Note to faculty: Steve Mason is on the faculty of York University in Toronto and has graciously shown me this part of his manuscript. When he gave it to me in 1998, it was not yet published - it probably has been by now. Until I find out for sure, please treat this as an unpublished manuscript and give Dr. Mason the courtesy he deserves by not bandying it about. Under no circumstances distribute this to students or anyone outside our university community. FYI only.

I am afraid that the Greek did not transliterate well. Sorry.


Steve Mason

             In the introduction to Mark we saw vividly that each ôgospelöùas tradition has come to call each of these narrativesùhas a distinctive outlook, style, vocabulary, and set of themes. Mark, for example, sets out to describe ôthe beginning of the gospelö (Mark 1:1), and so details the developments that led up to JesusÆ saving death and resurrection from a perspective much like PaulÆs. Jesus appears with a radically new teaching about the imminence of the Kingdom of God that hinges on his unique authority as son of God. This causes immediate conflict with his Jewish environment, which hostility leads to his death. Even his family and original students do not understand him. So Mark attempts to provide a historical context for PaulÆs ôgospel.ö But since we know from PaulÆs letters that his gospel of JesusÆ saving death, resurrection, and return was by no means the only mode of allegiance to Jesus, we should expect other writings to reveal perspectives different from MarkÆs.

            Matthew provides a fascinating study because, although it uses Mark as its main source (92% of Mark is reproduced somewhere in Matthew), it manages to create from the same stories and sayings a strikingly different portrait of Jesus, and of what it means to be his follower.



            The author of Matthew creates this new impression in various ways: by supplying a new beginning (chaps 1-2) and ending (chap 28); by adding in considerable material not found in Mark, though much of it is paralleled in Luke and Thomas (from Q, according to the common hypothesis); and by making innumerable subtle adjustments to MarkÆs language.

            The new atmosphere becomes obvious already in the opening title: ôthe Book of the Genesis [as the Greek says] of Jesus the Messiah, son of David, son of Abrahamö (1:1). All of these words immediately conjure up biblical images: ôbook of the genesisö recalls Gen 2:4; 5:1 (LXX). Abraham was the founder of the nation, called by God to inhabit the land of Israel with his descendants (Gen 12). David was IsraelÆs greatest king, and the ideal for all future government (2 Sam 5-7).

            An elaborate genealogy (1:2-17), taken from the Bible for the earlier generations, and using the exile to Babylon as a chronological marker, then demonstrates JesusÆ classically Jewish pedigree. Next comes a birth story (1:18-23) permeated with biblical overtones: angelic appearances in dreams, scriptures fulfilled on every hand, and biblical-sounding people and places. Jesus appears here as a new Moses and a new Israel, who survives the slaughter of innocent children by a wicked king (2:16-18; cf. Exod 1:15-2:10) and then emerges from Egypt as ôGodÆs sonö (2:13-15). This new material sets a scene very different from MarkÆs, for Jesus now stands in complete continuity with IsraelÆs past and hopes.

            It is not until the third chapter that Matthew begins to intersect with Mark, but the new beginning has already set up different expectations for MatthewÆs readers. Matthew follows Mark fairly closely through many of the initiation events (chaps 3-4: JesusÆ immersion by John, temptation, call of the first students), but omits JesusÆ prototypical conflict in the synagogue, where Mark had credited him with a radical ônew teachingö (Mark 1:23-28). And the author postpones until the ninth chapter even the beginning of serious controversies between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. Whereas Mark had set in motion a plot to kill Jesus right at the outset (Mark 3:6), Matthew will come to that plot only in the twelfth chapter (12:14)ùapproaching the mid-point of the gospel. The net effect of these changes is to portray Jesus as successful and comfortable in his native Jewish world for the early part of his career (4:23; 9:35)ùthat is, until particular groups of authorities (scribes and Pharisees) intervene and cause him trouble. He is not, therefore, fundamentally opposed to either Judaism or the Torah of Moses.

            Nevertheless, lethal opposition to Jesus surely develops among these leaders. In chapters 11-12 they reject him as they rejected John the Baptist (the author notes at length) and plot to kill him (12:14), accusing him of being in league with the Devil. After several further demonstrations of his effective power and a major confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus begins to tell his students about his coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem (16:21; 17:22-23) at the hands of the authorities. But through all of this, Matthew maintains a sense of Jesus’ original belonging in Judaism by having the crowds, as distinct from the leaders, continue to welcome him (17:14). When he finally enters Jerusalem, the crowds recognize and praise him (21:11), and the crowds’ support becomes a major problem for the authorities who wish to kill him (21:46). In the end, however, the leaders win over the “whole people” in their clamor for his crucifixion, and so the guilt for Jesus’ death passes to the whole nation and its descendants (27:25). So what was mainly an in-house Jewish controversy between the Messiah Jesus and the “blind” and “stubborn” leaders becomes a conflict between Jews as a whole and Christians.

            The story ends, as it began, very differently from Mark’s. At the same time as Jesus begins to predict his death, not coincidentally he confidently prepares for the establishment of “my church”—a word that turns up only in Matthew. The church will be founded squarely upon Jesus’ original students, led by Peter (the Rock; 16:16-18; 18:18-20), who are trustworthy reporters of his teaching (26:20). Although they falter at the moment of testing, according to Jesus’ prediction (26:31, 40, 69-75), after his resurrection they join him in his triumph and he gives them his final charge (28:16-20).

            Overlaid on this story, and reflecting the author’s concern to create a basic manual for the new church, are several large blocks of Jesus’ teaching. These occupy chaps 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 23-25, creating the impression that the author has positioned them deliberately, even symmetrically (5-7 matching 23-25), throughout the story. This impression is confirmed by the author’s use of a formula at the end of each discourse: “And when Jesus had finished saying these things” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The first of the great speeches is the famous Sermon on the Mount (chaps 5-7), covering a wide range of behavioral norms for Jesus’ followers. The second is a set of instructions for his missionaries (chap 10). The third is a collection of exemplary parables—some given to the crowds by the lake, some given to his students in his house (chap 13). The fourth comprises a set of specific instructions for “church” life, particularly with respect to sin and forgiveness (chap 18). The final discourse includes both seven woes directed at the scribes and Pharisees (chap 23) and an extensive apocalyptic discourse given to Jesus’ students on the Mount of Olives, in which he describes the coming judgment upon the world (chaps 24-25). So the speeches become increasingly narrow in their focus, as they also change their tone from the “happy” sayings of the beatitudes to Jesus’ dark warnings about impending doom.

