Thursday, 6 March 2008

Matthew 1:19 again

Thoughts from PJ on my mulling on Matthew 1:19 and whether it was because Joseph was righteous or despite that...

1. You assume that the outcome of J. being righteous/obedient to the
law would be death by stoning as (approximately) in John 7: 59 ff. We
should note that there was a debate in Jesus' time about acceptable
grounds for divorce. Matthew 19: 1-9 and Mark 10 do record an attempt
to trap Jesus but do so by forcing him to take a side in a
contemporary debate. Cf. the wording of the question in Matthew 22:
17. Supposedly, the divergence between Matthew 5: 31 and Luke 16: 18
(which does not mention the 'except for adultery clause) reflects this
debate in some way. I am not sure what I think about that. I cannot
find a reference for it now either. I did however find Dr David
Instone-Brewer's pages (through Tyndale House, but that just confused
me more <>).

2. How does this point in Matthew relate to other discussions of
divorce in Matthew (5: 31 and 19: 1-9). When Marvin Wong preached on
Mark 10 in the summer, he mentioned John Piper's position paper on
divorce and remarriage, which attempts to show -inter alia- that
Matthew mentions the exception 'on grounds of adultery' (contra Luke
16: 18) in order to maintain Joseph's 'justness' in divorcing his
pregnant betrothed. See

3. We have two participles. Are they both causal or both concessive?
Or, is one causal and the other concessive?

I am not convinced that it is impossible for two adjacent participles
to have such divergent meanings as 'because' and 'although', but I
think it is more natural to take them as a pair.

Concessive: can we have 'although he was obedient to the law (of
Moses; thus should end the engagement)' and 'although he did not want
to subject her to public disgrace' and 'he planned to divorce her

There seems to be a disjunction here, i.e. the sentence as a whole
cannot be taken concessively. Righteousness -> divorce and his desire
to avoid scandal for Mary (wishful thinking in that culture?) ->
There is no concession and hence we can disregard this option.

Causal: because J. was obedient to law (a) and because he did not want
to subject her to public disgrace (b), he decided to divorce her (a)
and to do so quietly (b) [OK, I have split up the verb and the adverb
into two verbal ideas for illustrative purposes].

Mixture (i): although J. was obedient and because he did not want...

This, I take it, avoids the problem of Joseph not having Mary stoned
to death (although I do not think deigmatisai could refer to
execution). It is however much harder to prove to be the correct
translation. I am never happy with an argument consisting only of 'it
means this because it must (even though it strains the grammar)'.

Mixture (ii): because J. was obedient and although he did not want...
This, as in my concessive and causal renderings, assumes that divorce
was the/a law-abiding option. Again, a *quiet* divorce is not in a
concessive relationship with wanting to avoid public disgrace. This is
perhaps the easiest option to reject as nonsense.

I will have to think some more about justifications for mixture (i).
Both causal is my current favourite, but it involves assuming that
obedience to the law made divorce (for adultery) the right thing to
do. If Piper is right, Matthew stands on that side of the debate.

Key points: consider the whole sentence and note the two ideas in
divorce quietly.

4. What would a quiet/secret divorce look like? The beginning of
Deuteronomy 24 says nothing about informing the elders vel sim.

5. What did Joseph know at this point? What did Mary say when she was
found pregnant? Joseph's dream happens subsequently in Matthew. From
Luke 1: 27 ff. we may speculate that Mary could have told Joseph about
Gabriel's visitation. Would he have concluded that she was a lying
adulteress or that she was deranged?

6. As you say, what does dikaios mean? 'Just under the law's
demands' as in Philippians 3 or 'doing the *right* thing' or 'doing
justly (in some bigger sense)'?

Clearly I'm going to have to think some more on this!