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The parable of the wedding feast and the man without a wedding garment

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently about Matthew’s rather startling and perplexing version of the parable of wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). Don Lambirth, for example, sent me this question:

In your opinion who are the people who are invited but don’t come? Who are those who are invited later and do come? And this is the one that always puzzles me… who is the guy who shows up not dressed properly? And why is he kicked out? What if he was poor and couldn’t afford a wedding garment? Would Jesus and Paul have presented this story differently? And what I mean is did Jesus speak of the outsiders as the dregs in Jewish society whereas Paul may have flipped it into a story of the outsiders being Gentiles?

Matthew has this as one of three parables told to the chief priests and elders of the people in the temple: they are like the son who said he would work but did not; they are like the tenants in the vineyard who produce no fruit but kill the servants sent to them and even the owner’s son; they are like guests invited to the wedding of the king’s son who can’t be bothered to attend. Luke has Jesus tell the story in the house of a Pharisee, over dinner, in response to the man who exclaimed, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Lk. 14:15-24). The note of judgment is muted in Luke’s version.

Some of those invited have better things to do—one goes to his farm, another to his business. But others, like the wicked tenants in the vineyard, seize the servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them. In anger the king “sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city”. He then sends out his servants to bring in whomever they can find in the streets, “both good and bad”, so that the wedding hall is filled with guests.

When the king arrives, he sees that one of the guests does not have a wedding garment. When challenged, the man is speechless. The king instructs his attendants: “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Jesus concludes the parable: “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The parable underlines the fact that from Jesus’ point of view the kingdom of God is not a universal, post-Jewish phenomenon. The kingdom of God has to do with judgment on unrighteous Israel, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem, and with the surprising inclusion, instead, of the “lost”—the sinners, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes”, who believed John and repented (Matt. 21:32). As in the parable of the tenants the servants are the prophets sent to Israel, who have been shamefully treated and killed (cf. Matt. 5:12; Lk. 6:23; 11:49). The Gentiles are minimally implicated. There seems to me to be little point in trying to make the story work outside this historical context.

There is no reference in the parable to the Gentiles. Those who are belatedly included are in the place of the son who first refuses to do the will of his father but then changes his mind. I think it’s unlikely that Luke was thinking of the Gentiles when he had the servants go first into the streets and lanes of the city to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame”, and then outside the city into the “highways and hedges” to bring in all and sundry (Lk. 14:21-23). The point is that those furthest from the political centre of the nation are included. Paul, I suppose, might have used the story differently.

The servants bring in “both the bad and the good”. It is sometimes suggested that this makes the same point as two other parables: the weeds sown among the wheat—the sons of the evil one co-existing with the sons of the kingdom until the close of the age; and the net which brings in fish of every kind so that at the close of the age angels must separate out the evil from the righteous (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50).1 Possibly, but the parable already has a judgment at the eschatological climax, when the disobliging invitees are destroyed and the riffraff are brought in to the celebrate the wedding. Moreover, there is no subsequent separation of the good and the bad other than the expulsion of the one person who had turned up without a wedding garment. More likely, then, the point is that not everyone who has responded to Jesus was formerly a tax collector, prostitute or “sinner”. 

The unfortunate man is cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is characteristically the place of exclusion to which unrighteous Israel is confined (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; Lk. 13:28), but the detail may look ahead to the “wicked and slothful servant” who failed to invest his master’s money, who is similarly cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (25:30). In the Old Testament the wicked gnash their teeth at the righteous or at devastated Jerusalem (Ps. 34:16; 36:12; 110:10; Lam. 2:16). The Jews gnash their teeth at Stephen (Acts 7:54). Again, the language points to the Jewish eschatological frame of the story. The man is also like the five foolish virgins who are shut out of the marriage feast (Matt. 25:1-13). A similar story is found in the rabbinic literature, attributed to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, late first century AD:

