exegesis Mt. 4:1-11


Step I.

A. Comparison of translations

Verse 1 RSV: Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness

Message: Next Jesus was taken into the wild… for the Test.

NIV: desert.

Verse 2 RSV: …fasted, and afterward he was hungry.

Message: J. prepared for the Test by fasting…of course he was hungry, which the devil took advantage of in the first test.

Verse 3 RSV: If you the Son…command

Message: Since you are…, speak the word….

Verse 4 RSV: But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God'."

Message: Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, said, "It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God's mouth.

NEB: Scripture says, "Man cannot live on bread alone; he lives on every word that God utters".

Verse 5 RSV: throw yourself down.

Message: "Jump". The devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91.

Verse 7: Message: Jesus countered with another citation from Dt. "Don't you dare test the Lord your God."

Verse 8 Message: Beat it, Satan...Serve God with absolute single-heartedness….The Test was over. The devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of his needs.

B. Textual Criticism

Verse 10, upage is supported by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus; upage opisw mou is found in C2, D, miniscules, and Augustine, et.al.

C. Rough translation

Then the Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the diabolos. And he fasted days forty and nights forty after he hungered. And approaching the tempting says to him, If the son of God you are, speak so that stones these bread may become. But he answering says, it has been written Not on bread solely shall live the man but on every word proceeding through the mouth of God. Then takes him the diabolos into the holy polis and stood him on the pterugion of the temple and says to him If Son you are of God throw yourself down. It has been written for to the angels of him he will command concerning you and on hands they will bear you mhpote you hit against a stone your foot. Said to him the Jesus, again it has been written not out-tempt shall you the Lord the God of you. Again takes him the diabolos into a mountain very high and shows all the basileas of the cosmos and the glory theirs and says to him these to you all I will give if falling down you will worship me.Then says to him the jesus Go satana. It has been written for, the Lord the God of you you will worship and him solely you will serve. The leaves him the diabolos and behold angels approaching and wait on tables.

Step II. Disposition

A. Genre: how the text says what it says

This text has "visionary" elements reminiscent of the ecstatic experiences of Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc. But the devil as antagonist sets it apart. The text makes allusions to the wilderness testing of Israel, 40 years, and the renewal of the race after Noah's flood. Manna, Israel's "testing" of God, the fasts of Moses and Elijah, and angels' "feeding" of Elijah find echoes here.

B. Personal Interaction: Questions and observations.

1.What is the significance of this occurring right after baptism?

2. How was he "led" by the "spirit"? Does God test/tempt? Why does Jesus need to be tested?

3. What is Matthew telling his original audience by this episode?

4. How do we deal with the idea of the devil today?

5. What is the nature of the temptations? Was the outcome really in doubt?

6. What is the devil doing quoting scripture?

7. What is the role of scripture in Matthew's theology? What is the relation between temptation and scripture?

8. How does Jesus understand Dt. 8:3?

9. How does the devil "transport" Jesus?

10. What is the temptation to hurl himself off the temple? Is this "just" a vision?

11. What is the connection between angels in the temptation and the angels who actually come to Jesus at the end of the pericope?

12. Are the kingdoms of the world really the devil's to give?

13. At the blatant pitch to worship the devil, Jesus orders "satan" to go. Could he have done so sooner? Did he have to listen? Any importance in his "naming" the devil at this point?

14. What would it mean for Jesus to fall down and worship the devil?

15. What does Christ's temptation have to do with us? How do hearers today respond to the idea of the devil? How does Jesus' "prevailing" here relate to the rest of his career?

C. Organization: Where the elements of B are located

Author's intent: Questions 1, 3, 6,7.

Psychological: 5, 8,10,13,14.

Contextual: 2,8, 9,11

Theodicy/theology: 2, 14, 15

Application: 4, 15

Step III. Composition

A. Immediate context: Preceding/following pericope.

This passage is preceded by Jesus' baptism and epiphanic dove/Voice affirmation of sonship. It is followed by word of John's arrest and Jesus' withdrawal to Galilee--Capernaum, prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2, the preaching of repentance and call of disciples. Then. The beatitudes/sermon on the mount.

