Monday, July 27, 2020

New Licona Series--Matthew's use of the Old Testament

This is one of the last two posts in my summer 2020 Mirror or the Mask response series. This post is focused on the one segment of new substantive content in Dr. Licona's conclusion video. My last post is "What's at Stake?" It is the script I worked from in recording the final video in my own series, though I did not read it verbatim. It is the conclusion to the series.

Once again, please do get hold of a copy of The Mirror or the Mask itself if you are interested in these topics. It contains the longest and most detailed discussion of these issues.

Hosea 11:1--The red herring of typological interpretation

Last November at the ETS, Licona began presenting the evangelists' use of the Old Testament as some sort of challenge to my work, even bringing in the names of two of my endorsers, J. P. Moreland and J. W. Montgomery, and speaking as if they, too, must have some kind of problem in their overall view of the New Testament as a result of the evangelists' use of the Old Testament. His presentation in his conclusion video is quite similar, almost verbatim, to his discussion of the same topic in November, 2019. At the time, when I got a copy of the audio, I was quite surprised. The topic seems irrelevant on the face of it, and the references to Moreland and Montgomery and to what they must think on this subject are odd, to say the least. However, he is continuing to use it as an argument, so I am responding to it here.

The first example of Matthew's use of the Old Testament that Licona attempts to use in this way is Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1. Matt. 2:15 states that the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt is a fulfillment of the utterance of the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son."

Licona says of this that, regardless of whether or not the relationship between Israel and the Messiah is typological in Matthew's mind, "One thing is clear. Matthew is engaged in a creative hermeneutic wherein he takes an Old Testament text and assigns it a meaning entirely foreign to its original one." The only connection he tries to make with my work, without stating any argument except to call it a "creative hermeneutic" is this, "Those who reject the Gospel authors' use of compositional devices should consider an even greater liberty the evangelists take: Their use of the Old Testament." His first example, then, is Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1.

Licona never says how exactly a typological interpretation and application of Hosea 11:1 by Matthew constitutes an "even greater liberty" than the fact-changing literary devices that I have argued against. He just asserts that it is. Perhaps it is supposed to be evident how this is an "even greater liberty," but I do not find it evident at all. In fact, on the face of it this reference to typological interpretation is the sheerest red herring. It is almost impossible to see how Matthew's application of Hosea 11:1 to Jesus is relevant at all to any of the questions at issue between my views and Licona's.

One almost wonders if Licona is implying that I have stated or implied an "anti-weirdness principle," such as, "There can never be anything in what any of the New Testament authors do that appears strange or surprising to us." But of course, I have never, and would never, assert any principle so vague or broad.

This is where it becomes important, in order not to straw man my position, for us to focus on fact-changing devices. Licona's repeated objection to that terminology, which I have dealt with thoroughly in this blog series and video series, has the unfortunate effect of obscuring and potentially misrepresenting my position. What is Lydia McGrew opposed to? "Compositional devices." Wow! How strange she must be! She must be opposed to really normal, obvious things. She must be opposed to this obvious thing that the Gospel authors are doing and that obvious thing. She must be opposed to typological interpretation, too! Well, no. What have I ever said or written that would commit me to saying that Matthew would never make a typological interpretation of an Old Testament passage? Nothing at all! But if one insists vaguely that I am opposed to some kind of "compositional devices," this might give the impression that I am taking a position that would rule out typological interpretation or application. The word "liberty," as well, is unclear.

So let's ask more clearly: What is there about Matthew's use here of Hosea 11:1 that constitutes a change of facts? Anything? Why would one think that there is?

The only thing that I can think of is if one believed something like this:
In stating that the flight to Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, Matthew was saying that Hosea 11:1 was about the Messiah instead of being about the nation of Israel. But Matthew must have known that Hosea 11:1 really was about the nation of Israel. 
In that case, one would conclude, Matthew was trying knowingly to give an impression contrary to fact.

But why would one think that? I cannot imagine why one would. Or perhaps the idea is supposed to be something like this:

In stating that the flight to Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, Matthew was trying to make it look like that Hosea himself understood his words to be about the Messiah instead of being about the nation of Israel. But Matthew must have known that Hosea intended to speak of the nation of Israel.

