Archive for the ‘The Gospel of Matthew’ Category


What It Means To Believe In Christ – Fr. Romano Guardini

January 31, 2014
And Jesus Wept....Christianity is nothing one can "have"; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God's help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

And Jesus Wept….Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

Another reading selection from The Lord. One of the greatest riffs I have ever read.


Among the instructions that Jesus gives the Twelve before sending them out into the world are the following:

“Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace…. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake, will find it”
(Matthew 10:34 – 39).

Jesus’ message is one of good will. He proclaims the Father’s love and the advent of his kingdom. He calls people to the peace and harmony of life lived in the divine will, yet their first reaction is not union, but division. The more profoundly Christian a man becomes, the deeper the cleft between him and those who refuse to follow Christ — its exact measure proportionate to the depth of that refusal.

The split runs right through the most intimate relationship, for genuine conversion is not a thing of natural disposition or historical development, but the most personal decision an individual can make. The one makes it, the other does not; hence, the possibility of schism between father and son, friend and friend, one member of a household and another.

When it comes to a choice between domestic peace and Jesus, one must value Jesus higher, even higher than the most dearly beloved: father and mother, son and daughter, friend or love. This means cutting into the very core of life, and temptation presses us to preserve human ties and abandon Christ. But Jesus warns us: If you hold “life” fast, sacrificing me for it, you lose your own true life. If you let it go for my sake, you will find yourself in the heart of immeasurable reality.

Naturally this is difficult; it is the cross. And here we brush the heaviest mystery of Christianity, the inseparableness from Calvary. Ever since Christ walked the way of the cross, it stands firmly planted on every Christian’s road, for every follower of Christ has his own personal cross. Nature revolts against it, wishing to “preserve” herself. She tries to go around it, but Jesus has said unequivocally, and his words are fundamental to Christianity: He who hangs on, body and soul, to “life” will lose it; he who surrenders his will to his cross will find it — once and forever in the immortal self that shares in the life of Christ.

On the last journey to Jerusalem, shortly before the Transfiguration, Jesus’ words about the cross are repeated. Then, sharply focused, the new thought:

“For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matthew 16:26)

This time the point plunges deeper. The dividing line does not run between one person and another, but between the believer, or one desirous of belief, and everything else! Between me and the world. Between me and myself. The lesson of the cross is the great lesson of self-surrender and self-conquest. Our meditations are approaching the passion of the Lord, so it is time that we turn to Christianity’s profoundest, but also most difficult mystery.

Why did Jesus come? To add a new, higher value to those already existent? To reveal a new truth over and above existing truth, or a nobler nobility, or a new and more just order of society? No, he came to bring home the terrible fact that everything, great and small, noble and mean, the whole with all its parts — from the corporal to the spiritual, from the sexual to the highest creative urge of genius — is intrinsically corrupt.

This does not deny the existence of individual worth. What is good remains good, and high aspirations will always remain high. Nevertheless, human existence in toto has fallen away from God. Christ did not come to renew this part or that, or to disclose greater human possibilities, but to open man’s eyes to what the world and human life as an entity really is; to give him a point of departure from which he can begin all over with his scale of values and with himself. Jesus does not uncover hidden creative powers in man; he refers him to God, center and source of all power.

It is as if humanity were one of those enormous ocean liners that is a world in itself: apparatuses for the most varied purposes; collecting place for all kinds of passengers and crew with responsibilities and accomplishments, passions, tensions, struggles. Suddenly someone appears on board and says: What each of you is doing is important, and you are right to try to perfect your efforts. I can help you, but not by changing this or that on your ship. It is your course that is wrong; you are steering straight for destruction…

Christ does not step into the row of great philosophers with a better philosophy, or of the moralists with a better morality, or of the religious geniuses to conduct man deeper into the mysteries of life. He came to tell us that our whole existence, with all its philosophy and ethics and religion, its economics, art and nature, is leading us away from God and into the shoals. He wants to help us swing the rudder back into the divine direction, and to give us the necessary strength to hold that course.

Any other appreciation of Christ is worthless. If this is not valid, then every man for himself; let him choose whatever guide seems trustworthy, and possibly Goethe or Plato or Buddha is a better leader than what remains of a Jesus Christ whose central purpose and significance have been plucked from him.

Jesus actually is the rescue pilot who puts us back on the right course. It is with this in mind that we must interpret the words about winning the world at the loss of the essential, about losing life, personality, soul, in order to possess them anew and truly. They refer to faith and the imitation of Christ.

Faith means to see and to risk accepting Christ not only as the greatest teacher of truth that ever lived, but as Truth itself (John 16:6). Sacred reality begins with Jesus of Nazareth. If it were possible to annihilate him, the truth he taught would not commit’ to exist in spite of the loss of its noblest apostle, but itself would cease to exist. For he is the Logos, the source of Living Truth. He demands not only that we consent intellectually to the correctness of his proclamation — that would be only a beginning — but that we feel with all our natural instinct for right and wrong, with heart and soul and every cell of our being, its claims upon us.

We must not forget: the whole ship is headed for disaster. It does not help to change from one side of it to the other or to replace this or that instrument. It is the course that must be altered. We must learn to take completely new bearings.

What does it mean, to be? Philosophy goes into the problem deeply, without changing being at all. Religion tells me that I have been created, that I am continuously receiving myself from divine hands, that I am free yet living from God’s strength.

Try to feel your way into this truth, and your whole attitude toward life will change. You will see yourself in an entirely new perspective. What once seemed self-understood becomes questionable. Where once you were indifferent, you become reverent; where self-confident, you learn to know “fear and trembling.” But where formerly you felt abandoned, you will now feel secure, living as a child of the Creator-Father, and the knowledge that this is precisely what you are will alter the very taproot of your being… .

What does it mean to die? Physiology says the blood vessels harden or the organs cease to function. Philosophy speaks of the pathos of finite life condemned to aspire vainly to infinity. Faith defines death as the fruit of sin, and man as peccator (Romans 6:23).

Death’s arm is as long as sin’s. One day for you too its consequences and death’s disintegration will have to be drawn. It will become evident how peccant you are, and consequently moribund. Then all the protective screens so elaborately arranged between you and this fact will fall, and you will have to stand and face your judgment.

But faith also adds, God is love, even though he allows sin to fulfill itself in death, and your Judge is the same as your Savior. If you were to reflect on this, over and over again until its truth was deep in your blood, wouldn’t it make a fundamental difference in your attitude toward life, giving you a confidence the world does not have to give? Wouldn’t it add a new earnestness and meaning to everything you do?

What precisely is this chain of acts and events that runs from our first hour to our last? The one says natural necessity; the other historical consequence; a third, something else. Faith says: It is Providence. The God who made you, saved you, and will one day place you in his light, also directs your life. What happens between birth and death is message, challenge, test, succor–all from his hands. It is not meant to be learned theoretically, but personally experienced and assimilated. Where this is so, aren’t all things necessarily transfigured? What is the resultant attitude but faith?

Religion then! But there are so many, one might object; Christ is just another religious founder.

No; all other religions come from earth. True, God is present in the earth he created, and it is always God whom the various religions honor, but not in the supremacy of his absolute freedom. Earthly religions revere God’s activity, the reflections of his power (more or less fragmentary, distorted) as they encounter it in a world that has turned away from him. They are inspired by the breath of the divine, but they exist apart from him; they are saturated with worldly influences, are formed, interpreted, colored by the historical situation of the moment.

Such a religion does not save. It is itself a piece of “world,” and he who wins the world loses his soul. Christ brings no “religion,” but the message of the living God, who stands in opposition and contradiction to all things, “world religions” included. Faith understands this, for to believe does not mean to participate in one or the other religion, but: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Men are to accept Christ’s tidings as the norm of their personal lives.

My attitudes toward things to be done may be various. One follows the principle of maximum profit with minimum effort. This is the clever or economical approach. I can also consider a specific task in the light of duty, the fulfillment of which places my life on a spiritual and moral level. Christ teaches neither greater cleverness nor a higher sense of duty; he says: Try to understand everything that comes into your life from the viewpoint of the Father’s will.

If I do, what happens? Then I continue to act in accordance with cleverness and utility, but under the eyes of God. I will also do things that seem foolish to the world, but are clever in eternity. I will continue to try to act ethically, to distinguish clearly between right and wrong and to live in increasing harmony with an increasingly dependable conscience.

All this, however, I will do in the living presence of Christ, which will teach me to see things I never would have noticed alone. I will change my concepts and trouble my conscience — but for its good, stripping it of levity’s self-confidence, of moral pride, and of the intellectual stiffness that results from too much principle-riding. With increasing delicacy of conscience will come a new firmness of purpose and a new energy (simultaneously protective and creative) for the interests of good.

Similarly, my attitude toward my neighbor may be ordered from various points of view: I can consider others’ competition, and attempt to protect my interests from them. I can respect the personality of each. I can see them as co-sharers of destiny, responsible with me for much that is to come, and so on and so forth. Each of these attitudes has its place, but everything is changed once I understand what Christ is saying: You and those near you — through me you have become brothers and sisters, offspring of the same Father. His kingdom is to be realized in your relationship to each other.

We have already spoken of the transformation that takes place when fellow citizens become brothers in Christ, when from the “you and me” of the world springs the Christian “we.” Much could be said of the Christian’s attitude toward destiny and all that it implies in the way of injustice, shock and tragedy: things with which no amount of worldly wisdom, fatalism or philosophy can cope — and preserve its integrity.

This is possible only when some fixed point exists outside the world, and such a point cannot be created by man, but must be accepted from above (as we accept the tidings of divine Providence and his all-directing love). St. Paul words it in his epistle to the Romans (Chapter 8): “Now we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….” This means an ever more complete exchange of natural security, self-confidence and self-righteousness, for confidence in God and his righteousness as it is voiced by Christ and the succession of his apostles.

Until a man makes this transposition he will have no peace. He will realize how the years of his life unroll, and ask himself vainly what remains. He will make moral efforts to improve, only to become either hopelessly perplexed or priggish. He will work, only to discover that nothing he can do stills his heart. He will study, only to progress little beyond vague probabilities — unless his intellectual watchfulness slackens, and he begins to accept possibility for truth or wishes for reality.

He will fight, found, form this and that only to discover that millions have done the same before him and millions will continue to do so after he is gone, without shaping the constantly running sand for more than an instant. He will explore religion, only to founder in the questionableness of all he finds. The world is an entity. Everything in it conditions everything else. Everything is transitory. No single thing helps, because the world as a whole has fallen from grace. One quest alone has an absolute sense: that of the Archimedes point and lever which can lift the world back to God, and these are what Christ came to give.

One more point is important: our Christianity itself must constantly grow. The great revolution of faith is not a lump of reality fallen ready-made from heaven into our laps. It is a constant act of my individual heart and strength. I stand with all I am at the center of my faith, which means that I bring to it also those strands of my being which instinctively pull away from God. It is not as though I, the believer, stand on one side, the fallen world on the other. Actually faith must be realized within the reality of my being, with its full share of worldliness.

Woe to me if I say “I believe” and feel safe in that belief. For then I am already in danger of losing it (see 1 Corinthians 10: 12). Woe to me if I say: “I am a Christian” — possibly with a side-glance at others who in my opinion are not, or at an age that is not, or at a cultural tendency flowing in the opposite direction. Then my so-called Christianity threatens to become nothing but a religious form of self-affirmation.

I “am” not a Christian; I am on the way of becoming one — if God will give me the strength. Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.


The Composition of Matthew, Its Message and Relevance Today — Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

August 23, 2012

Detail, Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew

The question of how Matthew composed his Gospel embraces a study of its sources as well as its structure. Scholarship devoted to these issues considers both the raw materials that went into the work as well as the shape of the final product after it left the hands of the evangelist.

Research aimed at uncovering the sources of Matthew’s Gospel is within the domain of source criticism, a modern discipline that seeks to identify what written or oral materials were utilized by the evangelist at the time of writing. A small number of scholars, in agreement with early Christian tradition, contend that Matthew was the first of the four Gospels to be written. [See Basil C. Butler, The Originality of St. Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951); Bernard Orchard, Matthew, Luke, and Mark, 2nd ed. (Manchester: Koinonia Press, 1977); John Wenham,  Redating Matthew Mark, and Luke (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992).]

On this assumption,  it is uncertain what sources Matthew may have utilized, from written accounts to oral traditions to his own eyewitness memories. The belief of most New Testament scholars, however, is that Matthew’s Gospel was not written until after the publication of Mark. Based on this chronology of composition, it is commonly said that Matthew drew material from at least three sources. The first is the Gospel of Mark, more than 80 percent of which is paralleled in Matthew.

