Climbing the Mount of Olives III.A’: The Judgment on the Nations

This is the final article in a long series. The previous article is here. The hub for the whole project is here.

(0) Locating the Cloud

Here in the final scene of Matthew 25, we return to the imagery of the Son of Man riding on a cloud. We can see that the specific theme concerns itself with judgment on a government, the fourth imperial beast. That beast was understood as Greek-speaking Rome in Matthew’s context. This is also how it is aptly and generatively applied by Matthew’s Jesus, with a focus on his own nation of Judah as it has been taken up in that fourth beast.

As we will see, this theme of national judgment continues right through the end of Matthew 25, only now it is extended internationally, to all nations. Between section (A) and section (A’) we have found and analyzed a chiasm of three parables in the central section, (B). Within (B) the framing parables (d) and (d’) concern managers of households. In context these parables primarily and transparently address kingly and/or priestly leaders as the keepers of their royal houses (the House of David) and the house of God (the Temple). The central parable (e) focuses on the themes of illumination from sets of five oil lamps. These are naturally and consiliently read as addressing the Torah with its five books and the “Jesus Torah” of five bodies of teaching in Matthew. For those interested in the concept of an actual, conscious, chastic outline, the fifth element relates to chiasm itself in interesting ways; at a minimum we can at least be pleased that in our own outline this parable of 5 and 5 lamps is the fifth element, (e). The whole chiasm of Matthew 24–25 therefore brilliantly centers the theme of spiritual illumination, and a proper understanding of the law, represented by Messianic oil. In this it structurally and thematically pulls together the central concerns of Matthew’s Gospel. As with the Torah and Matthew’s Gospel, the great theme of these texts is also national survival, as opposed to the national death of expulsion and oppression under foreign gods.

Matthew 25:31 to 26:5 will conclude the discussion on the Mount of Olives, which is situated near the Temple Mount. The judgment on the nations here at its close is a profound, coherent and extremely well composed reflection on the national (and now international) covenant-making work of Matthew’s Jesus. Still, the text will artfully withhold the crucial phrase at the heart of the disciple’s question: “When will there be the synteleia of the Aion?” The question can also be understood this way: when will be the true consummation of life? That specific language will only be repeated after the passion narrative. In fact, these will be the final, perfect and perfecting words of the Gospel. With the truly final words of Matthew 28:20, Jesus once again refuses to tell them when the great consummation of all life will happen. Instead he assures them that through his death and resurrection, he will always be with those who baptize and train people to do everything he commanded, including keeping his Eucharistic Passover. In this way, Matthew 24 perfectly introduces the passion narrative and its significance. The competent reader will therefore understand the question of Matthew 24 to be answered through the passion narrative, which finally allows for the revelation of his Enduring Presence even through the end of life.

For ease of reference, here is the structure of the Mount of Olives discourse again:

A: Question and clarifications

(a) 24:1–3: The question about “signs of your presence” and the “synteleia of the aion”

(b) 24: 4–26: The judgment on the nation is not the synteleia, but may be a telos

(c) 24:27–44: The Son of Man riding on clouds (to the Ancient of Days?)

B: Parables enjoining enduring covenant faithfulness for national leaders

(d) 24:45–51: Question or parable encouraging faithful governance at the household scale, because the ruler/servant doesn’t know when the (true) master will return

(e) 25:1–13: Parable of the ten bridesmaids, five foolish and five wise. It encourages patient preparation for a long wait within the/each generation, centering an image of illumination that resonates deeply with Matthew and Torah’s fivefold structure.

(d’ ) 25:14–30: Parable or answer to (d) encouraging faithful governance at the household scale, because the ruler/servant doesn’t know when the (true) master will return

A’: The answer begins, but continues to the last breath of Matthew 28

(c’) 25:31–33: The arrival in power of the Son of Man

(b’) 25:34–45: Danielic judgment of the nations, dividing the sheep and goats

(a’) 25:46 — 26:5…28:20: The suspended answer to the question about the synteleia of the aion: a chiasm cracked open.

A’: History’s Judgment on the Nations (Sheep and Goats)

(c’) 25:31–33: The Arrival in Power of the Son of Man

Ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετʼ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ· 32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπʼ ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων.


31 “When the Son of Man comes (ἔλθῃ/elthē/comes) in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations (ἔθνη/ethne/nations) will be gathered before him, and he will separate people (αὐτόὐς/autous/each one) from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.


The Cloud in the Temple above the fourth beast

Here in our final section of the Mount Olivet discourse Matthew’s Jesus picks up right where he left off in (c), with the Son of Man ascending to his throne beside the Ancient of Days. Recall the vision from Daniel 7:9–14:

As I watched,

thrones were set in place,

and an Ancient One took his throne,

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames,

and its wheels were burning fire.

10 A stream of fire issued

and flowed out from his presence.

A thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.

The court sat in judgment,

and the books were opened.

11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.

14 To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages (עַֽמְמַיָּ֗א/‘am·may·yā/peoples, אֻמַיָּ֛א/’u·may·yā/nations/tribes, וְלִשָּׁנַיָּ֖א/wə·liš·šā·nay·yā/tongues/languages)

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.

This visionary language is explicitly interpreted in Daniel 7:23–27:

23 This is what he said: “As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth

that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;

it shall devour the whole earth,

and trample it down, and break it to pieces.

24 As for the ten horns,

out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,

and another shall arise after them.

This one shall be different from the former ones,

and shall put down three kings.

25 He shall speak words against the Most High,

shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,

and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;

and they shall be given into his power

for a time, two times, and half a time.

26 Then the court shall sit in judgment,

and his dominion shall be taken away,

to be consumed and totally destroyed.

27 The kingship and dominion

and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven

shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;

their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,

and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

Matthew’s Jesus is clearly engaging with this traditional imagery, but is not mechanically following the underlying chronology of the text. Rather, the text is being applied typologically, finding analogies between the abomination of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and the events of Jerusalem in 70 AD. [1.01] Still, we will attend to some crucial details of the text to try to understand the basic narrative pattern that is being explored, deepened and extended here.

The throne of judgment represents a position of spiritual authority, and especially judicial authority, over all of the various kingdoms and empires. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Son of Man language consistently draws the underlying theme of just and righteous judgment to mind. [1.02] This imagery of justice and judgment is also necessarily temple imagery, most closely related to the Ark of the Covenant: the Temple is where the throne and mercy seat of God were found according to Torah, at least in microcosm, and God rested above the Ark aniconically. In the First Temple, the Ark would have served as his footstool, with the tablets of the Covenant on Sinai resting inside in a manner reminiscent of other solemn covenantal documents in the Ancient Near East. However, where other temples would have had an idol, there was none in the Temple. Still, God spoke invisibly from the location where an idol would have normally been thought to speak. [1.05], [1.1],[1.2] By the time of the Second Temple, the Ark of the Covenant was similarly absent, and it may have been displaced in its significance to some degree by the sevenlamped menorah. [1.3]

This pattern of expanding aniconism may also shed light on Matthew 5:35 and the parable of virgins with their lamps. In Matthew 5:35, Jesus asserts that the sky is God’s throne (not the mercy seat of the absent Ark), the whole world is God’s footstool, and Jerusalem is the city of the Great King. [2] Near the start of the Covenant on the Mount, Matthew’s Jesus fittingly discusses the location where a covenant would normally be stored, the Ark and footstool of God. It is plausible that the sort of oath in view here would have especially been a membership oath, which other competing sects had. They were connected to the covenantal terms of Deuteronomy, and could be especially elaborate. [1.33]

These connections fit especially consiliently with our reading if the concept of a covenant in the Ark is in view. The specific moral exhortation that Jesus engages in here also involves an emphasis on being plain, straightforward, and seeing things as they are: elaborate and deceptive oaths are forbidden like elaborate and deceptive idols are forbidden, and instead we are bidden to see and be what we truly are. Implicitly he is also saying that there is no need to carve his words into stone and place them in an Ark: rather, he is revealing that which is inscribed in the very bones of Creation, hidden in the depths of the Earth, the true footstool of YHWH. He is urging us to inscribe this Covenant on the Mount in the depths of our hearts, as the true Icons/Idols of God, and to understand that they were always already beneath our own feet as the rocklike foundation of Creation itself. Through his own lived faithfulness to this Covenant throughout his prototypical Aion, Jesus the very Icon of the living God will ultimately be elevated to that invisible and transcendent divine throne. There he will command the angels himself. That is the climactic moment that Jesus describes here in Matthew 25. He will then explicate it through demonstration and proclamation with what remains of his lifetime in the rest of the Gospel.

In this move from icons to the Real Icon(s) of God’s Creation, we can see the logical outworking of a trajectory that unfolded in Judahite religion over the course of the Temples’ destructions. The tradition of aniconism was intensified and extended: first the idols fell, leaving God to be heard in the midst of the cloud of glory where He rested invisibly above the Ark. Then the Ark was lost or removed. And for Matthew’s Jesus, soon the physical Temple will also be lost. Its lamps darkened, the menorah will be carried off in a Roman triumph, much like the goblets of Solomon’s temple were carried off to Babylon, and much like the Ark was once carried off from Shiloh by the Philistines. And yet the pattern of Hebrew scripture suggests a surprising trajectory: this sort of move promises victory for YHWH, who will conquer them from within even though they believe they have conquered Him. [2.1] Aside from the practical victory for God that is usually implied in these utterly unwise thefts, these losses also consistently lead to a revelatory elevation, a move from a limited and visible manifestation of the divine to an invisible but universal comprehension of God’s presence. Ultimately we come to see God through windows that are open so wide that there’s nothing beyond them and nothing inside. [2.2]

Isn’t there a discontinuity between idols and the Ark and Temple, though? Idols are bad, according to the Torah, but the Ark and Temple are very good. However, the language of “idol” isn’t eliminated from Torah: rather, it is used to describe humanity, all of it male and female. [2.21] Idols aren’t bad. It is bad to mistake manmade objects for the true idols of the true God, the one who crafts and genesises all of Creation. When Genesis 1 describes humans as the “image of God” it is literally saying that we are the true, actually living “idol of God” and so we all bear governing authority, have that exponential life-giving capacity, and can demonstrate God’s presence in imitation of God’s spiritual form. [2.3],[2.35]

Similarly, temples aren’t bad, per se. The language of temples, at the very least, is as indispensable as the language of idols, and language requires some reference point to seem reasonably coherent to us. Idols and temples therefore serve a necessary pedagogical function. And just as we are the true idols of God, a recurring NT theme is that we are also being built into the Temple of God as the High Priests. All symbols of religious authority are drawn together within all human image-bearers and all human lives (aions).

Even while falling short of the ideal, as many of Matthew’s contemporaries frankly recognized it did, the Second Temple gestures toward that ideal. [2.36] Whenever something falls short of a measure, the measure itself is reinforced. Like training wheels, though, perhaps temples also reach their fulfillment in their physical removal. This, at least, is the approach of Matthew’s Jesus.

According to the logic of Matthew 5:35 the Temple, too, is spiritually elevated as it vanishes into the Creation from which it grew, much as the destruction of idols restores our capacity to see all humans as the true bearers of the image of God. Fascinatingly, Jesus is profoundly sorting out the implications of various extensions of traditional Judahite aniconism here, as he exhorts his followers to simply speak honestly, saying and seeing as things are. The ‘aniconism’ of the name of God, treating YHWH as unpronounceable just as God was impossible to depict, was prominent in his context. It arguably created the felt need among Pharisees to swear oaths on something other than the Name of God. [2.4] This aniconism of the Name is presumably what Jesus is responding to here, perceiving a different trajectory in the extension of aniconism: not away from the value of the world, as the Pharisees argued by denigrating oaths sworn on it, but towards an elevation of the value of Creation. That is the theological point at work as Jesus associates Creation even more directly with YHWH, whose very name was beyond auditory representation just as His face was beyond visual representation. For Matthew’s Jesus, aniconism properly understood causes us to perceive the sanctity of all of YHWH’s Creation and carries us through our illusions, especially the bad faith social contract that created a dominant national hierarchy, and into a perception of the majesty that is always already before us.

This sustained extension of aniconism is sometimes carried forward in apophatic spiritual practice as the aniconism of the idea, as we find it in Gregory of Nyssa and other utterly orthodox Christian and Jewish sources. [2.41] There is an apophaticism that elevates and sanctifies our sense of Creation, and an apophaticism that denigrates it. The approach that Jesus takes elevates through dereification, aiming to allow us to see what really is in front of us, by encouraging us to be simple people of integrity. Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics reflects a development of this elevating apophaticism, drawn sharply against its various parodies again.

Critiques of the Temple (including those that held up the Temple ideal, as does Matthew) were more socially marginal before the catastrophe of the Roman war. This spiritual marginality resulted in physical marginalization from the centers of religious power. However, after the great tree of Herod’s Temple fell, the marginal ‘pioneer species’ among Judahite religion filled the spiritual niche that was opened up. [2.45] Judahite religion therefore developed into Christianity and Judaism as we know it: both traditions are the heirs of Judah, and we have generally continued in Judah’s tradition of sectarian conflict for legitimacy ever since. Since then we have been two peoples, and more, woven into a complex and intertwined journey. In many places the Christians eventually gained the political high ground and routinely became brutal, cruel, selfish and unreconciling. Every time it has ever happened, we became covenantally faithless persecutors of our spiritual siblings. We have often not kept the Covenant on the Mount, and this has resulted in us becoming Pharaoh to all kinds of peoples all around the world. Insofar as we have acted this way, Matthew’s Jesus insists that we have built on sand. Insofar as our failures to live up to the Covenant help us understand where we have gone wrong, the canon of the Covenant is upheld even as it is used to judge how we have fallen short of it. If Matthew’s Jesus was right, then all of the shoddy institutions and buildings we have built on violence and greed and the illusions of power will fall in time, and rightly so. Mercy can abound where mercilessness falls.

Against this backdrop, we can see how Matthew’s Jesus can see that the Son of Man is being elevated to the ultimate, invisible throne of judgment and mercy through his death and fall. He is depicted as the legitimate official representative of the Temple and its people, in its own coming fall and rise. Through his own enemy-loving and reconciling death and resurrection, he is rising to his proper location above the spiritual Ark of the Covenant, that throne that rests invisibly (aniconically) over the whole Temple of Creation. The vision of the Son of Man coming to the throne of the Ancient of Days on a cloud (let the reader understand this as a reference to the aniconic theophany of God in the Temple) therefore articulates the idea that he will now invisibly but truly govern the whole universal cosmos, understood as the true Temple itself, through the true idols of God, meaning humanity.

The microcosmos of the vanishing Second Temple with its absent Ark of the Covenant, a place already devoid of a visible throne as Jesus stood there on the Mount of Olives, has revealed the universal scope of God’s justice and mercy. [2.5] While that covenant-containing footstool was absent, a sign of the physical temple’s desecration and subjugation to idolatrous Rome was available for any discerning person to interpret while Jesus was there: there was a Roman eagle. [2.6] Within the prophetic frame of reference and in light of the tradition of Judahite thought, this was already a clear sign that the Second Temple rested on spiritual sand, and so it would physically fall soon enough. The great surprise of Matthew, and of subsequent history, is that Judahite faith would nonetheless rise above Roman faith soon enough.

2 The Signs of Social Scale

Social and political imagery and language play a central role throughout Matthew, and especially here in Matthew 24–25. This invites us to unpack the coherent and explicit language of social scale that is at work in the text. There is also plenty that can be reconstructed as political in Matthew’s Gospel, such as the polemical and sectarian character of the texts which should be noted here. This speaks to the internal, intranational politics of the text. [3.1] Here, though, Matthew’s Jesus deploys the explicit language of politics and social scale, speaking of political entities writ large.

In Matthew 24 we learn that all of the tribes (φυλαί, phylai) will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming to the throne. [3.11] Israel’s twelve tribes provide the paradigmatic illustration of tribes: they are large extended family systems. There are a variety of references to the end of Deuteronomy here, and in this context the language of tribes especially invites us to consider the agonizingly poignant blessings of Moses on the tribes at the end of Deuteronomy. Already there, the national death of the first exile hangs over the tribes as he blesses them, transforming its moments of triumphalism with the irony of lament in a pattern that we can now describe as cruciform. [3.2]

Beyond the tribes there is the national scale that Moses always has in view, especially because his task involves holding together these blessed tribes. The larger national scale involves a social, political, economic, cultural and linguistic community that is able to act as a group agent because of its shared spiritual identity, social structure and communicative system. A shared legal legitimation structure is naturally an integral part of this work: law spiritualizes (generalizes) the various judgments involved in national life that can otherwise become arbitrary and therefore divisive, partial and delegitimating. The name for the social scale that supervenes on tribes that share some common cultural and linguistic heritage is nation (ἔθνος/ethne). [4]

Each nation therefore goes beyond tribal affiliation and alliances to become a spiritual community linked by elements of culture and language. This is still sometimes called “fictive kinship”. However, the language of “fiction” should be avoided for a variety of reasons: it is metaphysically prejudicial, culturally prejudicial, and it laughably implies that biology (or pseudo-biology) is real while language and experience are not. [4.2] The delusional legacy of “race science”, which always participated in its own illusions of concreteness, hangs over the language of fictive kinship. The ties that bind tribes into nations are not fictive at all: nations are communities of language, thought, shared images, shared narratives, shared music and ritual and experience and mutual trust. And so on. These exist and they unite people, creating a spiritual nearness that can easily be closer than blood. None of that is imaginary or fictive at all. Speaking semantically or epistemically, at a minimum, we should say that life (zoe) holds bios (biology), and not the reverse. So why not metaphysically as well?

This is also why we can say that race is simultaneously real and biologically false: it is a real system of oppressive relations built on slander, distrust, ritual, music, narrative, image, thought and language as well. Illusory, to be sure, but not only because it is pseudo-biological. The illusory nature of race is rooted in the fact that it is a comprehensive and imperial betrayal of life itself, not only our biological kinship as humans but also the spiritual and moral kinship that is integral to the genesis of the soul of every image-bearer of God.

It is therefore much more precise, and much less anachronistic and metaphysically presumptuous, to call national kinship spiritual, understanding that spiritual things are conceptual and breathlike and include language, culture, arts, oaths, contracts and covenants as well as shared experiences and networks of meaning and communication. Nations (in general) are precisely what Matthew 25 names and has in view throughout this final pericope, just as he has the nation of Israel, whittled down to Judah, in view in Matthew 24. This all holds despite the fact that “goyim” the equivalent of “ethne” could also serve as a general term for everyone outside of some particular Hebrew-speaking community. However, the genre of apocalyptic literature, including various Dead Seas Scrolls texts, primarily concerns itself with nations as particular group agents. [4.9] Therefore the broader socio-political context and cotext of the passage, its genre, and the use of “αὐτόὐς/autous/each one” by Matthew emphasize that each nation and/or its representative king is in view, each with its own distinct spiritual identity, as a coordinated group agent. [5]

This reading of “autous” is contentious, although my reading is the only one that can withstand honest scrutiny. It is commonly argued that “autous” here represents a sudden shift from national to personal scale. While I accept the significance of the word, its individuating force is not directed here at individual persons, but rather each individual nation in its distinctness as a group agent. We will demonstrate this now:

The argument for a shift to personal scale is essentially that the word “autous” emphasizes distinctness and individuality, and is masculine. Together, this is taken to show that it can’t refer to the neuter word “nations” and must be referring to individual persons instead. On this basis, it is often argued that individuals rather than nations are in view. [5.5]

There are two major flaws to this argument.

First and most importantly, the categories of “individual” and “nation” are absolutely not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the notion that an individual can represent a nation, through social synecdoche, is fundamental to the formation and conceptualization of a nation. [5.51] These normal and ubiquitous patterns of representative government can become especially intensely expressed through the persecution of a leader, one who comes to embody, identify with, and form the identity of a persecuted group, especially in the Second Temple context. [5.52] Individuals and nations overlap through their individual representatives, and this is fundamental to their constitution as group agents in the first place.

Second: autous can simply emphasize the distinctness of whatever it refers to, and need not refer to a person. Additionally, a masculine “autous” could also emphasize each animal in a mixed group of sheep (neuter) and goats (masculine), because the grammatical masculine was used when referring to mixed-gender groups. Almost always, this masculine plural third person accusative pronoun is simply translated as “them”. [5.6]

In other words, the argument is really very weak when it comes to the flesh of the text. Far more significantly, it is deeply spiritually confused, because it depends on a fundamentally flawed false dichotomy that sees group agents and their representative individuals as mutually exclusive.

To illustrate how badly this false dichotomization of “individual” and “nation” misconstrues nations, let’s temporarily grant that “autous” refers to masculine individual persons, for the sake of argument. To be clear, this isn’t being granted because the claim is actually warranted, but because it helps us illustrate the far more important and fundamental conceptual issue. The representatives of the nations, understood as the leaders of their households, are in view throughout Matthew. They are especially in view from Matthew 24–28 and in the parables that immediately precede the judgment scene here. Through these representatives, we experience the nation as an effective group agent that is capable of acting at socially relevant scale. Also recall that in Daniel 7 we also find the language of “kingdom” which is very similar to “king” in Aramaic. This similarity causes some confusion, and also speaks to the social synecdoche at the heart of all governance: when a legitimate king speaks, the kingdom speaks, because the king represents the kingdom. [6]

There is an established symbolic vocabulary in Daniel that can, at times, more explicitly express the relationship between kings and their nations: nations are portrayed as animals, and kings or dynasties can be particular horns that grow from them. Consider Daniel 8. The image of a horn nicely captures the way kings wield the violent power of the nation, and these horns routinely sprout and grow, as do dynastic family trees. Nonetheless, although this distinction is available it is also elided in Daniel 8 at various points: the Greek goat is identified with the first king himself, even as the horn represents the first king and then divides into the later dynasties. [7] This natural elision between individuals, dynasties, officials and nations is not really a mistake: all of it speaks to the nature of supervenience and social synecdoche. Social groups cannot exist unless their representatives can simultaneously be individuals and the manifestation of the larger groups. The ruler of an ancient Empire simultaneously represented himself, his family, his tribe, his nation and his empire, and this is precisely why he was the ruler of these bodies. (And yes, the ruler could also be a woman. But I have pointedly followed the Greek convention and used the masculine pronoun when talking about a mixed group.)

The same logic of embodied representation is also explicitly present in the judgment of the sheep and goats, because Jesus makes it clear that the Son of Man also has his own representatives. However, Matthew’s Jesus does not leave a single man to represent his nation, nor does he have a variety of officials. Rather, his reign is represented in the many poor, non-violent, reconciling messengers who imitate his own pattern of life. Matthew’s Jesus subverts kingly patterns by rejecting violence categorically, although he is The King, and by expanding his family through baptismal adoption, all without siring a biological dynasty. [7.6] However, he is still a king: he, too, generates a social agent in history, and it also needs its own representatives. It is represented by the faithfully prophetic little ones.

Sometimes people try to act as if this is all very strange. In a way it is, but it is also familiar. To really internalize how utterly familiar it is we should pause, take a deep breath, and notice that we still think and talk about politics in just this way today. Nations are frequently represented by animals in apocalyptic literature, and we still do the same: the US is an eagle, Russia is a bear, and so on. We also naturally and unproblematically elide between Russia (or any other nation) and its “King”. For example, what does it mean if I tell you that Putin invaded Ukraine? Only a very incompetent reader would think that this necessarily or even probably meant that Vladimir Putin personally set foot in Ukraine. When we talk about Putin operating in his official capacity, we actually mean Russia through Putin. That doesn’t exclude Putin, but it includes him only as a part of the group agent, specifically its “head”. (Or if we’re familiar with apocalyptic literature, we might also say that he is its horn.) In other words, Russia invaded Ukraine because its effective military representative decided it would, and if its representatives (at all of the many social scales down to soldier) hadn’t spoken and acted in a certain way, the whole nation would not have invaded Ukraine. To be clear, this also doesn’t mean that each individual Russian participated in the invasion or supported it. Rather, it means that the group agent effectively mobilized and acted at international social scale. Like a river moving clearly (as a whole) in a particular direction, the occasional eddy or backflow doesn’t change the general direction. So when Russia acts, it definitely does not mean that each individual Russian acts, but still Russia is acting in a particular way as a whole, as a coordinated group agent. Contrary to the occasional and doomed effort at feigning surprise, we all know what it means to live in a world ruled by giant, vicious, cruel monsters that stumble around and crush people in their maws. Horrifically, the beasts do persist for a time. The notion that we have gotten past them is just an illusion, one that brings the cold comfort of denial.

