3:59 PM

Laura on v. 23b (and vv. 5-6)

1. One critical issue arises in v. 23b, when Jesus states that the disciples “will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (NRSV). What sense of Jesus’ “coming” could be in view here? If it is the parousia, the eschatological second coming, then it seems either that “going through all the towns of Israel” is not functioning quite at face value, or that Jesus is teaching an imminent and apparently unfulfilled return. If the latter is the case, it not only raises serious questions regarding the reliability of Jesus’ knowledge and teaching as attested in Scripture (and thus of Scripture itself), but coupled with vv. 5b-6, it implies that the proclamation of the “good news” is really meant to make a full stop with the people of Israel!

2. Davies and Allison see the text as referring to the parousia, but argue that it does not amount to an “unfulfilled prophecy,” because Matthew portrays the mission to Israel as still outstanding. For example, the missionaries are said to go out, but not to return (in contrast to Mk/Lk), and the Commission to go to “all nations” implicitly includes Israel (Mt 28:19; p. 190). Luz similarly concludes that Matthew as a whole presents the mission to Israel as ongoing, but since he identifies v. 23b as a pre-existing logion that does in fact exhibit a “failed” eschatological expectation, he believes that the broader Matthean perspective entails a “correction” of v. 23b (along with vv. 5-6) through the Great Commission. He chooses this interpretive option as the ‘lesser of two evils’, lest v. 23 be simply “false” (p. 93-94).

3. I am more sympathetic to Davies’ and Allison’s position than to Luz’s; the former do seem to have some solid exegetical grounds for their argument, and at this point I’m somewhat chary about trying to explain troubling details by ‘writing them off’ to an earlier source, at least if they can be explained relatively well within their present context. (At the same time, I freely acknowledge that I haven’t yet learned enough about text criticism to really know how I want to appropriate it.) Even so, this does not neatly wrap up the question of eschatological expectation here or elsewhere in the NT, and Luz is right to pick up on the persisting tension of vv. 5-6: if the mission commanded by Jesus in this text is ongoing, what does it mean that Jesus restricts this mission to Israel? Does it work to think of Jesus as simply choosing to expand this mission in the giving of the Great Commission, as Mt 28:19 attests?

Comments (2)

This is a tough verse isn't it?! You're right to press both commentaries on the significance of the restriction of vv. 5-6 if the mission to Israel is simply "ongoing." You mention at the beginning that the *parousia* as traditionally understood is one option for "the coming" of the Son of Man. What are the other options? How would you relate this verse to the discourse of chapters 24-25?

Note that Luz's redaction theory is totally hypothetical--he can't point to any textual evidence of the logion's pre-Matthean history. So even being a jedi master of text criticism wouldn't help you much on this one. Redaction theories are sometimes (though certainly not always) convenient ways of avoiding having to say, "I just can't reconcile this verse/saying with the rest of Matthew's Gospel."

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