This may be compared to a king who summoned his servants to a banquet without appointing a time. The wise ones adorned themselves and sat at the door of the palace, for they said, “Is anything lacking in a royal palace?” The fools went about their work, saying, “Can there be a banquet without preparations?” Suddenly the king desired his servants. The wise entered adorned, while the fools entered soiled. The king rejoiced at the wise but was angry with the fools. “Those who adorned themselves for the banquet,” he ordered, “let them sit, eat and drink. But those who did not adorn themselves for the banquet, let them stand and watch.” (b. Shabbat 153b)2

In Jesus’ closing saying the many who are called are those brought in after the first guests refuse to come. The the word “few” is ‘very probably also to be understood as a Semitism meaning “fewer than” in the sense of “not all”’.3 The “chosen” are those who will have to serve Jesus effectively in the coming decades, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God first to Israel and then to the nations (cf. Matt. 24:22, 24, 31).

  • 1. E.g., C.A. Evans, Matthew (NCBC, 2012), 378.
  • 2. Quoted in C.A. Evans, Matthew, 378.
  • 3. D.A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28 (Word Books, 1995), 632.

Comments

At the risk of turning up like the wedding guest without his wedding garment, I’d make the comment that inclusion of the gentiles is a very probable inference from the parable, though not its main point. This is one of Matthew’s emphases in the gospel as a whole. For instance, in Matthew 8:11, following Jesus’s commendation of the centurion’s faith:

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The echo of the fate of the man without the wedding clothes in Matthew 22:13 is the pointer to the same phenomeon. Those complacently expecting the kingdom, the hierarchy of the temple and the Pharisees, failed to obtain it. This was true of failed national, ethnic Israel. Those not expecting to obtain the kingdom received it - Matthew 22:10. This included the gentiles.

In the broader scheme of Matthew, approval goes to the gentiles and is withheld from representatives of national Israel. It’s a striking feature of Matthew, unlike, say, Luke, who is more sympathetic to the Jews.

Peter, I disagree with your interpretation. The parable of the wedding feast differentiates only between the wealthy who have farms and businesses and the ordinary people who can be found in the streets in and around the city. Nothing in the parable itself points to the inclusion of Gentiles. It is not simply “national, ethnic Israel” that is condemned; it is those who are in charge, who have power and responsibility—the chief priest, elders, Pharisees to whom the parable is addressed. It is Luke’s story of the rich man and Lazarus: the wealthy Jew is cast out into Hades, the poor Jew is carried to Abraham’s bosom.

The story of the healing of the centurion’s son needs to be read more carefully.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matt. 8:5–13)

In Luke’s version there is no reference to people coming from far and wide. Jesus only says that he has not found such faith in Israel. In other words, the story has more to do with the failure of Israel than with the faith of the Gentile. The saying which Matthew has inserted into the account is found in a different context, where it clearly refers to the eschatological ingathering of scattered Jews:

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. (Lk. 13:28–29)

This can be compared with:

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Ps. 107:2–3)

Look around toward the east, O Jerusalem, and see the merriment that is coming to you from God. Behold, your sons are coming, whom you sent away; they are coming, gathered from east until west, at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God. (Bar. 4:36–37)

Gather together our scattered people; set free those who are slaves among the nations; look on those who are rejected and despised, and let the nations know that you are our God. (2 Macc. 1:27)

By including this motif in the story of the centurion’s faith, Matthew appears at first sight to want to include Gentiles in this ingathering. But I think this is a misreading.

Jesus affirms the centurion’s faith, but as in Luke he then highlights the contrast with Israel, which is the real point of the story: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10). It is this statement which accounts for the saying about people coming from east and west to recline at table with the patriarchs in the kingdom of God. There is no reason to connect the saying with the faith of the centurion. The “sons of the kingdom”, the natural heirs to the restored land, will be cast out and replaced at the feast by “rejected and despised” Jews who have come from a distance. So Evans, who takes this line:

The “heirs of the kingdom”… are the Jewish people who live in Israel, to whom, it was supposed, belongs the kingdom of God. Because they live in the land, which in itself was thought to be a blessing, surely they would be the very first to benefit in the restoration of Israel. (C.A. Evans, Matthew, 189)

Jesus’ argument is not: the centurion has faith, therefore, Gentiles will be included. It is: the sons of the kingdom have even less faith than this centurion, therefore their place will be usurped by Jews from the diaspora.

