Jesus’ Goal For Temple And Tree: A Thematic Revisit Of Matt 21:12-22 -- By: Mark Moulton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:4 (Dec 1998)
Article: Jesus’ Goal For Temple And Tree: A Thematic Revisit Of Matt 21:12-22
Author: Mark Moulton

Jesus’ Goal For Temple And Tree:
A Thematic Revisit Of Matt 21:12-22

Mark Moulton*

* Mark Moulton is a graduate student at Wheaton College Graduate School and lives at 1120 South Lorraine Road 2-B, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Perhaps the most puzzling public action of Jesus was his curse of the fig tree. The accounts of it in Matthew 21 and Mark 11 have generated a diversity of interpretations. In the past few decades many scholars have sought to exegete these passages with an eye to understanding how the withered-tree account bears on what happened in the temple since these two dramatic actions are found side by side in both gospels. Some scholars interpret the tree story as an incident that actually happened and that is recounted in proximity to the temple event because the two occurred within a few days of each other.1 But even among scholars who deny an historical withering are many who approach the two dramatic actions of Jesus as mutually illuminating stories. Thus Paul Minear asserts that bringing the two episodes together helps Matthew’s church deal courageously with hostility from Jewish religious authorities, since it assures them that the Master had already overcome such opponents.2

Therefore a good many scholars believe that the temple and tree episodes were set together in Matthew (and in Mark) because each was felt to shed interpretative light on the other. This is a worthy exegetical first move.3 Indeed, throughout the present study we will assume that this approach is valid.

Most commentators who consider the temple and fig-tree accounts to be complementary, however, insist on that correspondence only to a point. The great majority do not view Matt 21:18–22 as a coherent unit relating back to 21:12–17. They understand only vv. 18–19 to refer to the preceding section. Frequently these scholars explain that the transition from Jesus’ miracle to his teaching on prayer—in the form of the disciples’ question—reads awkwardly because it is artificial, since the miracle story and the teaching

actually were brought together at a later date.4 Others argue that the evangelist dutifully preserves the event (along with the prayer instruction) in imitation of Mark, perhaps because he wants to give themes...

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