13 September 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 1

We had our first live lecture with Father Echert today. Very nice. Since it was the first official "lecture," the leader introduced him. I had no idea all of the things this priest is involved in!! Wow, Father, I'm impressed on so many levels.

The study is on the Gospel of St. Matthew, from Catholic Scripture Studies, written by Scott Hahn and Mark Shea. Lectures by Father Echert.

Just wanted to share a few items I got out of the study today. You might already know some of this, but there are a few things I had never really thought about. Here are the highlights:

When you open up the Gospel of St. Matthew and begin reading, the first chapter is a genealogy of Jesus' line up to Abraham. It doesn't seem too interesting to read a bunch of names (even for someone like me who is very interested in genealogy) and you want to skip over it since it seems kind of irrelevant. But, there are reasons it is included.

The only other genealogy is in the Gospel of St. Luke. Matthew takes his genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham, whereas Luke goes all the way back to Adam. Reason for this is that Matthew is writing to Jews or Jewish Christians and Luke is focusing more on the Gentiles. The Jewish people would've been interested in Jesus' connection to Abraham and David, while the Gentiles would rather go all the way back to Adam, father of all the human race. Matthew stays true to his roots and writes his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, cites the OT a great deal since it is his background and also because he is trying to show the Jews that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT.

The genealogy shows that Jesus had Gentile blood lines.

Four women are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. These women, as Father Echert said, are preparing the way for the reader to accept Mary, who is of very humble beginnings. Part of the reason the Jews failed to accept Jesus is they were expecting a great King, like David or Solomon, and didn't expect a humble son of a lowly carpenter to be the Messiah. Mentioning the women, outcasts and sinners, tries to temper the resistance Matthew anticipates about the Jews accepting Mary as the Mother of God. All of the women became part of the royal line of Jesus. And, typically, the noted lineage was through the man's line since women were pretty much chattel back then and had no rights of inheritance, etc. To mention a woman in a lineage is a huge departure from the norm.

Joseph wanted to quietly divorce Mary, as Father said, not because of Joseph's belief that she had done anything wrong or been unfaithful, but because he realized the enormity of what was being asked of him and how he was unworthy to stand in the presence of God (Jesus). It wasn't until the angel appeared to him in a dream, that Joseph learned that God had called him to be the step-father of Jesus and wanted him to care for Mary and Jesus. (Providing an example of how we are to come before Jesus in the sacraments!).

And, finally, the point I wish Father had more time to discuss since it wasn't until recently that I realized this is why some Protestants believe Jesus had brothers, etc., is that in Matthew 1:25 it uses the word "until," creating some misunderstanding. Joseph "knew her not until she had borne a son." As we learned, the word "until" doesn't imply a change in condition. It doesn't mean that once Mary gave birth to Jesus, she and Joseph had normal marital relations. "Until" doesn't imply anything afterwards and can mean "eternity" or "forever." As in 1 Corinthians 15:25, "Christ must reign until God has put all enemies under his feet." We all know "until" in this case doesn't change anything because Jesus reigns now and forever. "Until" doesn't speak to a particular time or event. Father gave an even better example in class, but I can't remember it. Darn!

That's a summary of our first lecture. Funny how 25 verses of boring genealogy could contain so much behind the scenes.

Stay tuned for next week...


gemoftheocean said...

Regards that "until" business - another example you might look to would be:
""Michal the daughter of Saul had no children till the day of her death" (2 Sam. 6:23).

I also highly recommend to you "the New Jerome Biblical Commentary" - Edited by Fr. Raymond Brown, et al.

Pricey. Don't bother with your local religious bookstore, unless you are blessed with a really good one. Buy online from amazon or elsewhere at a discount that brings down the price. INSIST on getting the hardback and not the paperback.

It will work for anyone capable of following college level discussion.
It has a lot of interesting articles on things like canonicity, etc. And a lot of good background reading.

If you can, read what's going to be discussed before class. Use the Jerome commentary and use a good Catholic study bible...and look up ALL the cross refs AND it's also good to compare what Matthew says to Luke/Mark and also see if John has a similar passage.

More work, but you will definately get more out of the class.

And a good tip is every week try to find at least one thing "you never noticed before" about that passage.

You might even want to read Mark beforehand too - give Mark was the 1st gospel written.

When I reread the new testament, I always go: Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, then John. Then, having read acts once - go back and try and reread with a mind to reading the other applicable Pauline letters. Then the letters of John and the rest. Leave Apocalypse for last!

