The (Im)Polite Jesus

An Analysis of Jesus’ Verbal Rudeness in Matthew’s Gospel

by Carlos Olivares (Author)
©2016 Monographs XVIII, 232 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 167


This book is an informed, focused, deep, and creative analysis of the topic of (im)politeness applied to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, with in-depth conclusions and analysis about the Matthean Jesus’ (im)politeness. This study utilizes innovative methodological approaches regarding the analysis and interpretation of the subject in Matthew’s Gospel, finding similarities with the language and (im)polite engagements of other first-century Greco-Roman characters and the Matthean Jesus in similar contexts.
The (Im)Polite Jesus would make an excellent addition for studies on Matthew’s Gospel or courses focused on biblical studies, biblical literature, biblical hermeneutics, methodologies, and in discussions about exposing interpreters’ cultural biases when addressing the topic of (im)politeness.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Series Editor’s Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on Translations and Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Initial Considerations Regarding Jesus’ (Im)Politeness
  • 1. (Im)Politeness from Different Viewpoints: Contributions
  • 1.1 (Im)Politeness from a Biblical and Historical Viewpoint
  • 1.1.1 Luke Timothy Johnson
  • 1.1.2 Benjamin Thomas and Johan Coetzee
  • 1.1.3 Edward Bridge
  • 1.1.4 Ludwig Köhler and Konrad Ehlich
  • 1.1.5 Marina Terkourafi
  • 1.1.6 Andrew Wilson
  • 1.1.7 Summary
  • 1.2 (Im)Politeness in Specific Matthean Texts
  • 1.2.1 (Im)Politeness and the Canaanite Woman
  • 1.2.2 (Im)Politeness in Matt 23
  • 1.2.3 (Im)Politeness and Verbal Violence
  • 1.2.4 Summary
  • 2. Filling in the Gap: Purpose
  • Chapter Two: Methodology, Presuppositions and Definitions
  • 1. Methodology and Presuppositions
  • 1.1 Presuppositions: Locating Myself
  • 1.2 Methodology
  • 1.2.1 Inner Texture: The Text and the Reader
  • 1.2.2 Intertexture: Ancient Texts and the Reader
  • 1.2.3 Social and Cultural Texture: A Reading Model
  • 2. (Im)Politeness from a Theoretical Viewpoint
  • 2.1 First-order Politeness
  • 2.2 Second-order Politeness
  • 3. The Term (Im)Politeness in This Work
  • 4. Exegetical Arrangement
  • 5. Summary
  • Chapter Three: You Hypocrites! Being (Im)Polite with Scribes and Pharisees
  • 1. Narrative Analysis: True and False Honour in Jesus’ View
  • 1.1 Do Not Do What They Do
  • 1.2 To Be Seen by People
  • 1.3 Jesus’ Woes Against the Scribes and Pharisees
  • 2. Pragmaphilological Analysis: Shame on the Scribes and Pharisees
  • 2.1 The Term ὑποκριτής
  • 2.2 First Pair: υἱὸν γεέννης
  • 2.3 Second Pair: μωροὶ and τυφλοί
  • 2.4 Third Pair: ἁρπαγῆς, ἀκρασίας, ὑποκρίσεως and ἀνομίας
  • 2.5 The Last Woe: ὄφεις and γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν
  • 3. Jesus’ (Im)Politeness and the Scribes and Pharisees: Unlocking the Encrypted World
  • Chapter Four: Get Away Behind Me, Satan! Being (Im)Polite with Peter
  • 1. Narrative Analysis: Honour and Shame in Contrast
  • 1.1 Honouring Peter (Matt 16:13–20)
  • 1.1.1 Peter Answers
  • 1.1.2 Jesus Praises Peter
  • 1.2 Shaming Peter (Matt 16:21–28)
  • 1.2.1 Peter Rebukes Jesus
  • 1.2.2 Jesus Rebukes Peter (16:23)
  • 2. Pragmaphilological Analysis: σατανᾶς and σκάνδαλον
  • 2.1 The Term σατανᾶς
  • 2.2 The Term σκάνδαλον
  • 3. Jesus’ (Im)Politeness and Peter: Unlocking the Encrypted World
  • Chapter Five: Wicked, Lazy and Worthless Slave: Being (Im)Polite Using Parables
  • 1. Narrative Analysis: Context and Story
  • 1.1 Narrative Context: Parousia and Behaviour
  • 1.2 Story: Reward and Rejection
  • 1.2.1 Entrusting, Delay and Reward
  • 1.2.2 Disapproval and Punishment
  • 2. A Pragmaphilological Analysis: σκληρός, πονηρός, ὀκνηρός and ἀχρεῖος
  • 2.1 The Term σκληρός
  • 2.2 The Terms πονηρός and ὀκνηρός
  • 2.2.1 The Term πονηρός
  • 2.2.2 The Term ὀκνηρός
  • 2.3 The Term ἀχρεῖος
  • 3. Jesus’ (Im)Politeness When Using Parables: Unlocking the Encrypted World
  • Chapter Six: Dogs: Being (Im)Polite with a Canaanite Woman
  • 1. Narrative Analysis: Contrasting Two Characters
  • 1.1 First Act: Asking for Help
  • 1.2 Second Act: Metaphors, Great Understanding and Faith
  • 1.2.1 Animal Metaphors
  • 1.2.2 Great Understanding and Faith
  • 2. Pragmaphilological Analysis: κύων and κυνάριον
  • 2.1 The Term κύων
  • 2.2 The Term κυνάριον
  • 3. Jesus’ (Im)Politeness and the Canaanite Woman: Unlocking the Encrypted World
  • Chapter Seven: (Im)Polite Contexts: Being (Im)Polite in Greco-Roman Writings
  • 1. (Im)Polite Discussions
  • 1.1 The (Im)Polite Plutarch
  • 1.2 The (Im)Polite Josephus
  • 2. (Im)Polite Teachers
  • 2.1 The (Im)Polite Markan Jesus
  • 2.2 The (Im)Polite Dio Chrysostom
  • 3. (Im)Polite Stories
  • 3.1 The (Im)Polite Masters
  • 4. (Im)Polite Metaphors
  • 4.1 The Ancient (Im)Polite Animals
  • 4.2 The Modern (Im)Polite Animals
  • 5. Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