The second is a hypothetical document called Q (an abbreviation for quelle, the German word for `source”). This is said to be a lost collection of predominantly “sayings material” that is reconstructed from the teachings of Jesus that appear In Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. The third is called M, which stands for those episodes found only in Matthew. The evangelist’s M source may have been a written document, a pool of oral tradition, or a combination of both.

Enormous effort has gone into source-critical research in modern times, and yet the uncontested conclusions gained from it have been relatively few. This is not to say that investigation along these lines is misguided or unprofitable. It is only to say that the conclusions so far advanced about the sources of the Gospels remain hypothetical. There is yet no evidence supporting the independent existence of a Q document; interpretive judgments about the extent of any given oral tradition are difficult to verify; and even the question of how the synoptic Gospels are related to one another on a literary level continues to be debated.

For these and other reasons, we think it best to build an interpretation of Matthew on the final form of the text as it has come down to us. In our estimation, the canonical Gospel we possess is a more secure starting point for theological and pastoral exegesis than a theoretical reconstruction of how its pre-canonical parts came together. It is the canonical text that the Church recognizes as the inspired Word of God.

Investigation of the structure of Matthew’s Gospel is the search for an overall plan of composition that provides clues as to the meaning and flow of the whole. Modern books do this type of work for us by providing a “Table of Contents” page. Ancient books are generally less transparent in their structure, yet these too are capable of revealing their underlying framework. Often the structure is indicated by the repetition of formulas or phrases that a reader, or hearer, will easily note and remember. Matthew appears to utilize such a technique in making the outline of his Gospel open to detection.

Most scholars today accept either a threefold or a fivefold division of Matthew. Proponents of a threefold outline find its structural clue in the formula, “From that time on, Jesus began;’ which appears in 4:17 and 16:21 and which serves to introduce new phases of the story. The claim is that Matthew, in marking off his text in this way, draws our attention first to the person of Jesus (1:1-4:16), then to the proclamation of Jesus (4:17-16:20), and finally to the passion and resurrection of Jesus (16:21-28:20). [See Jack D. Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 1-37] The simplicity of this scheme is attractive, and it does take note of important transitions in the storyline. Nevertheless, many scholars object that a short phrase that appears only twice in the entire Gospel lacks the prominence necessary to serve as a structural indicator.

More popular is a fivefold outline that finds the structure of Matthew revealed in the refrain, “When Jesus finished these. ..” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). This formula occurs five times in the Gospel, each time after Jesus delivers a major sermon.

It thus marks five transitions from speech to storyline, indicating that Matthew has given us five discourses of Jesus separated by story reports focusing on his actions. Add to these an initial Infancy account (chaps. 1-2) and a climactic passion account (chaps. 26-28), and what emerges is a gospel made up of alternating blocks of narrative and discourse. It is clear on the basis of this observation that the Gospel of Matthew is a well-crafted piece of literature, a book with an organizational scheme that was carefully thought out in advance.

Some would posit a theological purpose behind this structure, saying that the five units of narrative and discourse are deliberately reminiscent of the five Books of Moses. [See Benjamin W. Bacon, Studies in Matthew (London: Constable, 1930).] At the very least, Matthew’s back-and-forth movement between story and speech underscores the dual significance of Christ’s works and words as the means of our redemption. An outline illustrating the fivefold structure of Matthew’s Gospel follows this introduction (see page 29).

The Message of Matthew
The Gospel of Matthew is preeminently the Gospel of the kingdom.
The first indication of this is statistical: the word “kingdom” appears over fifty times in the Gospel, with its keynote expression, “the kingdom of heaven;’ accounting for more than thirty occurrences. [Matthew's "kingdom of heaven" occurs twelve times where parallel passages in Mark and Luke read "kingdom of God.”]

The biblical world was no stranger to the concept of a kingdom but this leading motif in Matthew points us to something radically different from the normal fare of historical monarchies to Matthew’s theology, the kingdom of heaven is the divine perfection of the ancient kingdom of David. As such, it answers the ancient expectation that Yahweh, in fulfillment of his oath (Psalms 89:3-4), would establish the kingdom of David forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16) by sending a royal messiah, a new and “definitive David” [The expression is that of Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 10] to reign forever as the heir to his throne (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Hosea 3:5).

This prophetic hope has at last become a reality in Jesus. He is the royal Davidic Messiah who reigns as king, not in Jerusalem, where the descendants of David once sat enthroned, but high above “at the right hand of the Power” (26:64), where he wields “all power in heaven and on earth” (28:18). The new and everlasting covenant established through Jesus Christ is thus a transcendent fulfillment of the Davidic covenant of kingship, raising its rule from earth to heaven and extending its reach over the entire creation. [See Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003), 15-16.]

Matthew’s kingdom motif radiates throughout the Gospel and colors his presentation of its main themes: Christ, the Church, and the Christian vocation.

  1. Christology in Matthew. Matthew’s vision of Christ can hardly be captured by any one title or theme in the Gospel. It is simply too rich and multidimensional. But since the dominant theme of the Gospel is the kingdom of heaven, it is no surprise that Jesus is frequently portrayed as a king. He stands in the royal Davidic line (1:1-16); he is born a “king” (2:2) in Bethlehem, the hometown of David (2:6); and two of his most prominent titles in the Gospel are “Messiah” and “son of David.” [France notes that "the title 'Son of David' occurs more frequently in Matthew's Gospel than in the whole of the rest of the New Testament"(Matthew, 284).]The first means “Anointed One” and was a title once borne by the Davidic kings of Israel (see 2 Sam 22:5 1; Psalms 2:2). In fact, the royal messianism current in Jesus’ day was tied to the hope that the Lord would raise up one of David’s descendants (12:23) to restore the glories of his kingdom (Mark 11:10). The second was also a royal title that brought to mind the original son of David, King Solomon. He stands out in the Gospel as a type of messiah inasmuch as Jesus declares himself “greater than Solomon” (12:42) and stages his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to recall Solomon’s entrance into the holy city as king of Israel (21:1-11; 1 Kings 1:32-45).

Other Christological portraits in Matthew are similarly rooted in the Old Testament. For instance, Jesus is the “Son of Man” envisioned by the prophet Daniel (24:30; 26:64; Daniel 7:13-14) as well as the “Servant of Yahweh” foreseen by the prophet Isaiah (8:17; 12:18-21; Isa 42:1-4; 53:4). Typological links between the great figures of Israel’s history and Jesus also combine to present him as a new and greater Moses (4:2; 17:1-7), as well as a new Jonah (12:38-41; 16:4).

Most spectacular of all is Matthew’s teaching that Jesus is the “Son of the living God” (16:16). At this level, nothing could prepare us to embrace the full mystery of the man from Nazareth, who is nothing less than God-with-us (1:23). The Son possesses divine knowledge and enjoys an unparalleled intimacy with the Father in heaven (11:25-27); he is worshipped by his disciples (14:33); he is present amid his disciples gathered in prayer (18:20); and once risen from the dead, he wields universal authority over heaven and earth (28:18-20).

2.  Ecclesiology in Matthew. Matthew’s vision of the Church is closely connected with his messianic conception of Jesus. First, it is noteworthy that Matthew’s is the only Gospel to refer explicitly to this ecclesial community. The Greek term ekklesia, meaning “church;’ appears first in 16:18 and then twice in 18:17. The first passage is significant because it forges a link between the Church and the kingdom of heaven. There Jesus promises to build his Church upon Simon Peter, who will serve as the foundation of God’s messianic people, envisioned as a living temple.

From this we recall that the Lord’s temple in Israel was the architectural sign of God’s covenant with David constructed by the original son of David, King Solomon. Now Jesus is cast in this Solomonic role as the builder of the Church. And not only this, but also Jesus entrusts Peter with “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (16:19), an allusion to “the key of the house of David” that the Davidic ruler of Israel would entrust to his chief steward (Isaiah 22:22). Thus the kingdom of heaven not only finds its historical and visible manifestation in the Church but it also implies that the Church is in some respects modeled on the royal government of David and Solomon. The difference is that the Church’s authority is spiritual rather than political; its function is not to manage the earthly affairs of societies and nations, but to transform the temporal order of this world and infuse it with the blessings of heaven.

Ultimately the kingdom of heaven is present in the Church “in mystery.” [Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 3.] The pilgrim Church on earth is its historical manifestation, but not its final realizafion. The coming of the kingdom in its fullness remains the joyful hope of the Church, for which she prays daily to the Father (6:10: “your kingdom come”). Only when the Son of Man returns will his kingdoms unseen glory be revealed to all (25:31-46).

3.  Discipleship in Matthew. Included in Matthew’s vision of the kingdom are the principles, priorities, and imperatives that define the Christian way of life. Throughout the Gospel the discourses of Jesus urge listeners to embrace the demands of discipleship.

The initial summons of the kingdom is a call to repentance (3:2; 4:17). This is a turn from sinful and selfish ways to Jesus, who has come to save us from our sins (1:21; 26:28). From this starting point, the teaching of the Gospel stretches across a broad canvas of moral and spiritual matters. In terms of priorities, disciples are challenged to put God and his kingdom first in their lives (6:25-33) and to pursue a righteousness that surpasses the letter of the Mosaic Law (5:17-42). The goal of Christian discipleship is nothing less than unconditional love, a form of perfection that imitates God’s love for saints and sinners alike (5:43-48). Commitment to these standards will make believers a light shining in the world and a witness to God’s power to change lives for the better (5:13-16).

Of the many specific injunctions in Matthew, we are told that following Jesus means imitating his humility (11:29) and shouldering the cross of suffering as he did (10:38; 16:24). Disciples should be dedicated to integrity of speech (12:36-37), to exercising a generous mercy toward others (18:21-22), and to performing works of service (25:35-36). Spiritual commitments also include fasting (6:16-18), almsgiving (6:2-4), and communion with the Father in prayer (6:5-13; 7:7-11). All this amounts to building a relationship with Jesus, which is the one true necessity (7:22). The disciple who is known by the Lord is the one who does the will of the Father (7:21) and comes to possess the kingdom in heaven (25:34).

The Relevance of Matthew Today
Matthew’s Gospel is as potent today as when it first appeared in the cradle of the ancient Church. Despite the centuries that have passed, its power to change lives and to bring men and women into a living relationship with Jesus has not lessened in the least. For the early Christians, it was the precious first witness to the story of Jesus from the pen of an eyewitness apostle. For us too the Gospel of Matthew is the flagship of the fourfold Gospel canon and the first testimony to Christ that appears in the New Testament. Then as now, it comes to us as the word of salvation.

Like all the Gospels, Matthew is designed for proclamation and instruction. It presents us with Jesus the Teacher and allows us to hear his voice in all of its thunderous wonder. Sometimes we are privileged to eavesdrop while he schools his disciples privately and challenges them with the demands of Christian faith and life. Other times we observe the Lord reaching out to sinners and the “un-churched” of his day with a call to repentance. Given this dual focus in Matthew, the First Gospel is uniquely suited to catechetical instruction and evangelical proclamation.

Catechesis has traditionally made extensive use of Matthew, earning it a reputation for being “the catechist’s Gospel” [John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae 11] One thinks of the Sermon on the Mount, where so many essentials of Christian living are brought together into an inspiring vision of the new life made possible by Christ (chaps. 5-7). So too the ecclesial discourse stresses that humility and mercy are the hallmarks of authentic Christian leadership and service to others (18:1-35). One also finds teachings on prayer (6:5-15), celibacy (19:12), marriage (19:1-9), children (19:13-15), and keeping the commandments (19:16-19). At its core, Christian formation involves modeling our lives on Jesus, who says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (11:29). Now as always, the way of the disciple is the way of imitating the Master.

Of the many catechetical gems in Matthew, one that is often underappreciated is its instruction in reading the Old Testament. Too many of us read the New Testament in isolation from the Old. As a result, we have little sense of how God’s plan of salvation developed to reach the point of fulfillment in Christ. Matthew teaches us to read and ponder the whole Bible with reference to Jesus, for he recognized that our understanding of God and his ways are deeply enriched by discovering the unity of the Father’s plan as it unfolds in the pages of Scripture.

Evangelization is also at the heart of Matthew’s Gospel. Not only does Jesus set the example by his actions, but this is also the subject of his final words in the book: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit” (28:19). This missionary mandate still has the force of marching orders for the Church today. At one level, Jesus calls us to engage in personal evangelization, which means sharing the good news with friends and family members, coworkers and business contacts, neighbors and new acquaintances. However, it is also a summons to transform entire nations by inculturating the gospel and shining the light of Christian truth into every corridor of human society and its institutions. This is what it means for disciples to be “the salt of the earth” (5:13) and “the light of the world” (5:14).