            The very neatness and symmetry of the five-speech scenario has invited many proposals about the author’s aims: Matthew has Jesus emulate the five books of Moses; each narrative section (chaps 3-4, 8-9, 11-12, 14-17, 19-22) is somehow tied to the speech that follows it, so that the entire gospel consists of five “volumes” plus introduction and conclusion; the author creates from these five speeches a “concentric” pattern that highlights the central speech (chap 13, on parables); and so on. While these are all helpful proposals, we should not minimize the discomfiting fact that the fifth “speech” (chaps 23-25) actually appears in the story as two different discourses. Chap 23, with its seven woes, is a highly stylized attack on the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple area, continuing Jesus’ earlier debate with them (22:41). Chaps 24-25 come after a significant break and in response to his students’ question about the end of the age: he responds to them while sitting on the Mount of Olives (24:1-3). The location, audience, content, and tone of this speech make it quite different from that of chap 23.


Literary Features

            Perhaps the best response to this inconvenient fact is to see it as the author’s way of telling us not to impose any single interpretive system on his book. Everywhere we look, in fact, the work reveals multiple layers, which defy simple or rigid constructions. The author is an artist and a master of evocation. He seems comfortable with a great deal of ambiguity.

            For example, the birth narratives lead us to see Jesus as a new Moses, since he survives the slaughter of innocent children by a wicked king, just as Moses did. And so, when Jesus ascends a mountain in 5:1, we immediately think of Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Torah from God. But this parallel is confounded by the fact that whereas Moses had to bring God’s teaching down to deliver it, Jesus actually sits on the mountain and teaches in the manner of a rabbi. Perhaps the mountain imagery here, as in the transfiguration story, draws more from common assumptions in prophetic and apocalyptic literature about mountains as places for encountering God. And although Jesus can appear as a substitute Moses in Matthew, reinterpreting God’s intentions in non-Mosaic ways (19:7-9), elsewhere he speaks as a respectful interpreter of Moses, who fully expects Moses’ commandments to continue (5:17-48; 23:2-3). Thus, although Matthew’s Jesus evokes the figure of Moses in some ways, the reader cannot place too rigid a set of expectations upon the meaning of “new Moses.” Jesus is also a new Solomon and a new Jonah (12:41-42), even a new Temple (12:6), but none of these images is fully developed either.

            That Matthew can be read on so many levels, many of which seem to be unfinished threads, suggests a certain kind of literary playfulness on the author’s part. This applies also to his individual words, phrases, and larger structures. Recall the title of the work (1:1): “the Book of the Genesis.” That word genesis has many connotations that all apply here: birth (1:18), genealogy (1:2), beginning (chaps 1-4), and the biblical book of Genesis (Gen 2:4; 5:1). It is impossible to translate such a word with one English equivalent because the author does not mean one thing exclusively. In 19:28, the author has Jesus refer to the new age as “again being” or “rebirth” (palingenesia)—a term popular in Stoic philosophy to describe the rebirth of the cosmos after the great fiery reversion of all things. Any single translation of such a rich term is too narrow and misleading. Or again, Matthew’s many references to the curing of blindness and deafness have both an obvious physical meaning but also a link with the prophetic book of Isaiah, a major theme of which is the blindness and deafness of Israel (e.g., 11:3-6). And when the text speaks of “little ones” it appears to slide, in the same passage, from actual children to new members of the Christian group (18:2-6, 10). The author seems deliberately to use language that works at several levels.

            The same can be said of the entire structure of the work. Some scholars have imagined that the five-speech format must be most central to the author’s intentions, while others have pointed out a different kind of formulaic division. In 4:17, after the initiation events of Jesus’ life, the author uses the phrase “From that time Jesus began. . .” to introduce Jesus’ teaching and healing career. In 16:21, the same phrase marks the transition to Jesus’ anticipation of death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Can one say that this three-part division of the story is more central than the five- (or six-) speech structure? No: it is part of the author’s art to have all of these things going on simultaneously.

            Other noteworthy patterns further illustrate the book’s literary playfulness. This author seems to delight in repetition and (near) symmetry. Most obvious is his taste for formulas that can be repeated. We have noted his speech-ending formulas and the transition markers at 4:17 and 16:21. Others are found in the heavily stylized birth narrative (chaps 1-2). After the formulaic genealogy (X was the father of Y; Y was the father of Z), it contains three dream sequences, all of which follow a clear pattern: “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said”; command given by the angel; reason for the command; Joseph “got up” and complied with the command (1:20-21; 2:13-14, 19-21). Another prominent formula occurs throughout the book, fourteen times, after Jesus fulfills some scriptural hope: “this happened to fulfill what was spoken by [the prophet]” (e.g., e.g., 1:22; 2:17). Some sixty-one times the author uses the biblical phrase “Look” or “Behold” (Greek: idou) when he is describing events, and this helps to maintain an aura of biblical mystery around the story; often the NRSV leaves these words untranslated in English. A particularly impressive Matthean formula is Jesus’ refrain about being cast into “outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). All of this repetition creates a sense of stability and control: the author is not simply patching together stories, but dexterously conveys a message that permeates the whole work.

            Another kind of repetition appears in Matthew’s many duplications and pairs. The reader often has the feeling that some story or saying sounds familiar, and that is because it has already appeared in the earlier narrative. Matthew not only takes over the two miraculous feedings from Mark, but also has two cures of blind men (9:27-31/20:29-34), two cures of deaf-mutes and the related charges that Jesus is possessed by the Devil (9:32-34-12:22-24), and two requests for a sign (12:38-42/16:1-4). Jesus’ sayings about divorce (5:31-32/19:3-9), coming persecution (10:17-22/24:9-13), and receiving the kingdom as a child (18:1-3/19:13-15) likewise reappear in similar forms.

            Not only are these episodes duplicated but, most remarkably, the author often doubles the number of characters within a story. For example, in each of his two accounts of curing the blind, he has two blind men instead of Mark’s lone Bartimaeus (9:27; 20:30). He similarly has two demon-possessed men in Gadara (8:28) instead of Mark’s one (in Gerasa), and even two animals for Jesus to ride—a difficult image—into Jerusalem (21:2-7).

            When we search for a reason for this proliferation of episodes and characters, one answer seems to lie in the author’s awareness of the Bible’s principle that every case must be advanced on the strength of two or three witnesses, not one alone (Deut 19:15). Since Matthew cites this principle for church life (18:16) and alters Mark’s story of Jesus’ trial to have two false witnesses bring the charge against Jesus (26:60), it seems likely that the author has the requirement of two or three witness in mind throughout the book.

            Still, that much of Matthew’s repetition stems from literary motives is suggested by the author’s parallel practice of “inclusion.” This occurs when a theme or principle is stated, another unit such as a parable follows, and then the author repeats the initial theme in order to tie in the intervening unit, which might otherwise have been open to different interpretations. For example, in 18:21 Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive, and Jesus answers (in effect: “a lot”). The reader might think that this episode has finished with the following parable of the servants, but the final sentence (18:35) applies that parable directly to the problem of forgiveness. Again, Jesus ends his discussion of future reward for his students with the remark that many of the last will be first, and the first, last (19:30). That unit seems to have ended. Then he tells a parable about vineyard workers who are hired at different times but receive the same wage (20:1-15), which he closes with a repetition of the line in 19:30 (20:16). Since the parables by themselves are open to many different applications (as the parallels in Thomas often show), we see in this technique of “inclusion” the author’s concern to shape the parable’s meaning in one direction. See also 12:39-45; 21:25-32; 24:42-25:13.