BTW, Raymond Brown is considered one of the leading lights on the Gospel of John.

Happy journey!

swissmiss said...

I'm a good little worker bee on my bible study. Last year I was the only one, at least in my group, with perfect attendance. Didn't get a sticker or anything for it. And, I do all my homework in advance and do all the things you mention :) I hadn't heard of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, so will check into it.

However, Father Echert did mention that Matthew is the oldest gospel, not Mark. I'm not a scripture scholar to argue about this, just letting you know that Father did take issue with this notion and the ideas that Matthew isn't written by Matthew or is a compilation of later authors. He said that the idea that Mark is the earliest is a recent Protestant idea.

Father is an adjunct prof in Scripture studies, does shows on EWTN and is a very solid and knowledgeable priest. Not that this is proof that he is correct, but Father does have the guns to know what he is talking about. (No pun intended with the gun comment since Father is also a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and military chaplain!)

Would like to hear more on this. I don't have any more info, however, about Matthew being the earliest. Just the comments that Father made.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Swissmiss: Thanks for sharing these class notes for those of us who can't be there (me!).

I agree, Father Echert is extremely well educated and really knows the material. I'd believe pretty much anything he said about Scripture.

Entropy said...

Thanks for sharing this!

I find it really interesting that they mentioned Joseph didn't think Mary had been unfaithful but rather didn't want all that responsibility (essentially). I've never thought of it that way and I rather prefer the other version but it's very interesting!!

swissmiss said...

There are a few priests that I trust implicitly and Father Echert is one of them.

Not sure what version you are saying you prefer...that St. Joseph wanted to divorce Mary because he thought she had committed adultery?

Entropy said...

Well, since they weren't technically married yet would it have been adultery? But yeah, that version makes more sense to me that Joseph, being a righteous man, would have divorced her (broken the engagement) quietly (so as not to shame her publicly). Then a dream from God reveals that she is going to be the Mother of God and Joseph understands.

Joseph seems like a pretty solid guy and never wavered in his duties to take care of his family. It's hard for me to imagine him shrinking from responsibility but it's easier to imagine him not marrying someone who was unfaithful while at the same time protecting her from public disgrace.

gemoftheocean said...

re: the "Synoptic problem" -- Fr. Echert is blowing off this too easily. The prevailing weight of scholarship even among leading Catholic scholars (and not the hippy dippy kind either) is that Mark was written first. I could have written this answer yesterday, but I wanted to get my ducks in order. There is quite a lengthy article in the New Jerome bible commentary I mentioned earlier, that gives the ins and outs of the basic arguments, which I won't detail here as it is too lengthy.
From reading around what I can find
about Father Echert is that he has a licentiate from the pontifical biblical institute in Rome. (The equivalent of a Masters Degree.) Plus he has done additional studies in Jerusalem. It might give you some pause to see this page from that same institute:

examination on basic knowledge of the bible

It's a list of the material which an ENTERING candidate is to be tested on BEFORE they are admitted to the institute. One of the "bullets" is "Dating of the writings of the New Testament (cf. Jerusalem Bible)

My inquiring mind went last night to Barnes and Noble to check that specific source, and tada, yes, indeed the JB's commentary on the dating of New Testament writings gives Mark as most likely written @64AD and Matthew and Luke in the decade after.

I think Fr. E. was a naughty boy in not mentioning that his opinion is in the minority even among Catholic scholars. [And orthodox Catholic scholars at that.]

As re: the issue of Matthew. You passing re: to what he said about Matthew isn't specific enough for me to get what was actually said.
Is he saying that Matthew wasn't cognizant of any source material to draw on?

swissmiss said...

Thanks for all the info. I don't want to speak for Father or misrepresent what he said, so will look into the info you mention and try to ask Father for more detail. I wish the lectures offered time for Q&A, but we don't get a chance to ask questions. Grrr.

Just to clarify, Father wasn't trying to be evasive or "naughty" or sneaky in his position and omit things. On the contrary, he did talk about the controversy, but said Matthew was the oldest. Time didn't allow for him to elaborate, but if he did have the time, I am sure he would've been able to provide a treatise on his opinion...we just didn't have the benefit of hearing it.

My first class lecture and already there is controvery!

swissmiss said...

