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. 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).
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.”
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). 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)
 See Klyne R. Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). 45, 173.
 Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8–20. Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). 285.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). 571.
 Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1–13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001). 290-91.
 Ibid, 291.
We certainly see ἐκβάλλω often with the casting out demons ([Matt 7:22][Matt 8:31] … etc) so it does seem rather forceful (violent). However, in the LXX it frequently appears idiomatically as a translation for “כֹּחַ” (H3581) implying fruit or yield (with emphasis on ‘source of power or strength’).
For example see [Job 31:39] where it says “εἰ δὲ καὶ τὴν ἰσχὺν αὐτῆς ἔφαγον μόνος ἄνευ τιμῆς εἰ δὲ καὶ ψυχὴν κυρίου τῆς γῆς ἐκβαλὼν ἐλύπησα” referring to the ‘yield, fruit, or essense of the land’ (as its strength). Even [Exo 34:11] also has this sense, though admittedly, can be read both ways “πρόσεχε σὺ πάντα ὅσα ἐγὼ ἐντέλλομαί σοι ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω πρὸ προσώπου ὑμῶν τὸν Αμορραῖον καὶ Χαναναῖον καὶ Χετταῖον καὶ Φερεζαῖον καὶ Ευαῖον καὶ Γεργεσαῖον καὶ Ιεβουσαῖον” to mean “drive out” (as in the demonic sense), or to “extract” from the land its strength (namely those intimidating the Israelites).
The idea of ἐκβάλλω representing the fruit, yield or essence falls within the semantic scope of the word so looking at [Matt 13:52] let the bible interpret the bible.
1. As with any reference to ‘old and new’ in the NT, there doesn’t seem to be a single instance where ‘old and new’ are not ‘Old Covenant’ and ‘New Covenant’. Its hard to see ‘what is new and what is old‘ as anything but old and new covenant.
2. Jesus’ reference to treasure is obvious enough – it is either the ‘word of God’ directly (see [Pro 2:1-4; 7:1] or it is those who value the word of God above all else (see [Pro 15:6][Deu 7:6; 14:2; 26:18]).
Therefore this parable is saying something to the effect “Every scribe who has been trained (to expect, or look for) the kingdom of heaven (aka the kingdom of God) is like a master of a house (as in the house mentioned in [Pro 15:6]) extracts out the essence (or yield) of the ˻old and new covenant˼ from the word of God.“
Excellent thoughts, Andrew. Thanks for the clarification regarding ἐκβάλλω. Admittedly, I am not as familiar with the LXX as I would like to be.
Interestingly enough, however, the new is not given total preferential treatment in every Gospel tradition. In doing a bit of digging around for information about this parable, I discovered Luke’s addendum to the new/old trope in Lk 5:39 (included in nearly all of the most reliable ancient sources, including P4, P75, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and others)—”No one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good [some authorities read “better”].” However, in Matthew’s Gospel, the context of new/old covenant makes perfect sense.
Finally, I still think that “Kingdom of the Heavens” is a better translation of βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.
I appreciate this line from the Gospel in that it seems to provide validation for the role of the scribe to be carried into the Christian community. I wonder if there was a sense in early Christianity that being educated was a waste of time in light of the coming apocalypse? In this passage Matthew validates the scribal role as benefitting Christians explaining Scripture (old) and presenting foresight for the community based on that exposition (new). Thoughts?
That seems to be in line with most of the commentaries I consulted (Word, Hermeneia, NIGTC, Anchor). The general consensus is that Matthew is carving out a niche in the Christian community to make room for scribes and educated folk to resume their studies, taking both the old and the new hermeneutics together. It is odd for Matthew to be so accepting of the scribes in this case, which makes the parable all the more puzzling, since he spends quite a bit of his Gospel in a polemic against the scribes and Pharisees that (presumably) would have been to blame for early Christians being cast out of the synagogues.
It may be that he wants to denounce those scribes who know the old only, but not the new? In other words, his contemporary scribes who did not acknowledge Jesus had half the equation. That wasn’t enough. So on one hand he denies certain scribes: scribes who are not disciples. On the other hand he defends others: scribes for the Kingdom of God.
In Mt. 12:35 Jesus says the good man out of his good treasure (thesaurou) brings forth (ekballei) good. This follows 12:34, where Jesus talks about “speaking good . . . for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” So here the good treasure is the abundance (of good) in the heart (the mind) that the mouth speaks (brings forth). And in 12:33 Jesus introduces this by referring to good fruit from good trees (and bad fruit from bad trees).
Jesus tells his disciples that his parables are given to them so they will know the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven (13:10-11). And even more (knowledge of the kingdom) will be given to them so they will have abundance. Like the abundance of 12:34, this is about the good treasure in the heart (mind); in contrast to the crowds, the disciples will understand (will come to know) the secrets of the kingdom (13:13). The lack of understanding of the crowds will fulfill Isaiah, who said the people would hear but not understand with their heart (Isa. 6:9-10, quoted in Mt. 13:14-15).