Finally, a word should be said about Matthew, evangelization, and the Jewish people. It is a regrettable fact of history that some Christians have invoked the authority of the First Gospel to accuse the Jews of perpetual bloodguilt for the murder of Jesus Christ (on the basis of 27:25). In reality, this is anti-Semitic slander and a serious misreading of the Gospel.

It is true that Matthew portrays Jesus engaged in heated polemic with the Jewish authorities of his day (e.g., 23:1-39) But this is precisely what the prophets had done when denouncing the transgressions of Israel and summoning the people to repentance and faith in the Old Testament. The Church therefore insists that responsibility for Jesus’ death must not be laid on the Jewish race or religion, as though it followed from Scripture that the Jews are now a rejected or accursed people. [See Vatican II's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, 4). Other statements of the Church pertinent to this issue include the Catechism 597-98, the Pontifical Biblical Commission document, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (2002), and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document, God's Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching (1988).] On the contrary, the New Testament considers them “beloved” by God to this day (Romans 11:28).

In point of fact, Matthew’s Gospel should lead us to appreciate the spiritual heritage that Jews and Christians share in common. Clearly a profound reverence for the Torah shines through the pages of the First Gospel (5:17-18). Its moral commandments are as binding on the followers of Jesus as on their fellow Jews (19:16-19); so too are its demands that we love God and neighbor with our whole heart (22:34-40). Most of all, to affirm the messiahship of Jesus is to affirm the messianic hope that was nourished for centuries among the chosen people. In this respect, the faith of Israel has become the faith of the Church now centered on the Jewish man from Nazareth.


Outline of Matthew

August 22, 2012

Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri provide this outline for the overall structure of Matthew’s Gospel. It struck me it would make for a good reading plan, so I attached it to the previous post. I’ve linked some memorable passages. Keep scrolling past this if you are coming to a link for  payingattentiontothesky. Today’s post follows!!


I.   Prologue: Birth and Infancy of the Messiah

A.  Genealogy and Birth of Jesus (1:1-25)

B.   Visit of the Magi (2:1-12)

C.   Flight to Egypt, Return to Nazareth (2:13-23)

II.   Narrative: Preparations for Ministry in Galilee

A.  John and the Baptism of Jesus (3:1-17)

B.  Temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)

C.  Inauguration of the Galilean Ministry (4:12-25)

III.   First Discourse: The Sermon on the Mount

A.   Beatitudes (5:1-12)

B.   Vocation of Disciples (5:13-16)

C.   Fulfillment of the Law (5:17-46)

D.   Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting (6:1-18)

E.   Wealth and Divine Providence (6:19-34)

F.   Judgment, Supplication, and Golden Rule (7:1-12)

G.   Narrow Way, False Prophets, and True Disciples (7:13-23)

H.   Building on the Word of Jesus (7:24-29)

IV.   Narrative: Nine Miracle Stories

A.  Three Healings (8:1-15)

B.  Jesus the Servant and Would-be Followers (8:16-22)

C.  Calming of the Storm (8:23-27)

D.  Healing of Demonized Men and a Paralyzed Man (8:28-9:8)

E.  Call of Matthew and Question of Fasting (9:9-17)

F.  Healing a Woman and an Official’s Daughter (9:18-26)

G.  Healing the Two Blind Men and a Mute Demoniac (9:27-34)

H.  Compassion of Jesus and Choosing the Twelve (9:35-10:4)

V.   Second Discourse: The Missionary Sermon

A.   Instructions for the Twelve (10:5-15)

B.   Persecution and Witness (10:16-33)

C.   Divisions and Discipleship (10:34-39)

D.   Rewards for Receiving Disciples (10:40-42)

VI.   Narrative: Diverse Responses to Jesus

A.  Inquiry and Witness of John (11:1-19)

B.   Woes on Unrepentant Towns (11:20-24)

C.   Prayer and Yoke of Jesus (11:25-30)

D.   Sabbath Controversies (12:1-14)

E.   Jesus the Servant Messiah (12:15-21)

F.   Beelzebul Controversy and Dangerous Speech (12:22-37)

G.   One Greater Than Jonah and Solomon (12:38-42)

H.   Parable of the Unclean Spirits (12:43-45)

I.    Spiritual Family of Jesus (12:46-50)

VII.  Third Discourse: The Parables of the Kingdom

A.  Parable of the Sower (13:1-9)

B.   Mysteries of the Kingdom (13:10-17)

C.   Parable of the Sower Explained (13:18-23)

D.   Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat (13:24-30)

E.   Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast (13:31-33)

F.   Fulfilling the Scriptures with Parables (13:34-35)

G.   Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat Explained (13:36-43)

H.   Parables of the Buried Treasure, Costly Pearl, and Dragnet (13:44-50)

I.    Treasures Old and New (13:51-53)

VIII.  Narrative: More Diverse Responses to Jesus

A.   Rejection in Nazareth (13:54-58)

B.    Death of John the Baptist (14:1-12)

C.    Feeding the Five Thousand (14:13-21)

D.    Peter, Walking on Water, and Healings (14:22-36)

E.    Tradition of the Elders (15:1-20)

F.    Canaanite Woman and Other Healings (15:21-31)

G.    Feeding the Four Thousand (15:32-39)

H.    Confrontation with Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-12)

I.     Peter’s Confession, First Passion Prediction, Cost of Disciple­ship (16:13-28)

J.     Transfiguration and John as Elijah (17:1-13)

K.    Exorcism and Second Passion Prediction (17:14-23)

L.    Temple Tax (17:24-27)

 IX.  Fourth Discourse: The Ecclesial Sermon on Life in the Community

A.   Greatness in the Kingdom (18:1-5)

B.    Temptations to Sin (18:6-9)

C.    Parable of Lost Sheep (18:10-14)

D.    Discipline in the Church (18:15-20)

E.    Parable of Unmerciful Servant (18:21-35)

X.  Narrative: Journey to Jerusalem and Controversy in the Temple

A.   Marriage, Divorce, Celibacy, and Children (19:1-15)

B.    Rich Young Man and Eternal Life (19:16-30)

C.    Parable of Vineyard Workers (20:1-16)

D.    Third Passion Prediction, James and John, and Two Blind Men (20:17-34)

E.    Triumphal Entry and Temple Cleansing (21:1-17)

F.    Fig Tree Cursed and Authority Questioned (21:18-27)

G.    Parables of Two Sons, Tenants, and Wedding Feast (21:28-22:14)

H.    Taxes, Resurrection, Torah, and David’s Son (22:15-46)

I.     Woes against Scribes and Pharisees (23:1-36)

J.     Lament over Jerusalem (23:37-39)

XI.   Fifth Discourse: The Eschatological Sermon

A.   Prophecy of Temple’s Demise (24:1-2)

B.    Birth Pangs and Great Tribulation (24:3-28)

C.    Coming of the Son of Man (24:29-35)

D.    Day and Hour Unknown (24:36-44)

E.    Parables of Unfaithful Servant, Ten Virgins, and Talents (24:45-25:30)

F.    Judgment of All Nations (25:31-46)

XII.   Epilogue: The Passion and Resurrection of the Messiah

A.   Plot in Jerusalem and Anointing at Bethany (26:1-13)

B.    Treachery of Judas (26:14-25)

C.    Last Supper and Denial Foretold (26:26-35)

D.    Agony and Arrest in Gethsemane (26:36-56)

E.    Trial before Sanhedrin (26:57-68)

F.    Peter’s Denial and Judas’ Suicide (26:69-27:10)

G.    Trial before Pilate (27:11-26)

H.    Mockery and Crucifixion of Jesus (27:27-44)

I.     Death and Burial of Jesus (27:45-66)

J.     Resurrection of Jesus (28:1-15)

K.    Great Commission (28:16-20)



The Author, Audience and Date of Matthew — Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

August 22, 2012

Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) is a painting from the Italian master Caravaggio (1571-1610), completed for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. It was destroyed in 1945 and is now known only from black-and-white photographs and enhanced color reproductions.

The Gospel of Matthew was the most widely diffused Gospel in early Christianity. More often than not, from the second century onward, it was Matthew’s account of Jesus that found its way into homilies, pastoral letters, theological writings, and catechetical instructions. Even after the fourfold Gospel canon had begun to crystallize, and orthodox leaders throughout the ecclesiastical world had come to recognize the authority of Mark, Luke, and John, a primacy of honor was still accorded to Matthew. This is not to say that Matthew’s Gospel stands on a higher footing than its canonical counterparts, or that its portrait of Jesus is more trustworthy and true. It is simply a fact of history that when the early Church wished to contemplate the life of Christ, or to listen again to his voice, it usually turned first to Matthew.

The reasons for this are not difficult to imagine:

  1. Matthew, after all, was the first Gospel to be published bearing the name of one of the twelve apostles.
  2. Second, the Gospel is both well written and well organized — two great advantages for assisting memorization in a predominantly oral culture such as prevailed in the early Christian centuries.
  3. Third, the Gospel offers a beautifully balanced picture of Jesus, alternating between his mighty deeds and his memorable discourses. I’ve attached an outline of Matthew that feature some reading links but it also functions as a reading plan, if you wish to match your readings to the overall structure of the gospel.
  4. Fourth, the Gospel of Matthew has important things to say about the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New, providing the earliest Christians instruction on what it meant to live as the messianic people of God and in what ways this differs from living according to the legal and liturgical traditions of Israel.
  5. Finally, the First Gospel insists that the good news is destined for proclamation, not only among the Jewish people but also among the Gentiles. Whatever else can be said about the reasons for ‘its popularity, it is clear that Matthew’s Gospel was well suited to the needs of Christian formation and supplied the ancient Church with a charter for its life and mission in the world.

A measure of insight into Matthew’s Gospel may be gained by examining its historical context, its literary composition, and its theological and spiritual content. Analysis of the circumstances that gave birth and shape to the Gospel will help us to appreciate Matthew’s unique perspective on the Messiah and his message.

The Author of Matthew
Early Christian testimony is virtually unanimous in identifying the apostle Matthew as the author of the First Gospel. So far as the evidence available to us indicates, no rival tradition ever circulated that linked the work with the name of any other ancient figure. Everyone from St. Irenaeus in the second century to Origen and Tertullian in the third century to St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century to St. Augustine at the beginning of the fifth century held that the Gospel according to Matthew was a gospel written by Matthew.

The same verdict is rendered by the earliest extant Greek manuscripts that preserve a title page for Gospel, all of which bear some variation of the heading Kata Maththaion, “According to Matthew.” On the strength of this tradition, the apostolic and Matthean authorship of the First Gospel went on to become the uncontested position of theological scholarship for most of Christian history.

Today, however, the apostolic authorship of Matthew’s Gospel is maintained by only a minority of biblical scholars. The reasons for this change of position are varied and complex. Suffice it to say that a shift took place in nineteenth-century scholarship that subordinated the Gospel of Matthew to the long-neglected Gospel of Mark. Since then, a majority of Gospel specialists have come to hold that the author of Matthew obtained substantial information about Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. This new hypothesis — that Mark was written before Matthew and was utilized as a source for Matthew — has had a direct impact on the question of authorship.

If the writer of Matthew made extensive use of Mark, a Gospel that everyone acknowledges was written by a non apostle, it would seem to follow that the author of Matthew could not have been an apostle either. After all, why would a companion of Jesus, an eyewitness to the Messiah at close range, rely on the work of someone else, much less on an account written by a non-eyewitness such as Mark? Such is the reasoning of many scholars today.

From here the discussion of authorship typically proceeds to an analysis of the internal data of the text. The aim of this undertaking is to establish a profile of the evangelist based on what he has written. When this detective work is done, most scholars are convinced that the Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jewish Christian. Several considerations support this verdict:

(1)  The author of Matthew seems to have known Hebrew. Not only does he write Greek in a noticeable Semitic style, but several of his quotations from the Old Testament are translated directly from the Hebrew original rather than cited from the existing Greek translation, called the Septuagint. Knowledge of Hebrew in addition to Greek was all but unknown in the first century outside the Jewish community.

(2)  The author displays a marked interest in the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah who accomplished all that was foreseen and foretold in the Old Testament. So saturated was his mind in the biblical tradition that research has turned up nearly two hundred citations, allusions, and verbal parallels to the Jewish Scriptures embedded in the text of the First Gospel! This level of specialized knowledge of Judaism’s sacred texts was extraordinarily rare among the Gentiles of the ancient world.

