NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 52: Then Jesus said to His followers, “So every teacher of the law who has learned about God’s kingdom has some new things to teach. He is like the owner of a house. He has new things and old things in safe keeping. And he brings out the new with the old.”
The complete Jewish Bible renders it this way: “He said to them, ‘So then, every Torah-teacher who has been made into a wise teacher for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a home who brings out of his storage room both new things and old’.” The Aramaic Version has: “from his treasures” instead of storage. In other words, they are collector’s items. Things the owner has had for a long time and things he recently acquired.
It is clear that Jesus is speaking about the group known as Scribes. These were those scholars among the Jews who spent their time studying the Torah in order to gain a better understanding. Everyone knew, that to be an excellent and trusted scribe they must interpret the law of Moses to make it practical and relevant to the Jews’ everyday life of righteous living. Every student of God’s Word knows that no matter how many times they read the Word of God, they always seem to obtain new insight. So after sharing these parables and teachings Jesus is now telling His followers they have learned something new about the old agreement between God and His people. Not only will they have knowledge of both, but when they compare them they will see the light of how much better they understand the old with this new knowledge.
One Early Church writer sees this application for the church. He writes: “A scholar is one who through the continual reading of the Old and New Testaments, has laid up for himself a storehouse of knowledge. Thus, Christ blesses those who have gathered in themselves the education both of the law and of the gospel, so as to ‘bring forth from their treasure things both new and old.’ And Christ compares such people with a scribe, just as in another place He says, ‘I will send you wise men and scribes.’1”2
This can also be seen as instructions by our Lord that His disciples should not discard old teachings and concentrate only on the new. The Jews have several instances where they compare the old with the new and how they compliment each other. For instance, Solomon charmed his beloved with these words: “The mandrakes are sending out their fragrance, all kinds of choice fruits are at our doors, fruits both new and old, my darling, which I have kept in store for you.”3
In Jewish commentaries on this verse, scholars indicate that the older fruit has already been picked while the newer fruit is still on the tree.4 Also, another Rabbi was teaching his students and this verse from Solomon came up, so he asked if they knew what “old” and “new” meant. One of them suggested that the “old” was a reference to the Torah given to Moses, and the “new” was the revelations given to the scribes.5 What a perfect illustration of the fruit of the Old Testament when compared to the fruit that Jesus was giving His disciples on this occasion. Augustine sees this from the Christian point of view as Jesus bringing many scriptures from the Old Testament and combining them with the new message He brought with Him from God the Father. So in a sense, Jesus is describing Himself.6
Verses 53-54a: When Jesus finished teaching with these stories, He left there. He went to the town where He grew up. He taught the people in the synagogue, and they were amazed.
For some reason, Jesus feels compelled to go back to Nazareth. Matthew points out that this is where our Lord grew up as a boy. So anyone wondering where Jesus lived as a child, here it is in print. This confirms what Luke tells us after Jesus was left back in Jerusalem by his parents who thought He was with other friends, so they had to go back to Jerusalem where they found Him teaching in the Temple. Once they were rejoined Luke says, “Then He returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them, and his mother stored away all these things in her heart. So Jesus grew both tall and wise, and was loved by God and man”.7
Now after some 20 years, Jesus the carpenter’s son with His entourage comes to visit His old home place and teach in the synagogue. In doing so, He followed in the footsteps of His royal ancestor David who also stated, “I will praise You in front of all my brothers; yes, I will stand up before the congregation and testify of the wonderful things You have done.”8 But this little Yeshua who grew up to be a prophet and reported to be the Messiah was not well received. The people looked at each other as if to say, “He’s trying to sound like a prophet, even the Messiah. But we knew Him when He followed His father the carpenter around town. And why is He so different when His brothers and sisters are normal just like everyone else.”
Was Jesus surprised” Not really! He knew what the prophet Isaiah said about Him, “He grew up like a young plant, like a root growing in the dry ground. There was nothing special or impressive about the way He looked, nothing that would cause people to like Him just by what they saw. People made fun of Him, and even those who knew Him turned on Him. He was a man who suffered a lot of sorrow and grief. He was treated like someone of no importance like someone people would not even look at but turn away from in contempt.”9 But Jesus took it in stride, and quoted a well-worn phrase that no doubt was often used by many prophets before Him. The fact that it is repeated by Luke10 and John11 show that it was a well-known maxim. Matthew closes this chapter by pointing out that Jesus did not perform any miracles in His hometown of Nazareth.
Verse 54b-55a: They questioned, “Where did this man get such wisdom and this power to do miracles? Isn’t He just the son of the carpenter we know?”
The Aramaic Version has “carpenter’s son” while Munster’s Hebrew Gospel renders it “blacksmith’s son.” This may be due to the fact that the Greek word tektōn used here, signifies three occupations. First: a worker in wood, such as a carpenter, joiner, house builder, or ship builder. Second: any craftsman, whether they make things out of metal, wood, pottery, or write poetry and songs. Third: A planner, contriver, plotter, or author.
In fact, one of the early Church Fathers described it this way: “When Jesus came to the Jordan, He was considered to be the son of Joseph the carpenter; and He appeared without comeliness, as the Scriptures declared; and He was deemed a carpenter (for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making plows and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life.”12 But the name Joseph the carpenter was not that unusual. The Jews make mention of one Abba Joseph the “constructor” or “carpenter”, but it does not appear to be any reference to Mary of Nazareth’s husband.13 The Greek word is used only here in this instance, both by Matthew and Mark. Nowhere else is Joseph called a carpenter.
