Mattityahu Jewish New Testament

chapter 18
1. At that moment the talmidim came to Yeshua and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
2. He called a child to him, stood him among them,
3. and said, “Yes! I tell you that unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
Unless you change. Greek strephd ("turn") can mean inward turning, hence "repent" or "change." KJV renders the phrase, "except ye be converted." The "conversion" needed is not from Judaism but from the sin of self-seeking ambition to be "the greatest" (v. I). The conversion is not to Christianity or to an "-ism," but to God and relating personally with him through Yeshua the Messiah.

4. So the greatest in the Kingdom is whoever makes himself as humble as this child.
5. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me;
6. and whoever ensnares one of these little ones who trust me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the open sea!
7. Woe to the world because of snares! For there must be snares, but woe to the person who sets the snare!
8. “So if your hand or foot becomes a snare for you, cut it off and throw it away! Better that you should be maimed or crippled and obtain eternal life than keep both hands or both feet and be thrown into everlasting fire!
9. And if your eye is a snare for you, gouge it out and fling it away! Better that you should be one-eyed and obtain eternal life than keep both eyes and be thrown into the fire of Gei-Hinnom.
Obtain eternal life, literally, "enter the life."

10. See that you never despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually seeing the face of my Father in heaven.
Their angels in heaven are constantly seeing the face of my Father. The imagery recalls Oriental court ceremony. The verse does not say that each believer has a guardian angel, but that recent believers as a group have angels in heaven. The apocryphal book of Tobit (c. 300 B.C.E.) speaks of guardian angels; Daniel and Zechariah mention angels of particular countries. The disciples praying for Kefa thought that the knock at the door was that of "his angel" (Ac 12:15), but their ideas were not necessarily correct. There may be guardian angels, but Scripture does not prove it.

Angels have many functions in relation to believers: ministering to God on their behalf (MJ 1:14), protecting them (Psalm 91:11, Mt 4:6), overseeing their worship (1С 11:10), in judgment separating them from the wicked (Mt 13:41, 24:31). Their function here is not stated.

The manuscripts which add v. 11 probably borrowed from Lk 19:10.

12. “What’s your opinion? What will somebody do who has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go off to find the stray?
13. And if he happens to find it? Yes! I tell you he is happier over it than over the ninety-nine that never strayed!
14. Thus your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to be lost.
15. “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.
Your brother, that is, a fellow-believer.
Against you. Some manuscripts have this phrase, others do not.

16. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Dvarim - Deuteronomy 19:15)
Two or three witnesses establish a fact in a Jewish court (Deuteronomy 19:15).

17. If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.
The congregation, Greek ekklisia; see 16:18N.
Treat him as you would a pagan or tax-collector, i.e., exclude him from fellowship.
at least for a while (see the example ai 1С 5:1-5 and 2C 2:5-11).

18. Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
19. To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven.
20. For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.”
Contrary to most Christian interpreters, I take the p'shat ("plain sense") of this passage to be dealing with making legal judgments and halakhah, not prayer. The words rendered "prohibit" and "permit" (v. 18) are, literally, "bind" and "loose." These terms were used in first century Judaism to mean "prohibit" and "permit," as is clear from the article, "Binding and Loosing," in the Jewish Encyclopedia. 3:215:
"Binding and loosing (Hebrew asar ve-hittir)... Rabbinical term for 'forbidding and permitting."...
"The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, says Josephus (Wars of the Jews 1:5:2), 'became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind."... The various schools had the power 'to bind and to loose'; that is, to forbid and to permit (Talmud: Chagigah 3b): and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (...Talmud: Ta'anit 12a...). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, ix: Talmud: Makkot 23b).

"In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt 16:19, 18:18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who 'bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers'; that is, 'loose them,' as they have the power to do (Matt 23:2-4). In the same sense in the second epistle of Clement to James II ("Clementine Homilies," Introduction), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: 'I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the church."'

The article notes that a very different, non-Jewish interpretation, equating binding and loosing with remitting and retaining sins (Yn 20:23), was adopted by Tertullian and all the church fathers, thus investing the head of the Christian Church with the power to forgive sins, referred to on the basis of Mt 16:18 as the "key power of the Church." Needless to say, I reject this later understanding which bears no relationship to the Jewish context.

The usual Christian view of vv. 19-20 is that it defines a "Messianic minyari" not as the quorum often established by halakhah (Talmud, Sanhedrin 2b) for public synagogue prayers, but as two or three assembled in Yeshua's name, plus Yeshua himself, who is there with them (v. 20). The problem with this is that the passage is not about prayer — although it is not wrong to make a midrash on it which does apply lo prayer (see below and 2:15N). Rather, Yeshua, speaking to those who have authority to regulate Messianic communal life (vv. 15-17), commissions them to establish New Covenant halakhah, that is, to make authoritative decisions where there is a question about how Messianic life ought to be lived. In v. 19 Yeshua is teaching that when an issue is brought formally to a panel of two or three Messianic Community leaders, and they render a halakhic decision here on earth, they can be assured that the authority of God in heaven stands behind them. Compare the Mishna:

"Rabbi Chananyah ben-T'radyon said, 'If two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Sh 'khinah abides between them, as it is said, "Those who feared Adonai spoke together, and Adonai paid heed and listened, and a record was written before him for those who feared Adonai and thought on his name" (Malachi3:16).'"(Avot3:2)

Curiously, the following extract from the Talmud provides a Jewish setting for both my understanding and the traditional Christian one. "How do you know that if ten people pray together the Sh 'khinah ["manifested divine presence"] is there with them? Because it is said, 'God stands in the congregation of God' (Psalm 82:1a) [and a "congregation" must have a minyan of at least ten]. And how do you know that if three are sitting as a court of judges the Sh'khinah is there with them? Because it is said, 'In the midst of judges he rendersjudgment' (Psalm 82:1 b [taking elohim to mean "judges"; compare Yn 10:34-36&N])." (B'rakhot 6a)

Thus, according to vv. 18-20 Yeshua's other talmidim join Kefa (16:19) in replacing "the Levitical cohanim and the judge who shall be in those days" (Deuteronomy 17:8-12) as the final earthly repository of halakhic authority. However, the new system was not established instantaneously; for later Yeshua could still advise the Jewish public to obey the Torah-teachers and P'rushim because they "sit in the seat of Moshe" (23:2-3&N). In fact, even today, two thousand years later, the new system has hardly been established at all — Messianic communal practice is far more ad hoc and makes far less use of received wisdom and established precedents than one might expect.

The unity of subject matter in vv. 15-20 is also seen in the fact that "two or three" is found in both v. 16 and vv. 19-20. Moreover, it is then evident that v. 21 continues the topic begun in v. 15 (how communal Messianic life is to be lived), without what otherwise is an irrelevant digression to another subject (reassurance about prayer).

The following expansion of v. 19 further clarifies its meaning: 'To repeat (Greek kai, "and, moreover") [and fortify in other language what I have just said in v. 18], I tell you that if two of you [Messianic community leaders] agree on the answer to any halakhic question or matter of public order that people ask you about, then it [the halakhic decision you make] will be for them [the people who asked the question] as il it had come directly from my Father in heaven." In v. 20 Yeshua strengthens this statement by promising his own presence and authority in such situations.

Nevertheless, one may regard the traditional Christian understanding of vv. 19-20 as a drash in which a prayer context is supplied (by allowable eisegesis. see 2:15N) in a homily reassuring believers that their prayers are "powerful and effective" (Ya 5:16&N). For a fuller discussion of the role of believers in establishing Messianic Jewish halakhah and having authority to interpret the Torah for God's people, based on this key passage of Mattityahu, see my Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pp. 146-151.

21. Then Kefa came up and said to him, “Rabbi, how often can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him? As many as seven times?”
22. “No, not seven times,” answered Yeshua, “but seventy times seven!
See 6:14-15; contrast Genesis 4:24.

23. Because of this, the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared with a king who decided to settle accounts with his deputies.
24. Right away they brought forward a man who owed him many millions;
Many millions, literally, "ten thousand talents." In Roman times one talent equalled 6,000 denarii, a denarius being roughly a day's wages for a common laborer. If a day's wages today is in the neighborhood of $50, 10,000 talents would be $3 billion! In the Tanakh a talent weighs 75.6 avoirdupois pounds. This amount of gold, at $350/troy ounce, is worth nearly $4 billion; the same amount of silver, at $4/troy ounce, comes to over $40 million. Haman offered King Achashverosh of Persia 10,000 talents of silver to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:9). The museum in Heraklion. Crete, displays 3,500-year-old Minoan talents — metal ingots used to settle debts.

25. and since he couldn’t pay, his master ordered that he, his wife, his children and all his possessions be sold to pay the debt.
26. But the servant fell down before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’
27. So out of pity for him, the master let him go and forgave the debt.
28. “But as that servant was leaving, he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him some tiny sum. He grabbed him and began to choke him, crying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’
Some tiny sum, relatively. Literally, "a hundred denarii," about $5,000 today.

29. His fellow servant fell before him and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
30. But he refused; instead, he had him thrown in jail until he should repay the debt.
31. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were extremely distressed; and they went and told their master everything that had taken place.
32. Then the master summoned his servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt just because you begged me to do it.
33. Shouldn’t you have had pity on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
34. And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he paid back everything he owed.
35. This is how my heavenly Father will treat you, unless you each forgive your brother from your hearts.”

next chapter...