            One kind of repetitive word-play in Matthew that has wide parallels in both biblical and Greek literature is called chiasm (KI-asm). This is an arrangement of words or phrases that appears like the Greek capital letter X (khi). That is, if we call one phrase “A” and another “B”, the pattern is A, B, B, A. Thus: “the last (A) shall be first (B) and the first (B) shall be last (A)” (19:30; 20:16). In other cases, the author switches more than two terms. For example, the title of the work (1:1) calls Jesus Messiah (A), son of David (B), son of Abraham (C), and then the genealogy moves in reverse order from Abraham (C) to David (B) to the Messiah (A). Or again, if it is correct that the author intended five main speeches, the first (A, chaps 5-7) and last (A’, chaps 23-25) are symmetrical in length, and the middle speech (C, chap 13), which has no match, is featured. Since these inversions of more than two items no longer fit the “X” image, it is better to call this a “concentric” pattern; this label works with any number of items repeated in reverse order.

            Of the many patterns used by the author of Matthew, the other one that we shall mention here has to do with numbers. More than any other gospel writer, this one seems alive to the power of numbers. Remember that ancient Western languages did not have separate character sets for letters and numbers. In Greek, Latin, and Hebrew one counted with letters, each of which had a numerical value. This situation understandably gave rise to all sorts of reflection on the numerical values of words and names (cf. Rev 13:18). In Matthew, multiples of three and seven seem to carry particular weight. Jesus’ genealogy is divided into three blocks of fourteen generations, the author says (1:17)—even though the arithmetic does not seem to work. This corresponds to the fourteen fulfillment citations sprinkled throughout the work. The author’s interest in the number fourteen has suggested to some scholars the he derived it from the numerical value of the name “David” (Hebrew: DWD, 4 + 6 + 4). Jesus faces three tests in the desert (4:3-11), and gives nine beatitudes (5:3-11), six antitheses (5:21-48), seven parables (chap 13), and seven woes against the Pharisees (chap 23).  Once again, it seems counter-productive to press any of these too far: seven is a number of completion or fullness (as in seven days), and that fits with Matthew’s pronounced “fulfillment theme.” But these numbers are more suggestive than logically conclusive.


Distinctive Themes

            Because of the author’s highly allusive style, it is impossible to identify more than a few of Matthew’s most characteristic themes here.

            Of these, the first might be called “continuity and fulfillment.” What the modern reader senses from Matthew’s opening sentence onward—that the author and his first readers lived in a world filled with Jewish imagery and assumptions, a world most unlike Mark’s—comes to expression clearly in Jesus’ first major speech. There, Jesus takes pointed issue with anyone who would suppose that he has come to abolish “the law and the prophets”—Jewish scripture (5:17). For he has come not to abolish but to fulfill them. Whatever this fulfillment means, it does not mean that the Torah is now dispensable (contrast Paul and Mark). Rather, whereas the Torah had prohibited murder, adultery, and disproportionate revenge, Matthew’s Jesus goes further and forbids anger, lust, and the demand for simple justice (5:21-48). Like the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls (in this respect), he requires of his followers a much higher standard of Torah observance than was normal (5:20)—setting a fence around the Torah, as it were, so that one would never even come close to violating its minimal requirements. But that minimal standard is not itself negotiable.

            Throughout the subsequent narrative, Matthew’s Jesus assumes the validity of Jewish categories. In passages peculiar to Matthew, he addresses himself exclusively to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” not gentiles (15:24), and he demands that his students do the same (10:5-6). Indeed, he calls outsiders to the community of readers “gentiles” (6:7, 32; 10:5; 18:17). He accepts Temple sacrifice (5:24) and also tithing for the Jewish priesthood (23:23). While following Mark closely, the author rejects Mark’s claim that Jesus’ concern about what comes out a person, rather than what goes in, implies the abolition of the Jewish dietary laws (Mark 7:19). He is determined that Jesus’ followers should observe the Torah of Moses, and even has Jesus advocating deference to the Pharisees to the extent that they teach Moses’ laws (23:2-3).

            In keeping with his stated requirement of Torah observance, the author expects his readers to appreciate (on some level) both biblical history and Jewish customs. Fourteen times throughout the narrative, he pauses to say that Jesus’ action “fulfilled” some scriptural passage. He corrects one of Mark’s scriptural citations (Mark 1:2-3/Matt 3:3; 11:10). He omits Mark’s explanation of Jewish hand-washing customs (Mark 7:3-4/Matt 15:2) and of the relationship between Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:12; Matt 26:17), and even introduces without explanation references to Jewish clothing (fringes and prayer cases: 23:5) and the didrachma (Temple tax; 17:24). He appears to expect a fair degree of Jewish and biblical knowledge from his intended readers. That expectation fits with the requirement that they scrupulously observe Torah, or be “righteous.”

            Matthew’s use of the “righteousness” word-group (also “righteous” and “be righteous”) further reflects the book’s continuity with Judaism. In Jewish scripture, righteousness essentially means fulfilling God’s commandments, observing God’s gracious gift, the Torah (Gen 6:9; 15:6; 26:5; Ps 5:12; 119:7). We have seen that in the first Christian generation Paul, reacting to claims that his gentile converts should also be righteous in this way, argued that righteousness came solely through being “in Christ” and not through observance of Torah. But when the author of Matthew  emphasizes the language of righteousness, he understands the word-group in the typically Jewish, non-Pauline mode. This is his most characteristic way of describing the program of Jesus’ followers: they are the righteous, who should seek a righteousness surpassing that of the scribes and Pharisees (by observing every word of the commandments); although they will be persecuted on account of their righteousness, they will also shine like the sun because of it (1:19; 5:6, 10, 20; 6:33; 10:41; 13:43; 21:32; 25:46).

            Another mechanism for connecting Jesus with the biblical-Jewish world in Matthew is the label Son of David. Every time it is used of Jesus, from the book’s title (1:1) onward, it reminds the biblically knowledgeable reader of the prophet Nathan’s promise to King David that the kingdom of his “son” would be established forever (2 Sam 7:12-16). After the collapse of the Davidic monarchy (with the fall of Jerusalem and Judah in 586 BCE), some prophets began to hope for a restoration of Davidic kingship (Hag 2:20-23). By Jesus’ day there was a vast array of hopes for national deliverance, but the dream of a Davidic king was still alive in some circles (Pss Sol 17). Whereas Mark had used this title sparingly, mainly to challenge the notion that the Messiah should be a descendant of David (Mark 12:35-37), Matthew uses it often and deliberately: in the title and genealogy (1:17), in the angel’s address to Jesus’ father Joseph (1:20), in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21:9), and on the lips of many different characters in the story (9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:15). Most Christians seem to have been willing to call Jesus “Messiah” or “Christ,” but Matthew presents that title largely in classical Jewish terms: Jesus is the awaited King of the Jews, the Son of David who has come to restore Israel.

