John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: The Teachings of Jesus

endangered gospelThe strongest case for charitable work to benefit non-Christians comes from the words of Jesus, but these are often not nearly as non-Christian oriented as we assume. For example, Jesus’ famous Judgment Day description in Matt 25 speaks to caring for the “least of these,” generally assumed to be a reference to the poor regardless of their faith. But the commentators uniformly reach a different conclusion.

(Matt. 25:34-40 ESV)  34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 

Notice that Jesus refers to those who should have been helped in v. 40 as “my brothers.” Fellow sons of God. The NET Bible translator notes state,

… Jesus is ultimately speaking of his “followers” (whether men or women, adults or children), but the familial connotation of “brothers and sisters” is also important to retain here.

The case is even stronger than that —

In some Jewish apocalyptic texts, the nations would be judged for how they treated Israel. In the Bible, God also judged people for how they treated the poor. But given the use of “brothers” or “sisters” (12:50; 28:10; the Greek term can include both genders) and perhaps “least” (5:19; 11:11; cf. 18:4; 20:26; 23:11) elsewhere in Matthew, this passage probably refers to receiving messengers of Christ. Such missionaries needed shelter, food and help in imprisonment and other complications caused by persecution; see comment on 10:11-14. Receiving them was like receiving Christ (on the Jewish principle of agency, see comment on 10:40-42). The judgment of all nations thus had to be preceded by the proclamation of the kingdom among them (24:14).

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 118.

For Jesus’ brethren, cf. 12:48–50; 28:10. It is a term specially for his disciples, not for men in general. The reference to the least of these in this connection reminds us of ‘these little ones’ in 10:42, which was taken up more fully in 18:6, 10, 14. (See above, on these verses and on 18:5.) In 10:42 the reference is particularly to disciples sent out in the master’s name; in ch. 18 it refers more to relationships within the church. It seems, therefore, inappropriate to relate ‘the least of these’ here to a specific group. It is in any brother of Jesus, however insignificant, that Jesus himself is served, and it is that service which is therefore the criterion of judgment, as it indicates how one responds to Jesus himself. It is important to note that, in each of the passages which refer to ‘these little ones’, the point is to declare the importance of such people because of their identification with Jesus (see esp. 10:40, 42; 18:5). ‘It is the nearest that Matthew, or the synoptic tradition generally, comes to the conception of the Church as the Body of Christ’ (Green, p. 206).

R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 1; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 360-361.

In short, Jesus is saying that we’ll be judged by how we treat his followers, not how we treat the poor in general. This is really shocking, but the text is clear, and the commentators are united in their reading. The commentators remind us that Jesus has a heart for those who are not his followers as well, but that is not what this passages is addressing.

The Sermon on the Mount does deal very specifically with unbelievers. For example,

(Matt. 5:38-42 ESV)  38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

This passage includes several allusions to commands found in Torah that speak to how Jews are to treat other Jews. “An eye for an eye” is part of the Torah’s civil code for how criminals are to be punished — the punishment should fit the crime. Lawsuits were only possible among fellow Jews. Non-citizens would not have been subject to the jurisdiction of Jewish courts. The command to lend to the poor is found in Torah and relates only to fellow Jews and to sojourners.

However, the command to go the extra mile seems to be based on the Roman law allowing a Roman soldier to require anyone to carry his pack for a mile. Jesus plainly teaches that the Jews should treat their Roman occupiers better than Roman law requires.

Just so, turning the other cheek would seem to apply to anyone who might insult you, which in Jesus’ day was hardly limited to fellow Jews. Plainly, Jesus is  teaching that our ethics with regard to those outside the church have to rise above the minimum requirements of civil law. We must treat unbelievers better than the law requires for the sake of Jesus.

He gives the reason in the following verses —

(Matt. 5:43-48 ESV)  43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

“Love your enemies” obviously takes Christian ethics outside the Christian community. Our enemies are necessarily unbelievers — and we’re required to love them and act on that basis. Why?

So that we’ll be perfect as God is perfect — the God who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” We are to do good works for both believers and unbelievers. Jesus is quite plain.

Therefore, Jesus teaches us to love one another, and he expects the church — the community of believers — to live in a mutual, sacrificial love, a love so intense that the lost are drawn toward Jesus because of how we treat each other. But we are to love unbelievers, too. The love may not be reciprocated and it cannot form communities that are like the church. Nonetheless, we must love those outside the church — and if we love unbelievers, we’ll do good things for them as we have opportunity.

What we won’t do is try to make the lost world act like the Kingdom. We’ll love the lost, tell the lost about Jesus, and do good for the lost in  the name of Jesus. But our goal is not to make the world act like the church; it’s to draw people out of the world into the church.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: The Teachings of Jesus

  1. John says:

    Jay, while I agree that the child of God’s first concern would be the kingdom community in which he or she belongs, I respectfully would like to point out that, in the way I read the gospels, Jesus’ use of the term “Brother”, or “Sister”, is much broader than what most in the evangelical world would interpret it. Jesus, in his compassion, saw the crowds as “..sheep without a shepherd”. And, as you know, the Gospel of Luke was written especially with the gentile in mind.