(3)  The author was familiar with a variety of religious customs and institutions that would hardly constitute common knowledge beyond the sphere of Judaism. On the basis of these observations, the conclusion appears solid that the Gospel of Matthew comes from the hand of a Jewish Christian author, one whose cultural and religious background gave him a firsthand knowledge of the language, writings, and traditions of Israel.

In the final analysis, the view of Christian tradition (the author was Matthew) and the view of critical scholarship (the author was a Jewish Christian) need not be pitted against each other. It is notable that Matthew was a Jewish disciple of Jesus (9:9; 10:3). And being a tax official in Galilee, he would have been conversant in Greek as well as the Semitic tongues of Palestine.

Consequently, it is no great leap to suggest that the person the Gospels call Matthew fits rather well the profile of the evangelist ascertained by modern scholars. [Several episodes unique to the First Gospel feature references to currency, debts, investments, and payments (17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 25:14-30; 26:25; 27:3-10; 28:11-15). This could be viewed as favoring Matthew's authorship inasmuch as teachings involving money might be expected to catch the attention of a one-time tax officer. Also, it seems unlikely that a gospel intended for Jewish Christians would ever be ascribed to a tax collector unless the claim had some basis in historical tradition, for the Jews generally despised tax collectors as greedy, unclean, and unpatriotic.]

This is not to ignore that little is known about the apostle Matthew, or that the profile just examined is too general and nonspecific to make him the obvious choice. But as we read the evidence, the apostle Matthew is as suitable as any potential candidate for the authorship of the Gospel. [Even the hypothesis that Matthew used Mark does not rule out the apostolic authorship of Matthew. One could argue that the apostle Matthew utilized the Gospel of Mark with the awareness that Mark, according to tradition, had written down the preaching of Peter. See Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, WBC 33A (Dallas: Word, 1993), LXXVI.]

The Audience of Matthew
Christian scholarship has historically maintained that Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Palestinian Christian audience
. [E.g., Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.6; Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3.] The Jewish outlook of the book seemed to point in this direction, as did an ancient tradition that Matthew had originally written his Gospel in a Semitic language, either Hebrew or Aramaic. [This tradition, which is widely attested in early Christian writings, is too complex to be treated adequately within the limited scope of our introduction.] Since few Gentiles would have been interested in a work dominated by Jewish concerns, and few communities outside the land of Israel could have read it in a Semitic tongue, every indication was that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for the early believers in Palestine.

Biblical scholarship today places Matthew’s original readers in the eastern Mediterranean. Some have attempted to locate his target audience in Alexandria, Egypt; others have suggested the Transjordan region directly east of Palestine; still others have opted for a Phoenician port on the coast of Syria, or even Caesarea on the coast of Palestine. The majority of modern scholars, however, think that the Gospel of Matthew was written to a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians in or near the Syrian city of Antioch.

Several factors form the basis of this judgment.

(1)   Antioch is known to have had a sizeable Jewish population living alongside native Gentiles. This is precisely the demographic situation presupposed in the Gospel, which is noted both for its Jewish emphases and for its open acceptance of Gentiles (24:14; 26:13; 28:19-20). Not only that, but the book of Acts tells us that a group of Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem to Antioch and there initiated a systematic outreach to Gentiles (Acts 11:19-26).

(2)  Matthew’s Gospel displays a marked interest in the person and authority of Simon Peter (10:2; 14:22-33; 16:13-20; 17:24-27). This is significant insofar as Peter not only ministered in Antioch (Gal 2:11-17) but, according to an ancient tradition, served as bishop in the city before making his way to Rome. [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.36.2; Jerome, On Illustrious Men 1]

(3)   St. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in the early second century, is one of the first post-apostolic authors to allude to the Gospel of Matthew in his writings. [See, e.g., Epistle to the Ephesians 19.2 (= Matt 2:2); Epistle to the Smyrneans 1.1 (= Matthew 3:15); and Epistle to Polycarp 2.2 (= Matthew 10:16).] Allusions to passages in Matthew are also found in another early document, called the Didache, which many scholars trace to the Syrian city of Antioch.[ See, e.g., Didache 3.7 (= Matthew 5:5); 7.1 (= Matthew 28:19); 8.2 (= Matthew 6:5, 9-13); and 9.5 (= Matthew 7:6).] 

(4)   It is curious that when the synoptic Gospels narrate Jesus’ inaugural mission in Galilee, only Matthew tells us that his fame spread throughout “all of Syria” (Matthew 4:24).

Though specific locations remain uncertain, it is probable that Matthew’s original audience lived somewhere in the Syria-Palestine region. Ancient tradition points in this direction, as do the efforts of modern scholarship. It is there that we find the unique mix of Jewish and Gentile concerns addressed by the First Gospel.

The Date of Matthew
Scholars widely agree that the Gospel of Matthew was written in the latter half of the first century AD.
However, when it comes to narrowing the range of possible dates, opinions divide into a majority camps [E.g., Raymond E. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 216-17; William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 1, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 127-38; Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Continental Commentary, trans. Wilhelm Linss (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 92-93.] that dates the Gospel in the 80s or 90s and a minority camp [E.g., Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 599-609; R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1989), 82-91; John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 14-17.] that dates its composition in the 50s or 60s.

The many factors underlying this difference of opinion can only be summarized here. The question more or less hinges on the interpretation of three critical issues: the synoptic problem, [This is the name scholars give to the relationship that exists among the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Research devoted to the synoptic problem strives to determine the chronological order in which these Gospels were written and identify which Gospel writer(s) most likely relied on the work of his (or their) predecessor(s).] the fall of Jerusalem, and the Church’s relationship with Judaism in the first century.

(1)  The most widely accepted view of the synoptic problem holds that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and that Matthew and Luke made independent use, of Mark when composing their accounts. The issue, then, concerns the date of Matthew relative to Mark. If Mark was written shortly before or after AD 70, as many scholars hold, then Matthew probably appeared in the late first century. The reason is that sufficient time must be allowed for the Gospel of Mark to have circulated and become an authoritative document in the Christian community.

Other scholars, however, think it probable that Mark was written much earlier, perhaps in the 50s. If this chronology is accepted then Matthew could have been written toward the middle of the first century. Finally, for those scholars who adopt a different solution to the synoptic problem, one that sees Matthew as the first written Gospel, the date of Mark is of no consequence except to indicate that Matthew must have appeared sometime in the middle of the first century rather than near its end.

(2) All agree that Matthew’s Gospel makes reference to the conquest of Jerusalem (22:7) and the demolition of its temple (24:1-28). Historically, these events took place in AD 70 when the Romans marched on the Jewish capital and leveled the sanctuary. The question is whether these Gospel references, which appear in sayings attributed to Jesus, are prophecies in the strict sense or whether they betray knowledge of the events as already accomplished. Scholars who date Matthew in the post-70 period often allege that the evangelist, knowing some of the details of Jerusalem’s downfall, adjusted the words of Jesus to conform to contemporary reports of the event. Scholars who date the Gospel in the pre-70 period make the opposite claim, namely, that Jesus’ prophecies show no signs of updating based on eyewitness accounts of the city’s demise.

(3)  Scholars of all stripes acknowledge that Matthew’s Gospel displays a painful tension between Jesus and the Judaism of his day. They also tend to agree that Matthew highlights this theme because he and his fellow Christians found themselves in a similar situation — at odds with the Jewish community and targets of persecution by Jewish authorities. The agreement ends, however, when it comes to defining more specifically the historical circumstances involved.

Advocates of a date in the 80s or 90s generally hold that Matthew’s Gospel shows evidence of the rupture between church and synagogue in the late first century. It is said, for example, that the evangelist’s recurrent use of the expression “their synagogues” is a thinly veiled reference to Jewish synagogues that had already excluded Jewish Christians (4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54). This is significant because the ties between Judaism and Christianity were not formally severed until about AD 85. [Scholars often trace the official split between Christianity and Judaism to an ancient synagogue prayer that utters a curse against "heretics" (a group that probably included Christians but was not restricted to them). Talmudic tradition links this with a rabbinic ruling made in the Palestinian town of Yavneh (also called Jamnia) in the 80s of the first century.]

Furthermore, Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus denouncing the Pharisees is cited as evidence of a late date (12:24-32; 16:11-12; 23:1-36), because in the aftermath of AD 70 it was the Pharisees who spearheaded the reorganization of Judaism and whose doctrines went on to become the basic tenets of rabbinic theology.

Advocates of a date in the 50s or 60s point out that Christians faced Jewish persecution from the beginning, some of which was more severe than mere exclusion from the synagogue (see Acts 7:57-58; 8:3; 26:9-11). Of greater import, supporters claim, are those features of the Gospel that had direct pastoral relevance only in the period before AD 70. This includes, for example, its warnings and criticisms directed against the Sadducees (3:7; 16:1, 6, 11-12; 22:23, 34). Early on the Sadducees were sworn opponents of the budding Christian movement (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18; 23:6); however, they were no longer a factor to be reckoned with in the post-70 period, since the sect was all but exterminated with the devastation of Jerusalem.

Likewise, one can understand why Matthew, if he was writing before AD 70, would include Jesus’ teaching on the temple tax as a lesson on fostering good relations with the Jewish community (17:24-27). But after AD 70, when the Romans diverted this tax to the temple of Jupiter in Italy, Matthew’s presentation of the episode runs the risk of seeming to promote idolatry in the name of Jesus. Proponents of a mid-century date for the Gospel thus contend that Matthew included these traditions in his Gospel because they were live issues faced by his readers at the time of writing.

On the question of dating the Gospel, our view is that placing the Gospel of Matthew in the middle of the first century yields the best sense of the text in relation to its original readers. The commentary will thus proceed from this standpoint, though not to the neglect of Matthew’s message for us today.


Discipleship in Matthew – Jack Dean Kingsbury

January 6, 2012

Stained glass window of the Confession of Peter in Luke 9:20: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered: "The Christ of God,” Detail from stained glass in the church of St Mary and St Lambert in Stonham Aspal in Suffolk England.

I was collecting some biographical information on Jack Dean Kingsbury, who has been the author of this week’s posts on The Gospel of Matthew when I came across the fact that he had passed away in 2011. I first came to know Professor Kingsbury in a New Testament seminary course that featured his superior analysis of NT theology and Christology. Reciting the Benedictus, Venite a vedere this morning, I was struck by the following (said of John the Baptist) and how much it seemed to apply to a scholar like Jack Dean Kingsbury whose life was spent in the same ministry of giving light and guiding those of us in the darkness, preparing our hearts and illuminating the Gospels. God Bless you, Professor Kingsbury, your wisdom remains with us.

As for you, little child,
you shall be called a prophet of the Most High.
You shall go ahead of the Lord,
to prepare His ways before Him,
to make known to His people their salvation,
through forgiveness of all their sins.
The loving-kindness of the heart of our God,
who visits us like the dawn from on High.

He will give light to those in darkness
and those who live in the shadow of death,
and guide us into the way of peace.


Matthew affirms, as we mentioned above, that God is the Father of Jesus in a way that is not predicated of other human beings (11:27). Conversely, he insists that Jesus is the Son of God in a manner that is true of no one else (1:23; 3:17; 11:27).

When Jesus authoritatively summons persons to follow him and they obey his call (4:18-22; 9:9), Matthew pictures them as entering the sphere where God’s end-time rule already impinges upon the present order of things (5:3-11; 11:3-5; 12:28). Through Jesus, the Messiah Son of God, these persons enter into a relationship of sonship with God. So it is that Jesus designates them as “Sons of God” (5:9, 45; 13:38) and speaks to them of God as “your Father” (cf., e.g., 5:16, 45) .

Although Jesus and his disciples are active in the midst of Israel, Matthew marks them off more sharply as a separate group than either Mark or Luke. Jesus is “with them” and they are “with him,” and the rubric obtains: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (12:30) . Consequently, Jesus and his disciples form a “family” that stands apart from the rest of Israel. In relation to himself, Jesus declares that his disciples are his true relatives (12:49) and his “brothers” (28:10). In relation to one another, he asserts that they, too, are “all brothers” (23:8). In one passage, Matthew has Jesus stress at once both his uniqueness in comparison with his disciples and his “relatedness” to them: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (12:50).

Accordingly, Jesus and the disciples comprise, in Matthew’s own terms, a brotherhood of the sons of God and of the disciples of Jesus. The very word “disciples” (mathetai) also characterizes Jesus’ followers as “learners.” Jesus is their “one teacher” and “Lord” (10:24; 23:8, 10), and they are his “slaves” who “learn from him” (10:24; 11:29; 13:36, 51-52). What he teaches them are the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (13:11, 51). At times they stand in need of explanation from Jesus (13:36; 15:15) or they can be persons of “little faith” (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). But basically, they do in fact comprehend his word (13:11, 23, 51-52; 15:15-16; 16:12; 26:2) .

