Introduction to Matthew

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Introduction to Matthew

I. Discussion Question

In this lecture, we turn to an overview or introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. As with Mark’s lecture, students are encouraged to divide into groups or pairs in order to reflect on some of the topics in the textbook in chapter seven of which would be most relevant for a broad cross section of ministry context as that of a home Bible fellowship. The student should stop the sound file and make sure that they have read the chapter in the textbook before going on.

II. Threads in Matthew

We will only give major examples by way of re-enforcing possible responses to this exercise and as with Mark looking for one set of possible answers that traces a particular important thread. Throughout the introductory material in Matthew, we choose here to focus on the generally held position that Matthew is the most Jewish of the four Gospels. This is the likely reason it was included first in the canonical sequence of the four Gospels, if indeed, it was not the first chronologically. This chapter also introduces us to the debate which complicates the solution to the synaptic problem as discussed in earlier chapters. There is the recurring early Christian tradition that Matthew wrote something in a Hebrew or Aramaic tongue. The most natural translation according to an early Christian testimony, a person known as Papeious claimed that Matthew wrote the Rougiya (sayings) of Jesus, a Greek term that most commonly means sayings or teachings. If there is something of merit to the ‘Q’ hypothesis, as mentioned earlier, then it is an intriguing hypothesis to consider as people like T.W. Manson and Matthew Black and others to ask whether these traditions about the Sayings of Jesus in a Hebrew tongue could have referred to part or all of the collection similar to what is postulated by scholars when they speak of the Q document. Since, by definition, it refers to material common to Matthew and Luke but not Mark, includes the collection of Jesus’ teachings.

III. Matthew

It would make very good sense then that canonical Matthew was the product of a Greek translation of those sayings or teachings, combined with additional teachings, particularly additional narrative materials, much of it in common with Mark. If this was done by Matthew, himself, the reply to the objection that an Apostle not part of the twelve apostles would hardly rely on a Gospel attributed to a lessor person than John Mark. The response to that objection, then drawing on the early church tradition that Mark is said to have relied heavily on the memoirs of Peter, who was in fact part of the inter-core of these disciples closest to Jesus and his experiences along with James and John. So Matthew to that degree would have been part of the second tier of the apostles and perhaps very much interested in how a Gospel dependent on Peter’s reminiscences chose to phrase things.

The thread that is reoccurring, however, throughout the introductory information of Matthew which we want to review here, is this early tradition that seems to be collaborated by the contents of Matthew; that it did originate in the Jewish Christian of settings and most likely addressed to the most Jewish Christians of churches or audiences of any of the four Gospels. Perhaps it was in and around Antioch or some place in Syria or the Eastern Mediterranean. If not there, perhaps it was in Jerusalem or in Palestine, itself. Gramme Standand, as much as any contemporary scholar has studied and written and concluded, it seems likely that Matthew reflects, at least metaphorically if not literally what might be called the community of Jewish Christians which recently (in first century terms) separated from Judaism, pure and simple. But still, very much in dialogue with it through friends and family members and hence can be represented as the church in touch with the ‘synagogue across the street’. Taking its cue from discoveries from various places in the Roman Empire where churches and synagogues were in very close proximity to one another, those Jews who became believers reached a point when either voluntarily or through excommunication, were separated from the synagogues of that neighbor or community but did not set up their own messianic congregations.

For those who date Matthew, particularly in light of the explicit prediction as it is alleged in various places of the Gospel of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. After that event, it is very natural to see Matthew’s Jewish Christian community representative of larger such communities that in essence abide with the eminence of Pharisaic Judaism, beginning their transformation into rabbinic Judaism for the right to legitimately claim to be the true heir of Judaism. The Sadducees, of course, quickly died out after AD 70 because of their connection to the temple and it rights and aristocracy with no temple standing in Jerusalem. The Zealots obviously died off because of their resounding defeat in the war with Rome and also the Essenes also seemed not to have survived the war except perhaps in very small pockets. That left then the movement initially known as Pharisaism and The Way, later called Christianity as the two major spiritual siblings found themselves in rival with each other, both claiming continuity as well as discontinuity with the parent religion. If Matthew is dated as conservatives tend to date it, following the testimony of Arenaius and others, say that Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were still preaching in Rome, and thus dated to the 60s.

