For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Literary Influences)

posted by Mike Nappa

Found where it in Matthew 7:12, the “Golden Rule” seems an awkward contextual placement. In modern Bibles, it’s lumped in with Matthew 7:7-11, appearing as the final sentence in this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is particularly perplexing because verse 12 in the NIV begins with the word, “So…” (or in more common translations, “Therefore…”) indicating that this Golden Rule is understood to be the natural outcome of what Christ has just said before it. The problem is that verses 7-11 are all about God’s promise of provision in answer to prayer—not about social behavior.

So why the abrupt change of subject? Why go directly from “good gifts” from your heavenly Father to, “do unto others…”?

The confusion, it seems, stems from our modern need for paragraph and subheading breaks. Recall, the gospel of Matthew as originally written in ancient times was not divided into chapters, subchapters, and verses. When this section of Scripture was formatted for more modern eyes, Christ’s Golden Rule was placed in direct context with Matthew 7:7-11 when it likely should have stood on its own as an, albeit short, independent section. (Interestingly, this is how scholars working on the King James Version arranged it.) In that kind of placement, it would have been more obvious what that “Therefore” was there for.

Bible scholar, Craig Evans explains: “Matthew’s therefore may well sum up the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, especially harking back to the thesis statement in Matthew 5:17-20. In Matt 5:17, Jesus declares that he has come ‘to fulfill’ the Law and the Prophets. What follows (in Matt 5:21-7:12) shows how he understands this fulfillment to take place, ending with the Golden Rule, which sums up the whole of the Law.”

Understood in the context of the entire Sermon on the Mount, then, this Golden Rule now makes much more sense here. It was apparently used by Jesus to summarize his whole sermon to this point, and to lead into his concluding illustrations which appear in Matthew 7:13-27.

 

Works Cited:

[MAT, 169]

 

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Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

Jesus frequently pointed to God’s place as our Father to emphasize the idea that God cares for us—but that imagery meant something different to his first-century hearers than it does to our so-called “progressive” 21st-century culture.

In today’s American culture, the father is important, yes, but often optional in terms of societal necessity. Today a man may become a father physically, yet as a matter of convenience can easily decline to participate in a child’s life (and often he does). Not so in ancient Jewish culture. Fatherhood was not an optional thing, both for the father and for his family. It was an expected part of life, unbreakable obligation and a proud privilege for any man. In fact, the more children who called a man “father,” the better! (Psalm 127:3-5)

The father in Jesus’ time exercised near complete authority over his children—even in matters of life and death. At the same time, the father was expected to provide for every physical need for his children (Proverbs 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:8), to provide for the child’s spiritual growth (Genesis 12:8; Exodus 12:3), to provide a meaningful education and proper, loving discipline (Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:7-9), to defend their rights in court (Deuteronomy 22:13-19) and much more. Basically, the father was obligated to provide everything the child needed to grow up and become a successful, productive, happy, and holy person in ancient Israel. Notice that this was not an optional part of fatherhood! It was required, and any man who openly neglected the obligations of fatherhood would have been despised and rebuked by society.

It’s within this strict cultural context that Jesus emphasizes God’s self-imposed obligation as a Father in relation to his believers: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). .

 

Works Cited:

[ZP2, 504-505; RBD, 374-375]

 

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Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Theological Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

Jesus’ exhortation to “ask, seek, knock” in prayer seems a carte blanche promise that God will give anything you or I ask for in prayer. The normal Christian life, on the other hand, seems to discredit this promise on a daily basis.

So what gives? Was Jesus lying, or mistaken, or exaggerating for effect? Are we doing something wrong in the ways we “ask, seek, and knock”?

Perhaps the problem lies in a 21st century perception that we’re entitled to immediate gratification, and in our assumption that God will override his good, eternal desires for us in response to our selfish, temporary desires for ourselves. Here’s how Theologian Lawrence O. Richards explains it:

Jesus describes prayer as asking, seeking, and knocking. “Ask” is the act of prayer in its simplest form. “Seek” conveys intensity, and “earnest sincerity.” And “knock” pictures persistence. We knock on the door of heaven and keep on knocking!

It is important not to mistake what Jesus is saying as laying down conditions which, if met, will move God to respond to us. Jesus is not saying if you ask ardently enough, then God will answer your prayer. He is simply saying that when we feel a need so intensely that it drives us to the Lord again and again, we need not be discouraged even if the answer is delayed. God really does care about those things that matter to His children. And God responds to our requests by giving us good gifts.

Jesus promised that if we “ask, seek, knock” then our heavenly Father will respond with “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11). Our job, then, is to keep asking with sincerity and persistence—and let him worry about when he answers and which good gifts he delivers in response.

 

Works Cited:

[NTL, 41]

 

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Matthew 7:1-6; Judging Others (Symbolism)

posted by Mike Nappa

OK, brace yourself Bible Study Nerd, because this commentary section is going to be longer than normal. You’ve been warned.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” What the heck does that mean?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:6 are difficult to follow given the context of the verses before and after them. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” seems either an abrupt shift of topic, or a confusing turn of thought. That situation lends credence to the idea that Matthew’s record of the Sermon on the Mount may not have been from one uninterrupted lecture, but rather (as Bible historian, Stephen M. Miller describes it), “The Best of Jesus, a condensed version of all his most important teachings.”

Regardless, trying to decipher the symbolism of Matthew 7:6 is a perplexing task. Jesus didn’t feel the need to identify what each key element represented, and that makes it somewhat confusing. It appears Matthew 7:6 was a maxim his original hearers would have understood without much explanation, but which doesn’t have clear interpretation to the modern ear. We’re left to make our own best guesses, so here goes…

The reference to “what is sacred” probably referred to meat from ritual animal sacrifice which was dedicated to God as a sin offering (Leviticus 4:1-5:13). As such, it could represent holiness and a vehicle for salvation. Pearls were considered a prized jewel, a “touchstone of beauty, value, and permanence.” They would seem to represent some or all of God’s truth. Dogs and pigs were reviled scavengers in ancient Jewish society, so calling a person a dog was a humiliating, contemptible insult. Only the worst of the worst would be compared to dogs and pigs, thus Jesus’ reference here obviously represented some class of people with contemptible habits and standards.

There, you understand Matthew 7:6 completely now, don’t you? Well, me neither. However, there are a few popular interpretations that are worth summarizing here, as food for thought:

  • Theory #1: Pearls and “what is sacred” represent the gospel of Jesus. Dogs and pigs represent “unbelievers who repeatedly hear Jesus’ teaching, yet persist in rejecting and attacking it.” Thus sharing Jesus’ gospel with antagonistic enemies of Christ is to devalue that gospel, to cast your pearls before swine. This view of tempered evangelism is favored by most theologians, but seems inconsistent with Christ’s own teaching elsewhere (Matthew 28:19-20) and his own actions (Acts 9:1-19). To my mind, the jury is out on this one.
  • Theory #2: Pearls and “what is sacred” represent the high moral standards of Christian behavior. Dogs and pigs represent unbelievers. In this interpretation, Jesus’ followers are not “to seek to impose high moral standards on unbelievers” or to attempt to “use biblical standards to reform society.” This view is not as common as the previous one, but it is not uncommon either. Still, it does seem to impose a modern political problem on an ancient theological context.
  • Theory #3: Pearls and “what is sacred” represent God’s truth. Dogs and pigs represent religious leaders who are corrupted stewards of God’s truth. In this interpretation, followers of Christ are admonished not to entrust church leadership positions (those who steward God’s messages in this world) to hypocritical people who corrupt God’s truth. This view is not commonly held, but it fits within the context of Matthew 6:1-7:6 where Jesus repeatedly excoriates the hypocrisy of leadership demonstrated in Pharisees and other religious leaders of his time. It’s also consistent with Paul’s description of hypocritical legalistic who vied for leadership in the early church (see Philippians 3:2).

So which view is right? Hard for me to say at this point…What do you think?

 

Works Cited:

[CGB, 308; DBI, 633; ZB1, 51; BCB, 731; BAH, 273]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Literary Influences)
Found where it in Matthew 7:12, the “Golden Rule” seems an awkward contextual placement. In modern Bibles, it’s lumped in with Matthew 7:7-11, appearing as the final sentence in this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is particularly perplexing because verse 12 in the NIV begins wit

posted 12:00:54pm Nov. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Cultural Commentary)
Jesus frequently pointed to God’s place as our Father to emphasize the idea that God cares for us—but that imagery meant something different to his first-century hearers than it does to our so-called “progressive” 21st-century culture. In today’s American culture, the father is importan

posted 12:00:53pm Nov. 19, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 7:7-12; Ask, Seek, Knock (Theological Commentary)
Jesus’ exhortation to “ask, seek, knock” in prayer seems a carte blanche promise that God will give anything you or I ask for in prayer. The normal Christian life, on the other hand, seems to discredit this promise on a daily basis. So what gives? Was Jesus lying, or mistaken, or exaggerati

posted 12:00:51pm Nov. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 7:1-6; Judging Others (Symbolism)
OK, brace yourself Bible Study Nerd, because this commentary section is going to be longer than normal. You’ve been warned. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” What the heck does that mean? Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:6 are difficult to follow given th

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posted 12:00:00pm Nov. 12, 2014 | read full post »


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