The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: M

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Matthew and money

There are two extreme schools of thought as to the means by which the books of the Bible were composed. The one, which we might call the "dictation" school, implies that the authors were really no more than "secretaries" who wrote down, word for word, what God spoke to them. The other extreme declares that the authors compiled and arranged and edited various materials, part written and part oral, from many older sources. Since these sources were not necessarily "inspired" in any regular sense of the word, and since the compiler was at liberty to "pick and choose", therefore the final result could scarcely be considered the infallible "word of God". An "advancement" (?) upon this second school of thought is that the gospels, for example, did not take their final forms until some time in the second century, after later disciples "tinkered around" with their predecessors' stories.

These two views more or less hold sway among modern theologians. The "scholarly" majority favor various "compilation" theories to explain the origins of the Scriptures. Among the intelligentsia, the theories tend to the use of letters and numbers as a sort of insiders' "code". One can sympathize with the simple Bible believer who picks up a modern text and finds listed as Bible authors -- not Moses and Matthew and Mark -- but some anonymous gentlemen (or committees, perhaps?) designated only as "J", "E", "D", "P", and "Q". Then, without warning, his old friend Isaiah, right before his eyes, is "cloned" into three parts: First, Second, and Third Isaiah!

The "dictation" theory comes somewhat as a reaction to these liberal modern views. It has many advocates in mainstream American denominations. More than one major church conference has seen "pitched battles" between the apostles of "inerrancy" and the disciples of "higher criticism".

While our sympathies tend toward the conservative in such a dispute, it seems that the "dictation" theory goes too far when it denies that the Spirit of God used the writer's "personality" at all.

In many subtle ways the unique qualities of each writer show forth in his works. We find, for example, that Luke's writings reveal many traces of a scientific, specifically a medical, background. We find that Paul's writings demonstrate a wide-ranging knowledge of things Greek as well as Jewish, which accords with what we know of his education.
This line of investigation, when followed up, refutes the "dictation" theory. But it also (and this may be more important) goes quite a ways toward refuting the various "compilation" theories also. If, to take another example, it can be shown that Matthew's gospel reveals an unusual degree of interest in financial matters, then (since Matthew was a publican) the reader is given a further solid presumption that Matthew (and not a committee or some anonymous second-century disciple) did in fact write the first gospel.

Money matters in Matthew

In fact, this is precisely the case. Totaling the references to money in the first three gospels, we have the following tabulation:

Matthew, 44; Mark, 6; Luke, 22.

Luke's total includes nine references in one parable to the "pound", whereas Matthew has 14 references in one parable to the "talent". If these frequent references are reduced to one word each, the totals would be: Matthew, 31; Mark, 6; Luke, 14.

The vineyard workers

Matthew alone of the gospel writers preserves the parable of the vineyard workers (Mat 20:1-16). The teaching of Christ that a man who worked one evening hour should be entitled to the same wage as one who bore "the burden and heat of the day" would strike a money-minded publican as nothing short of revolutionary. The grace of God is an unmerited gift -- not parceled out so much per hour or so much per good deed -- but heaped up and overflowing to any who go into the vineyard with a will to work. We can imagine the "old publican" in Matthew mumbling to himself, "You just don't treat money that way!" How true, Matthew -- but the grace of God is a different matter altogether.

The unmerciful servant

Another "money" parable given only in Matthew is that of the unmerciful servant (Mat 18:21-35). The king's servant owed him ten thousand talents. Since, in the vineyard parable, one "penny" (denarius) was a fair day's wage, and a talent was equal to 6,000 "pennies", then an ordinary laborer could expect to earn one talent every twenty years! (20 years times 300 workdays per year = 6,000 days.) Assuming a wage of $4 per hour, and 8 to 10 hours per day, one talent would equal approximately $200,000; and the servant's full debt would be $2,000,000,000 -- enough to stagger even a fair-sized country! On the other hand, the debt owed to the servant by his fellow was a relatively trivial 100 denarii ($3,000)! Too much, of course, to be dismissed without a thought, but not very much after all when compared to the other debt. The enormity of the first debt tells us something about the "price" we should place upon our salvation, while the disparity between the two debts (approximately a 'million to one' ratio) suggests the relative ease with which we should forgive our "debtors".

Paying tribute

In another event reported only by Matthew, the tax-collectors asked Peter, "Doth not your master pay tribute ('didrachma')?" Before Peter could even take up the question with Christ, Christ spoke about it to him, concluding firstly that the children of the "king" are "free" from taxation, but secondly that they must avoid offending the authorities. He then sent him off to hook a fish in whose mouth he would find a piece of money (a "stater") large enough to pay for them both. It is notable also that the names of these two coins are found nowhere else in the Bible. We see that Matthew shows the care of an accountant in his technical designation of coins (Mat 17:24-27).

Other money matters

All three synoptic gospels relate Christ's instructions to the disciples as they were sent forth to preach (Mat 10:9; Mark 6:8; Luke 9:3). But, whereas Mark refers only to brass and Luke only to silver ("argurion"), Matthew uses three terms -- gold, silver, and brass! With the carefulness of a man who must have once really loved money, he now renounces it in all its forms!

In another example of precision, Matthew is the only gospel writer who reports the exact amount of the payment made to Judas: 30 pieces of silver (Mat 26:15). Such a paltry price for which to sell one's eternal life! And Matthew alone tells his readers that the sepulchre guards were paid "hush money" (Mat 28:12,15)! Finally, Matthew is also the only writer to record the saying about swearing by the gold in the temple (Mat 23:16,17).


Perhaps all these points are only minor ones. But in the honored tradition of JJ Blunt's "Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences", taken all together they present irresistible arguments: Contrary to the "higher" critics' theories, there is strong internal proof that that otherwise obscure publican Matthew did indeed write the First Gospel. And, contrary to the "dictation" theory, the Holy Spirit did make use of the personalities, character traits, knowledge, and experiences of the individual writers.

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