Monday 24 October 2016

Bible Book:

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (v. 11)

Matthew 15:1-20 Monday 24 October 2016

Psalm: Psalm 35:9-18


Yesterday I hinted at a couple ofimportant points to remember when we read the Gospels in the NewTestament. The first is that we can focus at three differentlevels: the 'original Jesus' story; the intentions of the Gospelwriter for their own readers; how we might read the passage today.The second is that each Gospel has its own distinct emphasis.Whereas Luke saw the (non-Jewish) Christian church as representinga break with Judaism, Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians,argues for the Church as the 'new Judaism', with Jesus as the 'newMoses', bringing in a new, radical, interpretation of traditionalJewish teaching (Torah). And it is precisely this kind of debatethat we find here in today's passage.

Some Jews (here described as "Pharisees and scribes" (v.1))regarded the interpretation of scripture ("the tradition of theelders" (v. 2)) as having equal authority to scripture itself (forthem, "Torah" was both Scripture and interpretation). Eachgeneration of Jewish scholars added further interpretation to theScriptures, such as elaborate rules about ritual cleanliness.Jesus, who was very much at home in this kind of debate, challengedthe "Pharisees and scribes" about their interpretation ofScripture, insisting that his own interpretation had greaterauthority than their human precepts. So, for Jesus, theCommandments (and there are 613 of them in the Hebrew Scriptures,not just the familiar 10!) were more to do with 'right behaviour'than 'right ritual'. And those who follow Jesus, says Matthew,should accept his interpretation of Scripture as having greaterauthority. A new Torah for the new Jewish Christian church.

So we have a very Jewish Jesus, engaged in a very Jewish debateabout the interpretation of Scripture for a very Jewish church.What might we make of this today? If nothing else, we shouldperhaps be wary of making too much of our own interpretation ofScripture - how many of our cherished doctrines are, in fact, humanprecepts? How do we decide whether our tradition is right?

To Ponder

  • If Matthew's Gospel was written for a first-century Jewishchurch, how might we usefully read it today?
  • As a modern reader, who do you identify with in the story?Why?
  • How important to you are the Christian doctrines you believe?How do you know they are 'right'?

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