B. Organization of the compositional whole

Matthew's Jesus is successor and surpasser of Moses and Elijah. He recapitulates and fulfills the mission of Israel as God's true son and light to the gentiles (in a way that Israel could not). As the new Moses he will be the new lawgiver. Some will accuse him of serving the devil but Mt 4 opens the ministry by showing his defeat of the devil. Throughout the ministry Jesus will cast out devils. The cosmic nature of the conflict with opponents--human and non-human--becomes plain to see. At the end he refers to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

C. Issues of authorship

IV Context

A. Primitive Christianity

The matthean community encountered resistance to its message both from within and without. Matthew seeks to frame this resistance and resulting conflicts (persecution?) as a cosmic struggle. This opening scene then portrays Jesus as chief object of the "enemy" and victor over him. Matthew may also seek to allay doubts in the community concerning the puzzling nature of messiahship, and the apparent failure of Jesus' mission to gain any real power. Why so weak and ignominious if truly the Son of God? They might have been wondering.

B. OT and Judaism

"There was no Jewish tradition that the messiah would be tempted by Satan…The Q version resembles haggadic tales of rabbis who battle each other with scripture, and thus has something of the form of a controversy dialogue" (NTIB, p. 162)

C. Hellenistic culture

V. Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

This text portrays Jesus as the true representative of Israel, the heir of Moses and Elijah, and the victor in a titanic duel with the devil. His answers to the temptations demonstrate his perfect obedience to God, and provide a refutation of the "devil's" methods in pursuing "worldly" roads to power. Thus his unexpectedly humble form of messiahship is shown to be based on a proper understanding of scripture and prophecy, and submission to the Father's will. His true sonship is demonstrated by his not exploiting the real potential of his position. The devil goes away in defeat at Jesus' command, and the angels who would have caught when falling now actually appear and serve him food.

B. Smooth translation

Next thing you know, Jesus is whisked by the Divine Power into the wasteland, where he would be challenged by none other than the Prince of Darkness. Jesus didn't have anything to eat out there for well over a month. By the end of the time he was starving. So, the Enticer appears and makes his pitch: "Seeing as how you are God's boy, why not change these rocks into nice, soft, warm bread, since you're so hungry? While you're at it, make enough for all the hungry people to eat! Wouldn't that be a righteous move!"

Jesus fires back: "Don't you even know what the bible says? 'Sure, you have to eat, but there's something more important than food: doing things God's way.'

Realizing this ploy had failed, the Creep-in-Chief plops Jesus on the tippy-top of the Temple and tries again: "Okay, big fella. Let's see this faith of yours in action. You're not afraid to jump, are you? After all, the bible says: 'God will send his angels…' See--I can quote scripture too! You don't doubt God's word, do you?"

But Jesus doesn't take the bait this time either: "You forget--the Bible ALSO says, "Don't do dumb things just to see if God will save your butt."

Finally, His Sleaziness takes one last shot. He shows Jesus a satellite view of the whole illusory realm of power and riches. "It's yours for the asking," he purrs. "All I ask in return is your total allegiance".

"OUT, jerk!", snaps Jesus. "The Bible says, 'Don't sell your soul to anyone or anything. Work for God--only God '." The Slimy One skedaddles, and then those angels really do help Jesus, bringing him food at last.

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

Listeners today may need to be helped through the alien aspects of this pericope, including the inhuman length of the fast, the existence of the devil and Jesus' bizarre dialogue with him, the idea that Jesus needs testing or can really be tempted. These are not ordinary temptations such as we might face, but rather a cosmic showdown on whose outcome the fate of the world hinges. Matthew gives us a messiah who refuses typical routes to power and thus pictures a new kind of basilea in which Christians are also called to live. Kazantzakes imagines Christ being "tempted" to live a normal life, settle down and have a family, etc. However, Satan's temptations in Matthew all have to do with Christ fulfilling his vocation rather than abandoning it. The James Stewart movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", portrays resistance to the "business as usual" temptation on a human scale. Gandhi's alternative uses of political power, and MLK's, may serve as reference points. Where does Enron fit?

An "aha" for me is, Matthew puts in Satan's mouth--in the form of temptations--the very questions people within and outside the community may have been raising about Jesus. Such as, if he was so great, where is he, and why is he not reigning in power as our king? Matthew's answer: those questions are of the devil, and show a total misconstrual of the methods of Jesus. He came the first time in humility and even humiliation, but next time in terrible might with legions of angels. This "just you wait" aspect may hold an inherent contradiction for the hermeneutical task.

Step VI Contemporary address

A. Audience

Small, white, conservative, rural-suburban Presbyterian congregation.

B. Intended Goals for the Address

To think about what it means that Jesus would not go along with the "suggested" ways of carrying out God's kingdom.

Annotated Bibliography

Matthew: A Commentary by Frederick Dale Bruner

Bruner has a creative take on the temptations and makes use of a range of writers. He comes from the "evangelical" perspective of PCUSA but notes a variety of theologies.

New Interpreter's Bible has helpful contextual and textual commentary, and the Reflections part of each pericope can help stimulate your thinking.