They are not fettered with the gross ignorance that afflicts the disciples in Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, Matthew has so richly endowed the disciples of his story with insight that they have simply become representative of the Christians of his own church. If  Matthew has made the figure of Jesus “transparent” to his own age, he has done the same with the disciples.

We noted that in calling disciples to follow him, Jesus mediates to them the gracious, saving presence of God and his eschatological rule (5:3-11). Jesus’ disciples, then, are the “salt of the earth (5:13) and the “light of the world” (5:14). As such, they respond to their call and the teaching Jesus imparts to them by leading lives that reflect the “greater righteousness” (5:20). What this means Jesus explains in the pivotal passage 5:48: “You, therefore, shall be perfect (teleioi), as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As this verse suggests, the disciples practice the greater righteousness when they are absolutely single-hearted, or undivided (whole, complete), in their doing of the will of God.

The ministry of the pre-Easter disciples in Matthew’s Gospel is exclusively to Israel (10:6). Jesus summons the twelve and coin-missions them to preach the nearness of the kingdom and to heal (10:1-2, 5-8). In Matthew’s scheme, this ministry of the earthly disciples is, in effect, an extension of Jesus’ own earthly ministry to Israel (9:35-38).

In contradistinction to both Mark and Luke, it is within Jesus’ earthly ministry that Matthew locates the founding of the “church” (16:18; 18:17).’1 The setting is his expanded version of the Marcan pericope on Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (cf. 16:13-20 with Mark 8:27-30). Here Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16). He does so in his capacity as the first of the disciples to be called (4:18; 10:2) and therefore as their spokesman (16:15-16). As the first-called of the disciples, Peter thus becomes the foundation on which Jesus promises that he will build his church (16:18). As such, he will receive from Jesus the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” which constitute the power to decide matters that pertain to church doctrine and to church discipline (16: 19). This power, however, Peter will share with the rest of the disciples (18:18) .

One reason Matthew portrays Jesus as founding the church has to do with his concern to assert the unbroken continuity and legitimacy of the tradition of doctrine and practice observed by his own community. Matthew understands the earthly Son of God himself to be the source of this tradition (cf. 18:15-20; 28:20). The Son of God has entrusted it to his disciples, and they, in turn, have faithfully administered it and handed it on to the post-Easter church. From the earthly Son who on the pages of Matthew’s Gospel knows and does the Father’s will, the church of Matthew learns what it is to know and do the Father’s will.

Although the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel comprehend the words of Jesus and know him to be the Son of God, they, like their Marcan counterparts, are unable at the last to make good on their pledge to hold to him no matter what might befall them (26:35). The upshot is that Judas betrays him (26:14-16, 47-50), the other disciples leave him and flee (26:56), and Peter denies him (26:58, 69-75). Still, upon his resurrection the Son of God sends word to the disciples through the women that they are to go to Galilee, where they will see him (28:10). In this way, he reconciles them to himself, and commissions them to their post-Easter ministry (28:16-20).


The Ministries of Jesus In Matthew by Jack Dean Kingsbury

January 5, 2012

Christ Preaching, REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn, C. 1643-49

Jesus’ Ministry of Preaching
Jesus’ initial act as he undertakes his public ministry in Matthew’s story is to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). In the three passages that summarize Jesus’ activity in Israel, Matthew characterizes his message as “the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23; 9:35;[11:1]).

The term “gospel” in this expression denotes “good news.” The term “kingdom” is short for the “kingdom of heaven.” Hence, the message Jesus preaches in Israel is the “good news about the kingdom of heaven.”

The “kingdom of heaven” is an equivalent term for the “kingdom of God.” Both refer to the eschatological, or end-time, rule of God. For Matthew as for Mark, Jesus Messiah, the Son of God, is the agent of God’s end-time rule (4:17; 11:25-27). Therefore in him (1:23) , in his words and deeds (11:2-6) , the rule of God has drawn so near (4:17) that it impinges upon the present and can be described by Matthew as a present reality (11:12; 12:28). This is the import of a saying of Jesus such as this: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:28).

As a present reality, however, the kingdom is also a hidden reality. In fact, only the followers of Jesus can perceive its presence in him. This is the truth to which the Matthaean Jesus alludes when he declares to his disciples: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (13:16).

In Matthew’s thought as in Mark’s, the kingdom is not only a present, hidden reality, it is also a future reality. Although it is so near that people confront it even now in Jesus Son of God, it has not yet been consummated. Indeed, Matthew depicts in some detail the future appearance of the kingdom: the Son of man will come suddenly, all the nations will be gathered before him, he will separate them into two groups, and he will speak judgment on them, thus determining who will “inherit the kingdom” and who will “go away into eternal punishment” (25:31-46; 13:40-43; 24:29-31).

Like Mark, Matthew, too, posits continuity between the present, hidden beginnings of the kingdom in the person and ministry of Jesus Son of God and the future manifestation of the kingdom in splendor at the coning of Jesus Son of man. The former will issue ineluctably in the latter (13:31-32, 33).

On the other hand. Matthew possesses a more highly developed sense of the delay of the parousia of the Son of man than does Mark. To be sure, Mark affirms that “the gospel must first be preached to all nations” before the end will come (13:10; cf. 13:34) . But in the parable of the talents, for example, Matthew speaks of the “lord of those slaves” as not returning until “after a long time” has passed (25:19). What this suggests is that the question of Christian existence within the world is a more insistent problem for Matthew.

In the light of Matthew’s concept of the kingdom of heaven, how, then, is the expression “the gospel of the kingdom” to be defined? It is the good news that God, in the person of his Son Jesus and in the word his followers preach about him (4:23; 24:14; 26:13), has drawn near to people (first Israel and then the Gentiles) with his eschatological rule to save.

As Jesus preaches the gospel of the kingdom in Israel, he is at the same time calling people to repentance (4:17). He is, in effect, impelling them to turn away from evil and to turn toward God, i.e., to enter into the sphere of God’s gracious rule by becoming his disciples (cf. 19:21). The alternative is to refuse repentance and hence to live in the sphere of Satan’s rule (12:26; 13:38-39) . The decision each person makes is of ultimate consequence, for it will be ratified to salvation or damnation at the latter day (11:20-24; 13:36-43) .

Jesus’ Ministry of Teaching
Since Matthew presents Jesus in his Gospel as the Son of God who knows and does his Father’s will (3:13-4:11), it is not surprising that “teaching” should be the principal activity in which Jesus engages during his public ministry to Israel. This emphasis on teaching comes to the fore in three ways in particular.

    1. First, Matthew cites “teaching” ahead of “preaching” and “healing” in the three summary passages that describe what Jesus is about in his public ministry (4:23; 9:35; 11:1).
    2. Second, although Matthew writes that John the Baptist and the disciples “preach” (3:1; 10:7), “teaching” remains the special prerogative of Jesus (28:20). And
    3. Third, Matthew has Jesus state unequivocally that he, the Messiah, is the “one teacher” of the disciples (23:8, 10) .

In view of the high esteem in which Matthew holds Jesus’ activity of teaching, it is ostensibly an anomaly that only a stranger, opponents, and Judas, but never the (true) disciples, address Jesus as “teacher.” We recall that in Mark’s Gospel the disciples do address Jesus as “teacher.” But “teacher” is merely a term of human respect. For this reason, Matthew puts it on the lips of “outsiders” but replaces it with “Lord” when it comes to the disciples or to persons who approach Jesus in faith. “Lord” attributes to Jesus divine authority; it is appropriate to Matthew’s heightened Christology, for as the Messiah Son of God, it is with divine authority that he teaches.

Unquestionably, Mark presents Jesus, in his capacity as teacher, as the authoritative interpreter of the will of God. Still, he does not go out of his way to pit Jesus against Moses. By contrast, Matthew makes it a point to show that Jesus supersedes Moses.24 Two examples demonstrate this. In the first place, Jesus Son of God ascends the mountain, just as Moses once ascended Mount Sinai (Exod. 24), in order to expound the will of God to the Israelite crowds and his disciples (5:1-2). In the course of his teaching, he makes prominent use of the literary device of the antithesis: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old … but I say to you” (5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).

In so doing, Jesus reveals that it is, in principle, his word that has replaced the word of Moses. Indeed, this supersession of Moses’ word by Jesus’ word is also graphically illustrated at the end of the Gospel: on the mountain in Galilee, the risen Son of God enjoins his disciples to “observe all that I have commanded you” (28:20) . And in the second place, in debates between Jesus and the Israelite leaders over matters of law, Matthew diverges from Mark and accentuates the fact that Jesus speaks the mind not merely of Moses, but of God (cf. 15:4 with Mark 7:10; 19:4 with Mark 10:3; 22:31 with Mark 12:26).

Jesus Son of God, therefore, is in Matthew’s eyes the spokesman of God in a direct and immediate fashion (11:27; 28:18). He makes known the will of God in terms of its original intention (19:4, 8). With absolute sovereignty, he abrogates commands of Moses, such as those on divorce (5:31-32), oaths (5:33-37), and retribution (5:38-42) Or he radicalizes commands of Moses, such as those on murder (5:21-26), adultery (5:27-30), and love of one’s enemy (5:43-48) . Or he repudiates demands for a false observance of commands of Moses, such as is the case with his rulings on the sabbath law (12:1-8, 9-14) and the dietary laws (15:10-20a).

By the same token, the Matthaean Jesus can also come out against the regulations of the Pharisaic “tradition of the elders” (16: 11-12). He castigates, for instance, contemporary practice relative to the so-called vow of Corban (15:5-7), and he judges that “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a person” (15:20). Or he can turn around and endorse certain of these regulations (cf. 23:2-3), as when he says of the rule concerning the tithing of mint and dill and cummin that these things ought to be done (23:23).

On the basis of these examples, it is not difficult to discern the salvation-historical principle that informs Matthew’s treatment of the law. This principle is that it is in Jesus Son of God that the law, as the expression of the will of God, attains to its “fulfillment” (5:17; 11: 13); it is his word that gives the law its final shape and meaning (22:16; 7:28-29). But if this is true, then it also follows that his sayings are binding on the disciples for all time to come (28:20) and will never pass away (24:35).

Does all of this mean, then, that what the Matthaean Jesus entrusts to his disciples is an elaborate system of casuistry? Certainly not. For what precludes this is the recurring insistence that the deepest intention of the will of God is love (7:12; 9:13; 12:7; 19:19) : love toward God and love toward the neighbor (22:34-40). Thus, doing the will of God or keeping the injunctions of the law is in essence, Matthew maintains, always an exercise in love.

If Mark’s Jesus clashes with the leaders of Israel over his interpretation of the law, the dispute between Matthew’s Jesus and Israel’s leaders is even more acrimonious. There is no chapter in Mark’s Gospel, for example, to compare to that of Matthew 23. In Matthew’s perspective, the nub of the matter is that Israel’s leaders prove themselves to be “hypocrites,” i.e., “they preach, but they do not practice” (23:3, 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). What makes this accusation so onerous is the circumstance that hypocrisy is indicative of “divided allegiance,” of not being “perfect,” or wholehearted in the knowledge and service of God (5:48; Deut. 18:13). Hypocrisy is, in short, “lawlessness” (23:28), which Jesus Son of man will condemn at the final judgment (13:41-43).

Jesus’ Ministry of Healing
The third major facet of Jesus’ public ministry in Israel is that of “healing” (4:23; 9:35; 11:1, 5)•27 Up to a point, Matthew’s approach to the healing ministry of Jesus parallels that of Mark.

Like Mark, Matthew designates the miracles Jesus performs as “powerful acts” (cf. 11:20, 21, 23; 13:54; 14:2). This very term (dynameis) indicates that the divine authority which marks Jesus’ teaching and preaching is likewise present in his deeds (cf. 21:1415 to 21:23). As for “signs and wonders,” Matthew does not associate them with Jesus. On the contrary, only “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (12:39; 16:4), and it is the “false prophets” who do “great signs and wonders” (24:24).

Like Mark, Matthew, too, sees in the powerful acts of Jesus the cosmic struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (12:24-29) . Disease in people and upheaval in nature are symptoms of sin and of bondage to Satan. Hence, through the activity of healing and of exercising dominion over nature, Jesus Son of God is liberating people from the sphere of Satan’s rule and bringing them into the gracious sphere of the rule of God. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons,” Jesus proclaims, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you!” (12:28).