The centurion benefits in the same way as the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). His servant is healed just as her daughter is healed. But there is no suggestion that either of them will be included in the restored people of God or share in the coming kingdom.

In the first place, it is Matthew who should interpret Matthew, not Luke. But yes, I wasn’t saying that the primary point of Matthew 22 was the inclusion of the Gentiles. I was saying that it could be inferred from everything else that Matthew says.

Matthew’s account of the healing of the centurion’s son makes the point quite clearly, and I don’t see how you or Evans can come to a different conclusion. First, Jesus says: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith”. He is talking about the Gentiles, following on from the Gentile centurion’s faith. He then says: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven”. The template here is not so much Psalm 107, for which a limited return from exile in Babylon provides the only OT possibility of a partial fulfilment. We are rather into broader eschatological territory, in which a return from exile which included the Gentiles was going to take place, and which clearly was yet to come - this being the time of Jesus, not pre-exilic times. (The Gentiles were returning from a much longer exile than Israel).To confirm the reading, Matthew says: “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness”. The generic term sons of the kingdom tells us that Jesus was not limiting his meaning to the rulers or religious elite of Israel.

It’s for this kind of language that Matthew, and the early church for whom he was their supposed mouthpiece, have been (falsely) accused of anti-Semitism.

Luke 13 says the same; the contrast is between Israel (the target of the story of the house and its owner, since no other audience is in view here), and non-Israel, those who came from the four corners of the earth. As that was precisely the outcome of the narrative, apocalyptically described here, throughout Acts, it makes sense to read the meaning of Luke that way.

In the first place, it is Matthew who should interpret Matthew, not Luke.

It is standard practice in Synoptic scholarship to consider how the different writers have used their sources and what bearing this has on the meaning of the texts.

I was saying that it could be inferred from everything else that Matthew says.

Everything else? But where is the “everything else” that can be taken as unequivocal evidence that Jesus spoke about the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God? Almost every reference to the nations/Gentiles in Matthew is negative, contrastive or prohibitive. Isaiah 42:1-3, which is quoted in Matthew 12:18-21, depicts the nations looking to YHWH for justice, but does not speak of their inclusion; and some Gentiles, who have tended to the needs of the disciples, are given an inheritance in the kingdom at the parousia, not in the period of the disciples’ preaching to the nations (Matt. 25:34).

We are rather into broader eschatological territory, in which a return from exile which included the Gentiles was going to take place, and which clearly was yet to come - this being the time of Jesus, not pre-exilic times.

This is overstated. For example, the assurance given to foreigners who have joined themselves to the Lord in Isaiah 56:1-8 is that they will not be excluded from his people when he restores Israel, when he gathers the outcasts of Israel. The nations will support the return from exile, they will bring tribute to YHWH, they will come to behold his glory, they will learn from his ways. But this is not inclusion in the covenant people, and more importantly Jesus does not make reference to these themes. He invokes the language of the ingathering of the dispersion.

The Gentiles were returning from a much longer exile than Israel.

This is sheer invention. It is not part of the biblical story.

The generic term sons of the kingdom tells us that Jesus was not limiting his meaning to the rulers or religious elite of Israel.

The term can’t really be generic because it used also in Matthew 13:38 for the “good seed” sown by the Son of Man.

Luke 13 says the same; the contrast is between Israel (the target of the story of the house and its owner, since no other audience is in view here), and non-Israel, those who came from the four corners of the earth.

No, the contrast is between the many Jews who will not be saved and the few Jews who will be saved—those Jews who respond to his exhortation to enter through the narrow door.

