The parable of the insane king, and other strangeness in the Book of Matthew (Bible tweets)

Previously in the series: Genesis and ExodusLeviticus through DeuteronomyJoshua through PsalmsProverbs through Song of SongsIsaiah through Ezekiel, Daniel through Malachi.

I’m now tweeting my way through the New Testament, and I’ve decided to do one post per gospel, because each one has its own little quirks that are worth commenting individually. Here it goes.

When I started reading the New Testament, I was thinking that in spite of its flaws, at the violence would be way toned down relative to the Old Testament. This isn’t exactly right. The violence is a little toned down. I mean, we aren’t repeatedly told that God will force people to eat their own kids, but there’s still quite a bit of violent imagery.

Don’t believe me? Just look at Matthew 22:2-13, which informs us that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who burns entire cities to punish a few murderers and has people bound and taken away if they show up to a wedding without proper attire. In Matthew’s defense, a lot of the violent imagery is in the parables, which gives us a good justification for taking it all non-literally, but it still seems pretty clear that something bad is going to happen to people on the wrong side of the coming of the “kingdom of heaven.” It’s just not clear what.

But what decides whether or not you’re on the right side of the coming of the kingdom of heaven? That’s less clear. Matthew has a lot verses that imply the question is whether you’re good to other people, like the famous parable of the sheep and the goats. On the other hand, there’s Matthew 10:32-3, where Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Oh? And another thing that’s clear though? The kingdom of heaven is coming soon. That’s been old news to me since I read Bart Ehrman’s excellent book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenniumbut it’s worth emphasizing. This is so utterly obvious from the text that I can’t comprehend why preterism isn’t more popular.

The other strange thing in Matthew is all the commandments which Christians today very obviously don’t follow. And with some of them, it’s understandable, like the one that says to sell everything you own and give the money to the poor. I’m a huge fan of giving to the charities that actually help poor people, but I’m not going to do that, sorry.

On the other hand, there are some commandments that would be really easy to follow but get ignored anyway. Like, there’s a commandment not to swear oaths. A few groups of Christians, such as the Quakers, have stuck to this one, but most Christians completely ignore it. Why? I don’t know, maybe oath-making is just too damn useful of a social institution.

Similarly, there’s Matthew 6:6, where Jesus says that when you pray, you should go into your room, shut the door, and pray in secret. Non-believers who are sick of public displays of religiosity very much wish Christians would start following this one, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon. I’m cynical enough not to be surprised by this one: of course signaling your piety is more important than obeying your own damn holy book.

  • Matt 1:17: 14 generations apiece from Abraham to David, David to Babylonian Exile, Babylonian Exile to Jesus.
  • Mat 3:1-2: John the Baptist says, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
  • Matt 3:7: John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “generation of vipers.”
  • Matt 3:12: John warns someone is coming who will “gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
  • Matt 5: Blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.
  • Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
  • Matthew 5:18 “Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law.”
  • Matthew 5:19 “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least…
  • …in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Hey everybody, don’t kill people for being gay. #Levitucus20:13 #Matthew5:19
  • Matt 5:28-29: Looking at a woman with lust is the same as committing adultery. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.
  • Matt 5:34-37: “Do not swear at all… Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
  • Is there any reason why strict adherence to the commandment against swearing oaths isn’t more common among conservative Christians?
  • Lots of commandments would be a huge burden to take literally, but that seems like an easy way to be stricter in your adherence to the Bible
  • Matthew 5:40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”
  • Matthew 5:42: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
  • Matthew 6:3-4: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.”
  • Matthew 6:6 “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”
  • Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”
  • Matthew 8:12 “The heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  • Matthew 10:5: Jesus tells the twelve disciples: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans.”
  • Matt 14:15-16: If anyone doesn’t listen to the 12 disciples, the day of judgment will go better for Sodom & Gomorrah than for that town.
  • Matt 10:23: Jesus tells 12 disciples to preach to Israel & that they won’t get through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
  • Matt 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
  • Matthew 10:33 Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
  • Matthew 11:23 “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.”
  • Matthew 12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me.”
  • I hope Matt 15:4 is Jesus giving an example of an OT command that should NOT be followed, but I’m not really sure it’s so clear from context
  • Matt 16:27 “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works”
  • Matt 16:28 “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
  • Matthew 19:9 “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”
  • How widely known is Jesus’ prohibition on divorce? Not very, judging by lack of interest “defend marriage!” folks have in banning divorce.
  • Matthew 19:21 “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor.”
  • Matthew 19:23 “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Matthew 19:24 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
  • Matt 22:2-13: The kingdom of heaven is like a king who burns entire cities to punish a few murderers and has people bound and taken away…
  • Matt 22:2-13 (con’t) …if they show up to a wedding without proper attire.
  • Matt 24:34: After describing the end of the world, Jesus says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
  • Matthew 27:24: Pilate says: I wash my hands of this.
  • Matthew 27:25 All the Jews assembled for Jesus’ trial say, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
  • Matt 27:52-53: Tombs break open, saints rise from the dead and appear to many people in Jerusalem.
  • Matthew 28:19: When the disciples saw the risen Jesus, they worshiped him, but some doubted.
  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com Bronze Dog

    Oh? And another thing that’s clear though? The kingdom of heaven is coming soon. That’s been old news to me since I read Bart Ehrman’s excellent book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, but it’s worth emphasizing. This is so utterly obvious from the text that I can’t comprehend why preterism isn’t more popular.

    That’s one theme I noticed during my disillusionment by actually reading the Bible. I think it stood out since there was a lot of paranoia about cults at the time and I was aware of a lot of tropes that are involved in recruiting and retaining members, so I saw what looked very much like an apocalypse cult.

  • Silentbob

    It’s curious that Jesus does the ol’ loaves and fishes trick twice, in two consecutive chapters: Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38. The wording is sufficiently different that it doesn’t appear to be an accidental duplication. But you would think the disciples would have figured it out the second time. “Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?”, they ask Jesus (Matt 15:33), just before he does the exact same trick he did last chapter.

  • Andrew G.

    14 generations from the return from exile to Jesus’ birth would be about 38 years per generation, which is rather unfeasibly long given that the average life expectancy (discounting infant mortality) was only about that.

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