Midrash in Matthews Gospel

Midrash is not a term familiar to most Christians, though Jewish people who have trusted in Jesus as their Messiah might recognize the term. My latest book, The Path to the Cross, uses midrash to explain Matthew 1-2. The purpose of this post is to define midrash so that you will understand what is said about it in the upcoming series on The Path to the Cross.

Midrash is an ancient exegetical technique where exegetical relates to the critical interpretation of a text and it was used by the ancient rabbis. Midrash is based on certain assumptions about the biblical text. According to Charles T. Davis, the ancient Jewish interpreters believed: The ultimate goal of midrash is to search out [from Hebrew darash inquire about, examine, seek] the fullness of what was spoken by the Divine Voice.[1] Davis adds: Since Scripture is the Word of God, no word is superfluous. Every repetition, every apparent mistake, every peculiar feature of arrangement or order has meaning. I make extensive use of this last idea in explaining the presence of five womens names (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary) in Matthews genealogy of Jesus (The Path to the Cross, chapters 1-3).

Because they believed every word expressed by the Divine Voice had purpose and meaning, the ancient rabbis would earnestly seek connections between various texts of the Old Testament. They did this by comparing texts that seemed to share common themes or similar patterns of events. By their assumptions, such similarity would have meaning intended by God.

James Kugel explains some of the principles of early Jewish biblical interpretation by using the following ideas[2]:

  • The biblical text is basically cryptic. It has subtle nuances.
  • The biblical story contains a lesson for today.
  • The Bible is not only internally consistent, but it also allows for confirmation of the interpreters beliefs and practices.
  • Questions about the Scriptures may be resolved via a scrupulous examination of the precise wording of the biblical text sometimes using a verse, a phrase, or even a single word.

Of course, the bulk of Matthews Gospel is narrative, and his genealogy of Jesus gets it started. Two Jewish experts on midrash say, In the narrative portions of the Bible, on the other hand, there was always a curiosity about what was left out of the story.[3] This encouraged informed speculation about the missing facts. They further explain: There is more to the Bible than initially meets the eye. In each sentence, word, and letter, there was either a direct message from God or an opportunity for the Rabbi to elucidate what God wanted from the Jewish people. Therefore, the text couldnt just be read; it had to be studied. It could not be perused; it had to be deciphered.[4] In my opinion, Matthew was encouraging such decipherment by inserting the names of the five women.

Further insight into Matthews methods may be gained by considering the methods used by ancient synagogue teachers. Katz and Schwartz describe this teaching by saying that the speaker would display his skill by using a distant verse of Scripture and employing a germ of an idea to connect that verse with the Bible passage scheduled for congregational reading on that day. The audience would be held in suspense to see how the speaker intended to connect the two by some form of midrashic comparison.[5] The germ of an idea Matthew uses to suggest this distant connection is the five womans names that he inserts into the genealogy of Jesus. In The Path to the Cross (chapters 1-3), I explain how the distant connections illuminate and supplement the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthews Gospel.

As useful as midrash was in illuminating the meaning of the Old Testament writings, a danger always presented itself. Charles Davis describes this danger by saying, The great weakness of this method is that it always threatens to replace the [biblical] text with an outpouring of personal reflection.[6] Careful use of midrash can lead to profound discoveries in the biblical text, but careless use of midrash is simply the fanciful product of a human mind. At best, midrash is the skillful comparison of Scripture with Scripture; at worst it is invention.

In what may seem like a shift of topics — but is not! — midrash is roughly like the technique employed by some translators involved in publishing English Bibles that are based on the method called dynamic equivalence. The NIV 2011, for example, is very good, but it has a potential flaw. The Committee on Bible Translation says, The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience[.][7] Clearly, the key word is experience. The big problem is that we have no way of knowing exactly how the original audience experienced the Word; we have to guess. On a good day, that will make certain parts of NIV 2011 like the positive form of midrash illuminating and helpful. In less favorable situations, NIV 2011 may be more like the speculative form of midrash. How much guessing is too much?

