Did Jesus Exit? – Part 12
Back in Part 10, I took a look at Mark and (in the Comments section) Q, and determined that they both represent Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person. Now I’m looking into the M-source, the unique material used by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, to see whether M also represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person.
One problem with M, at least in terms of the material that G.D. Kilpatrick concluded was from M (in Origins of the Gospel of St. Matthew, 1946), is that it does not include narratives, only sayings and parables of Jesus. So, we would not expect to find as much clear evidence for Jesus being a flesh-and-blood person in M as we found in Mark or Q.
For one thing, an angel or a spirit could, in theory, say anything it wanted to say. So, the words coming from Jesus cannot provide conclusive evidence for his being (or being represented as being) a flesh-and-blood person.
However, if Jesus were represented as saying “I have a physical body, and can feel pain, and I can be injured or killed.” this would be very strong evidence that Jesus was being represented as a flesh-and-blood person, because believers in Jesus would assume Jesus to be honest and truthful, so they would not view these words as an attempt by Jesus to deceive others into believing he had a physical body when he was actually a spirit or an angel.
But since Jesus is generally represented as teaching, or at least discussing, religious beliefs and moral values, there is no reason to expect that he would make such claims about himself, or that he would claim to be a physical person.
Furthermore, if Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, that would be a fairly obvious fact for the people who were his disciples and the people who came to listen to him speak. There would be no point in Jesus saying “I have a physical body” when the people listening to him could see his body with their own eyes, when they could hear his voice, and touch his arm, and see him eating food.
The expectation that M would probably not provide clear evidence of Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person is what in fact turns out to be the case, as far as I can tell from a quick review of the passages in Matthew that come from M.
Three passages provide some significant support for Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person, and one passage provides significant evidence against Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person. Four passages provide some weak support for the view that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person. Most passages from M seem to me to provide no relevant evidence for or against M representing Jesus as having a physical body.
I found one passage from M that provides significant evidence against the idea that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20, NRSV)
Jesus had followers in many different towns and cities in Palestine, so this passage suggests that Jesus was either able to be in many places at the same time, or else that he was able to travel long distances in the blink of an eye. Either way, this stongly suggests that Jesus was a spirit or an angel, and NOT a flesh-and-blood human being.
Of course, this saying can be fit in with the belief in a flesh-and-blood Jesus. Christians believed that Jesus died and rose from the dead (at least by the time the Gospel of Mark and the early letters of Paul were written). So, such a saying could have been attributed to the risen Jesus, who had obtained a ‘glorified’ body, which could have been thought of as being radically different than an ordinary physical body, having special supernatural powers and properties.
In other words, given the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a Christian could hold that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person prior to his resurrection, and that after the resurrection Jesus had an extraordinary supernatural body that is radically different from a typical human body.
So, although this one verse clearly points to the idea of a Jesus who was NOT a flesh-and-blood person, it is possible to fit this passage into a larger framework in which Jesus is represented as having been a flesh-and-blood person during his ministry in Palestine, up until his death and resurrection.
One more consideration is that this alleged M passage might not be from M. The scholars from the Jesus Seminar comment on this passage:
“Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name” has rabbinic parallels and was probably a standard feature of Judean piety. Since it was a part of common lore, Jesus cannot be designated as its author.
(The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, p.217)
A similar comment appears in another scholarly commentary on Matthew:
Just as contemporary Judaism handed on sayings to the effect that wherever two or three discuss words of Torah [OT Law] they are attended by the divine presence, so also Matthew’s church proclaims that when it gathers in Jesus’ name, Christ himself is present.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, p.379, “The Gospel of Matthew”- commentary by M. Eugene Boring)
If this idea was part of common lore, then Matthew and/or some people in his Christian community were probably aware of this idea and so that awareness could have been the source of this passage, rather than a written M source. This is a plausible alternative explanation for the origin of this particular passage, so this raises significant doubt about the assumption that Matthew 18:20 was based on the M source.
There are three passages that I think provide some significant support for the view that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person (assuming these passages were taken from the M source):
[Jesus responds to criticism from some Pharisees:] “Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:5-7, NRSV)
Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! …”
(Matthew 13:36-43, NRSV)
Then the disciples approached and said to him [Jesus], “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He [Jesus] answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
(Matthew 15:12-13, NRSV)
There is, however, a significant problem with these passages. There is good reason to doubt that these three passages are actually from M.
The commentary on Matthew 12:5-7 in The New Interpreter’s Bible suggests that the author of Matthew created this passage, with a bit of inspiration from Q for verse 6:
In rabbinic debate, a point of law (Halaka) could not be established on the basis of a story (Haggadah), but required a clear statement of principle from the Torah. Matthew, conditioned by this rabbinic context, adds an example from Num 28:9-10…. Since the priests sacrifice according to the Law on the sabbath, sacrifice is greater than the sabbath. But mercy is greater than sacrifice, as the divine declaration makes clear (Hos 6:6 again….), so mercy is greater than the sabbath.
The declaration that “something” greater than the Temple is here is Matthew’s adoption of a Q formula (cf. 12:41-42)…
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.278)
If the author of Matthew is the creator of this passage (with some inspiration from Q), then this passage was not based on the M source.
The same commentary provides reasons for doubting that Matthew 13:36-43 came from the M source:
Since the language, style, and theology of this interpretation are thoroughly Matthean, most scholars regard it as his own composition, even if (an earlier form of) the parable of the weeds may derive from Jesus himself.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.310)
Finally, the same commentary casts doubt on the view that Matthew 15:12-13 came from the M source:
The scene changes again, and the disciples become the only addressees. Into the Markan story Matthew inserts vv. 12-14, mostly composed by him (with a Q point of contact; cf. Luke 6:39).
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.333)
So, the passages that provide the clearest evidence that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, might well not be from the M source. Since there is significant doubt that these three passages are from M, I won’t bother to go into the reasons why I interpret these passages as representing Jesus as having a physical body.
The four M source passages that I believe provide some weak support for the view that M represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person are:
Matthew 5:27-28 refrain from lust
Matthew 5:38-41 endure pain and discomfort for the sake of others
Matthew 19:10-12 castration and celibacy as a way to be devout
Matthew 25:34-45 feed the hungry, give drink to thirsty, clothing to the naked, care for the sick, visit prisoners
Although a spririt or angel could give such advice and commands, Jesus would seem more sincere and more authoratative in giving such bodily-oriented advice and commands if he himself had a physical body. Also, the fact that he frequently deals with physical desires and needs suggests that he has experience with these things.
Three M passages clearly indicate that Jesus had a body, and four passages provide additional but weak support for the view that M represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, whereas only one passage clearly indicates that Jesus did not have a body.
Although there is doubt about each of the three passages that clearly indicate a physical Jesus, doubt that they are actually from the M source, there is a significant chance that at least one of the three passages was from the M source. So, the combination of the three passages provides some added support to the four less clear passages.
I conclude that the M source leans in the direction of representing Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, though this is less clear than in the case of Mark and Q.
To be continued…