In scripture the only people who come from the four corners of the earth at the time of Israel’s restoration are Jews scattered by war and exile:

…then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. (Deut 30:3–4)

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Ps. 107:2–3)

Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth (Is. 43:5–6)

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” (Zech. 8:7–8)

This is never said of the Gentiles. Nowhere does Jesus speak of the salvation of Gentiles in Matthew—or of their inclusion in the community of his followers—before the resurrection.

Matthew should interpret Matthew in the first place. Matthew and Luke have slightly differing emphases of attitude to the Gentiles - the former being more approving, the latter less so.

It is this approving note in Matthew that is striking, despite your assertion to the contrary. For instance, Matthew uniquely records the visit of the Magi - Gentiles who came to give reverence to the birth of a King of the Jews. Matthew uniquely records the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus’s Galilean ministry - “Galilee of the Gentiles” - Matthew 4:15-16. In particular Matthew uniquely notes of Jesus that “News about him spread all over Syria”, and that crowds “from the Decapolis” (as well as Jerusalem and Judaea) and “the region beyond the Jordan”, Gentile territory beyond the Sea of Galilee, came to follow him - Matthew 4:24, 25. The healing of the centurion’s servant we have already looked at, with “the many (who) will come from the east and the west meaning, in context, Gentiles like the centurion. Luke does not include this extra detail. Matthew (and Mark), but not Luke, includes the feeding of the 4,000, which took place in Gentile territory. Only Matthew records the words of the Gentile centurion in the moments after Jesus’s death, recognising that Jesus was the Messiah, or uniquely close to God - the first to do so following his death, and not a Jew.

Mark and Luke do include references to Gentiles in Jesus’s ministry, but it is the unique detail of this ministry which is striking in Matthew, as well as the frequency of Gentile references. That the Gentiles are included in the people of God is seen not only in this and that they were coming to Jesus in such numbers, but Jesus says “they will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” - Matthew 8:11. This detail would have been totally unnecessary if it was referring only to the return of Jewish exiles in the diaspora, which in any case was not of the “many” but the few. By contrast, Matthew has Jesus uniquely say “the subjects of the kingdom” will be excluded. Your reference to the phrase in Matthew 13:38 shows that Jesus was not being specific (ie limiting the reference only to certain types of Jew). He was being general and broad-ranging.

You mention “all the nations/Gentiles in Matthew 25:32. I’d have thought the point is that Matthew is noting the salvation of the Gentiles, “all nations”, in the final judgment (my understanding of the meaning of the passage). It reinforces the overall point - Matthew is very affirming of Gentiles, and sets Jesus’s ministry and total significance in the context of the Gentile world, and not simply Israel.

So I think you are quite wrong in saying that “Almost every reference to the nations/Gentiles in Matthew is negative, contrastive or prohibitive”. The opposite seems to be the case.

In Isaiah, the return from exile is described not only as Gentiles performing a support role, as it were. “All nations” will “stream to the mountain of the Lord’s temple” - Isaiah 2:2. To repeat, Paul takes his commission from Isaiah 42:6, which begins “it is too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept”. The whole point of Paul’s ministry was to take the good news of the God of Israel to the Gentiles, since the time for the ingathering of Gentiles had come, paralleled with the hardening of the heart, in part, of Israel - Romans 11:25. In Isaiah, it is David, a predictive type of the coming Messiah which was to find fulfilment in Jesus the son of David, whose role as Israel’s representative is “to summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you” - Isaiah 55:3-5. God’s house is to be “a house of prayer for all nations” - Isaiah 55:7. It’s pretty clear that this overwhelming influx of Gentiles is not simply a support role in a drama which exalts national Israel. Paul’s understanding of this is very clear: with the coming of Jesus, natural branches of the olive tree (Israel) have been broken off, and wild branches (Gentiles) grafted in. That is covenant inclusion.

Gentiles were returning from a much longer exile. Exile is a biblical theme which predates Israel under the Sinai covenant, starting from exile from Eden. The theme is made a centrepiece of Israel’s covenant history, but as a cameo which indicates the wider theme. The prophetic story of Gentiles returning with Jews from exile finds its actual expression in Acts and the NT story. It didn’t look like a physical, geographical return to the temple at Jerusalem, since now the temple was worldwide, wherever God’s renewed people gathered.

