27 October 2016

Matthew 16:1-12

“Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 37:12-29


Sometimes Jesus could be very cryptic! To make some sense of this enigmatic passage we need to remember that there are three distinct ways of reading a Gospel: what it might reveal of the original 'Jesus story'; what it might have meant to its first readers; what we might make of it today. The first is fairly straightforward: Jesus almost certainly would have engaged in this kind of 'rabbinic' debate with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were two significant groups in 1st-century Judaism. Pharisees were enthusiastic interpreters of the Jewish Scriptures, believing that their interpretation added to it, whereas Sadducees were more conservative, insisting that Scripture alone (and not its later interpretation) was the only authority for living as a Jew. For Jesus, as Messiah, his interpretation of Scripture was right, and binding - both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were wrong, although Jesus did agree with the Pharisees about the resurrection of the dead.

What about"the sign of Jonah"(v. 4)? Jesus was probably not, at this point, making a connection between Jonah's famous three days in the belly of the fish and his own resurrection - in any event, Jonah was buried "in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17), but Jesus was only buried for two days and nights. Rather Jesus was probably referring to God's judgement of Nineveh (Jonah 1:1), threatening divine punishment for Jerusalem and for "an evil and adulterous generation" (v. 4). And for Matthew's readers, this had already happened when, in AD70, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans, and Matthew's Jewish Christian church saw itself as the 'new' Judaism, with Jesus as the Messiah, and in opposition both to the 'old' Judaism of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and also to the gentile Christian church championed by Paul.

Where does this leave us as modern readers? Well, at the very least we should be careful when we try to decide 'what the Bible says' - and be aware that this familiar piece of meteorological wisdom a very ancient!

To Ponder

  • "We need to remember that there are three distinct ways of reading a Gospel." Do you find this approach helpful? Why?
  • As a modern reader, who do you identify with in the story? Why?
  • How might you identify 'false teaching' in the church today?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.