To help us see how easily we can use and apply the apocalyptic mode of commentary on politics, consider how we might tell the story of the Ukrainian war so far:

And then I saw a great ragged and hungry bear with a single mighty horn. It slouched across the steppes, breathing out stinking hot gas to the West. Then the monster began to shout slander and blasphemy against the children of the golden plains who live beneath the great blue sky. Soon the bear went charging into the lovely fields, roaring “You are nothing and I will make you nothing.” But then the sky was darkened by an enormous cloud of nightingales whose song drowned out the slander of the bear. They began to dive on it from every side, falling like lightning from great distances. Bloodied by a thousand beaks, the beast fled, and yet its horn was strengthened. It would not be uprooted for a time.

At points, the narrative above is pretty painfully on the nose. But imagine if you didn’t know about crucial details like the design of the Ukrainian flag, how it relates to its flat agricultural landscape, that its national bird is the nightingale, and that its military is more decentralized (like a flock of birds) than the lumbering centralized control structure of Russia’s. These details could easily seem highly cryptic or purely extraneous, and the dense but really unsubtle weaving of images and references would be missed. We could also imagine people debating whether the nightingale was chosen simply because it was the national bird of Ukraine, or if the issue was about divergent military structures. In reality, images are freely combined and they really begin to work best, as literature, when there are many points of overlap and connection in meaning. So we are generally less likely to be correct about two guesses than one, in a bare probabilistic sense. But we also have good reason to think that insofar as Matthew 25 is excellent literature, the images are powerfully multivalent. The best answers also entail more exegetical risk, and so the only answers that could be right, if the text is excellent, require a certain boldness of us. If we are too cautious, we can’t be right, so we are compelled by the problem of the literature to cast our bread on the water, just like we are compelled by the problem of life. (It is worthwhile to ponder Ecclesiastes 11).

The illustration above helps us answer one more argument that is sometimes made in favor of the view that the sheep and goats must be individuals and not nations. Some argue that because the sheep and goats are shown to speak in the text, the text must work at a personal scale, rather than a national one, at that point. This argument proceeds from the same false dichotomy between individuals and nations that has caused our other fundamental confusions. One more time with feeling: nations are agents and they are portrayed and understood consistently as agents in both ancient and contemporary contexts. They are seen as agents by political scientists today. Did you conclude that I wasn’t talking about Russia anymore when I mentioned that the bear spoke slander? Hopefully not. The point was that Russia’s various representatives have officially been speaking slander, led by their Slanderer in Chief, but also including his imitators throughout the social structure. Public speech communicates the rationale behind the actions of the nation, and breathing out words is an indispensable coordinating mechanism for the spiritual entity of the nation, enabling it to act at national scale. Essentially no discussion of distinct nations is possible unless we discuss them as agents with representatives who are communicating, and these acts of communication enable internal mobilization and external interactions. So of course nations speak. [10],[11],[12]

Once we are thinking clearly about the nature of this language and how intuitively it works, other points also become clearer. For example, Daniel 8 dramatizes a conflict between the good sheep of Medo-Persia (a ram), and the bad goat of Alexander’s Greek Empire. In the absence of chapter divisions in either Daniel or Matthew, both texts naturally, logically, and quite coherently proceed from the imagery and concepts of Daniel 7/Matthew 24 into the imagery of Daniel 8/Matthew 25. This narrative provides a clear reference point for Matthew 25’s judgment of all the good sheep and the bad goats, now unfolding in the wake of his death and resurrection. The connection is much more transparent and plain (at a textual level) than my discussion of Ukrainian imagery: while I draw from various places for my Ukraine narrative, Matthew only needs a small, contiguous part of the scroll of Daniel. What’s more, the book of Daniel goes to great lengths to explicitly help readers understand and properly interpret its language of symbolic images, and Matthew urges us to “let the reader understand”. This indicates that the authors of both Daniel and Matthew were aware of how difficult it could be for less competent readers to join in the play of this symbolic vocabulary, and were eager to instruct those who were willing to learn. The logic of Daniel 8 and Matthew 25 closely map at a deep conceptual level as well: the good horned sheep of Babylon helped the people of Judah rebuild the Second Temple, the very one that Jesus was standing near. However, the bad goat of Greece had violated and desecrated that very Temple through the “horn” of Antiochus Epiphanes. The good nations bless the temple-people of Jesus, but the bad nations do not. Antiochus provides the anti-Christ template which also surfaces repeatedly in the New Testament, where it is consistently in close contact with the image of the Son of Man riding (to the Ancient of Days) on clouds. The connections are extensive and tight enough that we might best resolve the debates on the genre of Matthew 24–25 by categorizing it as a midrash on Daniel 7–8. Daniel 4–8 is also present in the extended frame of reference, based on the various other touchpoints we have traced here. [13], [14]

Importantly, the world of Matthew and of Daniel had been transformed by supra-national social entities that we call empires today. Empires didn’t just combine tribes that shared a substantial spiritual (socio-linguistic) connection, as with Israel and other nations. Rather, they bound together a wider range of national “animals” into new composite entities. The Greek Empire paired its conquests with the forceful propagation of Greek language and culture, by way of its gymnasia and its theaters where the hypocrites performed. [15], [15.1] This sort of amalgamation could be visually represented by beings like a leopard combined with the wings of two birds, or a four-headed beast. Of course, none of this involves a strictly reified 1:1 visionary language. For example the goat with four horns from Daniel 8 can also be easily reinterpreted as the fourth beast in another sense, especially because it is the same Greek-speaking Empire. The literature of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch provides Second Temple examples of a straightforward association of Rome with the fourth beast within the schema, now with the Greco-Roman empire represented as an eagle. [16] Consider, as well, that Egypt had long represented its own union of North and South by combining images of the cobra and vulture. The cobra represented the fertile Northern lowlands where they were found, and the vulture represented the mountainous lands to the South where they were found. [17] We see an especially famous example of this combination of the cobra and vulture here on one of the outer coffins of King Tutankhamun:

The composition of national, tribal and regional images and gods into synthetic wholes through representation expressed, and therefore also partially constituted, the work of forging larger social bodies.

Still, it isn’t as if larger scale composite bodies cease to hold nations, tribes or individuals because they are larger. Biological scale doesn’t stop at the individual person, either. People must hold organs, cells, organelles, mitochondria, and so on, or else they aren’t people at all. To speak of my kidney, for example, is to speak of me unless it has been removed; it would make little sense to say that we are talking about my kidney, but are definitely not talking about me. All of life, and by extension all known lifetimes, have this same capacity for hierarchies of inclusion, synthesis and wholeness across scales. So by analogy, consider that empires were the tax farms of some particular ethnic dynasty (from some particular tribe), regularly led by some particular individual. The Greek Empire was Greek, for example, but it was also Alexander III of Macedon, at least until Alexander’s early death, when it came to supervene on other rulers. The throne, or seat of power, can persist even as others come to sit on it: the Queen is dead, long live the King. There is an abundance of ancient language that demonstrates this capacity to understand, live within, communicate and act based on the intricacies of these nested social hierarchies. The ability to experience, think and communicate in terms of wholes and their representative is absolutely indispensable for creating the types of social organization that Matthew, Daniel and all other competent political actors had (and have) in view. Organisms that can’t comprehend this sort of nested hierarchy, a way of thinking and being that also finds expression in all kinds of myths and in detailed metaphysical speculation like Plato’s, can’t create churches, clubs, tribes, nations or empires. The existence of these entities depends on our capacity to communicatively and viscerally inhabit them, because they are a kind of spiritual superorganism. Because of the selfishness of our natural group psychology, they are regularly bound together by the same forces that blind them: our groups naturally have an innate capacity to pursue group interests, if narrowly and hypocritically. [18] This is also why it is a mercy that the nations find themselves East of Eden, forbidden the endless life (and endless capacity to dominate human souls) that they crave. [18.1]

Finally, we should notice that in Matthew 24–25 we find a range of symbols and language that might seem to fit strangely together: falling stars, angels, a king who is his faithful subjects, talking animals, tribes, a throne among the clouds, and nations. As we have shown here, there is a simple and profound continuity that binds this otherwise bizarre grab bag of motifs and images together: every single one of them were ways of talking about spiritual group agents, especially nations.

So in trying to understand what is happening with the language here, the best answer is that the strange elision between sheep, goats and “each” is just what we should expect to find when we think about social agents, especially when discussing their capacity to act through their effective representatives, such as kings.

3 Application

Now let’s apply this to our texts in more detail.

The imagery of Daniel that Matthew takes up here specifically addresses the international beasts of Empire, in and through the activity of the Jewish (and arguably especially Judahite) community that Matthew’s Jesus primarily addresses. This recognition of a movement from local communities through social scale also helps us understand that Matthew’s Jesus is a distinctly Judahite figure working immanently, but out into the world in a universalizing way. [18.5] The Ancient of Days first overcomes the ultimate conglomerate Empire, the fourth beast, and then elevates the Son of Man to a position of power and authority over all of the nations and empires. Still, these other beasts are said to persist for a time: the fourth beastly Empire is certainly not ultimate temporally, but in its significance for the nation of Judah and its divine historical mission. The vision anticipates another international reign that inverts Empire’s beastly character: the Son of Man is human, not monstrous. However, it does ultimately take up Empire’s transnational character. Matthew and Daniel are therefore interested in the creation of an anti-Empire, one that can supervene on all of the empires (the conglomerate beasts), all of the nations (the spiritual-linguistic communities that the beasts try to supervene on violently), and all of the tribes (the extended family systems that provide sub-units of nations).

What makes the reign of Matthew’s Jesus an anti-Empire, and not just another Empire? The fact that it only conquers through enemy love, rather than violence: as Matthew reveals, Jesus and the Ancient of Days choose the cross as their anti-empire’s sword, the word truly spoken as their bread, and resurrection life as the anti-empire’s vindication and source of authority. In this way, Matthew’s Jesus draws on the imagery of Daniel to answer the problem of violence at the heart of governance, especially international governance. Yes, the violent empires persist for a time, but now there is also a fundamentally non-violent nation on the stage of history. That nation is Israel, resurrected in and through her Messiah.

All of the textual evidence here, taken on its own terms and in its context, either indicates or is fully compatible with a political discourse about an event in the middle of history. It is bizarre that this is not the consensus view in scholarship, just like it is bizarre that we act as if we can’t understand the idea of an individual king representing a national kingdom. More precisely, our claim is this: Matthew 23–28 and Daniel 7–8 address spiritual realities (including socio-economic-political-cultural-linguistic realities) that structure the history of nations, from the resurrection on out. This reading elegantly and consiliently accounts for everything in the text and in the texts it references, including the judgment of Judah in the middle of history, the ironically cruciform elevation of Jesus over the fourth beast while the others explicitly remain, the ‘conflation’ of individuals and the groups they represent, Matthew’s focus on international missionary activity from a Judahite (and then Jewish) base, our difficulties with the timing of the text, and Matthew’s general structuring themes of intergenerational governance and extended family. And we get all of this by simply “letting the reader understand” the kind of explicit interpretations that Daniel offers for these visions. This isn’t about throwing anyone in Ben-hinnom forever: as with the imagery that surrounds right hands being cut off and thrown into Ben-hinnom, it is about God destroying the little hells that Empire creates for us all the time, often through our collusion with it. [19]

In contrast, if we read Matthew 24–25 as a chronologically final judgment focused on each individual soul, it creates a lot of interpretive problems of the sort that indicate we have missed something basic. So there is a grammatical basis to suggest that “autous” can refer to individual persons as opposed to nations. But the case is ambiguous, and the broader context consistently points toward national judgment. So is the word “autous” really able to overturn the plain direction of everything else in the text? If it is, then the text starts by using stock national scale imagery like that in Daniel 8 and Enoch, in the context of a discussion about judgment on the nation of Judah in the midst of history, all while carefully withholding the crucial phrase “synteleia of the aion” until the very end of Matthew 28. These sorts of judgments in the midst of history are also the general norm for the Hebrew prophetic tradition. Who could be surprised if this was also a judgment in history, just like previous judgments on Shiloh and Gibeah and even Jerusalem and its Temple? Also recall that all of this comes right after parables about householders that were understood to speak as the governing representatives of group agents. Thinking that the word “autous” can reverse the text’s direction is like imagining that a wave’s trough could turn back the tide: failing to understand social supervenience, these interpreters also fail to understand literary supervenience.

More problems follow from this reading as well, especially with respect to the blindness of the nations and the identity of the little ones in the narrative that follows. We will discuss that in more depth soon.

So we conclude with true commentary certainty (this is the form of certainty expressed in commentaries, let the reader understand). The only warranted reading is that the judgment of all nations, as group agents, is in view. The text is either talking about each sheep and each goat (each nation) as distinct from others, or it is referring to the keepers of the various national houses (kings/priests/etc). Or better yet, it is talking about both at the same time in the normal mode of governmental representation.

The case is so overwhelming that we are warranted in looking beyond the work of explaining the text, and need to make sense of how the text has been mis-explained by so many of its commentators. This is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Ultimately, the failure to see the politics here is political, because binding blindness is the nature of politics. How does this work? At a minimum there are matters of politics with a small “p”: my point isn’t commonly made in the contemporary elite commentary tradition because it isn’t commonly made, and it is difficult to question a widespread view. The more common view has a variety of motives behind it, some more noble than others, but the result is that a coalition of interests forms around a certain reading. Here, that coalition includes the following interests: defending traditional confessionalism, emphasizing personal morality, discomfort with ideas of collective punishment, institutional interests in obscuring institutional sins like child rape and slavery, concerns with Christian nationalism paired with the belief that the separation of church and state is a good answer to it, concerns with supersessionism and more.

I share the many legitimate concerns among these. I also think that we need to be far more concerned about the ways in which radical individualism obscures collective responsibilities, especially when it comes to institutional sins like slavery, white supremacy, and the systematic enabling of clerical rapists. Because the motives behind the misreading involve a political coalition, the promotion of a textually-justifiable reading ultimately includes (but is not reducible to) the work of discursively building a political coalition as well.

So let’s touch on the interests of various parties to this interpretive coalition directly. Concerns about supersessionism and Christian nationalism are especially close to my heart, and here I think the shoe ends up on the other foot: in reality, the reading on offer here is a powerful antidote to Christian nationalism and anti-semitism, because it insistently fills in the proper relationship between church and nation with an appreciation of the authentic Hebrew prophetic tradition. Maybe even more to the point, a lot of the church’s political and ecclesial tradition has, predictably enough, been interested in obscuring sharp critiques of ecclesial and political institutions. With the imagery here, Matthew’s Jesus reveals that his disciples are the prophetic measure of the blind and beastly nations and empires. This naturally includes the church whenever it moves to protect systems of abuse. The little ones’ solidarity with the poor and their commitment to the work of reconciliation shows the cruelty and futility of Empire for what it is, whether here in the secular world, or still deeper in here, in the church. Mainly, the errant tradition has obscured this capacity for self-critique at social scale by forcing the text’s explicit time frame from “ongoing, through to the synthesis of all life” to “only ultimate” and by replacing its explicitly national scale of judgment with “individual”. The pattern precisely mirrors a common way that the trenchant critique of institutions is derailed: when we go to remove the planks from our groups’ eyes, people are routinely told to only focus on their own personal piety and personal sin. Isn’t it awfully arrogant to act like Jesus? (Hold up. Doesn’t Jesus tell us that a student will be like their teacher?)

And besides, God will sort it all out in the end. In this way, hypocrisy at the group scale is defended by shifting blame and guilt onto the individuals who critique our shared, systemic, institutional problems. Of course, personal scale plank removal is also good, and is held within critiques at group scales. To speak at larger scales is not to exclude personal application; rather, it is to include application at any lower scale. Despite the long history of confusion here it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to point out that the text says nations, and that the cotext and context referenced is all about nations as group agents. Brilliance isn’t needed. Just a measure of earnest simplicity. Innocence pierces the nakedness that the obscurantism of Empire produces through group pressure, blame shifting, and threats of torture.

In situations like this it only takes one innocent fool, unconcerned with reputation, to burst the bubble. The Emperor really is naked after all. Still, as Jesus shows us, the reality is much messier than the fairytale. Yes, the power of the spell is broken when someone stands up and says what is clearly the case. But what does Empire do when someone dares to point out its nakedness, manifest in its emperor’s nakedness? It ignores the silly child. Or it tries to kill them if that doesn’t work. However that goes, what really matters is that the nation (or the sectarian group that sees itself as the embodiment of the nation) must find a way to get back to insisting on the beauty of the Emperor’s absent clothing, which is Empire’s own illusion of beauty. Nonetheless, through the witness of truth tellers, Empire’s spiritual power and dominion is broken, because when naked coercion is shorn of its illusions it becomes fundamentally fragile in a new way. And here the reading and the text truly meet. The beasts are allowed to carry on for a time, but their spiritual power has been fundamentally broken at the deepest (and highest) spiritual level by the true Word.

(b’) 24:34–45: Danielic judgment of the nations, dividing the sheep and goats

34 τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ· Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου. 35 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με, 36 γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με. 37 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες· Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; 38 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν; 39 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς· Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφʼ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 41 τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων· Πορεύεσθε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ. 42 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 43 ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ οὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 44 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶ λέγοντες· Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα ἢ διψῶντα ἢ ξένον ἢ γυμνὸν ἢ ἀσθενῆ ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι; 45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων· Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφʼ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.


Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

4 Summary

Jesus judges the nations by the standard of his little ones

Now that the the angels are all together with Jesus, presumably because they have gathered people from the four corners into a sacred assembly, the nations are judged based on their treatment of the poor and marginalized. [19] The intense pain and vulnerability of extreme poverty is powerfully named with the details that follow. The language will evoke a bodily sense of solidarity from anyone who lets it. Think about how it feels to be starving to death, dying of thirst, exposed and naked, humiliated and abused and cold. Think of how it feels to have the life ebb from you as a cruel disease overtakes you, left to die alone.

Think of the moral and physical rage that would well up in you if an unjust prison system, like ours here in the United States, tortured you in solitary confinement or left you locked behind bars for a crime that was no crime at all. [19.1] Then, as now, the beasts treat the image-bearers of God like beasts in a desperate attempt to preserve their own fragile legitimacy. If the remaining beasts can’t be human, at least they can try to drag some humans down to their level. Let the pain of poverty and marginality and injustice, reigning in power, really sink in.

If you’re really feeling that, at least on some level, then the encouraging message isn’t hard to hear: the powers and principalities that have perpetuated these evils will be thrown down and defeated. And those that work to address these problems, or at least those that abide in solidarity with those at the margins, will endure. How? One essential component is the covenant faithfulness of the community of prophet-priest-kings who abide by the Covenant on the Mount, the law that their King and Priest and Judge and Prophet, their Lawgiver, has proclaimed. Their witness to the Covenant on the Mount, both lived and spoken, is the measure of the nations. At the same time, the covenant faithfulness of the Lawgiver is also essential: that is what fulfills the terms of the covenant, as we see them enforced here. The text isn’t claiming that these marginalized messengers are right, but they have to learn to live with the fact that nice guys finish last. Rather, it is claiming that they are right, and so they will be vindicated in time because God is good. They will be vindicated aionically, which means they will be vindicated again and again through the generations and in the end, because God is a just judge. Those who build Temple-nations filled with the divine Breath of these teachings build on rock, and so their national lives (and congregational lives) will endure aionically. Those who do not do this build on sand. The just judgment that characterizes all lifetimes will be their painful correction as their temples and nations fall.

In another world, our comments could remain this simple and be done. Or we might turn immediately to a reflection on how this relates to the timing of death at various scales, including personal, national and universally cosmic. More on that in the end.

But there are common confusions to address first, even in the academic work on this. Is it possible that I’m right about some things that lots of people have gotten wrong? Yes. We are learning new things every day, and there is hardly unanimity in the commentary tradition. This means that at least some experts must be badly wrong, according to the experts. Besides, have you heard the one about the sun being the center of our solar system? As with the Copernican Revolution, the past will be both heaved up and upheld in what I have to say, even if the particular synthesis seems shockingly new to some in its own uplifting way.

5 Reading the text and its history of reading

Here, we will synthesize our highly consilient response to the problems of surprise, moral universality, and historical particularity that mark out many contemporary discussions. Then we will situate this reading in the history of the text’s interpretation. Our exegetical puzzle can be summarized with two questions:

First, why are all of the sheep and goats surprised?

Second, are the little ones here the followers of Jesus, in particular, or is the text universally concerned with the poor and marginalized?

Here are the best answers:

First: the sheep and goats are all surprised because they are the blind archons of the nations, not individuals. Soon Matthew will show us what the blindness of nations produces. The bewildered archon of Roman Judah, under the influence of the Edomite Herod and his Shiloh-like priests, will put the Davidic Messiah to death. As we have seen throughout Matthew, the government’s official representatives and their legitimators will question him and insult him, and in this way the nation does as well. They will not understand the non-violent and absolute power of the One who has visited Jerusalem. And so they will live by the sword and die by the sword, even as the Son of Man swordlessly dies by their swords but lives. (Matthew 26:52–67). As Jesus says when the blind archon commands him, under oath, to disclose if he is the Messiah:

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Here, when asked to violate the Covenant on the Mount by swearing an oath, Jesus insists on simply bearing witness to what is actually happening. [19.4] He is covenantally faithful in his insistence on loving his enemies, even to his death. He is also faithful in the apparently smaller matter of refusing to swear an oath here on Earth, the world that he understands as the footstool of God. This contrasts with the blindness of the powers and their systems of social control. This is the prototype of all falling Empire. This is the fate of blinded Pharaoh wherever he reigns, opting for his own destruction as God passes over his “first born” god-sons. This recognition of Pharaoh within is hardly novel: we already saw device at work with Eli and his sons at Shiloh, to consider another prototype. [20]

The implication of any competent reading cannot be that the Jews are bad. Rather, it is that this also happens to us whenever we allow Pharaoh to spiritually overtake our own social bodies. The nature of national systems of power and control are always blinding them to the more fundamental truths of the Covenant on the Mount, because their power is maintained through violence and coercion rather than reconciliation and truth. Real stability in governance rests in the capacity for enemy love, solidarity with the poor and the work of repentance and reconciliation, not in the power of violence that blinds its wielders and leads them, in their hubris, to their own fall in time. [21]

Second: the little ones are the followers of Jesus in particular, but as such they are the particular, prophetic, historical representatives of all the poor. They make God’s everlasting standards of mercy and justice utterly explicit and plain at socially relevant scale, in word and deed. In this way the ethical and historical implications of the text are universal, and speak to universal truths from which the entire life of the universal cosmos arises. However, it also speaks to the historical mission of the followers of Jesus in particular. The text is therefore not only universal in its implications, but also universalizing: it has a plan, a strategy, to carry us through the generations, up the scales of social organization, and to the goal of the universe. It reveals how God’s universal standards of justice and mercy will be demonstrated and announced to all of the nations, and then enforced by God, the God of Generations. Empowered as representatives of Jesus, his priestly and prophetic people will bring justice to the blind and cruel archons that have tried to usurp God’s rightful reign over the universal cosmos. [22] Wherever they are faithfully drawn together in the eucharistic Temple, Jesus is at least provisionally present, proclaiming just judgment on every power and principality.

This reading is novel and shocking to some, which can lead to the false sense that it is novel. To help minimize defensive responses, I’ll situate our reading in its historical context and in the history of interpretation in a bit more depth. We will find plenty of precedent and warrant for the various parts of it, and we will see how this reading beautifully upholds and lifts up various traditions of interpretation.

A crucial point that is shared throughout the broadest witness of the tradition is that the text should be used to exhort us, as the church, to practically care for the poor, in solidarity with them. In what follows here, I primarily draw on the excellent discussion of the history of this passage that is offered by Ulrich Luz in his Matthew commentary. [23]

There is a bitter and particularly schismatic stream of the modern church that deviates from this nearly universal focus on moral exhortation. They do this by introducing a false dichotomy between the Gospel and the covenant faithfulness of the Messiah and his representatives, which they classify as “works” rather than faith. These readers then argue that only those outside the church are being judged in the scene here, and that the point of the passage therefore has nothing to do with caring for the poor in general. Instead, it is supposed to just be about the reception of ‘the Gospel’, by which they generally mean the adoption of some schismatic doctrine. For all of this reading’s fundamental confusions and its basic incompatibility with the text, this exclusivist stream also emphasizes something important in the text and the tradition. It at least has a narrow exegetical point in its favor: there are good reasons to think that the ‘little ones’ who Jesus has in view really are those who faithfully imitate his own way of life as his disciples, especially when they face the inevitable persecution that comes when they prophetically confront the powers. This exegetical point is especially important to make in the face of equally novel universal modern exegesis, which regularly misses the importance of the transnational mission that is a central concern for Matthew’s Jesus. Classical readings, like those advocated by Luz and myself, hold crucial elements of this deadly bisection together. They are morally inclusive in two senses: they enjoin general moral behavior towards all the poor, and they understand that living in solidarity with God’s poor and God’s messengers is a manifestation of faith, rather than a “work of the law”. At the same time, they also see that the little siblings are understood to be the baptismal brothers and sisters of Jesus, especially in their missional faithfulness to the Covenant on the Mount. Matthew’s Jesus envisions a universalizing mission rooted in unveiling (in word and deed) the universal truth of the Covenant on the Mount, which is embedded in the very bones of the world, the true Ark of the Covenant.

