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Go to Bible: Matthew 3
|Mat 3:1||- (top)|
|Mat 3:2||- (top)|
“A voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make ready the road of Yahweh! Make his paths straight!’” This quotation, which comes from Isaiah 40:3 (and the quotation in Luke 3:4 and Mark 1:3) is from the Shem Tob (or “Shem Tov) Hebrew manuscript of Matthew, see commentary below. In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Isaiah is quoted from the Septuagint text. [For more on the custom of making a road ready by clearing and leveling it, see commentary on Mark 1:3. For more on the Septuagint and the original NT texts being in Greek, see commentary on Luke 3:4].
“Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the personal name of God, and a rabbinic abbreviation for it appears in the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew as well as in the verses of the Old Testament that Matthew quoted. As we will discuss below, there is evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and used the name Yahweh, so we have put it in the REV.
In the fourteenth century a complete Hebrew text of Matthew appeared in the body of a Jewish polemical treatise entitled Even Bohan, “The Touchstone.” The manuscript was not all in one place, but when gathered together was the complete book of Matthew. The author of the treatise, and thus the one who copied Matthew into it, was Shem-Tob ben Isaac ben-Shaprut (sometimes called Ibn Shaprut; also, because his name was actually Shem-Tob, sometimes the manuscript is referred to as the Shem-Tov manuscript). The Shem-Tob manuscript is not well known, so it is important to say a few things about it.
The Even Bohan treatise contains the entire book of Matthew in Hebrew, but unfortunately Shem-Tob wrote his notes in Hebrew right into the Hebrew text, which means they have to be lifted out of the text of Matthew for it to be read without them.
For many years the Shem-Tob manuscript was ignored, even though there was historical evidence that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. It was ignored because it had been the opinion of most scholars that the Shem-Tob manuscript was a translation back into Hebrew from the Latin, or perhaps from Greek. However, recent interest in the Hebrew language has caused a reexamination of the text. There are now a number of scholars who, for a number of reasons, think that the Shem-Tob manuscript represents a Hebrew manuscript tradition that goes back to the Hebrew text Matthew wrote. One reason is that there seem to be too many verses that differ from any known Greek or Latin manuscript for the Shem-Tob manuscript to be a translation from either of those manuscript traditions. Another very important reason is that the Shem-Tov manuscript uses a rabbinic abbreviation for Yahweh, the only personal name of God (all His other “names” are actually titles). No Jew in the Middle Ages would have used “Yahweh,” and no scholarly Jew would ever have placed the holy name of God, which they would not even say out loud, into a Christian Bible. A third reason involves some of the commentary Shem-Tob wrote. For example, after Matthew 2:12 and the verse about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, he comments that the Hebrew text is wrong and the error is not in “Jerome’s version” (the Latin). From comments like these we can see that Shem-Tov was copying an earlier Hebrew text. He would not have created a unique, and incorrect, Latin text, and then criticized it.
It is too much to go into all the various reasons for believing that the Shem-Tov manuscript represents a Hebrew manuscript tradition that goes back to an original that Matthew wrote, and there are still many scholars who believe Matthew first wrote in Greek, but more information can be found in the work by George Howard, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, 1995).
It is also important to remember that although there are quite a few places that the Shem-Tov manuscript differs from the Greek text, it will take thorough study before adopting any of its readings into the English Bible because the Shem-Tov manuscript was in the hands of Jews, not Christians and also, as with any other manuscript from centuries after Christ, would have been copied several times before it existed as the Shem-Tob manuscript we have available today. However, when it comes to the name “Yahweh,” the evidence seems certain that it would have had to have been passed down from an original Hebrew text of Matthew, and hence we use it in the REV.
Until recently scholars believed that Hebrew was not spoken in Palestine in the first century, and that when the word “Hebrew” appeared in documents from the first or second century that “Aramaic” was actually meant. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other documents from around the time of Christ have revealed that Hebrew was both written and spoken in the first century. Given that, there is reason to believe that when the ancients said “Hebrew” they meant “Hebrew.”