    Also, what I find disturbing is in how many conservative Christians would say they agree with you, but would still approach and use politics in trying to change the world using the rationale, “WE make our political decisions based on scripture; whereas those of the left make their decisions based on, well, just politics.” So, the attitude, “We can/you can’t” becomes the glare of the church in the eyes of many, obviously blinding their view of Christ.

  2. Jay, your last paragraph says it well. We are not to use law to make others act as if they were sons of grace. Law, however, is necessary to establish a civil society. That is the reason for government. IMHO, Christians should be involved, at least with their votes, to have an influence on the laws that govern us all. We should never forget, though, that our purposes are not the same as those of the sons of darkness, nor that CHRIST has no fellowship with Beliel. Hence we need to exercise great caution in our political associations lest we partake of the table of demons and of the table of the LORD.

  3. Gary says:

    Practically speaking, I can’t see the point of distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians in obeying Jesus’ imperatives in Matthew 25. How would we know, without interrogating them, who is in Christ and who is not? It could easily come down in our increasingly pluralistic society to labeling the salvation status of others based on their dress, language and customs. That would only feed the problem of xenophobia we already have in this country. I remember Jerry Reynolds telling how Muslims in northern Ghana were intent on only helping other Muslims whereas Christians helped all who were in need regardless of their faith. That is what Christians have been known for at our best.

    Jay makes a balanced application but even the distinction that Nugent implicitly asks us to make between the saved and the unsaved could easily tend to make Christ’s church irrelevant in our wider society. Many of us grew up in congregations where we thought we knew exactly who was saved and who was not. We should think long and hard before taking any step backwards into that mindset.

    I didn’t check when Nugent’s book was published but I can see how his perspective could feed into a circle the wagons mentality. That mentality might be especially attractive to conservative churches now given the rapid changes in our culture. Our culture is changing in this decade more quickly than in any other since the 1960’s. The American South of 1970 was a far different world than it was only ten years before. The same will almost certainly be true by the end of this decade as well. Churches of Christ are still overwhelmingly southern and even congregations outside the South are often greatly influenced by southern churches and institutions. The South is the most conservative region of our country by far.

    Perhaps a period of an inward focus is inevitable for Churches of Christ that are in shock to some extent over the dramatic turns we’ve already seen in our nation in this decade. But I hope it is only a temporary phase. To survive and thrive in the 21st century Churches of Christ must come to terms with American society as it actually is and find a way to constructively move forward. Limiting the scope of Matthew 25 is a step backwards rather than forward.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    A couple of rejoinders:

    1. Paul says,

    (Gal. 6:10 ESV) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

    Jesus says,

    (Jn. 13:34-35 ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    I readily admit that the preference for church members has been abused, but it’s just as wrong to rewrite scripture to take away the preference. The text says fellow citizens of the Kingdom first — and the evidence for that position is substantial, even over-whelming.

    It’s not binary. It’s not either us or them. Just as the gospel is to the Jew first and also to the Greek, the Kingdom takes care of its own first, but also others.

    Many years ago, in an online conversation here with a Calvinist, the Calvinist made the outrageous claim that God only loves the saved. I had to work hard to disprove him. Other than John 3:16, nearly all the God + Love verses speak of his love for the church and its members. Of course, God loves those outside of his family, but as Paul argues in Rom 5, those who are not yet saved are enemies of God, weak, ungodly sinners. God loves his enemies, and we are commanded to do the same. But we should also know the difference between family and enemies.

    The constructive way forward is not to re-exegete Matt 25. It’s too make the Kingdom the better place it was always meant to be. If we could truly love each other as Christ loves the church, the church will be transformed. And people will know that we’re disciples of Jesus by our love for each other.

    Anything can be done to such an extreme as to become sinful. We can so focus on each other than we seem unconcerned about others. I guess we would be. But we can be so concerned with others than we neglect our lives together — which we do.

    This might require another post to explain fully, but here are some symptoms of our failure to love one another:

    1. Our lack of unity within our own denomination and within Christendom in general.

    2. Our lack of discipline. Discipline is painful for all, and so we hate disciplining our children. So why do it? Because love requires it. And we don’t love each other enough to discipline each other in church.

    3. Our lack of benevolent support for fellow Christians in need.

    4. The struggle we have in many congregations to meaningfully help each other build strong marriages and learn good parenting skills. Our failure to help each other be responsible money managers. We do these things — but not well and not nearly often enough. It’s like a once-a-decade thing in most churches.

    5. Our failure to become Christ-shaped. The oldest members of many congregations are the most self-interested members. We’re obviously not teaching our members to be Christlike if that’s happening.

    6. Our constant faux doctrinal disputes over programs that benefit our own members: teen ministries, fellowship halls, campus ministries, small groups, you name it. If it helps spiritually form the church, someone’s against it as a matter of “faith.”

    7. The fact that when I argue for the priority of spiritual formation of our churches, most people have no idea what that means or how we’d go about it. We are still largely at the “live a moral life and go to heaven when you die” level of understanding. In fact, every time I suggest that we should be submissive and accountable to our leadership, people freak out. We have a huge cultural resistance to submission to leaders — in part because we sometimes pick really bad leaders but sometimes because we are so insistent on our individual autonomy. And Western individual autonomy is not Christ-like. We have a very Western worldview and are blind to how far from the scriptures we are.