The broad outline of this classical synthesis is widely accepted in current leading commentaries. Our reading makes it more soulful, in the sense that it reads the text as a whole, in the sense that it draws on historical scholarship to show how it is embedded in the world of Second Temple Judah. This soufulness, in turn, facilitates a level of explicit social reflexivity, a reflection on the social location of authors and readers, that is sometimes only implicitly present in the tradition. Specifically, patristic authors routinely apply the teaching to themselves and their followers appropriately, like leaders who understand that leading their people in faithfulness to the Covenant on the Mount is what will enable them to endure. This demonstrates appropriate comprehension and application of the text, in their context as leaders of their baptismal ‘nations’, the various churches. They don’t have to explicitly tell their readers about their process of reading the text from their social location as leaders of the spiritual household of the church, and then describe how they then apply it to the group through their own leadership by demonstration and proclamation. That is a strange level of reflexivity for normal applied moral teaching, and it has a certain contemporary flavor. It is enough that patristic interpreters consistently read the householder parables explicitly in this way, and then apply this text in a way that accords with my own explicit socio-historical explication of the text. As leaders, they exhort their followers to behave as moral group agents, and so they demonstrate that they have understood and applied the text in a way that is basically appropriate.

On closer inspection it becomes apparent that our reading is not novel in its parts, but only in how much contemporary scholarship really requires us to reflect on Matthew’s soul and our own. This is how historical reconstruction, a contemporary phenomenon, fills in and reinforces the meaning that merely spiritual allegorical readings once preserved in sketchy outline. Soulful reading is both fleshy and spiritual, integrating the two by seeing how the parable referred first to its context, and through its context to all of the contexts. To get to this point in exegetical history, we have needed a great deal of historical scholarship to more plausibly reconstruct the order (cosmos) that Rome so brutally destroyed: the attempted Roman genocide did cause a real severing in our tradition. Over the last 2,000 years we have patched together enough to carry on and launch the largest movement in human history, but we have lost something of our soul along the way. Today we can pull various traditions of interpretation together into a greater whole than the patristic authors could, and I think we urgently need to do this. The moral-spiritual applications that marked patristic exhortations based on the text are reinforced in the process of recovery and growing reflexivity. In this way, our appreciation of the text deepens and changes, but the past isn’t lost, even as knowledge (like life) expands exponentially.

This is just what we should look for if we view the text as Christian scripture: a synteleia not only of the text itself, but of all the scattered seeds of real understanding that it has spread through the hearts and minds of faithful readers in time and space. As with the Didache’s joyful eucharistic prayer, the hope is that the bread, that ground and fired seed, might all be gathered from the four corners by the inspired messengers of God, the unfallen angels. [24] What if they really can draw us in and bind us tight so that we can all, at last, be a united witness to the blind archons, here in our rags of light? We anticipate this fulfillment already, in part, whenever we properly participate in communion.

Now let’s return to our second point to really synthesize it. What does it mean for the text to be morally universal in its import, while also appreciating the particular historical agents who carry the work forward intergenerationally? Jesus, here, is not merely saying that it would sure be nice if everyone cared for the poor. He also isn’t expounding a novel moral standard and leaving it at that, although the purity and simplicity of his non-violent vision remains an enduringly powerful moral challenge to us today. He is also not merely enjoining his followers to live in joyful solidarity with the poor, although this kind of rational-moral exhortation is certainly one of the text’s chief effects. Rather, he is articulating the deepest moral structure of the universal cosmos, a moral structure that has real historical explanatory power because it reflects God’s fundamental plan for the work of art that is the created order. The work is still in the process of being completed, and this process is what we call history. He is telling us how God has always meant for things to work, which is how things will ultimately work out as God works all things to good for those who love him. However, as a properly teleological end this is not something that only occurs in the final moment: it is, rather, the logic that underlies the unfolding process of creation that we know as time through our lifetimes. Those who follow his way of life become the chief agents of history as the agents of God’s Kingdom.

We might also draw on the regularly noted resonances between this text and the close of Deuteronomy. [25] That close of Deuteronomy transparently has national life or death in view, and this plays a central role in structuring the prophetic literature and the historical narrative structure of both Hebrew and Greek parts of the Bible. Matthew’s Jesus is essentially universalizing this sort of Mosaic message, but now on the basis of the Covenant on the Mount. He is saying that all the nations face a choice. There is a way of life and a way of death that applies to all of them. Through the Messiah’s own prophetic reign among the faithful of his people, its general form is being revealed: the way of life involves caring for the marginalized and suffering and poor, like them. The way of death involves exploiting and murdering them and shoving them aside in prisons, especially when they raise their prophetic voices. Those that choose the way of death will die. Those that choose the way of life will live from generation to generation, enduring as a result of their faithful perseverance.

As the representative of Judah in its final hours as a military power, Jesus accords with Moses and then amplifies the claim: he is saying that those powers who choose to be faithless with respect to the universal principles of divine justice will face the same fate that Judah faced. In the end, Israel is neither better nor worse than any other nation. However, it is the prototypical first among nations in how it manifests the pattern of history which reflects the severe mercy of divine justice: those nations that show mercy will be shown mercy so that mercy spreads and abounds. Those that do not show mercy will not be shown mercy so that mercy spreads and abounds, growing even over the graves of all the fallen Pharaohs. Even, and especially, our own fallen Pharaohs within. And by extension, this focus on immanent critique unto death can also extend from the critique of our own nations, before we critique others, to our own individual lives, where the wise focus on plank removal as well. Plank removal is the order of the day at every social scale.

In this way, the herald-canvasser-prophets who Jesus has been equipping throughout Matthew become the measure of the nations, but only insofar as they actually imitate his cruciform pattern of life. Otherwise, they will be false prophets, not true ones. In this, Matthew’s little ones, like Jesus, take up the familiar pattern of life that marks the faithful prophet: it is marked by the strange privilege of suffering, followed by ultimate vindication.

This encouraging word might tempt us into a triumphalist reading of history at this point. This is a serious risk, but any remotely consilient reading of the text nips in the bud. The attentive reader will smother triumphalism in its cradle, like the first children of vice are killed off in a Passover-eucharist properly observed. [26.5] So to be perfectly clear: Matthew’s Jesus cannot be saying that those nations that have prospered, or are prospering at the moment, are therefore merciful and that they are being rewarded for this. He is also not saying the opposite, that those nations that are poor or that are destroyed are therefore merciless, and that they have all been punished for it. At the most basic level, this sort of reading fails to appreciate the long temporal scale that God works on. Applied in this way, the message echoes the faithless friends of Job but not the beautiful counterpoint the plays out across the corpus of Biblical wisdom literature. Any coherent reading of Hebrew or Christian scripture must loudly say “no” to a worldly prosperity gospel. Beyond the basic advice that we need to let things play out in time, we also can’t forget that Jesus is about to be destroyed as the representative of Judah which is about to be destroyed. Jesus is poor and marginal, and those who imitate him approach the nations from the margins as well. In fact, the whole point is precisely that the poor are the measure of the powerful, not the reverse. The ultimate assurance and warning that is being proclaimed here is not that apparent worldly success, measured in standard worldly ways, reflects God’s judgment. Rather, it is that the faithful will be marginal in each generation, but they will also be vindicated in the fullness of time, including intergenerationally. I’m reminded, for example, of how the heirs of the Confederacy today renounce their heritage even as they defend it: their ancestors live in ignominy as their system of white supremacy is being slowly, agonizingly slowly, dismantled. Even as many continue to try to sow into the shame of that evil history, they also betray it with their words even as they betray they loyalties to it with their actions. So again: we can’t ever forget that Jesus never had much material wealth or success in his own flesh, and neither do his little ones. But his nation of two billion baptized, limping along faithfully in places and faithlessly in others, remains the most significant reign in human history. This is no Roman triumph. It is, in those achingly beautiful, painfully overexposed words, a cold and broken hallelujah.

So if the text is read as if it is part of Matthew, it is saying that there is a structuring pattern to the good life, including good national life, that is cruciform. Because the life of Jesus is the Aion whose structure is the prototype for all life and the most authentic image-bearing, the cruciform life also leads to resurrection in history. In this way, in particular, God is present in and through the history of the living universal cosmos. Only in this enemy loving way is the divine Word heard and heeded.

This contrasts as starkly as possible with shallow readings of proverbial wisdom that are always eager to chide the prophets for poverty while praising the wicked for their wealth. Still, this strange vindication through perseverance becomes clearer in the course of the generations. Matthew is especially interested in the span of the 6 weeks of generations from Abraham to Jesus, as the nation if Israel emerges from among its siblings and then slowly reaches a moment of maturity. Only at the end of its life as the rump of a violent state is Israel fully prepared to exponentially explode onto the stage of history in an unprecedented way, carried on by a profound spiritual power that doesn’t depend on the sword to sustain it. Like Jesus, it is a stalk of wheat fully grown and so prepared to reproduce itself and nourish others. Therefore it is also prepared to die, and be reborn.

None of this justifies the brutality of the Roman genocide or the foolishness of the false prophets who led people into a doomed war. But it does indicate that there is a real hope, even beyond the worst catastrophes. When I think of the hope that carries on in the wake of the horrors of the Roman genocide, in bold defiance against their evil, I am not only thinking of the church. Today, especially, the only way forward is to follow Matthew in honoring wineskins both old and new: we must also hold in view our sometimes estranged rabbinic siblings who gathered at Jamnia, presumably around the time that Matthew was written. We are fellow dandelions in the cracks of Empire, breaking away its hard surface steadily from generation to generation. We can do this even, and especially, after the gnashing teeth in our mouths have crumbled and our self-righteousness, our always faltering and overly aggressive defenses, have turned to mourning. The faithful are always especially attentive to our own Pharaoh within, but it helps to establish a secure base of trust so that we can begin to explore in those directions at any social scale, from personal on up. How can we do this in a situation where bad faith, cruelty and threats are everywhere? The message of Matthew’s Jesus is that unconditional love, even the love of enemies, can reveal common ground even where the raging chaos of national pride threatens to flood us in blood. He is not naive about the cost involved, the price that the martyr prophets pay. But in accordance with the universal pattern of the prophetic witness, there is hope after the Lord’s Day.

So it is precisely by thinking about life cycles and intergenerational processes of reproduction over time that we can pull together this mix of death, risk and exponential growth in humble faithfulness at socially relevant scale. The central scale here, as throughout Matthew, is national.

In this way, the great synteleia of lives that Jesus embodies holds together the hopeful tradition of proverbial wisdom, along with the darker tradition of real wisdom, including the prophetic kind. Taken as a whole, the textual canon affirms that God does reward good and wise conduct in history and beyond it. At the same time, it also affirms the prophetic complaint that the unjust always steal too much and get away with too much, especially when they seize the commanding heights of a society. Yes, in the fullness of time the just are vindicated with the type of vindication the truthful seek: this means that the truth to which they attest is borne out in time, recognized, and acted on. Bringing the future to birth always involves the passing away of the last generation. The vindication of the righteous in each generation happens, in its historically observable part, through the persistent exponential growth of the truths through history. But the faithful movement grows through the suffering servants, as the life and voice of the marginalized and weak and invisible and scorned and weaponless. Only as persecuted prophets are they the King. Only as priests, as far from sacrificing humans for their goals as possible, do they reign. [26.9] Only as the faithful students of their single teacher, the Lawgiver for all nations, do they express the Father’s severe mercy, which is nothing but God’s ultimate intolerance toward mercilessness. It is all just a matter of time: time measured not by the overly mechanical stars, but by the turning of the generations into the Generation that always held them all.

These little ones who are adopted into the Messianic family are therefore neither exclusive nor inclusive, in an atemporal and ahistorical sense. Rather, they are the bleeding edge of God’s work of including all in time, the agents of God’s new creational work.

With that, we’ll turn back to the first point. Why are the nations surprised, even if the disciples are not? The idea is not that the disciples are subject to a different standard than the nations. There cannot be the faintest trace of a suggestion that they don’t need to abide by the Covenant on the Mount, because they have grace and election on their side, but the nations (understood either as larger scale entities or as those outside of their group) will be held to a higher standard. Nor will they be held to a lower standard. Rather, it is precisely as suffering servants whose lifetimes imitate the lifetime of The Suffering Servant that the little ones have been faithful in the first place. These faithful little siblings who serve as the measure of all things aren’t the ones who called him “Lord, Lord” but who he never knew, because they failed to keep his commands. Those figures exist, and they represent the voices of the blind nations and anti-Christ. Rather, the righteous live by faith from generation to generation, and insofar as anyone does this they become God’s call to mercy and justice to us all. Against the flawed logic of the blind and violent nations, the little ones become their measure. The nations are judged by their own degree of entrance into the solidarity that structures the Life of the Lord, which is to say all of life in the end (as in the beginning).

With that in view, we are equipped to appreciate the dynamics of spiritual and social scale that structure this pericope as it moves down through the systems and then back up.


The chain of being and the narrative structure of the judgment

How is the judgment of the sheep and the goats structured? It starts with the Son of Man, now portrayed to be sitting on his throne and commanding his angels (verse 31). The imagery suggests divine status, a possible conflation of the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days, and also a possible distinction. [27], [27.1] These sorts of ambiguities characterize discussions of social scale in general, and also contribute to the later development of Trinitarian theology.

It then moves to the nations (32) and then to individuals, specifically the faithful little ones who imitate the life of the King. He identifies himself with them, so that the top of the chain of being is united with the bottom in the center of the narrative (35). Our focus then moves back up to the nations (37) and then back to angels. This time, however, it emphasizes the judgment on the fallen angels, which are closely associated with the idols of the nations, their own temples, and their own governance (42). Then we turn back to the divine Son of Man. He pronounces the word of judgment before saying the ultimate word in the scene: life (zoe/ζωή). And then, immediately, Matthew gives us 26:1 which is still set here at the top of the Mount of Olives:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

As Jesus gathers for Passover, which is so central to everything in Matthew, there is also an ingathering of another sort, a gathering of Judah’s official spiritual representatives:

“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

This gathering is violent and heeds only violence, as the repeated bids for discourse throughout Matthew have also repeatedly shown. In contrast, Matthew’s Jesus mourns violence and heeds only the true words of God. To his own peril he is heedless of their threats even after fully counting the cost, which will be his life.

In this way, the Judgment on the Sheep and the Goats holds the intermediate angelic and national scales within two movements through the top-to-bottom structure. It begins with a descent from the highest to the lowest. In the center we experience the revelation that the highest is identified with the lowest. Then there is an ascent from the lowest to the highest.

This structure is clearly chiastic, especially with respect to the chain of being understood in terms of social scale. This formal property isn’t a mere stylistic nicety. The chiastic structure of Matthew 24:1 to 26:5 holds three other elements within it, and this is the last of the three. Importantly, this kind of literary structure formally combines parallelism with a teleological logic. The parallelism encourages us to set the elements beside each other, comparing and contrasting them so that we can understand their shared essence and their differentiation. When we do this, we can see that the text’s formal logic is a movement from the specific account of the nation of Judah, to its generalization to all of the nations: it is a movement from the paradigmatic, typological, prototypical original form to the many copies that are based on it. In this way, parallelism teaches appropriate forms of applied abstract thought, or soulful reading: it teaches us to draw warranted general inferences (spiritually), while also being discerning with respect to particularities that can warrant exceptions (paying attention to the fleshy particularity of each nation). Meanwhile, chiasm is the formal expression of teleology: the idea that is present in the beginning is elaborated and developed as the work comes to its completion. Like a sculptor who starts with an invisible or inchoate idea and ends with the completed work that reflects this, the chiastic writer starts with a suggestion or question and then coherently develops an answer or elaboration over the course of the discussion. The logic present at the start works its way out throughout the process of the chiastic narrative, coming to completion in the end. This is just what the judgment of the sheep and the goats does within its internal structure, and it is also how it is fit into the larger structure of Matthew 24:1–26:5. It is a wheel within a wheel.

The norms of discourse in Second Temple Judah are also chiastic in their structure as we see throughout the Gospels. In the most basic sense we sometimes have a question and an answer: Question A is asked, and A’ answers it, presumably repeating some of the language of the question in an explanatory way. However, in conflict situations we find another structure at work. This one generally characterizes the interactions between Jesus and other religious figures: Question A is posed, and then Question B is counterposed. If Question B is answered, then Question A is also answered. If the interlocutor who is being questioned is particularly skilled, as Jesus is, then the answer to Question A rests (often implicitly) within Question B itself. This mode of response also answers an implicit question that Matthew 26:1–5 answers plainly: are you asking because you want discourse, or is this part of a rhetorical trap whose stakes are life and death? [27.5]

The implicit answer at the start of Matthew 26 is a response to the question posed by the disciples: the end of the aion of the nation centered on the Temple is upon them, because the nation’s representatives will soon end the Messiah’s Aion. In its own way, this answer raises countless questions, and Matthew 26–28 proceeds to answer all of them, in deed but also in word. The passion narrative, then, also makes explicit the response of Jesus to the rhetorical traps that his interrogators, both official and self-appointed, have posed. The result will either turn the interrogator into the interrogated (if their intentions are false) or it will let them become a discourse partner (if their intentions are true after all). Jesus rarely has an opportunity to answer the many questions that are posed to him in the Gospels, but this is not some general comment on the idea that it is bad to answer questions. Rather, it shows the pain of disconnection and dissociation that violence breeds, where manipulation masquerades as discourse and the only answer that force can hear is force. In these situations, discourse can be offered, but because it is rejected it cannot unfold in the way it is meant to. This is neither necessary nor good, but a horrible tragedy that rends soul from spirit and brings death out of life. The answer that Jesus offers through his life, including its end, is the most complete that is possible: I understand that you want to kill me, and I will fulfill the prophetic vocation that God has given me precisely through that. In my complete rejection of violence, I also insist on a complete embrace of discourse. How could the embodied Logos manifest in any other way?

This structural analysis explains why the central individuals in this judgment narrative, the disciples who Jesus is addressing privately on the Mount of Olives, fall in the middle rather than the start. They are, precisely, being both centered and elevated in what Matthew’s Jesus has to say: they are the lowest whose union with the highest speaks to God’s plan to bring everything to its grand synthesis. They represent and speak to this precisely from their position at the lowest point, right here in the middle of it all, including in the middle of time. The explicit point of the text, also expressed formally, is that Matthew’s Jesus is enduringly present in the axis of the chiasm and at the center of the cross: the wheel of history turns around him through his faithful subjects. Pace Schweitzer, Matthew’s Jesus did not attempt to stop the wheel of history. Rather, he revealed himself to be the beating heart of history, and so it rolls on until every fallen angel and Empire and nation is overcome by the lived and living power of cruciform love. And pace Ulrich Luz, who wrongly infers that the centrality of the faithful disciples means that they are not to be identified with in the narrative, Matthew’s Jesus is largely giving encouragement to the faithful disciples and their accomplices. To be clear, I am not objecting to Luz regarding the moral universality that he rightly defends against suggestions that there are some super-disciples not subject to the common judgment. [28] Rather, I think that Luz writes with the very best of motives, but misses the plan for interscale social transformation that is centered by the text. The message is that the faithful will also find themselves at the center of the cross, which means that their lifetimes are also found to be the heart of time, the lifetime of the universal cosmos and every lifetime at every scale. The message is that through God they are the real agents of history, not arrogant Empire. Their revelation is God’s saving work in history, and they are the ones who will be God’s measure of the great powers of angels and nations from generation to generation, and fully in the fullness of Time.

In this way, Matthew’s Jesus takes on the hierarchical structure of Platonic conceptions of the cosmos, which see it as a chain of being rooted in (the) ultimate divine Being. Given the importance of the text’s play with “aion” and “aionios”, the Timaeus provides the most consilient background reference for this common, overarching framework for thought in this Greco-Hebrew context. [29] What Matthew transformatively instills in this language, however, is the Hebrew prophetic tradition’s central focus on justice through an elevation of suffering flesh: it turns out that the bottom of the chain, poor individuals, are also and precisely the representatives of its top, who is the representative and judge of all the nations. Empire has finally called forth God’s answer to it: a non-violent anti-Empire of suffering servants who will truly unite the nations through the power of the word, where Empire’s violence could only ever produce a parody of unity.

Here we also find the roots of Trinitarian theology as it will develop later. While Matthew appropriately avoids explicitly articulating anything like the later doctrines that will develop, the beating heart behind those developments is already present here: Platonic ideas are taken up, crucified, and transformed through the resurrection. This unites the most exalted and the most denigrated in a bold and bewildering philosophy of cruciform irony. This philosophy, manifest in the life of its exemplary teacher, bears the indelible impression of the cross at every level: formal and spiritual, fleshy and detailed, down to each instance of the letter chi. This is the revelation of the true, spiritually anointed King: the Xrist.

And with that we are ready to turn to Matthew’s continued play with Platonist categories and language. Onward to the aionios! But notice what this language will teasingly withhold: Jesus still won’t answer the question posed in Matthew 24:3. He has still not said what he has to say about all the days of the Lord and the great synteleia of the Aion. That is something that he will only say from the vantage point of the coming life on the other side of the cross, which is the elevating fall of the temple-man.

(a’) 25:46, 26:1–5…28:16-20: The suspended answer to the question about the synteleia of the aion: a chiasm cracked open.

46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον

26.1 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάντας τοὺς λόγους τούτους, εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· 2 Οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι.

3 Τότε συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως τοῦ λεγομένου Καϊάφα, 4 καὶ συνεβουλεύσαντο ἵνα τὸν Ἰησοῦν δόλῳ κρατήσωσιν καὶ ἀποκτείνωσιν· 5 ἔλεγον δέ· Μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, ἵνα μὴ θόρυβος γένηται ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, 17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν. 18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων· Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς· 19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.


46 And these will go away into their lifetimes’ punishment, but the righteous into the life of lives.”

26.1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always (all the days), to the end of the age.”

7 The false bottom at the end of all lifetimes

Matthew’s true answer to the disciples’ question about the “synteleia of the aion” only comes with the repetition of that phrase in Matthew 28. In this way, Matthew 24:1–3 ends up framing the entirety of Matthew 24–28. Because the question remains unanswered we wait eagerly to finally hear the real answer. Matthew expertly leaves us suspended in this extended, pregnant moment between call and response. That’s how the light of the passion narrative seeps into the Mount of Olives discourse through its cracked bottom. Matthew 24–25 is therefore a perfectly imperfect chiasm that tantalizingly withholds its answer, echoing the way Jesus has withheld answers from the interrogators who plotted to kill him. The underlying answer to all of the various questions is this: you will know when you understand the cross, which will show that enemy love must replace violence so that the reconciling work of the divine discourse, which is the work of Creation, to unfold. Only in hearing and heed this will you experience the Word as it is meant to be. Only then will you experience a logical and coherent act of authentic, divine communication. Otherwise, no matter what anyone does, even God, every word would be reduced to another tool in some idolatrous propaganda system, a mask for domination, not an act of communion. The name taken in vain sows its own illusions, but God won’t let this separation from the source of life stand forever: the lies are all are bound for eventual dissolution.

The word that isn’t heard is therefore a brutal truncation, an intention unrealized, a life cut short. On the other hand, the Word both spoken and heard (heeded) is the Word fulfilled (completed), which means that it is perfected and brought to its proper end after all, through lifetimes that reflect the Lifetime. The Word truly spoken but angrily attacked is still potentially perfect, just like Question B is an authentic bid for discourse, and just like Light is still light even if you squeeze your eyes shut very tight. [30] But nothing is known until someone is willing to really open their eyes, ears and heart: only a willing student can really learn.

This is very simple, but profoundly important for understanding the structure of many conversations in Matthew. The insight is also useful for training canvassers, as Matthew’s Jesus does, so that they can make sense of rejection while continuing to look for acceptance. [31] More formally it helps make sense of chiasm as a practical tool for instructing people engaged in the work of discursive rhetoric, which is central to social movement building.

