Jesus Raises the Dead – Matthew 9:18-26

In Matthew 9:18-26 Jesus raises a young girl from the dead and heals a woman with a flow of blood. These miracle stories immediately follow Jesus’s response to the Pharisees and Disciples of John who question his practice of eating with “sinners” like the tax collector Matthew. In fact, these two miracles illustrate Jesus’s teaching that it is not the time for mourning, but celebrating.

Raising Jairus's Daughter (Ilya Repin; 1871)

As expected, Matthew greatly reduces Mark 5:21-43. Luke 8:40-56 is also shorter than Mark, but many of the details dropped in Matthew remain. The child is dying in Mark 5:23, but in Matthew 9:18 she has just died. Matthew drops the name of the man and simplifies his title. With respect to the woman, Matthew reduces the description by omitting what she had spent on doctors. She does not touch Jesus, he speaks to her when he sees her. This allows Matthew to omit the troubling line about Jesus feeling his power go out if him and the question “who touched me?” Since the daughter is already dead, no one tells the man his daughter just died, and mourners are reduced. He does not take Peter, James and John into the room with him, nor does he speak to the girl (the Aramaic words are dropped) and he does not give strict orders not to talk about the miracle or tell her parents to give her something to eat. Mark reports the girl is twelve years old; Luke includes this detail but moves it to the request for healing.

John Nolland thinks this is the first of three miracles illustrating the three metaphors in the previous section (Matthew, 394). Jesus does not mourn at funerals; he raises the dead (taking the two women in 9:18-26 as both dead women). The next two (healing the blind and casting out a demon) are less clearly connected to the patch and new wine metaphors.

Going back to 9:6, Jesus healed the paralyzed man so that the teachers of the Law would know he has authority to forgive sin. This is followed by calling Matthew as a disciple and sharing a meal in Matthew’s home. That meal generates two more reactions, first from the Pharisees and then from the disciples of John. To the Pharisees Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” and to the disciples of John he response with three metaphors (a bridegroom, patched clothing, and new wine in old wineskins).

In Matthew 9:18-19, A man asks Jesus to raise his daughter. The man is identified as a ruler (ἄρχων), in Mark 5:23 he is a synagogue ruler (ἀρχισυνάγωγος in Mark, ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς in Luke). In Mark and Luke his name is given as Jarius.

A synagogue ruler is the person in charge of the daily operation of a synagogue. He is not a priest or a rabbi. In Matthew, Jesus has not left Capernaum (8:5 he enters Capernaum and in 8:14 he went to Peter’s house and he is in “the house” in 9:1 where he forgives the paralytic’s sin), so the man is in charge of the synagogue in Capernaum. Undoubtedly this leader knew Jesus and perhaps witnessed his healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). He would certainly have known Jesus’s reputation as a healer and exercised.

In this case it is remarkable because the man is the leader of the synagogue, usually the religious establishment is somehow against Jesus. It is possible however the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum was not part of the religious aristocracy or a Pharisee. Think of him as a custodian of a small country church. It is unlikely denominational leaders will know hm at all. This may explain Matthew’s reduction of his title from synagogue leader to just a leader, with no reference to the synagogue. Although an archon could be a lord or prince, it can refer to anyone who has some administrative authority.

The man knelt before Jesus and says his daughter has just died. He expresses faith that if Jesus is able to lay his hand upon her, she will live. Kneeling (προσκυνέω) is often associated with worship. In Matthew the verb appears 13 times, three times in the story of the wise men, who worship Jesus as a child; twice in the temptation story. In 14:33 the disciples worship Jesus after he walks on water and calms the sea. The word appears twice in Matthew 28:9, 17 for people who realize Jesus has been raised from the dead and they worship him.  In every other case Matthew uses the word to describe someone who coming to Jesus with a special request (healing, in 9:2, 9:18; a servant in a parable, 18:26; James and John’s mother, 20:20).

The man expresses remarkable faith. In Matthew, the people who express faith in Jesus are usually outsiders (lepers, centurions, unclean women). This is another hint the man is not from a high social status.

By the time Jesus arrives at the ruler’s home, the professional mourners have already arrived: flute players and the crowd making a commotion (Matthew 9:23-26). The verb θορυβέω refers to making a fuss, shouting or other chaotic activity. The place is in an uproar!

As the leader of the synagogue, he would have been expected to hire several professional mourners to wail and sing appropriate laments. Matthew mentions flute players (αὐλητής), this refers to reed-flutes typically used for mourning the dead.

Jeremiah 48:36 describes the mournful sound of flutes played for the dead. Josephus mentions professional mourners with flutes or pipes: “a great many hired mourners, with their pipes, who should begin the melancholy ditties for them” (JW 3.437). Rabbi Judah said, “Even the poorest man in Israel should not hire fewer than two flutes and one professional wailing woman” (m.Ketuboth 4:4).

The mourners mock Jesus when he tells them she is not dead, but only sleeping (v. 24). These mourners know their business, and the girl is clearly dead. When Jesus declares that she is not dead but rather only sleeping these mourners laugh at Jesus!  Jesus is telling them their behavior is not appropriate because she is not dead (like a mourner at a wedding in 9:15).