Copyright 2011 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


[1] Charles T. Davis, Midrash, based on Rabbi Burton Virotskys Reading the Bible. 10 September 2011 < http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/section-25.html>.

[2] James L. Kugel, Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, Eds. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 2010) 131137.

[3] Michael Katz and Gershon Schwartz, Searching for Meaning in Midrash (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2002) 9.

[4] Katz and Schwartz, Searching for Meaning, 11.

[5] Katz and Schwartz, Searching for Meaning, 22.

[6] Davis, Midrash. 10 September 2011 < http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/section-25.html>.

[7] Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation, page 1.

Review of NIV 2011 by Daniel Wallace

In late July, 2011, Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary completed a four-part review of the NIV 2011, the latest major entry in English Bible translations. It is well worth your time to read his views. I forewarn you that when you first land on his blog, Dan’s picture makes him look like a Scottish mullah — however unlikely you find that description. Don’t let that stop you!

In Part 1, Dan provides a brief history of English Bible translation in order to set the NIV 2011 in its historical context. That is a helpful way to begin, especially for those who have no knowledge of trends in the production of such translations. Please don’t be one of those people who think history does not matter, because this field would prove you wrong.

In Part 2, Dan gives his now-familiar spiel on how literal translation is totally inadequate for idioms, and I suppose he does so to forestall those who demand that a translation always be literal. His argument is convincing, though it fails to address the legitimacy of less-than-literal translation in the vast territory outside of idioms.

One key statement says, “The primary focus of the NIV 2011 is an accurate translation (more on this later), and one has to admit that they have accomplished this objective admirably.” Another summary conclusion says: “The scholarship behind the NIV 2011 is probably as good as it gets. And the textual basis [Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic text within the Bible] is both bold and exceptionally accurate.” This is high praise from someone of Wallace’s standing among textual critics.

In Part 3, Dan discusses weaknesses of NIV 2011. The most important finding, in my opinion, is stated this way: “In this instance [1 Tim. 3:2], as in many instances throughout the NIV, I would have preferred that the translators retained a more interpretive-neutral stance as long as the English rendition wasn’t nonsense.”

Wallace offers “husband of one wife,” in 1 Tim. 3:2,  but NIV 2011 has “faithful to his wife.” This translation by NIV 2011 picks a favored interpretation from “a myriad of views.” The translation “husband of one wife” is what Wallace calls “an interpretive-neutral stance,” but the reader who has no skill with New Testament Greek reads the narrower “faithful to his wife” and does not realize that a choice has been made when other viable choices were available. NIV 2011 does not even provide a footnote, which would have been preferable here.

Wallace has some other material you will not want to miss, including a table that compares the NET Bible, NIV 2011, ESV, KJV, RSV, NRSV, RV, ASV and NASB in relation to elegance, accuracy and readability. Fascinating! One thing Dan did not do was to sum up all the scores and see how they stood in relation to each other. Out of a possible 30 points, ESV took the honors with 24, closely trailed by NET Bible and RSV at 23 points and NIV 2011 at 22 points. Remember that I am the one who summed up the points; Dan would probably say that elegance, accuracy and reliability are only three factors among many ways to compare translations. But it was still fun!

In Part 4, Dan puts a nice bow on the package: “As with the handful of other exceptional translations, the NIV 2011 definitely should be one that the well-equipped English-speaking Christian has on his or her shelf, and one that they consult often for spiritual nourishment.”

For what it’s worth, that is my conclusion as well.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:12–15

Genesis 9:12–15
And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things.”(NET Bible)

 A commitment to calm fears

On one level it is astonishing that the all-powerful Creator makes a binding agreement with the living things he has made. But he did so in unmistakable terms.

What is the significance of God making a covenant with humankind? What was the idea behind making known what he expected of us and what he would do in return?

The language of Genesis 9:12 seems formal in its careful enumeration of the covenant parties. The Hebrew text makes very clear that God is establishing a covenant “between me [God] and you [Noah, his sons and their wives] and every living being that was with you for farthest generations” (Gordon Wenham).[1] We should be equally careful in considering the covenant parties, but ordinarily we ignore the animals, whom God always includes! Perhaps this blind spot is a demonstration of how we have lost sight of our stewardship for God over the earth and its life forms.