But there is one respect in which Matthew’s portrayal of the healing activity of Jesus differs noticeably from that of Mark. For his part, Mark predicates the verb “to heal” (therapeõ) to Jesus only four times. Matthew, on the other hand, does so some twelve or thirteen times.” Now the root meaning of therapeõ is “to serve,” and “to heal” is secondary to this. Moreover, at 8:16-17 Matthew employs a formula quotation in order to characterize the healing ministry of Jesus as the “fulfillment” of OT prophecy.

Significantly, the OT passage he cites is Isaiah 53:4, a verse of one of the Servant Songs: “He took our sicknesses and bore our diseases” (8:17) . Taken together, these factors explain why it is that Matthew exhibits such fondness for the verb therapeõ: he plays on the double meaning of “to serve” and “to heal” in order to present the “healing activity” of Jesus as the “ministry of service” which the Messiah Son of God carries out on behalf of his people Israel. Jesus, therefore, “heals” the sick among the crowds and so “serves” the people of Israel by bestowing on then the blessings of the end-time rule of God. Once again, therefore, Jesus sovereignly stands forth as the Son who knows and does his Father’s will.

Because Jesus Son of God proffers salvation to Israel through his ministry of healing, his powerful acts, no less than his preaching, summon Israel to repentance and to discipleship (11:20-24). Israel, however, refuses such repentance (11:20). This, in turn, evokes from Jesus the stark word of judgment: “But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (1 1 :24; cf. 11:22).


The Mission Of Jesus In Matthew – Jack Dean Kingsbury

January 4, 2012

The Tarlati polyptych is a Renaissance polyptych painted by the Italian artist Pietro Lorenzetti, with tempera and gold on panel, in 1320.

Preliminary to the public ministry of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism and the temptation of Jesus. Matthew follows Mark and also treats these events as preliminary to the public ministry of Jesus (cf. 3:1-4:16 to Mark 1:2-13). In fact, Matthew shapes them so that they play a critical role in preparing the reader to understand properly the further development of his story (4:17-16:20; 16:21-28:20).

The ministry of John paves the way for the ministry of Jesus in that John readies Israel for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah Son of God (3:3, 5-6, 11-12) . John is a prophet who is likewise “more than a prophet” because he is Elijah redivivus, the “forerunner” of the Messiah (11:9-10, 14). He appears in the desert of Judea and fulfills his mission by calling Israel to repentance (3:1-2, 5-6, 11). He announces the nearness of the kingdom even before Jesus does (3:1-2; 4:17), but the burden of his announcement is not of the nature of good news but of judgment (cf. 3:7-12 with 4:23).

People from all the surrounding country go out to John, and they respond to his call by submitting to his baptism and confessing their sins (3:5-6). The leaders of Israel also come out to him, but for them John has only harsh words: he denounces them as a “brood of vipers” (3:7), warns them of impending judgment (3:7), enjoins them to lead lives befitting repentance (3:8), discounts their belief that they can rely for salvation on their descendency from Abraham (3:9), and predicts the imminent coming of the “Mightier One” who will exercise judgment to salvation or damnation (3:11-12).

John’s prediction about the Mightier One comes true as Jesus suddenly arrives on the scene (3:13). Jesus compels John to baptize him (3:15), but not as one who must repent of sin. On the contrary, Jesus insists that he be baptized because he knows that this is God’s will and he will do it (3:15). After he has been baptized, God empowers Jesus with his Spirit for messianic ministry (3:16) and declares him to be his unique Son (3:17).

Accordingly, the perception the reader has of Matthew’s Jesus following the baptismal scene is that he is the Spirit-endowed Son of God who knows and does his Father’s will. Matthew employs the pericope on the temptation (4:1-11) to confirm this perception. The Spirit with which Jesus has been empowered leads him out into the desert to confront Satan in the place of his abode (4:1).

Satan’s objective is to put Jesus at cross-purposes with the will of God. He tempts Jesus:

(a) to rebel against God by miraculously stilling his hunger and thus forcing a change in his circumstances (4:2-4),

(b) to put God to the test to see whether he will stand by his promise to protect him from harm (4:5-7), and

(c) to give to him, Satan, the fealty that otherwise belongs to God (4:8-10).

These temptations are all antitypical to those experienced by Israel in its wanderings in the desert (Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13-14, 16). But whereas Israel son of God broke faith with God. Jesus Son of God remains loyal to God. He demonstrates that he is in truth the Son who knows and does his Father’s will.

This brings us to the point toward which we have been steering. The Jesus who sets out on his public ministry to Israel (4: 17) is the royal Son of God who perfectly knows and does the will of God. Throughout the rest of his story (4: 17-28:20), Matthew elaborates the two sides of this view of Jesus.

On the one hand, Jesus is the Son who “does” the will of God. What such doing of the will of God entails Matthew brings to light in the narrative line of his story. In the second main part of his story, which is devoted to Jesus’ public ministry (4:17-16:20), it entails teaching, preaching, and healing (4:23; 9:35; 11:1). In the third main part, which is devoted to Jesus’ passion and resurrection (16:21-28:20), it entails submitting to betrayal, suffering, and death (16:21; 17:22-23; 20: 18-19).

On the other hand, Jesus is likewise the Son who “knows” the will of God. It is in the great discourses that Matthew plays up this side of his understanding of Jesus. These discourses deal with topics that are of fundamental significance to the life of discipleship. In them, Jesus Son of God addresses himself to such matters as the ethics of the kingdom (chaps. 5-7), instructions on missionary outreach (chap. 10), secret knowledge about the kingdom (chap. 13), community life (chap. 18), and the time before the end (chaps. 24-25).

Consequently, Matthew places both the narrative line of his story and the great discourses in the service of the image he projects of Jesus at his baptism and temptation as the authoritative Son who knows and does his Father’s will. In addition, however, Matthew also conveys this image of Jesus in another, more subtle, way. As compared with Mark, he intensifies the “aura of the divine” that surrounds Jesus and hence tends to clothe the earthly Jesus in the splendor of the risen Jesus his church worships and confesses.

To illustrate this, consider the term “Father.” For his part, the Marcan Jesus invokes the image of God as Father only sparingly,” and seems not to use the expression “my Father” (but cf. 14:36). By contrast, the Matthaean Jesus makes frequent references to God as Father (cf. concordance). Not only this, but he also rigidly distinguishes in his use of this term between himself and his disciples: he speaks of “my Father” or “your Father” but never of “our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer is no exception; cf. 6:9).

Other examples of this art of writing are likewise ready to hand. Thus, in forty-nine instances Matthew utilizes the verb proserchomai (“to come to,” “to approach”), which in the LXX is cultic in coloration and in Josephus is used of stepping before a king, in order to portray persons as approaching Jesus with the same reverence that would be due to a deity or king. In similar fashion, he likewise utilizes the verb proskyneo (“to worship,” “to do obeisance to”) in order to show that Jesus is the worthy object of worship. In the same vein, Matthew furthermore “spiritualizes” the person of Jesus. One way he does this is by dropping Marcan references to the “feelings” of Jesus: “anger” (Mark 3:5), “pity” (Mark 1:41), “wonder” (Mark 6:6), “pneumatic frenzy” (Mark 8:12), “indignation” (Mark 10:14), and “love” (Mark 10:21).

Another way he does this is by “editing out” a number of queries Jesus poses in Mark’s Gospel which, on the surface, seem to intimate a lack of knowledge or perception on Jesus’ part. And fourth, Matthew heightens the majesty of Jesus by also modifying or omitting Marcan expressions that appear to circumscribe his authority or allude to the fact that some desire of his went unfulfilled.”

A special example of Matthew’s penchant for coloring the earthly Jesus in the hues of the heavenly Jesus concerns the manner in which persons address Jesus. On the one hand, Matthew depicts a nonbeliever, opponents, and Judas as addressing Jesus as “teacher” or “rabbi,” i.e., with terms which attribute to him human respect.” On the other hand, he consistently depicts the (true) disciples and those who come to Jesus in the attitude of faith as addressing him as “Lord.” The force of the latter title in Matthew’s Gospel is such that it attributes to Jesus an exalted station and divine authority.

On balance, then, if it cannot be said of Mark that he replicates in his story the historical Jesus, even less can this be said of Matthew. Quite the opposite, Matthew’s goal is to make the Jesus of his story “transparent” to the Christians of A.D. 90 for whom he is writing. Hence, Matthew’s Jesus is Jesus as he is known by the post-Easter church. As we mentioned above, he moves and speaks and acts with the “aura of the divine” about him.

With this image in mind of Jesus as the authoritative Son who knows and does his Father’s will, we now want to look more closely at the public ministry of Jesus. This spans the second main part of Matthew’s story (4:17-16:20). In three summary passages, Matthew describes the heart of it: Jesus goes “about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (4:23; 9:35; 11:1).

At the same time, Matthew stresses more emphatically than Mark that Israel is the primary object of Jesus’ attention. At 15:24, Jesus states categorically: “I have not been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Similarly, Jesus commands the pre-Easter disciples with an eye to their mission: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:5-6).

To reinforce the notion that Jesus directs his activity first of all to Israel, Matthew restricts geographically the movement of Jesus. Except for brief excursions,’ Jesus stays within the confines of Israel. Galilee is the area where he works (4:23; 9:35; 11:1) and, within Galilee, Capernaum stands out as the place in and around which numerous events of his ministry occur (cf. chaps. 8-9). Although neither Mark nor Luke ever writes that Jesus takes up residence anywhere, Matthew speaks of him as “dwelling” there (4:13). Capernaum is “his own city” (9: 1 1), and it may be that the “house” there is to be thought of as belonging to him (cf. 9: 10, 28; 12:46 and 13:1; 13:36; 17:25).

In comparison with Mark, it is with relative ease that one can also track the movement of Jesus during his public ministry in Matthew’s story (4:17-16:20). This movement is without the air of haste and, at times, even aimlessness which seems to attend it in Mark’s story. Thus, as the Son who knows and does his Father’ will (3:13-4:11), Matthew’s Jesus presents himself to Israel (4. 17).

He preaches to the people and summons them to repentance in view of the gracious nearness of the kingdom of heaven (4:17). He also calls his first disciples (4:18-22). Followed by them and attracting huge crowds (4:23-25; 5: 1), he ascends a mountain and there teaches the will of God (5:1-7:29). Then, wandering in the area of Capernaum and traveling across the sea of Galilee and hack, he performs ten mighty acts of deliverance, in so doing setting forth the nature and the cost of discipleship (8:1-9:34). At the height of his activity, he commissions the twelve to a ministry in Israel modeled on his own, one of preaching and healing though not of teaching (9:35-10:42).

Despite Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, however, he is repudiated as the Messiah by all segments of Israel (11: 2-12:50). Even his family appears to desert him, so that his disciples alone remain as those who are his true relatives (12:46-50). Jesus’ response to this total rejection by Israel is a dual one. On the one hand, he declares that Israel has become hard of heart, and gives public demonstration of this by addressing the crowds in “parables,” in speech they cannot comprehend (13:1-35). On the other hand, he turns his attention to his disciples and reveals to them the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (13:11, 36-52). Still, by the end of Jesus’ parable discourse the trend of events is clear.

Because violence threatens him before “his hour” (12:14; 14:1-12), he momentarily withdraws to a deserted place (14:13) or into the regions of Tyre and Sidon (15:21) to avoid his opponents (16:4). The bright spot is that his disciples comprehend that he is in fact Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God (14:33), and at the close of this phase of his activity Peter boldly confesses him to be such (16:16).


The Figure Of Jesus in Matthew: Son of Man, Son of God – Jack Dean Kingsbury

January 3, 2012

One like a Son of Man, Engraving by Gérard JOLLAIN, Presumably published 1670

The first main part of Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-4:16) is not, strictly speaking, a prologue. It is, more accurately, the initial phase of the story to be narrated. The major purpose of this part of Matthew’s story is to inform the reader as to who Jesus is (1: 1) . And because Matthew departs from Mark and tells first of the origins and infancy of Jesus, the reader is not introduced to John the Baptist until Chapter 3.

Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God
Matthew writes in the opening verse that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (1:1) . Interestingly, Matthew omits from this pedigree his preeminent title for Jesus, that of the “Son of God.” The reason is that this latter title is of such importance that Matthew will allow no one other than God himself to be the first to utter it, at Jesus’ baptism (3: 17).

The Matthaean Jesus, therefore, is the Davidic Messiah, the royal Son of God, who descends from Abraham. For this understanding of Jesus, Matthew is basically in debt to Mark. What Matthew has done is to adopt Mark’s Christology, elaborate it, and adapt it to meet the needs of a new situation.