The resurrection is simple: Jesus takes the girl’s hand and she got up (v. 25). Mark includes the Aramaic phrase Talitha cumi, meaning “little girl, rise up.” Since the Pharisees suspect Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Devil (Matt 9:34), the Aramaic could have been dropped so that Jesus does not appear to be using a “magic word.”

As with other miracles in Matthew 8-9, it is impossible to keep this quiet. News spread throughout the region that Jesus had raised a girl form the dead.

What Did Jesus Mean by “Old and New Wineskins”? – Matthew 9:16-17

Jesus is the guest of honor at a festive meal at Matthew’s home and he shares food with tax collectors and “sinners.” The Pharisees question his choice of table partners (Matt 9:10-11) and John the Baptist’s disciples question him on the practice of fasting (Matt 9:14). In response to the question about fasting, Jesus offers three analogies explaining his practice of sharing food with “sinners.”

The first analogy is that Jesus is like a bridegroom and fasting is inappropriate at a wedding. The second and third analogies, patching cloth, old and new wineskin, have a slightly different nuance. Putting new, still fermenting wine in an old dried out leather wine skin will destroy both the skin and the wine. “The fermenting wine was stored either in earthenware jugs that could hold up to ten gallons or in leather skins” (Donahue, 108; here is a photograph by Ferrill Jenkins of a Bedouin skin for churning). If the new wine is placed an old skin, then the skins would naturally burst.

Likewise, patching an old cloak with a new piece of cloth that has not been preshrunk will likely result in tearing, and perhaps ruining the old cloak. It is inappropriate for a person to patch clothing or store wine in these ways, the result will ruin the clothing, the wine and the wineskin. Likewise, one who mourns at a wedding celebration ruins the celebration.

What is the old and new in these analogies? What is the old thing that has been replaced by a new thing?  

The new wineskins saying has often been taken to mean that Christianity is superior to Judaism and will replace it. For example, R. C. Sproul says “The bridegroom in the Old Testament is God and the bride is Israel. But in the New Testament, the bridegroom is the Son of God and the bride is His church” (Mark, 47). This supersessionist reading is not what Jesus is saying.

First, the contrast is not between Jesus and the Pharisees. The disciples of John the Baptist are also questioning Jesus on fasting. The point of the metaphor is not replacement of old things with new, but rather appropriate behavior when the bridegroom is present (Gundry, Mark, 138).

Second, the image of new wine is suggested by the context of a feast at the beginning of a new age. When Hosea describes the restoration of the marriage of Israel, the wife is given vineyards (2:16-17 [ET14-15]) and the Lord will cause the earth to produce grain and תִּירוֹש, “new wine.” New wine is associated with the eschatological age in Joel 2:24 and is the wine served in the messianic banquet in 1QSa.The noun תִּירוֹש was used in 1QSa because this is the wine set aside for the priests in the first fruits offering (for the details, see Long, Jesus the Bridegroom, 160).

Third, in both metaphors everything is ruined, both the old and the new. It is not the case that new wine is somehow preserved when it bursts the old wineskin. It to spills all over the ground in this ruined! The clothing is ruined when it is inappropriately patched. If this is an allegorical description of the state of the church during Matthew’s day, then it is difficult to see how the new wine of the Christian church has destroyed the old Jewish wineskin yet somehow was preserved.

In summary, in the bridegroom saying in Matthew 9:16-17 Jesus describes his practice of open fellowship as like a wedding banquet and himself the bridegroom. Jesus emphasizes the joy of feasting in contrast to gloom of fasting based the New Covenant (Jer 33:11). The people participating in this joyous meal are celebrating the restoration of Israel’s marriage at the end of the Exile (Jesus the Bridegroom,197).

Why Does Jesus Call Himself a Bridegroom? – Matthew 9:15

In response to a question from the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus explains why he does not fast by comparing himself to a bridegroom and his ministry to a wedding banquet. Later in this passage he will use the metaphor of patched clothing and new wine in old wineskins. But here I want to focus on the first metaphor, that Jesus is like a bridegroom.

wedding feast of the Lamb

The first analogy for Jesus’s ministry is a wedding celebration. Later in Matthew Jesus will say the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who makes a wedding banquet for his son, comparing the invitation to come to a wedding celebration to his invitation to the Jews to follow him and celebrate the presence of the Kingdom (Matt 22:1-12). Another parable uses the long delay of the arrival of the bridegroom as a warning to keep alert before the return of Jesus (Matt 25:1-14). Here in Matthew 9, Jesus compares himself to the bridegroom and the people he is currently celebrate with are the guests at a meal which is in some ways like a wedding banquet.

Wedding banquets in the first century were the opposite of a fast. A family might invite the whole village to a festive meal with plenty of food, music, dancing and wine. Like the celebration in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when a father gave a wedding banquet, he would provide food and drink for the community, perhaps even celebrating for seven days. Consider the amount of wine consumed at the wedding at Cana (John 2).

