Posts Tagged Matthew

Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

Mary Magdalene

As Holy Week begins, I completed some reading this morning in the Gospel of John. I focused on the empty tomb pericope that features Mary Magdalene so prominently. “Magdalene” most likely ties this Mary to the town of Magdala, which was a “strongly Hellenized site . . . five kilometers northeast of Tiberias” (R. Riesner, 37–38, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Performing a search revealed that there are twelve explicit references in the New Testament to Mary Magdalene:

Gospel of Matthew (NET)

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee . . .  (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb) (Matthew 27:56, 61).

Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).

Gospel of Mark (NET)

There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed (Mark 15:47).

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).

Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons (Mark 16:9).

Gospel of Luke (NET)

. . . and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out . . . (Luke 8:2).

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).

Gospel of John (NET)

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance (John 20:1).

Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her (John 20:18).

Another Woman

At times, people have confused Mary Magdalene with other women in the Gospels. In Luke 7, an unnamed woman enter’s a house where Jesus is located and anoints Jesus’ feet. In the pericope adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), Jesus forgives the sin of an unnamed woman caught in adultery.

However, Mark and Luke both inform us of Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus—he set her free from the possession of seven demons. She subsequently followed Jesus, even being one of the few present at his crucifixion and an eyewitness to his resurrection.

The Gospel of Philip

You can find out more about the history of the 1945 Nag Hammadi discovery and The Gospel of Philip here and especially here. Suffice it to say that these “other Gospels” (1) are not written by those whose names are attached to them, making them pseudepigrapha, (2) originate from the second century or later, and (3) were not received by the catholic (i.e., universal) church community not only because of their strange, sometimes unorthodox, and sometimes contra-apostolic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, but also because of their divergent perspectives on the Old Testament, creation, and anthropology. However, I would like to focus on its references to Mary Magdalene. The first mention of this Mary in The Gospel of Philip is found in context with two other Marys:

Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion.

The writing again refers to Mary Magdala as Jesus’ companion here,

Wisdom, who is called barren, is the mother of the angels.

The companion of the [savior] is Mary of Magdala. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].

The other [disciples] [64]…said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”

The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind person and one who can see are both in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, one who can see will see the light, and the blind person will stay in darkness.”

[The brackets] typically identify places in the manuscript where the text is unknown due to some kind of injury.

From this, people have surmised from these sayings that Mary Magdalene was no mere disciple of Jesus, but that she was his wife.

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

In 2012 in Rome, Harvard University’s Dr. Karen L. King revealed a shocking document—a fourth century papyrus fragment—claiming the matrimony of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. With Dr. King’s credentials and backing, the fragment’s reveal sent shockwaves through academia and found its way into the public square as well. The Coptic text and a transcription is available through Harvard University.

Since then, the investigative reporting of Ariel Saber of The Atlantic has exposed the full origin story of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. The title “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” is followed by the subtitle,

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.

Saber’s work uncovered that the fragment is most likely a very recent forgery. Dr. Karen L. King agreed publicly following Saber’s published work. If you’re up for going further down the rabbit hole, you can find more related material via Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here and more recently here. Peter Gurry also commented on the matter in 2016 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

The Real Mary Magdalene Please Rise

While the story of this forged fragment made for great entertainment, perhaps a positive result may surface. Maybe we’ll allow the real Mary Magdalene to surface once again. Mary’s legacy has been clouded publicly ever since Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

Some have wondered why Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that the apostles have no problem making mention of women who play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel—Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Lydia, Damaris, and a number of other women who are described as devout. One thought is that Mary Magdalene passed away shortly after the resurrection. This can’t be proven. We are never told anything about her age or her death.

We are told three things about this Mary that should stick with any of us who depend on the glorious salvation of Jesus. First, this Mary was set free by Jesus from the darkest kind of spiritual oppression. She was demon-possessed. Sevenfold. We learn from this Mary that Jesus is strong enough to break the bondage of the darkest sources of spiritual slavery.

Second, we find Mary following Jesus to a place where very few of his disciples dared to follow—the cross. I am truly amazed at this. Matthew, Mark, and John testify that Mary Magdalene joined a few other women at the crucifixion. Keep in mind that the other women seem to have been related to Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not. It appears that John the apostle was the only member of the twelve who dared identify himself with the Christ of the cross. While Jesus would continue his fellowship with the other ten disciples after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was “ahead of the curve” when it came to denying oneself, counting the cost, and following Jesus wherever he went.

Lastly, Mark tells us that this Mary is the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Again, how amazing. Scholars have told us over and over again, that this element of the resurrection narrative—Mary, a woman, as the first eyewitness—is a criteria of the authenticity for the Gospels’ narratives. No first century author who wanted to be convincing and who wanted their movement to catch on would propose that there first eyewitness to the most important element of their story was . . . a woman. This would have been embarrassing, as indicated by the apostles’ reaction to the testimony of the women (Luke 24:10–11). The Gospel writers were clearly concerned with what really happened, with  communicating a historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, they wrote to evangelize and to make more disciples, but they were not doing so by being irresponsible or deceptive about what really happened. Additionally, I can’t help but also think that Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is a reward for her faithfulness to follow to the cross. After appearing to Mary, Jesus sent her to report to the disciples (John 20:17–18), and she proclaimed to them, “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first evangelist of the resurrection era.