This is why Matthew cleverly and perfectly withholds the words “synteleia” and “aion” until the final words of the Gospel. In this way he whispers to the text’s attentive reader that its real treasure is hidden below, in Matthew 26–28. The word “aionios” is very carefully and precisely chosen here because of its Platonic resonances, and because it does not yet signal the “synteleia of the aion” either conceptually or in terms of the flesh of the text itself. In this sense, Matthew 25 is a false bottom. Not only is it a false bottom at the basic level of the words, but also in terms of the five blocks that structure the bones of the text, and in terms of the narrative that reaches its climax in the mountains of Jerusalem. [31.3] Of course, the narrative doesn’t end there. Instead, the stone-seed of the Temple cracks open and life pours out from it into all the nations. The Son-Word spoken by the Father in the fundamental act of Genesising is carried by the power of the Spirit-Mother’s breath into all the world. [31.4]

So those who don’t stop reading here at the “end” in Matthew 25 will continue to listen carefully. They will really attend to the Passover-passion narrative, and in the end they will find Matthew’s ultimate answer to all the centuries of anxiety about the Second Coming. They will stay awake and remain attentive through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then they will receive the assurance of the Enduring Presence of the Messiah among us, as we baptize and train people to faithfully abide by his Covenant on the Mount.

We have finally fully framed our reading of the word “aionios” here, which has been the central question of our whole study. After all of this we can, at last, read The Word “aionios” in light of the Aion. Because “aion” continues to mean “lifetime” throughout Matthew, the most literal translation of “aionios” is “lifetimeic” or “lifetimeish”. Plato invented the technical term “aionic” because it names the shared essence of the prototypical Aion of the universal cosmos, as well as the lifetimes of the stars (or angels) and people that copy it. Just as the form of a Cat is cattish and all cats are also cattish, the general form of the universal Lifetime is lifetimeish, and all of the lifetimes that imitate it are also lifetimeish. [32] The word therefore names, with perfect precision, that which characterizes all lifetimes, and by extension it names all of the time that is given with the living cosmos that is Creation. The translation I offer is an effort to communicate this as literally as possible without requiring someone to understand the technical philosophical background at play: “The wicked go away to their lifetimes’ correction, but the just go away to the life of lives.”

Here in Matthew, aionios perfectly names the transition from the prototypical aion of Judah, as exemplified by the Aion of its Messianic King, as it is extended and applied in a typologically general way. As it was in the Nation, so it will be with all the nations. In light of this movement from specific to general, we can also appreciate the centrally located parables around which Matthew 24–25 turns: are they about Judah and its house keepers (especially priestly and royal), or are they about householders in general? Yes. Precisely. The ambiguity is the point, and it is why they are so perfectly placed at the axial center of the pericope as it moves from an explicitly specific demonstration to a universal and general application. The church throughout its history of interpretation has had little trouble applying the parables to its own households, and this represents a spiritually proper reception of the text even if the work of soulfully reconstructing it wasn’t possible, because the historical resources weren’t available. Still, the spirit moved through the words, for those hearts open to receiving instruction from the Word.

As our own contemporary historical scholarship has increasingly coalesced around a late first century date for Matthew, any cause for thinking Matthew is too early for this sort of engagement with misunderstandings of the parousia (in Matthew’s view) has increasingly eroded. [33] For my own part, I think it is plausible that the Matthean community had long had competent readers of apocalyptic literature, quite likely those in Syria/Judea who continued to produce related literature such as 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Matthew, at least, is eager to ensure that those who can read competently will let the reader understand. So the literature was not and is not esoteric, because it doesn’t work withhold secrets from the uninitiated. Rather, there is a recognition that not everyone is very good at parsing the dense symbolic language, a rather aniconic approach to political cartoons that is arguably more difficult to parse because of its reliance on language alone. However, the canonized forms of the literature (such as Daniel) are especially eager to move from visionary example to explicit interpretation: the tradition is basically anti-esoteric, in the sense that it is trying to explain something as clearly as possible and yet people still have a hard time internalizing its mode of political communication. At any rate, the Matthean parables and the judgment of the sheep and the goats are later additions to the textual tradition (and presumably Q), as we can see when contrasting Matthew with the versions in Luke and Mark. We therefore have ample grounds to see an answer to misunderstandings about the parousia, or presence, of the Messiah. It would be strange for a late addition to amplify the supposedly general problem of a failed expectation. Matthew is explaining why the parousia, the real presence of the Messiah, is an ongoing reality that the disciples of Jesus now carry with them into all of the nations, witnessing to their blind archons as they go.

Let’s turn, briefly, to the the important companion of “aion” here and throughout the New Testament: “zoe” or life. While “bios” communicates life in its most basic sense, much like our word “biology”, the word “zoe” can also refer to a way of life or life in its exultant fullness. When we say, “Now this is LIVING” in an emphatic and joyful sense we are talking about zoe in this part of its semantic range, rather than “bios”. [34] The phrase “life of lives” therefore communicates a great deal about the underlying thought and language: it highlights qualitative aspects of the good life, especially the just and divinely sanctioned good life. It suggests the full participation of a life in the Lifetime that is the source of all lifetimes.

The phrase “aionion zoen” also perfectly highlights the central themes of imitation and governance that are at work here in the judgment scene, because of the ability of “zoen” to also refer to a way of life. In related sectarian literature, we also see Hebrew variants on these themes, integrating wisdom, teleology, and the yoke of learning to properly observe God’s covenants: this is the way of life, in various senses. [35] Those aions (lifetimes) that faithfully imitate the Aion of Jesus participate in Life in its fullest possible expression. For Matthew, Jesus is the divine Son of Man and Son of God who was there before David. He is therefore also the Son of David in its fullest contextual sense: he is the true King of Israel and therefore also of Judah. As it turns out, he is also the suffering servant at the center of history, the greatest of persecuted prophets, and the highest of high priests mediating between flesh and Spirit in himself, in the way that also produces enduring life at personal and national scales. He is the one who all of the faithful angels obey in his ingathering work through the universal Passover. Here in history, that is the work of drawing people to baptism and communion and training in his new covenant, the Covenant on the Mount. And he is the one who can throw down the wicked angels, the false gods that manifest through the brutal ‘Sons of God’ who imitate them: men like Caesar, patterned on fallen angels like the Nephilim. Matthew’s Jesus therefore uproots Empire in its deepest wells, there where it corrupts the human heart through idolatrous worship of the fallen gods.

How exactly does this Jesus govern? In some sense, in the way anyone governs: he says things that are heard and heeded, and he does things that are seen and imitated. In other words, his way of life becomes the way of life of others, and his lifetime forms other lifetimes. That simply is what governance is. That is why he governs all of the governments, and judges the nations through his faithful royal siblings. Like him, they are the little ones in need of food and shelter and clothing and company. They represent all of the suffering flesh found in the prisons and sick beds of history, as they proclaim and demonstrate that this is where you find the only true God, the God who is the source of all life.

Although all of this makes perfect sense and reinforces the tradition in all kinds of ways, there is also always a brittle, arrogant and heedless manifestation of the tradition as well. It has an essential role to play in this story. If we are to love enemies we have to be able to love the understandable fear that is spoken here: “Who the hell does this guy think he is? Is this the ghost of culture with the numbers on its wrist, demanding again that we salute some new conclusion that the rest of us have missed?”

To face this understandable fear well is the final test. And the answer must be one more maternal Aufhebung. No, I’m not interested in forcing anyone to submit to a cold an inexorable historical dialectic. I’m only saying that every heart to love will come. But like a refugee. So ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the life gets in on all of the Lord’s days, until Life itself is completed in Time.

(0) πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος: all the days until the completion of the Lifetime

In this little commentary on the Mount Olivet discourse, I have explicitly adopted a policy of overstating my case. To paraphrase Saint Paul, when in Rome pretend to be Roman. Maybe some will be persuaded.

But now we’ve come to the far side of all that. Here we are in the spaceless space that can barely even be gestured at. We rest here in the wake of our reading of Matthew’s glorious and perfect and dizzyingly dense final words. Impossibly enough, we can at least imagine that we now find ourselves in the aidios realm beyond the limits of the Aion. This is where dialectic has reached its consummating end: here dialectic is understood to hold logic and rhetoric and trust and hope and close observation, and their opposites too. This is where Time itself, at least as it is held in the Lifetime, has been fulfilled. If the Christians are right, here only Love remains.

Here in this noplace I can say again, and still more clearly, that there is room beyond spatial constraint, and in the watery wells of time itself, for us to contemplate the passing of the Lifetime. In Trinitarian terms, we’re talking about the Son whose Aion is the Aion of the universal cosmos turning over Creation to the Father, from whom every where and every day are always already springing.

What we can say here, simply, is that it is good that the arguments don’t follow with the same seeming necessity that mechanically moves the stars. The argument’s model withstands scrutiny, but it is true that the flesh of the text can be cut up and read in other ways. I have tried my best to preserve the soulful whole of the text so that it might carry all of us into the life of the Spirit, but I can’t be the final judge of whether I have done that even for a moment.

I do have this hope, though: I hope that in turning my life to the work of exegeting something sacred that I have left room for Life to invite us into the freedom of divine give and take. Because our sacred Scriptures deny us the certitude that dictators crave, the texts can only truly yield, if they ever do, to the yielding. We really are required, if we are reconciling people, to remember that there is always a generative character to the intergenerational play of texts and readers.

So no, I’m sorry, I don’t have any certitude left for you after all.

I hope that you’ll be content with the meagre joy of finding yourself carried upward in a hermeneutic spiral that invites us gently in, even as it pulls us strongly along. As it turns out, more respect is due to all kinds of other positions, and respect is due to this reading as well, for all of its inevitable cracks. It can only be that I have overshot here, undershot elsewhere, and ultimately ended up a bit too entranced by my own limits. But we have still read the text after all, and this is how it has to be in history. I can try to gesture down towards the timeless source of time, but we are not yet to the place where we might try to read the text that we would be reading if no one were here to read it. I do hope that we can all meet there, too, one day, on the far side of the death of the universal cosmos, where the Father will invite us to remain in Him, still strangely ourselves through the Son by the power of the Spirit, while letting us instantaneously grasp the readerless rudder of the Text itself.

And now our reflection on the Genesis of Jesus, which started with its genesis of the six weeks of generations, is almost done. Proximately, Matthew 28:20 has belatedly answered the question posed in Matthew 24:1–3. Less proximately, it has also responded to the promise of the name “Emmanuel” from the conclusion of the genealogy. As Matthew 1:23 said, he is called “God with us” because he assures his faithful disciples that God will be with them, through him, at the heart of the community’s judicial, executive, legislative and prophetic governance processes. Intergenerational governance is established through all the aions (generations, lifetimes) precisely because his is the universal and prototypical Aion.

What can be said about the sheep and the goats after all? Let’s just share what is given of the Aion joyfully, with the confidence borne of a faithfulness that is ultimately beyond any kind of mechanisic, calendrical control. This is life and life itself. In some sense, it really is that simple. For me at least, I hope that this child’s lesson can be enough. With it God keeps breathing new life into me. It is time to rest in the Temple that is.

But for anyone who comes to ask for more, I’m happy to show them how Matthew’s Jesus remains with us even in the cloud of unknowing, bringing a superabundance of intelligibility out of Gods’ endless storehouse of mystery. In his own time and place, he responded with such remarkable profundity to all kinds of concerns, including misunderstandings about the Sign of the Presence of God, which is ‘merely’ the Sign of Jonah. [36]

The text of Matthew is so playful and generative, profound and joyful and sad that it can still read us today. In this, at least, we can be confident that this literature really is apocalyptic. I think there are other texts like it, also inspired. These other texts from other vales join us in our folly as God becomes like us for that aidios moment that slips invisibly between the seconds. For my own part, when I see something like this poem I trust that someone else has heard and, here and there like me, heeded the same shepherd too:

It’s going to happen very soon
The great event, which will end the horror
Which will end the sorrow
Next Tuesday when the sun goes down

I will play the Moonlight Sonata backwards
This will reverse the effects of the world’s mad plunge
Into suffering, for the last Z00 million years

What a lovely night that would be
What a sigh of relief
As the senile robins
Become bright red again
And the retired nightingales
Pick up their dusty tails
And assert the Majesty of Creation


[1.01] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 158.

To determine the context of chapter 23 we need to examine Matt 24–25, the apocalyptic chapters. This section begins with the prediction of the destruction of the temple (24:1–2), followed by the construction of an eschatological scenario beginning with the desolating sacrilege of Daniel. While we might presume that the sole interest of the author was in the chronology of the scenario in Daniel, that seems to be an unreliable interpretation of the manner in which first-century authors utilized inherited apocalyptic material. It is much more likely that we find in Matthew a perception that the events in the temple from 66–70 were similar to those under Antiochus Epiphanes in 167–164 BCE, a presumption of an analogous state of affairs.

[1.02] Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 17–18.

■ 19–20* Before they leave, a scribe comes to Jesus and offers to follow him. The address, “teacher” (διδάσκαλε), makes clear that he is not a disciple. By means of a sharp paradox Jesus points out the difficulty of discipleship. The coming judge of the world, the Son of Man, does not even have on earth what the foxes and the birds of the heavens take for granted. Although Matthew seems to be familiar with a tradition about Jesus’ permanent residence (4:12–13*), he will describe Jesus as constantly on the move. The term ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου appears here for the first time. Matthew uses it in a public statement of Jesus. Did the crowds that were listening understand it? It is not a Greek expression; as a translation of the Aramaic בַּר נָשׁ the doubled determinative Greek expression is unusual. There was in contemporary Judaism no general, widespread expectation of “the” coming Son of Man. It is probable only that Dan 7:13–14*, where someone “like a son of man” is mentioned, was interpreted messianically in certain Jewish circles (cf. 1 Enoch 70–71; 37–69); there it was expected that at the eschaton a “son of man” would come with the clouds of heavens. Be that as it may, for the crowds that were listening this expression was either linguistically strange and secretive, or it was nonsense, since Jesus obviously used the term to refer to himself. For Matthew’s Christian readers, however, this expression was filled with everything that they already knew from the Christian tradition about Jesus’ suffering, dying, rising, and especially about his coming as judge. Thus for the Christian readers this word of Jesus expressed a paradox, viz., that the one who is risen and who will come as the judge of the world had to live in absolute poverty and homelessness. Of course, the disciples in the Matthean story are not yet aware of this, but Jesus will repeatedly instruct them and lead them into the mystery of the fate of the Son of Man. In the final analysis, however, the crowds will not understand it.

The point of the saying is thus the homelessness and absolute poverty of Jesus, who someday will judge the world.

Ibid., 28

■ 6a* Verse 6* is the climax of the story. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. The scribes are aware that he is speaking of himself, but for the church Jesus speaks as the eschatological judge of the world, the one for whom they are waiting. It is he who “on earth,”14 that is, already now, forgives sins. The forgiveness of sins, which the church has also experienced, happens with the last judgment in mind. It does not eliminate the judgment of the Son of Man, but the forgiven sin is released in the last judgment. After this climax, the granting of grace by the Son of Man, the sentence abruptly breaks off.16

Ibid., 149.

■ 16–19* The Matthean Jesus thus compares his contemporaries with the children at play. The interpretation in vv. 18–19* is clearer than the parable itself. The twofold ἦλθεν (“came”) connects John the Baptist and Jesus with each other. Both are rejected and suffer the same fate. The double criticism conveys the impression of Israel’s hardness. At the same time, however, the greater length of v. 19a–d* and the nature of the criticism make clear the superiority of Jesus. The criticism that Jesus is a glutton and drunkard and a friend of the tax collectors and sinners goes to the heart of the mission of Jesus. While many people probably praised John’s asceticism, “glutton” and “drunkard” traditionally are negatively loaded words.37 Matthew has already illustrated the accusation in 9:10–13* where Jesus’ opponents — there they are Pharisees — reject the mercy of Israel’s Messiah. Primarily, however, it is the Son of Man title that makes clear how catastrophic their criticism is. The “Son of Man” comes — and with this title Matthew always thinks of Jesus who will some day rise and judge the world38 — and Israel misunderstands him as a “human being,” who carouses and drinks. The twofold ἄνθρωπος (“man”) is not a redundancy, but a pregnant play on words. “This generation” misunderstands the coming Son of Man Jesus as a man!

[1.01] Exodus 25:10–22

They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

[1.1] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ex 25:10–22.

25:10–22. the ark (size, design, function). The ark was a wooden box, open at the top, approximately 3 feet in length and 2 feet in both width and height based on eighteen inches to the cubit. It was overlaid inside and out with sheets of the finest gold and had four rings (also gold-covered) attached to the sides for the insertion of two gold-encrusted poles, which were used to carry the ark and to protect it from the touch of all but the high priest. A golden cover, decorated with two winged cherubim, sealed the ark, securing the tablets of the law within it. Its primary function was to store the tablets and to serve as a “footstool” for God’s throne, thereby providing an earthly link between God and the Israelites. In Egypt it was common for important documents that were confirmed by oath (e.g., international treaties) to be deposited beneath the feet of the deity. The Book of the Dead even speaks of a formula written on a metal brick by the hand of the god being deposited beneath the feet of the god. Therefore the footstool/receptacle combination follows known Egyptian practice. In Egyptian festivals the images of the gods were often carried in procession on portable barques. Paintings portray these as boxes about the size of the ark carried on poles and decorated with or flanked by guardian creatures. A similar-sized chest with rings (for carrying with poles) was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

[1.2] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 160–161.

The sole function of the Ark is to house the tablets of stone. According to the testimony of 1 Kings 8:9, in the Solomonic Temple “there was nothing inside the Ark but the two tablets of stone that Moses placed there at Horeb, when the LORD made [a covenant] with the Israelites after their departure from the land of Egypt.” The practice of depositing legal documents in a sacred place was quite widespread in the ancient Near East. It symbolically underscored the importance of the document and projected the idea that the presiding deity witnessed and guarded it and oversaw its implementation. The disposition of such legal instruments in this manner is exemplified by, among others, the treaty of nonaggression and mutual assistance contracted between King Mattiwaza of Mitanni in Upper Mesopotamia and the Hittite monarch Suppiluliumas (ca. 1375–1335 B.C.E.). One copy was deposited “before the Sun-goddess of Arinna” and another “before the deity Tessub.” The phrasing means in front of the image of the god. In Egypt, Ramses II, who made a treaty with the Hittite king Hattusilis, confirms that duplicates of the document lie “beneath the feet” of the respective gods of the contracting parties.40 Another Egyptian text, a copy of the Book of the Dead, carries a note that it was discovered in Hermopolis “beneath the feet of the god.”

Thus, when Moses deposits in the Ark the tablets of stone that contained the fundamentals of the covenant between God and Israel, he is following an ancient and widespread Near Eastern legal tradition. His action also carries implications for the symbolic meaning of the Ark. God is never said to reside in it or to speak from it, only to communicate with Moses from above it (v. 22). It is therefore likely that the Ark represented the footstool of God’s throne, which was imagined to be situated above it. In fact, it is metaphorically so described in 1 Chronicles 28:2. The footstool, like the throne, was an important prerogative of royalty, a token of dignity and power in the Near East. It was a distinctive and unique piece of furniture often symbolically ornamented and placed in the royal tomb together with the throne. A richly decorated one was recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

[1.3] “Divine Presence in Absence: Aniconism and Multiple Imaging in the Prophets,” Divine Presence and Absence in Exilic and Post-Exilic Judaism (eds. N. MacDonald & I.J. de Hulster) (FAT 2/61; Tuebingen, 2013), 183–211.

[1.33] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 104–106.

Oaths (Matt 5:33–37)

The second section of the antitheses begins with another full citation of the polemical formula of introduction already discussed above. The issue presented for discussion is as follows: “You shall not swear falsely but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord” (Matt 5:33). Swearing falsely in this case could mean giving false testimony while under oath (i.e., perjury) or making a vow that is not kept. The second meaning is more consistent with the second half of the statement. The response for the Jesus sect, however, suggests that you should not swear at all. This is not without precedent in Second Temple Judaism. That is clearly the preference of Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher of the first century: “The first of these other commandments is not to take the name of God in vain; for the word of the virtuous man, says the law, shall be his oath, firm, unchangeable, which cannot lie, founded steadfastly on truth.”179 In this instance Philo proposes that if you do have to swear an oath, then do it on the health or happy old age of your father or mother if alive, on their memory if dead. Ben Sira similarly cautions against swearing of oaths using the divine name. In his description of the Essenes, Josephus notes the prohibition: “Any word of theirs has more force than an oath; swearing they avoid, regarding it as worse than perjury, for they say that one who is not believed without an appeal to God stands condemned already.”181 What is surprising in this description is the initiation procedures immediately following: “But, before he may touch the common food, he is made to swear tremendous oaths.” The description of these oaths then continues for a full page! They do not swear by the name of God concerning the veracity of their statements; they do, however, swear an extensive oath of allegiance upon full admission to membership in the sect. A similar stance is to be found in CD 15:1–16:2, where the issue is the use of the name of God in the oath. In 1QS V, 8–11 each member of the covenant “shall undertake by a binding oath to return with all his heart and soul to every commandment of the law of Moses in accordance with all that has been revealed of it to the sons of Zadok.” Perhaps 1QS I, 16–II, 18 provides evidence of the content of the binding oath mentioned in 1QS V, 8, in which case it would be based upon the blessings and curses of Deut 27–29, with material from the priestly blessing of Num 6:24–26. While we can cite various texts from the Hebrew Bible which appear to form the background of Matt 5:33 (e.g., Exod 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:3–15; Deut 23:22–24; Ps 50:14), no one passage seems to capture the essence of this saying, particularly with regard to clarifying what the author considered objectionable. In Matt 5:33, the author brings to mind both the covenant of Deuteronomy as well as the holiness regulations of Leviticus in that opening line (Lev 19:12). In this case the purpose of the injunction to the members of the Jesus group is not to contradict the concern about the use of the name of God in oaths, or the arguments about when oaths and vows can be nullified, but as indicated in the next verse the requirement for swearing oaths of allegiance, presumably by members of other Jewish sectarian groups.

The familiar and significant response follows: “But I say to you, ‘Do not swear at all’ ” (Matt 5:34). The explanation placed on the lips of Jesus in 5:34–35 finds its basis in Isa 66:1: “Thus says the Lord, ‘The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where could you build a house for Me, what place could serve as my abode?’ ” Just as in instances already identified such as the offensive body members of Matt 5:29–30, the call for the allegiance of the followers of Jesus is simple: “Let your word be, ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (5:37). An oath of allegiance is not desirable; a simple declaration is what is required if you want to be a part of the group within the Jewish community that describes itself as followers of Jesus. From the standpoint of this author any additional requirements come from the evil one; that is, they are rooted in sectarian groups who demand oaths of allegiance but who are misguided and lead people astray. The author appears to consider the oaths to be superfluous and deceptive; the Jewish way of life defined by Jesus is considered desirable by God, and oaths are not required. More significant for understanding the apparent intent of the author is the reliance upon Isa 66.

[2] For a thorough presentation on the post-exilic continuation of the theme of God aniconically present above the throne of mercy and judgment, see: Divine Presence in Absence: Aniconism and Multiple Imaging in the Prophets,” Divine Presence and Absence in Exilic and Post-Exilic Judaism (eds. N. MacDonald & I.J. de Hulster) (FAT 2/61; Tuebingen, 2013), 183–211.

Consider the possible apologia for the possibility of a living, divine, human manifestation of YHWH that may be in play here in Matthew, especially in light of Matthew 22:45.

