ETS Paper – Who are the “Many from the East and West”? (Matthew 8:11)

I am reading a paper on Wednesday morning at the national Evangelical Theological Society meeting.  Since the paper is at 8:30 AM on the first day of the conference, and no one has any idea who I am, my guess is that it will be lightly attended.  I have put the paper up on, if you are interested in reading it:  Who are the “Many Who Will Come From the East and West”? (Matthew 8:11).



Here is the introduction:

In this brief logion in Matt 8:11, Jesus states that “many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” That Jesus is alluding to a banquet or feast at the beginning of the eschatological age seems clear. The idea that Lord himself would prepare a banquet at the beginning of the eschatological age appears as early as Isa 25:6-8 and is found in several Second Temple Period texts. The saying appears in two different contexts in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew it is attached to a miracle story in which a Gentile demonstrates great faith in Jesus (Matt 8:5-13), but in Luke it is attached to s response to a question, “are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:22-23).

The problem this paper seeks to address is the identity of the “many who will come from the east and west.” The vast majority of interpreters understand this verse to refer to Gentiles. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written many Gentiles were in fact coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah. The saying is therefore thought to be an allusion to the success of Gentile mission at the time the Gospel was written.

But this reading of the saying does not take into account the context of Jesus’ mission in Galilee. Jesus does not draw Gentiles into his table fellowship nor does he specifically target Gentiles at any point in his ministry. It is therefore the contention of this paper that the “many who will come” are Jews who are on the fringe of society, the very ones who do respond to Jesus’ message.

10 thoughts on “ETS Paper – Who are the “Many from the East and West”? (Matthew 8:11)

  1. I hope it went well. It is lovely well thought-out article. May I suggest another approach (which by no means negates what you presents, merely complements)?

    Genesis 28:14 promises an explosion of Abraham’s descendants to the four points of the wind. I thought (quite on my own) that Matthew 8:11 reflects a sort of implosion of those descendants back to the “source.” Those who had dispersed would be drawn back.

    • That is a very nice connection, although I wonder when all four directions are used if it does not mean “everywhere.” The interesting thing in Matthew is that it is only east and west, maybe Alexandria and Babylon?

      • The promise in Genesis is couched in poetic language: Yamah ve-kedmah, tsafonah ve-negbah. Tsafon is the only actual genuine everyday geographical term. As it is poetic, I think you are correct in that it means “everywhere.” My only thought on Matthew’s two terms might not refer to actual places, such as Alexandria and Babylon. Rather, it might be another way of saying: by land and by sea.

      • By land or by sea is good, yes. (I might steal that…!)

  2. Phil: Nice going at ETS and with this great paper. Only an hour away, I wanted to go, hoping to have R. Bauckham sign my copy of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, but it did not work out. How big of a “rock star” was Bauckham at the meeting? Were a lot of people wanting to get a word in with him?
    Tom Schuessler

    • I did not go to Bauckham’s parallel session, although a chatted with a few people who did and they said it was packed. This plenary was great, although he has a very light voice which was hard to follow in a huge room,

      • I personally can appreciate the problem of reading a paper at a conference while at the same time in a parallel session a super-star is also presenting. (I toyed with the idea of having a junior colleague read my paper for me while I sneaked into the super-star’s session. Of course I didn’t …) I also have had the experience of attending sessions where a super-star was presenting, only to find s/he mumbled, spoke softly, or read with “nose to paper.” Very frustrating indeed!

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