But again, why would one think that? In general, the typological interpreter need not be saying that the original author himself realized other depths and resonances of his words or of the events he describes. And if the interpreter did say that, there is no reason to think that he didn't believe in such foreknowledge, however improbable it might seem to us. Consider Acts 2:30-31, where Peter apparently attributes messianic foreknowledge to David. Why should we think that Peter was insincere? But Matthew says nothing about Hosea's knowledge. He says that the flight to Egypt fulfilled what was "spoken by the Lord through the prophet"--an interesting phrase.

Licona points out that Craig Blomberg suggests a typological interpretation of Matt. 2:15. But of course Blomberg never says that this typological usage by Matthew amounts in any way, shape, or form to a denial of the original meaning of the text or to any factual change! On the contrary, usually in a typological application the interpreter attributes an extra meaning, a kind of divine, providential parallelism, in the way that history works out or in extra meanings of prophecy. Quoting R. T. France, Blomberg characterizes the typology here as "the recognition of a correspondence between New and Old Testament events, based upon a conviction of the unchanging character of the principles of God's working." (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 8). Blomberg comments further on parallels between what happened to Israel historically (to which Hosea 11:1 refers) and what would happen to Jesus and says that these apparently seemed too striking to Matthew "to attribute them to chance."

This seems correct to me as an interpretation of what Matthew is doing. But on Matthew's part, this is not deliberate factual change of any kind or shape whatsoever. That does not mean that I myself engage in my own original typological interpretation of Old Testament passages. But that is beside the point. As Blomberg views it, Matthew himself truly believed that this was an extra meaning of God's working in history and hence a forward-looking aspect of the events to which Hosea 11:1 refers. It is impossible reasonably to characterize this as an example of Matthew's using a fact-changing compositional device of any kind. In fact, to attribute any kind of factual change here to Matthew involves a severe lack of nuance in interpretation and understanding of typological use of the Old Testament. There is no reason based upon anything I have ever written to attribute such a lack of nuance to me, and I would be loathe to attribute it to Licona himself.

This is the kind of confusion that we subject ourselves to when we refuse to keep in mind clearly what is at issue. Vague references to "liberties" or "even greater liberty" or to "a creative hermeneutic" merely fog the issue. There is no principle whatsoever that I have ever stated or implied that would rule out Matthew's typological interpretation here. In fact, it should be a cause of no small puzzlement as to why Licona tries to turn attention to Matt. 2:15. It is a mere distraction.

Trying to force a single conclusion about Matt. 27:9-10

Next, Licona swiftly moves on to Matt. 27:9-10, a passage that has puzzled commentators for many hundreds of years. The difficulty arises from the fact that the wording and even more the meaning is quite close to that of Zechariah 11:12-13 but is not found in Jeremiah. At the same time, the word "field" is not found in Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah has been engaging, at the Lord's command, in a prophetic act of becoming a shepherd, taking care of a flock doomed to slaughter. But he does not get along with the other shepherds. So he asks his employer for his wages and receives thirty shekels, which he clearly deems a puny wage and speaks of sarcastically as a magnificent price at which he was valued. The Lord then tells him to throw his wages to the potter (if we accept the Hebrew text), and he throws them to the potter "in the house of the Lord."

We can rather quickly see parallels in the Zechariah passage in relation to Jesus. There is the fact that Jesus is the good shepherd but is not valued by the people of Israel. There is the fact that the other "shepherds," the leaders of the people, hate him (as the other shepherds hated the prophet). There is the fact that Jesus' priceless life was valued at thirty pieces of silver for his betrayal. There is the fact that Judas throws the money into the sanctuary (Matt. 27:5) when he regrets his act. And there is the fact that the money is used to purchase something from a potter--namely, as it happens, a field. Hence the money is indirectly conveyed to the potter after Judas throws it into the house of the Lord.

