Tuesday, January 6, 2015

KJV vs JST: What’s wrong with the Pharisees and their baptism


In Matthew 9, there is a substantial JST insertion of three verses before v16, but the numbering of the inserted verses is 18-21, which is very strange.  I will present the context with the insertion and then discuss it.

KJV
14 ¶Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.  (KJV Matt 9:14-15)
JST
18  Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?
19  But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law.
20  I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing.
21  For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away.
  (JST Matt. 9:18-21)
KJV
16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. (Matt 9:16-17)
One of the things I found myself asking as I studied this was, “Why do the Pharisees say they keep the law and Jesus can immediately call them on it and say that they don’t keep it?”  It almost seems like the kind of argument in which Jesus would have to go point for point through all the commandments of the Law of Moses and show where the Pharisees are falling short.  But He doesn’t.  Instead, He makes two arguments to show why they aren’t keeping the Law.

First, they haven’t received Jesus, even though He was the one who gave the Law in the first place.  Their lack of receptiveness shows they are actually disobedient.  If they were obedient, they would have noticed how His messages fit perfectly with the spirit of the Law of Moses and they would have accepted Him.

Second, their baptism didn’t profit them.  They weren’t changed by it; they lived the same way before it as they did after it.  (Now, I suspect that the baptism of the Pharisees referred to was the mikva, which was a self-immersion performed every so often without priesthood administration that we commonly think of now.)   

We, having experienced baptism that brings a change, know how important it is to have that.  It is a sign to us that God has accepted the ordinance as well as a change of our nature.  In order for the Pharisees to be benefitted by baptism, they would have to 1) receive Christ, 3) repent of their sins, 3) submit to be baptized with the baptism of repentance with priesthood authority.

The rest of the discussion which is found in the KJV is about how newness doesn’t fit with oldness.  Without this bit of JST, one is liable to think that Jesus only refers to the doctrine of the higher law versus the doctrine of the lower law and the difficulty of changing from the lower to the higher.  (For the longest time, I thought this was what was meant.) But with the preliminary material focusing on receiving Christ and a profitable baptism, we see that Jesus is trying to teach them about how they must be born again and become new creatures through faith on Him, otherwise they can’t receive any benefit from baptism.   

If they aren’t changed completely, the newness would pull them one way and the old fallen ways would pull them another way, and they’d be torn like a piece of cloth yanked in two different directions.  Or the power of the new ways would be too much for their bodies to take and they would burst like a wineskin bottle eaten away at the inside and end up rejecting the saving doctrine, like a wineskin spilling on the ground.

I think this has some important messages for us as members.  It tells us that in order for gospel ordinances to do any good for us, we must be changed by them through our faith in Christ.  We can’t allow ourselves to continue doing the same sinful things after as we did before.