A number of Church fathers said that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew. Unfortunately, some of them are quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History and we do not have their original surviving statements. Nevertheless it seems highly unlikely that Eusebius would have said they said Matthew wrote in Hebrew if that was not what they said. Eusebius was not trying to build a case that Matthew wrote in Hebrew; he was simply writing a history of the Church. Furthermore, the accuracy of Eusebius’ statements would have been much easier to check in his day than now.
Jerome also wrote, On Famous Men 3 (de Santos 18): “Matthew, who is also Levi, the ex-publican apostle, first composed in Hebraic letters the gospel of Christ in Judea on account of those who had believed from among the circumcision; [but those] who afterward translated it into Greek is not sufficiently certain. Furthermore, this Hebraic [text] is held even until today in the Caesarean library which Pamphilus the martyr studiously put together. There was an opportunity for me from the Nazaraeans to copy this volume, which is used in Beroea, a city of Syria. In which [gospel] it must be noted that, wherever the evangelist, whether from his own person or from the Lord and savior, makes use of testimonies of the old scriptures, he does not follow the authority of the seventy translators [the Septuagint version], but the Hebrew. From which things two are: From Egypt did I call my son, and: For he shall be called a Nazarene.” (These references are 2.15 and 2.23, respectively).
Jerome said in the Prologue of the Four Gospels: “First of all is Matthew, a publican with the cognomen of Levi, who published a gospel in Judea in the Hebrew speech, especially on account of those who had believed in Jesus from among the Jews, and with the shadow of the law in no way succeeding he served the truth of the gospel.”
“prepare the road of Yahweh, in the wilderness make straight a path for our God.” When the people said, “prepare the road of Yahweh…a path for our God,” no one thought that God would actually come and use the road. It would be well understood in the culture that the road would be prepared for God’s representative, in this case, the Messiah. Some Trinitarians say this verse shows that Jesus was God, but that is not the case. Jesus was God’s Messiah, and as such, when the road was prepared for him, it was prepared for God.
We see the cultural thought and expression that God’s representative was referred to as “God,” or that God somehow came via a representative, in other places in the Bible. For example, after Jesus raised a man from the dead, Luke records that the people said, “‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ And, ‘God has visited his people!’” (Luke 7:16). The people did not think God Himself had somehow showed up among them; for one thing, they would never call God a prophet. The people realized God had “visited” them by sending a great prophet.
God comes to us through many different intermediaries and circumstances, but the fact that God is the one behind the actions of His intermediaries explains why, in the culture, the intermediary is not mentioned at all. For example, sometimes angels speak or act as if they were God Himself, but they are actually His intermediaries. A good example is when Jacob wrestled with “God” (Gen. 32:28, 30). Genesis never tells us that “God” is not God Himself but a representative—we have to learn that from other places in the Scripture. It was an angel that wrestled with Jacob (Hos. 12:4). Another example is when Naomi, living in Moab, heard that “Yahweh had visited Israel by giving them bread” (Ruth 1:6). Saying that God “visited” Israel was just an idiomatic way of saying He had blessed Israel, in this case with food. God did not show up in Israel carrying a basket of food, as we might do if we visited a neighbor with food, instead, God blessed the efforts of the laborers who planted and tended the food, so there was plenty of food.
The custom of using mediators and intermediaries was so deeply ingrained in the culture that sometimes they are completely left out of the biblical record. For example, Matthew 8:5 says that when Jesus entered Capernaum, “a centurion came to him.” The entire record of the centurion and Jesus is recorded in Matthew without any hint that the centurion was not present at all—he worked through intermediaries. Only in Luke do we find the full record with the intermediaries included. Luke says that when the centurion heard of Jesus, “he sent elders of the Jews to him” (Luke 7:3). The whole conversation between the centurion and Jesus occurred through intermediaries.