Matthew makes use of Christological terms with great skill in order to describe the person and mission of Jesus. The very name “Jesus,” for instance, means “God is salvation.” Matthew plays on this meaning early in his story in order to alert the reader to the nature and scope of Jesus’ mission. To Joseph the angel declares, “… you shall call his name `Jesus,’ for he shall save his people from their sins” (1:21). Salvation from sin, therefore, is what Jesus is about.

Moreover, because the personal name “Jesus” harbors within it what Matthew takes to be Jesus’ calling, he removes it from the realm of familiar usage. Thus, Bartimaeus and the two demoniacs may address Jesus by his name in Mark’s Gospel (1:24; 5:7; 10:47), but Matthew erases these touches (8:29; 20:30).

Matthew’s broad description of Jesus is that he is the “Messiah” (1 :1, 16, 17) . As the Messiah, he is the Coming One foretold by the prophets and awaited by Israel (11:2-6). Standing in the line of David (1:1, 17, 25), he brings the history of Israel to its culmination (1:1, 17). He is invested with the authority of God, and encounter with him is no idle event, for one’s salvation hinges on it (3:11; 11:2-6).

Mark makes no mention of Jesus as being the “Son of Abraham.” Matthew’s interest in this title (1: 1) is twofold. On the one hand, he is concerned to show that Jesus is the one in whom the entire history of Israel, which had its beginning in Abraham, attains to its fulfillment (1:17). On the other hand, he is concerned to present Jesus as the one in whom God makes good on the promise he gave to Abraham regarding the Gentiles (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22: 18: 26:4). The “many” who put their faith in him, asserts the Matthaean Jesus, “will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven” (8:10-11).

Of all the evangelists, none occupies himself more with the Davidic sonship of Jesus than does Matthew. Whereas Mark and Luke, for example, employ the title Son of David only four times each. Matthew employs it no fewer than eleven times: ten times it refers to Jesus (cf. concordance); and once it refers to Joseph (“Joseph, son of David”; 1:20).

By and large, Matthew pursues two objectives in his use of the title Son of David. The one objective is simply to affirm the Davidic lineage of Jesus. Still, this is not without problems. The Matthaean genealogy of Jesus runs through Joseph (1:16). In Matthew’s eyes, therefore, Joseph is clearly a “son of David” (1:16, 20) . The problem, however, is that as Matthew presents it, Joseph is neither the physical father of Jesus (1:18, 20, 23, 25) nor does Mary stand in the line of David (1:16). This problem comes to a head in the last link of Matthew’s genealogical chain: “. . . and Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (1:16).

But if Joseph is not really the father of Jesus and his mother Mary is not from the house of David, how can Jesus legitimately be said to be the “Son of David”? In his pericope on the origin of the Messiah, Matthew gives his answer to this question (1:18-25) . It is that Jesus, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:18, 20), receives his name from Joseph (1:25). What this means, in turn, is that Matthew’s solution to the problem of Jesus’ genealogy is that he can legitimately be called the Son of David because Joseph son of David adopts him into his line (cf. 13:55: “Is not this the son of the carpenter?”).

The second objective Matthew pursues with his Son-of-David Christology is that of focusing on the guilt that is Israel’s for not receiving its Messiah. As the Son of David, Jesus is promised and sent specifically to Israel (1:1; 15:22-24; 21:5, 9; 22:42). Through individual acts of healing, he demonstrates this. These acts extend to such persons as the following: two “blind men” (9:27-31), a “blind and dumb man” (12:22) , the “daughter” of a Gentile woman (15: 21-28), two more “blind men” (20:29-34), and the “blind and lame” in the temple (21:14). What is noteworthy about these persons is that they are the ones who count for nothing in Israel, which is likewise true of the “children” who hail Jesus as the Son of David in the temple (21:5) and the Canaanite “woman” who pleads the cause of her daughter (15:21-22).

Now these “no-accounts,” or those who assist them, acknowledge in the attitude of faith that Jesus is the Son of David. The irony is that in so doing, they “see” and “confess” what the leaders of Israel and the crowds do not. When the leaders of Israel, for example, witness the healing activity of Jesus Son of David, this only provokes them to anger (21: 15 ) or motivates them to charge him with being an emissary of Satan (9:32-34; 12:22-24). For their part, the crowds at least pose the question as to whether Jesus is the Son of David (12:23). But the manner in which they frame it anticipates, in the Greek original, a negative reply (12:23).

And when Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds do hail him as the Son of David, they explain that this means no more than that he is “the prophet … from Nazareth” (21 :9-11 ). Consequently, by contrasting sharply the reception of Jesus as the Son of David by certain “no-accounts” with Israel’s refusal to acknowledge him as such. Matthew calls attention to the guilt that accrues to Israel for its blindness.

But although Matthew strongly affirms the Davidic sonship of Jesus Messiah, Jesus is more for him than merely the Son of David. For Mark, too, of course the latter is also true. But whereas Mark does not squarely address this issue until the pericope on the question about David’s son in Chapter 12 (cf. Matt. 22:41-46). Matthew addresses it already in this first part of his Gospel. His theological position, like that of Mark, is that Jesus is preeminently the “Son of God.” But while this title is rich in content for both Mark and Matthew, the chief emphasis is not the same. In oversimplified terms, what it says of Jesus in Mark’s story is that he is the royal Messiah who dies upon the cross (14:35-36; 15:39; cf. 12:1-12; 16:6). What it says of Jesus in Matthew’s story is that he is “Emmanuel,” the royal Messiah in whom God draws near to abide with his people (1:23; 18:20; 28:20).

As early as 1: 16, Matthew alludes to the divine sonship of Jesus. He casts the verb “to be born” in the passive voice, in this way alerting the reader to special activity on the part of God: ‘Jesus is born [by an act of God)." This verb, in turn, points forward to the passive participle "that which is conceived" in 1:20. This, too, alludes to divine activity, and is embedded in the pericope on the origin of Jesus (1: 18-25). In this pericope, Matthew states less cryptically that Mary's conception is "by the Holy Spirit" (1:18, 20), that God through the prophet discloses the true significance of the person of her son ("God with us," 1:22-23), that Mary is a "virgin" when she bears him (1:23) , and that the child cannot be from Joseph because Joseph makes no attempt to have relations with Mary until after she has given birth to her son (1:25). Taken together, the intention of these terms and statements is clear: Matthew asserts that Jesus, born of Mary, is nevertheless the Son of God, for his origin is in God.

In Chapter 2, Matthew continues his description of the person of Jesus. The Magi arrive in Jerusalem and ask where the newborn "King of the Jews" is to be found (2:2). Herod responds by designating this king as the "Messiah" (2:4). His mistaken notion of the Messiah, however, is that he will seize his throne (2:3, 13). By drawing on the OT, Matthew shows that the royal Messiah is destined for far greater things than merely the overthrow of Herod: he will, in fact, be the eschatological Shepherd of God's people Israel (2:6).

Now it is striking that, following 2:6, Matthew never once refers to Jesus in Chapter 2 as "king" or "ruler." Instead, he refers to him consistently as "the child" and repeatedly employs the expression "the child and [with] his mother” (2:8-9, 11, 13-14, 20-21). The remarkable thing about this latter expression is that it is at once appropriate to the narrative and a means by which Matthew can speak of Jesus without giving the impression that he is the son of Joseph and hence solely the Son of David (1:20, 25) .

On the contrary, in that Matthew makes reference to Jesus and Mary exclusive of Joseph, he recalls the situation of Chapter 1: the virgin Mary gives birth to a son who has been conceived apart from Joseph son of David by the Holy Spirit (1:18, 20, 23) . Thus, it becomes plain that the purpose of the expression “the child and [with] his mother” is to remind the reader that the son of Mary is at the same time the Son of God. Consequently, the term “the child” in Chapter 2 reveals itself to be a surrogate for “Son of God,” and Matthew himself confirms this observation: at 2:15, he breaks his otherwise consistent use throughout 2:7-23 of the expression “the child and [with] his mother” so that none other than God, through the prophet, might call “the child” Jesus “my Son.” In the last analysis, therefore, we see that “the child” whom the Magi come to Bethlehem to “worship” (2:11) as the “King of the Jews” is in fact the “Son of God,” just as “the child” whom Herod plots to kill is no political throne-pretender but the eschatological Shepherd of God’s people who is likewise the “Son of God.”

At the beginning of Chapter 3, Matthew introduces John the Baptist to his story (3:1-12). John is the forerunner of Jesus (3:1-4, 1 1) and he announces, much as in Mark’s Gospel: “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (3:1 1). Indeed, this Mightier One, predicts John, will visit Israel as one who dispenses salvation and condemnation (3:11-12).

No sooner has John foretold the coming of the Mightier One than Jesus appears at the Jordan river to be baptized by John (3:13). John would “prevent” this, objecting that he has need to be baptized by Jesus (3:14). Jesus overrules John, however, declaring that “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Since this “confrontation” between John and Jesus is related only by Matthew, he obviously attaches special importance to it. What purpose does it serve? It shows that Jesus submits to baptism, not because he, like Israel, must repent of sin (3:2, 6), but because he is perfectly obedient to his Father’s will.

The double occurrence of the expression “and behold” at 3:16 and 3:17 indicates that it is these verses that form the climax of the baptismal scene. Following Mark rather closely, Matthew, too, depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and his resultant empowerment for the messianic ministry he is shortly to begin (3: 16; 4:17). Because Jesus has been conceived by the Spirit, it is ruled out that his empowerment with the Spirit at his baptism should be construed as his initial endowment with the Spirit.

The second major event to occur at the baptism is that the voice calls out from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (3:17). Once again, this declaration is a composite quotation (cf. Mark 1:11) with the words taken from Genesis 22:2, Psalms 2:7, and Isaiah. 42: 1. They characterize Jesus as the unique Son of God from the house of David whom God has chosen for eschatological ministry in Israel.

In this declaration of the heavenly voice at 3: 17, we have reached the apex, not only of the baptismal pericope, but also of the entire first main part of Matthew’s story (1:1-4:16). In this part, Matthew describes the person and origins of Jesus. The overriding truth he promulgates is that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the royal Son of God. He does not state the whole of this truth in 1: 1, the heading of the first main part of his story. For, as something that can be known solely by revelation (16:16-17), this truth must first be proclaimed, not by any character in the story, but only by God.

Accordingly, Matthew alludes to this truth with circumlocutions (1:16, 18, 20), with metaphors (2:8-9, 11, 13-14, 20-21; 3:11), or with a term (“son”) that is susceptible to dual meaning (1:21, 23, 25). He even permits it to sound softly as the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet (1:22-23; 2:15). Still, all remains adumbration until that climactic point following the baptism of Jesus when the voice from heaven proclaims in the presence of John that Jesus is indeed the unique Son of God (3:17).

The pericope on the temptation of Jesus (4:1-11) follows that on the baptism. Let us call attention here to the fact that in this passage, too, Jesus stands forth as the “Son of God” (4:3, 6). By resisting Satan, Jesus Son of God gives further proof of his perfect obedience to the will of God.

By way of presenting a summary sketch of the Christology of 1:1-4:16, it is instructive to draw together the contents of several key passages in which Matthew employs a series of related idioms. These idioms are the following: “his people” (1:21), “my people” (2:6), “my Son” (2:15; 3:17), and “the Son of God” (4:3, 6). In combination, the passages containing these idioms cast Jesus in the following light: Jesus, in the line of David (1:21), is the Son of God (2:15; 3:17), i.e., he has his origin in God (1:20) and is the one chosen to shepherd the end-time people of God (2:6); empowered by God for messianic ministry (3:16-17), he proves himself in confrontation with Satan to be perfectly obedient to the will of God (4:1-12); as such a one, he saves his (God’s) people from their sins (1:21). Although there are details still to be added, this sketch captures well Matthew’s basic understanding of Jesus.

Jesus as the Son of Man
Matthew has taken over Son-of-Man references from both the Marcan tradition and Q. But although Q tells of the “earthly activity” and of the “future coming” of Jesus Son of Man,  it is silent concerning his “suffering.” Mark, on the other hand, ascribes all three phases of activity to Jesus Son of Man.  Structurally, Matthew elaborates the pattern of Mark but, like Q, lays great stress on the parousia of the Son of Man.

To get at the function of the title Son of Man in Matthew’s Gospel, it is helpful to compare it with the way in which he uses the title Son of God. “Son of God” for Matthew is of the nature of a “confessional” title. Although supernatural beings, such as God (3:17; 17:5), Satan (4:3, 6), and demons (8:29), know that Jesus is the Messiah Son of God, such knowledge is beyond the natural capacity of human beings.

