Friday, March 30, 2018

Why Will the Last Be First? Reconsidering the Longer Reading at Matt 20.16

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The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20.1–16) closes with a repetition of the statement that immediately precedes it and is logically connected to (note γάρ in 20.1): “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Although some see a poor fit with this proverbial statement and the parable, it actually connects very closely at two points.

Not sure what the source of this is.
First, the workers hired last are paid first and the workers hired first are paid last (20.8, 10). Second, if we read the statement not simply as being about reversal (last in place of first) but also as a removal of distinction (the first are the last), then there is an obvious connection in the fact that all the workers were paid the same amount. This, of course, is the point of contention for the first workers since such a procedure makes the last equal (ἴσους) with them. This seems to be an injustice (cf. ἀδικῶ in v. 13 with δίκαιον δώσω ὑμῖν in v. 4). The envious, as Joseph Epstein writes, “have a restless competitiveness, which will not cease nagging away at them until they feel themselves clearly established as the first among unequals.”

The response is well known and despite much debate about the parable’s meaning, it does seem to be about the problem of envy or “the evil eye” (ὁ ὀφθαλμός πονηρός) among Jesus’ disciples. This was part of the problem Peter showcased in the preceding paragraph.

In this, the concluding proverbial statement works as a rebuke to Peter both in its first instance in 19.30 and then again in 20.16 at the end of the parable. The statement works as an inclusio for the parable. The point is that Jesus’ disciples should not begrudge God his generosity; instead they should be grateful when he treats people in ways that can only seem wrong when fairness has been wrapped around ourselves. After all, isn’t God free to do as he wishes with what is his? If so, then he is free to treat those we deem last the same way he treats those we deem first.

This brings us to the longer reading of 20.16 which adds a final justification for all this: “for many are called but few are chosen.” These words are found verbatim in Matt 22.14 and therein lies the problem for them. The recent eclectic texts (NA28, SBLGNT, and THGNT) all omit the words because of the parallel. (Tregelles has them in brackets.) Here is Metzger:
Although it is possible that the words πολλοὶ … ἐκλετοί had been accidentally omitted from an ancestor of א B L Z 085 al owing to homoeoteleuton, the Committee regarded it as much more likely that they were added here by copyists who recollected the close of another parable (22:14, where there is no significant variation of reading).
The problem is that the statement “many are called but few are chosen” makes good sense in Matt 22.14 after a man is thrown out from a wedding feast without proper dress. But here in Matt 20, there is no hint of some people being excluded or not chosen (presumably, all the workers take what is theirs and go). Instead, all receive the same pay just as all were chosen to work in the first place. Exclusion is not really the point here.

Nor is there an obvious reason to harmonize the text here as there is in Luke 14.24 where we also find the saying added by a few manuscripts. There, harmonization is the obvious explanation since that is Luke’s banquet parable. But Matt 20 has little in common with those two passages except for the general reversal of expectations which is found in much of Jesus’ teaching. There is a verbal connection in the use of the word “many” (πολλοί), but even that is only found in Matt 19.30 not here in 20.16. So I find it a bit odd for Westcott and Hort to say that the longer reading comes from “the close of a similar parable” (Appendix, 15; so too Willker).

Both readings have early support: in C D syr for the longer and א and B for the shorter. Given the apparent awkwardness of the longer reading in Matt 20.16 it is, in my opinion, the more difficult reading. As for transcriptional evidence, the lack of a good parallel context weighs against harmonization. On the other side, the -οι endings make homoeoteleuton, as Metzger recognized, the obvious cause for the shorter reading. If external evidence is not against the longer reading and the internal is for it, then it should be preferred.

But what do others think about this one? Is there a good explanation for Matt 22.14 being brought into Matt 20.16 that I’ve missed? If the longer reading is original, how does it fit in the context? What does it add to the meaning?

16 comments :

  1. Authorial style might be a discernable factor here. The concluding phrase in question would be strictly Matthean if the inclusion of the same phrase in Luke 14:24 is a later addition. (Some of the key terms in this phrase also occur in 2 Pet 1:10, but Peter seems to be alluding to the idea rather than quoting it.) As you mention, the longer reading in Luke is more easily explained as a harmonization, and I agree, though I think it's worth pointing out that the external evidence for the longer reading in Luke 14:24 is nowhere near as scarce as the NA28 apparatus makes it out to be; the addition is in fact supported by part of the Byzantine text, as well as several of the later majuscules.