The Old Testament often uses a marriage metaphor to describe God’s relationship with his people. Beginning with Hosea, this marriage ended in separation or divorce because of the infidelity of the wife, Israel. The eschatological age will be a time when the marriage between God and Israel will be renewed. The unfaithful wife will be restored to her former position because her sins have been forgiven and the marriage covenant has been renewed.

The marriage ended in disaster because Israel was an unfaithful spouse. But in the eschatological age, God will restore Israel to her former position and create a new covenant with them. God in fact does a miracle by restoring the faithless bride to her virgin state and re-wedding her in the coming age. It is therefore not implausible that Jesus stands in this prophetic tradition when describes the eschatological age as a wedding celebration and himself as the bridegroom.

The book of Revelation picks up the theme of the eschatological age as a banquet, albeit the “great supper of God” is the slaughter of the nations (19:17-19, cf., Ezek 38-39). Revelation 21:1-4 the New Jerusalem is described as “a beautiful bride fully dressed for her husband.”

If Jesus is the like a bridegroom, then his ministry is like a wedding celebration. If this is the case, then it is inappropriate to fast. Commenting on the Markan parallel, Anderson argues Jesus is merely making a contrast between his disciples (who are feasting) and the disciples of John (who are fasting) (Mark, 107).  Cranfield suggests the disciples of John the Baptist are fasting because of the recent death of John. This would explain the contrast between wedding and funeral imagery in the saying without assigning the saying to the later church (Mark, 111).

But as Gundry comments, this trivializes the issue since the main problem is regular fasts, not an occasional fast in at the time of a death (Mark, 135). Far more can be said about the background to the bridegroom metaphor (this was my PhD topic, see the right sidebar for a link to my book on the topic). In Matthew 9,

The people participating in this joyous meal are celebrating the restoration of Israel’s marriage at the end of the Exile (Jesus the Bridegroom,197).

Why Doesn’t Jesus Fast? – Matthew 9:14

After Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him, Matthew hosted a meal in honor of Jesus (Matt 9:10-11). Jesus is eating with people the Pharisees considered “sinners,” prompting a Pharisee to ask about Jesus’s practice of eating with potentially unclean people (Matt 9:11-13). But this meal prompts a second question from some of John the Baptist’s disciples. The meal seems to have fallen on a day the Pharisees and John’s disciples fasted, yet Jesus and his disciples are feasting!

Jesus Feasting with Sinners

The story appears in Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-37. One significant difference in Matthew is the question comes from the disciples of John; in Mark it comes from “some people” after the observation that the Pharisees and disciples of John were fasting. Unlike Mark, Matthew does not mention both John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.

John’s disciples ask about the common spiritual practice of fasting. Other than the Day of Atonement, the Law does not mention required fast days. Fasting was associated with mourning for the dead. David fasting after his son died (2 Sam 12:17-23). Fasting is often associated with prayer. Daniel fasts while praying and seeking the Lord’s will (6:18; 9:3; 10:1-3;  cf., Neh 1:4-10). Fasting and prayer are often linked in the Psalms (35:13; 109:21-24). Fasting is often associated with repentance. In Jonah 3:4-9 the people of Nineveh fast after hearing Jonah’s announcement of God’s judgment. In Esther the Jews fast when they hear of Haman’s threats (4:3) and then feast in celebration of God saving the people from Haman (9:25-32).

These reasons for fasting are also found in the literature of the Second Temple period. For example, Tobit 12:8 associates fasting and prayer (although almsgiving is better). In The Testament of Joseph 3.4-6 Joseph claims to have fasted for seven years when his master was gone and he needed strength to resist Potiphar’s wife.

Tobit 12:8 Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness.

Testament of Joseph 3.4 For those seven years I fasted, and yet seemed to the Egyptians like someone who was living luxuriously, for those who fast for the sake of God receive graciousness of countenance.5 If my master was absent, I drank no wine; for three-day periods I would take no food but give it to the poor and the ill. 6 I would awaken early and pray to the Lord, weeping over the Egyptian woman of Memphis because she annoyed me exceedingly and relentlessly.

Based on Daniel’s fasting, some Second Temple texts imply fasting is necessary before an encounter with God. For example, in the Apocalypse of Abraham 9.7-10 Abraham is told to abstain from food cooked by fire and wine and from anointing himself for 40 days. After this period God will reveal what judgments are coming on the evil of the human race.

By the first century the Jewish practice of fasting was well-known. “Fasting like a Jew” was proverbial in the Roman world of the first century (Suet. Aug. 76). The Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. Didache 8:1commands Christians to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays to avoid looking like the hypocrites, the Pharisees. In Matthew 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites for many of their practices, although he does not mention fasting. In Luke 18:12 the Pharisee boasts of his righteous practice of fasting twice a week.

Although he fasted for forty days prior to his public ministry, Jesus seems to distance himself frequent fasting even though the practice was considered a pious spiritual practice in the Judaism of his day. This is consistent with his practice of the Sabbath. He certainly kept the Sabbath but challenged the traditions of the Pharisees. With respect to fasting, undoubtedly, he would have fasted on the Day of Atonement. But it does not appear he would have fasted twice a week like the Pharisees.