It is also important to notice that the people did not use Joseph’s name but rather his occupation. This was a traditional way of referring to someone who was already dead. While they did not refer to Joseph being a carpenter in a derogatory manner, some scholars believe it was said with some disbelief that a carpenter could foster a son with this amount of learning and wisdom, and one who is now proclaimed to be the Messiah, a miracle worker. Jewish critics who have studied the life of Jesus also raise questions. After reading this portion of Matthew, one Rabbi asked:
“Did Mary have sons and daughters besides Jesus, or did Joseph the blacksmith have sons and daughters from another woman? If you will say that they did have sons and daughters, fine; that is why Jesus’ Jewish acquaintances said, ‘We see that his brothers and sisters – Jacob, Joseph, Simon, and Judah – do not do such wise deeds.’ But if Joseph had no sons and daughters beside Jesus, why did the Jews say, ‘His brothers and sisters are with us?’ And why did they call the above-named people brothers and sisters just as they would the siblings of anyone else? Also, why didn’t Jesus answer them, ‘Fools, all that you have said about my having brothers and sisters is a lie; in fact I am not even the son of the blacksmith, and your astonishment at my wisdom is out of place since all the wisdom in the world is mine?’ Instead, he answered in the manner of jokers who say that wherever they go they are honored more than they are at home. Furthermore, who were the brothers who came with him to Capernaum? You may argue that they were his students, but it says that he, his brothers, and his students came to Capernaum.14 You may then argue that all Israel are considered brothers, but elsewhere in the passage they are called by their proper name, for this is what it says: ‘When the people of Israel saw the signs which Jesus performed, they said to each other, “Where did this man get such wisdom and power? Is he not the blacksmith’s son? And is his mother not Mary? And his brothers and sisters are all with us.”’”15
This sort of caste system mentality can be seen in other Jewish writings. For instance, one noted Rabbi said: “Rabbah ben Jeremiah once visited our town. When he came he brought with him this teaching: If an idolater took stones from a quarry and paved roads and streets with them, they are permitted; if an Israelite took stones from a quarry and paved roads and streets with them, they are prohibited; and he added that there was no scholar or scholar’s son who could explain this teaching. Rabbi Shesheth said: I am neither a scholar nor a scholar’s son, yet I can explain it. What’s the problem?”16 Another translator, however, rendered it this way: “…there was no carpenter or carpenter’s son who solved this. Says Rabbi Shesheth said: I am neither a carpenter nor a carpenter’s son, and I can solve it.”17 Obviously, being a carpenter or carpenter’s son was not a badge of honor for the elite in Israel.
One thing I have observed, and even read, where Jewish scholars saw the same that with each new edition of the Talmud or Mishnah Rabbis endeavored to “clean up” the mention of Jesus or any reference to Him. They also encrypted those comments that were made by using pseudonyms to identify Him. In either case, Jesus was not well thought of by the citizens of Nazareth because of Joseph’s occupation.
Verse 55b-56a: And isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? And don’t all his sisters still live here in town?
It is interesting that not only did Matthew name the brothers of Jesus, but points to “all His sisters,” of whom we hear nothing from the writers of the Gospels. In fact, on the Day of Pentecost, we are told by Luke that only Mary and His brothers were in the upper room, no sisters are mentioned. The Complete Jewish Bible renders this verse: “Isn’t his mother called Miryam? and his brothers Ya‘akov, Yosef, Shim‘on and Y’hudah? And his sisters, aren’t they all with us?” But, the oldest known Hebrew version of Matthew reads this way: “Do you not know all these: his mother Mary, his three brothers: Joseph, Simon, and Judah, and his sisters? Do you not know all these who are with us?” While it seems clear that there were three brothers, the number of sisters is never given.
It may have been asked more than once, why didn’t the Gospel writers tell us more about Mary and Joseph, about those called His brothers and sisters, and what about His childhood? It certainly makes one wonder what the story of Jesus would be like if we could fill in all the blanks. But the one disciple that Jesus depended on and trusted so much, put it in perspective when he wrote at the end of his Gospel: “There are many other things that Jesus did. If every one of them was written down, I think the whole world would not be big enough for all the books that would be written.”18
It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit purposely inspired the writers of the New Testament to record only what was needed, so that anyone who reads it would have sufficient evidence that Jesus was the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of God who came from the Father to fulfill His promise to Abraham, by bringing the final plan of salvation by faith through grace and the work of Christ on the cross. If we quibble and argue over what we already have, can you imagine the number of ongoing debates there would be if we had twice as much in the written record? The thing that makes this, even more, mind boggling, is the fact that we know more about Jesus of Nazareth than we do of Buddha, Mohammad, Confucius, and even William Shakespeare, yet their words and works are accepted without controversy.
1 See Matthew 223:34
2 Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary fragement 172
3 Song of Solomon 7:13
4 Targum on the Song of Songs, Translated from the Original Hebrew by Christian D. Ginsburg, Published: London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1867, pp. 183-184
5 Rabbi Hisda: Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Eiruvin, folio 21b
6 Augustine: Sermon 74.5
7 Luke 2:51-52
8 Psalm 22:22
9 Isaiah 53:2-3
10 Luke 4:24
11 John 4:44
12 Justine Martyr Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 88
13 Shemot Rabbah, Section 13:1
14 John 2:12
15 The Nizzahon Vetus, op., cit., Sec. , p. 179
16 Rabbi Joseph ben Abba: Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Avodah Zarah, folio 50a-b
17 Gills Exposition of the Bible Commentary, loc. cit.
18 John 21:25