The other day as I was skimming through Jesus’s parables in Matthew, I noticed this odd little text:

51 Συνήκατε ταῦτα πάντα; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· Ναί.

52 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Διὰ τοῦτο πᾶς γραμματεὺς μαθητευθεὶς τῇ βασιλείᾳ⸃ τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδεσπότῃ ὅστις ἐκβάλλει ἐκ τοῦ θησαυροῦ αὐτοῦ καινὰ καὶ παλαιά.

53 καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς παραβολὰς ταύτας, μετῆρεν ἐκεῖθεν.

51[Jesus asked them], “Have you understood all these things?”
They say to him, “Yes.”
52But he said to them,
“Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the Kingdom of the Heavens is likened to a man—the master of a house—who pulls out from his treasury new things and old things.
53And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from that place.

Strangely, I had never heard this before. Ever. Not in church, not in my undergraduate studies, and not in my graduate work in New Testament. Klyne Snodgrass, in his massive and comprehensive volume on the parables of Jesus, grants only a cursory glance at the text, offering subtle hints that one may not technically count this saying as parabolic in nature.[1] But the text is clearly a parable, as indicated by the final clause offered by v.53, which seems to include the preceding verse as belonging among the other parables. So not surprisingly, this easily overlooked analogy tacked onto the very end of Jesus’s parabolic discourse caught my attention and sparked my curiosity. Though it’s not the shortest parable—that distinction goes to the Parable of the Leaven in Mt. 13:33 (19 Greek words)—it actually comes quite close, with the “meat” of the verse occupying only 22 words in the Greek text. It is also unique to the Matthean tradition; Ulrich Luz suggests that vv.51-52 may have in fact been created by the author of Matthew, though the “new vs. old” trope is found elsewhere and has probably been incorporated into the parable as Matthew presents it (see Mk 2:21-22, Mt. 9:16-17, and Lk 5:36-37).[2]

The verb choice for what exactly the master of the house does with his treasure is also strange. ekballei, literally “to throw/cast out,” brings to mind the image of throwing away or discarding. John Nolland offers the following explanation: “The imagery is of disposal, not of display. This scribe is a discipling disciple: the treasure he has gained is a treasure he passes out to others.”[3]

Cyril of Alexandria (Fragment 172), Origen (Commentary on Matthew 10.14), and Augustine (Sermon 74.5) all suggest that Matthew is offering a juxtaposition of the “old” way of the Jewish scribes (the Old Testament) with the “new” way of Christ in the imminent Kingdom of the Heavens (the New Testament).[4] Though I disagree with the allegorical nature of these patristic interpretations (particularly that of Cyril—after all, there was no developed New Testament canon at the time Matthew was written), I do feel that the likeliest interpretation of the parable is that Matthew is bringing together the law and the gospel, intending for them to work in tandem in the process of discipleship. Jesus frequently utilizes “both/and” rhetoric throughout the Gospels (“I have come not to abolish the law…”), and in this brief little parable Matthew portrays Jesus encouraging the use of the new without leaving the old behind in the storeroom. Discipleship is a holistic endeavor that requires rummaging around in the treasury, pulling out the new and the old, and dispensing one’s possessions (wisdom, knowledge, memories) to those who may benefit from them. This parable also illustrates well the reading and interpreting process of hermeneutics—when considering a new text, the reader brings to it his or her entire history to aid the reader in understanding.

And then there’s Augustine:

The learned scribe is now in the Kingdom of God, bringing forth from his storeroom not new things only and not old things only. For if he should bring forth new things only or old things only, he is not a learned scribe in the Kingdom of God presenting from his storeroom things new and old. If he says these things and does not do them, he brings them forth from his teaching office, not from the storeroom of his heart. We then say, Those things which are brought forth from the old are enlightened through the new. We therefore come to the Lord that the veil may be removed. (from Sermon 74.5)[5]

[1] See Klyne R. Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). 45, 173.

[2] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8–20. Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). 285.

[3] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). 571.

[4] Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1–13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001). 290-91.

[5] Ibid, 291.