            Matthew’s concern to locate Jesus squarely within Judaism should not, however, lead us to view this Jesus as simply another Jewish teacher among many. While stressing his continuity with Judaism, the author at the same time emphasizes his completely unique authority as Messiah and Son of God. In the birth narrative the angel announces that Jesus is born by divine agency (1:20), and the adult Jesus behaves with full knowledge of his origins and mission. He challenges the Devil himself (4:1-11) and authoritatively interprets God’s will, over against Moses (19:8), recognizing himself as someone greater than Solomon, Jonah (12:41-42), and the Temple (12:6). Indeed, he knows himself to be the Son of God who alone can reveal his Father to the world (11:25-27). He accomplishes this revelation through the five lengthy discourses mentioned earlier, which cover a variety of topics for his followers.

            It is this claim to unique authority that brings Matthew’s Messiah Jesus, in spite of his strong base in Judaism, into conflict with other Jewish leaders. The whole book of Matthew reveals a sharp conflict between Jesus and Judaism that transparently reflects a conflict between Matthew’s community and the (other?) Jews. In chapters 11-12, the Jewish leaders begin to break ranks with the “crowds,” who recognize Jesus as the awaited Son of David (12:23-24; 21:9-11, 46). For his part, Jesus is relentlessly critical of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, especially the first two groups, whom he castigates in harsh terms (15:13-14; 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). At times, his critique of the leaders seems to spill over into a general repudiation of the whole Jewish people or “this generation” (11:16-19; 12:39-42, 45; 15:8), and at the trial scene Matthew finally brings people and leaders together in a forceful condemnation of Jesus (27:25). But one of Matthew’s characteristic terms for these leaders, “the hypocrites,” taken together with its recurring reference to “their” or “your” synagogues (as distinct from the readers’? 4:23; 6:2; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 23:34) and the author’s overriding concern to remain within Judaism (above), suggests that this is an “in-house” critique—from one group to another within the broad spectrum of Judaism. So we have the paradox that, while the author and readers of Matthew seem fully at home with the Jewish world, they see themselves in deep conflict with Judaism as a whole. They are at once insiders and outsiders.

            An important piece of this puzzle seems to lie in Matthew’s openness to gentiles and critique of Jewish ancestry. This two-sided appeal begins almost imperceptibly in Jesus’ genealogy, which introduces four gentile women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba); these women are not necessary to the all-male, biblical-style genealogy, and the reader naturally wonders why they are there. It is at least clear that they were people who came into the heritage of Israel from outside. Soon afterwards we meet the Magi, astrologers from Mesopotamia (2:1), who have also come in to share the blessings of Israel’s Messiah. John the Baptist then criticizes the Jewish leaders’ pride in ancestry from Abraham, on the ground that God can create descendants of Abraham at will (3:8-9). When Jesus makes his home in Capernaum, the author selects for citation a biblical passage calling this region “Galilee of the gentiles” (4:15). In one of his first cures, Jesus heals the servant of a gentile soldier and remarks, having said that he has not found such faith in Israel, that “many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (8:10-11). At the same time, the “heirs of the kingdom” will be expelled to the place of outer darkness (8:12). Precisely the same theme of gentile inclusion and the expulsion of historic Israel continues through the parables of the wicked tenants and the wedding banquet (21:33-22:14), and reaches a climax in the final words of the gospel, which send Jesus’ students to “all the gentiles [or “nations]” (28:16-20).

            Matthew’s critique of Jewish ancestry comes through most forcefully in 23:29-36, where Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of being the heirs of those who killed the prophets. The remarkable thing here is that, although the author admits that the Jewish leaders completely disavow their ancestors’ rejection of the prophets (23:30), he still has Jesus insist that their very admission of ancestry is itself, and inescapably, blameworthy (23:31-33). His generation of Jews will have to pay for all of the crimes committed by Israel throughout history (23:34-35). This is quite different from saying simply that the Pharisees prove their ancestry by their (allegedly wicked) deeds, consenting to the (alleged) murders of their fathers, as the parallel in Luke (11:48) has it. In this revealing passage, though the author might not wish to stand by the point in general, Matthew’s Jesus indicts the Jews’ ancestry itself, irrespective of the Pharisees’ actions.

            This combination in Matthew of emphatic commitment to Israel’s Torah and heritage, on the one hand, and equally emphatic repudiation of Israel on the other, with a concomitant enthusiasm for gentiles’ coming into salvation, has led to much scholarly debate about the author and audience. Were they gentiles or Jews? We shall return to the question below, after discussing three other related themes in Matthew.

            First, although the author and characters in the story present Jesus as Son of David, Jesus more often calls himself Son of Man—a title familiar from Mark, but used much more frequently in Matthew. This was not, as far as we can tell, a phrase used in pre-Christian Judaism to refer to a powerful heavenly being; in Dan 7:13, the passage most often cited as a source, it simply refers to a “human-like figure” seen in a vision. The author of Matthew, however, has Jesus talk often about the “coming of the Son of Man in glory,” on the clouds of heaven with many angels, to save the righteous and punish the wicked (13:36-43; 24:29-31; 25:31). Indeed, as the book progresses, the theme of impending judgment from the Son of Man becomes increasingly prominent, and the threat of being cast into “outer darkness,” increasingly vivid. Those who are cast out from salvation will be “cut in pieces” (24:51) and tortured (18:34); they will have their city burned (22:7) and will face the age-long fire prepared for the Devil (25:41). Thus Matthew takes over not only the biblical prophetic heritage but also, from some contemporary Jewish circles, a dark apocalyptic tone.

            It may come as a surprise to the reader of Matthew to realize that one of the most important bases for the Son of Man’s judgment is the reception of Jesus’ missionaries: those sent out to bring people into salvation. The second major speech (chap 10) is devoted to the theme of mission. Although it is set in Jesus’ lifetime, the language shows that it is really a manual for later missionaries, since it predicts fierce persecution, appearances before governors and kings, and the coming of the Son of Man before the mission concludes—none of which applied to Jesus’ lifetime (10:17, 23). This speech shows that the author has a deep concern with the reception of missionaries, for it threatens dire judgment for those who rebuff them (10:40-42). Apparently, those expected to mistreat the missionaries are Jews (10:17). Later in the narrative, one of Jesus’ strongest woes against the scribes and Pharisees is pronounced because they allegedly mistreat his missionaries (23:33-37). These missionaries may be included among the messengers sent by the vineyard-owner to collect his rent (21:35), whose mistreatment will be avenged by the “miserable death” of the wicked tenants (21:40). Most striking is the lengthy scene in 25:31-46, where all the nations are to be judged by the Son of Man according to the way in which they have treated Jesus’ missionaries. The “great commission” in 28:16-20 seals this important theme for the author.

