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The Wrong Way to Win an Argument?

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Matthew has a tricky situation to deal with: in Mark’s gospel, which he is copying and adapting, Jesus has some things to say about how the Pharisees interpret the scriptures, both those dealing with commandments and those dealing with theology. Matthew’s problem is that in relation to the former, Mark reports some very approving comments from Jesus, who seems to agree with the Pharisees about the two most essential commandments of all, and even to say they are “not far from the kingdom of God”. This simply won’t do for Matthew’s depiction of his Pharisaic rivals as implacable enemies, so he cuts all of that out, leaving only Jesus’ critical comment about their Messianic theology. Smart move? Not really, for even then he has to retain an even more important principle they all agree on, that commandments are not all equal, so that some must be identified as keys for interpreting the others. Hmmm! You might not get that consensus nowadays! Still, Matthew does show how impressively you can argue when your opponent is no longer listening ….

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