Matthew 7:6 and Its Context: An Exercise of the Sensorium

In the Sermon on the Mount, there is perhaps no verse more evasive than Matt 7:6.1 Stephen Llewelyn comments, “An interpretation of Matt. 7:6 [a] is difficult at all three levels of the tradition; its meaning at the level of ipsissimum verbum, assuming that it was uttered by Jesus, at the level of the early church tradition and at the level of Matthew’s redaction is unclear.” An examination of its interpretive history through church history also reveals its mysterious status. In what follows, I intend to propose an alternative reading that has perhaps been overlooked. A somewhat unrelated issue concerning the Synoptic problem initiated the impetus for this new reading. In Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing, he titles a chapter “Luke the Interpreter.”2 Watson’s accepts the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis and dispenses with the necessity of Q. As evidence for his proposition, he uses the parallel teachings of Luke 11:1–13 and Matt 6:9–13 and 7:7–11 on prayer to examine ways in which Luke has used Matthew as his source and what changes he has made to Matthew. This reading seems obtuse to the issue of Matt 7:6, but after a series of observations, I will argue that the relationship between Luke 11 and Matthew 7 is the entryway to understanding Matt 7:6. Specifically, the changes in Luke’s discussion on prayer inform how we should understand Matt 7:6. Luke has taken Matthew’s metaphor in 7:6 and refashioned it into his saying in Luke 11:12 (“Would you give an egg to a scorpion?”)3 not to emphasize a particular definition, but to figuratively and rhetorically stress division. The choice of metaphors in both authors is an exercise on the sensorium, or rather, words that evoke one’s sensory faculties as a whole—taste, smell, sight, touch, and sound. To make the following case, I want to consider some of the more modern proposals of the meaning of Matt 7:6. Next, I will examine the relationship of Matthew and Luke’s teachings on prayer. After considering the parallels in these passages, I will explain how Matt 7:6 relates to this comparison and specifically how it relates to Luke 11:12. Lastly, I will consider how an understanding of 7:6 considering Luke 11:12 helps our reading of the Sermon on the Mount. This verse is fundamentally about venturing with God with the whole person through embodied prayer.

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