Early Jewish Christianity continued to practice fasting as a spiritual discipline despite the fact Jesus did not teach his disciples to fast (Didache 8:). The bridegroom saying in Matthew 9:15 explains why Jesus’s disciples returned to fasting after the resurrection.

Jesus’s answer does not address the issue of Christian fasting or feasting. The Sermon on the Mount assumes his followers will fast at times, but he re-defines how they ought to practice the spiritual discipline (Matt 6:16-18).


Bibliography: David Seal and Kelly A. Whitcomb, “Fasting,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016); John Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:774-76.

Who are the Sinners Who Eat with Jesus? – Matthew 9:10

After calling Matthew to follow him, Jesus “reclined at the table in the house.” Since Jesus is the guest of honor at a festive meal shared with other tax collectors and “sinners,” the Pharisees question Jesus’s disciples about sharing food with these sorts of people.

Jesus Eating with Sinners

In Matthew 9;10 it is simply “the house,” probably referring to Peter’s house, but Mark has “his house,” making it at least possible this occurs at Matthew’s house.  Luke 5:29 makes it clear the meal took place at Levi’s house. The usual way of reading this story is Matthew was so overwhelmed with Jesus that he hosted a rich banquet in his home and invited all his friends to come and hear Jesus. In this scenario, Jesus is the guest of honor at a festive meal in the home of a Jewish man who was hated “as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic.” If Matthew intended the reader to understand this as Peter’s house in Capernaum, then Jesus is the host of this meal rather than Matthew. This is significant because Jesus is opening his home to tax-collectors and sinners and sharing his food with them. This is the main reason the Pharisees question the disciples.

What makes these people sinners? In the Law one could be in a state of sinfulness without committing what Christians consider sins. Nolland suggests these are “unsavory types” who life on the edges of respectable society (Matthew, 386). However, if Matthew was indeed a tax-farmer, then he may have earned a reputation “as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic.” Even if he was just a worker in a toll both, he was in constant contact with the Romans and would have been unclean by contact.

Like Zacchaeus in Luke 19, a tax collector meets Jesus, follows him and then Jesus shares a meal with him.

The Pharisees ask about Jesus’s practice of sharing food with sinners (Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees would not enter the house of a tax collector nor share food with him because they are unclean.

In the previous story the scribes questioned Jesus’s authority to forgive sin. Here it is the Pharisees who wonder how Jesus can eat with people who are obviously still in their sins. From Jesus’s perspective, they are not sinful anymore because he has forgiven them. From the perspective of the Pharisees, they are still sinful because they are still tax collectors and other “unsavory types.”

By way of analogy, if a scary looking biker with tattoos and piercings (probably named “Porkchop”) accepts Christ as savior and comes to church for the first time, people might look at him, judge his outer appearance and assume he is still in his sins. Since the Pharisees see Jesus eating with some people and know they are sinners, these people are known by sight at people on the fringe of society. This might be as simple as “oh look, there is Matthew, the tax collector,” or it might be the case the people look like sinners to the proper Pharisee.

Since Jesus seems to be eating with a number of people he is possibly in the courtyard of the house. The little homes in Capernaum would not have formal dining rooms like a Roman villa (or a modern home); even if Matthew was a wealthy tax farmer (which he probably was not), his home would still not be that large. The only way for a crowd to eat together is to gather outdoors.

Perhaps some disciples were not eating with Jesus and were on the fringe of the gathering listening to Jesus. Maybe two or three Pharisees see the gathering and see Jesus as the honored guest among a group of people they consider to be sinners and wonder how Jesus could eat with such people.

The question assumes Jesus would behave like a Pharisee with respect to food traditions. For the Pharisee, contact with an unclean person would communicate that uncleanliness. If the sinner touched the food, then the food itself would be considered unclean. In their defense, they were trying to obey the commands God gave through Moses and were willing to think through every possible situation that might render them unclean. This is no different than Christians asking questions about what God would think of any new situation (can a Christian go to the movies?)

In the ancient world, to share the table with another person made statement about yourself and about your guest. People wanted to share a meal with someone who was at least in the same social circle; to be invited to a meal by an elite citizen was indeed an honor. On the other hand, there is no way an elite citizen would invite people from the lower classes to share a meal with them. A Pharisee would only eat with people they were sure were ceremonially clean, and the people Jesus is eating with are clearly are not even close!

As with the inner thoughts of the scribes in the previous story, Jesus hears what the Pharisees are discussing with his disciples and responds directly to them.

Jesus Calls Matthew to Follow Him – Matthew 9:9

Matthew is sitting at a tax booth, and he seems to be friends with other tax collectors. A τελώνιον (telōnion) refers to a tax office, or as BDAG suggests, “toll-collection operation.” In Matthew 10:3 he is called a tax-collector (τελώνης, telōnēs).

Matthew icon

The noun does not refer to an employee of a Roman equivalent to the IRS, but rather to a “tax-farmer.” A person bids on a contract to collect taxes in a particular area, then collect whatever they could from the people and pays the Romans what he bid and pockets the rest. “The prevailing system of tax collection afforded a collector many opportunities to exercise greed and unfairness. Hence tax collectors were particularly hated and despised as a class” (s.v. τελώνης, BDAG).