To be sure, human beings in Matthew’s story do address Jesus as the Son of God, but it is in the spirit of mockery or blasphemy (26:63; 27:40, 43). To confess Jesus to be the Son of God aright, i.e., in faith, is possible only through the gift of divine revelation (11:25-27; 13:11; 16:16-17; 27:54). To dispel any doubt about this, Matthew brings a passage not found elsewhere in the synoptic traditions. In direct response to Peter’s confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (16:16), the Matthacan Jesus declares: “… flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven!” (16:17).

Consequently, Son of God functions as a “confessional” title in Matthew’s story in the sense that the only human beings who can utter it aright are those who have been blessed by God with the “eyes of faith” (1 1 :25; 13: 16-17). The truth that this title conveys, namely, that in Jesus God is present among people with his end-time rule (1:23), is inaccessible to the “world,” Jew or Gentile (11:25-27; 13:11).

Once this is understood, we can further understand how it is that Matthew handles Mark’s secret of the divine sonship of Jesus. In Mark’s story, the secret that Jesus is the Son of God remains in force until Jesus dies on the cross (15:39) and is raised (16:6-7) . Indeed, the disciples do not comprehend this secret until they “see” Jesus in Galilee (14:28; 16:6-7). In Mark’s scheme of things, it is this “seeing” of the crucified and resurrected Son of God that belongs, along with other events (3:13-16; 14:58; 15:29, 38), to the founding of the church.

In Matthew’s story, on the other hand, the church is founded by Jesus already during his earthly ministry (16:17-19; 18:15-20). The disciples “see” and “worship” Jesus as the Son of God before he ever dies on the cross (14:33; 16:15-16). Hence, in Matthew’s story the secret of the divine sonship of Jesus, while hidden from Israel and the world, is “given” to the disciples (11:25-27; 13:11, 16-17).

It is against this backdrop that Matthew develops his use of the title Son of Man.  In his Gospel as in Mark’s, Jesus is never confessed to be the Son of Man or even addressed as such. Accordingly, Son of Man is not, like Son of God, a confessional title. On the contrary, it is what may be termed a “public” title. Indeed, the groundwork for treating it as such is present already in Mark (cf. esp. 2:6, 10, 24, 28). But in what sense is Son of Man a “public” title? In the sense that it is the title by which the Matthaean Jesus refers to himself as he interacts with the “world,” both Israel and the Gentiles.

Thus, the title Son of Man occurs on the lips of the Matthaean Jesus in all of the following contexts: when he makes reference to himself in the audience of the Jewish crowds or of his opponents during his public ministry to Israel;° when he tells his disciples, in sayings like the passion predictions, about the suffering God has ordained that Judas, the Israelite leaders, and Gentiles should inflict upon him; when he points to himself, in contrast to the “rulers of the Gentiles” and the “great men” of the world, as the model of self-sacrificial service his disciples are to emulate in their own lives in the world (20:25-28) ; when he describes himself following Easter as the Exalted One who will reign over the world and raise up in it sons of the kingdom (13:37-38); and when he sketches for the disciples his future return in glory as Judge of all the nations of the world.

One passage that indicates particularly well how Matthew works with the title of Son of Man is 16:13-20 (cf. also 8:19-22; 13:3738; 26:20-25). Here Jesus asks with a view to the public, “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13) . But with a view to his disciples he asks, “Who do you say that I am [ = the Son of God]?” (16:15-16). The thing to observe is that whereas “Son of Man” is made to correlate with “men,” “I” (“Son of God”) is made to correlate with the disciples. If Jesus stands before the world as the Son of Man,  he is known and confessed by his disciples (and church) to be the Son of God. if Son of Man is a “public” title, Son of God is a “confessional” title.

Does this mean, then, that Matthew has two Christological “lines” running through his Gospel which nowhere meet? No, for there is one point at which the two lines can be seen to converge: at the parousia. Mark hints of this already in his presentation (cf. 8:38), and Matthew picks up on this and develops it. In his pericope on the last judgment (25:31-46), Matthew plainly assimilates the figure of the future Son of Man to the figure of the Messiah Son of God.

For example, if the Messiah Son of God is a royal figure, so is the future Son of Man, for Matthew terms him the “King” (25:34, 40). If the Messiah Son of God is the agent of God’s eschatological kingdom (4:17; 11:2-5, 25-27; 12:28), so is the future Son of Man (7:21-23; 16:27-28). If the Messiah Son of God knows God as “my Father” (11:27; 16:17), so does the future Son of Man (25: 34; cf. 16:27). And just as the Messiah Son of God refers to his disciples as “my brothers” (12:48-50; 28:10), so the future Son of Man refers to the righteous at the latter day as “my brothers” (25:40; cf. with 18:6). Clearly, therefore, Matthew desires to show that also at his parousia as the glorious Son of Man, Jesus remains the Son of God.

Matthew’s view, then, is that if Jesus is known by his disciples during his ministry and by his church following Easter as the Messiah, the Son of God, he interacts with the world, first Israel and then the Gentiles, as the Son of Man.  At the consummation of the age, however, Jesus will appear visibly as the Judge and Ruler of the universe. At that time, the whole world will see what until then only the eyes of faith had ever been given by God to perceive: that in Jesus, God is present with his end-time rule. Consequently, at the parousia both the church and the world will behold Jesus in all the majesty of God as the Son of Man.  Yet, even as he appears in splendor as the Son of Man,  Jesus remains the Son of God, the King through whom God exercises his rule.


Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel by Jack Dean Kingsbury

January 2, 2012

Madonna dei Tramonti, Pietro Lorenzetti (1280–1348)

The emphasis in the document of Q is on the parousia. The emphasis in the Gospel of Mark is on the cross. Although the evangelist Matthew both affirms the significance of the cross and awaits the parousia, neither of these is the controlling element in his thought. Instead, central to his Gospel is the notion that God, in the person of his Son Jesus, draws near with his eschatological rule to abide with his people (1:23; 18:20; 28:20). To proclaim this truth, Matthew recasts the traditions concerning Jesus which he has inherited from both Mark and the community of Q.

The Accomplishment Of Matthew
Most scholars remain convinced that the two-source hypothesis, whatever its limitations, accounts best for the literary relationships that obtain among the synoptic Gospels. On this view, Matthew has conjoined with one another the traditions of Mark, of Q, and of the oral or written materials peculiar to himself.

Of interest is the way in which Matthew has arranged the tradition of Mark relative to that of Q. He has, in effect, taken the Marcan tradition for his framework and expanded it by adding the tradition of Q. The upshot is that the tradition of Q, which comprises in the main sayings of Jesus, appears in the great speech-complexes of Matthew’s Gospel (chaps. 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23; 24-25).

These speech-complexes, in relation to the whole of the Gospel, precede the climax, which is the story of the passion and resurrection of Jesus (chaps. 26-28). Consequently, the overall flow of Matthew’s narrative is such that the Jesus who delivers the several great discourses becomes the Jesus whose career culminates in his passion and resurrection. The net result of the way in which Matthew has arranged his materials, therefore, is that he has subordinated the discourse tradition of Q to the “passion kerygma” of Mark. Hence, Matthew, in giving the nod to Mark over Q, can be seen to write a “gospel,” or “kerygmatic story.”

Matthew’s Gospel as a Kerygmatic Story
The gospel, or kerygmatic story, Matthew pens assumes the form of a “life of Jesus.” Of course, like Mark’s Gospel it is no biography or literary documentary on “what really happened.” But it is decidedly broader in scope than is the story of Mark. It begins, not with the baptism of Jesus, but with his genealogy, birth, and infancy (chaps. 1-2). And it concludes, not simply with the prediction that the disciples will see the risen Jesus, but with a pericope [vocab: An extract or selection from a book, especially a reading from a Scripture that forms part of a church service] that actually tells of his appearance to them on a mountain in Galilee (28:16-20).

Matthew’s “life of Jesus” unfolds according to a clear-cut topical outline. To mark off the main parts, Matthew employs a “formula,” or stereotyped phrase: “From that time on Jesus began to preach [to show his disciples] …” (4:17; 16:21). The thing to observe is that each time this formula occurs, it introduces a new phase in the ministry of Jesus. Consequently, if it is taken as the cue, the following broad outline of Matthew’s Gospel readily emerges:

(1)     the person of Jesus Messiah (1:1-4:16);

(2)     the public proclamation of Jesus Messiah (4:17-16:20); and

(3)     the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Messiah (16:21-28:20).

As this outline suggests, Matthew narrates a “life of Jesus” by first presenting him to the reader and then by describing, respectively, his public ministry and his passion and resurrection.

Matthew highlights the fundamental message of his “life of Jesus” in the key passages 1:23 and 28:20. These passages stand in a reciprocal relationship to each other. At 1:23, Matthew quotes Isaiah as he says of Jesus: in “Emmanuel … God [is] with us.” And at 28:20, the risen Jesus himself declares to his disciples: “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strategically located at the beginning and the end of Matthew’s Gospel, these two passages “enclose” it. In combination, they reveal that the message Matthew proclaims with his kerygmatic story is that in the person of Jesus Messiah, his Son, God has drawn near to abide to the end of time with his people, the church, thus inaugurating the eschatological age of salvation.

The Theological Claim of Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew, no more than Mark, views Jesus in isolation from the stream of history
. On the contrary, he places his story of Jesus in ; setting that extends from Abraham, the father of Israel (1:2), to the consummation of the age (28:20). Still, Matthew divides this broad span of salvation history more sharply than Mark into distinct epochs and periods.

The two epochs Matthew distinguishes are the age of prophecy, or the “time of Israel (OT),” and the eschatological age of fulfillment, which is the “time of Jesus (earthly exalted).” To stress the passing of the first and the arrival of the second, Matthew makes use of numerous formula quotations that call attention to the fulfillment in the life of Jesus of some aspect of OT prophecy.’

For its part, the age of fulfillment, or the “time of Jesus (earthlyexalted),” runs from the birth of Jesus (1:22-23) to his parousia as the Son of man (25:31-46). Within this epoch, Matthew differentiates among several periods through his use of the respective expressions “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and “the gospel of the kingdom.” Specifically, he employs these expressions to divide the “time of Jesus (earthlyexalted)” into the ministries to Israel of John (3:1-2), of Jesus (4:17), and of the pre-Easter disciples (10:7) and the ministry to the nations of the post-Easter disciples, or church (24:14; 26:13).

Accordingly, Matthew, more noticeably than Mark, both knits together, and differentiates among, the ministries of John, Jesus, the pre-Easter disciples, and the post-Easter church. But as with Mark, so with Matthew it is the ministry of Jesus that is decisive in this sequence. John is the forerunner of Jesus (17:10-13), and the pre-Easter and post-Easter disciples carry out their ministries only on the commission of Jesus (10:5; 28:18-20). This is why the “time of fulfillment” is indeed the “time of Jesus (earthly exalted).”

The preceding survey of both the topical outline of Matthew’s “life of Jesus” and the salvation-historical context within which he places it brings us to the question of the theological claim of his Gospel. We stated above that the passages 1:23 and 28:20 “enclose” the Gospel. As a word of prophecy, 1:23 shows that in the birth of “Emmanuel,” i.e., Jesus Son of God, the hope of Israel has at last come to its fulfillment.

Hence, Matthew affirms in this passage that Jesus is of decisive significance for the salvation of Israel. In 28:18-20, the risen Son of God commissions his followers to “make disciples of all the nations.” Hence, Matthew affirms in this passage that Jesus is of decisive significance for the salvation of the Gentiles. Together, therefore, these passages set forth the broad theological claim Matthew advances on behalf of Jesus: for the salvation of both Jew and Gentile, Jesus Son of God is of decisive significance.

In sum, then, the accomplishment of Matthew is that he has drawn on Q, Mark, and materials peculiar to himself in order to fashion his own kerygmatic story about Jesus. He divides it into three main parts (1:1-4:16; 4:17-16:20; 16:21-28:20), and places it within the context of the history of salvation. Matthew’s kerygmatic story focuses less intensely upon the cross as such than does that of Mark; this is apparent already from the fact that

Matthew devotes proportionately less space than Mark to the narration of the passion of Jesus. The central message of Matthew’s story is that in Jesus Messiah, his Son, God has drawn near to abide with his people and thus has inaugurated the end-time age of salvation. As it proclaims this message, Matthew’s story at the same time advances the theological claim that Jesus Son of God is of ultimate importance for Jew and Gentile alike.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers