top of page

Potent Impotence: What Happens When You Don’t Seek First The Kingdom? By Jonathan Brackens

What If:

What if strong emotions, like joy, impair some people’s cognitive processing? What if strong emotions, like joy, and low cognition lead people to impulsively act or purchase, against their/better judgement (1)? What if some of those people identify as Christian, and Jesus knew this? What if Jesus and Matthew as the final redactor reiterated the same point several times. What if Matt. 13:44 exegesis is a perfect case study for such an occurrence? What if the treasure is the seed of the word of God (Matt 13:5, 20, 44) hidden, sowed, or re/buried (κρύπτω) in the earth, the Finder is the "one who hears the word . . . immediately receives it with joy" (Matt 13:20 NRSV), but does not “understand[] it” (Matt 13:23), and "in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matt 13:44b), an idea that "had no depth of soil" (Matt 13:5) and thus "had no root" (Matt 13:5) in law or logic, "and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word" (Matt 13:21), likely testing the veracity of the Finder’s reaction to the word, "that person immediately falls away" (Matt 13:21b). What if the text’s silence on the Finder’s actual possession of the treasure after purchasing the field means that he did not possess the treasure? What if the Finder's impotent action is a pattern of behavior, not an isolated event?

Conventional parabolic exegesis of Matt 13:44 suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven’s value is meritorious of, equivalent to, and conditional upon the liquidation of a finder’s estate, and that a finder must intend to and execute “radical obedience.(2)” To arrive at the majority’s parabolic interpretation, current scholarship does the following: (1) assume treasure possession/ownership, (2) use anachronistic law to justify the Finder’s actions, and (3) ignore authoritative textual variants by necessitating sacrifice to obtain the kingdom. Ironically, when we apply binding Roman law correctly, a more appropriate and less onerous theme in Matt 13:44 arises: one is productive when despite the emotion(s) concomitant with discovering the value of kingdom property, one first obtains understanding of what God wants done with His property—sacrifice is not needed.

Are you still with me? I’m sorry but it gets a little nerdy now.

Looking at the Text(s)(3) & Our Overreaction:

Comprehensive textual evidence shows that Christians can receive and participate in the kingdom with little to no sacrifice, which challenges the majority’s notion that radical obedience is requisite of kingdom participation. Addressing this, we now review the evolution and variations of early Greek and Coptic Matthean texts. Scholarship holds that scribes translated bo NT around 250 CE by using early Greek texts that predated the Coptic Sahidic text (“sa”), B, א, and W. (4)

Accordingly, bo illustrates that the Finder and the Merchant gave—ⲘⲠⲈⲦⲈⲚⲦⲀϤ—something they had—but not all they had—because the text did not use the word ⲛⲓⲃⲉⲛ or ⲧⲏⲣ (i.e., “all”) as it did 121 times to describe “totality” between Matt 1:17 and 28:20 (5). The sa translation reflects that both parties gave ⲛⲓⲙ “all” they had; yet, unlike bo, by using the second habitude tense for ⲃⲱⲕ “go, leave, depart”—ϣⲁϥⲃⲱⲕ—sa emphasized that, for the Finder, his joy inspired departure was customary, repeated, instantaneous, and possibly iterative. This powerful insight is also lost on B, א, and W’s use of απο (“away from” or “leave”); there, the reader understands the Finder’s motive but not his predilection to instantaneously act when inspired by joy—a tendency not shared by the Merchant in any text. The B states that the Finder and the Merchant did not make the same sacrifice, evidence by the absence of “παντα” in v. 44 and its presence in v. 46. Like sa, the א and the W equalized both parties’ sacrifice. Which text is correct? Each text agrees to the Finder’s motive, yet sa highlights his penchant. Differences in how one obtains the kingdom abound within the scripture; consequently, B’s differences should not shock the reader (6). The bo interpretation appears more sensible and attainable to parable hearers because its metaphoric and literal interpretation suggests the same thing—some or no additional sacrifice. Notice that textual criticism makes defining “all” and reconciling variant readings imperative. By only relying upon the eclectic text, we fail to encounter these imperatives; consequently, they mutate the Finder’s consideration, intent, and possession into the Merchant’s; leading hermeneutics to postulate the Kingdom’s value is meritorious of, equivalent to, and conditional upon the liquidation of one’s estate (i.e., radical obedience).

What’s the Law?

At the time Jesus told the Parable of the Treasure, Roman law, upon treasure discovery, immediately vested ownership of the treasure in the emperor—regardless of whether the Finder owned the field—and concomitantly imposed a duty upon the Finder to hand the treasure to the fiscus, the Emperor’s Treasury. (7)


What’s the Point?

Here, the Emperor is God, as the King of the Kingdom, and when the Finder discovered the hidden treasure, title to the treasure vested in Heavenly Father, the duty to transfer the treasure from the field to God’s treasury concomitantly rested upon the Finder. The Matthean text details no such transfer to the King; rather, the scripture states that the Finder reburied the treasure, from his joy sold all he had (i.e., overreacted), and purchased the field. The Finder failed the Matt. 6:33 command to seek first the kingdom and δικαιοσύνη “the act of doing what is in agreement with God’s standards.” He should have taken the treasure to the King and asked what God wanted him to do with it. This reflects where the Finder’s heart lies: on earth, not in heaven. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21 NRSV).

We must not be like the finder who from his predilection to instantaneously act when inspired by joy did not ask God what He wanted with the treasure. Seek, first, the Kingdom.


1. ELLUL, JACQUES. On Freedom, Love, and Power: Expanded Edition. Edited by Willem H. Vanderburg. University of Toronto Press, 2015. Pg.170. (“Jesus is not demanding [the Finder liquidate and purchase the field.] The decision is triggered by the joy of the discovery.”) Dorothea Baun and Andrea Groeppel-Klein (2003) ,"Joy and Surprise As Guides to a Better Understanding of Impulse Buying Behaviour", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer R esearch, Pages: 290-299.

2. Kingsbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew 13, 117. Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994), 546; see also Vulg. use of “universa” to conclude total divesture. J. Andrew Overman. “Matthew.” Pages 9-55 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: With the Apocrypha : An Ecumenical Study Bible. Edited by Michael D. Coogan et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 28. Craig L. Blomberg. “Interpreting the Parables of Jesus: Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here?” CBQ 53 (1991a): 50–78, 64.

3. Vaticanius: B, Washingtonanius W, Sinaiticus: א, Bohairic Coptic Bible: bo

4. Henry S. Gehman, "The Sahidic and the Bohairic Versions of the Book of Daniel." JBL 46 (1927): 279-330, 283., Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 200. Christian Askeland. "The Coptic Versions of the New Testament." In The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research, (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 206-207, 209, 222. BL Or. 739 (Matt, John), 𝔓77. Sa text harmonizes with M664A(3), See Leo Depuydt. Catalogue of Coptic manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library/1. (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), LXXII, 31.

5. To name a few: Matt 1:17, 22, 2:3,4, 16, 3:5, 15, 4:8,9, 23, 24, 5:11,15, 18, 29,30, 6:22, 23, 29, 32, 33, 7:12, 8:32, 33, 34, 9:26, 31,35, 10:1, 31, 11:13,27, 12:15, 23, 13:2, 32, 33.

6. Magi: Matt 2; Rich Young Ruler: Mark 10:17-27; The Criminal on the Cross: Luke 23:38-43; Vineyard Workers: Matt 20:1-16; and Cornelius: Acts 10.

7. Blanchet and Grueber, “Treasure Trove, Its Ancient and Modern Laws,” 149; Derrett, Law in the New Testament, 33 f.n. 4; Luz, The Parables Discourse (13:1–53), 277 f.n. 19. C.f. Derrett, Law in the New Testament, 33, 35

5 views0 comments


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page