            Finally, we noted that Matthew appears somewhat as the Messiah’s manual for his church, and that one of its discourses is devoted to church life. A fundamental change in Matthew over against Mark is the way in which this church’s foundation is understood. Whereas Mark had consistently denigrated both Jesus’ original students and his family members, who happened to have played leading roles in the Jerusalem church before Mark was written, Matthew unmistakably supports both Jesus’ students and his family. The author simply omits many of Mark’s more cutting remarks about these groups (Mark 3:21) and alters a great deal of other material to present them in a better light. When Jesus walks on the water, his students are no longer dumbfounded and hard-hearted (Mark 6:52), but worship him as Son of God (Matt 14:33). James and John no longer grasp after status in Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 10:35); it is their mother who, as mothers are inclined to do, looks out for their interests (Matt 20:20). Peter, an acknowledged leader of non-Pauline first-generation Christianity (1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:18; 2:8; Acts 1-12), appears in a particularly glowing light, for Jesus makes him the Rock on which the church will be established (16:16-18). But all of Jesus’ students receive the authority to act in Jesus’ stead (18:18-20), as his trustworthy interpreters (28:20). This support for the Jerusalem church leadership fits with the work’s Jewish, Torah-observant ethos. Jesus’ final words in the gospel (28:20) show that he expects his followers to observe everything he has taught his students, including full Torah observance.

            Church life in Matthew appears quite severe and ascetic. Matthew’s Jesus twice advocates the removal of body parts as preferable to facing the fire of hell (5:29; 18:8-9). Forgiveness should be unlimited (18:21-35), but those who fall away from the faith will face the same judgment as the hypocrites (24:26-51). The community aims at an extremely high standard of moral purity, namely perfection (5:48). This kind of zeal rivals that of those who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, though there is less discussion in Matthew of particular commandments.


Author and Audience

            Since we know nothing reliable about the author or his situation from outside sources, we must reconstruct the conditions of writing from the text itself. The themes we have just considered, however, seem to point in different directions. On the one hand, we have an author who is not only comfortable within the world of Bible and Judaism, but zealous for it; he presents Jesus as demanding full and scrupulous compliance with God’s commandments in the Torah. Such compliance would presumably begin with circumcision for males, the mark of Jewish male identity (Gen 17:9-14), and would continue through the dietary laws and general ordering of life in a Jewish community. Thus, the church fathers believed that Matthew had been originally written in Hebrew “for believers of Jewish origin.”[1]_ And it seems that that the Gospel of the Hebrews, used by the Jewish-Christian Ebionites, was a paraphrase of Matthew. On the other hand, the Jewish Christians of antiquity could not accept Matthew’s gospel as it stood; that is why their own gospel was a paraphrase of it.[2]_ One reason for this was that they rejected Matthew’s claim that Jesus was literally God’s son, born of a virgin.[3]_ But they might also have noted Matthew’s strong statements in favor of gentile salvation and opposing Israel and Jewish ancestry. Was the author a Jew or a gentile, and for whom did he write?

            Before answering that question, we need to consider another side to the problem. Although the author vociferously supports Israel’s heritage and laws, it is a legitimate question how well he knows the scriptures, Jewish customs, or conditions in Judea. He does correct one of Mark’s scripture citations (Mark 1:2-3; cf. Matt 3:3; 11:10), but then he makes several obvious errors of his own. For example, he misunderstands the poetic repetition of Zech 9:9 as if it required Israel’s king to ride on two animals, a colt and a donkey, and he even rewrites Mark’s story so that this happens (21:1-11). He claims that the death of Judas fulfills scripture from Jeremiah (Matt 27:9), but the passage he cites is actually a paraphrase of Zech 11:13. Other alleged fulfillment passages have no known parallel in the Bible (Matt 2:23; 26:54-56), and still others are given in forms that differ significantly from those known to us in the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint (LXX): 4:15-16; 8:17; 12:18-21.

            Of course, one must always reckon with the possibilities that the author’s Bible read differently from ours (the text was in constant flux) and that he deliberately altered a reading to reinterpret it, but some of these differences appear to be outright mistakes. Although the author tries to clean up some of Mark’s geographical improbabilities (Mark 5:1/Matt 8:28; Mark 7:31/Matt 15:29), he still leaves a great deal of vagueness and difficulty, as in his claim that Jesus went to “Judea beyond the Jordan” (19:1). He improbably creates a close association between Pharisees and Sadducees (3:7; 16:6-12; 22:34). And although he introduces some Jewish customs, his reference to “broad phylacteries” (23:5) is puzzling. He also takes over Mark’s problems concerning the night-time trial of Jesus on the first day of a major holiday—problems corrected somewhat by Luke and John (see notes to Mark 14:53-65).

            We have, then, the paradox of a Christian writer who is extremely zealous for the Torah, Israel’s heritage, and things Jewish, but who has an uncertain grasp of them. At the same time, he repudiates the natural heirs to this heritage (“children of the kingdom”) and shuns Jewish ancestry, while making much of the gentiles’ coming in to share the blessings of Israel’s Messiah. How should we put all of these pieces together?

            Two broad kinds of interpretation, with many fine distinctions, dominate the scholarly field today. According to one view, Matthew was written for an observant Christian-Jewish community that saw itself as a faithful remnant of the Jews—those few who had responded to the revelation of Israel’s Messiah. This faithful remnant warmly accepted the gentile mission, which was well underway by the time the book was written. Perhaps in keeping with Paul’s “remnant” idea (Rom 11:1-5), these Jews who had accepted Jesus saw the salvation of gentiles as part of God’s plan to discipline the bulk of Jews (Rom 11:11-12, 23-26). The opposite view is that, in its present form, Matthew is a work by and for gentile Christians: it seeks to justify gentile salvation on the ground that the Jews as a body rejected their Messiah. Adherents to this hypothesis often attribute Matthew’s Jewish character to its special (non-Markan) sources: the writer drew on some earlier material that showed Jesus’ original orientation to the Jews in order to emphasize that Israel had lost its chance and now deserved punishment.                          

            But a third alternative deserves consideration. We know from Paul’s letters that other Christian teachers were trying to persuade his gentile converts to embrace Judaism as part and parcel of their acceptance of Jesus. And we have reason to think that these “judaizing” teachers, who claimed the warrant of Jesus and his original students, were quite successful (Gal 3:1-5; 4:9-10, 21; 5:2-4; 6:12-13). They were able to persuade people that following the Messiah Jesus necessarily involved the adoption of his own biblical tradition; only such followers of Jesus were the “genuine article.” They often became extremely devoted to Jewish customs. The phenomenon was still well known to Ignatius of Antioch (Magn 8-11; Phil 6, 8-9). It is plausible to imagine, therefore, that the author and community of Matthew were products of the non-Pauline (judaizing) mission to gentiles. That would explain well the peculiar features of Matthew discussed above. The author embraces Judaism and the Torah with the zeal of convert, though it is not his native tradition. He disparages native Jews, while exulting in the conversion of gentiles from East and West, among whom he finds his own roots. Missionary activities occupy a central place in his thinking. This new kind of Christian Judaism, avidly seeking converts, might understandably have aroused the ire of more main-stream Jews,[4]_ and their efforts to stop the new group would have appeared to Matthew’s community as persecution.