    8. Congregational autonomy to the point of isolation. We turn brothers and sisters into competitors. And it doesn’t bother us.

    So we have a lot of work to do to become the church God wants. But if we were to do that, evangelism and benevolence for non-Christians would be no problem because our hearts would be changed and our churches would be far more attractive.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    The first several commentaries I’ve read on Matt 25 agree with my interpretation. Do I just ignore the scholars because I’m afraid Jesus might be misunderstood?

    Nor is the popular view that this text refers to treatment of the poor or those in need (e.g., Gross 1964; Hare 1967: 124; Feuillet 1980a; Lapoorta 1989; Jones 1995: 247–49; Davies and Allison 1997: 428–29) exegetically compelling, although that view would on other grounds be entirely consonant with the Jesus tradition (e.g., Mk 10:21; Lk 16:19–25) and biblical ethics as a whole (e.g., Ex 22:22–27; Prov 17:5; 19:17; 21:13; Gardner 1991: 363). …

    That the “siblings” are here “disciples” is the majority view in church history and among contemporary New Testament scholars, although those who hold “siblings” to be disciples divide sharply over whether they are specifically missionaries or poor fellow disciples in general. This interpretation fits the function of analogous eschatological discourses (e.g., 1 Enoch 62; 103–4; 4 Ezra passim; 2 Bar. 72), which often encourage repressed minorities that God will judge the world on the basis of how it treated them (Stanton 1993: 223–28).

    Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 604–606.

    5. By far the best interpretation is that Jesus’ “brothers” are his disciples (12:48–49; 28:10; cf. 23:8). The fate of the nations will be determined by how they respond to Jesus’ followers, who, “missionaries” or not, are charged with spreading the gospel and do so in the face of hunger, thirst, illness, and imprisonment. Good deeds done to Jesus’ followers, even the least of them, are not only works of compassion and morality but reflect where people stand in relation to the kingdom and to Jesus himself. Jesus identifies himself with the fate of his followers and makes compassion for them equivalent to compassion for himself (cf. Kistemaker, pp. 146ff.; Manson, Sayings, p. 251; J.C. Ingelaere, “La ‘Parabole’ du jugement dernier [Matthew 25/31–46],” Revue de l’histoire et de philosophic religieuses 50 [1970]: 2360; G.E. Ladd, “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Recent Interpretation,” in Longenecker and Tenney, pp. 191–99; cf. Matt 10:40–42; Mark 13:13; John 15:5, 18, 20; 17:10, 23, 26; Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14; 1 Cor 12:27; Heb 2:17).

    D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1984, 8, 520.

    Jesus has earlier defined his brothers and sisters as ‘those who do the will of my father in heaven’, in a context which points to this as meaning ‘those who hear and obey my kingdom-announcement’ (12:50). The likely meaning of the scene, then, is that those who have not followed Jesus the Messiah will be judged in terms of how they have treated the people whom he counts as his family.
    Of course, this doesn’t mean that Christians themselves are not to behave in a similar way towards others. This may be taken for granted. But that is not what this scene is about. Just because we come to a passage with certain expectations, we shouldn’t twist its details to fit.

    Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 142.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John,

    See my most recent comment to Gary. The commentaries overwhelmingly interpret “brothers” and “least of these” to refer to Jesus’ disciples. None argue that therefore we should not do good works for lost people, but the scholarly consensus is overwhelming.

    I was shocked when I first came across this interpretation — but could find no support for the view I grew up with. This was a year or so ago for me. And I’ve been pondering why Jesus spoke this way ever since. The result isn’t to refuse care to the lost (which would violate the SOTM), but it seems clear that we should love family especially — and in Matthew, church is family, true family, real family.

    We who grew up CoC do struggle with nuance, but I think this is an important nuance. It’s like the preacher who cares for his church at the expense of his wife and children. Even though we are to love all, we have a special, higher duty to some.

  7. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay,

    Very interesting. I have always read Mt 25:40 to mean “anyone” rather than fellow heirs of the Kingdom. But it makes sense.

    Don Hagner and Craig Blomberg in their respective commentaries note that the the “least” (elachistōn) is the superlative form of the adjective “little [ones]” (micro), a phrase used to refer to disciples.

    25:40 The King, the Son of Man (cf. vv. 31, 34) replies that these people cared for him whenever they performed acts of mercy for “the least of these brothers of mine.” Here is a major interpretive crux. Who are these brothers? The majority view throughout church history has taken them to be some or all of Christ’s disciples since the word “least” (elachistōn) is the superlative form of the adjective “little [ones]” (mikroi), which without exception in Matthew refers to the disciples (10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; cf. also 5:19; 11:11), while “brothers” in this Gospel (and usually in the New Testament more generally) when not referring to literal, biological siblings, always means spiritual kin (5:22–24, 47; 7:3–5; 12:48–50; 18:15 (2×), 21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). There may be a theological sense in which all humans are brothers and God’s children, though not all are redeemed, but nothing of that appears here or, with this terminology, elsewhere in Matthew. The minority view throughout church history, which is probably a majority view today, especially in churches with a healthy social ethic, is that these “brothers” are any needy people in the world.90 Thus the passage becomes a strong call to demonstrate “fruit in keeping with repentance” (3:8). Though one need not see any works-righteousness ethic present,91 many have read the text precisely that way.92 Yet while there is ample teaching in many parts of Scripture on the need to help all the poor of the world (most notably in Amos, Micah, Luke, and James), it is highly unlikely that this is Jesus’ point here.93 Rather, his thought will closely parallel that of 10:42. The sheep are people whose works demonstrate that they have responded properly to Christ’s messengers and therefore to his message, however humble the situation or actions of those involved. That itinerant Christian missionaries regularly suffered in these ways and were in frequent need of such help is classically illustrated with the example of Paul (see esp. 2 Cor 11:23–27) and the teaching of the Didache (ca. A.D. 95).

    Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

    There is much disagreement about the meaning of the phrase “the least of these my brothers.” From Gray’s survey of the options, we may list the following, in descending order of popularity: (1) everyone, i.e., particularly the needy among humankind; (2) all Christians; (3) Christian missionaries; and (4) Jewish Christians. The fourth option takes the word “brothers” too literally and therefore restricts it too narrowly to those Christians who are physically Jews. The distinction between options 2 and 3 is a small one, unless one insists in option 3 upon “missionary” in the technical sense of the term (thus Court, Gundry) as opposed to Christians generally—all of whom in some sense represent the Gospel (cf. 10:32). Nothing specific in the passage or context supports the speculation of Maddox that Christian leaders are intended. The real choice is between the first two options. The use of τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου, “my brothers,” makes it almost certain that the statement refers not to human beings in general but rather to brothers and sisters of the Christian community. Elsewhere in the Gospel it is consistently the disciples whom Jesus calls “my brothers” (12:48–49; 28:10; see too 23:8; outside Matthew, see John 20:17; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11–12). Although ἐλάχιστος, “least,” is used elsewhere in Matthew to refer to persons only in 5:19, the true counterpart to the phrase “one of these least” is found in Matthew’s distinctive οἱ μικροί, “the little ones” (of which ἐλάχιστος, “least,” is the superlative), a phrase used by Matthew to refer to disciples generally (see 18:6, 10, 14, where the subject is also Christian treatment of Christians; see Winandy). A confirmation of the correctness of this conclusion is found in the use of the phrase in a sentence that makes much the same point as the present passage: “Whoever gives one of these little ones [ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων] a drink [ποτίσῃ, same verb as in the present passage] of cold water in the name of a disciple, truly I tell you, will in no wise lose his [her] reward” (10:42). This follows a statement about the identification of master and disciple that is very much in line with the thought of the present pericope: “The one who receives you receives me, and the one who receives me receives the one who sent me” (10:40). H. B. Green (206) not unjustly describes the present passage as “an extended dramatization” of 10:42 (see too Cope; Ingelaere). An intriguing OT antecedent is found in Prov 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and will be paid in full.” See too the rabbinic parallel in Midr. Tanḥuma on Deut 15:9: “My children, when you gave food to the poor I counted it as though you had given it to me” (see Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, 207).

    Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

  8. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Also, there’s an interesting dichotomy between V40 and V45. When Christ speaks to those on the left, the term “brother” is noticeably absent. I suppose either way, we had better care for the needy among us.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the note. I was as surprised as many of the readers when I read the commentaries — but the scholars uniformly take “brothers” to mean “disciples.” A few narrow “brothers” to missionaries. Only a very small minority insist that “brothers” means “anyone” — and this is true despite a strong movement in the contemporary church toward social justice and charitable work for the benefit of non-Christians (which is a good thing).

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin,

    He does seem pretty serious on the subject. And yet despite a consensus of scholarly opinion, the lesson is rarely taught in terms of care for our own. Scarey that we’ve missed this. How many of our churches have funds set aside for our own members’ needs?

  11. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    I am not aware of very many. One church in NW FL maintains four or five small housing units on their property for members who encounter financial difficulties. I do live near a non-institutional congregation that sets aside funds to help their members, and they do a good job of it. On the flip-side though, they do not set aside funds to help non-members.

  12. Dwight says:

    Jay, I think this was the point of the Acts 2-6, when they fed their widows and they shared their goods amongst themselves. We need to help family first, not only because they are family, but because they are of Christ and not only because they are of Christ, but because they are themselves to be a light unto the world as well. Our help to our brothers and sisters shouldn’t be a dead end, but should be seen as support of another and this other who will themselves support others, possibly those who aren’t saints. This is core strengthening of the saints so that the action of the body can work on the world.
    But one of the sad things I see is congregations arguing that we cannot give our collected money to the lost, but just the saved. Well this is insane. If there is a need we need to help, but we need to help our family first, but then still help others. What strangely happens is especially in the conservative churches is we say we need to help our own people “only” with the “collected money”, then we take the money and buy new carpet, etc. We often disregard the diverted money as being incidental, but it is not when compared to the needy.