The first words of Genesis 9:13 are “my rainbow” to emphasize it. But the time-sense of the verse, is an issue between translations:

NET Genesis 9:13 “I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

ESV Genesis 9:13 “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

NET is alone among major translations in saying “will . . . will,” placing all action in the future. ESV joins NIV 2011, The Jewish Bible, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in some variant of “have . . . shall/will,” placing the initial action in the past and the subsequent action in the future.

I consider the ESV and other translations better than NET here, because rainbows would have already existed as a matter of physics (sunlight falling on water droplets at a certain angle); the newly introduced element was the significance God was giving the rainbow as a sign.

For God to bless Noah and his sons, rain would have to fall on the earth to nurture crops. But imagine the potential for panic when a storm rolled in. To provide peace of mind during his new start with Noah, God re-brands the meaning of a storm (Gen. 9:14). Instead of being a reminder of judgment, a rainbow would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant promise (Gen. 9:15). It is God who brings the necessary rains, and in doing so he provides rain for both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:1-3

Genesis 9:1-3

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority. 3 You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
(NET Bible)

Grace opens the food supply

Even after bringing a world-wide judgment upon human sin, God grants a new start to Noah with an abundance of blessing and grace. This symbolizes a wider situation: even though each of us starts life with a measure of opportunity that may be different, we each have all we need to please him.

To whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). How are Gods blessings to be used to greatest advantage? Whose advantage are we talking about?

When God blesses Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1, he uses the exact words given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Accordingly, Victor Hamilton says: Noah is a second Adam. What God told Adam he now tells Noah.[1]

Genesis 9:2
Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority.

The NET Bibles translation of Genesis 9:2 smooths off a few too many rough edges; that is known as over-translation. Every living creature of the earth (NET) sounds totally comprehensive of all life forms, but that is likely not the case. The standard Hebrew lexicon says that the underlying word usually refers to animals that are not domesticated.[2] For this reason, Old Testament commentator John Walton says: It should be noticed that the word for . . . docile cattle (behema) is not included in this list. That suggests that they are not necessarily characterized by this fear.[3]

Further, the phrase are under your authority (NET) may be more literally translated Into your hand they are delivered (ESV). In the Old Testament, the latter phrase is connected to having the power of life and death (Deut. 19:12; 20:13). This is the correct meaning in context, because God is defining a new food supply for man; animal life will now become part of humankinds food (Genesis 9:3). Kenneth Mathews affirms, God has now put the life and death of the animal under the power of the human arbiter.[4]

Walton makes an interesting suggestion when he says, I tentatively propose, then, that domesticated plants and animals were always considered legitimate sources of food, while permission was granted for gathering of food growing wild (1:30) and hunting animals (9:3).[5]

Throughout Genesis it is useful to see how all the parts relate to one another. Walton says: It is likely that the permission to use animals for food should be seen as a concession of grace. If so, it is parallel to the making of skin garments for Adam and Eve and putting the mark on Cain.[6]

We have already considered examples of a general rule that seems comprehensive until God expresses a specific exception (Gen. 2:16-17 and Gen. 6:5-8). Genesis 6:2-3 gives the general rule concerning food, but in our next post we will encounter the specific exception.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 313.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) ?ayyah, animal, q.v.

[3] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 311, fn 1.

[4] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 401.

[5] Walton, Genesis, 343.

[6] Walton, Genesis, 341.

NIV 2011: Craig Blomberg analyzes Philippians 2:4

Craig Blomberg, a noted New Testament scholar at Denver Seminary, has produced another fine analysis that compares NIV 2011 — which Craig calls the “updated NIV” — with other major English translations. This time his focus is on Philippians 2:4, which says, “ . . . not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Take advantage of this opportunity to understand how these English translations of the Bible compare and why Craig Blomberg believes NIV 2011 to be the best of all those now available.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:14 and 6:22

Genesis 6:14
“Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out.”
(NET Bible)

Keep on doing what God says

Some people trust in Jesus Christ for the simple reason that they do not want to risk going to hell. So far, so good. But a fraction of these people then put their Christianity in the closet and shut the door. The idea seems to be: “Call me when it is time for heaven!”