In a similar situation, Zacchaeus is a tax collector and is described by those who grumbled against Jesus as a “sinner.” Zacchaeus confessed to defrauding people and promised to make restitution (Luke 19:1-10).

Matthew may not have been a tax farmer, but rather an employee in a tax office. His role is not clear, it could be something innocent (an account, a counter), or something more blame-worth (an enforcer?). In either case, anyone working for the Romans would be suspicious, perhaps even disloyalty to Jewish nationalism.

Tax collectors are never particularly popular in any society, but Jews who worked for the Romans to collect taxes and tolls were considered to be traitors since they collected money for the occupying forces. Not all taxes are bad (people tend to like nice roads and national parks, for example). Roman taxes did pay for some level of stability in the region and provided valuable infrastructure all people enjoyed. But because of the practice of tax-farming, tax collectors “were despised as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic” (Hagner, Matthew, 238).

However, like Americans who “do not want their taxes to pay for…” whatever they do not like politically, the Jewish people assumed their money was being rounded up and sent to Rome to pay for pagan temples or other sinful activities.

In addition to the political aspects of tax collecting for the Romans, a tax collector would be in constant contact with gentiles and therefore in a state of ceremonial uncleanliness. Like the leper (8:1), the centurion (8:5-13), (perhaps) Peter’s mother-in-law (8:14-15), the demon possessed men in the cemetery (8:28-34) and the paralyzed man (9:1-8), the woman with the flow of blood (9:18-22) and perhaps even the blond and mute men (9:27-31), Matthew is in a state of uncleanliness which would keep him from entering the Temple courts or sharing fellowship with the Pharisees.

Jesus simply commands Matthew to follow him and he immediately “rose and followed” Jesus. This is the same way he called the first disciples (Matt 4:13-22). The fishermen were going about their business and Jesus called them to follow without any indication they had heard Jesus preaching prior to the call. John 1:35-42 implies the early disciples were followers of John the Baptist prior to following Jesus.

It is one thing to heal a person who is ceremonially unclean, but now Jesus is calling an unclean person to be one of his disciples. When his new disciple reaches out to his social circle, the Pharisees will become indignant and will question his disciples about this practice.

This is a clear example of Jesus’s practice of eating with people who are on the fringe of what it means to be Jewish, at least from the perspective of the Pharisees.

Is Matthew the same as Levi? Matthew 9:9

The parallel story in Mark 2:14-22 and Luke 5:27-38 agree Jesus called Levi the to leave his tax booth and follow him. Virtually every detail is the same except the name and the citation of Hosea 6:6. Why does Matthew 9:9 have Matthew and not Levi?

Jesus calls Matthew Giovanni Paolo Panini

The name Matthew is Μαθθαῖος (or Ματθαῖος) in Aramaic it is either מתי or מתא. The name is likely an abbreviation of Mattaniah or Mattithiah (2 Kgs 24:17; Neh 8:4) which means “gift of Yahweh.” The name Matthew is therefore not related to the Greek noun translated disciple (μαθητής). Mark calls Levi “the son of Alphaeus” complicating this issue since in Matthew 10:3, Matthew is “the tax collector” and James is the “the son of Alphaeus.” Luke 5:27 has Levi but not Alphaeus, perhaps to avoid confusion (Dulling, 619). If this was not confusing enough, there are a variety of textual variants which try to sort out the problem.

I agree with Hagner (WBC, 238) that is most likely Matthew and Levi are the same person. Like Joseph the Levite who was also called Barnabas (Acts 4:36), Matthew may have had two names (France, Matthew, 352). There are a number of people in the New Testament with two names; Simon bar Jonah is also called Cephas (on Aramaic) or Peter (in Greek). Some scholars suggest Levi was his pre-conversion name. After following Jesus, he was known as Matthew (similar to Saul/Paul in Acts; Hagner, Matthew, 238; Turner, Matthew, 12)

If Matthew is indeed the author of the first Gospel, then this he made this editorial change himself. The main problem with this view is there is no name-change story, either canonical or non-canonical.

There are several other less-likely suggestions. First, Levi may not be a name, Albright and Mann suggested Matthew was a Levite (Albright and Mann, Matthew, clxxviii). Second, some suggest there were two different tax collectors called by Jesus, the author of the fourth Gospel used the name “Matthew” since that was the name he knew (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 99). Third, the use of Matthew in 9:9 is the author’s self-identification. Fourth, the author of the first gospel may have replaced Levi with Matthew for theological reasons.

Regardless of whether the name is Levi or Matthew, when Jesus calls the tax collector as a disciple, he demonstrates the kind of mercy God requires. This stands in contrast to the Pharisees, who question Jesus when he eats with “sinners” (9:10-13) and the disciples of John who wonder why Jesus is eating at all (9:14-17).

Bibliography: Dennis C. Duling, “Matthew (Disciple),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 619; J. G. Bashaw, “Matthew the Apostle,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Sin and Sickness – Matthew 9:1-8

Some of the scribes who have gathered to hear Jesus teach think Jesus blasphemed when he forgave the paralytic’s sin without healing him.

