Monday, June 26, 2017

Matthew 10.34: "Do not suppose that I came to *?* peace on earth...

Here's a bit of an exegetical exercise that gives me opportunity both to outline how one might go about solving a Greek textual question and also how to employ Bible software to answer it. This became much longer than intended, so if you just want my conclusion to the question posed at the start, skip to the summary at the end.

The Gospel reading in church this morning included Matthew 10.34, and I was following along in the Greek on my phone. (Logos app) It's one of the 'harder' sayings of Jesus, since it stands in such contrast to "Blessed are the peacemakers" of Matthew 5.19:
Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν· οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν.
Do not suppose that I came to _____ peace on earth. I did not come to ____ peace but a sword.
I had never noticed it before, but the verb I left blank in my translation is βάλλω. That seemed odd to me, since the word usually has a more vigorous force of throwing, casting, or sending. The usual translation in English versions of "bring peace" seems a weak translation of the verb. What exactly is going on in the Greek here, and how might one go about figuring the implications? Here are some things one could do:
  1. Check other translations and see if anyone else has struggled with the verb. (I.e., check both a range of translations and any text footnotes.)
    • If one wants to be thorough, one might also check non-English versions. The Latin Vulgate is often worth consulting.
    • Another interesting version to check is the Syriac Peshitta which might highlight issues in the underlying Aramaic.
  2. Is "bring peace" a common English idiom? Or is it 'biblisch'?  (One way to try to determine this is to do a Google search on the particular word or phrase. Are most of the results citations from the biblical text? One can also try running a Google Ngram search which can sometimes provide insight about a word or phrase's use over time.)
  3. Check the range of meanings of the verb βάλλω. (I.e, consult lexicons, especially one like BDAG.)
  4. Since this is a synoptic text, is there a parallel in one of the other gospels? If so, does it have the same wording?
  5. Are there other instances where εἰρήνη is the object of βάλλω? (Running a search like this might also highlight instances when the NT is citing or alluding to a phrase from the LXX.)
  6. More broadly, how does Greek usually talk about peace / εἰρήνη when it is the object of a verb? I.e., what verbs are used that take εἰρήνη as an object? (Here is where syntactical searches can be particularly helpful.)
  7. Finally, one can always consult commentaries to see how other scholars have worked with the issue. When dealing with translation matters, I especially like to check the United Bible Society's series of Translator's Handbooks
Accomplishing any of these tasks is incredibly easier using a computer and Bible software (as compared to back in the day when we pulled out Nestle-Aland, Moulton-Geden, BGAD, Hatch-Redpath...). Tasks 1-4 are fairly easily accomplished with most Bible software. Tasks 5 and 6 require a bit more sophistication. Task 8 is limited more by the resources one has (and the money one has spent) but can be accomplished more easily if access is through Bible software.

I have and use nearly a complete collection of BibleWorks (BW) resources in addition to their very full standard package. I have a Gold level collection of Logos resources to which I've added many secondary resources over the years. I now also am starting to use Accordance's Greek and Hebrew Discoverer collection which is good set of resources for seminarians but for which I would need to add quite a few other works to bring it up to the level of resources I have in BibleWorks or Logos.

