Notes2 - for reading Matthew’s gospel chapters 4,5,6,7 with Spong’s “Biblical Literalism”

We agreed to look in detail at Matthew chapters 4,5,6, & 7, and refer in particular to Spong chapters 10,11,12 & 13. (We will return to Matthew chapter 3 & John the Baptist when we meet him at Matthew chapter 14)

The Wilderness experience (Matthew 4.1-11)

Spong emphasises his view that Matthew is presenting Jesus as the new Moses – so he has already included a story to parallel Pharoah’s killing of baby boys with Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and then a second story to parallel Moses dividing the sea to pass through it, with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John, and the heavens opening, a Spirit descending, and the voice of God proclaiming “This is my Son, my Beloved”.  It is almost as if Matthew is saying – “see Moses never had this – this man is greater than Moses”.

After crossing the sea, Moses and the Israelites wander through the wilderness for 40 years. So Matthew sets Jesus to face a similar wilderness experience, with temptations similar to those the Israelites faced in their wilderness experience.

1) Shortage of food - see Exodus chapter 16 (Matt. 4.1-4)

2) Shortage of water - see Exodus chapter 17 (4.5-7) Testing God

3) Challenge to worship other than God - Golden Calf – see Exodus 3 (4.8-10)

This is not an historical record, but an image of Jesus wrapped in the represented story of Moses. It is an artistic creation by the early church.

Does Spong’s take on the temptations of Jesus change your view of them?

Sermon on the Mount – “return to symbolic Sinai”

The Sermon on the Mount – occurs only in Matthew (compare Luke’s Sermon on the Plain - Luke 6.20-49) so Spong concludes it was a “constructed sermon” made up of various teachings of Jesus at different times, & never delivered as an actual sermon.

Jesus – the new Moses, delivers the new Torah (parallel Exodus chapters 19 & 20) – “Jesus in an interpretive role” writes Spong.

Spong’s argument is that this structure (the Sermon on the Mount) is what is
required for a 24 hour vigil at the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) – which was divided into eight 3-hour sessions – at which Psalm 119 was used at that festival in eight sections. A Christian complement to the Jewish readings.
The theme of Psalm 119 is – God’s law rules It begins:

Blessed are – or happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are – or happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways. (RSV)

The Beatitudes convey a similar message. Blessed are -
1. Poor in spirit
2. Those who mourn
3. The meek
4. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
5. The merciful
6. Pure in heart
7. Peacemakers
8. Those persecuted for righteousness sake.
9? – You when you are persecuted. (Maybe 8 & 9 are joined).

The Lord’s Prayer

Spongs points out – Matthew’s gospel – written around 80 CE – is the first time this prayer appears. Paul makes no mention of it, neither does Mark. Spong sees it as a creation of Matthew - as a commentary on the 4th Beatitude - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

He says for the Jews righteousness was a synonym for God’s realm or kingdom. See his comparison with the earlier prayer, in I Corinthians 16.22 which has a similar meaning “Our Lord, come”. The Book of Revelation 22.20 – has Jesus declaring “Surely I am coming soon” followed by “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” /

This Spong says is the background to the Lord’s Prayer – that God’s rule will occur now, or is coming soon.

Spong suggests “This prayer is based on an understanding of Jesus that surely had not been worked out by his disciples until well after the defining experiences of his crucifixion and his resurrection…” “So it becomes obvious that the Lord’s Prayer is the creation of the church and never was taught by Jesus”.

Spong argues that by the time Luke wrote – the Spirit was thought to be the greatest gift of God to his people, rather than the Law (Torah).

Spong posits that the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary in reverse order of the 8 Beatitudes, followed by commentary on the Ten Commandments. I have not been able to work out such a pattern for myself. Can you?

The Beatitudes

1. Poor in spirit
2. Mourners
3. The meek
4. Those who hunger and thirst for
5. The merciful
6. The pure in heart
7. The peacemakers
8. Those persecuted for righteousness

The Ten Commandments

1. No other gods before me
2. No idols
3. Don’t misuse God’s name
4. Keep the Sabbath day holy
5. Honour parents
6. Do not murder
7. Do not commit adultery
8. Do not steal
9. Do not bear false witness
10. Do not covet.
Exodus 20. 1- 17

Content of the Sermon on the Mount

5.1-12 The Beatitudes;
13 Salt of the earth
14 Light of the world
17-20 Law & Prophets
21-26 Anger
27-30 Adultery
31-32 Divorce
33-37 Oaths
38-42 Retaliation
43-48 Love your enemies

6. 1-4 Almsgiving
5-15 Prayer – including the Lord’s Prayer
16-18 Fasting
19-21 Treasures
22-23 Eye – the lamp of the body
24 Cannot serve two masters
25-34 Do not worry

7. 1-5 Do not judge
6 Do not profane what is holy
7-11 Ask, seek, knock
12 The Golden Rule
13-14 The narrow gate
15-20 A tree and its fruit
21-23 Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven
24-27 The wise man – was the one who built on rock not sand
28-29 “When Jesus had finished saying these things……”


Let’s reflect on these issues - what was Matthew seeking to do?

Does Spong’s view of the artistic creation of this gospel, built round the Jewish liturgical year, clarify or confuse your reading of this gospel?

How does our current reading of Matthew affect
• our understanding of Jesus
• the effect on our belief and practice that we gain from the gospel

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