All of this is quite similar enough that we would scarcely think twice about the absence of the word "field" in Zechariah if Matthew had said "Zechariah" or even just "the prophet" instead of Jeremiah. We could easily see how Matthew could have sincerely regarded this series of events as a fulfillment of Zechariah 11:12-13 and the events in Zechariah as a kind of uncanny historical foreshadowing of Jesus' betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, whether or not we speak of this as typology (as discussed above). We should also remember that there are no quotation marks in the original manuscript and hence that the phrase, "They gave them for the potter's field" in vs. 10 may not even be intended to be a quotation of the Old Testament verse being quoted. Matthew is obviously giving his own commentary and interpretation of the Old Testament verses, and it would be quite natural to intersperse his interpretative gloss without intending his readers to take all of verses 9-10 to be a quotation. "As the Lord directed me" is itself not a quotation, though it apparently refers to the fact that Zechariah in fact did throw the money to the potter in the house of the Lord, according to the commandment of God. The largest question, then, concerns the reference in Matthew to Jeremiah. Why did Matthew say "Jeremiah" instead of "Zechariah"?

I must remark at the outset that my references to fact-changing compositional devices, and my work on them, are clearly intended to be about apparent historical narrative. It is thus already strained (as we saw clearly in the last section) to try to extrapolate some principle to the New Testament use of the Old Testament that would be contrary to my work. Matthew 27:9-10 are not historical narrative. How exactly is this supposed to be something to which I must object on pain of inconsistency?

 Here is Licona's statement about what he believes that Matthew is doing:
Matthew borrowed a single word from Jeremiah, "field," inserted it in the text from Zechariah, loosely paraphrased the text, attributed it to Jeremiah, interpreted it to say something quite different from the original meaning of either text, then claimed Scripture had been fulfilled.
He then goes on to try to draw a moral, not only for me, but also for two of the most famous endorsers of The Mirror or the Mask--J. P. Moreland and J. W. Montgomery:
So why is the evangelist's practice acceptable to McGrew, Moreland, and Montgomery? By their standards, how is this not the abandonment of truthful reporting? And by their standards, was not Matthew guilty of falsifying the text and deceiving his readers by attributing the text to Jeremiah, assigning a meaning to it that's foreign to what it originally meant, and claiming that Scripture was fulfilled? By their standards, isn't this practice by Matthew one that undermines New Testament historicity, is wanting and dangerous, and one that destroys both mind and soul? McGrew, Moreland, and Montgomery do not object to this practice because, however much they may not like it, they understand that this is what divinely inspired Scripture looks like. However, this leaves them in a pickle. How can they approve of the New Testament authors' taking such great liberties with Old Testament Scriptures while forbidding the same New Testament authors from using much milder compositional devices? McGrew, Moreland, and Montgomery are inconsistent.
Wow, those are some pretty big assumptions packed into a single paragraph!

Licona assumes that these three different people all agree with a specific statement about what Matthew did and that we "do not object" to these practices, attributed to Matthew! That seems like a very large assumption, given that he has no commentary by me (since I have never made one) and, as far as I know, no commentary by Moreland or Montgomery on the text in question. He literally says that these three people "do not object to this practice" as if he knows what we think, on the basis of...what? Apparently his assumption that there is no other conclusion that anyone can come to concerning what Matthew is doing in this passage.

This is simply astounding, given that there are multiple theories about what is going on here in Matthew and given that this passage has been the subject of intense commentary for a very long time. One has only to look at this page for a list of a number of potential solutions and also at some commentaries on the verses to see that it is ridiculous to speak as if three different people, including two extremely eminent scholars, are all literally locked into agreement with Licona about Matthew's beliefs and intentions in these verses!

Once again, let's talk about intentional factual change. As far as I can tell from Licona's summary of what he thinks Matthew did, he believes that Matthew did several things: 1) He deliberately said that the passage was in Jeremiah while knowing it was in Zechariah. 2) He wished to make it appear to his readers that the words were in Jeremiah. 3) He deliberately inserted the word "field" into a quotation from Zechariah while knowing that no such word occurred in the passage. 4) He gave an interpretation of the passage that he knew to be incorrect for either prophetic book and presented it as correct and therefore as fulfilled.