            If this hypothesis is correct, we have in Matthew the unique written product of a centripetal mission to gentiles in Christianity—the one that invited gentiles to come in to Israel. Contrast Paul’s centrifugal mission, which went out to meet gentiles where they were and required no real movement toward Judaism. In that case, it would be no coincidence that the author’s favorite biblical books, Isaiah and Zechariah, both look forward to such a mission:

            And the many peoples shall go and say:


            Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,  

            To the House of the God of Jacob;

            That he may instruct us in his ways

            And that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa 2:3)


The many peoples and the multitude of nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus said the Lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”            (Zech 8:22-23)


Date and Location

            If the dominant theory of gospel origins is correct (see the introduction to the gospels), then the church fathers of the second and third centuries were incorrect in their supposition that Matthew was the first gospel, written by a student of Jesus in Hebrew or Aramaic. Since all of the synoptic gospels are anonymous, it seems that the fathers’ view was itself a guess, based on oral traditions known to them; perhaps it was connected in some way to this gospel’s identification of Matthew rather than Levi (cf. Mark 2:14) as Jesus’ tax-collector disciple (Matt 9:9). But the widely accepted theory that Matthew used Mark as its main source excludes the possibility that this was a first-hand account, and, if Matthew’s changes to Mark can best be explained on the basis of literary considerations and additional sources, it is also unlikely that Matthew is an eyewitness account.

            Even if we were to disregard the two-document hypothesis, there is compelling evidence within the gospel of a date somewhat after 70 CE, for the author evidently knew about the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in that year. In 22:1–14, Matthew’s Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast, in which a king invited guests to a wedding banquet for his son. But when the guests excused themselves and killed his messengers, he “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (22:7). This parable seems to be a transparent allegory: the Jews will reject Jesus (the king’s son) and kill his missionaries; God (the king) will punish them by destroying their city with fire. Elsewhere, Jesus plainly predicts the destruction of the Temple (24:2, 15), and one of his sayings assumes that it already lies “desolate” as punishment for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and his missionaries (23:37-39).

            It should be stressed that this kind of analysis does not presuppose the impossibility of Jesus’ actually having predicted the Temple’s destruction in his lifetime. It is rather a question of historical probability. For example, both Luke (14:16–24) and Thomas (64) include the parable of the banquet, but without the references to either the guests’ killing of the messengers or the king’s destruction of their city by fire. In the other gospels, it simply illustrates a point about showing hospitality to the socially powerless. The extreme violence in Matthew’s version seems out of place. The historian’s question is, therefore, simple: Is it more likely that Jesus actually gave Matthew’s version, predicting the rejection of his missionaries and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem, but that the parable was trimmed of these references by Luke and Thomas (why?), or that Jesus gave the “simpler” version, which was elaborated by Matthew in light of the Temple’s destruction? Since we have numerous examples of “prophecy after the fact” in ancient Jewish and Christian (and other) literature, since the author of Matthew had a much more obvious motive for making the application than the others had for removing it, and since Matthew’s application appears to strain the internal logic of the story, most scholars incline toward the latter option. This would date Matthew far enough after 70 for the author to have reflected on the implications of Jerusalem’s destruction.

            That date would fit with the many clues in the gospel that the “church” is well established (above), and also with the common view that Matthew used Mark as its main source—which should probably favor a date after 80 CE.

            We should not place Matthew later than 100 CE, however, because from the early second century Matthean formulations of the virgin birth, the Lord’s Prayer, and other material are picked up by other Christian writers, in particular Ignatius (Poly 2/Matt 10:16; Smyrn 1/Eph 18/Matt 1-2; Smyrn 1/Matt 3:15 Eph 10/Matt 13:24-43; Eph 15/Matt 23:8-10). It could be that Ignatius cites oral or partially written traditions, which would not require that Matthew was already a complete gospel; but most people who know the evidence think that Matthew was known as a coherent text by the early second century. So we may take the rough date range of 80 to 100 CE as the likeliest.

            The location of the author and first readers is uncertain. Many scholars favor Antioch in Syria, one of the empire’s largest cities. This proposal has  much to commend it. Ignatius of Antioch seems to know Matthew by the year 100 or so, quite soon after it must have been written; Ignatius is also familiar with the conditions assumed in Matthew—judaizing trends among gentiles, Jewish/gentile conflicts; and Antioch is a likely place for a community such as Matthew’s to have been in conflict with a large body of other Jews. But these considerations by no means exclude other regions, for example in Asia Minor.



Notes from Steve Mason’s paper on Matthew



<40_01:22-23>1:22-23: Isa 7:14. The first of many scripture citations in Matthew, each of which is introduced with a similar “fulfillment” formula. Showing that Jesus fulfills scripture supports the author’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the culmination of Israel’s hope. MT: Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel. LXX: Look, the virgin shall conceive [different verb from Matthew] and bear a son, and you [singular] shall name him Emmanuel.

            The passage refers to a [“the” in the Bible] young woman known to both Isaiah and King Ahaz (late eighth cent. BCE). The “sign” in question is not a miraculous birth, since the woman is not described as a virgin. Rather, the expected son’s infancy will serve as a chronological marker: before he is capable of distinguishing good from evil (i.e., very soon), God will have delivered King Ahaz from his enemies (Isa 7:15-16). That the LXX chose to render the Hebrew “maiden” with the more specific Greek word for “virgin” is no great surprise since in antiquity an unmarried woman was assumed to be a virgin. Although it is not clear in the Hebrew whether the woman is already or soon will be pregnant, the Greek translator (LXX) chose a future verb for the conception; this choice may have disposed him to describe the woman as (presently) a virgin. Matthew’s point depends on the Greek translation, but the author has even altered that to make his story fit better with scripture by substituting “they will name him” for “you [Ahaz] will name him.” The author has wrenched the verse out of its historical context, in a manner that was common among Jewish and Christian interpreters of the period.


<40_02:11>2:11: On entering the house. The author is unaware of Luke’s birth narrative (2:1-7), according to which Jesus was born in a manger when his parents were visiting Bethlehem. Here, Mary and Joseph live in a house in Bethlehem; cf. 2:1, 23.


<40_02:15>2:15: the death of Herod. 4 BCE.


<40_02:15>2:15: Hos 11:1. Matthew’s third fulfillment citation; cf. 1:22. The reference is based on a pun on “my son.” In Hosea it refers to Israel, which was in a sense formed, or defined as a nation, through the Exodus from Egypt (cf. Exod 4:22-23). Matthew, of course, links it to Jesus.


<40_02:16>2:16: killed all the children. Although this episode fits Herod’s character as far as we know it, it is strange that such a heinous crime finds no mention in Josephus, who pulls out all the stops to expose Herod’s wickedness.