← x | xi →

Series Editor’s Preface


More than ever the horizons in biblical literature are being expanded beyond that which is immediately imagined; important new methodological, theological, and hermeneutical directions are being explored, often resulting in significant contributions to the world of biblical scholarship. It is an exciting time for the academy as engagement in biblical studies continues to be heightened.

This series seeks to make available to scholars and institutions, scholarship of a high order, and which will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. This series includes established and innovative directions, covering general and particular areas in biblical study. For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion.

In this volume, Carlos Olivares examines (im)polite terms and expressions in the Gospel of Matthew. In this regard he is not speaking of the social manners and customs, but rather as (im)polite speech might be understood and construed as verbal violence sarcasm or contempt. Employing a variation of socio-rhetorical criticism and literary-pragmatic approach the author examines the words and phrases as they might have been heard and understood in the first century, C.E. Instead of seeking to locate the historical Jesus, Olivares examines the manner in which the Matthean Jesus uses particular terms and phrases while addressing and instructing. What the author finds in his examination of the four Matthean ← xi | xii → pericopes, together with a discussion of Greco-Roman materials is an understanding of (im)polite speech that is taken differently from contemporary society. He notes that (im)polite speech was a common characteristic in first century C.E. though he argues that Jesus did not use such language as slander in attacking his audience. The result is a study that is certain to generate ongoing discourse, and will not only further expand the biblical horizon, but will do so in a direction that invites further conversation among New Testament scholars in general, and scholars of Matthew in particular.

The horizon has been expanded.

Hemchand Gossai

Series Editor

← xii | xiii →



This book is a slightly revised version of my doctoral thesis, which I successfully defended at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 2014.

I would like to thank all those individuals and institutions that have made this research possible. In the academic sphere, I owe my deepest gratitude to my main supervisor Professor Elaine Wainwright, former Head of the School of Theology, University of Auckland. Without her constant confidence concerning this research, along with her patience, valuable advice and meticulous criticism before and after this research, this book would hardly have been successfully completed. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to my co-supervisor, Doctor Caroline Blyth, lecturer of the School of Theology, University of Auckland, for her helpful comments and support towards the completion of this study.

I wish also to mention my two examiners, Rev. Doctor Derek Tovey and Professor Warren Carter, for their thorough comments. Many thanks to Derek for walking the second mile, and not only reading the manuscript of this book but also for giving me valuable academic assistance. The same I can say about Elaine, who proofread the revisions of the manuscript thoroughly. Needless to say, the errors and shortcomings of this book are entirely my own responsibility.

I am deeply grateful to the University of Auckland for providing me with a doctoral scholarship that enabled me to undertake this research. I am likewise thankful for the Faculty of Arts Doctoral Research Fund, which allowed me to ← xiii | xiv → research at the University of Tübingen, Germany, for a period of three months during the New Zealand summer of 2013.

I also want to extend my appreciation to Professor Christof Landmesser, from the Evangelisch-theologische Fakultät, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, who was my generous and attentive host during my research at the University of Tübingen. Although we did not engage in many discussions regarding my research, one meeting in particular was significantly valuable for the final outcome of my study.