  13. Gary says:

    Jay, I’ve always believed that the Church’s first responsibility is for our own. If we don’t try to take care of our own who are in need what good are we in this world and what credibility could we possibly have with those who do not yet know Christ? I have no problem with your applications but I still believe Jesus is speaking in Matthew 25 of all those who are among “the least of these” in our society. I do not find it persuasive at all that prior passages in Matthew limit the scope of Matthew 25 to Christians. Jesus speaks in far more expansive terms in Matthew 25 than in the earlier Matthew passages that Nugent uses to guide the interpretation of chapter 25. As Jesus gives us a preview of the coming Judgement in chapter 25 he seems to be building on his earlier statements about helping others and expanding them to all who are hungry, sick, in prison or naked.

    This is not a hypothetical issue for me and for many other Christians as well. I have always remembered how Mother Teresa said that the worse the condition of those she served the greater the disguise of Christ she saw. It took many years but I have trained myself to see Jesus in those I have opportunity to help on a daily basis in this large city. Through all my life struggles over this past decade this is the most precious part of this present Christian life to me.

    I believe in reading and understanding Scripture in context but some passages take on a life of their own beyond the immediate reasons that prompted their writing. 1 Corinthians 13 is an example. It was written to help bring peace to Christians in the same congregation who were increasingly divided over the distribution and use of spiritual gifts. Yet we commonly use it today in weddings even if one spouse is a Christian and one is not. Are we wrong in so using it? I don’t think so. The more we can call this world which God loves so much to live out the love of God in relationships the more we are the salt and light God calls us to be. It is much the same way when we love the least of these among us as we wish we could have served Jesus in his time of need. Both they and we are drawn closer to the way of Jesus Christ.

    Your application comes out about the same as where I do. But it would be a terrible thing to undermine the popular and powerful understanding of Matthew 25 that is for so many of us the very heart of the meaning of the gospel in this present world.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I’m not going to shade my interpretation because of how my conclusions might be misapplied by others. I’m not smarter than the Spirit, and I figure what people do with his words is his business. My job is to be as honest an exegete as I possibly can.

    Here are the arguments that persuade the overwhelming majority of scholars that the “sheep” in Matt 25 Jesus’ disciples:

    1. “Brothers” (or “brothers and sisters” in more recent translations) is used in Matt of disciples, not needy people. I’ll use independent resources to test this claim. Here’s what I found:

    (Matt. 5:22 ESV) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
    (Matt. 5:23 ESV) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
    (Matt. 5:24 ESV) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
    (Matt. 5:47 ESV) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
    (Matt. 7:3 ESV) Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
    (Matt. 7:4 ESV) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
    (Matt. 7:5 ESV) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
    (Matt. 12:48 ESV) But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
    (Matt. 12:49 ESV) And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
    (Matt. 12:50 ESV) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
    (Matt. 18:15 ESV) “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
    (Matt. 18:21 ESV) Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
    (Matt. 18:35 ESV) So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
    (Matt. 23:8 ESV) But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.
    (Matt. 25:40 ESV) And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
    (Matt. 28:10 ESV) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

    There are other texts that speak of earthly brothers, which I’ve omitted but can provide. The most recent use of ‘brothers” before 255:40 is 23:8, which is perhaps the most clear reference to fellow disciples of Jesus of all. There is not a single use of “brothers” in the sense of people in general.

    So what about “least of these”?

    (Matt. 11:11 ESV) Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

    (Matt. 5:19 ESV) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    “Least” is the superlative of “little.” My Greek resources provide —

    (Matt. 10:42 ESV) And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

    (Matt. 18:10 ESV) “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

    (Matt. 18:14 ESV) So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

    I can’t help but notice the obvious parallels of Matt 25 with Matt 10:42. Here’s the context —

    (Matt. 10:40-11:1 ESV) 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

    “Little ones” and “least of these” are grammatically similar, with “least” being the superlative of “little” in the Greek. Notice that Jesus only promises a reward to those who provide water to his disciples in chapter 10.

    I think chapter 10:42 clinches the argument for most commentators. I mean, the reference to “because he is a disciple” could not be more plain. And yet I’ve seen many a church program pass out water to the unsaved based on this passage, because the modern church knows that Jesus will reward those who help the lost, too. There are plenty of other passages that say so — as I’ve noted in the main posts.

    Jesus has spoken in 18:20 of being present where his people have come together in his name. Here his identification with his people goes further: their experiences are his experiences, and what is done to them is done to him. Cf. 10:40, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me,” and 18:5, “Anyone who welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” This passage thus expands on the message of 10:40–42: how people respond to Jesus’ representatives is both a sign of their attitude to him and the basis for their reward. This sense of solidarity between Jesus and his people will be creatively developed by the author of Hebrews when he explains how it was necessary for the Savior to share the experiences of those he saves, so that he rightly calls them his brothers and sisters (Heb 2:10–18).

    R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 964–965.

    The use of “brothers” by Jesus in Matthew’s narrative to refer to his disciples is the most convincing argument, suggesting that Jesus is referring to his disciples. But the expression “least of these my brothers” points to needy disciples. This helps make some distinction from the sheep (disciples generally), to emphasize that needy disciples are often the ones excluded from care, while attention is given to prominent members of the discipleship community.

    Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 1:158.

    Nor is the popular view that this text refers to treatment of the poor or those in need (as in Gross 1964; Hare 1967:124; Catchpole 1979; Feuillet 1980a) exegetically compelling, although on other grounds it would be entirely consonant with the Jesus tradition (such as Mk 10:21; Lk 16:19–25) and biblical ethics as a whole (for example, Ex 22:22–27; Prov 19:17; 21:13). Jewish lists of loving works include showing hospitality and visiting the sick, though not visiting prisoners; such acts were found praiseworthy in the day of judgment (2 Enoch 63:1–2; Jeremias 1972:207–8; compare Bonsirven 1964:151–52).
    In the context of Jesus’ teachings, especially in the context of Matthew (as opposed to Luke), this parable addresses not serving all the poor but receiving the gospel’s messengers. Elsewhere in Matthew, disciples are Jesus’ brothers* (12:50; 28:10; compare also the least—5:19; 11:11; 18:3–6, 10–14). Likewise, one treats Jesus as one treats his representatives (10:40–42), who should be received with hospitality, food and drink (10:8–13, 42).

    Craig S. Keener, Matthew, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 1:Mt 25:31.

    We are judged by the text; we don’t judge the text. And so I resist the temptation to interpret to avoid possible abuse by others. I grew up in churches where that was common practice — and it put the preacher’s interpretation over and above the text. He was not wise enough for that, and neither am I.

    But I repeat, as do the commentaries, there are plenty of passages to turn to for support of the poor in general. What the commentaries don’t usually say, but what is my experience, is that most churches do next to nothing for their own members. We’ve doctrinalized the Western self-made man, self-reliant man metanarrative. It’s a sin to need help in the evangelical world. And that seems to be inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching.

    The scriptures see mankind as fallen — and therefore in need of help. It may be help to be obedient and submissive. It may be help to make next month’s mortgage or to find a job.

    On the other hand, my experience is that individual Christians are often remarkably generous in helping other Christians in need. It’s just when the church treasury gets involved that it gets difficult — because some members will criticize any decision made and some members will oppose the idea of helping others. And the leaders sometimes foolishly listen to the members with the least spiritual hearts. And some people will ask for help they really shouldn’t ask for — and it’s hard to say no to a friend. So life is easier when the answer is always “no.” But it violates Matthew 10 and 25.

  15. Dwight says:

    Jay, Many if not most of the scriptures you gave that indicate “brothers” from what I can tell don’t lend themselves to disciples, but rather a Jewish “brotherhood”, which of course was at that time Godly.

    Matt. 5:22 ESV) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
    (Matt. 5:23 ESV) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (this is in the Jewish context of offering a gift at the altar)
    (Matt. 5:24 ESV) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (same as a above)
    (Matt. 5:47 ESV) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Jesus is juxtapositioning the Jewish family against a gentile family)
    (Matt. 7:3 ESV) Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
    (Matt. 7:5 ESV) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Jesus is speaking to his followers, who happen to be Jews)
    (Matt. 12:48 ESV) But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (here Jesus purposely takes them out of the Jewish into the realm of disciples and then from here on out)
    (Matt. 12:49 ESV) And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
    (Matt. 12:50 ESV) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Jesus is not necessarily moving the needle from the Jew to His disciple, as the Jews were to do the will of God as a Jew.)
    (Matt. 18:15 ESV) “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (they were still under the Jewish law and Jesus was just stating what they were supposed to do even under the law)
    (Matt. 18:21 ESV) Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (in this Jesus applied a Christian perspective to a Jewish thought. The Jew about his brother- seven times, Jesus- seventy times seven as a disciple)
    (Matt. 18:35 ESV) So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (they would have probably thought of their brother within the Jewish context)
    (Matt. 23:8 ESV) But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. (they would have understood this from aspects as a Jew. The law from God, the Father, was after all to teach them)
    (Matt. 25:40 ESV) And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
    (Matt. 28:10 ESV) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

    My point is that it is almost impossible to nail down that when Jesus says brother that it exclusively means disciple, unless the context drives it that way. Many times it does, but not necessarily all times.
    And this doesn’t necessarily mean that they Jews around Jesus heard it in any other context besides being a Jew, even though Jesus probably meant it otherwise.
    Jesus had to work at times to change their brotherhood from Jewish to a follower of Christ and this is true of who is your neighbor, which Jesus had to argue that your neighbor isn’t in reality another Jew, but one who does good towards you.

    Now to Matt.25 the context of the whole chapter is of disciples, but of disciples doing and not necessarily being the recipient of. The “my brethren” is definitely aimed towards the disciples “And the King will answer and say to them, “‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”, but the recipients are not called “brethren”, but rather “hungry, thirsty, stranger, sick or in prison”.
    I do not believe that he is calling the “least of these” “my brethren”, but is speaking to “my brethren” about “the least of these.”
    It is paramount to me saying to my children, “if you help the lost my children, you are helping me.”
    I am not calling the lost my children, but speaking to “my children”.
    So the brothers are the disciples, but the application is to those in need. The attributes of “hungry, thirsty, etc.” would apply to anyone whether a disciple or not and the term “stranger” would indicate one who is not either a disciple or a Jew, usually the latter. “stanger” is an odd term to use for one who is your brother.

    But as you noted there are oodles of scriptures that point to the helping of others who are not disciples and even as I noted the helping of others who aren’t even of your own nation.
    But then again, most if not all of these focus not on the “church” as a group, but rather the disciples as follower of Christ, even as I would argue Matt.25 does.