This Holy Week, let’s lay to rest the Jesus-wife myth that has clouded Mary’s legacy and “resurrect” the real Mary Magdalene and her already impressive resume—a delivered, devoted, eyewitness, evangelist of Jesus Christ. Happy Holy Week.

 

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A Brief Look at Matthew and Paul on Justification

Intro

Did Matthew and Paul have opposing views on justification by faith? It is no secret that the Christian community has wrestled with “reconciling” Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith” (particularly in Romans 3:20-5:21) with other writers in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew, James).  In an article examining Christian salvation in the Synoptic Gospels, Neufeld writes,

“The First Gospel has generated the most scholarly discussion, because, of the Synoptics, Matthew most overtly affirms Moses’ Law and bases kingdom entrance on obedience. Neither of these fit easily into the traditional Protestant gospel.”[1]

However, is there an actual difference or only a perceived difference between Matthew and Paul arising from varying factors such as literary genre and style, specific audiences and occasions for writing, etc? It is my conviction (as well as the general Christian conviction) that the NT authors are united in their understanding of the roles of faith and obedience in the doctrine of justification.

Justification in Matthew

The OT proposes faith to not only encompass belief, but also faithfulness, loyalty, and allegiance. This is observable in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew 1:20-23 records Joseph’s angelic vision regarding the supernatural conception of Mary’s child. The angel commands Joseph to the name the child “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” In Matthew 1:24, Joseph’s belief in the words of the angel resulted in righteous behaviour. Not only do we see an early example of a man who demonstrates faith working in obedience, but Matthew also makes us aware of who Jesus is and what he came to do – “saving his people from their sins” is not an altogether divorced concept from Paul’s teaching on imputation[2] in justification based upon the work of Christ (Romans 4:1-8). Further, John the Baptist preached repentance and fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:2, 7-10). Repentance should not be thought of something separate from faith – it is trust that leads to a change of heart. This hand-in-hand relationship between faith and obedience can be observed throughout Matthew’s gospel (e.g., 4:20, 22; 13:44). Two remaining matters must be noted: 1) nature of narrative and 2) Matthew’s emphasis on a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. First, one should not expect a doctrinal excursus in Matthew on justification. It isn’t his purpose nor the purpose of narrative genre to examine doctrine in the way that an epistle does. Rather, Matthew seeks to offer his readers with a record of the person, life, ministry, and redemptive acts of Christ with narrative emphases on Christ’s teaching (see 5:1-7:29; 10:1-11:1; 13:1-53; 18:1-19:1; 24:1-26:1) and on eschatological judgment and salvation based upon faithfulness and obedience (25:31-46). On this latter note, we move into the second point, conclude and transition by stating that Matthew’s emphasis on obedience for salvation in the eschaton does not deny that a person must believe in Jesus as the one who has come to “save his people from their sins” and has come to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), but rather faith and repentance are necessary precursors to this obedience. The people who follow Messiah must be distinguished by a better righteousness than that of the religious leaders of the day.

Justification in Paul (Romans)

A similar example may be observed in Hebrews 11. There, we read that “by faith” many people recorded in the book of Genesis (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) followed God in obedience and righteousness. However, in Genesis, only Abraham’s belief is highlighted (Genesis 15:6)! It shouldn’t be assumed that faith was not beneath and upholding the obedience of these people. One can deduce from the narrative that all of these people trusted YHWH, and their trust resulted in obedience.

It is this one example of “mentioned-faith” in Genesis that Paul picks up on in his discussion of justification in Romans 4. Abraham, who is the father of those who believe whether circumcised or uncircumcised, served as the perfect OT example/illustration to help instruct a Jewish-Gentile Christian congregation on what it means to be credited with righteousness following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection provided God “the judicial means” to remain just while justifying sinners (Romans 3:26). By faith in the gospel, a positional shift takes place in which God looks upon the individual’s faith and credits it as righteousness (rewardable behaviour even?) because even though the sinner can do nothing to earn such a judicial decree, satisfaction of wrath and provision of righteousness has occurred in the work of Christ. Yet, one must not think that Paul avoids obedience (Romans 1:5; 5:19; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19; 16:26) and its relationship to faith and righteousness. Indeed, he views the goal of his apostleship to speak of what Christ had accomplished through him “in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).

Relationship between Faith and Obedience in Justification

Therefore, do Matthew and Paul speak as one? Can Paul’s emphasis on the positional, judicial, and immediate nature of his doctrine of justification by faith be reconciled to Matthew’s narrative emphasis on the nature of one’s righteousness and its ability to stand at the eschaton?  I believe so. James is helpful here. In chapter 2 of his epistle, we are again given the example of Abraham whose faith was tested,

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21-24).

True, justifying faith is a faith that results in obedience, faithfullness in righteousness, which is a faith that will stand before the Judge in the eschaton. Paul and Matthew would agree.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Demarest, Bruce. The Cross and Salvation Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997.

Neufeld, Edmund K. “The Gospel in the Gospels: Answering the Question “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” From the Synoptics.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 2 (2008): 267-96.

Ortlund, Dane C. “Justified by Faith, Judged According to Works: Another Look at a Pauline Paradox.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 2 (2009): 323-339.


[1] Edmund K. Neufeld, “The Gospel in the Gospels: Answering the Question “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” From the Synoptics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 2 (2008): 268.

[2] Imputation is that necessary action of justification in which our sins are no longer counted against us, and righteousness has been credited to us in Christ.

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