The narrator invokes Jesus'
authority to draw a sweeping comparison of
the activity of
"every" scribe with training focused on the "kingdom of
to a homeowner who has
"treasure" which he can draw upon
to produce both something
"old" and something "fresh."
"treasures" (thesauron) & "kingdom of Heaven" (basileia
ton ouranon) account for Matthew's introduction of this parable as a
sequel to the parable of the buried treasure.
But this analogy more likely invokes the graphic image of a storehouse -- for
produce or wine. For it is incongruous to think of anyone extracting something
new from a chest buried for some time in a field.
The analogy presupposes that the
scribe also has a treasure from which he can produce something fresh &
novel in addition to what was old. A scribe's most obvious
"treasure" is his books. So, this parable gives blanket
authorization to any scribe who has been properly trained about "the
kingdom of Heaven" to produce new interpretations -- something
"fresh" -- that were not explicitly recorded in any previous
This parable is in line with the
ancient presupposition that scribes had the ability to decipher &
interpret sacred texts. Although the scribe's own words may not have any
direct basis in the text being interpreted, they were granted to have equal
authority since the scribe was assumed to have the type of training &
knowledge to explain passages whose significance was difficult to understand.
This assumption was the basis for the Pharisees' principle that the oral Torah
was of equal weight with the written Torah. And it is still the
principle of education that underlies all modern scholarship. The educated
writer who has been trained in his (or her) discipline -- i.e., who has earned
a degree -- is supposed to have the ability to invoke previous scholarship
("something old") and to contribute insights that no one else
had previously recorded ("something new").
Matthew's ascription of this
parable to Jesus portrays Jesus as authorizing every student who understands
the focus of his message -- "the kingdom of Heaven" -- to introduce
new elements that were not recorded in any previous text. The clear
implication of this is that the Christian scribe was not bound by the letter
of sacred scripture or limited even to repeating the words of Jesus. Rather,
as one who could claim to have a clear idea of the subject that Jesus was
teaching, the Christian author could introduce any new material that reflected
his own views about the kingdom of God. Thus, this parable explains the
freedom with which early Christian scribes paraphrased sayings of Jesus &
revised the texts of earlier Christian writers.