We see the idea of intermediaries when Jesus is called “Immanuel” which is Hebrew for “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Calling Jesus Immanuel does not make him God any more than David’s brother Eliab was the son of God because his name means “God is my father.” Names often have a significance or are a kind of prayer or wish of the one doing the naming, but they are rarely purely literal. Jesus was “God with us” as God’s Messiah and intermediary.
It might well be asked that if the Bible is really saying to prepare the road for the Messiah, God’s representative, why not just say that; why say prepare the road for God? The “Messiah” was “the anointed one,” but as we can see from the biblical text itself, there were many “anointed ones” (cp. king Saul, 1 Sam. 24:6; king David, 2 Sam. 19:21; king Zedekiah, Lam. 4:20). We learn that there were many gods and many lords (1 Cor. 8:5), as well as many “anointed ones” and “saviors.” Many of them did not represent the true God, or represent Him fully or faithfully. A wonderful way to make sure that everyone knew the way was to be prepared for God’s true representative was to say to prepare it for God.
[For more on names being significant but not literal, see commentary on Matt. 1:23; “Immanuel”].(top)
“this John.” In the Greek text, the autos is demonstrative, “this John” (the one being discussed); it is not intensive, “John himself.” Cp. Robertson, Grammar, p. 686, and Lenski).
“camel’s hair.” The garment of camel’s hair was a rough, thick, outer garment. It was common, and when James Freeman wrote Manners and Customs of the Bible in 1875, it was still worn quite commonly by Arabs.(top)
|Mat 3:5||- (top)|
“publicly confessing.” The Greek verb is exomologeō (#1843 ἐξομολογέω), and it means to confess or admit openly or publicly. In this instance it is a plural participle, and indicates that the confession was connected with the baptism: they confessed their sin as they were being baptized, i.e., just before going under the water. The form of the verb indicates that they openly confessed their sin, not just whispered it to John. John Peter Lange writes: “The compound ἐξομολογούμενοι denotes public confession” (Lange’s Commentary; cp. Meyer, who points out that public confession is also indicated in Acts 19:18 and James 5:16).
The public confessions at the baptism of John showed how serious the people were about being saved and entering the Kingdom of Heaven after they heard from John that the Kingdom was about to arrive (cp. John’s message in Matt. 3:2, “the Kingdom of Heaven is near”). The “Kingdom of Heaven” was the kingdom promised in the Old Testament and ruled by Christ where no one was sick, the government was just, there was an abundance of food, and there was no war or crime.
People wanted to get into that kingdom, and they set aside their reservations and, out in the water with John, openly confessed their sins. Their being immersed in the waters of the Jordan then symbolized the death of the old ways and rebirth or resurrection into a new life, which they would then have to live out in the flesh day after day. In contrast to the common people, the religious leaders such as the Pharisees refused to be baptized by John, no doubt in part because they had no intention of openly confessing their sin (Luke 7:30).
We may gain some insight into part of the reason why God spoke from heaven and said about Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” when we contrast what occurred with the common people and what happened with Jesus. The common people all openly confessed their sin in the hearing of the crowd, but of course Jesus did not do that. It is possible that there were people in the crowd that were confused about Jesus and wondered why he did not confess any sin, but the loud voice from heaven would have made it quite clear that God was pleased with Jesus, as well as testify to the crowd who Jesus was. The voice was not for John’s sake. John knew who Jesus was, although miraculous confirmation is always welcome. The voice was for the crowd’s sake. Also, there is little doubt that news of the voice got around, which would have only heightened the Messianic expectation that was already quite high due to things such as the teachings of John.