If Licona says that this is not what he's attributing to Matthew, then what exactly is it that's supposed to be contrary to my views (or, for that matter, those of Moreland and Montgomery in their endorsements of me and their expressed concerns about Licona's views)? I repeat, as I did in the discussion of Hosea, above: I have said that I'm only opposed to deliberately fact-changing devices. That's what I'm saying the Gospel authors didn't do. So if there's supposed to be some problem here, it must be because of an allegation that Matthew is deliberately altering the facts and presenting something as fact that he knows is not.

Let's look at these supposed changes by Matthew. We can cross off #4 immediately. As I pointed out above, the passage in Zechariah 11, with the rejection of the shepherd and valuing him at 30 shekels, not to mention the casting of money "to the potter in the house of the Lord," has quite sufficient parallels to the events that Matthew reports concerning Judas that it is entirely understandable that he would take it to be uncannily similar. One might or might not even call this typological interpretation. The claim that Matthew was creating an interpretation "quite different from the original meaning" of Zechariah and knowingly attributing an incorrect interpretation to Zechariah is certainly not something that any of the three people Licona names are obligated to assent to. I certainly would deny it. As discussed above, such an interpretation of the Old Testament by Matthew need not involve saying that the original author knew of a specific messianic meaning of his writing.

As for #3, as already pointed out, that word could be part of Matthew's application of the verse to the events he is narrating (where they did buy the potter's field), though it's possible that the parallel occurred to his mind because of an unconscious memory of Jeremiah 32:8. In any event, we certainly are not at all obligated to agree that Matthew deliberately tried to give the impression that a word ("field") is found in a passage where it isn't found.

What about #1 and #2 and the question of the word "Jeremiah"? This is where it is particularly astounding that Licona should present his own views as though they must be accepted by three different people whose views he does not know and then accuse them of being "in a pickle." Here are some of the theories that have been respectably held by various commentators on the word "Jeremiah" in these verses:

1) It's a scribal error that arose early because the abbreviations for "Jeremiah" and "Zechariah" are similar. (Augustine notes that some of the codices available at his own time left out the name of the prophet altogether, which is interesting.)

2) Matthew made a mistake, wrongly thinking that the passage he paraphrases from Zechariah was in Jeremiah instead, perhaps because of God's order to Jeremiah to buy a field in Jeremiah 32 and other references to a potter's vessel in Jeremiah.

3) The more prominent prophet, Jeremiah, was used as a "title book" for a larger segment of the Old Testament prophets. This would be rather like our having a title essay for a collection. If such a citation convention existed, its use would not be attempting to give the impression that the quotation was uttered by a prophet who did not utter it, any more than quoting from an essay in a collection while giving the title based upon the title of a different essay.

4) Matthew truly believed that the events surrounding the betrayal of Jesus fulfilled both the prophecy in Zechariah and a section of Jeremiah and cited Jeremiah as the book whose connection to the events might otherwise be overlooked.

The last of these is the one with the greatest "weirdness factor," but again, notice that it does not involve any deliberate factual change on the part of Matthew. Here is a video by Michael Brown in which he advocates this view. On Brown's view, Matthew believed that there was an uncanny parallel to Jeremiah 19, in which the prophet accuses the people of Israel of blood guiltiness for slaying the innocent (Jeremiah 19:4) as offerings to Baal. The prophet is told by God to buy a jar from a potter and to break it as a symbol of coming divine judgement. Brown argues that Matthew's readers would have recognized the Zechariah reference readily but that Matthew was concerned that they might not recognize the additional Jeremiah parallels and hence uses the name Jeremiah in the hopes that they would find them in Jeremiah 19. The idea is that Matthew is carrying out a kind of typological application of Jeremiah 19--the leaders of Jesus' time have again become guilty of innocent blood in slaying Jesus and are again bringing down God's judgement upon them. As in the case of Hosea 11:1, if Brown's view of Matthew's intentions were correct, Matthew would not be denying the original meaning of Jeremiah 19 (or Zechariah) but rather adding a further meaning based upon what he views as uncanny parallels. It is also worth noting that, on Brown's view, Matthew actually believed that the events fulfilled Jeremiah as well as Zechariah, so the use of the word "Jeremiah" and the claim that this fulfilled Jeremiah would be (in Matthew's view) a true statement, and indeed one that he hoped his readers would come to understand upon further investigation. Augustine in his harmony of the Gospels seems to advocate a similar view, though he thinks the Jeremiah passage that Matthew wished to direct his readers' attention to was Jeremiah 32, where God tells Jeremiah to buy a field. He also thinks that Matthew was trying to emphasize that, due to inspiration, all of the prophets are "at one" and agree with each other.