The most obvious example of the loss of an image in the context of Yahweh worship occurs in conjunction with the cherubim throne, which appears as the deity’s mobile throne chariot in the book of Ezekiel. In the three visions of the divine (Ezek 1–3, 8–11, 40–48) that form a skeleton for the book, a telling development with respect to the mobile throne chariot is noticeable. The chariot is visible in the first two visions and is clearly intended to be a visual representation, even a manifestation, of the deity’s throne associated with Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 6–8), but the depiction is certainly influenced by Canaanite/Phoenician art forms as Keel has argued.29 In the book of Ezekiel the mobile throne chariot suddenly disappears. Given that it is the source of a great deal of illustration and description in the first two visions (1.5–28; chs 9–10, esp. 10.1, 9–14, 20– 22, 11.22), its abrupt loss in the final vision of the collection is suggestive. When the deity’s presence is visualized returning to the restored and purified Jerusalem, the chariot throne is neither described nor even mentioned: it does not accompany Yahweh on the deity’s return or resume its place in the temple (43.2–5, cf. 40.1–3). The cherubim with which it is associated are located only on the walls of the sanctuary (Ezek 41.17–20, 25), which is only one of the locations consistent with their presence in the Kings account of the temple. The locution of the throne chariot in the final chapters of Ezekiel emphasizes that there will be no representative image to indicate the presence of Yahweh in the purified temple envisioned by the prophet.30 Its omission appears as the culmination of a firm stance against images seen at work throughout the collection. The aniconic sentiments found in the book of Ezekiel are most clear with respect to the cherubim throne, but it is also the case that the rhetorics of the book reveal the loss of the other important visual symbol of Yahweh in the First Temple — the ark of the covenant. Although the ark never appears in the book of Ezekiel, language associated with it is co-opted for the restored and purified temple, which is spoken of as the footstool of the deity in 43.7.31 The absence of the ark and the use of its imagery in connection with the temple participate with other rhetorical strategies in the book of Ezekiel that distance physical images from the deity.32 The ark is effectively eradicated as a viable object of worship in the Second Temple. Its loss is consistent with other thought relating to the period like that attributed to the prophetic figure Jeremiah, ‘they shall no longer say, “the ark of the covenant of Yahweh”. It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed, nor shall another one be made’ (Jer 3.16).

The cherubim throne and the ark of the covenant were abolished as viable symbols of divine presence because of growing animosity towards the use of images in worship33 (of other deities which were not considered to be gods, but whose appearance, nevertheless, resulted in the loss of Yahweh’s divine presence according to the biblical line of thought). The employment of literary strategies to eradicate symbols used in the cult of Yahweh like the cherubim throne and the ark of the covenant, but not representative of the deity, support to some extent Mettinger’s contention that tolerance to images not fashioned in a divine form (which he calls de facto aniconism) gradually shifted towards a campaign to abolish images, symbols, and other cultic representations (his programmatic aniconism).34 However, there is another possibility with respect to the motivation behind the eradication of the cherubim throne and the ark. The throne and the footstool, although not actually representing the morphé of Yahweh, nevertheless, provided one very concrete way of visualizing the deity — as a human being.35 Concerns about the anthropomorphic representation of Yahweh appear in addition to prophetic rhetoric that satirized other deities as images made by human hands and that debased idols with a variety of terms evoking disgust. Twice in the book of Ezekiel which is exercised with the issue of idolatry prophetic discourse includes idols fashioned as men among its critique. In the allegories of Jerusalem and Samaria one of the many things of which the women are accused is the worship of idols crafted as men. A similar line of reasoning is found also in Deutero-Isaiah, where the idea is that anthropomorphic images are not divine (Isa 44.3)37 as well as in the book of Hosea where it is explicitly stated that Yahweh is not a man, =30 (Hos 11.9). The loss of the cherubim throne and ark of the covenant as cultic symbols in the prophetic literary record resulted in the abolition of imaging Yahweh after a human body, thus resulting in the eradication of a concrete visual aid of divine presence. The removal of symbolic representations that provided a means to visualize the deity in a concrete way finds support in that at least one of the symbols indicative of divine presence in the Second Temple period in the prophetic literature evokes the idea of presence without form. The most likely case for the erection of another image in the context of worship to represent Yahweh’s presence is the menorah as found in Zech 4.1–14.38 The menorah is a cultic object of a different kind than the cherubim throne and the ark of the covenant that conveyed a divine physical and human form. That the cherubim throne could provide a very clear way to visualize Yahweh is no more apparent than in the book of Ezekiel where the image of a human being actually rides the mobile throne chariot (1.26). Both Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel contain explicit condemnations of divine images in the shape of men, but note also that the reticence to equate Yahweh with a human being occurs in the book of Hosea. Within parts of the biblical tradition any image hinting at an actual anthropomorphic shape of the deity was discouraged or even forbidden. The menorah could remain, as could the cherubim on the walls of the sanctuary, as symbolic representations because they convey nothing of the form of Yahweh.39 The menorah would in fact emphasize the fluid, amorphous, and mixed representations of Yahwistic presence found in the vision sequences in Ezekiel — the fire and mixed form in Ezekiel 1.27 and 8.2 as well as the rainbow in 1.28. What differentiates the menorah is that it provides no way to visualize the deity in a concrete and stable form, as would the other images suggestive of Yahweh appearing with a human body. Instead its use in the temple would function somewhat akin to the British flag that flies over Buckingham palace when the Queen is in residence by indicating presence, but not form.40 The use of formless representations is consistent with strategies to abolish Yahwistic cultic symbolic representations that implied one stable and fixed divine image. An extreme reluctance to depict Yahweh in any fixed form suggests that it is not just images associated with the deity that disappear in rhetorical strategies to bolster aniconism, but also an image of Yahweh. Indeed a stable, fixed, and anthropomorphic image of Yahweh is abolished through a number of complementary rhetorical strategies in the book of Ezekiel.42 Firstly, the depiction of the deity in human form, as male, is downplayed. In the first prophetic vision of the deity, Ezekiel is reported to have seen the divine form figured as 260 (1.26). However, the second vision with its inclusion of impersonal details in the description of the deity’s effulgence like fire43 and light immediately destabilizes the resoluteness made possible by the reference to a human being (8.2).44 The image of Yahweh as an 260 (1.26) is actually already subverted within its literary context by being referred to also as a rainbow in a summary of the vision (1.28). In Ezek 1.28 the likeness of the deity as a rainbow emphasizes the fluid and amorphous nature of the divine image. In fact, Ezek 1.28 employs the most concrete language in its description of the divine presence through the choice and order of the terms employed: ‘like the likeness (.04:;) of the bow that will be in the cloud on a rainy day so is the likeness of the shining all around; it is the likeness of the appearance (A7:6 .04: 07.) of the presence (675;) of Yahweh.’45 Secondly, many different images for the deity, even a type of mixed form in which the deity is described as having a rough bodily shape in which the lower half is fire and the upper half is gleaming amber (1.26–27; 8.2), appear as descriptors in the vision sequences of divine presence. Although it has been argued that when visualized Yahweh’s bodily form was understood to essentially be like that of a man,46 at least in the book of Ezekiel the focus is on different images of the deity without a priority given to any one and the greatest impression comes from the image of the rainbow — that which cannot be given a definitive shape. Finally, a form of the deity fails to return with the divine presence to the restored and purified temple in Jerusalem. The deity in the final chapters of Ezekiel is heard, never seen. As with the mobile throne chariot this literary strategy signifies the lack of the return of a divine image and raises to the foreground the importance ascribed to the role of divine proclamation. The book of Ezekiel presses towards the promotion of the word as the conveyor of divine presence. Both van der Toorn47 with attention to the Torah and Sweeney48 in conjunction with the book of Isaiah have highlighted the importance of the divine word as a replacement for the figuration of the deity Yahweh in the Second Temple period. The book of Ezekiel contributes to the promotion of the word of Yahweh instead of an image.



[2.3] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 12.

in our image, after our likeness

This unique combination of expressions, virtually identical in meaning, emphasizes the incomparable nature of human beings and their special relationship to God. The full import of these terms can be grasped only within the broader context of biblical literature and against the background of ancient Near Eastern analogues.

The continuation of verse 26 establishes an evident connection between resemblance to God and sovereignty over the earth’s resources, though it is not made clear whether man has power over nature as a result of his being like God or whether that power constitutes the very essence of the similarity. A parallel passage in 9:6–7 tells of God’s renewed blessing on the human race after the Flood and declares murder to be the consummate crime precisely because “in His image did God make man.” In other words, the resemblance of man to God bespeaks the infinite worth of a human being and affirms the inviolability of the human person. The killing of any other creature, even wantonly, is not murder. Only a human being may be murdered. It would seem, then, that the phrase “in the image of God” conveys something about the nature of the human being as opposed to the animal kingdom; it also asserts human dominance over nature. But it is even more than this.

The words used here to convey these ideas can be better understood in the light of a phenomenon registered in both Mesopotamia and Egypt, whereby the ruling monarch is described as “the image” or “the likeness” of a god. In Mesopotamia we find the following salutations: “The father of my lord the king is the very image of Bel (ṣalam bel) and the king, my lord, is the very image of Bel”; “The king, lord of the lands, is the image of Shamash”; “O king of the inhabited world, you are the image of Marduk.” In Egypt the same concept is expressed through the name Tutankhamen (Tutankh-amun), which means “the living image of (the god) Amun,” and in the designation of Thutmose IV as “the likeness of Re.”

Without doubt, the terminology employed in Genesis 1:26 is derived from regal vocabulary, which serves to elevate the king above the ordinary run of men. In the Bible this idea has become democratized. All human beings are created “in the image of God”; each person bears the stamp of royalty. This was patently understood by the author of Psalm 8, cited above. His description of man in royal terms is his interpretation of the concept of the “image of God” introduced in verse 26. It should be further pointed out that in Assyrian royal steles, the gods are generally depicted by their symbols: Ashshur by the winged disk, Shamash by the sun disk, and so forth. These depictions are called: “the image (ṣalam) of the great gods.” In light of this, the characterization of man as “in the image of God” furnishes the added dimension of his being the symbol of God’s presence on earth. While he is not divine, his very existence bears witness to the activity of God in the life of the world. This awareness inevitably entails an awesome responsibility and imposes a code of living that conforms with the consciousness of that fact.

It should be added that the pairing of the terms tselem and demut, “image” and “likeness,” is paralleled in a ninth-century B.C.E. Assyrian-Aramaic bilingual inscription on a statue at Tell Fekheriyeh in Syria. The two terms are used interchangeably and indiscriminately and obviously cannot be used as criteria for source differentiation.

[2.35] David W. Cotter, Genesis, ed. Jerome T. Walsh, Chris Franke, and David W. Cotter, Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 17–19.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Do we bear a physical resemblance to God? Hardly likely if both male and female are created in the divine image and the story is told in the context of Israel’s famously aniconic religious system. Or perhaps we bear a spiritual resemblance to God? One thing is clear, our author avoids the term mîn (“kind, species”) in speaking about humanity. While there are many sorts of animals and plants, there is only one sort of humanity. As a result, while the Israelites had many political and ethnic dislikes, what we know as racism was impossible for them. The idea that there is only one sort of humanity flows from their monotheistic conception of God. If there is only one God, and only one image of God present in all people, there can be only one sort of humanity, not many kinds. This also explains why human life is sacred and cannot be taken unjustly (Gen 6:8).

Humanity is given the one blessing that pertains to the earth: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). Like the other living creatures humanity is given the power to procreate and so possesses at least a reflection of the divine power to give life. To that is added the blessing of subduing and having dominion over the world. This might well mean, especially given the context of blessing, to lead, to guide, or to tend (as a flock). To be in God’s image means to be blessed with the responsibility of ruling the world in such a way that it is the ordered, good, life-giving place that God intends it to be. Perhaps an analogy will make the point better. God: Universe:: Humanity: World. As God is to the entire universe — the One who creates a good, blessed, nonviolent place where life is possible and order reigns — so Humanity is to be to the world. We live up to this responsibility when we make the world good, live in just nonviolence, and render the blessed life possible here.

The book of Wisdom, which is part of the canon of Scripture for some Christians, including Catholics, adopts this reading of the text when it says:

God of our ancestors, Lord of Mercy,

who by your wisdom have made the universe,

and in your wisdom have fitted human beings

to rule the creatures that you have made,

to govern the world in holiness and saving justice,

and in honesty of soul to dispense fair judgment.… (Wis 9:2–3)

[2.36] James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: With Internationally Renowned Experts (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1992), 235–236.

Although the following subsection is concerned with criticisms of the Temple establishment, it should be stated at the outset that the overall Jewish view of the Temple as a divinely given institution was undoubtedly positive. Great quantities of money, whether from the annual half-shekel tax or from the various tithes and offerings, poured into the Temple’s coffers, making it one of the wealthiest institutions in the ancient world. This could never have been the case had the Temple itself, the sacrificial system, or the priesthood been widely distrusted, held in contempt, or viewed as an inferior form of religious expression. But there is, nevertheless, significant evidence of criticism, some sharp and bitter; and this criticism is widespread and amply attested. I believe that Jews of the first century made a distinction between the Temple as an ideal, divinely given and divinely directed, and the Temple as it actually functioned. Almost all of the criticism derives from Palestinian, not diaspora, sources. This clearly suggests that those who came into close and frequent contact were the most critical. But the critics believed in the Temple; and I think that it was this belief and the commitment that arose from it that prompted their criticisms and longings for reform. At the heart of much of this belief was the conviction that the restoration of Israel could be realized only if Israel’s religion was pure; and the religion of Israel could hardly be pure if things were amiss in the Temple.

[2.4] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 1, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 536.

34b–5. In the Mishnah, oaths by heaven, by earth, and by one’s own head are all viewed as not binding by at least some rabbinic authorities (cf. m. Šebu. 4:13; m. Ned. 1:3; m. Sanh. 3:2; SB 1, pp. 332–4). This may account for their being cited here (so already Augustine, De serm. mont. 1:17:52). If it was claimed by some Christians that oaths by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or one’s head were, because not binding, not covered by Jesus’ prohibition of swearing, 5:34b–5 counters by linking heaven and earth and Jerusalem to God, thereby making the oaths binding (cf. the argument in 23:20–2; also CD 15–16; m. Šebu. 4:13). Any casuistic attempt to circumvent 34a is excluded; appeal to non-binding oaths — such as the rabbis specified — is rejected. (According to Deut 6:13 and 10:20 oaths should be in God’s name. But by the first century that name could no longer be pronounced. So one of the unstated assumptions behind 5:34b–6 is the Jewish conviction that God’s name itself could not be named and that, therefore, when one takes an oath, a substitution for God’s name must be employed.)

[2.41] Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 95–96.

164. When, therefore, Moses grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, that he had then come to know that what is divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension, for the text says, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was. What God? He who made darkness his hiding place, as David says, who also was initiated into the mysteries in the same inner sanctuary.203

165. When Moses arrived there, he was taught by word what he had formerly learned from darkness, so that, I think, the doctrine on this matter might be made firmer for us for being testified to by the divine voice. The divine word at the beginning forbids that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image205 by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.

166. Religious virtue is divided into two parts, into that which pertains to the Divine and that which pertains to right conduct (for purity of life is a part of religion). Moses learns at first the things which must be known about God (namely, that none of those things known by human comprehension is to be ascribed to him). Then he is taught the other side of virtue, learning by what pursuits the virtuous life is perfected.

[3.1] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 93.

What we have here is not a sophisticated mode of argumentation rooted in a specific set of exegetical principles peculiar to a particular scribal group in Second Temple Judaism, such as a proto-rabbinic movement, but rather a style of vigorous argumentation frequently based on popular appeal rather than logic. Also apparent is the lack of attribution to any individual teacher or sage in either the argument or the counter-argument.125 Even when in m. Yad. 4:8 the opinion is that of a Galilean heretic, an individual, the quotations are still in the plural. The similarity in the construction of these mišnāyōt stands in stark contrast to the major portion of the mishnaic legislation which is cited either in an anonymous manner or attributed to one of the Tannaim. In this case we rather find a particular literary style portraying conflicts between groups of Jews attributed in the Mishnah to the Second Temple period, that is, before the destruction of the temple.

[3.11] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1069.

φυλή, ῆς, ἡ (φῦλον ‘race, tribe, class’; Pind., Hdt.+).

① a subgroup of a nation characterized by a distinctive blood line, tribe, of the 12 tribes of Israel (Diod S 40, 3, 3 δώδεκα φυλαί of the ‘Judeans’; LXX; TestAbr A; cp. AscIs 3:2 τὰς ἐννέα ἥμισυ θυλάς; TestBenj 9:2; Demetr.: 722 Fgm. 6 Jac.; Jos., Ant. 11, 133) Hb 7:13; Rv 7:4; 1 Cl 43:2ab, 4; GJs 1:1; 6:3; AcPl Ha 8, 3. Certain tribes are mentioned by name: Ἀσήρ Lk 2:36. Βενιαμίν Ac 13:21; Ro 11:1; Phil 3:5. Ἰούδα Rv 5:5; cp. Hb 7:14; all the tribes Rv 7:5–8 (except that, according to ancient trad., Manasseh takes the place of Dan, since the latter is the tribe fr. which, because of Gen 49:17, the Antichrist is alleged to come [WBousset, D. Antichrist 1895, 112ff; s. Iren. 5, 30, 2; other reff. Charles, ICC Rv I 208f]). Of Mary ἦν τῆς φυλῆς τοῦ Δαυίδ GJs 10:1b; cp. vs. 1a. αἱ δώδεκα φυλαὶ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30; cp. Rv 21:12; B 8:3ab; πᾶσαι αἱ φ. τοῦ λαοῦ GJs 24:3; in imagery Js 1:1; Hs 9, 17, 1f.

② a relatively large people group that forms a sociopolitical subgroup of the human race, nation, people (X., Cyr. 1, 2, 5; Dionys. Hal. 2, 7) πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς (Gen 12:3; 28:14; Ezk 20:32) Mt 24:30; Rv 1:7; 1 Cl 10:3 (Gen 12:3). W. synonymous expressions (TestAsh 7:6 χώρα, φυλή, γλῶσσα) πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, φυλὰς καὶ γλώσσας 2 Cl 17:4; cp. Rv 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6. — B. 1317. DELG s.v. φῦλον. M-M. TW.


[4] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 276–277.

ἔθνος, ους, τό (Hom.+).

① a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people, τὸ ἔθνος τῆς Σαμαρείας the Samaritan people Ac 8:9 (cp. Jos., Ant. 18, 85). τῶν Ἰουδαίων 10:22 (Polyb. in Jos., Ant. 12, 135; Agatharchides: 86 Fgm. 20b Jac. [in Jos., Ant. 12, 6]; Diod S 34+35 Fgm. 1, 2 τὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἔθνος; Philo, Decal. 96 al.; Just., D. 56, 10 ὑμῶν al.) ἐ. the (specific) people, contextually the people of Israel (cp. Orig., C. Cels. 5, 15, 24; Did., Gen. 209, 14) J 11:48, 50ff; 18:35. δώδεκα ἔ. Hs 9, 17, 2. — B 13:2 (Gen 25:23); ἔθνη ἑπτὰ ἐν γῇ Χανάαν seven nations in Canaan Ac 13:19 (Dt 7:1). The people in contrast to heads of state 9:15. ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος one nation against another Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 21:10 (cp. 2 Ch 15:6); πάντα τὰ ἔ. (Ar. 12, 1; Ath. 14, 2; cp. Appian, Bell. Civ. 2, 106 §440 ἐν ἔθνεσιν ἅπασι; Jos., Ant. 11, 215 ἅπαντα τὰ ἔ.) Mt 24:14; 28:19 (SKio, BT 41, ’90, 230–38, prefers 2 below); Mk 11:17 (Is 56:7); 13:10. More specif. πάντα τὰ ἔ. τοῦ κόσμου Lk 12:30; cp. ἅπαντα τὰ ἔ. 1 Cl 59:4; ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔ. 2 Cl 13:2. πᾶν ἔθνος ἀνθρώπων every nation of humankind Ac 17:26. ἄρχοντες ἐθνῶν Mt 20:25; also οἱ δοκοῦντες ἄρχειν τῶν ἐ. Mk 10:42; οἱ βασιλεῖς τῶν ἐ. Lk 22:25 (cp. Ath. 34, 2 ἡγεμόνας τῶν ἐ.). — In Mt 21:43 ἔ. (not gentiles) in contrast to the leaders described vv. 23; 45.

② (τὰ) ἔθνη people groups foreign to a specific people group (corresp. to Heb. גּוֹיִם in LXX; a nationalistic expression, also usu. in Gk. for foreigners: Aristot., Pol. 1324b, 10 [opp. Ἕλληνες]; Ael. Aristid. 45, p. 3 D.; Cass. Dio 36, 41; Ps.-Callisth. 2, 7, 4 [opp. ἡ Ἑλλάς]; IG II/1, 445 Fgm. ab, 8; Fgm. c, 5; 448, 15 and 17 [c. 150 B.C.]; SIG 760; PStras 22, 19; PFay 20, 11; this is an expression favored by Appian in Rome for foreign peoples in contrast to the Italians: Bell. Civ. 2, 26 §99; 2, 28 §107; 3, 35 §140; 4, 57 §246 and oft.; s. Nägeli 46; B-D-F §254, 3) in our lit.

ⓐ those who do not belong to groups professing faith in the God of Israel, the nations, gentiles, unbelievers (in effect=‘polytheists’) w. ἡγεμόνες κ. βασιλεῖς Mt 10:18. Named w. Israelites (Jos., Ant. 13, 196; cp. SibOr 3, 663; Just., A I, 53, 3ff and D. 123, 2 al.) Ac 14:5; 21:21; 26:17; Ro 3:29; 9:24; 15:10 (Dt 32:43); ISm 1:2. They, too, are to share in salvation (Did., Gen. 182, 19); cp. Ac 11:1, 18; 14:27; 15:3, 7; cp. 2 Cl 13:3 (Just., D. 26, 1 al.) (MKiddle, The Admission of the Gentiles in Lk and Ac: JTS 36, ’35, 160–73; JJeremias, Jesu Verheissung für die Völker ’56 [lit.], Eng. tr. Jesus’ Promise to the Nations ’58). But s. Mt 10:5f (MHooker, ET 82, ’71, 361–65). Their sacrificial rites 1 Cor 10:20 v.l. Paul as διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν 1 Ti 2:7; 2 Ti 1:11 v.l. Contrasted w. Christians Hs 1:10. Offended by Christian behavior ITr 8:2.

ⓑ non-Israelite Christians, gentiles of Christian congregations composed of more than one nationality and not limited to people of Israel (οἱ ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν πιστεύοντες Orig., C. Cels. 2, 1, 9; 8, 29, 24): πᾶσαι αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τῶν ἐθνῶν Ro 16:4, and their members: μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν it was his custom to eat w. gentile (non-Israelite) Christians Gal 2:12; cp. vs. 14. ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν τῶν ἐθνῶν for you gentile Christians Eph 3:1. Somet. the word connotes Israelite allegations of religious and moral inferiority of gentiles Mt 6:32 (s. Goodsp., Probs., 26f); Lk 12:30; Hm 4, 1, 9; ἔ. καὶ ἁμαρτωλοί Hs 4:4 al. ἄνομα ἔ. lawless gentiles (=polytheists) MPol 9:2. Contrasted w. the δίκαιοι (w. ἀποστάται) Hv 1, 4, 2; cp. 2, 2, 5. — RFeldmeier/UHeckel, edd., Die Heiden ’94 (essays by a number of scholars); JLaGrand, Proliferation of the ‘Gentile’ in the NRSV: BR 41, ’96, 77–87 (against use of ‘Gentiles’ as a rendering of ἔθνη). — B. 1315; 1489. M-M. TW. Sv.

[4.2] Janet Carston. Cultures of Relatedness.

[4.9] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 192.

In the evidence from Qumran we encounter two distinct phenomena with regard to the treatment of the gentiles. The gôyim and the kitîyîm represent the oppressive external nations, the Seleucids and the Romans, in a manner familiar to us from the apocalyptic traditions. As in Dan 2:46–49, 3:24–30, 4:28–34, and 6:22–28, there are eschatological scenarios in which these foreign rulers recognize the ultimate power of the God of Israel and in some instances are converted to the worship of this god. More frequently they acknowledge this God’s power.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 152–154.

αὐτός, ή, ὁ (Hom.+; W-S. §22; B-D-F index) reflexive pron. ‘self’

① intensive marker, setting an item off fr. everything else through emphasis and contrast, self, used in all pers., genders, and numbers.

ⓐ used w. a subject (noun or pron.)

α. specif. named (X., Cyr. 1, 4, 6; Plut., Caes. 710 [7, 9] αὐ. Κικέρων; 2 Macc 11:12) αὐ. Δαυίδ David himself Mk 12:36f; Lk 20:42; αὐ. Ἰησοῦς Lk 24:15; J 2:24; 4:44; αὐ. ὁ Ἰησοῦς short ending of Mk.

β. or otherw. exactly designated αὐ. ὁ θεός (Jos., Bell. 7, 346) Rv 21:3; αὐ. τ. ἐπουράνια Hb 9:23 (cp. 4 Macc 17:17; Sir 46:3b; GrBar); αὐ. ἐγώ I myself Ro 15:14 (cp. 3 Macc 3:13; POxy 294, 13f [22 A.D.]); αὐ. ἐγὼ Παῦλος 2 Cor 10:1; αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς J 3:28 (cp. 4 Macc 6:19; En 103:7); αὐτοὶ οὗτοι (Thu. 6, 33, 6) Ac 24:15; ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς among yourselves 1 Cor 11:13.

