The Active Obedience of Christ in Matthew 5:17 and 10:34

Part One: The two halves of the inclusio

A.     5:17, 10:34: The syntactical relationships

It should be first noted that in addition to 5:17-18 and 10:34-35 there are several other texts that bare resemblance to these two pericopes. As discussed in the introduction, Carter finds and discusses all of them finding that the lowest common denominator is ἦλθον and their general contexts. The unifying context, which he highlights, is the ultimate point of Christ’s incarnational purpose, definitively expressed in 20:28.1)Carter. When Matthew uses ἦλθον as a first person singular, it is with Jesus as the subject, followed by an infinitive of purpose (Matt 5:17*2; 9:13; 10:34*2, 35). The only break from this is in Matt 20:28 where Jesus describes why the Son of Man came and thus uses the third masculine singular of the aorist ἔρχομαι. Carter sees this break as making a point of emphasis among all the other texts. Therefore, to him 20:28 as the culminating statement is clearest expression of what the other texts merely implied. Yet, he fails to see any sort of heightened relationship between 5:17 and 10:34 despite a larger collection of syntactical relationships. While 9:13 and 20:28 are related in a larger sense of describing Jesus’ purpose, regarding 10:34 and 5:17, Matthew clearly creates a unique literary emphasis through the use a formulaic introduction and the broader thematic contexts. This emphasis and the relationship between the two verses within Matthew’s broader scheme conditions the meaning that can be extruded. Since these connections form the basis for microscopic examination of the text, they need to be examined and defended first.

Before examining the broader contextual connections within the respective discourses, ἦλθον will be discussed regarding the repetition of the formulaic introduction. The rote formula begins with the common introduction of the negated aorist subjunctive followed by the content expressing subordinate conjunction. It is an exhortation to not think in a particular manner.

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν· οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν.

The ὅτι in both instances is quickly followed by ἦλθον and so the introductory part of the phrase contests with the reader and the implied hearer’s personal perspectives of why Jesus came. As receivers of this logia, both the historic hearer and the modern day reader are confronted by the word and compelled to rationalize their own understanding of the purpose of Jesus’ presence. D.A. Carson makes the point that the introductory formula of Μὴ νομίσητε is not introducing a consensus view concerning the Messiah’s role; rather it is merely a pedagogical tool expressing Jesus’ desire to definitively state his purpose and clear up all potential misunderstandings.2)Carson, 141 Carson’s point is that it does not matter if the reader imagined Jesus coming to abolish the law or to bring peace, but the terms καταλῦσαι and εἰρήνην function as complements to the meaning of πληρῶσαι and μάχαιραν, the positive expressions of purpose.3)μάχαιραν is being used in a figurative sense. Christ did not come to bring a literal sword. μάχαιραν in the figurative sense is nuanced by the concept of peace Christ did not bring, as well as 10:35 which articulates that Christ came to divide families. The figurative concept of bringing a sword can then be understood as effectively bringing about a division. Throughout the course of this essay, the concept of division is interchangeable with μάχαιραν as the purpose for which Christ came. The explicit contrast provides a fuller meaning while not speaking definitively to the mindset of the audience.

The introductory formula of these verses, therefore, intentionally challenges the reader to rethink what is known about the purposes of the incarnation. The second half of both clauses beginning with the negating particle οὐκ stresses the destruction of the reader’s presumptions and introduces the true purpose of the incarnation. The high intertextual value of these two verses built upon the formula and their relative proximity forces the reader to think about how they relate to each other. Should they be seen as two halves of an inclusio, and if so what is enveloped between them? Are they actually quite different? Is the only similarity found in the structure? Does the purpose of πληρῶσαι correspond to the purpose of bringing μάχαιραν? The broader context will inform the reader how to understand the relationship between the two verses.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Carter.
2.Carson, 141
3.μάχαιραν is being used in a figurative sense. Christ did not come to bring a literal sword. μάχαιραν in the figurative sense is nuanced by the concept of peace Christ did not bring, as well as 10:35 which articulates that Christ came to divide families. The figurative concept of bringing a sword can then be understood as effectively bringing about a division. Throughout the course of this essay, the concept of division is interchangeable with μάχαιραν as the purpose for which Christ came.

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