My thanks also to all those who have interacted with me at ANZATS and ANZABS conferences, at which I have presented papers dealing with seminal and exploratory aspects of my research. I thank the participants for the supportive discussions and recommendations given during and after my presentations.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reproduce previous published material dealing with some aspects contained in the first part of Chapter Four: Carlos Olivares, “Alabado y reprendido: Contrastes temáticos en la actuación de Simón Pedro en Mateo 16,” DavarLogos 15 (2016): 23–47.

On a personal note, one special thanks also goes to my wife, Karina, for her unconditional and priceless support while completing my research; and Martin, my little son, who did not play so much with his dad when he was at home reading and writing to complete this research.

Finally, Soli Deo Gloria.

← xiv | xv →

A Note on Translations and Abbreviations


Unless indicated otherwise, New Testament quotations come either from the NA28 or New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). English translations of the LXX are from the New English Translation of the Septuagint. Quotations from the OT Pseudepigrapha are based on the edition of James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1983), unless noted otherwise. Finally, Greek and Latin texts from ancient authors are taken from the Loeb Classical Library, unless otherwise indicated.

Standard abbreviations for academic journals, commentaries, monograph series, biblical books and other ancient literature are used in the main text and footnotes. These are based on The SBL Handbook of Style. Only abbreviations not found in SBL Handbook of Style are listed below.

AEFAnuario de estudios filológicos
AJPSAsian Journal of Pentecostal Studies
AlétheiaAlétheia-revista de estudos sobre Antigüidade e Medievo
AttiCAntCl Atti. Centro ricerche e documentazione sull’antichità classica
BISBiblical Interpretation Series
BibWorBible in Its World
← xv | xvi →
BR/RBBilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe
CFC(G). Cuadernos de filología clásica: Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos
CFC(L)Cuadernos de filología clásica. Estudios Latinos
CIFCuadernos de investigación filológica
CILTCurrent Issues in Linguistic Theory
ClWThe Classical Weekly
ConJConcordia Journal
CRNSThe Classical Review New Series
Cult. leng. Represent. Cultura, Lenguaje y Representación/Culture, Language and Representation
DCLY Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Yearbook
EISEuropean Integration Studies
EosEos. Commentarii Societatis Philologae Polonorum
ÉtClLes études classiques
Funct. Lang.Functions of language
GEMAGEMA: Online Journal of Language Studies
HistoriaHistoria: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte
IJCTInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
IJELInternational Journal of English and Literature
IJSLInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
JAASJournal of Asia Adventist Seminary
JGRChJJournal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism
JHPragJournal of Historical Pragmatics
JPolR Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture
JPragJournal of Pragmatics
KáñinaKáñina, Rev. Artes y Letras
Lang Linguist CompassLanguage and Linguistics Compass
LSocLanguage in Society
LSTSLibrary of Second Temple Studies
MBIMethods in Biblical Interpretation
Metaphor symb.Metaphor and Symbol
MinervaMinerva: Revista de filología clásica
Mnemosyne Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava. Supplementum ← xvi | xvii →
Mnemosyne Supplements Mnemosyne Supplements. Monographs on Greek and Roman Language and Literature
MNTSMcMaster New Testament Studies
NRFHNueva Revista de Filología Hispánica
MultilinguaMultilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication
NColBCNew Collegeville Bible Commentary
NECJNew England Classical Journal
NLHNew Literary History
OnomázeinOnomázein: Revista de lingüística
PCNTPaideia: Commentaries on the New Testament
PHiPhilologia Hispalensis
P&BNSPragmatics & Beyond New Series
Proceedings EGL & MWBS Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies
Proc. Roy. Irish Acad. Sect. C Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature
PSCLPapers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics
SAJALSouth African Journal of African Languages
SARStudia Anglica Resoviensia
SBGStudies in Biblical Greek
Sozomena Sozomena. Studies in the Recovery of Ancient Texts
STARStudies in Theology and Religion
TAPhATransactions and proceedings of the American Philological Association
TIELTopics in English Linguistics
TPLSTheory and Practice in Language Studies
U. St. Thomas J.L. University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy
ZECNT Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament ← xvii | xviii →

← xviii | 1 →



One of the risks of any foreign social engagement is to judge negatively words, expressions and social gestures from a personal perspective because they look strange or deplorable to the cultural eyes of the interpreters. This kind of appraisal, which is based on the individual’s background, is sometimes used to measure adversely everything that goes against modern and common conventions, putting aside all that looks out of place. Something similar, in my view, can be said when readers engage with ancient texts, in particular when certain behaviours, for example, appear to be functioning in a different way than they usually do in the interpreter’s world. The topic of (im)politeness is a clear example of this.