In 13:18-23 Jesus then explains the mystery (meaning) of the parable of the sower: the sower that is sowing (casting out, though ekballo is not used here) the seed, is speaking the word of the kingdom; most do not understand it and thus do not produce fruit; but the one who hears the word and understands it bears fruit, a hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold; the original seed (word) is multiplied in later seeds (words, the fruit of the original seed). Thus the good soil is the one who understands the word of the kingdom (like the disciples, to whom Jesus explains these mysteries), and bears fruit like that in 12:33-35, speaking the word of the kingdom anew due to the abundance of this good treasure.
It is these disciples that Jesus then asks in 13:51 if they have understood all these things. When they say they have, he says every scribe (teacher, as in 7:29) who has been discipled in (the word and mysteries of) the kingdom of the heavens is like a landlord who brings out of his treasure new things and old things (speaking, teaching the word of the kingdom anew). The new things are mentioned first, because Jesus’ mysteries about the kingdom are the key to understanding the fulfillment of the old. Jesus is not just reinstating the old along with the new; he is transforming what was spoken by former prophets (including Moses) and showing how they are fulfilled in new (and unexpected) ways in Jesus’ kingdom of the heavens.
Sounds like maybe Jesus was a Calvinian after all; i.e. in his advocating of the ‘Third use of the Law’ for Christian disciples. 😉
I don’t think there was that sense Brian – in an illiterate society, he who,can read is revered. I think having an education put you in a different social class, but one that was admired.
True, but I don’t think that necessitates that my proposal is wrong. It is possible that the depiction of “scribes,” as being opposed to Jesus needed to be balanced with the qualification that not all scribes are the same, i.e., some scribes are for the Kingdom. Similarly, it could be that the Evangelist knows that scribes are admired, so there is a balancing act of humbling scribes in one sense while clarifying that scribes for the Kingdom are different.
An analogy may be made of modern scholarship: most Christians are skeptical of scholars (at least those scholars who study biblical literature and related subjects). Many (if not most) scholars don’t come from a confessional perspective and even when they do there is much skepticism at times (for example, see how N.T. Wright has been treated by the Reformed in the United States or how apologists like Michael Licona are accused by fundamentalist types like Norm Geisler and Al Mohler of compromise). Scholars who are confessional to some extent have to defend the legitimacy of their scholarship against those who are not confessional. Likewise, they have to defend the authenticity of their confession against fellow Christians who are skeptical of them.
It may be that scribal culture was similar. The people respected the scribes. The author of the Gospel of Matthew puts himself into the ranks of the scribes. This forces him to denounce scribes who rejected Jesus (i.e., just because the scribes are educated doesn’t mean they are correct about Jesus) while defending his own role as a scribe (just because I am educated doesn’t mean I am not a real disciple). Thoughts?
Brian, there are several scholars who suggest that μαθητευθεὶς is a play on Μαθθαῖος, and might be evidence that the author of Matthew is trying to locate himself within the text as a scribe. Along with Donald Hagner, however, I’m skeptical. But this doesn’t necessitate that your proposal is wrong, either.
Thats possible. Paul was absolutely feared as Saul the Pharisee [Acts 9:13] as Ananias’ attitude shows, yet look at Peters attitude in [2 Peter 3:15-16].
These two views of Paul/Saul (as the same person) are certainly in line with you view that the views needed to be balanced. Still, beyond the qualification of being educated, I get from the bible, Josephus, that the tension was drawn from the question ‘who is a real Israelited?’
.. And no wonder .. the infusion of a million or more Edomites into the tiny House of Judah resulted not only in the replacement of the Hasmonean House of David as Judahs rulers in favor of an Edomite dynasty (Herodians), but also the infusion of untold Edomited become Jews (backed by their Edomite rulers).
So if I have a point it would be that the distrust you clearly identify against the scribal community fell on pseudo-ethnic lines rather than literary ones (based upon the larger context of what was happening in Judea). I cite as evidence that both the Essenes and the temple community were equally educated, yet look at the animosity the Essenes exhibited in their contemptuous view of the Jerusalem crowd..
I don mean to speak ill of anyone, so this comment is not intended as a slight but I can’t see how Norm Geisler is anything but a modern Pharisee.
His accomplishment as a scholar with respect to volume is impressive enough, but really is without substance being little more than popular commentary otherwise lacking insight. (A popular survey of the Old Testament, To Understand the bible – Look for Jesus … these are examples of the types of scholarly work (any layperson could have written) that defines Geislers work, yet the reformed community is ga ga over him)
I just don’t get it.
I hadn’t noticed, but where does the author of Matthew put himself in the text as a scribe? If that’s true, that’s interesting.
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