SO... using my available resources, how did I address the tasks, and what did I discover?
  1. Translations: Each program offers a variety of English translations (and more can always be purchased), but BibleWorks includes the most with its base package. Whatever is used, it's quickly apparent that almost all English versions use "bring peace." BUT:
    • The KJV and Douay-Rheims (which is translating the Vulgate) both use "send peace." I.e., they are treating the βάλλω literally. (And the Vulgate does use a form of mitto which is also a literal translation of βάλλω.)
    • Not surprisingly, the literal-minded New American Standard adds a footnote indicating, "Lit cast." The New English Translation (NET)--another version I ask my students to consult--also adds a footnote: Grk "cast." For βάλλω (ballo) in the sense of causing a state or condition, see L&N 13.14. The L&N is a reference to the Louw-Nida lexicon, another very helpful resource.
    • BTW, the Syriac uses דארמא which is also a literal translation of βάλλω.
  2. Is "bring peace" an English idiom? A Google search shows that it is used in many secular contexts. (E.g., the president says, "I can bring peace to the Middle East...")  The biblical references do show up early in the lists, so perhaps this is an instance where the biblical phrasing has entered the mainstream language. (Though in this case, it would not be coming from the KJV.)
  3. Lexical meaning of βάλλω: I have Louw-Nida in all my packages, and I have BDAG in BW and Logos. As indicated in the NET Bible note, L&N 13.14 refers to "causing a state or condition," but Matthew 10.34 is the only instance cited for this meaning. As for BDAG, both my BW and Logos provide the necessary info, but Logos does have a more attractive presentation and has hover-over popups for abbreviations used. As a 4th option for βάλλω, like L&N, it offers "to bring about a change in state or condition." BDAG, however, offers some supporting parallels, specifically from Josephus (Ant. 1.98 where Noah prays after the flood that God would not again ὀργὴν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν βαλεῖν = cast wrath upon the earth), from the Gospel of James 7.3 (where God 'cast/showed' favor upon Mary - χάριν ἐπʼ αὐτήν), and Revelation 2.4 (where Balak 'casts/places' a stumbling block before people). I find the Josephus and GospJms ones most interesting, because they both use the preposition ἐπι in the clause as in Mt 10.34. While this lexical work does provide some context for Mt 10.34, I'm still not sure it fully explains the force of the verb. If anything, perhaps something like, "I did not come to cause peace on earth..." would be a better translation.
  4. Synoptic parallel? Any of BW, Logos, or Accordance can quickly call up synoptic parallels. Interestingly, Luke 12.51 records:
    - δοκεῖτε ὅτι εἰρήνην παρεγενόμην δοῦναι ἐν τῇ γῇ; οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ᾽ ἢ διαμερισμόν.
    - Do you think that I arrived to give peace in the earth/land? No, I tell you, but rather division."
    The English versions vary in using give, grant, or bring peace. In any case, as we shall see shortly, using δίδωμι is a more common verb used to describe how peace does or does not come. It also highlights that Matthew's use of βάλλω is indeed peculiar.
  5. Other instances where εἰρήνη is the object of βάλλω? The brute force method of addressing this question with Bible software is to run a search of all instances of βάλλω where εἰρήνη is in the accusative case. This one is easy since Matthew 10.34 is the only instance.
  6.  More broadly, how does Greek usually talk about peace / εἰρήνη when it is the object of a verb? This is a more difficult search.
    • Using BW, I need to use the straightforward method of any verb with the accusative of ειρηνη which looks like this when searching the morphological database (BGM):
      .*@v* ειρηνη@να*
      This searches both the LXX and NT, and I get 653 hits in 114 verses, and almost all of them are false hits since εἰρήνη is not necessarily the object of βάλλω. It is no fun trying to work through all those hits. BW does not include a syntactical database, but the next best thing is their Key Word in Context (KWIC) tool. Right-click on εἰρήνη and choose the KWIC option, and a customizable table appears. Based on the lemma εἰρήνη, one can find out how frequently other words within X words appear before and after it. To get closest to the results I want, I chose 5 words on either side. Further (using an undocumented feature I discovered), one can use the morphological text of the LXX and NT (=BGM) but define an inflected form of the lemma, in this instance, ειρηνη@na* to find only the accusative forms. This certainly does not provide conclusive results since it's only looking at proximity of 5 words and not grammatical relationships. It does show, however, with just a bit of checking, that ποιέω / make peace is a common expression. The next most common is δίδωμι / give peace which is the expression used in Luke 12.51. It would still take some time to work through the KWIC table, but it would give a good background... and also confirm the uniqueness of βάλλω εἰρήνην.
    •  A much better way of finding the answer to my question is to use syntactically tagged text like I have in Logos and run a clause search looking for any verb accompanied by an object clause that has the lemma εἰρήνη. I will have to run two searches--one for the LXX and one for the NT--but the search terms are easy to construct:
      verb-lemma:ANY  object-lemma:εἰρήνη
      Logos offers ways to view both the verses or an analysis of the texts. With the latter, I can specify how to organize the analysis and choosing Verb Lemma gives me the results I want to see. Again, I would want to confirm everything, but a cursory look shows that the data is pretty good. I now get 23 results in the LXX and 29 results in the NT. The most common verbs that control ειρηνη as an object are (LXX + NT):
      • ποιεω (9+2) 11
      • διδωμι (2+3) 5
      • ἐχω (1+3) 4
      • διωκω (0+3) 3
      • βαλλω (0+2) 2 < and these are the two instances in Mt 10.34
      • γινωσκω (0+2) 2
      • εὐαγγελιζω (0+2) 2
    • I don't have the Accordance syntactical database, and it looks like they only have it available for the NT and the Hebrew OT but not the LXX. (If an Accordance user with that resource has it and wants to report here on the results, I'd appreciate it.)
  7. Commentaries? Scholars struggle to explain the saying in light of Jesus' promotion of peace elsewhere in the gospels. The UBS Translator's Handbook on Matthew did point me to the 1995 Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew by Albright and Mann who translate Matthew 10.34 as:
    Do not think that I have come to impose peace on earth by force; I have come neither to impose peace, nor yet to make war. I have come to divide..."
    This translation is taking the βαλλω seriously, but unfortunately they support their translation by appealing to a reconstructed Aramaic original (which is not reflected in the Syriac) and a oral confusion of a "neither ... nor" construction in the Aramaic which resulted in the faulty Greek rendering of ἀλλα / but in a "not this... but this" construction.
SUMMARY: So where does this all leave us? I think the work has shown that "bring peace" is a rather innocuous way of rendering βαλεῖν εἰρήνην. Further, we have demonstrated that it is indeed a unique phrase. Rather than "bring peace," I think a better rendering might be something like "impose peace" or "cause peace" or "force peace." Such a rendering might open some further reflection on how peace does come about. Rather than Jesus simply saying that he did not come to "bring peace," perhaps it is a recognition that he cannot impose or force peace on earth. While I think that is a more broadly defensible statement, it does not totally solve the tension of this statement with "Blessed are the peacemakers."  Further, it is demonstrably true that confessing faith in Jesus did indeed cause divisions in the families of early believers. Still, the way I understand the gospel, Christians are called to be peacemakers, regardless of whether that peace is welcomed or not. (Cf. Matthew 10.13!) There is also a distinction that can be made of peace within the believing community that is different from peace on earth. (Cf. Luke 2.14; John 14.27 and 16.33!) That is, Jesus truly did not come to impose peace on earth, but he did come to establish a peaceable kingdom that serves as a light to the world.


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  2. Interesting study. I would think that these two verses do not contradict each other. The Lord indeed is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), and He Himself is the peace, and He wants His believers to pursue peace with all men (Mat. 5:9; Heb. 12:14). However, we have to bear in mind that there is an enemy who is all the time opposing God and His people. A footnote of Mat. 10:34 from the Recovery Version Bible states, "The whole earth is under Satan's usurpation (1 John 5:19). The heavenly King came to call some out from that usurpation. This certainly aroused Satan's opposition. He instigated the people under his usurpation to fight against the heavenly King's called ones. Thus, His coming did not bring peace but a sword." In this view, the actual cause of discord, fighting, and war must be attributed to the enemy. On the other hand, believers must maintain the attitude of making peace with all men.