ⓑ to emphasize a subject already known: of Jesus Mt 8:24; Mk 8:29; Lk 5:16f; 9:51; 10:38; 24:36 (cp. the Pythagorean αὐτὸς ἔφα Schwyzer II 211). Of God Hb 13:5 (cp. Wsd 6:7; 7:17; Sir 15:12; 1 Macc 3:22 and oft. LXX).

ⓒ differentiating fr. other subjects or pointing out a contrast w. them αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ Mk 2:25; J 2:12; 4:53; 18:1; Lk 24:15; 1 Cor 3:15. αὐ. οὐκ εἰσήλθατε καὶ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἐκωλύσατε you yourselves did not come in etc. Lk 11:52; cp. vs. 46. — J 7:9; 9:21; Mt 23:4; Lk 6:11; Ac 18:15; 1 Th 1:9; 1 Cor 2:15. αὐτὸς ἐγώ I alone 2 Cor 12:13. Ro 7:25 s. e below. — εἰ μὴ αὐ. except himself Rv 19:12. αὐ. ὄγδοός ἐστιν he is the eighth 17:11; s. also 2a. In anticipation of an incorrect inference Ἰησοῦς αὐ. οὐκ ἐβάπτιζεν Jesus did not personally baptize J 4:2 opp. ‘his disciples.’ Of bodily presence, αὐ. παραγενοῦ come in person (as opp. to letter-writing) AcPlCor 1:7; with component of surprise that the subject specified is actually present in person (Philo, De Jos. 238: Jos. to his brothers αὐ. εἰμι ἐγώ) Lk 24:36, 39.

ⓓ of one whose action is independent or significant without ref. to someth. else (Hyperid. 1, 19, 11; 3, 2) without help J 2:25; 4:42; 6:6; Ac 20:34; αὐ. ᾠκοδόμησεν he built at his own expense Lk 7:5; αὐ. ὁ πατὴρ φιλεῖ ὑμᾶς the Father personally loves you J 16:27 (i.e. they require no intermediary).

ⓔ of one viewed as a solitary figure ‘(be) by oneself, alone’ w. μόνος (cp. μόνος 1aβ) Mk 6:47; J 6:15. W. κατʼ ἰδιαν Mk 6:31. — thrown on one’s own resources αὐ. ἐγὼ τῷ νοὶ̈ δουλεύω νόμῳ θεοῦ thrown on my own resources I am enslaved in mind to God’s interests but in my flesh to the interests of sin Ro 7:25 (JWeiss, Beitr. zur Paulin. Rhetorik, in BWeiss Festschr., 1897, 233f; JKürzinger, BZ 7, ’63, 270–74).

ⓕ with climactic force in connection with one or more lexical units καὶ αὐτός even (Sir prol. line 24 καὶ αὐ. ὁ νόμος even the law; 4 Macc 17:1; GrBar 4:13; 9:4 al.) καὶ αὐ. ἡ κτίσις even the created world Ro 8:21. καὶ αὐ. Σάρρα even Sara Hb 11:11 (on the rdg. here s. Windisch ad loc. and B-D-F §194, 1; Rob. 686; Mlt-Turner 220; cp. Ps.-Callisth. 1, 10, 3 καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν Φίλιππον=and even Philip; but the text of the Hb passage is prob. corrupt; s. καταβολή). οὐδὲ ἡ φύσις αὐ. διδάσκει; does not even nature teach? 1 Cor 11:14. — Without ascensive particle, Ro 9:3 Paul expresses extraordinary devotion to his people (imagine!) I myself.

ⓖ w. attention directed to a certain pers. or thing to the exclusion of other lexical units, so that αὐ. can almost take on demonstrative sense (s. 2a, also Aeschyl., 7 against Thebes 528; Hes., Works 350): αὐ. τὰ ἔργα the very deeds J 5:36; αὐ. ὁ Ἰωάννης (POxy 745, 3 [I A.D.] αὐ. τὸν Ἀντᾶν) this very (or same) John Mt 3:4 (s. Mlt. 91); αὐτῆς τῆς Ἡρωδίαδος Mk 6:22 v.l. (s. 2bα for the rdg. αὐτοῦ W-H., N. and s. on this RBorger, TRu 52, ’87, 25f); ἐν αὐ. τ. καιρῷ (cp. Tob 3:17 BA; 2:9; SIG 1173, 1 αὐταῖς τ. ἡμέραις) just at that time Lk 13:1. — 23:12; 24:13. — 2:38; 10:21; 12:12. — 10:7. αὐτὸ τοῦτο just this, the very same thing (Oenomaus in Eus., PE 5, 22, 3; PRyl 77, 39; POxy 1119, 11; cp. Phoenix Coloph. 6, 8 Coll. Alex. p. 235) 2 Cor 7:11; Gal 2:10; Phil 1:6; εἰς αὐ. τοῦτο Ro 9:17; 13:6; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 6:22; Col 4:8. The phrases τοῦτο αὐ. 2 Cor 2:3 and αὐ. τοῦτο 2 Pt 1:5 are adverbial accusatives for this very reason (Pla., Prot. 310e [pl.]; X., An. 1, 9, 21; PGrenf I, 1, 14).

② a ref. to a definite person or thing, he, him, she, her, it, they, them

ⓐ αὐτός refers w. more or less emphasis, esp. in the nom., to a subject, oft. resuming one already mentioned: αὐ. παρακληθήσονται they (not others) shall be comforted Mt 5:4; cp. vs. 5ff. οὐκ αὐ. βλασφημοῦσιν; Js 2:7. αὐ. σώσει Mt 1:21 (cp. Ps 129:8). αὐ. ἀποδώσει 6:4 v.l. — Mk 1:8; 14:15 al. Freq. the emphasis is scarcely felt: Mt 14:2; Lk 4:15; 22:23; J 6:24; Ac 22:19 (cp. Gen 12:12; Tob 6:11 BA; Sir 49:7; Vett. Val. 113, 16. — JWackernagel, Syntax II2 1928, 86). — Perh. the development of αὐ. in the direction of οὗτος (which it practically replaces in Mod. Gk.) is beginning to have some influence in the NT (Pla., Phdr. 229e αὐτά=this; X., An. 4, 7, 7 αὐτό; Dio Chrys. 3, 37; 15 [32], 10 αὐτοί; Aelian, NA 6, 10; Mél. de la fac. orient … Beyrouth 1, 1906, 149 no. 18 εἰς αὐτὸ ἐγεννήθης=for this [purpose] you were born; Schmid IV 69; 616 αὐτός = οὗτος; Synes., Ep. 3, 159a; 4, 165a; Agathias [VI A.D.], Hist. 1, 3 p. 144, 17 D.) καὶ αὐ. ἦν Σαμαρίτης Lk 17:16 (cp. 3:23; 19:2 and 1g above; on 5:1 s. Mussies 169). Yet here αὐ. could mean alone (examples of this from Hom. on in many writers in WSchulze, Quaestiones epicae 1892, p. 250, 3) he alone was a Samaritan; but Luke’s thematic interest in unexpected candidates for the Kingdom (cp. 5:30–32; 15:2; 19:2 [καὶ αὐτός]; 23:43) militates against the view.

ⓑ The oblique cases of αὐ. very oft. (in a fashion customary since Hom.) take the place of the 3rd pers. personal pron.; in partic. the gen. case replaces the missing possessive pron.

α. w. ref. to a preceding noun διαφέρετε αὐτῶν Mt 6:26; καταβάντος αὐτοῦ 8:1; ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτά 11:25. — 26:43f; Mk 1:10; 4:33ff; 12:19; Lk 1:22; 4:41. The gen. is sometimes put first for no special reason (Esth 1:1e) αὐτοῦ τὰ σημεῖα J 2:23, cp. 3:19, 21, 33; 4:47; 12:40. αὐτῶν τὴν συνείδησιν 1 Cor 8:12. Sim. Lk 1:36 αὐτῇ τῇ καλουμένῃ στείρᾳ w. her who was called barren. Forms of αὐ. are sometimes used without qualifiers in a series, referring to difft. pers.: φέρουσιν αὐτῷ (Jesus) τυφλόν, καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν (Jesus) ἵνα αὐτοῦ (i.e. τοῦ τυφλοῦ) ἅψηται Mk 8:22. On problems related to the rdg. τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρωδιάδος εἰσελθούσης when his (Herod’s) daughter Herodias came in (?) Mk 6:22, s. Borger in 1g, and entry Ἡρῳδίας.

β. w. ref. to a noun to be supplied fr. the context, and without suggestion of contrast or disparagement: ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν (i.e. τ. Γαλιλαίων) Mt 4:23. ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν αὐτῶν 11:1. ἐκήρυσσεν αὐτοῖς (i.e. the inhabitants) Ac 8:5. παρακαλέσας αὐτούς 20:2. ἀποταξάμενος αὐτοῖς 2 Cor 2:13. τὰ γινόμενα ὑπʼ αὐτῶν Eph 5:12. ἐδημηγόρει πρὸς αὐτούς Ac 12:21. τὸν φόβον αὐτῶν 1 Pt 3:14 (cp. 13 and s. Is 8:12). Mt 12:9 (cp. vs. 2); Lk 2:22; 18:15; 19:9; 23:51; J 8:44; 20:15; Ac 4:5; Ro 2:26; Hb 8:9.

γ. freq. used w. a verb, even though a noun in the case belonging to the verb has already preceded it (cp. Dio Chrys. 6, 23; 78 [29], 20; Epict. 3, 1, 22; POxy 299 [I A.D.] Λάμπωνι ἔδωκα αὐτῷ δραχμὰς η´; FKälker, Quaest. de Eloc. Polyb. 1880, 274) τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς Mt 4:16. — 5:40; 9:28; 26:71; J 15:2; 18:11; Js 4:17; Rv 2:7, 17; 6:4 al.

δ. used pleonastically after a relative, as somet. in older Gk., e.g. Soph., X., Hyperid. (B-D-F §297; Rob. 683), freq. in the LXX fr. Gen 1:11 (οὗ τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ; GrBar 2:11 ὃν οὐδεὶς δύναται πειρᾶσαι αὐτόν al.) on (Helbing, Grammatik p. iv; Thackeray 46), and quotable elsewh. in the Koine (Callim., Epigr. 43 [42], 3 ὧν … αὐτῶν; Peripl. Eryth. c. 35; POxy 117, 15f ἐξ ὧν δώσεις τοῖς παιδίοις σου ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν): οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ Mt 3:12; Lk 3:17. οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς … τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ Mk 1:7; Lk 3:16. ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς Mk 7:25. πᾶν ὃ δέδωκεν … ἀναστήσω αὐτό J 6:39; Ac 15:17. ἣν οὐδεὶς δύναται κλεῖσαι αὐτήν Rv 3:8. οἷς ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς 7:2, cp. 13:12. οὗ ἡ πνοὴ αὐτοῦ 1 Cl 21:9. — Cp. in ref. to an anticipatory noun τὰ Ἐλισαίου ὀστᾶ … νεκροῦ βληθέντος … ἐπʼ αὐτά when a corpse was cast on the bones of Elisha AcPlCor 2:32.

ε. continuing a relative clause (an older Gk. constr.; B-D-F §297; Rob. 724): ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν 1 Cor 8:6; οἷς τὸ κρίμα … καὶ ἡ ἀπώλεια αὐτῶν (for καὶ ὧν ἡ ἀπώλεια) 2 Pt 2:3.

ζ. w. a change of pers. Lk 1:45; Rv 18:24.

η. w. a change of number and gender ἔθνη … αὐτούς Mt 28:19. τοῦ παιδίου … αὐτῇ Mk 5:41. φῶς … αὐτόν J 1:10. λαόν … αὐτῶν Mt 1:21. — 14:14; Mk 6:45f; 2 Cor 5:19.

③ pert. to someth. that is identical with, or closely related to, someth., w. art. ὁ αὐτός, ἡ αὐτή, τὸ αὐτό the same (Hom. et al.; Ps 101:28, s. Mussies 171).

ⓐ w. a noun τὸν αὐ. λόγον Mt 26:44; Mk 14:39; τὸ αὐ. φύραμα Ro 9:21; cp. Lk 23:40; 1 Cor 1:10; 10:3f; 12:4ff; 15:39; Phil 1:30.

ⓑ without a noun τὸ (τὰ) αὐ. ποιεῖν (Jos., Ant. 5, 129; 9, 271) Mt 5:46; Lk 6:33; Eph 6:9. τὰ αὐτὰ πράσσειν Ro 2:1. τὸ αὐ. λέγειν agree (not only in words; s. on λέγω 1aα) 1 Cor 1:10. ἀπαγγέλλειν τὰ αὐτά Ac 15:27. τὸ αὐ. as adv. in the same way (X., Mem. 3, 8, 5) Mt 27:44; 18:9 D. — ἐπὶ τὸ αὐ. (Hesychius: ὁμοῦ, ἐπὶ τὸν αὐ. τόπον; Iambl., Vi. Pyth. 30, 167; SIG 736, 66 [92 B.C.]; BGU 762, 9 [II A.D.] ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐ. καμήλων ε´ of the five camels taken together; PTebt 14, 20; 319, 9 al.; 2 Km 2:13; Ps 2:2 al.; 3 Macc 3:1; Sus 14 Theod.) of place at the same place, together (En 100:2; Jos., Bell. 2, 346; s. συνέρχομαι 1a) Mt 22:34; 1 Cor 11:20; 14:23; B 4:10; IEph 5:3; εἶναι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐ. (TestNapht 6:6) Lk 17:35; Ac 1:15; 2:1. προστιθέναι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐ. add to the total Ac 2:47 (see M-M.). κατὰ τὸ αυ. of pers. being together as a body in each other’s company, together (PEleph 1, 5 εἶναι δὲ ἡμᾶς κατὰ ταὐτό) and also with ref. to simultaneous presence at the same time (Aelian, VH 14, 8 δύο εἰκόνας εἰργάσατο Πολύκλειτος κατὰ τ. αὐ.; 3 Km 3:18) Ac 14:1; the mng. in the same way may also apply (ENestle, Acts 14:1: ET 24, 1913, 187f) as in Hs 8, 7, 1 (cod. A; s. καθά; but s. Bonner 105, n. 17, who restores κατʼ αὐ[τοὺς αἱ ῥάβ]δοι; so also Joly). — In combinations ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐ. (also Pla., Leg. 721c; Aristot., Metaph. 1039a, 28; other exx. in GKypke, Observ. II 1755, 220; Diod S 3, 63, 2 εἷς καὶ ὁ αὐτός) one and the same thing 1 Cor 11:5; cp. 12:11 (Diod S 22, 6, 3 μίαν καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀπόκρισιν; Epict. 1, 19, 15 μία καὶ ἡ αὐ. ἀρχή). W. gen. foll. τὰ αὐ. τῶν παθημάτων the same sufferings as 1 Pt 5:9. Without comparison: ὁ αὐ. (Thu. 2, 61, 2; Plut., Caesar 729 [45, 7], Brutus 989 [13, 1]) εἶ thou art the same Hb 1:12 (Ps 101:28); cp. 13:8. On the variation betw. αὐτοῦ and αὑτοῦ, αὐτῶν and αὑτῶν in the mss., s. ἑαυτοῦ, beg. — WMichaelis, D. unbetonte καὶ αὐτός bei Lukas: StTh 4, ’51, 86–93; MBlack, An Aramaic Approach3, ’67, 96–100; MWilcox, The Semitisms of Ac, ’65, 93–100 (Qumran). — Mussies 168–73. DELG. M-M. Sv.

[5.5] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 604.

Who are the sheep, goats, and siblings? The older dispensational scheme viewed this as the judgment of the nations based on their treatment of Israel, a view that could fit Jewish perceptions of the judgment (cf. Manson 1979: 249–50). But this hardly fits Jesus’ own designation of his “brothers” elsewhere (12:50; 28:10; see below), and perhaps not the shift from the neuter “nations” to the masculine pronoun, suggesting individual judgment of Gentiles (cf. Gundry 1982: 512). Because the passage explicitly declares that this judgment determines people’s eternal destinies (25:46), it cannot refer to a judgment concerning who would enter the millennium, as in some older dispensational schemes (Ladd 1977: 38; cf. idem 1978b: 98–102).

[5.51] I elaborate on the language of social synecdoche and its importance today in more detail here:

[5.52] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 82–83.

This perception of persecution of a faithful and/or righteous minority becomes a significant point of identification for sectarian groups in Judea in the second century BCE, as attested in some of the scrolls from Qumran. In the LXX the term diōkō (persecute) is most frequently a translation of the Hebrew rādap (pursue). In the only composition that provides an account of its own sectarian history, the persons who were inspired by the man of the lie “pursued them [i.e., the root plant under the guidance of the teacher of righteousness] with the sword.” The root plant consisted of those who later are described as “entering into the new covenant in the land of Damascus” (CD 6:19). Similarly, in 1QpHab XI, 4–6 it is the wicked priest who “pursued the teacher of righteousness to consume him in the heat of his anger at his place of exile.” Further support for this understanding of the lot of the teacher of righteousness and his followers is found in 1QpHab VIII, 1–3 in which “all those who keep the law … God will deliver from judgment because of their suffering and their faith in the teacher of righteousness.” This comparatively specific portrait of the teacher of righteousness and the community betrays connections with the Thanksgiving Hymns. In 1QHa VI, 14–15 we find reference to “the humble [or ‘poor’] in spirit, those purified by affliction, and those refined by the crucible.” Those portions of the Thanksgiving Hymns are well-known that represent the reflections of an individual leader many regard as the teacher of righteousness, even though that cannot be verified: “The author presents himself as the persecuted and exiled leader of a community that he regards as utterly dependent upon leadership.”75 This portrayal can be found in hymns such as 1QHa X, 22–32, 33–41; XI, 6–19, 20–32; XII, 6–XIII, 6. They provide a model for how a rhetorical development based on the experience of the founder of the sect can be used as a vehicle in the formation of sectarian identity. Persecution, mistreatment, and relegation to outsider status of the leader play a crucial role in this formative process. Whether the author of Matthew was inspired directly by these accounts is questionable, but these examples show that this perception was a significant factor in sectarian identity in Second Temple Judaism. The perception that the group was persecuted and being dealt with badly by external forces fits this portrayal of a sectarian community. To identify that experience in the life of the leader is a highly effective mode of identity formation.

That persecution becomes an accepted and common theme in apocalyptic and sectarian literature during the latter period of the Second Temple helps establish a context for the references in Matthew. It also complicates a reading of the text since it is hard to distinguish between literary theme and historical occurrence. The earliest broadly attested persecution of Christians is under Nero. Before that, the edict of Claudius may provide a suggestion that members of the Jesus movement in Rome were being regarded as troublemakers. Presumably dated to the latter years of his reign (ca. 49 CE), it may have been a prohibition of assembly fomented by trouble stirred up within the Jewish community by Chrestos (Christ). Whatever its intent, its jurisdiction covered only the city of Rome and applied to the Jewish population as a whole.78 The edict of Nero against Christians, if actually issued, was limited to Rome and appears to be of very limited duration. The executions of Peter and Paul, not known in any detail, are indicative of problems at Rome, but there is no evidence of a systematic program of persecution in Rome or throughout the Roman Empire in the first century CE.80 The evidence down to the third century points to sporadic localized persecution. Even the amount of localized persecution appears to be overstated in most of our evaluations. Similarly, the attribution of widespread persecution to the time of Domitian in the scholarship related to Revelation is questioned.82 What does this mean for Galilee immediately after the destruction of the temple?

It is evident that the author of the first gospel uses the term diōkō in a distinctive manner. The gospel of Luke (6:22, 27) uses the term miseō (hate) where Matthew uses diōkō (Matt 5:11, 44). Luke’s usage may reflect the earlier Q version of these sayings. This would indicate that the choice of the term diōkō reflects a Matthean perspective on these sayings. The reference in 5:10 is a compelling indicator since it points to the term “righteousness,” a key term denoting the particular way of life of the followers of Jesus. In 5:12, this particular expression of Judaism is anchored in the prophetic tradition. The blessed are those who are persecuted because they have decided to live out their lives in the manner advocated by the followers of Jesus as it is developed in the gospel of Matthew. That is what being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (5:10) means in this composition. Such a perspective is also apparent in the missionary discourse commissioning the twelve apostles, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (10:23). This verse, not found in any of the other gospels, also reflects this particular Matthean usage. Echoes of the Sermon on the Mount are apparent in the previous verse, “You will be hated by all because of my name” (10:22, cf. 5:11). According to Matthew, the sectarian allegiance of the followers of Jesus is the reason for their persecution in the Jewish community.

[5.6] For example:


[7] Daniel 8:18–22 (NRSV)

As he was speaking to me, I fell into a trance, face to the ground; then he touched me and set me on my feet. 19 He said, “Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath; for it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The male goat is the king of Greece, and the great horn between its eyes is the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power.

The Hebrew Bible: Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text (Francis I. Andersen; A. Dean Forbes, 2008), Da 8:18–22.

18 וּבְדַבְּרוֹ עִמִּי נִרְדַּמְתִּי עַל־פָּנַי אָרְצָה וַיִּגַּע־בִּי וַיַּעֲמִידֵנִי עַל־עָמְדִי׃

19 וַיֹּאמֶר הִנְנִי מוֹדִיעֲךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִהְיֶה בְּאַחֲרִית הַזָּעַם כִּי לְמוֹעֵד קֵץ׃

20 הָאַיִל אֲשֶׁר־רָאִיתָ בַּעַל הַקְּרָנָיִם מַלְכֵי מָדַי וּפָרָס׃

21 וְהַצָּפִיר הַשָּׂעִיר מֶלֶךְ יָוָן וְהַקֶּרֶן הַגְּדוֹלָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּין־עֵינָיו הוּא הַמֶּלֶךְ הָרִאשׁוֹן׃

22 וְהַנִּשְׁבֶּרֶת וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה אַרְבַּע תַּחְתֶּיהָ אַרְבַּע מַלְכֻיוֹת מִגּוֹי יַעֲמֹדְנָה וְלֹא בְכֹחוֹ׃



[11] Christian List. What is it like to be a group agent? Working paper.

31. ‘Compared with 16:27, what is striking here is the total absence of God the Father. The Son of Man acts completely on his own authority, sending out his angels to gather in from all the earth his elect … Mt raises the divine majesty of the Son of Man to the greatest heights possible.’

The happy conclusion not only fails to mention God the Father but, even more surprisingly, alludes neither to the judgement of the wicked nor the resurrection of the dead.

[12] Daniel Heck. The Hospitality of Nations. Presented to the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Available on request.





[16] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 17–18.

These shifting identities in Syrian culture were also the basis for ethnic conflicts. That Jews were one of the ethnic groups that at times resisted some of these impulses is evident. Examples of literature that demonstrate such a Jewish response include 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. This is most apparent in 4 Ezra 11:36–12:39 and 2 Bar. 36–40, where the four-kingdom schema familiar from Dan 2 and 7 is now recast with Rome as the fourth and final worldly kingdom. Whether any of the impact of the rebellion of Jews in Alexandria and Cyrenaica in 115–17, with apparent repercussions in Mesopotamia, reached Palestine or Syria is a matter of conjecture.

See especially the citation from 4 Ezra 11:36–12:39 (2 Esd):

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 2 Esd 11:36–2 Esd 12.

36 Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Look in front of you and consider what you see.” 37 When I looked, I saw what seemed to be a lion roused from the forest, roaring; and I heard how it uttered a human voice to the eagle, and spoke, saying, 38 “Listen and I will speak to you. The Most High says to you, 39 ‘Are you not the one that remains of the four beasts that I had made to reign in my world, so that the end of my times might come through them? 40 You, the fourth that has come, have conquered all the beasts that have gone before; and you have held sway over the world with great terror, and over all the earth with grievous oppression; and for so long you have lived on the earth with deceit. 41 You have judged the earth, but not with truth, 42 for you have oppressed the meek and injured the peaceable; you have hated those who tell the truth, and have loved liars; you have destroyed the homes of those who brought forth fruit, and have laid low the walls of those who did you no harm. 43 Your insolence has come up before the Most High, and your pride to the Mighty One. 44 The Most High has looked at his times; now they have ended, and his ages have reached completion. 45 Therefore you, eagle, will surely disappear, you and your terrifying wings, your most evil little wings, your malicious heads, your most evil talons, and your whole worthless body, 46 so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved, and may hope for the judgment and mercy of him who made it.’ ”

[17] Donald B. Redford, “Pharaoh,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 288–289.

