Ancient Judaism Synoptic Gospels

RECENT BOOK: Brian Dennert, John the Baptist and the Jewish Setting of Matthew, WUNT 2/403

A few weeks ago, I worked through Brian C. Dennert’s fine monograph, John the Baptist and the Jewish Setting of Matthew, WUNT 2/403 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck). This is a must-read for anyone interested in “JBap.” (Yes, I have probably read too much from Raymond Brown).

At the beginning of book, the reader is treated to a wonderful survey of the accounts of the Baptist in not only the canonical Gospels, but also in other sources such as Josephus. This section offers a very helpful survey of sources.

The purpose of the study, however, actually focuses on what the title suggests (what a pleasant surprise!) – the role of John the Baptist in the Gospel according to Matthew.

One of the chief contributions Dennert makes is that he shows that, for Matthew, John the Baptist’s preaching anticipates the preaching of Jesus.

I will offer a few examples here:

John’s message anticipates the proclamation of Jesus. The Greek is the exact same in both passages:

John the BaptistJesus
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! [Metanoeite: ēngiken gar hē basileia tōn ouranōn] (Matt 3:2)Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! [Metanoeite: ēngiken gar hē basileia tōn ouranōn] (Matt 4:17)

The Pharisees and Sadducees–two groups who were typically opposed to one another–are presented as coming together to John the Baptist. John opposes them:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

(Matt 3:7)

The grouping of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew, then, begins with John. What happens with John sets up the opposition that occurs with Jesus, who warns:

[Jesus said]: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they [the disciples] understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

(Matt 16:11-12)

In addition, Jesus uses the same terminology as John did in condemning the Pharisees:

John the Baptist Jesus
You brood of vipers [gennēmata echidnōn], who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matt 3:7)
You serpents, you brood of vipers [gennēmata echidnōn], how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matt 23:33; cf. also 12:34).

Like John, Jesus also compares the moral state of individuals to trees, speaks of the need to “make” or “produce fruit,” warning that the unfruitful will be cut down and thrown into fire:

John the BaptistJesus
Produce fruits therefore [poiēsate oun karpos] worthy of repentance. . . Already now the axe is laid at the root of the trees [dendrōn]: every tree therefore [pas oun dendron] therefore does not produce good fruit [mē poioun karpon kalon] is cut down [ekkoptetai], and cast into the fire [eis pyr balletai] (Matt 3:8, 10)Every tree [pan dendron]that does not produce good fruit [mē poioun karpon kalon] is cut down [ekkoptetai] and cast into the fire [eis pyr balletai].
(Matt 7:19; cf. also 12:33-37; 21:43)

Moreover, also like John, Jesus speaks of coming judgment in terms of both harvest imagery and being burned with fire:

John the BaptistJesus
. . . he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matt 3:12). . . at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned. . .” (Matt 13:30).

In short, as Dennert shows, within Matthew, “Jesus adopts and expands John’s message.”[1]

This has some important payoffs in my mind, but you will have to wait to read my next book to discover what I think they are. For now, however, if you are doing serious work in the Gospel according to Matthew, you need to check out Dennert’s excellent study.


[1] Dennert, John the Baptist, 157.

2 comments

  1. Please, please when you discuss a book, have link to Amazon (or some other book store) that one can order it

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