We are still close in time to the theological development that followed that the Zealot route in the war that virtually ended in AD 70, to still make similar observations even if less formally at this stage. We talked in an early sector about how most of the harassment and persecution and hostility, largely informal, that Christians experienced up through the mid 60’s came at the hands of local Jewish friends, relatives, synagogues, and local authorities. By this time, the Jesus movement had become more than just a Jewish sect as increasing numbers of gentiles came into the church. So the metaphor of the Matthew addressing the church recently broken from but still in dialogue with the synagogue across the street is as appropriate even in these earlier times of dating the Gospel as well.

In terms of Matthew Levi as author, clearly he was Jewish as with all the twelve, who had a background of tax collection. He would have been viewed prior to his association with Jesus as the consummate outcast, a traitor to his nation or to his cause which could have propelled him in opposite directions after his repentance and joining up with Christ. On one hand which often happened throughout Jewish history, it could have made him distinctively Jewish in his Christianity as his concern for reform was like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another or it could have kept him more sensitive to the outcast within Judaism. But neither of these potential tendencies is really reflected in his choice of emphasis or selection of passages within his writing, except perhaps to the extent that has often been observed. Although Matthew begins with Jesus and his followers as seemingly a very exclusive movement, he ends in the move from particularism to universalism with the great commission and numerous others foreshadowing of the great commission. This, indeed, will be a movement that will go to the ends of the earth. This could also reflect some of Matthew’s autobiography which is adequately mirrored by actual progress of the Gospel by the 60’s. That it can be fully accounted for in terms of the history of the movement with or without any autobiographical parallels in the life of Matthew Levi.

This is, however, a bridge to the key themes or theology of the book of the many emphases that can be highlighted, certainly, the fulfillment of Scripture, Jesus as the unique Son of David, and the Christ as the one who has the proper messianic genealogy and yet the one is also the son of Abraham; the one to whom all nations of the earth would be blessed, is the cluster of themes that fit this broad move from Jewish particularism to multi-ethnic universalism. And it also fits the growing hostility, perhaps, clearest in Matthew among the Gospels and certainly among the Synoptics. A plot of ever growing hostility and conflict, not one that simply comes and goes as we saw in Mark or one that is sublimated as we will see in Luke to more positive interactions with the Jewish leaders at numerous junctures. Matthew, in terms of plot from a literary point of view, has a very clear unrelenting march toward the Cross throughout the entire Gospel and the context of a church that has broken with those dimensions of Judaism that prove most hostile to Gospel, fits this literary focus of Matthew’s narrative as well.

IV. An Outline of Matthew

We now turn to the remaining PowerPoint slides accompanying these introductory remarks. We can see a line graph of Matthew in light of the very simple structure which we began in our presentation of Mark which shows a greater complexity, in addition to narrative segments before and after the transitional moment of Peter confession to Christ on the road to Caesarea, Philippi. We see five main blocks of largely uninterrupted teaching material (call them sermons if you like) punctuating the narrative, the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, the commissioning of the disciples going out and preaching and teaching and working miracles apart from Jesus (so called missionary discourses) in chapter 10. A much more lengthy collection of parables is found in Mark 4 comprising almost all of Matthew 13. There is a collection of sayings or discourses on the theme of humility and forgiveness in chapter 18, addressed to the disciples alone and then at the very least, the collection of predictions and parables comprising Matthew 24-25, the so-called eschatological discourses.

Perhaps, separate from but arguably combined with the woes against the Scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, thus created a composite discourse of approximately the same length as the Sermon on the Mount. One can even see a bit of sequence in terms of these two lengthy discourses, bracketing the collection of five sermons, spoken to diverse audiences that focus uniquely on the disciples’ mission and responsibilities addressed only to the disciples in chapters 10 and 18 and the sermon that uniquely in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ parables is divided exactly in half between Jesus’ address to the crowds and his explanation to the disciples with the parables rather than the confession on the road to Caesarea, Philippi.

By this juncture, it is increasingly clear those who are responding positively to Jesus and those who are not. And for those who are responding positively, even what is cryptic to them will be explained as shown in the parables. As for those who are responding negatively, even the clearest parable retain a certain cryptic dimension for them, arguably not so much in the cognitive dimension, will understand well what Jesus is claiming but the volitional dimension. They are not willing to demonstrate the true understanding which in Scripture is always accompanied by commitment to Yahweh, God of Israel, and now with the coming of Jesus as revealed in his unique messiah. In addition, Matthew differs from Mark by having two chapter infancy narratives which Mark lacks and a full chapter replete with actually resurrection appearances at the end of the Gospel rather than the abbreviated version found in Mark with only the prediction of appearances, assuming Mark 16:8 is where Mark intended to end his Gospel.

The next slide proceeds to illustrate, as we did with Mark, how such an outline can be further subdivided where we can see the five main blocks of discourses. Apart from the introductory narrative and the closing account of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, it’s interesting to observe two significant places where Matthew, as narrator, appears to bring a segment of Jesus’ ministry to a close and introduce a new one with the formula from that time on where Jesus began to reflect both his actions and his teachings. These come at the suture of chapter 4:17 and again in 16:21 and can be viewed as transitional points, either wrapping up or beginning a new main segment which then divides the Gospel of Matthew into three parts: an introduction to his ministry, his major public life and ministry and then on the road to Jerusalem. With that second suture being the identical pivot that we saw in Mark. How does that commonly basic adopted outline sit in with the observation of the presence of five major discourses and potential pivot in the middle of chapter on the parables?

Our suggestion, which can be found in my commentary on Matthew, the New American Commentary Series, published in 1992, is to see Matthew as consciously alternating between blocks of narrative discourse, indeed an observation that has often been made that can in fact be combined with the tripartite structure so that the large second section of the three part structure breaks down into pairs of discourses followed by narrative that can be, without great difficulty, viewed as thematically related to each other. The concluding verses of chapter 4, introduced the Sermon on the Mount as the concluding verses of chapter 9, round out the chapters on Jesus’ healing miracles with very similar references to his unique authority and the fact that it contains Jesus’ great sermon, his preaching or teaching and selection to ten miracles, thematically grouped with very little material. Most of the miracles of healing suggest that Matthew is creating two clusters of text, illustrating first, Jesus’ authority in preaching and then his authority in healing. Opposition of the kind we saw as early as Mark 3:6 does not appear in Matthew until the verses leading up to Mark 9:34 and the end of that narrative section but continues to punctuate pervasively the next pair of discourse and narrative sections suggesting that this yellow and white entry should be understood as first of all, predicting the opposition in his discourse that he elaborates on and then the beginning on a more wide spread basis on the actually experience of the opposition throughout his ministry.

To the extent that Matthew 13 illustrates distinctively or more emphatically the polarization that Jesus, teaching in parables both responded to and further re-enforced between those who were accepting him and rejecting him. It is very natural then to link this section with the remaining narrative material up through that final key pivot in Kingsbury’s three part structure and see it connecting the polarization that was explained or illustrated and talked about in chapter 13:1-52; especially as we see our text discusses in more detail the segment of withdrawal from Galilee into gentile territory. With a number of these mentioned miracles, remarkable similar to what has already been experienced in Jewish territory comprising two halves of 13:53 to 16:20.