PHARAOH. Egyptian Pr-ʿ (pronounced something like *pārĕṓ), literally (the) “Great House;” a later designation of the king of Egypt.

The monarch who sat on the throne of Egypt was traditionally accorded a number of names and titles encompassing his divine and terrestrial roles in the scheme of things: “Horus” (the falcon-god incarnate), “Golden Horus,” “Favorite of the Two Ladies” (i.e., the cobra and vulture, tutelary goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt), “He-of-the-Sut-plant-and-the-bee” (i.e., King of Upper and Lower Egypt), “son of Re” (the sun-god) etc. The word “Pharaoh,” however, was not initially part of his titulary. Attested from the early 3d millennium B.C. as a designation of part of the large palace complex at Memphis wherein the king and the officers of his administration lived, the term by extension came to signify the authority of the central government. During the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1560–1320 B.C.), and certainly before the reign of Thutmose III (1504–1451 B.C.), “Great House” was occasionally applied to the person of the king himself by metonymy, much as “the Porte” stood for the Turkish sultan, or the “White House” betokens the President of the U.S.A. While initially this semantic development took place within the realm of the vernacular, before the close of the New Kingdom (ca. 1070 B.C.) “Pharaoh” had become a polite circumlocution for the reigning king in official jargon, and as such from the reign of Sheshonk I (last quarter of the 10th century B.C.) is sometimes included within the king’s titulary in formal inscriptions. By the 8th century B.C. it was an integral part of the royal cartouche itself (i.e., the oval within which the king’s name was written in hieroglyphs); and from the 7th century on was nothing but a synonym of the generic “king,” the older word which it rapidly replaced. Its occurrence in the Bible in Genesis, Exodus, and 2 Kings as synonymous with “king of Egypt” conforms to the final stage of its native evolution.

[18] Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012). Loc 3358/7971.

I do believe that you can understand most of moral psychology by viewing it as a form of enlightened self-interest, and if it’s self-interest, then it’s easily explained by Darwinian natural selection working at the level of the individual. Genes are selfish, 3 selfish genes create people with various mental modules, and some of these mental modules make us strategically altruistic, not reliably or universally altruistic. Our righteous minds were shaped by kin selection plus reciprocal altruism augmented by gossip and reputation management. That’s the message of nearly every book on the evolutionary origins of morality, and nothing I’ve said so far contradicts that message. But in Part III of this book I’m going to show why that portrait is incomplete. Yes, people are often selfish, and a great deal of our moral, political, and religious behavior can be understood as thinly veiled ways of pursuing self-interest. (Just look at the awful hypocrisy of so many politicians and religious leaders.) But it’s also true that people are groupish. We love to join teams, clubs, leagues, and fraternities. We take on group identities and work shoulder to shoulder with strangers toward common goals so enthusiastically that it seems as if our minds were designed for teamwork. I don’t think we can understand morality, politics, or religion until we have a good picture of human groupishness and its origins. We cannot understand conservative morality and the Durkheimian societies I described in the last chapter. Neither can we understand socialism, communism, and the communalism of the left. Let me be more precise. When I say that human nature is selfish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our own interests, in competition with our peers. When I say that human nature is also groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. 4 We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players. Stated in this way, the origin of these groupish mechanisms becomes a puzzle. Do we have groupish minds today because groupish individuals long ago outcompeted less groupish individuals within the same group? If so, then this is just standard, bread-and-butter natural selection operating at the level of the individual. And if that’s the case, then this is Glauconian groupishness — we should expect to find that people care about the appearance of loyalty, not the reality. 5 Or do we have groupish mechanisms (such as the rally-round-the-flag reflex) because groups that succeeded in coalescing and cooperating outcompeted groups that couldn’t get it together? If so, then I’m invoking a process known as “group selection,” and group selection was banished as a heresy from scientific circles in the 1970s. 6 In this chapter I’ll argue that group selection was falsely convicted and unfairly banished. I’ll present four pieces of new evidence that I believe exonerate group selection (in some but not all forms). This new evidence demonstrates the value of thinking about groups as real entities that compete with each other. This new evidence leads us directly to the third and final principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. I will suggest that human nature is mostly selfish, but with a groupish overlay that resulted from the fact that natural selection works at multiple levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals, and that competition rewards selfishness — which includes some forms of strategic cooperation (even criminals can work together to further their own interests). 7 But at the same time, groups compete with groups, and that competition favors groups composed of true team players — those who are willing to cooperate and work for the good of the group, even when they could do better by slacking, cheating, or leaving the group. 8 These two processes pushed human nature in different directions and gave us the strange mix of selfishness and selflessness that we know today.”


[18.5] My perspective here is deeply compatible with recent work on the NT with Judaism. See, for example:

John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 20.

While presumed in the previous discussion and in some of the scholarship on Matthew, the Jewish nature of the first gospel requires mention as the fourth of its characteristics. The particular nature of the argumentation central to the first gospel and described in this volume demands a substantive Jewish community as a setting. This gospel is not about Jews or even about Jewish issues. It is the argument of this volume that it is addressed to Jews about substantive questions relevant to Jewish life immediately after the destruction of the temple. In the discussion of the evidence related to the “great commission” in the final chapter of this volume, it will be demonstrated that gentiles or a gentile mission is not the author’s primary concern. Matthew rather was writing for a type of renewal movement within the Jewish community, as were other Jewish writers and scholars throughout the time of the early and middle eras of the Roman Empire. This is not the occasion for a debate as to the extent to which this feature distinguishes Matthew from other NT and early Christian writings. Rather the case to be made is that the composition of this gospel was within the Jewish community.


[19.1] Aaron Gottlieb and Kalen Flynn, The Legacy of Slavery and Mass Incarceration: Evidence from Felony Case Outcomes, Social Service Review, vol. 95, number 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021).

[19.4] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 1, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 534–535.

34a. The same imperative appears in Jas 5:12a. Understood literally, it would have been difficult in Judaism — despite the reservations expressed towards vows and oaths in Eccles 5:4–5; 9:2; Ecclus 23:9; Philo, Decal. 84; m. Dem. 2:3; b. Ned. 22a. The Essenes, to be sure, are said by Josephus to have avoided oaths (Bell. 2:135; cf. Philo, Omn. prob. lib. 84); but the Dead Sea Scrolls are ambiguous on the issue (see 11QTemple 53–4; CD 7:8; 9:9–12; 15–16; 1QS 5:8; 6:27). Perhaps the Essenes required only an entrance oath (cf. Josephus, Bell. 2:139, 142). They certainly did not, in any case, forbid all oaths. For aversion to oaths in the non-Jewish world see Sophocles, OC 650; Cicero, Pro Balbo 5; Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 2:127d; Mor. 46A; Epictetus, Ench. 33:5; Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 3:5; Diogenes Laertius 8:22; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 47. Note that when Jesus, in 26:63, is charged to speak under oath (ἐξορκίζω) he refuses. He says simply, ‘You have said so’.



[22] The language here draws on Michael Heiser’s extensive work on divine council theology. He discusses his own moment of epiphany around this topic at the start of his seminal work, Unseen Realms:

I immediately set to work trying to find answers. I soon discovered that the ground I was exploring was a place where evangelicals had feared to tread. The explanations I found from evangelical scholars were disturbingly weak, mostly maintaining that the gods ( elohim ) in the verse were just men — Jewish elders — or that the verse was about the Trinity. I knew neither of those could be correct. Psalm 82 states that the gods were being condemned as corrupt in their administration of the nations of the earth. The Bible nowhere teaches that God appointed a council of Jewish elders to rule over foreign nations, and God certainly wouldn’t be railing against the rest of the Trinity, Jesus and the Spirit, for being corrupt. Frankly, the answers just weren’t honest with the straightforward words in the text of Psalm 82 . When I looked beyond the world of evangelical scholarship, I discovered that other scholars had churned out dozens of articles and books on Psalm 82 and Israelite religion. They’d left no stone unturned in ferreting out parallels between the psalm and its ideas and the literature of other civilizations of the biblical world — in some cases, matching the psalm’s phrases word for word. Their research brought to light other biblical passages that echoed the content of Psalm 82 . I came to realize that most of what I’d been taught about the unseen world in Bible college and seminary had been filtered by English translations or derived from sources like Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In this study, I primarily take his thesis for granted, and draw most extensively on Amy Richter’s engagement with Heiser’s framework as it relates to Matthew’s Gospel:

[23] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21–28: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2005), 273–274.

History of Interpretation

There are three principal interpretations of this text.

1. The universal interpretation. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will judge all peoples. The criterion of judgment will be works of charity and mercy shown toward the marginal, the poor and the suffering of the world, the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.” Thus the brothers and sisters of the Son of Man are all the people of the world who are in need, non-Christians as well as Christians. An essential element in this interpretation is often the ignorance motif: prior to the judgment the people did not know that they had done good things for Christ himself and that Christ himself was present in the little brothers. In this interpretation the text is understood as a “summary of the whole teaching of the gospel and a restatement of its demands” and as a “masterpiece of the Gospel literature.”45 Few Gospel texts exert such great fascination as does Matt 25:31–46* in this interpretation. Several dimensions of meaning contribute to this fascination. I offer here a summary.

a. Matt 25:31–46* is a paradigmatic, basic text for an undogmatic and practical Christianity. All that is important is the love of neighbor, not confession, not belief. According to many, “the love of God” (or of Christ) is “interpreted as the love of one’s neighbor.” This concentration of loving God in loving the neighbor has probably found its most impressive expression in Leo Tolstoy’s famous story “Where Love Is, There God Is Also.”47 While the cobbler Martyn Avdyeich is mourning the death of his only child, he hears the voice of Christ promising that he will come to him tomorrow. He spends the next day sitting by the window and waiting. Various people come by. First comes an old man who is exhausted from shoveling snow. Then comes the wife of a soldier with a small child; both of them are freezing. The third visit is from an old woman who is arguing with a young street urchin over a stolen apple. Martyn speaks with them and gives them something to eat and drink. These three people were Christ, but Martyn does not know it. Not until he reads Matt 25:35* and 40* that evening does he understand. For Tolstoy God is the love that resides in all people and overcomes all separation. For him 1 John 4:7–8* is one of the most important texts of the Bible.

b. It is not surprising that in all epochs of church history Matt 25:31–46* became a basic text for the acts of charity known as diakonia. The classic list of the seven “works of mercy” are based on it. Lactantius draws on Tob 1:17* LXX to expand the list of Matt 25:35–36* to include burying the dead. Since the High Middle Ages the list remained unchanged.48 “The word … about the lowliest brothers is nothing less than the central essence of the caritas of the Middle Ages.” “The one word … Matt 25:40* has become more important for the care of the poor than whole systems of worldly maxims.” In all important texts up to and including the new Catholic catechism51 Matthew 25 is repeatedly quoted to encourage or to provide theological reasons for works of love.

c. Matt 25:31–46* appears to express in exemplary manner that the good, especially love, can be done only for its own sake. The people in our text do not know that they have demonstrated their love to Christ (vv. 37–39*). That is especially important for the interpretation of Immanuel Kant, for whom the World Judge chooses “as the true elects to his kingdom those who extended help to the needy without it ever entering their minds that what they were doing was also worthy of recompense.” When reward becomes the motivating force for action, behavior is no longer moral, and it no longer corresponds to true, natural religion. This idea of Kant influenced the liberal interpretation of the nineteenth century,53 but it is older than Kant. Pascal had already formulated: “The elect will be ignorant of their virtues, and the outcast of the greatness of their sins.”

d. Matt 25:31–46* plays a major role in liberation theology. Gustavo Gutiérrez deals with the text in connection with the “conversion to the neighbor.” There is no way to God that bypasses the “sacrament of our neighbor,” for “love of God is unavoidably expressed through love of one’s neighbor.” Faith means then to be on the side of the poor. “To take the side of the poor means to see the image of Christ in the tortured and slum dwellers, the lowly and offended, tormented and humiliated. Martin Luther King and Camillo Torres have gone this way.”56 For liberation theologians 25:31–46* is a basic text not primarily for ethics but for ecclesiology and Christology. For Jürgen Moltmann the basic ecclesiological principle is “the least of Christ’s brethren say where the church belongs.”57 The christological formulation of the text is expressed in an impressive way in the theatrical drama of the Korean poet Kim Chi Ha with the title, “The Gold-Crowned Christ.” Before a Korean church there stands a cement statue of Jesus with a crown of gold. Beggars are sitting there. A fat priest and a businessman pass by without noticing. A policeman even tries to chase the beggars away. One of the beggars starts to complain about the cement statue: “What does this block of cement have to do with me?” He wants to steal the crown (which is made of real gold). Then the statue begins to weep. It says to the beggar: “You have freed me from my prison. Take the golden crown. A crown of thorns is good enough for me. Take the gold and divide it.” The piece ends when the priest, the businessman, and the policeman return, take the crown from the beggar, and arrest him. Jesus turns again into stone. Thus Christ becomes human in the poor; his incarnation continues. Here lies the center of this liberation theology.59

e. Matt 25:31–46* is also important in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Here the exegetical point of departure is the possibility that the “lowliest brothers” (on the level of Jesus) may have referred to all of Israel’s poor. Thus the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ are the Jews. Matt 25:31–46* then becomes the declaration of Christianity’s bankruptcy — a Christianity that is complicit in Auschwitz. “A world that claimed to be Christian passively watched as the people of the covenant were systematically exterminated, not thinking what Christ would say in judgment: ‘What you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me!’ ” G. van Norden tells an impressive story that was reported by a journalist in Schlesien (Silesia) in 1933. After the “Brown Synod” of September, 1933, a “German Christian” pastor in Schlesien, citing the Arien paragraphs, demands three times that the Jews of his congregation leave his church, whereupon there is movement on the cross over the altar: the crucified Jesus climbs down from the cross and leaves the church, speaking the words of Matt 25:45*.62

f. Matt 25:31–46* also plays a significant role in Christian attempts to influence the relationship of Christianity to other religions. People have been fascinated repeatedly by the convergence of the Matthean catalogue of charitable works (vv. 35–36*) with statements from other religions. There is nothing specifically Christian about this list; it appears in similar language in other religions. A further consideration is that the people of 25:31–46* do not know that they were dealing with Christ. The norm by which the Son of Man judges people in 25:31–46* appears to have nothing to do with a particular religion; it is universal. In this sense our text can be compared with the Pauline text of Rom 2:12–16*, which states that the Gentiles are justified according to the law written in their hearts. Also influential for Protestant theology was a sermon in which Luther emphasized that Turks and heathens were more likely to do the works of Matt 25:35–36* than were the Germans. Then after the Enlightenment the idea emerged of the natural religion of reason and love that must be the final standard by which all historically developed religions are measured and that found in Matt 25:31–46* its classic expression. Can 25:31–46* be the basic text of a Christian theology of religions? Paul Tillich, to whom we are indebted for the important idea of the “latent church” to which people from non-Christian religions also belong, saw in 25:31–46* an important witness for Christianity’s “conditioned exclusivity” that is restricted by righteousness. For him 25:31–46* is a text that “frees the image of Jesus from a particularism that would make him belong to a particular religion.” For the Japanese theologian and philosopher of religion Katsumi Takizawa (who distinguishes between the universally valid divine primal word that is at work in all religions and that he calls “Immanuel,” and the historical incarnations of this primal word such as Jesus), 25:31–46* refers to this “Immanuel” and relativizes the confession to Jesus as the founder of a religion.67

g. Matt 25:31–46* can take on fundamental theological significance in a post-Christian, atheist modern society. Bultmann had already designated the text as the outstanding biblical example of the “changes of God” in the New Testament. God enters history; he meets us in this world, in the immanent. Modern persons, for whom the word “God” has become a meaningless relic of tradition, can be helped by this text to come not to a new concept of God but to a new encounter with God. Dorothee Sölle has emphasized this idea in conversation with Marxism, and she understands the incarnation of God as “a continuing process of divine self-realization in history” that makes God recognizable and capable of being experienced in the poor. “That God in the world has been, and still is, mocked and tortured, burnt and gassed: that is the rock of the Christian faith which rests all its hope on God attaining his identity.”70 In a different but similar way 25:31–46* is a key text for the Japanese theologian of the “pain of God,” Kazoh Kitamori: “God becomes immanent in historical reality. Moreover the reality denoted here is reality in pain. Hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison — these are the realities of pain.” God suffers the pain of the world, and this pain, because it is God’s pain, becomes the place where transcendence and grace are experienced.


[25] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21–28: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2005), 266.

Thus our safest conclusion is that Matthew has taken over an oral text about the judgment of the world that in vv. 32b–46* is well preserved in its basic elements. It may be that he has patterned it on the ending of Deuteronomy.

The parallel v. 41* will show clearly that Matthew is somewhat reserved toward the idea of a double predestination. Perhaps with v. 34* (and with vv. 41*, 46*) Matthew wants to evoke the memory of the conclusion of Deuteronomy, where Moses confronts the people with blessing and curse.~131~

~131~ See above, n. 12. The allusion fits 2:1–23*; 5:1–2*; 7:28–29*, where Jesus appears as a new Moses (see vol. 1 on 2:1–12* [“Motifs and Analogies in the History of Religions”], 2:13–23* [“Motifs”], 5:1–2*, and 7:28–29* [“Analysis”]). On Matthew’s Moses typology, Allison (New Moses, 267) observes correctly in my judgment: “The new Moses theme remains one of many things, and not the most important.” Charette (Theme, 158 and passim) sees a connection with Gen 12:3* (εὐλογέομαι, καταράομαι) and wants to understand the entire Matthean reward/punishment theology in terms of the promise to Abraham and the biblical promise of the land. However, the two verbs often appear as opposites; the connections are too general to carry the burden of proof for such a thesis.


The Death of the Firstborn

89. Let us proceed to what follows in the text. We have learned through the things examined already that Moses (and he who exalts himself by virtue in keeping with his example), when his soul had been empowered through long application and high and lofty life, and through the illumination which came from above, considered it a loss not to lead his countrymen to the life of freedom.

90. When he came to them, he implanted in them a more intense desire for freedom by holding out worse sufferings to them. Intending to remove his countrymen from evil, he brought death upon all the firstborn in Egypt. By doing this he laid down for us the principle that it is necessary to destroy utterly the first birth of evil. It is impossible to flee the Egyptian life in any other way.

91. It does not seem good to me to pass this interpretation by without further contemplation. How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left.111 The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason?

92. Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said. The teaching is this: When through virtue one comes to grips with any evil, he must completely destroy the first beginnings of evil.

93. For when he slays the beginning, he destroys at the same time what follows after it. The Lord teaches the same thing in the Gospel, all but explicitly calling on us to kill the firstborn of the Egyptian evils when he commands us to abolish lust and anger and to have no more fear of the stain of adultery or the guilt of murder. Neither of these things would develop of itself, but anger produces murder and lust produces adultery.

94. Since the producer of evil gives birth to lust before adultery and anger before murder, in destroying the firstborn he certainly kills along with it the offspring which follows. Take for an example a snake: When one crushes his head he kills the rest of the body at the same time.

95. This would not have happened unless the blood which turns aside the destroyer had been poured out on our doors. And if it is necessary to perceive the meaning presented here more fully, the history provides this perception in both the killing of the firstborn and the safeguarding of the entrance by blood. In the one the first impulse to evil is destroyed, and in the other the first entrance of evil into us is turned away by the true Lamb. For when the destroyer has come inside, we do not drive him out by our own devices, but by the Law we throw up a defense to keep him from gaining a foothold among us.


[27] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 420–421.

31. The introduction, which gives a when but not a where, makes vv. 31ff. an exposition of 24:29–31.

ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ. 16:27; 19:28; and 24:30 also link the Son of man with glory. See further 2, pp. 675–6. Dan 7:14 already declares that glory will be given to the one like a son of man, and the notion reappears in the Similitudes of Enoch.

καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετʼ αὐτοῦ. This takes up LXX Zech 14:5 (ἥξει … καὶ πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι μετʼ αὐτοῦ), a verse also used in 27:51–3. Whereas here the verse is applied to the angels who come with the Son of man at the end, there it is applied to the saints whose resurrection accompanies that of Jesus.

τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ. Compare 5:1–2; 15:29. We judge the comparable 19:28 (ὅταν καθίσῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ) to be redactional, and most have thought the same of this clause. But Catchpole (v) assigns 25:31 to tradition and urges its influence upon 19:28.

For discussion of καθίσει κ.τ.λ. see p. 54. Here we note that (i) the angels stand while the Son of man sits and (ii) Jewish tradition could place more than one throne in heaven. Concerning this last, the judgement scene in Daniel 7 refers to ‘thrones’, and R. Akiba is purported to have taken this to mean one throne for God, another for David (b. Ḥag. 14a). Other texts which refer to thrones in heaven which are not God’s include 4Q215 4:9 (the Messiah’s throne); T. Job 33:3–5 (Job’s heavenly throne is glorious); T. Abr. A 11:4–11 (the throne of Adam; cf. LAE 47:3 = Apoc. Mos. 39:2–3); A 12:4–13:4 (the throne of Abel); Rev 4:4; 11:16; (the thrones of the twenty-four elders); Apoc. Elijah 1:8 (thrones in heaven for the righteous); T. Isaac 2:7 (Isaac’s throne); and 3 En. 10:1 (God made for Metatron ‘a throne like the throne of glory’). When one adds that Psalm 110 appears to depict an enthronement alongside God, that heavenly angels sometimes have their own thrones, and that Matthew elsewhere refers to more than one eschatological throne (cf. 19:28; 20:21), probably the Son of man’s throne is not God’s throne. It is true that Moses in the Exagoge of Ezekiel (Eusebius, Praep. ev. 9:24:4–6), the Son of man in 1 Enoch (45:3; 51:3; 55:4; 61:8; 62:2–3), Wisdom in Wisd 9:4, 10, and the lamb of God in Revelation (7:17; 22:1, 3) all sit on the divine throne. It is also true that ‘the throne of his glory’ refers to God’s throne in 1 En. 9:4; 62:2–3; 71:7; Wisd 9:10; and 11 QŠŠ 2–1–9:5–6. But in Matthew αὐτοῦ can only refer to the Son of man; and 22:44 and 26:64 seemingly imply separate thrones for God and Messiah.

The motif of a human being judging others in the afterlife or an eschatological context appears in more than one Jewish text. In T. Abr. A 12:4–13:4 Abel sits upon a heavenly throne and judges ‘the entire creation’, including the ‘righteous and sinners’. According to 11QMelch 2:13, Melchizedek ‘will exact the vengeance of El’s judgements’. In 2 Bar. 72:2–6, God’s Messiah ‘shall summon all the nations, and some of them he will spare, and some of them he will slay’ (cf. Isa 11:4). Related pictures appear in Psalms of Solomon 17 and (we think) 4Q246 col. 2; and Rev 20:4 probably foretells that the followers of Jesus will sit on thrones and have judgement committed to them. One also recalls 1 Cor 6:2 (‘the saints will judge the world’) and the possibility that the Son of man in the Similitudes of Enoch should be identified with an exalted Enoch.

[27.1] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 361–362.

καὶ ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετὰ δυνμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς. Compare Ps 138:5 (‘great glory’); Mt 16:27; 26:64; 1 Thess 4:16–17; Rev 14:14; 4 Ezra 13:3; b. Sanh. 98a. So Mk 13:26, with ἐν νεφέλαις (Matthew is here closer to the LXX) and πολλῆς immediately after δυνάμεως. The words draw upon Dan 7:13–14, although ὄψονται231 may come from Zech 12:10.: On the Son of man in the teaching of Jesus and in Matthew see 2, pp. 43–52. His origin and destination are not here stated; but one naturally envisages a heavenly figure descending to earth, somehow in the vision of all. δύναμις here means not ‘miracle’ but (as in 22:29) the divine ‘power’ which overshadows the powers of all false prophets and messiahs. On δόξα236 see 2, pp. 675–6. With the heavenly lights darkened, the one light will be the eschatological doxa.

‘On the clouds’ does more than just recall Daniel 7 and other texts in which heavenly figures appear on clouds. In Exod 13:21–2 the Lord goes before Israel in a pillar of cloud, while in Exod 40:35–8 the cloud over the tabernacle is the glory of God. In these texts as in others—some of which reflect the Canaanite designation of Baal the storm god as ‘Cloud Rider’ (cf. Ps 68:4)—a cloud is the visible sign of the invisible presence of God and so a regular element of the theophany. So the Son of man’s coming on the clouds marks the approach of God himself.239 But this drawing near of the divine presence must mean judgement for those who have set themselves against God. In line with this, Dan 7:13 itself depends upon Jer 4:13 (‘he comes with the clouds’), where the arriving clouds connote the swiftness of judgement (cf. Isa 19:1). Perhaps the reader of Matthew will also recall the eschatological promise that the cloud of divine presence will someday return: Isa 4:5; 2 Macc 2:8.