What is God’s opinion of faith that is expressed in an instant and then goes into dormancy? What does an extended showing of faith say about the quality of that faith?

Up to this point God has spoken only of destroying all life on earth. You know that Noah is going to be spared, but Noah has never read Genesis. He has only one hint at this point: God is still speaking to him. When Noah gets his first command, it has to be a relief.

God tells Noah to “build for yourself an ark.” What is an “ark”? The Hebrew word appears to be a derivative of an Egyptian word for “chest” or “box.” When Jerome created the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible, in about 405 A.D., he used the Latin noun arca, which means “chest” or “box.” The Latin word was taken into the Geneva Bible of 1599, an early English translation of the Vulgate, as “Arke.” The translators for the King James Version adopted this word as “ark,” and we have had it ever since.

Readers of the KJV may wonder how their “ark of gopher wood” became an “ark of cypress wood” (NET). The truth is that no one knows what kind of wood was used because the word is used only here. The Hebrew word is gofer (where f and ph are just alternative spellings), so you can see how the KJV reading arose as a simple spelling of the word; they had no knowledge of the type of wood. “Cypress” is merely an educated guess by the NET Bible translators.

No one knows what kinds of ships existed prior to the flood.[1] The design God gave to Noah has roughly the shape of a rectangular box scaled to a total length of about 450 feet, a height of 45 feet, and a width of 75 feet. (This shape is approximated by imagining a shoe box that is six times longer than normal.) Johan Huibers, a Dutch contractor, has built a replica at about one-half scale.

Genesis 6:22
And Noah did all that God commanded him– he did indeed.
(NET Bible)

Genesis 6:22 stresses that Noah did exactly what God told him to do. That is beyond dispute.

More interesting is to explain why the Hebrew text uses two different forms of the verb “to do.” These forms are commonly called the “imperfect” and the “perfect.” The imperfect is often used to represent “that which occurs repeatedly or in a continuous sequence in the past.”[2] The same reference says the perfect “denotes in general that which is concluded, completed, and past.” Genesis 6:22 has first the imperfect and then the perfect. So, it could be translated, “Noah kept on doing all that God commanded him—thus he did” (my rough translation).

What is the point? For 120 years Noah faithfully carried out God’s commands (“kept on doing”). Then the author of Genesis looks back and summarizes Noah’s behavior: “thus he did.” This statement undergirds God’s declaration of Noah’s righteousness in Genesis 7:1. Noah proved his faith over and over.

Do you want to please God? If so, keep on doing what he has commanded no matter how long it takes!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Note to landlubbers: Noah’s vessel was far too large to be called a “boat.”

[2] E. Kautzsch, ed., A.E. Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1910) 125, fn 1.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:11–13

Genesis 6:11–13
11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence.  12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.  13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Deeper Study: The phrase “God saw . . . and indeed” (NET) or “God saw . . . and behold” (NASB, KJV) occurs in Genesis for things that are surprising or shocking. The same phrase is also used for Noah, Abraham and others. Examples (best ones are bolded) include: 8:13; 18:2; 19:28; 22:13; 24:63; 26:8; 29:2; 31:2; 31:10; 33:1; 37:25; 40:6; 42:27. Note that NET frequently drops the word “behold” while NASB always includes it. Based on this usage what was God’s reaction in Genesis 6:12 to what he saw?

To become ruined . . . to ruin

Anyone who follows world events must see that violence and oppression are a constant feature in world events. One area sells human beings, another features child slavery and child soldiers. Some nations are dominated by narco-violence and one is ruled by a rich junta which will not permit relief for poor hurricane victims. Piracy threatens the shipping lanes, and bombs explode daily.