[For more on John’s baptism, see the commentary on Mark 1:4. For more on the Messianic Kingdom on earth, see commentary on Matthew 5:5, “inherit the earth”].(top)
“The wrath that is about to come.” This is the wrath associated with the Day of the Lord (see commentary on Revelation 6:17). The wrath did not come quickly, and still has not come. John the Baptist did not know that God would interpose the Administration of the Sacred Secret, which we are in today, between the resurrection of Christ and his coming in Judgment. He thought since the Messiah was on earth, Armageddon would come soon. [For a more complete understanding of the Administration of the Sacred Secret, and an explanation of administrations in the Bible, see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ, Appendix A “The Administration of the Sacred Secret.” Also, see commentary on Ephesians 3:2.](top)
“Come now.” See commentary on Luke 3:8.(top)
“these stones.” The Jews claimed salvation in large part due to their being descendants of Abraham, and John was repudiating that belief. His sharp rebuke was made even sharper by his reference to “these stones.” If anything is common in Israel it is stones, and the Bible has many, many references to them. Solomon’s wealth was described by saying that he made silver to be in Jerusalem as “stones” (1 Kings 10:27). Dashing one’s foot against a stone was common and painful (Ps. 91:12). When a dignitary would come through the area, the roads would have to be cleared of stones (Isa. 62:10), and to plant one would have to get the stones out of the vineyard (Isa. 5:1-2).(top)
“trees.” The “trees” are people, and in this context it refers to rulers and leaders. This is the commonly-used figure of speech hypocatastasis. [For more on “trees” being people, see commentary on Luke 3:9. For more on hypocatastasis see commentary on Rev. 20:2].
“will be cut down.” Although the present tense verb is used, the cutting will be done in the future. This is the idiom some scholars refer to as the “prophetic present,” and it takes an event that is future but certain to happen and coming soon, and treats it as if it is present. [For more on the prophetic present, see commentary on Luke 3:9.]
“and thrown into the fire.” John is giving these leaders a very serious warning. God expects people to have faith in Him, obey Him and do good works, and those who do not are in danger of being thrown into Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, which is the “second death” and is everlasting death (Rev. 20:14-15). [For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].(top)
“as a symbol of your repentance.” The Greek can be expressed that way, even if it is not the predominant way eis and the accusative is translated. D. A. Carson expresses the situation well:
We assert the scope of Scripture shows that John did baptize people because of their repentance, and indeed, it was because of their repentance that the people came to John to be baptized by him. Indeed, Luke 7:29-30 make it clear that the sinners came to John to be baptized while the religious leaders rejected God’s purpose for themselves by not allowing themselves to be baptized by John, which would have involved their publicly confessing their sins.
The water baptism was a symbol, an outward demonstration, of the inward repentance that had happened in the heart of the people who came to be baptized. Many scholars and translators recognize this, and Daniel Wallace expresses it well: “Water baptism is not a cause of salvation, but a picture; and as such it serves both as a public acknowledgment (by those present) and a public confession (by the convert)....” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics).
Scholars and translators express how water baptism is a symbol or picture of the inner work of God in different ways in their writings. For example, Charles Williams translates the Matthew 3:11: “I am baptizing you in water to picture your repentance” (The NT in the Language of the People). Ann Nyland has: “I baptize you in water to show that you have changed your minds” (The Source NT). J. B. Phillips says: “I baptize you with water as a sign of your repentance” (NT in Modern English). Goodspeed’s New Testament reads: “I am baptizing you in water in token of your repentance.” Davies and Allison, after examining other possible interpretations, conclude: “It is, however, better to endorse a more nuanced position: baptism presupposes and expresses repentance” (International Critical Commentary: Matthew). Robert Mounce (New International Biblical Commentary) writes as if John is speaking in the first person: “‘My baptism’ he might say, ‘indicates you have repented.’” See commentary on Mark 1:4.
