what the moment demands. When times of testing come, the challenge is to remain faithful to God and his commandments.

In ancient Jewish literature Abraham was often held up as the great example of withstanding temptations and enduring trials. For instance, according to Ben Sira:

ἐν πειρασμῷ εὑρέθη πιστός

In testing he [i.e., Abraham—DNB and JNT] was found faithful. (Sir. 44:20)

This description of Abraham is also found in a rhetorical question in 1 Maccabees:

Αβρααμ οὐχὶ ἐν πειρασμῷ εὑρέθη πιστός, καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην;

Was not Abraham found faithful in testing, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? (1 Macc. 2:52)[165]

Abrahams Opfer ("Abraham's Offering") by Adi Holzer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Abrahams Opfer (“Abraham’s Offering”) by Adi Holzer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although the testing of Abraham was sometimes depicted in ancient Jewish sources as a contest between Abraham and the devil (cf. Jub. 17:15-18; 18:8-12; Gen. Rab. 56:4; b. Sanh. 89b), for most first-century Jews the severest form of testing came from the pressure to conform to the norms of the surrounding Gentile culture, forsaking the Torah and the God of Israel. There were social, economic and political advantages to assimilation, which was in itself a very real temptation,[166] but occasionally there were outbreaks of religious persecution, and in these times of testing the pressure to assimilate became acute.

Persecutions could come in the form of unofficial actions of the local populace, or in the form of state-sponsored policies, as in the days of Antiochus (second cent. B.C.E.) and Hadrian (second cent. C.E.). But whoever the perpetrator, in these times of testing loyalty to the Torah and the God of Israel was considered to be the duty of every Israelite. Ordinarily, the Torah’s commands could be set aside if observance presented a danger to one’s life,[167] but in times of religious persecution, when the temptation was the strongest to abandon the Torah, remaining true to the commandments was linked to the concept of sanctifying God’s name:

הא לא נתנו מצות לישראל אלא לחיות בהן שנ′ אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם וחי בהן ולא שימות בהן אין דבר עומד בפני פקוח נפש חוץ מע″ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים במי דברים אמורים שלא בשעת השמד אבל בשעת השמד אפי′ מצוה קלה שבקלות אדם נותן נפשו עליה שנ′ ולא תחללו את שם קדשי וגו′ ואומ′ כל פעל יי למענהו

Now the commandments were not given to Israel except that they might live by them, as it is said, that a person might do them and live by them [Lev. 18:5]: And live by them, and not that he might die by them. There is nothing that stands in the way of preserving a life except for idolatrous worship, engaging in forbidden sexual relations, and the shedding of blood. About what times were these words spoken? When it is not a time of persecution. But in a time of persecution a person gives his life even for the lightest of the light commandments, as it is said, and you must not profane my holy name [Lev. 22:32] etc., and it says, every action of the LORD for its purpose [Prov. 16:4]. (t. Shab. 15:17; Vienna MS)

When viewed from this angle, the first and final petitions of the Lord’s Prayer form an inclusio. In the opening petition the praying disciple asks God to sanctify his name, while in the concluding petition the disciple prays to remain faithful in times of testing so as not to profane God’s holy name.

וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ בְּנִסָּיוֹן (HR). The Babylonian Talmud preserves a prayer for reciting at bedtime which is similar to the petition “and lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer:

יהי רצון מלפניך ה′ אלהי שתשכיבני לשלום ותן חלקי בתורתך ותרגילני לידי מצוה ואל תרגילני לידי עבירה, ואל תביאני לידי חטא ולא לידי עון ולא לידי נסיון ולא לידי בזיון וישלוט בי יצר טוב ואל ישלוט בי יצר הרע ותצילני מפגע רע ומחלאים רעים

May it be your will, O LORD my God, that you will cause me to lie down in peace and set my portion in your Torah and give me practice in the commandments, but do not practice me in transgression and do not bring me into the hands of sin, or into the hands of iniquity, or into the hands of testing, or into the hands of disgrace. And may the good inclination have dominion over me, and may the evil inclination not have dominion over me, and rescue me from grievous wounds and from dire illnesses. (b. Ber. 60b)

Perhaps familiarity with this prayer, especially its phrase אל תביאני…לידי נסיון (“and do not bring me… into the hands of testing”), inspired Hebrew translators of the Lord’s Prayer to render καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν as וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ לִידֵי נִסָּיוֹן (“and do not bring us into the hands of testing”).[168] However, there is nothing in the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer equivalent to יְדֵי (ye, “hands of”),[169] and therefore a simpler reconstruction would be וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ בְּנִסָּיו