Jesus heals a paralytic

“This fellow” or “this man” may be pejorative, something like “who does this guy think he is?” in Matthew 8:27 the disciples ask, “What kind of man is this” after he calms the sea. But the question “who is this man?” is at the heart of all the stories in Matthew 8-9, Jesus is revealing who he is, the God who forgives sin, but the scribes do not accept that claim. There is a contrast between the demon possessed men in 8:29 who know Jesus is the Son of God and these Jewish scribes, who deny he could be the God who forgives sin.

What does it mean to blaspheme?  In the Law, blasphemy is a misuse of the name of God, a “verbal slander against God” and the punishment for this offense of death (Bock, “Blasphemy” in DJG, 84) or example, in m. Sanhedrin 7:5, a blasphemer has “fully pronounced the divine Name.” As is well known, the punishment for pronouncing the name of God was death punishable by death (Lev 24:10-16). In m. Sanh. 6.4 some sages say, “Only the blasphemer and the one who worships an idol are hanged.” Philo said “But if anyone were, I will not say to blaspheme against the Lord of gods and men but were even to dare to utter his name unseasonably, he must endure the punishment of death; (Mos. 2.206).

Ironically, but the end of this section of Matthew, Jesus declares the Pharisees have committed “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (12:30-32). As far as the scribes are concerned, the many has not been forgiven since he is still paralyzed. They seem to interpret his condition as the result of sin.

For some writers in Second Temple Judaism, God punished sin with physical illness. In Matthew quoted Isaiah 53:4 as fulfilled in Jesus’s healing, “He took up our infirmity and bore our diseases” (8:17). Psalm 103:2-3 says the Lord both forgives sin and heals disease. When Hezekiah was afflicted with a deadly boil, he may have assumed there was a connection between the disease and punishment for sin. In the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242), the king is afflicted with a disease until a Jewish exorcist “forgave his sins.”

Psalm 103:2-3 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.

4Q242 (4QPrNab ar) 4QPrayer of Nabonidus ar [I, Nabonidus,] was afflicted [by a malignant inflammation] 3 for seven years, and was banished far [from men, until I prayed to the God Most High] 4 and an exorcist forgave my sin. He was a Je[w] fr[om the exiles… (Martı́nez and Tigchelaar)

Ned. 41A R. Alexandri in the name of R. Hiyya bar Abba, “A sick person does not recover from his ailment before all of his sins are forgiven: ‘Who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases’ (Ps. 103:3).”

As is the case in Matthew 8:16-17, it is also possible the illness was caused by demonic influence. Like the owners of the pigs in the previous story, the scribes are less concerned about the paralyzed man than Jesus’s blasphemous statement claiming to forgive sin.

Jesus Responds by Healing the Paralytic (Matthew 9:4-7). Jesus knows their thoughts, as he will the Pharisees in 12:25. In both cases, these thoughts consider Jesus to be claiming divine authority in a way which is offensive to God.

“Which is easier?” Jesus asks. Nolland calls this a “riddling question” that depends on the saying “your sins are forgiven.” God grants the authority to heal to humans, even the disciples will be given authority to heal (Matthew 10:1), but only God can forgive sin. Therefore, it is easier (for a human) to heal than to forgive sin (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 91). On the other hand, anyone can say “your sins are forgiven,” that does not make them forgiven.  The problem is that there can be no proof a person’s sins are forgiven (or not). However, healing a paralyzed man is verifiable. He if stands up and walks, then he has been forgiven.

Jesus then heals the paralytic so that they will know “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” In Daniel 7:14 a son of man is given authority to judge the Gentile nations and establish the final kingdom of God. By using the phrase “Son of Man has authority,” Jesus is alluding to Daniel 7 and claiming to be God’s appointed representative who is qualified by God himself to render judgment, to punish or to forgive sin.

Jesus made an extraordinary claim, to have the authority to forgive sin, then verifies that the man’s sins have been forgiven by healing his paralysis in full view of a crowd.

It is important to understand that this passage disconnects the man’s illness from any punishment for sin. We do not know why he is sick, and it does not matter since the story is about Jesus’s authority, not whether (or not) a person’s sin is related to their illnesses.

The crowd saw the man stand up and walk out of the house and they are amazed. But is this fear or amazement? Normally φοβέω refers to fear (in Matthew 8:26 Jesus asks the disciples why they are so afraid, the noun there is δειλός, cowardly, timid). Later when Jesus walks on the water, the disciples are afraid because they think they have seen a ghost, and when Peter attempts to walk on the water, he sees the waves and is afraid.

The crowd does glorify God “who gave such authority to men.” Why plural, men? It is possible his anticipate Matthew 10. Jesus will authorize his own disciples to drive out demons and heal all kinds of sickness. In John 9, Jesus explicitly contradicts the belief that a person’s illness or infirmity was caused by their sin.

Matthew does not tell us anything more about the once-paralyzed man or his friends. His focus on in Jesus’s claim to have authority to forgive sin. Just as the crowds were amazed when Jesus taught by his own authority (7:28-29) and the disciples were amazed when he calmed the sea (8:27).