“with holy spirit or with fire.” This is the gift of holy spirit. The Messiah will baptize every person with either the gift of holy spirit or the fire of God’s judgment. [For more information on “holy spirit or fire,” see commentary on Luke 3:16. For more information on the uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 6: Usages of ‘Spirit’].(top)
“wheat…chaff.” This is the figure of speech hypocatastasis; the wheat and chaff represent people. For more on hypocatastasis, see commentary on Revelation 20:2, “dragon.”(top)
“Then Jesus arrived.” The record of Jesus’ baptism is in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; and is mentioned in John 1:31-34.(top)
|Mat 3:14||- (top)|
|Mat 3:15||- (top)|
“as he stepped away from the water.” The heavens did not open and the holy spirit descend while Jesus was standing in the Jordan River, but as he came “away” (apo) from the river and stepped up onto the bank. This fact becomes especially clear when Matthew is read in harmony with Mark. Here in Matthew 3:16, “away from” is from the Greek preposition apo (away from). The only way to be “away from” the water is to be out of it. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to Matthew) writes:
Robert Gundry writes: “[Matthew] makes Jesus go up from the water immediately after the baptism, i.e., clamber up on the riverbank...Matthew’s apo does not negate the thought of emergence contained in Mark’s ek, but it indicates more clearly Jesus’ complete departure from the waters of the Jordan” (Matthew: A Commentary).
Other commentators make note of the fact that by leaving John and stepping out of the Jordan River, Jesus is shown to be starting his own new ministry, not connected with John the Baptist. Davies and Allison (The International Critical Commentary) make that point: “Jesus’ emerging from the water and climbing the bank...connects the heavenly vision and voice not with an action of John but with an action of Jesus.” They further state that it brings to mind at least two strong images that are imbedded in the Jewish mind: the creation of order from watery chaos (Gen. 1:2), and Israel’s new beginning as it came up and out of the Red Sea. Jesus’ coming up out of the Jordan marked the start of something new. [For more on Jesus’ baptism, see commentary on Mark 1:10].
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!”).
“he saw the spirit of God descending.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the “he saw” can refer to Jesus or John, the pronouns are unclear. But in any case, this was an event visible to anyone there and John did actually see it (John 1:32). The fact that the spirit came down upon Jesus was important because it openly demonstrated to the world that Jesus had been “anointed” with holy spirit, something that normally cannot be seen (cp. Acts 10:38).
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!).
“This is.” What God said at Jesus’ baptism is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in Mark and Luke, God speaks directly to Jesus, saying, “You are my beloved Son.” Here in Matthew, the text says, “This is” my beloved Son. While it is possible that God made more than one statement about His Son, one being “You are” and one being “This is,” that is not likely. The greater possibility is that Mark and Luke recorded what the voice from heaven actually said, while Matthew recorded what the voice fully intended: that we the audience be included in the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. Thus, when Matthew, Mark, and Luke are put together and understood as communicating God’s heart to mankind, we see that Jesus got clear confirmation that he was the Son of God, and God intends for us to have that understanding too. That Jesus is the Son of God is not a message just for Jesus. It is for the world to know. It seems likely from John 1:34 that the audience, including John the Baptist, heard the voice from heaven as well as Jesus did.
Due to the pressure to harmonize scriptures so that the same record reads the same way in different Gospels, the Greek manuscript “D” from the 5th century, and some Syriac (Aramaic) manuscripts, have Matthew read “You are my beloved Son,” like Mark and Luke do. Thankfully, that harmonization was copied into so few manuscripts that it does not show up in any well-known version of the Bible. In support of the reading “This is my beloved Son” is not only almost every known Greek manuscript and some Syriac manuscripts, but also the Shem Tov Hebrew manuscript of Matthew. The Shem Tov Hebrew manuscript is believed to be a lineal descendant of the original manuscript of Matthew that the Apostle Matthew wrote in Hebrew [for more on the Shem Tov Hebrew Manuscript of Matthew see commentary on Matthew 3:3].
One last reason to believe that “this is” was the original reading of Matthew 3:17 is that there would be lots of pressure to change “this is” to “you are,” but no pressure to change “you are” to “this is.” That makes “This is” what textual scholars call “the more difficult reading,” which in most cases is the original reading because scribes tended to make the text easier to read and understand rather than harder to read and understand. Given all the evidence, “This is my beloved Son” can be seen to be the original reading of Matthew 3:17. [For more on the harmonization of Scripture, and how it has affected translations, see commentary on Luke 11:2, “Father”].(top)