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Grammatical-Historical Interpretation, Matthew 2:3, and the Rejection of Christ

How are we to interpret narrative texts? This has been a big question on my mind these days, largely raised by Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch. What role does history play in the interpretation of the biblical text?

Is the locus of meaning in the historical reconstruction of the event, or in the written text itself? i.e. Is the "meaning" found by reconstructing the event, filling in the details, etc.? Or is the meaning found simply by understanding what the text says? 

One very intriguing thing Sailhamer says is that "Grammatical-Historical" originally meant "grammatical, namely, historical", rather than describing two parts of a process: analyze the grammar and analyze the history, our present "grammatical and historical" approach. That is very interesting indeed.

A good example of this Matthew 2:3, "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." The "this" that they heard was that the King of the Jews--Jesus--had been born. 

Now, it is very understandable why the ungodly power monger Herod would be troubled by this. Why, however, all of Jerusalem would be troubled with him is a little bit more perplexing. Why would they be troubled by the news of the birth of their promised King? Why be troubled when they at present had such a wicked king (Herod) and lived under the rule of the Roman Empire? Why be troubled, especially during a time in history it appears that messianic expectation was indeed at a high point?

Now, most commentaries will give an explanation something along the lines of this: All of Jerusalem feared as well because they feared what Herod would do as a result of his rage over the birth of this opposing King. Robertson is typical in commenting that "the whole city was upset because the people knew only too well what he could do when in a rage over the disturbance of his plans." (Word Pictures)

Is this what Matthew intended? Where does one see this in the text? This interpretation might be called "historical" since it involves a historical reconstruction of the person of king Herod and about his megalomania and his cruel actions, and the people's dislike of him, etc.

The conclusion of this kind of interpretation seems to be that Jerusalem was not exactly opposed to the birth of the Messiah, they were simply afraid of how Herod might react. In general though, Jerusalem was open and excited about the possible coming of the Messiah. 

But is that how Matthew presents this event? He says the king was troubled and all Jerusalem with him." The preposition "with" is meta. BDAG defines this usage as denoting "the company in which an activity or experience takes place". Jerusalem is in company with Herod in being troubled. It is difficult to see the Jerusalemites distancing themselves from Herod and being disturbed for a different reason or cause than he, in the way Matthew phrased it.

Matthew Henry, I think has a better commentary:

Yet, it seems, all Jerusalem, except the few there that waited for the consolation of Israel, were troubled with Herod, and were apprehensive of I know not what ill consequences of the birth of this new king, that it would involve them in war, or restrain their lusts; they, for their parts, desired no king but Herod; no, not the Messiah himself.

I think he rightly picks out Matthew's meaning here. Jerusalem was not excited about the coming of the Messiah. They did not rejoice at his coming. Fear at Herod's response may be involved, but it is not what Matthew highlights. 

I found this fact particularly significant in studying the introductory chapters of Luke's Gospel. In particular, in Luke 2:21-40, we see the witness of faithful Israelites Simeon and Anna, which demonstrates the continuity between the OT and Jesus. Luke intends to connect Jesus with the faithful remnant. The OT faithful received their Messiah with great joy. Christianity, therefore, is the proper heir of the OT faith and Scriptures, not Judaism. Judaism parted with God before Christ came, and demonstrated it when they rejected Christ.

I believe this truth is what is communicated (albeit in part) in Matthew 2:3. Jerusalem did not rejoice in him, but rather rejected him. The capital and religious center of the Jews was troubled at the birth of their Savior! Is not the solemn and horrible fact of John 1:11 hinted at by this verse? "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."


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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)

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