  16. Gary says:

    “Serving the Least of These” by James R. Rogers in the July 31, 2012 issue of First Things is an excellent and nuanced consideration of who the least of these in Matthew 25 are. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in this question.

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I think the majority view of Matt 25:40, 45 holds us pretty well if we read closely. In addition to the evidence adduced last night, consider this.

    (Matt. 25:40 ESV) 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    Who are the sheep? “My brothers.”

    Who are my brothers? Those who cared for the needs of the “least of these my brothers.”

    Who are these?

    “The least of these” means the most insignificant of the brothers. The weakest, most oppressed, most dependent of the sheep.

    So Jesus is saying that we should only help the weakest?

    Not exactly, but close. It’s easy to help the ones who can reciprocate. It’s easy to lend to those who can you back. The challenge is to help the least able, the ones who have no chance of ever repaying the favor. Hence, that’s the test — not to be taken to the point that we have no duties to the rest, but that we’ll be judged especially by how we treat the least of our brothers — on the assumption that we surely treat the rest well, too.

    (Matt. 25:45 ESV) 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

    Who are the “least of these”? The least of the brothers, as before. There’s no change.

    How does this fit with similar usages by Jesus of “least” in earlier passages? Pretty well.

    (Matt. 10:40-11:1 ESV) 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

    “Little ones” refers to disciples/brothers in general, whereas “least of these” means the least of the brothers. This makes sense grammatically and gives meaning to the superlative “least” in Matt 25.

  18. Gary says:

    Jay, we’ll just have to disagree about the meaning of “the least of these” in Matthew 25. My position may not be supported by many commentators but I honestly believe them to be mistaken in this instance. The reasoning of James R. Rogers in the First Things article I mentioned confirmed my gut feeling about Matthew 25. It is much more likely, it seems to me, that Jesus expanded the scope of meaning of the relevant phrases in the sweeping portrayal of the Judgment in Matthew 25 than that he simply used them in the same limited sense as he used them earlier in Matthew’s gospel. The more limited meanings of those phrases would be an awkward fit in Matthew 25. The judgment Jesus foretells encompasses all of humankind. Yet untold millions of people have lived and died on this planet in the past 2,000 years without ever having an opportunity one way or the other to help or hinder a Christian teacher or evangelist. Your understanding of Matthew 25 ignores them entirely. We would have no way to know if they were saved or lost. Your understanding is too narrow a fit for the universal Judgment Jesus describes. On the other hand, every accountable person who has ever lived has had multiple opportunities to either help or to ignore the hungry, the poor, the naked, the sick and the prisoners in their society. Also how could those who know nothing of Jesus be found guilty of not seeking out and helping Christian messengers? That would be unjust. An important rule of thumb for me is that when our biblical interpretation results in an unjust conclusion we can know we took a wrong turn somewhere. I believe the safest and most spiritually beneficial course of action for all who would follow Jesus is to train ourseves to see the face of our Savior in the least of these among us who regularly cross our path.

  19. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    I think it is important to look at the antecedent for “these” in the phrase “least of these brothers.” Going backwards from V40, we find the answer in V34, namely, “those on his right.” Remember, the King is only addressing those on his right – the righteous. The context is pretty clear, IMO. The King doesn’t say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of THOSE ON THE LEFT / THOSE OVER THERE, you did for me.” On the contrary, the King is addressing specifically those on the right and only those on the right.

    It is only in V41-46 that the King addresses to those on the left – the unrighteous. The “least” of those in V45 clearly refers to the least of those among the unrighteous population.

    Christ cares for the least within both populations, but he only uses the term ‘brothers” for those on the right – the righteous, the antecedent of “least of these brothers.”

  20. Dwight says:

    Gary, I think this is a case where bad grammar was applied to vs.40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” to which it has led to a wrong understanding.
    Grammatically there should be a comma before “my brethren” so as to read “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.’” Why isn’t there a comma here, I don’t know, but commas were added by the translators, as there are no commas in Greek.
    So I believe they made a grammatical error, which places the wrong emphasis.
    So I believe your point is better.
    We have to ask what the “these” are? The “these” are “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked.”
    Otherwise the “brethren” are the “strangers” as well.
    Or are just the least of the brethren “strangers”?.
    The context of vs.31-46 is of others, but Jesus replacing “these” with Him. So when they fed “these” (hungry, strangers), not themselves, they fed Jesus and when they didn’t feed “these” (hungry, strangers) they didn’t feed Jesus.
    Otherwise Jesus would have said, “did it to one of the least of my brethren”, but instead by saying “these”, he is points away from “my brethren” to those who were not fed, who were not given drinking and were strangers.
    Note when Jesus comes in judgment he will separate the goats from the sheep by what they did, not by who they were. The disciples thought they had a leg up on salvation by being disciples, but Jesus is stating that they don’t if they themselves haven’t been doing good to those around them that need it.
    This sentiment is also seen in James 3:9 “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.”
    To not feed another, when they need it, is paramount to not feeding Jesus. This attitude of giving/not giving and doing good/rejecting good to do will either commend you or condemn you in judgment, not if you use instruments or not or miss an assembly service.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Guys,

    Here’s the text with explanatory comments. Note that I’m not arguing that the “least of these” are particularly missionaries or all Christians. Rather, the “least of these” refers to the least of Jesus’ brothers, that is, the Christians in greatest need. Let’s see how THAT theory fits the text. The First Things article debates against the theory that the “least of these” are missionaries, which is not my position and many of his arguments point to that theory — which is a strawman in the present discussion.