In Luke 13, at least one useful comparison can be made with Matthew 8, which is that the many who return from the east and the west in Matthew 8:11 parallels “people will come from the east and west and north and south” in Luke 13:29. It wasn’t few, but many. It was (relatively) few in Israel, but many from the rest of the world, and this cannot mean Jews in exile since they were part of the narrative of a people who largely rejected their own Messiah.

In scripture, the use of the four points of the compass or four corners of the earth refers both to the parts of the world where Israel had been scattered, from which they would return, and to the fulfilment of blessing to “all nations” of the earth under the Abrahamic covenant - Genesis 28:14. This would come about through “the seed”, which was both singular and messianic in Jesus (Galatians 3:16), and plural in those who were incorporated in Jesus. It is in this worldwide diaspora and in-gathering that the prophets find their most adequate fulfilment, and not in a return from exile which, when limited to a return of national Israel to their land, finds no adequate fulfilment at all. Indeed, at the time of Jesus, the literature shows that this return from exile was still being awaited.

A Gentile ministry of Jesus is not unique to Matthew. What is unique to Matthew is the detail and the highlighted significance of that ministry. Jesus came not simply for his own people, but for the Gentile world as well. This is why in Matthew 22, which is a parable, not a literal description of social history in Israel, it can be taken that those who were invited to the feast but refused to come were the religious and political elite of Israel, not simply wealthy landowners. But in addition, it was Israel as a whole who had been invited to the feast, and Israel as a whole did not respond. Those who did respond were called in from the streets, “both good and bad”. As a parable, this works both as a description of what happened in Israel, and also works with what Matthew says elsewhere of those outside the “covenant elite”, the Gentile world, who were invited to the feast when the invitees for whom the feast was intended turned down their invitations. The primary meaning, to repeat, is the former; in the context of Matthew as a whole, the latter is also a valid interpretation of the significance of the parable.

The footnote of the man without the wedding garment gives a sharp, concise comment on the meaning of the parable from another angle. Those complacently trusting in their right to covenant inclusion by virtue of their national, ethnic origin were about to be rudely surprised. Jesus had changed the terms of covenant inclusion - at the same time as opening those terms and conditions to the good and the bad, which now also included, according to his gospel, the Gentiles.

But there is nothing in all of this, apart from the disputed story about the centurion, that suggests that the earthly Jesus expected Gentiles to be among his disciples, among the “elect”, as they went about proclaiming the kingdom of God and bearing witness to the resurrection in the period leading up to the parousia.

That Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, etc., in Gentile regions is beside the point since it is made clear later that the kingdom was proclaimed only to Jews. If Gentiles as well as Jews came from Decapolis, that does not mean that Jesus actively went looking for Gentile disciples. He didn’t.

Far from expressing approval of the Gentiles, the quotation from Isaiah 9:1 about “Galilee of the nations” in Matthew 4:15-16 refers to the fact that God’s people in the north are about to be set free from the foreign (Assyrian) oppressor: “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian” (Is 9:4).

On your view of Matthew 25:32 we have to wait until the final judgment before the nations get to be included in the kingdom—notice that they were unaware of Jesus’ presence until that point, and none of them are among the disciples. These are not believing Gentiles.

The theme of the nations coming to Zion (for various reasons) is an important one, but the passages you cite do not speak of the incorporation of Gentiles into the covenant people. In Isaiah 2:2-3 the nations come to learn from the Lord, but Jacob remains Jacob, the nations remain the nations. The wise men come, pay homage, and go back again. It is in the court of the Gentiles that Jesus reminds Israel that this was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah is aware that there will be foreign proselytes (Is. 56:6), but there is nothing exceptional about this, and Jesus makes no reference to it.

Your “Gentile ministry of Jesus” is all an invention. Jesus opposes any Gentile ministry: ‘These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans…”’ (Matt. 10:5).