No doubt the reason why the full outline that this slide represents has not previously been proposed in quite this exact form is because to preserve it, one then has to see the sequence of matching narrative discourse segments reverse themselves in sequence. Since one moves beyond the second major division according to Kingsbury, one doesn’t immediate revert to discourse but continues in a narrative fashion. Hence the two white lines, back to back, in the chart, 13:53 to 16:20 and 16:21 to 17:27. But if one tries that hypothesis on for size, it is remarkable how nicely the pattern does indeed continue as in 16:21 to 17:27 even while couched in narrative form involves more short teachings and conversations with individuals than in the previous narrative segment statements, all surround the theme of discipleship while Christ is literally on the road to Jerusalem travelling under the shallow of the Cross, predicting the fate that will await him there, but accepting the humiliation and representing the condescension of God to adopt such a plan and to submit to such a fate. Not surprisingly the discourse on humility and condescension, particularly as expressed in a willingness to forgive others, even as Jesus’ atoning death provides the forgiveness of sins for all who would follow him. That discourse follows very naturally in chapter 18. After which a subsequent narrative, even more dominated by teachings, even if not a consecutive discourse as in chapters 23 to 25, proceeds to focus in teaching and enacted object lessons on the coming judgment of the Jewish leaders, the sermons then in 23 to 25 focus on the judgment on the temple, itself, and its authorities as shown in chapter 23, and ultimately with Christ’s return, predicted and illustrated in parables on all the people reached in the world in chapter 24 and 25. At least, that seems to be an outline worth trying as you continue to study this particular Gospel.

V. Triads of Parables

The final component of this lecture may re-enforce a bit of this last segment of the outline. It can also help us to review and illustrate that component of redaction criticism that we spoke of as thinking vertically, looking at the results when one reflects particularly when other Gospels may have them in a different order and hence with are led to believe more than or something different than is chronologically at work. And in doing so, we see two nice illustrations in the two triads of parables that appear first in Matthew 21 to 22 where Matthew alone includes the parable of the two sons and the marriage feast. While the parable sandwich itself in between the wicked tenet, found in all three of the synoptics. The parable of two sons, the one who says he will work in his father’s vineyard but doesn’t and the other one who says that he will not but does, interpreted by Jesus as those within Israel, first the Jewish leaders and then the outcasts who likewise seemed to be responding to God but ultimately aren’t and vice versa. Here is the indictment of the present leadership of Israel. The actual sentence for those leaders is left for the next parable. Now thinking and reading for a moment horizontally, we see that the one entire verse unique to Matthew’s account of the wick tenet in Matthew 21:43 in which Jesus pronounces the Kingdom of God will be given to a nation that will produce the fruit in a way that Israel has not in the multi-ethnic community of the followers of Jesus.

Finally, we see Israel’s execution, based on those who will not follow Jesus in the marriage feast where the invited guests refused to come, find that the King’s armies will be sent out to slay them. The other triad of parables comes in Matthew 24 to 25 and does not reflect a theme that directly ties in to one of Matthew’s major themes. But, nevertheless, those faithful of further subdividing an outline of this Gospel and also the potential of reading vertically, the house holder and thief and faithful servant parables are in quite different contexts in Luke 12, not in Matthew, nor in Mark. And the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13 is unique to Matthew. In this particular run of these three passages, it would be interesting to see in the context of Jesus’ prediction of his return, that in the parable of the house holder and thief; what catches the house holder by surprise is simply the unexpected arrival of a burglar. This is not suggesting that Christ’s return is being likened to stealing something. The sole point of the comparison is the unexpected arrival of the individual. The parable of the faithful servant is with the master of the unfaithful servant has gone away and comes home sooner than expected. So the master catches him abusing his position of authority and mistreating other servants. The parable of the ten bridesmaids reverses the problem; the foolish five are so described because they are not prepared for waiting for the bridegroom taking longer than anticipated and not bringing enough oil for their lamps, thus having to go out and buy more. When they wake up, they realize that their lights have gone out and by the time they provide for themselves, the door to the wedding feast is shut to them. To the extent that these passages originally dealt with the coming of the judgment day and as by Matthew’s time, it was clear to Jesus’ audience, initially, that judgment day was now going to be accompanied by the return of Jesus.

This is an allegory concerning the return of Christ either unexpectedly early or unexpectedly late. There are only three possible options, logically, and therefore stressed the point that no one can know the day or hour of the return of the Son of Man or as Jesus will say, as in the Book of Acts, not even the times or seasons. Any attempt to pin down the return of Christ to a bounded period of time is a waste as Jesus did not even know, and therefore, at the very least, we should pay no attention to such predictions and at most in situations where we have spiritual authority over individuals, do everything we can to squelch such predictions.