Monday, November 07, 2011
Matthew 18 and the Other Matthew 18
This past Thursday in chapel we had a very fine message from one of our seniors on the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents. He referred to it as “the other Matthew 18” because Matthew 18 is so readily identified with the “church discipline” section in vss 15-20. As I reflected on the message, I began to wonder what the relationship is between the “church discipline” verses and the following material.
This material, at least as it is laid out in Matthew 18, is unique to Matthew. This is part of the fourth of Matthew’s five extended discourses of Jesus. This fourth discourse begins with the question posed by the disciples as to who is the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus begins by speaking of the little ones of the kingdom, and the warning against being stumbling blocks. He then moves to the church discipline passage, then to Peter’s question, and finally the parable. Hagner, in ISBE, characterizes the theme of this discourse as discipleship and discipline. While there is certainly that aspect to the passage, it seems to me that the greater emphasis is on the issue of sin and dealing with sin in the context of the kingdom. Jesus uses the question of greatness to draw attention to the little children. He then warns against being a stumbling block to them, i.e., sinning against them, or causing them to sin. This draws forth the summary of how sin is to be dealt with.
Peter then poses a question for Jesus which seems at first glance not really to follow from the “church discipline” material. He asks Jesus how often he is supposed to forgive his brother. How did Peter get there from church discipline? I think the transition is from the issue of dealing with someone who won’t admit his sin (the church discipline verses) to the issue of someone who does admit his sin, but then sins again and again, each time asking for forgiveness. Note that in both cases, the issue starts with someone who sins against a brother. Jesus’ answer astounded Peter. But where does Jesus’ response come from? I think it is a deliberate allusion to Lamech’s violent statement in Gen 4:23-24. In other words, Jesus is saying that his disciples need to be the opposites of Lamech. By the way, the difference between “seventy-seven times” (TNIV and some others) and “seventy time seven” (most English versions) is not a difference in the reading of the Greek text, but rather a difference in how what is there is understood. The Greek in Matt is identical to the Septuagint of Gen 4:24. The Hebrew of Gen is clearly “seventy and seven” rather than “seventy time seven.”
From this statement regarding our need to be forgiving when brothers sin against us, Jesus move to the illustration of the parable. The point of the parable, of course, is to emphasize that we are to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us (Eph ).