Your “Gentile ministry of Jesus” is all an invention

I think that’s rather a desperate statement. You ignore the evidence which I have produced to the contrary. Jesus’s restriction of his disciples to go only to the Jews in Matthew 10 does not prove that his ministry (or theirs) was either then (in his case) or subsequently (in his and theirs) so restricted.

In the time of Jesus, there was no Assyrian oppression in Galilee. It was nevertheless known as “Galilee of the Gentiles”, and it was to Gentiles that Matthew draws attention in the part of Isaiah 9 which he quotes - followed shortly by the “followers” and “large crowds” who come to Jesus especially from the Gentile areas detailed in 4:24-25.

Incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God is understood by Matthew 8:11, so I’m not surprised that you dispute it.

I think really you want to argue that return from exile was a purely Jewish phenomenon, with some Gentiles involved who provided help to Jews on their return. This was the case in the return from exile from Babylon, but this was not seen as fulfilment of the return from exile in the literature of Jesus’s time. The prophecies show not only a fuller return, but a huge influx of Gentiles, and an indication that this was connected with phenomena which were significant for the renewal of creation. If the temple was to become a “house of prayer for all nations”, was this really envisaged as distinguishing between so-called covenant and non-covenant people? In the end, the question answers itself, Gentiles, outside the covenant, became the people of the (new) covenant - which you seem to want to restrict to Jews.

I just noticed evidence of Matthew’s sympathies fot Gentiles which have a more direct bearing on the wedding banquet parable of Matthew 22. In the immediately preceding verses - Matthew 21:43, Jesus turns to the chief priests and Pharisees, and says: “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it”. “Nation” - ethnos - is the word commonly used for non-Jews. I don’t know of any other use of it in Matthew. We are then immediately into the illustrative parable of the wedding feast, where the invitations are withdrawn from those who refuse them, and given to others. Matthew 21:43 gives us an indication of who these others might have been.

Andrew,

Didn’t Israel sacrifice 70 bulls at a particular time of the year? If so, why 70?

Thanks

Hi Darren,

Yes, apparently 70 bulls were sacrificed during the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles), and the Rabbis later understood this as a sacrifice for the 70 nations descended from Noah. It would correspond to the prophetic vision of the nations being gathered in a new order around Zion, but it reinforces my point that they remain politically distinct from the covenant people.

May I throw a spanner in the works by pointing out that there is considerable evidence to support T. W. Manson’s assertion (The Sayings of Jesus, (SCM Press, 1949), 224) that Mt 22:11-14 (the man without the wedding garment) is ‘best explained as part of another parable which Mt has appended to verses 1-10.’ Firstly, verses 11-14 introduce a logical non-sequitur, for they imply the unlikely circumstance that all but one of the waifs and strays rounded up in the streets (10) happened to be wearing attire suitable for a royal wedding at the time. Although R. T. France, arguing for the unity of verses 11-14, states that ‘a parable is not obliged to reflect real life,’ (The Gospel of Matthew, (Eerdmans, 2007), 826) that blatantly ignores the fact that Jesus’ parables were usually rooted and grounded in the day-to-day experiences of his hearers, so that they could identify with them. Secondly, there is no parallel to verses 11-14 in the Lucan version; Mt 22:1-10 forms a self-contained story and if we postulate that at one time verses 11-14 were prefaced by their own introduction something like ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who held a wedding feast for his son and all the guests were assembled,’ they too would be a complete parable in its own right.