Oh, forgot about the source stuff. No, completely the opposite of what you said (or I implied or you inferred). Father argued that Matthew was written by Matthew, who's source, if I remember Father correctly, was St. Peter himself. Father said it is goofy to say that an obscure person such as Matthew would've been credited by the early church fathers with writing his gospel if it wasn't true (this wasn't Father's complete argument, just my poor reiteration of one of his points) because his source was Peter and if Peter had written it, it would've held more weight to call it the Gospel of St. Peter than the Gospel of Matthew.

Hope that is what you were asking.

gemoftheocean said...

Did Father much go into how things were attributed in ancient times? [I expect not.] i.e. "according to Matthew" or "according to Bob" [or whomever] in the ancient world often times can mean "the followers of Bob pass this on as the tradition of what Bob said."

For instance, Peter II is almost assuredly written after Peter was executed - You can still call it Peter because according to the followers of PEter, that's what Peter said.

I expect you might find the canonicity article in the commentary useful.

Certainly with the canonical Matthew, there can be issues of sole authorship by the apostle Matthew. For one thing, the Greek is so darn good - apparently there's a lot of greek wordplay - Matthew also "corrects" the source(s) he and Mark were working off for poor greek. This doesn't mean there wasn't a proto-Matthew written in a semitic language which the canonical Matthew drew on. It's not prudent to blow off Papias's assertion that the apostle Matthew was the author of Matthew - but you paint yourself into a lot of corners by assuming Matthew just wrote out his own recollections of events and didn't draw on other sources. [Now he may have for a semitic language version.] And you have to be clear if you're talking about the Matthew that's accepted in the canon. [As opposed to Matthew himself having written a source drawn upon by the Greek text of Matthew we have today.]

Had he gone into the triple tradition/ double tradition and "Q" issues at all? And the various theories?

I can understand someone wanting a group to "hold all questions" - but I don't think it's prudent to NOT have a question period.

swissmiss said...

The bible study is from Catholic Scripture Studies International. You can see the first lesson of the study at:
This is the framework that Father has to work within. The study deals very little with the canonicity of the gospel or other more scholastic issues and covers, more or less, what Matthew says in his gospel and what Messrs. Hahn and Shea highlight and deem important.
Father bases his lecture on the study materials and only has about 45 minutes to cover things. I don't know why, oh why, we don't have questions. That really frustrated me last year, the first year I attended. That year, we did Jeff Cavins' Bible Timeline on DVD. It was frustrating to have questions and not be able to ask them. Very frustrating.
We arrive in the church, sing a song, hear some announcements and say a decade of the rosary. Then, Father gives his lecture and we break into our groups and discuss the study questions. Personally, others may disagree with me on this, I get very little out of our group discussions and wish the time was spent having Father answer our questions (since we receive the authors answers to the questions and can review the questions and compare the answers to our own privately). Some ladies really like the group discussion time, but I would prefer a more academic approach.

So, short answer is no, Father hasn't discussed the items you mention and I doubt he will get the chance. Besides, we've only have one lecture so far!

gemoftheocean said...

Count me as one who also HATES the "break into little groups" thing.

If I need clarity, I want to get some from the guy with either the answers, or the guy that says "we don't know enough about this to say definitively." You might see if you can talk to father privately after class about that.

Pedagogically I can't see that as particularly good either. I might *think* I gave a bang up lesson - but what if I find that while half the class "gets it" and has some great points to go into for refinement, the other half of the class might have been listening to calculus with a not-too-firm-grasp of the 6 times table. You'd want to know, either way, right?

I can see why the issue is complex enough that perhaps he doesn't want to get into a long who-ha about that sort of thing (especially given the wide range of education the group as a whole might have - anything from "Mrs. Murphy who didn't pay all that much attention in grammar school and is really surprised that perhaps Methusela [sp!] didn't really live to be 900__ years old... and Mary O'Hanlon, PhD in Physics." But I do wish "the church" would sometimes take a lot more care that the O'Hanlons of the world sometimes need a little more than "see spot run" and can get very frustrated if not given some good roadmaps to "follow up books you may want to read."

BTW, I *LOVE* Scott Hahn's books.
I also really enjoy Karl Keating's book on Catholicism and Fundamentalism. It really helps the Catholic know where the protestant (particularly Evangelical) mind is coming from. Hard to do apologetics if you are using the same words and not realizing that your very definitions and concepts those same words have may mean two different things to the Catholic and the protestant.