In our own country the poor are frequently stigmatized as lazy or malicious so as to justify not helping them. And violence is hardly unknown in our midst. What does God think about all this violence, evil and neglect? What might he do about it? What has he done in the past?

A single Hebrew verb dominates all three verses in today’s section: Sh?T (roughly shakat) means “become ruined” in one form and “destroy” (to intentionally ruin) in another form.[1] The verb is used four times in Genesis 6:11–13 as illustrated by Victor Hamilton:

To capture this consistency of word choice we may render the above as ‘gone to ruin was the earth . . . indeed, it had gone to ruin . . . all flesh had ruined its way . . . I will ruin them.’ The choice of the same word to describe both the earth’s condition and the intended action of God must be deliberate.[2]

Genesis 6:11 tells us what constituted the ruin of the earth. Instead of being filled by the multiplication of humankind and animal life, it was filled with violence instead! This violence may not only include brute force (Jer. 51:35) but also oppression of the weak by the strong (Amos 6:1–3) or the abuse of a neighbor (Prov. 16:29). Some who commit sin are going to be surprised that God is offended by oppression of the weak in addition to what we call violent crime.

By comparing three different translations of Genesis 6:12, we learn something interesting:

NET Bible: God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.

ESV: And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

NIV 2011: God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

NET says “all living creatures,” while the more literal ESV has “all flesh.” NET informs us that all the living creatures “were sinful” — demonstrating the frequent tendency of the NET Bible to use abstractions — while the ESV says all flesh “had corrupted their way.” NIV 2011 is close to ESV for Genesis 6:12, but it’s translation using the word “people”  leaves out the animals (see below)!

Have you previously considered the participation in sin or the corruption of the animals as well as humankind? The NET Bible Notes say:

The phrase “all flesh” is used consistently of humankind and the animals in Gen. 6–9 (6:17, 19; 7:15–16, 21; 8:17; 9:11, 15–17), suggesting that the author intends to picture all living creatures, humankind and animals, as guilty of moral failure. This would explain why the animals, not just humankind, are victims of the ensuing divine judgment. The OT sometimes views animals as morally culpable (Gen. 9:5; Exod. 21:28–29; Jonah 3:7–8).[3]

To grasp this unusual idea, it may help to recall that the serpent was used as part of the deception of the woman (Gen. 3:1), and we may have in Genesis 6:12 a hint that the invasion of earthly life by angelic beings involved more than intercourse with the daughters of men.

Genesis 6:13  So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.” (NET)

When the NET translates God’s words as saying “I have decided,” it removes to the marginal notes certain details that may include a glimpse of God reaching a decision before the heavenly council:

Hebrew “the end of all flesh is coming [or ‘has come’] before me” . . . . The phrase “end of all flesh” occurs only here. . . . The phrase “come before” occurs in Exod. 28:30, 35; 34:34; Lev. 15:14; Num. 27:17; 1 Sam. 18:13, 16; 2 Sam. 19:8; 20:8; 1 Kings 1:23, 28, 32; Ezek. 46:9; Ps. 79:11 (groans come before God); 88:3 (a prayer comes before God); 100:2; 119:170 (prayer comes before God); Lam. 1:22 (evil-doing comes before God); Esth. 1:19; 8:1; 9:25; 1 Chron. 16:29. The expression often means “have an audience with” or “appear before.” But when used metaphorically, it can mean “get the attention of” or “prompt a response.” This is probably the sense in Gen. 6:13. The necessity of ending the life of all flesh on earth is an issue that has gotten the attention of God.[4]

Beyond doubt the Bible teaches God’s awareness of all that happens (Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 139), but when a matter “comes before” God, it takes on the sense of a formal hearing. This one ended with God’s decision to destroy all life on earth due to rampant violence.

While God’s mercy is the leading component of his character (Exod. 34:6), there is a limit to his patience and tolerance (Exod. 34:7). And what happens all over the world can affect us too!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) sha?at, become ruined (niphal) [Niphal forms are usually passive voice], destroy (hiphil) [Hiphil forms are usually causative], q.v.

[2]Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 278.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:12.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:13.