But like the people in the area of Gadarene who were frightened by Jesus’s restoration of the demon possessed man, now a crowd is afraid of  him, yet they glorify God.

Jesus Has Authority Over Sin – Matthew 9:1-2

In the previous two stories, Jesus demonstrated his authority over satanic powers. First, he calms the chaos of the seas and second, he commanded demons to leave two men who were living among the tombs. In both cases he is in “enemy territory” where Satan has the advantage. Now in 9:1-7 Jesus will demonstrate his authority over sin and sickness by healing a paralytic man. The one who silences the chaos of the seas and commands demons also has the authority to forgive sin. Matthew is making a clear Christological statement about who Jesus is as well as tracking a range of responses to Jesus, amazement, fear, and rejection.

Jesu Heals the Paralytic

The story appears in see Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18–26. As is usually the case, Matthew’s version of the story is brief compared to Mark and Luke. “Matthew’s narration is surprisingly slim at this point” (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 91). Matthew omits the situation (a large crowd in Peter’s house), the four friends who lower the paralyzed man through the roof, and the paralytic does not pick up his mat when he departs. An interesting addition is calling Capernaum “his town.”

Having returned to Capernaum, which Matthew calls “his own city” (ESV), a paralytic is brought to Jesus. In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus is teaching in Peter’s house and a crowd has gather which prevents four men from bringing the man to Jesus through the door.They are forced to dig a hole in the roof in order to lower the paralytic into Jesus’s presence. When Jesus sees their faith, he forgives the man’s sin.

It is possible the story was so well-known Matthew did not need to include all of the details since his focus is on who Jesus claims to be and the reaction of the scribes and the crowd. On the other hand, Nolland suggests the paralytic did not express faith (the other men who brought them did); since Matthew focuses on faith in Jesus as a basis of healing (see 8:10), he abbreviated the story to avoid the implication the healed man did not express faith (Nolland, Matthew, 380).

Paralysis was one of several impurities which would prevent this man from going up to the Temple to worship. The lame were not permitted to serve as priests or Levites (Leviticus 21:16-24), although they can eat from the offerings, they are not permitted to “come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings.” In the Rule of the Congregation (1Q Sa).

Deuteronomy 15:21 (ESV) But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.

1QSa 2:3-7 No man, defiled by any of the impurities 4 of a man, shall enter the assembly of these; and no-one who is defiled by these should be 5 established in his office amongst the congregation: everyone who is defiled in his flesh, paralysed in his feet or 6 in his hands, lame, blind, deaf, dumb or defiled in his flesh with a blemish 7 visible to the eyes, or the tottering old man who cannot keep upright in the midst of the assembly. (Martı́nez and Tigchelaar; see also those who are not permitted to participate in the final war in The War Scroll, 1QM 7:4)

Rather than healing the man, Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven. Jesus declares the sins forgiven even though there has been no sacrifice or other means of atonement made. If the man was struck with paralysis because of an illness, then his friends may have thought he was under the judgment of God for some sin he may have done. They should have begged God forgive the man gone up to the Temple to offer sacrifices on his behalf.

For Jesus to claim to forgive sin is to claim divine authority. Only God forgive sin in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:7; Isa 43:25-26) and the literature of the Second Temple period.

Exodus 34:7 (ESV) …keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Isaiah 43:25–26 (ESV) “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. 26 Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.

4Q398 f14–17ii Remember David, who was a man of the pious ones, [and] he, too, 2 [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven.

4Q417 f2i:14 Be like a humble man when you conduct a case […] 15 grasp. And then God will see, and his anger will turn away, and he will forgive your sins [f]or before [his] an[ger] 16 no-one can endure.

11Q5 19:12-14 When I recall your power my heart is strengthened, 13 and I rely on your kind deeds. Forgive my sin, YHWH, 14 and cleanse me from my iniquity.

In a similar situation, Jesus forgives the sin of a woman in Luke 7:49. He gets a similar reaction from the witnesses: they are shocked he claims authority to forgive since forgiving sin done through the sacrifices and only granted by God.

What is Jesus claiming in this story? Is there a difference between claiming to have the authority to forgive sin and claiming to be God?

Jesus Has Authority Over Demons – Matthew 8:28-34

After calming the storm, his disciples asked, “what sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” (8:27). In the next demonstration of Jesus’s authority, he commands demons and they obey him.

Jesus and Legion

Two men with demons confront Jesus as his boat arrives on the shore. Since this is the first exorcism in Matthew, it is important to talk briefly about what exorcism was in the first century. As with his healings, Jesus commands the demons to leave without invoking any other authority. Exorcists in the first century invoked powerful names in order to force demons out, In Acts 19:13-16 the seven sons of Sceva used the names Jesus and Paul as power names to cast out demons. In a passage obviously shaped by Matthew 8:28-34/ Mark 5:1-21/Luke 8:26-40, the Testament of Solomon 11 describes a lion-shaped demon with a legion of demons at his command who can only be cast out by the name Emmanuel.