    (Matt. 25:31-46 ESV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations [everyone, Jews and Gentiles, Christians and non-Christians, as will be made clear as Jesus continues], and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep [saved] on his right, but the goats [damned] on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right [all the saved], ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers [the least of the sheep, being Jesus’ brothers], you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left [the damned], ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these [the most needy among the sheep], you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    The most convincing objection I’ve heard is Jesus’ reference to a least brother as a “stranger” to fellow brothers. The Greek is xenos, and means stranger or foreigner. The only use outside this passage in Matt is Matt 27:7, where it refers to foreigners.

    It’s easy enough to see a goat (damned person) seeing one of Jesus’ brothers as a stranger. But would a brother of Jesus see another brother as a stranger? Well, in the ancient world, anyone from out of town was a xenos.

    The stranger is always in a somewhat difficult position, and in first-century Palestine, with its lack of facilities like the hotels that in modern times we so easily take for granted, this was especially the case. Where would a stranger lodge when he came to an unfamiliar place? The Old Testament knows of a man who prepared to spend the night in the town square (Judg. 19:15; cf. Job 31:32); thus a stranger could not rely on facilities for temporary lodgings. If he was not to spend the night in the open air, someone would have to take him into a private home. This was done among the Christians (Acts 10:23; Heb. 13:2, etc.), who seem to have taken the duty of hospitality very seriously. Bonnard takes the word to mean exiles from their own country and thus people without rights and without protection. These, too, would be people who were very needy and obvious candidates for the kind of help that the King now praises. So now Jesus commends those who welcomed him when he was in need of a place. They offered him hospitality when he needed it.

    Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 637–638.

    John refers to fellow Christians traveling to a new land as “strangers” (xenos) in 3 John 1:5. This might even be an allusion to Jesus’ saying recorded in Matt 25.

    The word used for Christian hospitality is philoxenos — love of strangers. So the passages speaking of Christians being hospitable has the same word – and they often refer to fellow Christians.

    (1 Pet. 4:9 ESV) 9 Show hospitality [love of strangers] to one another without grumbling.

    Kevin,

    I don’t see “least of these” in v. 45 referring to the least of the goats. “Least of these” doesn’t repeat “my brothers” because it’s already been said and need not be repeated that the “least of these” are among Jesus’ brothers. If Jesus is referring to the least of the damned, then he’s judging the saved for caring for the least of the saved and the damned for not caring for the least of the damned — which doesn’t quite make sense, especially in light of Mat 10:40 ff.

    Gary,

    It seems improbable that Jesus redefines “brothers” in Matt in the direction of everyone. The trend seems to be clearly from “fellow Jews” to “disciples”. This is emphasized with “my brothers.”

    (Matt. 28:10 ESV) 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [clearly a reference to disciples]

    (Matt. 23:8 ESV) 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. [also clearly disciples]

    Matthew 18 would take some space, but begins with the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom, and hence is about disciples. Some of the teachings are surely true as to others, but the conversation is about life within the kingdom. For example, the penalty for refusing to repent is be called before the church (v. 17).

    (Matt. 12:48-50 ESV) 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” [clearly disciples — and here is where the theme brothers = disciples is established]

    Prior to chapter 12, in the SOTM, “brother” is ambiguous — could refer to a fellow Jew (common usage among First Century Jews) or fellow disciples. But by chapter 12, the idea that “brother” means disciple of Jesus and not just any fellow Jew is clearly established in Matthew. Chapter 12 makes that statement very explicitly, and Matthew is consistent in that usage thereafter.

    It would be very odd for a Jewish rabbi to refer to “the nations” as “brothers” at this point in Matthew — having used “brother” to refer to fellow Jews (SOTM could be Jews or disciples; hard to say) and his disciples (all of whom were Jews at the time). Why then refer to both saved and damned as “brothers” contrary to usage throughout the book? The trend is for Jesus to use “brothers” of his disciples, making it clear that the Jews are not brothers by virtue of birthright but they must follow Jesus to be his brother/sister/family. Having made that point, why turn around and declare the entire world “my brothers”? Or even every poor person in the world his “brother” with nothing else in the book pointing to that meaning.

    All,

    It’s interesting that we have this fear that the church will stop supporting non-Christian charity if Matt 25 is interpreted as the overwhelming majority of the scholars do. But the scholars have been saying this for decades, and the church hasn’t stopped providing for non-Christians.

    On the other hand, my experience is that American Protestant churches in general do not care for their own members. The ideal of “having all things in common” found in Acts is ignored and even scoffed at. We would much prefer to share with a lost stranger than a Christian next door. We are afraid of opening the floodgates, of having to decide which friends to say no and yes to, of being accountable to each other for financial decisions.

    How many attend a church where more than $1,000 is in the budget to provide for the charitable needs of fellow Christians?

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