31. ‘Compared with 16:27, what is striking here is the total absence of God the Father. The Son of Man acts completely on his own authority, sending out his angels to gather in from all the earth his elect … Mt raises the divine majesty of the Son of Man to the greatest heights possible.’

The happy conclusion not only fails to mention God the Father but, even more surprisingly, alludes neither to the judgement of the wicked nor the resurrection of the dead.

[27.5] My analysis here is an especially clear illustration of my new formalist and new historicist sympathies. For a comparable example see:

Michal Beth Dinkler, Literary Theory and the New Testament, ed. John J. Collins, The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 158–159.

For a related but distinct discussion, see. My approach here is more Habermasian, but also aims to avoid the dangers of an absolutization of discourse.

The narrator’s control of knowledge and perspective guides readers in their interpretive judgments of this scene. Readers — unlike the other characters in the story — see the woman in the crowd, readers are told the reason for her presence, and readers watch her come up behind Jesus and touch his garment. Readers’ privileged information can make it difficult for them to remain neutral “outside” observers. The narrative development turns on the discrepancies in knowledge between characters and readers. The way the story is told aligns readers’ perspectives with the woman’s, in contrast to the disciples’ and Jesus’s perspectives. For example, Jesus’s question in Luke 8:45 (“Who touched me?”) and the readers’ knowledge of the answer heighten the tension and create dramatic irony. With these reader-elevating strategies of focalization, the narrator effectively creates a cohort of informed insiders; as Paul Duke puts it, “Irony rewards its followers with a sense of community.” Irony situates readers over and against the disciples, who “are shown to have little faith in Jesus and little understanding of why Jesus would ask who touched Him in such a mob.”116

From a New Formalist perspective, what’s remarkable about these intercalated tales is that “the chiasmus inverts relationships between content” — that is, Jesus and Jairus are decentered as the central active agents, while the woman takes center stage as the protagonist at the inner core of a framed narrative. In a world that has marginalized this woman in more ways than one, she is suddenly right in the center of the action — both literally and figuratively — while Jairus, the respectable Jewish leader who embodies the social center, is relegated to the margins of the narrative.

[28] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21–28: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2005), 280.

Are the “lowliest brothers” a special group within the Christian community? In the text “lowly” is contrasted with the “great” heavenly King and World Judge. The term emphasizes rhetorically the gigantic distance between the needy and the World Judge and has the effect of emphasizing the surprising miracle of his identification with them. Thus we should not construct the meaning of “lowliest” (ἐλάχιστος) externally to the text — for example, from a designation of Christians as “little ones” (μικροί), whomever it may have designated. Only the contents of vv. 35–39* can determine of whom the readers primarily thought.

From a number of pre-Matthean early Christian texts one can conclude that they were thinking in a special way of the early Christian itinerant radicals, thus the missionaries of Jesus. From the sending discourse in Q 10 we know that the messengers of Jesus were poor (Q 10:4). They traveled, thus they were outsiders (ξένοι) dependent on gifts of food and drink (Q 10:7–8; cf. Matt 10:42*). They owned only one garment (Mark 6:9*); if it was torn, they were “naked” (γυμνοί). They risked their lives (Q 12:4–7) and had to answer to the authorities (Q 12:8–9, 11–12; cf. Mark 13:9–13*), who could throw them in jail (cf. Q 12:11–12). The Pauline peristasis catalogues also speak of hunger and thirst, prisons, cold and nakedness (1 Cor 4:11–12*; 2 Cor 6:4–5*; 11:23–27*). Paul also reports sicknesses (2 Cor 12:7–9*).149 The works of charity listed in Matt 25:35–36* fit nicely the situation of the Christian itinerant missionaries.

At the same time we know that the risen Lord especially identified with these itinerant messengers and their message. They also knew that those who rejected them faced judgment, worse than Sodom and Gomorra (Q 10:12; cf. 6). Jesus said of them: “Whoever hears you hears me; whoever rejects you rejects me” (Q 10:16). This principle of early Christian apostleship corresponds to the Jewish rights of messengers and probably stands behind the identification statements of vv. 40 and 45. It is widespread. Paul extends it with his theology of the cross (2 Cor 4:10*). Luke has the exalted Lord say to Paul, who had been persecuting followers of Jesus, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4*; 22:7*; 26:14*). And in the church of the Didache the rule still is that one should accept “as the Lord” a visiting teacher who is a real teacher (Did. 11.2; cf. 4.1).

Thus the readers of the Gospel of Matthew have a wealth of experience and a rich tradition that let them think initially of the “lowliest brothers” as the itinerant radicals. The relation of residents to the itinerant radicals may lie behind this text at the pre-Matthean level. To be sure, in the pre-Matthean tradition the issue probably was not primarily to comfort the harassed itinerant radicals. I do not think that our text ever functioned to help the addressees identify with the “lowliest brothers,” who appear in it only indirectly; it spoke only to the resident members of the community about their behavior toward the itinerant radicals. In my judgment it was effective as parenesis and not as a way for oppressed Christian missionaries to justify themselves. Thus only indirectly does something of the absolute claim appear that already characterized the proclamation of Jesus (cf., e.g., Q 11:31–32; 12:8–9) and that also influenced the proclamation of his messengers after Easter (cf., e.g., Q 10:10–12; 12:10).


[30] Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 72–74.

79. Truly, after the death of the frog-like emotions, the former manner of life of those who have been delivered from such an illness becomes to them a foul and odorous memory which disgusts the soul in shame. It is as the Apostle says to those changed from evil to virtue: What did you get from this? Nothing but experiences that now make you blush.

80. In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.

81. According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness, while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.

82. Perhaps someone, taking his departure from the fact that after three days of distress in darkness the Egyptians did share in the light, might be led to perceive the final restoration which is expected to take place later in the kingdom of heaven of those who have suffered condemnation in Gehenna. For that darkness that could be felt, as the history says, has a great affinity both in its name and in its actual meaning to the exterior darkness. Both are dispelled when Moses, as we have perceived before, stretched forth his hands on behalf of those in darkness.

83. In the same way we would perceive the true meaning of the furnace ashes which, according to the text, produced painful boils on the Egyptians. In the figure of what is called the “furnace” we perceive the threatened punishment of fire in Gehenna which touches only those who imitate the Egyptians in their manner of life.106

84. If anyone is truly an Israelite, a son of Abraham, and looks to him in life in such a way as to show by his own free will his kinship in race to the elect people, he is kept unharmed from that painful fire. The interpretation of Moses’ outstretched hands which we have already given may become for those others also the healing of pain and the deliverance from punishment.

85. If one follows the sequence of our earlier investigations, he will have no trouble attaching to each plague the corresponding perception: those light gadflies which tormented the Egyptians with their unseen bites, the flies which clung painfully with their bites to their bodies, the tillage which was ravaged by the locusts, and the storms from heaven which rained down hailstones.

86. The Egyptians’ free will caused all these things according to the preceding principle, and the impartial justice of God followed their free choices and brought upon them what they deserved. As we follow closely the reading of the text at hand, let us not draw the conclusion that these distresses upon those who deserved them came directly from God, but rather let us observe that each man makes his own plagues when through his own free will he inclines toward these painful experiences. The Apostle says the same thing when talking to such a person: Your stubborn refusal to repent is only adding to the anger God will have toward you on that day of anger when his just judgments will be made known. He will repay each one as his works deserve.



[31.4] Inferring the Analogical Position of the Person of the Holy Spirit from Scripture and Tradition | by Daniel Heck | Medium


[33] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 20–21.

The time of composition for the first gospel is a less complicated matter. The acceptance of the two-source theory establishes the date of composition of the gospel of Mark as a terminus a quo. This is most frequently dated to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, just before or more likely within a few years after that event. This leaves 80–90 CE as the most common default position for the composition of Matthew. We do find an emphasis on the delay of the parousia in certain passages (Matt 24:48; 25:5, 19); presumably related is the assurance of the continuing divine presence through Jesus after his death and resurrection (1:23; 18:20; 28:20). Of greatest importance is the insertion, only by Matthew, of the destruction of the thieves and the burning of the city into the parable of the wedding feast (22:7). Whether the tearing of the temple curtain in Matt 27:51 should be seen as an allusion to the end of the temple is debated. In contrast to Mark 15:38, the Matthean account also speaks of the rocks being split, pointing to the destruction of the building in addition to the torn curtain, even if in apocalyptic language.

[34] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 430–431.

ζωή, ῆς, ἡ (Hom.+; in Hom. ‘living’=‘substance, property’, without which there would not be life; after Hom. ‘life, existence’ opp. death, then ‘way of life’ Hdt. 4, 112)

① life in the physical sense, life ἐν σαρκὶ ζ. Orig., C. Cels. 6, 59, 8)

ⓐ opp. θάνατος (Pind. et al.; Lucian, Tox. 38; Sir 37:18; Pr 18:21; Philo; Just., A I, 57, 3; Mel., P. 49, 355) Ro 8:38; 1 Cor 3:22; Phil 1:20. ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου during your life Lk 16:25 (s. Sir 30:5); cp. 12:15; Ac 8:33 (Is 53:8); Js 4:14; 1 Cl 16:8 (Is 53:8); 17:4 (cp. Job 14:5); 20:10; Hm 3:3. πᾶς χρόνος τῆς ζωῆς ἡμῶν B 4:9 (cp. PsSol 17:2; JosAs 13:12). πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς αὐτῶν Hs 9, 29, 2; cp. GJs 4:1; τὰς λοιπὰς τῆς ζωῆς ἡμέρας Hv 4, 2, 5; cp. v 5, 2; m 12, 2; Hs 6, 3, 6. τὴν ἐσχάτην ἡμέραν τῆς ζωῆς αὐτοῦ Hv 3, 12, 2. ἐν τῇ ζ. ταύτῃ in this life 1 Cor 15:19; also ζ. ἡ νῦν (opp. ἡ μέλλουσα) 1 Ti 4:8 (Tat. 14, 2). τέλος ζωῆς end of life Hb 7:3 (TestAbr A 1 p. 78, 5 [Stone p. 4]). ζωὴ κ. πνοή life and breath Ac 17:25 (cp. Gen 2:7; 7:22). πνεῦμα ζωῆς breath of life Rv 11:11 (cp. Gen 6:17; 7:15; TestAbr A 18 p. 100, 31 [Stone p. 48]). ψυχὴ ζωῆς living thing 16:3 (cp. Gen 1:30; Just., D. 6, 1 ἡ ψυχὴ ἤτοι ζωή ἐστιν ἢ ζωὴν ἔχει). πρὸς ζωῆς necessary for life 1 Cl 20:10. Of the indestructible life of those clothed in the heavenly body 2 Cor 5:4. The life of the risen Christ also has this character Ro 5:10; 2 Cor 4:10f; ζ. ἀκατάλυτος Hb 7:16. ὁδοὶ ζωῆς Ac 2:28 (Ps 15:11). Christ is ἐν θανάτῳ ζ. ἀληθινή IEph 7:2.

ⓑ means of sustenance, livelihood (Hdt. et al.; Sir 4:1; 29:21) Hs 9, 26, 2.

ⓒ the course or mode of one’s life (cp. βίος 1) Hm 8, 4 and 9; 11, 7 and 16; Hs 9, 16, 2 al. In some of these pass. a transition to the moral aspect is apparent.

② transcendent life, life

ⓐ God and Christ

α. God as ζωή Dg 9:6b; as ζωὴ αἰώνιος 1J 5:20. Of the cross IEph 18:1. It is true of God that ἔχει ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτῷ J 5:26a. God’s commandment is eternal life 12:50 (cp. Philo, Fug. 198 God is the πρεσβυτάτη πηγὴ ζωῆς; Herm. Wr. 11, 13; 14; 12, 15 God the πλήρωμα τ. ζωῆς; PGM 3, 602 [s. Rtzst., Mysterienrel.3 286, ln. 11]; the deity called Νοῦς as ζωή and φῶς Herm. Wr. 1:9, 12, 17, 21, 32; 13:9, 18, 19. Cp. also Ps 35:10; 55:14; SibOr Fgm. 3, 34; JosAs 8:10f al.).

β. of Christ, who received life fr. God J 5:26b (ἡ ζωὴ τῆς πίστεως ParJer 9:14). ἐν αὐτῷ ζ. ἦν 1:4a; cp. 1J 5:11b. He is the ἀρχηγὸς τ. ζωῆς Ac 3:15, the λόγος τ. ζωῆς 1J 1:1; cp. vs. 2, the ἄρτος τ. ζωῆς J 6:35, 48; cp. vs. 33 (EJanot, Le pain de vie: Gregorianum 11, 1930, 161–70), also simply ζωή 11:25; 14:6 or ἡ ζ. ὑμῶν Col 3:4; cp. B 2, 10; IMg 9:1. Since the life in him was τὸ φῶς τ. ἀνθρώπων J 1:4b, people through following him obtain τὸ φῶς τ. ζωῆς 8:12 (on the combination of light and life cp. 1QS 3, 7 and the Orph. Hymns to Helios no. 8, 18 Qu. ζωῆς φῶς, as well as Christian ins of Rome [Ramsay, Luke the Physician 1908 p. 375, 238 A.D.], where a father calls his dead son γλυκύτερον φωτὸς καὶ ζοῆς; s. also α above). — SBartina, La vida como historia en J 1:1–18, Biblica 49, ’68, 91–96.

ⓑ The discussion now turns naturally to the life of the believers, which proceeds fr. God and Christ.

α. without (clear) eschatol. implications, of the life of grace and holiness ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατεῖν walk in (i.e. live) a new life Ro 6:4; cp. IEph 19:3. ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τ. ζωῆς τ. θεοῦ estranged fr. the life of God Eph 4:18 (cp. Philo, Post. Cai. 69 τῆς θεοῦ ζωῆς ἀπεσχοινίσθαι). ἡ ζωὴ τ. ἀνθρώπων the (true) life of persons (in God) Hm 2:1. — Of the life of salvation and of glory. It is ζ. κυρίου B 1:4 (cp. PGM 12, 255 κύριε τ. ζωῆς; 13, 783) or ζ. ἐν Χρ. Ἰησοῦ 2 Ti 1:1; cp. ζωὴν ὑμῖν ὁ κύριος χαρίζεται Hs 9, 28, 6; effected by his words or by the proclamation of the gospel: ῥήματα ζ. αἰωνίου J 6:68; cp. vs. 63. τὰ ῥήματα τῆς ζ. ταύτης Ac 5:20. λόγος ζωῆς word of life Phil 2:16; cp. 2 Ti 1:10; 2 Cor 4:12. Hence the apostle, proclaiming the gospel, can term himself the bearer of the ‘fragrance of Christ’, leading those appointed to this bliss, the rescued ἐκ ζωῆς εἰς ζωήν from life to life (i.e., as it seems, ever more deeply into the divine life) 2 Cor 2:16. — The Spirit stands w. Christ as the power of life πνεῦμα τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χρ. Ἰησοῦ the spirit of life in Chr. J. Ro 8:2; cp. vss. 6, 10 and J 6:63. — Like the words of Christ, the divine ἐντολή is also to bring life Ro 7:10; Hm 7:5; Hs 8, 7, 6. This ζ. is regarded as God’s gift ζ. ἐν ἀθανασίᾳ 1 Cl 35:2. W. ἀφθαρσία 2 Ti 1:10; 2 Cl 14:5; IPol 2:3. W. γνῶσις D 9:3; Dg 12:3–7. W. εὐσέβεια 2 Pt 1:3. W. εἰρήνη Ro 8:6. W. σωτηρία 2 Cl 19:1. ἀγάπην ἥτις ἐστὶν ἀρχὴ ζωὴς καὶ τέλος IEph 14:1. Christians, who truly belong to the ἐκκλησία τῆς ζωῆς 2 Cl 14:1, are heirs of life, the gift of grace 1 Pt 3:7. This life, as long as they are in the body, κέκρυπται σὺν τ. Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ is hidden with Christ in God Col 3:3. Those who forfeit their ζ. (=their real life in contrast to their physical existence as ψυχή) are excluded fr. the life of glory Hv 1, 1, 9; Hs 6, 2, 3; 8, 6, 4; 6; 8, 8, 2f; 5; 9, 21, 4. — Cp. also Ac 11:18 (s. 1QS 3, 1); 13:46, 48. ἡ ὁδὸς τῆς ζ. D 1:2; 4:14. τὰς τρίβους τῆς ζ. Hs 5, 6, 3. Esp. in Johannine usage the term ζ. is copiously employed, as a rule to designate the result of faith in Christ; in most cases it is stated expressly that the follower of Jesus possesses life even in this world: ἔχειν ζωήν (Theophr. in a scholion on Pla. 631c εἰ ζωὴν εἶχεν ὁ πλοῦτος=‘had life, were alive’) J 3:15f, 36a; 5:24a, 40; 6:40, 47, 51, 53f; 10:10; 20:31; 1J 3:15; 5:12ab, 13. διδόναι ζωήν (cp. Sb 8202, 3 [105 B.C.]) J 10:28; 17:2; 1J 5:11. — Cp. 5:16. ὁρᾶν ζωήν J 3:36b. μεταβεβηκέναι ἐκ τ. θανάτου εἰς τ. ζωήν to have passed fr. death into life J 5:24; 1J 3:14. Hence in the eschatol. pass. J 5:29 ἀνάστασις ζωῆς means not a resurrection to enter life (cp. 2 Macc 7:14 and MPol 14:2, where ἀνάστασις ζωῆς αἰ., it seems, is res. to everlasting life), but a resurrection which corresponds to the Christian’s possession of life here and now, a resurrection proceeding from life. J is fond of calling this Life ζ. αἰώνιος, as in many pass. just cited (s. αἰώνιος 3) J 3:15f, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2f; 1J 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20. But the use of this expr. in our lit. is by no means limited to J and 1J; it is also found in Mt, Mk, Lk, Ac, Ro, Gal, 1 Ti, Tit, Jd, 2 Cl, Ign, MPol, Hermas, Didache (Just., Mel., Ath.; Orig., C. Cels. 2, 77, 31 [w. ἀνάστασις]; cp. αἴδιος ζ. Tat. 14, 2) w. unmistakable eschatol. connotation.

β. ζ. (and ζ. αἰώνιος; cp. 1QS 4:7 and s. J 3:15 al.; opp. ἀπώλεια TestAbr B 8 p. 113, 2 [Stone p. 74]) is used of life in the blessed period of final consummation, in the foll. pass.: ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζ. αἰ. in the coming age eternal life Mk 10:30; Lk 18:30; cp. Mt 19:29 (Ar. 15, 3 ζ. τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰώνος). τί ποιήσω ἵνα ζ. αἰ. κληρονομήσω; Mk 10:17; cp. Lk 18:18; 10:25; Mt 19:16f (PsSol 14:10). As a result of the Last Judgment ἀπελεύσονται οἱ δίκαιοι εἰς ζ. αἰ. Mt 25:46 (cp. PsSol 13:11); s. also Ro 2:7 (cp. 1QS 4:6–8). — Cp. also Mt 7:14; 18:8f; Mk 9:43, 45; Ro 5:17f, 21; 6:22f; ζ. ἐκ νεκρῶν life for those who have come out of the state of death 11:15. — Gal 6:8; 1 Ti 1:16; 6:12, 19; 1 Pt 3:10 (Ps 33:13); Jd 21; 2 Cl 8:4, 6; Dg 9:1, 6a. For 2 Cor 5:4 s. 1a. Of martyrs τὴν αἰώνιον ζ. ἐξαγοραζόμενοι purchasing eternal life for themselves MPol 2:3 (Mosquensis, other Gk. codd. κόλασιν). W. ἀνάπαυσις τ. μελλούσης βασιλείας 2 Cl 5:5. This life is called ἡ ὄντως ζ. the real, true life (the redundancy may derive from awareness of a distinction sometimes made in the Gr-Rom. world between real living ζωή and biological existence βίος; s., e.g., IPriene 105, 10=OGI 458, 10; cp. Cass. Dio 69, 19) 1 Ti 6:19; ζωῆς ἀληθοῦς Dg 12:4; ἡ ἐπουράνιος ζ. 2 Cl 20:5; ἀΐδιος ζ. IEph 19:3 (s. ἀΐδιος). Hope is directed toward it, ζωῆς ἐλπίς B 1:6; cp. Tit 1:2; 3:7; Hs 9, 26, 2. — The references to future glory include the foll. expressions: βίβλος or βιβλίον (τῆς) ζωῆς (s. βίβλος 2) Phil 4:3; Rv 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Hv 1, 3, 2. τὸ ξύλον (τῆς) ζωῆς the tree of life (4 Macc 18:16; cp. Pr 3:18; Gen 2:9; PsSol 14:3; ParJer 9:16 [δένδρον]; ApcEsdr 2:11; ApcMos 19 al.; Philo. — ξύλον 3) Rv 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19; Dg 12:3f. στέφανος τ. ζωῆς (s. Bousset, Rel.3 277f; MDibelius on Js 1:12; FCumont, Études syriennes 1917, 63–69; s. στέφανος) Js 1:12; Rv 2:10. ὕδωρ (τῆς) ζωῆς (Just., D. 19, 2 βάπτισμα; cp. ὕδωρ 2) 21:6; 22:1, 17. πηγὴ ζωῆς B 11:2 (cp. Jer 2:13; Ps 35:10; OdeSol 11:6). ζωῆς πηγαὶ ὑδάτων springs of living water Rv 7:17. For ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς s. ἄρτος 2 end. — FBurkitt, ZNW 12, 1911, 228–30; RCharles, A Critical Hist. of the Doctrine of a Fut. Life in Israel, in Judaism and in Christianity2 1913; FLindblom, D. ewige Leben 1914; Bousset, Rel.3 269–95; JFrey, Biblica 13, ’32, 129–68. — EvDobschütz, D. Gewissheit des ew. Leb. nach d. NT: ‘Dienet einander’ 29, 1920/21, 1–8; 43–52; 65–71; 97–101; JUbbink, Het eeuwige leven bij Pls 1917; ESommerlath, D. Ursprung d. neuen Lebens nach Pls2 1926; JMüller, D. Lebensbegr. d. Hl. Pls ’40; NvArseniew, D. neue Leben nach dem Eph: Internat. Kirchl. Ztschr. 20, 1930, 230–36; EvSchrenk, D. joh. Anschauung vom ‘Leben’ 1898; JFrey, ‘Vie’ dans l’Év. de St. Jean: Biblica 1, 1920, 37–58; 211–39; RBultmann, D. Eschatol. d. Joh Ev.: Zwischen d. Zeiten 6, 1928, 1ff; HPribnow, D. joh. Anschauung v. ‘Leben’ ’34; DLyons, The Concept of Eternal Life in J ’38; JKoole, Diorama Johanneum. Ζωή: GereformTT 43, ’42, 276–84; FMussner, ΖΩΗ (Joh. lit.), diss. Munich ’52; DHill, Gk. Words and Hebrew Mngs. ’67, 163–201. — B. 285. S. βίος and Schmidt, Syn. IV 40–53. DELG s.v. ζώω 1. EDNT. M-M. TW. Sv.

[35] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 127–128.

The “sage” refers to an office of teaching and authority in the Community Rule; it also indicates the teacher who addresses “all those who pursue righteousness” in 4Q298 (Words of the Sage to All Sons of Dawn) 1–2 I. We have already pointed out above the similarity in the use of the word “righteousness” in Matthew to some of the sectarian uses of the term. In an even more fragmentary context the yoke also appears in 4Q438 (Barkhi Nafshie) 3, 3: “I will bring my neck under your yoke and discipline,” similar to Ben Sira 51:26. Here we find another reference to “yoke” in 5, 5, even more lacking in context. However in 4, 4 reference is made to the ’ōraḥ ḥayyîm (way of life), just as in 4Q298 1–2 I, 3, the passage already mentioned. The ways of life and death constitute the center of the two small fragments of 4Q473 (The Two Ways). Within the Qumran evidence we see ample attestation of the yoke as an image of wisdom utilized in Second Temple Judaism as well as the manner in which this image was connected with the two-ways motif. While the latter is tied in many ways to Deut 27–30, the phrase “way of life” is most common in Proverbs.




Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.

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Daniel Heck

Daniel Heck


Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.