Chapter 4. In three books.
I notice the significance of chapter 4 in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, and John. I have no mystical sense of numerology about it, and chapter divisions weren’t in the original manuscripts, after all, so the number element doesn’t really matter. Still, I thought this might make for an interesting trivia piece.
1. In Matthew, chapter 4 includes an extended treatment of the testing of Jesus before beginning to describe His earlier “ministry” and setting up the so-called Sermon on the Mount. In my younger years, I was led to tuck away neatly the three “temptations” (probably not the best term, given our usage today) as representative of all human temptation in any time:
- the lust of the flesh
- the lust of the eyes
- the pride of life
Although I’d say those characterizations have moderate worth, I now see chapter 4 more in its context. There is more to the specific tests as it figures in to the whole of Matthew.
Side point: “pinnacle” (of the temple) in the 2nd testing is probably not the best translation of the Greek πτερύγιο | pterugio. It was probably not a spire or high point per se. According to numerous scholars, the reference is probably to the edge of a “wing” or extremity of the temple compound that essentially overlooked a valley.
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2. In Mark, chapter 4’s parable of the “sower” (and the spots onto which he sowed) is structurally significant within the whole. Mark appears to have an intentional form that includes these sections:
A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’ baptism (which became figuratively a death in Christian thought and writing), the splitting of the heavens, and the voice saying, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus’ death, the splitting of the temple veil, and a voice saying, “Truly this was God’s son” (15:33-39) (also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)
A longtime friend’s master’s work was on the place of the parable of the sower in the overall structure of Mark. Chapter 4’s sower parable is significant and may be related to the vineyard parable (chapter 12)—both dealing with the response of the people.
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3. In music, prolonging an element can result in either drama or montony. Particularly in art music, the compositional technique known as “phrase extension” and the prolonging of a “dominant” harmony (V chord) have notable effects.
In narrative, an extended passage can have an effect related to the author’s purpose(s). In John, chapter 4’s encounter with the woman at the well is the longest recorded single conversation of Jesus with any individual. The reader-interpreter does well in taking note of this incident, assuming its conceptual prominence—or at least the fact that there must be something special about it.