Original Research - Special Collection: Biblical values on social change

External cultic tradition and internal ethical purity in Matthew 15

Francois P. Viljoen
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 48, No 1 | a1818 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v48i1.1818 | © 2014 Francois P. Viljoen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 March 2014 | Published: 27 November 2014

About the author(s)

Francois P. Viljoen, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


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Abstract

In Matthew 15:1–20, Jesus responds to the accusation made by the Pharisees and the scribes that his disciples do not observe the tradition of hand-washing (οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται τὰς χεῖραςὅταν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν), because they do not wash their hands before they eat bread. In this story of dispute, two ideas are interwoven, namely the locus of impurity (external or internal) and the manmade tradition of the elders (ἡ παράδοσις τῶν πρεσβυτέρων) versus the Word of God (ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ). The Pharisees are depicted as obsessed with external manmade rules to ensure purity, whilst Jesus is concerned with inner purity based on God’s Word. In this article, the story is interpreted on two levels. The first level describes the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. The second level explores the tension the Matthean community experienced in their encounter with Pharisean Judaism of their day – the Judaism of the dual Torah. The question is which aspect of the Torah is challenged by Matthew’s Jesus, and what he considers to be the true meaning of the Law. It seems that Matthew uses this story to define and maintain the identity and values of his community over and against that of the Pharisees and their successors. Devices that Matthew uses to define the identity and required morality for his community, are identified. Such devices demonstrate how a community’s values can influence the identity and ethics of a society.

In Matteus 15:1–20 reageer Jesus op die aantyging van die Fariseërs en skrifgeleerdes dat sy dissipels nie die handewas-tradisie eerbiedig nie. In hierdie verhaal van dispuut word twee idees vervleg: eerstens dié van die locus van onreinheid, en tweedens dié van mensgemaakte tradisies teenoor die Woord van God. Die Fariseërs word voorgestel as mense wat obsessiefis oor mensgemaakte reëls wat reinheid verseker, terwyl Jesus op innerlike reinheid gesteld is, wat op die Woord van God gebaseer is. In hierdie artikel word die verhaal op twee vlakke geïnterpreteer. Die eerste vlak beskryf die dispuut tussen Jesus en die Fariseërs. Die tweede vlak ondersoek die spanning wat die Matteus-gemeenskap in hulle verhouding met die Farisese Judaïsme van hulle tyd ervaar het. Die vraag is watter aspek van die Torah deur die Matteaanse Jesus bevraagteken word, en wat Hy as die ware betekenis van die Wet beskou. Dit wil voorkom asof Matteus hierdie verhaal gebruik om die identiteit en waardes van sy gemeenskap teenoor die dominante Farisese Judaïsme te definieer en te handhaaf. Middele wat Matteus gebruik om die identiteit en verlangde moraliteit van sy gemeenskap te definieer, word geïdentifiseer. Sodanige middele demonstreer hoe ’n gemeenskap se waardes die identiteit en etiek daarvan kan beïnvloed.


Keywords

Matthew; Law; Torah; Values; Identity; Tradition; Pharisee

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