    As for the question of why the author would have concluded the parable in Matthew 20:16 with this phrase, I'm less sure. It could be the beginning of an inclusio closed in 22:14, but it would be a long one, and I'd have to see how well the material between the two bookends fits together. The "many are called" part by itself fits nicely, as we do see many laborers called to work in the vineyard, but it's not as clear how only a few of them are chosen. It could be that while all of the laborers were called to receive their wages (v8), only the ones hired later, who did not negotiate with the owner for their wage, were chosen to be paid more generously than they would have been otherwise.

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    1. Two instances of an expression, one of them disputed, would seem to preclude any form statements on authorial style as regards this expression.

      Apart from style, whether this parable is coherent on its own terms with the long reading is, however, a valid question.

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    2. That's a fair point on authorial style. As to your second point, I've already offered my thoughts on the possible relationship of the long reading to the rest of the parable, but a more satisfactory explanation is certainly desirable.

      To elaborate a bit on my last point about the laborers whom I considered "chosen," we could note that these last two groups of laborers, in contrast to the first, are the only ones whom the owner chooses to give "whatever is right" (ο εαν η δικαιον) in his eyes. The twist to the parable is that this is more than the workers might have expected, rather than less. But there is another textual issue in the parable related to this point, as the longer reading και ο εαν η δικαιον ληψεσθε at the end of v. 7 is a variant reading. Incidentally, many of the witnesses that support the longer conclusion to the parable support the longer reading in v. 7, as well.

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  2. Harmonization. Mathew 20:1-16 seems to be about an eschatological reversal, continuing from the rich man's inquiry of 19:16. The long ending seems to want to pull a theological theme which is from a different story and harmonize the two. This would be an "internal evidence" deduction. Admittedly, in Luke he is demonstrating the exclusivity of the banquet is highlighting a reversal of the mentality of the Pharisees who wanted to place themselves in greater positions of honor. But, again, I think exegetically we see a different thrust in the passages where πολλοι..εκκλετοι is uncontested, versus Matthew 21:16. I am open to having my mind changed on this (and honest that my technical terminology might be off), but I have a hard time buying the authenticity of the longer ending.

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  3. Let us remind ourselves that 'harmonization' or synthesis was a Greek propensity. True, hellenistic Jews carried this over as well. However, we have no evidence that editors of the gospels for the next few centuries were hellenistic Jews. Therefore, the safest best is that they were more hebraic than hellenistic, and therefore would have leaned towards strict honesty in transcription, whatever the surrounding textual context, and also would have tended to NOT harmonize for harmony's sake.

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    1. What of the various Hebrew MSS that harmonize sporadically or the MSS and versions that harmonize somewhat more systematically? Or the frequency with which parallel passages in the OT differ verbally?

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  4. The pragmatic effect of the long reading would seem to be a warning: The circle of Jesus' true disciples is narrower than it first appears. This theme certainly shows up elsewhere in Matthew. According to the Sermon on the Mount, motivation and inner thoughts are part of what make up discipleship or the rejection of the same. Here, then, we might have a warning about what an embrace of envy or presumptionnes signals.

    This is not a firm conclusion regarding the sense of the long reading. It is indeed difficult. One might so difficult it couldn't be original, but it is hard to see why support for the long reading would be so widespread if it was not original, and there are least two mechanisms for omission, viz deliberate excision and visual oversight.

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  5. PG,
    I am not sure how you view the internal evidence is for the longer reading, the addition may not be from a parallel, but it is one of the most well known passages of scripture! I also found it interesting that you don’t see the external evidence in favor of the shorter reading. The two earliest manuscripts both have the shorter reading and don’t stand alone.

    Tim

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    1. Tim, what I said is that both readings have early support and that's true. Yes, 01 and 03 weight heavily for me, but not as much so when the internal is against them and there is old support on the other side too. C and syr impress me.

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  6. PG,

    Do you think understanding the cultural act of hiring day laborers May shed any light on this? It seems to me that the owner searches and finds the final laborers, whereas the first group is “easy” to find, perhaps they’re gathered at a known location with a gathering of many workers - where a general call for workers would be easily answered. I may be way off here, but just a thought on why many could have been called and few chosen.

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  7. Bloomfield has a fairly lengthy note on the internal coherence of the longer reading in its context.

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    1. Bloomfield, Samuel Thomas. The Greek New Testament. 2 vols. 9th ed. London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855.

      ------. Critical Annotations. London: Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1860.

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    2. Stephen,

      Do you happen to know the page number of the quote?

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    3. I was curious about the source and checked it out myself, so hopefully Stephen doesn't mind if I answer for him here...for the edition on archive.org (https://archive.org/stream/HeKaineDiathekeV1#page/n171), the page numbers are 157-158. The discussion can be found in footnote 16.

      Thanks for the reference, Jonathan!

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    4. Jonathan, Stephen, and Joey,

      Many thanks!

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