Although the meaning of the term (im)politeness will be discussed in depth in chapter two, I think it is necessary to define it from the beginning to avoid confusion. (Im)politeness in this work is not understood as a category of social manners, as many societies understand this term, but as a description of the use of severe language, disrespect and mockery when people interact with other people. Furthermore, (im)politeness is seen as a social construction, therefore, its evaluation and function should be based on cultural, social and circumstantial grounds. In fact, by putting the first two letters of the term in brackets (im), as many have done before,1 I want to underline that specific characteristic, accentuating that the meaning of the term (im)politeness varies across cultures or situations. ← 1 | 2 →

As the object of my research I have chosen Matthew’s Gospel, because, as we will see, it contains several (im)polite terms and expressions. Evil and adulterous generation (Matt 12:39; 16:4), stumbling block (16:23), wicked slave (18:32; 25:26), lazy slave (25:26), brood of vipers (12:34; 23:33), hypocrites (23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29) and blind fools (23:17), for instance, are just some of the many words or phrases that the Matthean Jesus uses when talking or teaching in Matthew’s story.

Using an adapted version of socio-rhetorical criticism, my intention in this work is to examine how these words and expressions could have been understood for those reading or hearing the Gospel in the first-century C.E., namely, in the time when it was written.2 My research, however, neither searches for the historical Jesus nor the Matthean community, but it is a literary-pragmatic and socio-rhetorical study, which considers in what way Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, namely the Matthean Jesus, uses specific designations when engaging with people or when instructing.

Therefore, instead of focusing on the evolution of the text or intra-community conflicts, as historical criticism usually does, my interest is on literary aspects and on ancient readers’ understanding of (im)polite language. The literary point is examined using narrative, socio-literary and synchronic linguistic pragmatics tools, pondering semantic functions between Matthew’s Gospel and other Hellenistic texts. The second point is studied using a historical sociopragmatic approach, exploring the interaction between specific social aspects and language use in texts that disclose or lead to pragmatic meanings. By doing so, I propose to decrypt the narrative world of Matthew’s Gospel in order to imagine a possible way that first-century readers could have understood the Matthean Jesus’ (im)politeness.

This book consists of seven chapters. In the first of these I discuss studies dealing with the topic of (im)politeness from biblical and historical stances, revealing the need for a deeper analysis of this subject, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Closely related to the material in Chapter One is the exploration of a methodology for this study, which I undertake in Chapter Two. There I lay out the theoretical dimension of my research, describing the way I use an adapted socio-rhetorical approach as lenses for reading and establishing other complementary literary and socio linguistic methods and models, such as pragmaphilology and historical sociopragmatic approach. I also discuss my hermeneutical presuppositions and the way in which I understand the topic of (im)politeness when reading Matthew’s Gospel.

In Chapters Three to Six I engage in an examination of four pericopes in Matthew’s Gospel. These are: Jesus’ woes against the Scribes and Pharisees in Matt 23 (Chapter Three); Jesus’ rebuke against Peter in Matt 16 (Chapter Four); Jesus’ use of the parable of the talents when teaching his disciples in Matt 25 (Chapter Five); ← 2 | 3 → and Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matt 15 (Chapter Six). Using a narrative approach, I examine the purpose for the Matthean Jesus’ (im)politeness in each pericope, making way for pragmaphilological research, in which I analyse how specific (im)polite words and expressions function in Matthew’s story and other Hellenistic literature. The order of these pericopes is due to an exploration of their thematic purposes, which I use as ‘lab samples’ to study and make manifest specific aspects of Jesus’ (im)politeness.

Finally, in Chapter Seven, I turn to examine the topic of (im)politeness in other ancient documents, employing a historical sociopragmatic approach. I follow the same thematic pattern used in the previous four chapters, highlighting the topics raised by each of the four pericopes studied. I concentrate on the use of (im)polite language in Greco-Roman writings, with the intention of unlocking and comparing the social context encrypted in the Matthean text. In doing so, I seek a foundation from which to theorise in what way first-century readers could have interpreted Jesus’ (im)politeness in Matthew’s story. ← 3 | 4 →


XVIII, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVII, 230 pp.

Biographical notes

Carlos Olivares (Author)

Carlos Olivares is a Chilean Adventist pastor who obtained his Ph.D. in biblical studies from the University of Auckland (New Zealand). His area of interest is the New Testament, in particular the Gospel of Matthew, hermeneutics, and the Book of Revelation. His publications include several journal articles, both in Spanish and English, as well as a contribution to Elaine Mary Wainwright’s The Gospel According to Matthew: The Basileia of the Heavens Is Near at Hand (2014). Currently, Dr. Olivares is New Testament Lecturer at the Universidad Adventista de Bolivia (Bolivia). He is also a visiting lecturer at Universidad Peruana Unión (Perú) and Universidad Adventista del Plata (Argentina), where he teaches at the postgraduate level.


Title: The (Im)Polite Jesus
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