Friday, January 17, 2014

Matthew's "Peculiar" Use of Jer. 31:15

That Matthew's use of the OT is somewhat (what shall we call it?), well, peculiar is fairly common knowledge. But what he does with Scripture is fascinating and worthy of careful study, not least because it can correct a hermeneutical methodology mired in modern assumptions and patterns foreign to Scripture.

In our regular Bible reading, my wife and I just moved through Matthew 2. And so we encountered a number of these instances of "peculiar" uses of the OT. But as we thought about what Matthew seemed to be doing, the usages didn't seem all that strange after all, at least if we're willing to set aside some of our common hermeneutical assumptions, like the assumption that a quotation of Scripture must mean that the author is thinking in terms of direct verbal predictive fulfillment. But the majority of the NT uses of the OT just don't work that way. And Matthew generally, even predominantly, doesn't use texts that way.

For instance, Matthew cites Jer. 31:15 in Matt. 2:18. What's he up to? Among other things, it seems like this is one of those instances where Matthew wishes to portray the Jews as still in exile, still in a Babylonian captivity of sorts. After all, they are under Roman rule. And here is Herod wreaking havoc and spreading oppression. As Jeremiah speaks to a people in exile under foreign domination, so also apparently does Matthew. It's perhaps subtle, but arguably there. Just as Israel's mothers, personified as Rachel, wept for their children in the sixth century B.C. under the Babylonian oppression and struggle, so also in the first century the mothers of Israel wept for their children under Herod's barbarity and cruelty.

It seems that Matthew's previous use of Hos. 11:1 in Matt. 2:15 lends support to this contention that Israel is being viewed by Matthew as still in exile and in need of a new exodus—which, of course, will come about through the resurrection of the Son of God, the true Israel.

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