Re: Did Peter walk on water?

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Sat Sep 28 2002 - 18:47:00 EDT

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    Wayne wrote:
    > Yet all this said and done, calling the work some
    > sort of "haggadic midrash" renders it little more
    > than an utterly opaque, turgid, tale. Grander themes
    > aside, it was my understanding that the Gospels were
    > intended to appeal to the common folk. Yes Matthew
    > is trying to persuade the Jewish folk, and I'm sure
    > that he felt some obligation to impress the readership with his great
    > knowledge of Jews traditions and so forth. The Jews
    > were certainly familiar with themes of the OT, yet
    > if the NT requires me to read countless horrendously thick tomes with
    > references to countless other thick
    > tomes just to extract some tiny fragment of truth,
    > what is the point? A general familiarity with the
    > OT would already make these themes visible to somewhat
    > lesser folk than the great rabbis of the day.

    Bob's comment:

         I think that this gospel challenges us to try to put ourselves as much
    as possible where Matthew's own audience stood if we are to understand what
    his aim and purposes were, and also who his audience was. In the
    introduction to his commentary on Matthew, David Hill writes:

         "Matthew's purpose is to provide a church with a distinctly Jewish
    Christian ethos a work from which to teach and preach, which declares that
    Jesus is Messiah and Son of Man and supremely Lord of the Church, in
    relation to whom, in fulfillment of the purposes of Judaism, the believer's
    understanding of and attitude to Law, ethics, mission and service must be

    Many Matthew scholars think that the author is "a Jewish Christian who also
    had at his disposal rabbinic knowledge." Some of these scholars have opened
    the eyes of this Christian who does not have a Jewish background to see the
    Jewishness of Matthew's gospel. I would not have recognized haggadic
    midrashim in Matthew's text without a commentator or someone like George to
    point them out to me, but I can assume that the audience for whom Matthew
    wrote his gospel would, at least the Jewish Christians among them, and that
    they would have responded as they normally would to the teaching that a
    midrash conveys. They would recognize, as would many Jews today, things in
    the stories and episodes in this and other gospels that are likely to pass
    right over us gentiles, living as we do after 2000 years of cultural changes
    and consequently not in the position to understand a lot of what is going on
    in the gospels without the help of scholars, whose tomes may not be
    horrendously thick (or they may, at least, be thick), but which can
    enlighten us considerably if we are willing to learn from them, and not
    assume, as one of my former students said to me, that all we need to do is
    read the text "and let the plain truth of the Bible shine through." (Once
    he got into my Greek course on the Gospel of John, he learned that the text
    of that gospel is far more subtle and contains far more than he or anyone
    else would be able to discern without a good exegetical commentary.)

         I know some persons both Jews and Christians of Jewish heritage who are
    able to see many of these things. Clair Lofgren, a colleague of mine in the
    Episcopal science & religion network and a priest, told me about her
    experience of studying the gospels in seminary courses. Thanks to her
    Jewish upbringing, often she would see and understand things in the gospels
    that Jesus said and did that her fellow Christian students misunderstood.
    "No," I would say to their interpretations, "that's not what is going on."

         This brings me to a quite related point: so many Christians fail to
    really understand and appreciate Jesus' Jewishness. The Incarnation event
    happened in a particular man who, a Jewish rabbi acquaintance of mine said,
    "was a good Jewish boy who said the blessing over the cup [at shabbat and
    Passover]." And as the mother of Amy-Jill Levine, a Jew and NT scholar,
    said, "He was one of us." I have learned a great deal about Jesus'
    Jewishness from Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders, Jewish scholars of the
    historical Jesus. Indeed, some Christians grow into adulthood without it
    ever being pointed out to them that Jesus was a Jew. A good example was
    conveyed to me by a former colleague who was teaching a freshman course that
    included a unit on Christianity. "Jesus was a Jew," he told his class.
    "Not only that, he was a rabbi." A student slammed his textbook shut, said
    "I am not going to sit here and listen to this blasphemy!" and stormed out
    of the room. After Ed learned what local church the student was attending,
    he called the pastor and said, "You have a problem with a member of your
    congregation." The pastor met with the student, who came to class the next
    day and apologized. "I just didn't know," he said. So many do not: We who
    have accepted the call to ministries of teaching have quite a harvest to
    work. Perhaps one fruit of such a labor would be to help reduce the
    anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism that tragically still exists among so many

         I strongly believe that anyone reading Matthew or other biblical texts
    will be able to derive much that would enlighten his mind or "the eyes of
    his heart" (Eph. 1:18) and bring him the message of salvation to his great
    benefit; millions have over the centuries. But we all would gain a much
    deeper appreciation, and perhaps greater spiritual fruits, if we were
    willing to benefit from the work of devoted scholars who can teach us, for
    example, how to recognize and interpret a midrashic text in a gospel or an

    Grace and peace,
    Bob Schneider

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