Thursday, January 12, 2012

GNT2012 - Matthew 6.19-7.6

Jesus was one of those dangerous and dynamic people who lived with no attachment to wealth. He called his followers to a radical anxiety-free existence while depending on God for basic needs (Mt 6.19-33). This concept is so foreign in the contemporary western world. Personally, I have no physical need that is not currently met. Even more, I have no foreseeable need that I will be unable to fill. How do Jesus’ words about trusting God for basic needs apply in such a context?

In the middle of his teaching on wealth Jesus provides an odd metaphor for understanding his exhortation to trust God with basic needs.
The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, if your eye is sincere [ἁπλοῦς], your whole body will be shining. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be dark. Therefore, if the light in you is dark, how great is the dark? (Mt 6.22-23)
The adjective “sincere” [ἁπλοῦς] is unique, appearing only in this saying in the entire NT (Mt 6.22 || Lk 11.34). Additionally, it is extremely rare outside the NT, making it difficult to translate. The NIV, NRSV and ESV translate it “healthy,” while the NASB reads “clear.” It is an odd word to use for vision because it typically means something like “sincere” or “straightforward.” The Jewish historian Josephus uses the adjective to describe “frank” speech in the context of political intrigue (JW 1.469).  The Jewish philosopher Philo uses the same word to mean “simple” or “clear” when describing the commands of God in the Torah (Spec. Laws 1.299). Thus, it refers to honest and unpolluted disposition as well as something uncomplicated.

There is one clear parallel in Jewish literature from around the same time (c. 150 BCE). In Testament of Issachar,
“The genuine [ἁπλοῦς] man does not desire gold, he does not defraud his neighbor, he does not long for fancy foods, nor does he want fine clothes. He does not make plans to live a long life, but awaits only the will of God.”[1]
This is quite similar to Jesus’ conclusion, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [basic needs] will be added to you” (Mt 6.33).

In this text, the phrase “of God [τοῦ θεοῦ]” is a difficult textual variant. Matthew rarely uses the phrase “kingdom of God” (Mt 12.28; 19.24; 21.31, 43) and when he does it appears he is following source material (Mt 12.28 || Lk 11.20; Mt 19.24 || Mk 10.25 || Lk 18.24). The textual evidence from the very early codex Sinaiticus, however, supports the reading against the majority of texts. Ultimately, I think including the phrase is the best reading because otherwise it is difficult to explain the modifying pronoun “his” on righteousness and it is easily conceivable for a scribe to drop a phrase so rare in Matthew.

[1] H. C. Kee, “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,” The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. James H. Charlesworth; New York: Yale University Press. 1983), 803. 

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