In Matthew 22, there is a parable about a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son, and, when the invitees choose not to come, the king orders his servants to bring into the feast people (both good and bad) from the highways. When the king notices that one of the guests does not have a wedding garment, the king orders that guest to be cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What is the wedding
garment? I've heard two proposals. The first proposal is that the
wedding garment is the imputed righteousness of Christ that covers the
believer as a robe----that the believer is sinful, but he is covered by
Christ's righteousness, such that God sees Christ's righteousness and
not his sins. I heard this view in a Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath
The second proposal is that the wedding garment
refers to good works. And, believe it or not, I've heard this
interpretation more often than the first one. I heard it at an
Assemblies of God church, where the Sunday school teacher was saying
that the wedding garment could symbolize works of compassion. When
an old lady joyfully said that she had a ticket to heaven, the Sunday
school teacher replied that a ticket is not enough, for you also need a
wedding garment. The old lady was somewhat baffled! I also
heard this interpretation in a Bible class at DePauw University.
Moreover, on a Christian radio program, there was a discussion about the
parable of the ten virgins and the oil in Matthew 25,
and the preachers were interpreting the oil as good works rather than
as the Holy Spirit because that coincided more with Matthew's themes. I
think that the same considerations can be applied to the wedding
garment in Matthew 22.
In Jesus and the Jewish Parables,
Brad Young talks about the Parable of the Wedding Feast. He quotes
Irenaeus, who in Against Heresies 36:6 says that the guest without the
wedding garment represents one who did not receive the Holy Spirit due
to his wickedness. Young states on page 173 that Irenaeus is connecting
"the wedding garment with works of righteousness and the receiving of
the Holy Spirit." And Young refers to a parable in Semachot Derabbi
Chiya in which Rabbi Nathan (second century C.E.) tells about a king who
provides his servants with gold and silver, warns them not to rob each
other, and leaves. When the king returns, he sees that the servants
have stolen from one another and are naked. According to Young, the
point of the parable is that "likewise the wicked steal from each other
in this world and will appear naked----without good works----before God"
(page 178). Nakedness is associated with the absence of good works.
think that the first proposal (the wedding garment as imputed
righteousness) is more comforting, but it does not really fit themes in
Matthew, who (while he talks about God forgiving sins) does not refer to
imputed righteousness. But the second proposal fits with Matthew's emphasis on good works.
good does one have to be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, in Matthew's
mind? Doing good works entails doing the sorts of things listed in
Matthew 25----feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked,
etc. But it also involves exceeding the righteousness of the scribes
and the Pharisees (Matthew 5-7) by cultivating inward
righteousness----avoiding hate and lust (which perhaps means coveting a
neighbor's wife) and not just murder and adultery. But, while
the Sermon on the Mount exhorts people to be perfect, it recognizes that
we continually fall short, which is why the Lord's Prayer asks for
I struggle with Matthew's soteriology, as I
understand it. Often, I try not to worry about it, for the last thing
that I need to be is spiritually insecure. At the same time, I can appreciate the concept that faith should be something that is put into practice, at some level.
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