As to Don Lambirth’s original question concerning the identities of the persons first invited who refused to come and those invited later who did come, I agree with Andrew’s identification of these with the two sons in and the first of these with the wicked tenants in the two prior parables in Matthew. But I believe we can be more specific than that. The prime focus of much of Jesus’ ministry – at least in the later stages – was the Pharisees and, in particular, their refusal to readmit repentant ‘sinners’ to the Jewish community (Mt 23:13). Those three polemical parables in Matthew all carry the same primary message: Israel’s present currupt leadership, dominated by the Pharisees, is about to be ousted from office and replaced by others who have demonstrated their responsiveness to God’s call by repentance, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes who responded to John the Baptist’s ministry (Mt 21:31f, Lk 7:29f). That even the Prodigal Son is really about the Pharisees is evidenced in John Nolland’s comment (following many earlier scholars) that ‘The prodigal and the elder brother of the parable are to be linked on the one hand to the tax collectors and sinners and on the other hand to the Pharisees and scribes.’ (Word Biblical Commentary: Luke, (Thomas Nelson, 2000), 2:780). Although he doesn’t mention Pharisees by name, it is surely they whom G. B. Caird has in mind in his brief but eloquent commentary (Saint Luke, (Penguin, 1963), 184): ‘The parable was told not to offer a generous pardon to the nation’s prodigals, but to entreat the respectable Jews to rejoice with God over the restoration of sinners, and to warn them that, until they learnt to do this, they would remain estranged from their heavenly father and pitifully ignorant of his true character’.

As for the man without a wedding garment, once we separate verses 11-14 from the preceding 10 verses and interpret this as a separate parable, the difficulties disappear. The host in this story had every reason to expect his guests to arrive in attire appropriate to the occasion. So the solitary guest who turned up unsuitably dressed was guilty of the same kind of apostasy as those first invitees who refused to attend in the Parable of the Wedding Feast, consignment to the outer darkness being the penalty. Thus this parable carries a similar message to that of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt 25:1–13): it is the responsibility of every believer to be constantly in a fit state to meet the Lord. I agree with Andrew that these particular parables are not concerned with Gentiles; they are concerned with a wholly Jewish matter. Nevertheless, they can be readily recontextualised to provide lessons for contemporary situations.

Roger, thanks for this. Very helpful. In response to your three paragraphs…

1. The source critical argument is certainly persuasive, but we still have to reckon with the fact that Matthew (presumably) saw fit to extend or elaborate upon the Q (presumably) parable in this way.

2. I fully agree with this argument. See The lost and the unlost in the parable of the prodigal son.

3. I’m not convinced that the parable of the ill-attired wedding guest would have made the same point as the parable of the wedding feast. Matthew (presumably) did not think that Jesus was repeating himself; it is striking that only one guest turns up unprepared; and the saying in verse 14 about many being called, few chosen, sounds more like a comment on the difficulty of discipleship than a condemnation of the Pharisees et al. It seems to me that we have two judgments in these chapters: judgment on unrighteous Israel (cf. Matt. 23:35-36) and judgment on incompetent disciples (e.g. the parable of the talents). The parable of the ten virgins comes into the latter category—the foolish girls turn for the wedding but have forgotten to bring oil for their lamps. So I would argue that Matthew extends the parable of the wedding feast in order to make the point that there is still something required of those who are invited in belatedly.

Israel was called first but rejected Jesus and killed His servants. God had Israel destroyed for their rejection. Then the gospel was sent to the gentiles more specifically the United States. This country also has rejected Christ by her betrayal and adultery with false god’s, for example the legalization of every sin: homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, gambling, prostitution, lascivious attire, licentiousness, treatment of animals equivalent to man to name a few. The being ready for the marriage indicates the end of the world and man being prepared. The man cast into outer darkness is man being cast into Hell for not being baptised with the Holy Spirit and sanctified hence the lack of the white garment, robes of white in the Revelation. Man must repent of all his sins with a sincere heart. When God judges man’s heart sincere, He will baptize man with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of his prayer language. Man must pray in his prayer language daily to know what God’s will is for his life. Man must submit to the Holy Spirit by giving up his self-will which is the sin nature. The Holy Spirit will take man down the path that will expose his sins and reveal the ugliness and consequences of them. This is the baptism of Fire. Man must suffer the death of self, this is what Jesus meant by deny yourself of your sins and take up your own cross daily. Through this process man will be sanctified- made ready to enter Heaven at his death. This is the message of True salvation. This is how man follows Jesus this is the only Way into the Kingdom, what good comes from a man who says he believes in Jesus and refuses to be like Him.