The Problem of Matthew 19:28

June 28, 2009

A Bible-Related Commentary

It is a glaring “error” that should make even the most rabid religious right Christian fundamentalist wince with discomfort. Moreover, it illustrates yet another example of a New Testament writer failing to give full thought to what he is writing. In other words, failing to see things through to their logical conclusion. Due to the uncritical, unquestioning mind-set of Christian fundamentalists, however, this glaring incongruity continually fails to be held up to the rigid scrutiny it so rightly deserves.  

I am referring here to the text of Matthew 19:28.

To set the scene: Jesus has just advised an individual—dubbed “the rich young man” by NT commentators—that if he truly wanted to feel “complete,” or, “perfect” in his bid to enter the kingdom of God on the best possible footing, he would need to sell his worldly possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Then in private discussion with his disciples, Jesus goes and reinforces that sentiment by sounding the now famous line: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24).

Hearing this causes consternation among his disciples and prompts the rather oddball question: Who, then, is able to be saved?—as though the Jewish population was comprised of nothing but rich fat-cats! 

Peter then goes on to point out that he and his fellow apostles left everything to follow Jesus and wonders aloud what rewards they are to expect in the future kingdom? Jesus replies that once he—if Jesus and the “Son of Man” are to be regarded as one and the same being—is seated on his throne of Glory next to God, each of the Twelve will also be also seated on thrones: each one judging over one of the twelve tribes of Israel!

12_apostles

Jesus said to them, “I tell you with certainty, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the renewed creation, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, governing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28; ISV)

Does the reader now detect what constitutes the glaring error alluded to in this article?

That’s right! Judas Iscariot is among those Jesus just said will be ruling over one of the twelve tribes of Israel while seated atop a heavenly throne!

Mark, the earliest written gospel, and used as an exemplar by both Matthew and Luke in composing their gospels, omits this discussion altogether. It would appear, then, that Matthew had a separate sourcecommon to both he and Lukefor this particular discourse. Luke transfers the passage to a much later portion of his gospel and places it an altogether different setting—shortly after declaring that the Twelve have a traitor in their midst (Luke 22:21-23).

Here is the Lukan equivalent of Matthew 19:28:

You are the ones who have always stood by me in my trials. And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred a kingdom on me. So that you may eat and drink at my table in My kingdom and sit down on thrones to govern the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:28-30; ISV)

In deviating from the text of Matthew 19:28 ever so slightly, Luke is able to avoid having Jesus say that all twelve present apostles will govern over the twelve tribes of Israel. (Still, when you think about it, Luke doesn’t have Jesus officially exclude Judas here either, does he?)

 

The Theist Response 

Remarkably, a vast survey of Matthean commentaries reveals that most commentators simply fail to deal with the issue at all. Whether this is due to a self-imposed silence or simply the lack of awareness of what Jesus’ words actually signify is a question only those NT commentators can answer.

One explanation, however, I have come across suggests that when referring to the “twelve” Jesus had in mind the office of Apostle and not necessarily those apostles in his immediate presence! But is this not really special pleading? Is this truly the natural understanding of what was said? Or is this another example of His Almightiness working in a “mysterious way” we humans are just too stupid to fathom? If so, I’d love to learn precisely which lost tribe Judas Iscariot is going to reign supreme over perched atop that heavenly throne of his.

                           The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism

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