This last view brings us back yet again to the important difference between historical narrative and Old Testament quotation and interpretation. Matthew is not presenting himself as an historical narrator of what Jeremiah or Zechariah said and did. It's not as though he knew the prophets or was a witness to their lives and to their activity of writing Scripture. Nor is he presenting himself as narrating the process of their writing, as he narrates the events of Jesus' life and ministry. Obviously the final authority on what is found in the texts of Zechariah and Jeremiah, in Matthew's time as in our own, lies in the documents themselves, which Matthew's readers or their rabbis would have had access to. In contrast, Matthew was presenting himself as writing an historical document recording the life of Jesus. If his readers found a difference between his statements and, say, Mark's about what occurred on a given occasion in Jesus' life, they would have had no particular reason to think of Mark's as historical and Matthew's as ahistorical. In contrast, they would be capable of looking up what was found in Zechariah or Jeremiah. This is the basis for Brown's and Augustine's suggestions that Matthew may have believed in a dual fulfillment (that is, a fulfillment of more than one prophetic text and more than one meaning of the prophetic texts) and may have been attempting to direct his readers to the less easily-noticed prophetic parallel. Implausible as this may seem, it has this going for it: The facts about which prophet literally said what would have been subject to a direct and objective method of checking, which is indeed the very foundation of these theories based on the hope that the readers would have discovered the relevant Jeremiah passage. (And once again, bear in mind that these theories involve the idea that Matthew actually believed that the events did fulfill a portion of Jeremiah.) In contrast, any actual contradiction created between Matthew and another Gospel's account by a fact-changing compositional device, or any invented information by Matthew in his historical narrative, would have been at best a source of confusion about the facts of the matter.

I myself am not convinced by Brown's suggestion or Augustine's. It seems to me to place too much of a burden on the readers, given the obscurity of the Jeremiah references, the similarity of the wording to Zechariah, and the difficulty telling which Jeremiah passage Matthew would have intended for his readers to come up with. (As witness the fact that these two commentators themselves have different Jeremiah texts in mind.) I bring it up only to show one of the more "radical" views of Matthew's activity here which still is not Licona's and still is not the view that Matthew engaged in deliberate and invisible change of facts.

I think that one of the other three options is correct, though I don't know which. The "Matthean mistake" view (which I am certainly not the first or only person to think of, as the above links show) has a virtue of simplicity in that it accounts for specific references to both a field and a potter in addition to the use of "Jeremiah." On the other hand, the scribal error view can be pretty readily co-joined with the possibility that "gave them for the potter's field" may be part of Matthew's own reference to the situation in his own time. I would probably go with the scribal error view over the "title citation" view in the absence of stronger independent evidence of a title citation convention of the relevant kind. Mark 1:2-3 is probably a better candidate for a "title citation" explanation, though that may not even be required there, since Mark 1:3 actually is a direct quotation of Isaiah 40:3 (see below).

The take-home point here is this: It is utterly false that I, much less Moreland and Montgomery (whose views on this passage I myself don't know), am obligated to accept Licona's narrowly specific, not to say tendentious, implications about Matthew's activity and intentions in this passage. To accuse all three of us at once of inconsistency or "being in a pickle" on the basis of an unargued presumption about what we all must think is just inappropriate.

It is, indeed, so far off in ignoring the wide range of other options readily available that it is almost hard to believe that Licona has tried so hard to press it in this way. That he would go so far as to say that three people whose views on this particular passage he cannot possibly know "do not object" to fact-changing intentions and activities by Matthew, though we "may not like it," when the passage has been so widely discussed and when there are so many non-fact-changing theories very much on the table, is a highly problematic scholarly practice.