<40_02:16>2:16: two years old or under. Cf. 2:7: the Magi did not arrive promptly at Jesus’ birth. The author envisions Bethlehem as the permanent home of Mary and Joseph; he does not know Luke’s version (2:21, 39), according to which they returned to Nazareth after little more than a week in Bethlehem.


<40_04:17>4:17: From that time Jesus began to proclaim. This phrase marks a major turning point in the story: Jesus has completed his initiation events and begun his public career. Cf. the similar phrase at 16:21, another dramatic transition.


<40_05:1>5:1: went up the mountain. It is unclear which mountain is in view. But in view of Matthew’s sustained Moses imagery (see the birth narrative above), it seems likely that the author wishes to compare him with Moses, who also brought divine teaching from a mountain (Sinai). Mountains have great significance in ancient Jewish and near-eastern texts, as places of connection between heaven and earth. Remarkably, Luke 6:17 places a similar speech on a low, level place.


<40_05:3-12>5:3-12:  Matthew’s famous beatitudes (from the Latin for “blessed”). Luke (6:20b-23) has only four, coupled with four woes. All of them stress the theme, common in prophetic and apocalyptic literature, of eschatological reversal: the present state of things will be completely inverted when the new age (or aeon) breaks in (Isa chaps 14-17; 40:4, 23; 41:11-20; Ezek 17:2-24; chaps 27-32; Wis Sol 3:1-13).


<40_05:3>5:3: poor in spirit. The phrase is striking because: (a) the parallels in Luke (6:20) and Thomas (54) say simply “the poor”; (b) Paul occasionally calls some of the Jerusalem Christians “the poor” (Gal 2:10; Rom 15:26); and (c) a second-century (and later) group of Christians were known as the Ebionites, from the Hebrew for “the poor,” and some of them explained their name as meaning “poor in spirit.”


<40_05:3>5:3: kingdom of heaven. See note to 3:2.


<40_05:6>5:6: for righteousness. See notes to 1:19; 5:20. Luke (6:21) and Thomas (69) have Jesus speak of physical hunger.


<40_05:21-48>5:21-48: Jesus’ “sermon” now turns to a series of six so-called “antitheses,” or contrasts between what “you have heard” and what Matthew’s Jesus teaches. Each of the six opening propositions derives in some way from the Torah of Moses, although one must note the nuances (below), and Jesus responds. These responses are not, however, disagreements with the Torah of Moses, since (a) 5:17-20 has just required rigorous observance of the Torah and (b) Jesus’ responses do not in fact call for departure from the laws. Thus, like the later rabbis and the authors of some of the DSS, Jesus demands that his followers do more than the minimum required by the Torah.


<40_05:28-30>5:28-30: Along with Matt 19:12, which refers to those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven, this passage suggests that Matthew’s community practiced (or at least admired) an extreme asceticism. We know of one prominent Palestinian church leader of the third century, Origen, who castrated himself for the sake of the kingdom.


<40_05:43>5:43: Unlike the previous five statements of “what you have heard,” this one does not represent any biblical passage. The Torah commands love of one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18) but not hatred of one’s enemies. Indeed, Prov 25:21-22 recommends treating enemies with kindness, as Matthew’s Jesus does. Josephus also stresses the Jews’ humane treatment of enemies (Against Apion 2.212). Cf. Did 1:3.


<40_06:2>6:2: hypocrites. . . in the synagogues. The Greek word “hypocrite” was commonly used of an actor, someone who put on a mask to play a role. Consistently in Matthew, the hypocrites are the Jewish leaders, in particular the Pharisees (15:7; 23:2-3, 13, 23, 25, 27, 29). The author’s preoccupation with these figures suggests that his own circle is close to the Jewish community.


<40_08:21-22>8:21-22:  Jesus’ dismissal of this request would have seemed radical indeed in the first century, for burial of one’s parents was considered an inescapable obligation.


<40_08:24>8:24: A windstorm arose. The NRSV neglects to translate Matthew’s characteristic “Look!” (or “Behold!”), a biblical phrase that evokes an air of sacred mystery.


<40_09:20>9:20: suddenly. NRSV translation of Matthew’s biblical-sounding “Look” or “Behold.” This translation often omits the word altogether, though it is important in creating atmosphere within the text; see note to 8:24.


<40_10:23>10:23: A puzzling verse, since the apostles’ mission had been long completed by the author’s time of writing, and the Son of Man had not come. According to some scholars, the best explanation of this is that Jesus must have said some such thing, for the author would not have created such a problem. Alternatively, the author still witnessed an unfinished mission to “the towns of Israel” at his own time, accompanied by opposition, and expected the Son of Man to come before it was over.


<40_11:16-19>11:16-19: In other words: you behaved as a self-directed individual, following your own will rather than that of the crowd. Jesus’ criticism of mob rule as childish recalls Plato’s Socrates, who fell victim to majority vote. Jesus the illustrates the point by noting that he and John practiced very different lifestyles, yet both were condemned by “this generation.” So it is not that the crowd favors any particular, principled way of life, but only conformity.


<40_12:1-14>12:1-14: After a considerable hiatus (9:17), the author returns to the final two controversy stories of Mark 2:1-3:6, which result in the plot to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6/Matt 12:14). This long delay has allowed him to embed Jesus in a biblical-Jewish environment as Israel’s Messiah: the plot to kill him only comes about gradually, after much initial success. But now Jesus’ rejection by various groups of Jewish leaders, who represent Israel in general, will become. These two conflict stories concern sabbath observance. Although the command to keep the sabbath holy was extremely clear in the Bible (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15), it was rather unclear what constituted forbidden work: the issue was widely discussed by Jewish teachers of Jesus’ time and later.


<40_12:39-41>12:39-41: Jesus refers to the famous story told in the biblical book of Jonah: the prophet from Israel reluctantly visits the Assyrian city of Nineveh, after causing a storm because of his desire to escape the mission and being delivered to his destination by a great fish; the Ninevites repent. Here, Jesus will become a Jonah figure by lying in the earth for three days (actually, Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, two nights: 27:57-28:1). Does this story make more sense as something that Jesus said, long before anyone knew about his death and resurrection, or as something that the church perhaps heard from the risen Jesus: even though his death and resurrection have provided a remarkable sign, the Jews have not turned to follow him?


<40_13:10>13:10: The students’ question and Jesus’ response (13:11-13) make much more sense in Matthew than in Mark, where they ask vaguely about “the parables” and Jesus strangely criticizes them for not understanding this parable (Mark 4:10, 13). Here, as soon as Jesus has given the first of his exemplary parables to the crowds, the students ask why he uses parables, and Jesus answers them respectfully.


<40_13:36-43>13:36-43: This is the only parable in the synoptic tradition except that of the sower for which the disciples request (and receive) an allegorical interpretation. Thom 57 has the parable without any such interpretation. The interpretation has a strong eschatological orientation, which matches closely Matthew’s image of the Son of Man coming in glory with his angels to judge the world (cf. 16:27-28; 24:30-31; 25:31; 26:64). In view of that correspondence, and the fact that a non-eschatological version of the parable appears in Thomas, it seems likely that the author of Matthew has molded the parable to fit his presentation.