T.Solomon 11.6 So I said to him, “I adjure you by the name of the great God Most High: By what name are you and your demons thwarted?” The demon said, “By the name of the one who at one time submitted to suffer many things (at the hands) of men, whose name is Emmanouel, but now he has bound us and will come to torture us (by driving us) into the water at the cliff. As he moves about, he is conjured up by means of three letters.

Jesus does not have any elaborate preparations or rituals for an exorcism. In other Second Temple literature, casting out a demon was often a complicated process. In Tobit 8:1-3, for example, Tobias is instructed to place a liver and heart from a fish, mix it with live ashes of incense in order to make smoke, and then the demon will flee “to the remotest parts of Egypt” where an angel will bind him.

In order to cast out the demon Kunopegos (a demon who controls the waves, “I cause a type of seasickness when I pass into men”), Solomon learns he can only be cast out by the angel Iameth (possibly related to the Greek word for healing). The demon is then cast into an elaborate arrangement of bowls and ropes:

T.Solomon 16.6–7 So I said to him, “Tell me by what angel you are thwarted.” He replied, “By Iameth.” 7 Then I ordered him to be cast into a broad, flat bowl, and ten receptacles of seawater to be poured over (it). I fortified the top side all around with marble and I unfolded and spread asphalt, pitch, and hemp rope around over the mouth of the vessel.

Matthew’s description of the men is brief: they are so fierce no one can pass by the tombs.  In Mark this strength is further described: the man was often chained but he always broke his chains, and no one was strong enough to subdue him (Mark 5:3-4).  “Very fierce” (ESV, NRSV) or “so violent” (NIV) translates the adjective χαλεπός. This word describes an animal that is so violent and dangerous it is difficult to deal with. Although it is used only here in the New Testament, it is common in classical Greek, describing violent dangerous men (Thuc. 3.42.3) as well as a difficult enemy (Thuc. 3.40.6) (BrillDAG).

These two men are therefore described like wild animals, attacking anyone who tried to pass by the cemetery on the road. Think of these demon-possessed men as something like a “junkyard dog.” Nolland calls them a “public menace” (Nolland, Matthew, 375).

The demons know who Jesus is, the Son of God.  “What have you to do with us” is an idiom which means something like “we have no common interests.” Like the demons in Acts 19:13-16, these demons attempt to demonstrate power over Jesus by using his real name. They intend to use this knowledge to stop Jesus from tormenting them.

They identify him as the Son of God, or the son of the Most High God in Mark/Luke. Satan himself used this title for Jesus in Matthew 4:3, 6 and eventually the disciples will use the title for Jesus (after Jesus walks on the water, 14:33; Peter’s confession, 16:16) and a centurion who witnesses the death of Jesus uses the title (perhaps ironically, 27:54)

The demons ask if Jesus has come to “torment us before the time?” In the pseudepigraphic Testament of Solomon, the fate of the demon is usually to be bound or tormented, often put to work gathering material for the Temple.

There is an appointed time for these demons to be judged and tormented. For example, in Matthew 25:41 the Son of Man will return with all of his holy ones to judge. In 1 Enoch 1:9 the God of the universe will come out of his dwelling with a great display of power (1:3-7) and render judgment on the righteous and the wicked (1:8-9).

1 Enoch 1:9 Behold, he will arrive with ten million of the holy ones in order to execute judgment upon all. He will destroy the wicked ones and censure all flesh on account of everything that they have done, that which the sinners and the wicked ones committed against him.

The demons ask Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs rather than simply casting them out.  Why is there a herd of pig nearby? The population on the east side of the lake is Gentile, an area known as Decapolis.

The herd of pigs is some distance away, since they are tended by pig-herders who would not keep the herd to a cemetery with demonic menaces! Pigs are not taken out into the pasture to graze, so it is likely this is a small farm raising pigs for the Greek and Roman population of the region. In addition, they go back to their village and report what has happened and then return, so they must be closer to the village.

Jesus commands the demons and they open, entering the herd of pigs. Matthew adds the command, “Go” (an imperative form of ὑπάγω). The word also appears in Matthew 4:10 Jesus when tells Satan to go, and the same word is used in 16:23 in response to Peter’s rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan!”

The pigs destroy themselves by rushing down the steep bank into the sea and drowning. What is the point of destroying the pigs? People who are possessed are usually self-destructive, perhaps this is simply a reflection of this tendency.

Matthew omits the reaction of the two men. In Mark and Luke, the man wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus sends him back to his own people. In Matthew, we have no idea what the former possessed me thought of Jesus.

The herdsmen, however, go back to their town and report what Jesus did, “especially what happened to the demon possessed men.” It may be the case the farmers are more concerned at the loss of their pigs than the restoration of the two demoniacs! Mark 5:13 says there were 2000 pigs in the herd. If this is the case, this is a major financial loss for a wealthy Gentile farmer. However, even though we do not know what they reported, the focus is on Jesus’s power over the two men no one else was able to control.

Rather than react to Jesus’s power over the demons with amazement like the Jewish people at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28-29) or after he casts out a demon in a Jewish region (9:32-34), the townspeople beg Jesus to leave their region.

The reaction of the people of the village to Jesus’s authority over demons is surprising, but it anticipates the reaction of the Pharisees in Matthew 12:22-24.