The phrase "composite citation" can refer to multiple things, so we should also be careful when confronted with the phrase as if it is just one thing. Mark 1:2-3 refers to Isaiah the prophet but quotes Malachi 3:1 first, before turning to an undeniable Isaiah quotation in verse 3. (There are, in fact, textual issues here, and it is possible that "the prophets" is original. My thanks to Larry Travis for pointing this out to me. See the interesting discussion here.) If we assume that "Isaiah" is original, this could be called a "composite citation" but hardly requires any suggestion of deliberate factual change, as if we should think that Mark is trying to make it look like Isaiah said the entire thing. Remember, again, that this is a world with no quotation marks or parentheses. Mark quite accurately names the larger and more prominent of the two prophets he is about to quote, begins with a "lead-in" from Malachi, and finishes up with a flourish with Isaiah 40:3.

In Matthew 21:13 Jesus (probably) quotes both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. One of these is for "my house shall be called a house of prayer" the other is for "you have made it a den of robbers." But Jesus merely says, "It is written." Jesus never says that both parts of his saying are written in the same location in the Old Testament, nor need he be implying this. Nor does he even name any specific prophet or location. So one might call this a "composite citation," but it would be bizarre to imply or think for a moment that it means that Jesus was saying or implying something contrary to fact. Knowledgeable people might easily amalgamate allusions to Shakespeare or to Scripture in a similar way, without attempting to give the impression that the phrases they put together occur right next to each other.

Matthew 27:9-10 is difficult because no portion of the quotation is unambiguously attributable to Jeremiah, yet Jeremiah appears to be named as the prophet. This is no doubt why so many different theories have been suggested, as already discussed. But by that same token, no one has to adopt just one theory, much less one that attributes deliberate fact-changing to Matthew.

Here's another interesting point to round off this discussion. In my research for The Eye of the Beholder on the Gospel of John, I came upon this interesting fact: While rabbinic extrapolative commentary on the Old Testament could be more than a little far-fetched qua interpretation, with Matthew's typological interpretations being conservative on the spectrum, the Jews did not confuse them with the text itself. A Talmudic ruling holds that the interpretation should be read with the scroll closed, in order that the people should not confuse the Targum, or interpretation, with the words of the text itself.
The Gemara asks: What is the reason for Rabbi Meir’s opinion that the blessing is not recited over an open scroll? The Gemara answers: His reasoning is in accordance with the statement of Ulla, as Ulla said: For what reason did the Sages say that one who reads from the Torah should not assist the translator, but rather the translation should be exclusively said by the translator? In order that people should not say that the translation is written in the Torah. Here too, the scroll should be closed when reciting the blessings, in order that people should not say that the blessings are written in the Torah. (Megillah 32.a)
Here is a modern Jewish comment on this practice: "The reader was forbidden to prompt the translator, lest any one should say that the Targum was included in the text of the Bible."

This is relevant to the question of fact-changing and Old Testament interpretation. The Jewish commentator did not intend his interpretive commentary to be mistaken for what the text itself contained. It's interesting that this should have perhaps a rather "modern" sound, and it stands in contrast to the portrait of "ancient people" as not caring about the fiddly facts. One might even think that a rabbinic commentator felt the more free to indulge in speculative interpretation precisely because he knew that his audience would know that his statements about the meaning of the text were not the same as the text itself. In other words, he was not trying to give any contrary-to-fact implication about the text by implying a deep or conjectural meaning that might be present. Christians obviously will feel more bound to accept the interpretations of apostles and evangelists than those of a non-Scriptural rabbi or church father. But whether or not we ourselves accept these interpretations, we are under no obligation to think that the writer was trying to present them to his readers and hearers as the contents of the Old Testament text.

If the phrase "composite citations" is going to become a new rallying cry for literary device theorists and their followers (as I fear may happen for sociological reasons), we should certainly not be told what we are obligated to think! Nor should we talk about "composite citations" as if they constitute a monolithic activity with a single explanation, much less a fact-changing one. 

As usual, careful distinctions and clear thinking are the lifeblood of good scholarship. May they be the hallmark of our thinking about the historicity and reliability of the Gospels.

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