<40_14:13>14:13: withdrew from there in a boat. From land-locked Nazareth (cf. 13:54, 57)? The author maintains a rather vague sense of geography.


<40_16:12>16:12: the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught quite different things, and were vigorously opposed to each other for that reason (Josephus, Antiquities 13.297-298; 18.12-17; Acts 23:6-10). Matthew seems somewhat inconsistent. On the one hand, it denounces the Pharisees’ teaching (see also 15:3-14). On the other hand, it endorses their teaching and criticizes only their behavior (23:2-3). NB: Luke (12:1) identifies the yeast of the Pharisees as their hypocrisy, not their teaching.


<40_18:17>18:17: the church. In the Greek, only this verse mentions “the church” explicitly; the earlier references were supplied by the NRSV translators.


<40_19:3>19:3: to divorce his wife for any cause. Scripture plainly permits divorce (Deut 24:1-4). Rabbinic literature compiled after Jesus’ time reveals internal debates about the grounds for divorce, especially about the interpretation of Deut 24:1: “he finds something objectionable about her.” Was the emphasis on “objectionable,” which would suggest sexual immorality—that she was not a virgin as the groom had expected? Or did the emphasis lie on “something,” which might suggest “anything”—even failing to cook well? See the Mishnah tractates Ketubot and Gittin, especially Gittin 9:10. Jesus is invited by the Pharisees, who debated these issues, to discuss his view of the grounds for divorce, not simply whether divorce should be permitted as in Mark 10:2.

<40_19:6-9>19:6-9: Jesus’ prohibition of divorce parallels that of at least some of the people behind the DSS, who also cited Gen 1:27 in support of life-long marriage to one wife: see CD 4:22-22. The prohibition became standard in early Christianity: 1 Cor 7:10-11.

<40_19:7>19:7: Cf. Deut 24:1.

<40_19:8>19:8: Matthew’s Jesus does more than simply interpret Moses, therefore; he claims to have special insight into the divine motives behind Moses’ legislation. This befits his status as son of God (11:26-27; 12:6-7).


<40_21:12>21:12: See note to Mark 11:15-16. Money-changing and animal-selling were necessary for Jews to fulfill their obligations at feast times. They were conducted in the portico that pilgrims first encountered on entering the Temple precincts from the S, some distance from the inner courts and the sanctuary itself. Whether Matthew’s Jesus (or the historical Jesus) was disagreeing with this whole system or with some abuse of it is debated. See note to Mark 11:15-16. Matthew omits Mark’s difficult statement (11:16) that Jesus actually prevented movement in the Temple area.


<40_21:13>21:13: Matthew’s Jesus cites Isa 56.7. Matthew, though following Mark (11:17), omits the phrase “for all the nations” from the end of the verse. Why? The phrase “a den of robbers” recalls Jer 7.11. See note to Mark 11:17. In the same way as Matthew postpones the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus that Mark had placed at the outset


<40_21:45>21:45: the chief priests and the Pharisees. It is remarkable that Matthew deviates from its source by introducing Pharisees here in Jerusalem. The author assumes that they are a standing part of the Jewish leadership everywhere, along with the Sadducees (cf. 22:15, 23, 34, 41); contrast Luke, which leaves the Pharisees at the triumphal entry (19:39; 20:19). it is historically unlikely, in view of the presentations in Josephus and hints elsewhere, that the Pharisees had any official role in government as a group.

t of his career (2:1-3:6), so our author omits Mark’s claim (11:18) that Jesus’ actions in the Temple led the Jerusalem authorities to plan his death immediately.


<40_23:2-3>23:2-3: In preparation for the seven woes, Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of classic hypocrisy: they do not practice what they teach—though their teaching is admirable in itself. Accord between word and deed was the acid test of true philosophy in Jesus’ day; it was much discussed (Seneca, Epistles 20.2; Dio of Prusa, Discourses 70.3; Plutarch, Stoic Self-Contradictions 1; Epictetus, Discourses 3.26.8-23). This incidental endorsement of the Pharisees’ teaching, however, stands in some tension with earlier segments of the narrative, which had condemned it (15:14; 16:12).


<40_23:2>23:2: sit on Moses’ seat. At least for the moment, Matthew’s Jesus recognizes their authority as legitimate interpreters of Moses’ laws. This sentence agrees with Josephus’s claim that the Pharisees were recognized and widely followed experts in the laws (War 1.110; 2.161; Antiquities 17.41; 18.12-15). It is debated whether the phrase might have a more literal meaning: the “president’s seat” in the synagogue, such as archaeologists turned up in the second- or third-century synagogue of Chorazin. Cf. 23:6, “the best seats in the synagogues.”


<40_23:36>23:36: all this will come upon this generation. This dire prediction of catastrophe in recompense for all the crimes committed in biblical history is most easily understood with reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 (see also 23:38), which Christians understood as divine punishment for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus (cf. 21:33-44; 22:7). Is this saying of Jesus more understandable before or after his death and resurrection?


<40_24:20>24:20: on a sabbath. In an effort to implement the Bible’s rather vague strictures against “work” on the sabbath (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15), later Jews developed traditions about the distance one should travel and what one should carry on that day (almost nothing: Jer 17:21-22). The sabbath distance assumed in rabbinic literature of the second century and later, possibly representing the first-century Pharisees’ view, was 2000 cubits (= 1000 yards: nearly one kilometer, or more than half a mile): Mishnah, Eruvin 4.3; 5.7. Other Jewish groups were stricter, permitting only 1000 cubits—less than half a kilometer and one third of a mile: CD 10.14-12.5. Only Matthew includes this note about the sabbath, as an addition to Mark 13:18. This suggests that Matthew’s readers were expected to maintain Jewish law rigorously; cf. 5:17-20; 23:24.


<40_28:19>28:19: Father. . . Son and . . . Holy Spirit. Although this formulation happens to sound like the Christian “trinity,” that doctrine was fully developed only in the fourth century, after and in the face of much resistance within the churches. The earliest Christian texts do not articulate such a developed theology: one divine essence in three persons. The author of Matthew knows God as Father and Jesus as Son, but does not work out the relationship between them or between them and the holy spirit.


[1]_ Origen, Commentary on Matthew, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.

[2]_ Eusebius claims that Matthew was a particular object of scorn for the Ebionites (Church History 6.17).

[3]_ Cf. Eusebius, Church History 3:27; 6:17.

[4]_ Possible reasons: the Jewish leadership wanted to distance itself from the popular leader whom the Romans had crucified; some native Jews were involved in this new movement and their fellow-Jews felt obligated to keep them from error; the new group tended to portray other Jews in a bad light, which seemed like defamation when Jews around the world were already extremely vulnerable (after the war with Rome).