The Gospel According to Matthew
Sources: What follows is a summary of H. Benedict Green, The Gospel According to Matthew in the Revised Standard Version (OUP 1975), and some other sources
This book was apparently the most popular and most quoted book of Bible in early centuries of Christianity. It comes first in the New Testament but combines information found in Mark with other material shared with Luke, and many scholars today believe that the process of composition of the gospels went as follows:
Preaching career of Jesus ends in the 30s CE ("common era," term now often used instead of "in the year of our Lord," or AD).
A collection of Jesus' saying circulates in the Holy Land after his death.
Paul writes letters to the various churches about Christianity, roughly 48-64 CE
Mark composed shortly after 70 CD; then Matthew (including both the sayings and Mark), then possibly Luke and finally John.
The year 70 CE is important: in this year the great war between the Jews and the Roman Empire ended, Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed. The sociology of the Jewish community changed: the destruction of the Zealots and other groups that had previously been important leaves the Pharisees as the dominant Jewish group, a situation that is reflected in Matthew. This was likely not the way the Jewish community looked in 33 CE.Each of the gospels seems to have been written to a different constituency and to have had a different emphasis. Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels, constantly reminding us that the Hebrew scriptures are "fulfilled" with Christianity. The connection between the Hebrew texts and the moments when they're "fulfilled" is often vague, as in the moment when Jerusalem seems to weep for her children, like Rachel (Matthew 2:18 > Jeremiah 31:15).
One thing you'll notice throughout this book is that it portrays the new faith as set in the middle of Jewish culture. More than elsewhere, Jesus quotes Jewish law and pledges to follow it. We can note his remarks on the old and new faith in the parable of the wine skins: while at Mark 2:22 Jesus emphasized the preservation of new wine, in Matthew 9:17 he insists on preserving both old and new. Matthew reflects the social history of his time. He has also composed one of the most dramatic books in the Bible, full of confrontations.
Finally, it is among the most dramatic and tension-filled documents in the Bible, deeply rewarding to read and study in depth.
Here is some background:
The First Century CE (actually, through 134)
From 168 BCE, when the Maccabees defeated the Greek-speaking Macedonian rulers of Syria who controlled their land, the Jewish world was in turmoil. This continued when the Romans seized control, with revolts culminating first in the great war against the Romans 66-70 CE (when Jerusalem was sacked, the Temple was destroyed, and Masada fell) and the terrible failure of the Bar-Kokba revolt of 132-134.
Jewish groups (Green 22ff.):
a) Sadducees: aristocratic and priestly families
in control of the Temple and its worship, traditionally cooperative with
the rulers of the country; suspicious of the 'suppleness of the Pharisees
in the interpretation of the law.'
b) Pharisees: a lay movement concerned for strict observance of the law, which they were unprepared to leave to a worldly and corrupt priesthood. Devoted to letter of law, but flexible in interpreting it. Their interpretations were codified in the Mishna (2nd c CE) and Talmud (4th c)
c) Essenes. Little known: ascetic, communal, probably basis of the Qumran community, seem like the Pharisees to have emerged as protest against laxity in the priestly class
d) Zealots. Tradition of no compromise with alien rulers, going back possibly to Maccabees. Seemed to expect divine intervention on behalf of the oppressed people of God. Wiped out by Romans.
e) Palestinian Christians. Some felt compromised by practice of Hellenistic churches of giving full membership to Gentiles without full observance of the law.
How Matthew thinks.
Matthew exemplifies a style of thinking that was typical of Jewish thought in the first century, particularly in its emphasis on the fulfillment of the scriptures. He uses:
Jewish law: in addition to passages in Mark, the question about the Temple tax, 17:24-27, from Christian oral tradition; 5:21-48, enlarging a previous source: a Christian rejoinder to Pharisaic halakah that interpreted Torah by unwritten law.
Narratives or haggadah: infancy narratives and end of Judas; maybe also the temptation.
'Fulfillment' quotations: 1:23, 2:15,18, 23; 4:15; 8:17, 12:18-21; 13:35; 21:5; 27:9f :see scripture already fulfilled in Christ
Lots of cross-referencing between the Hebrew Bible and the gospel, including sayings of Jesus: 5:17
In 18:6-9 we see the Jewish method of collecting/comparing
texts continued. Matthew not only collects parables but, with the
aid of allegorization, applies them to the altered situation of his own
day: 13:36-50, 22:1-14; 25:1-13, 14-30, etc
The Drama of the Gospel
1) Matthew's Treatment of Mark
a) 1st half uses narrative from Mark but selects and drastically redistributes it2) The Five Discourses of sayings of Jesus, inserted into Mark's frameworki) originsb) 2nd half follows Mark closely
ii) circumstances of first public appearance
iii) definitive interpretation of the Torah
iv) Messianic acts of power
v) Inauguration of the continuing mission of his disciplesi) only at ch 12 does the narrative begin to get moving
ii) More obviously than in Mark, it is shaped as the rejection of Christ by his own people. One of Matthew's special claims is to present Jesus as the 'Son of David,' the Messiah of the House of David. The structure of the gospel gives this formal expression.
a) Sermon on the Mount 5:3-7:27 = Moses on Sinai3) Matthew refers explicitly to the Hebrew Bible (Green):
b) Mission 10:2-42
c) Parables of the Kingdom 13:1-52
d) Pastoral care and forgiveness 18
e) The judgment 23-2
i) Ch 1 refers back to themes in GenesisA B
ii) Ch 2 to the patriarchs
iii) Ch 3-4 to Exodus (in baptism and temptation)
iv) Ch 5 to Sinai (sermon on the mount)
Jesus alternates between being a new Moses, son of David, and the true Israel.The 5 discourses have their own character and function in the gospel, addressed over the shoulders of the disciples to the Christians of Matthew's day. Each falls into two halves, the first to the disciples, the second applying the message to the changed situation of Matthew's contemporaries:
Matthew: an outline DPT Notes
(Headings based roughly on those in the Jerusalem Bible.)
I. Birth and infancy of Jesus (1.1-2.23)
1. Ancestry: 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. Virginal conception (Isaiah 7.14).
2. Visit of Magi, flight to Egypt, massacre of innocents (fulfills Jeremiah), return to Nazareth (in Galilee, in north, not Judaea).
II. Kingdom of heaven proclaimed (3.1-7.29)
A. Narrative (3.1-4.25)III. The Kingdom of Heaven is Preached (8.1-10.42)
4. Preaching of John the Baptist (Isaiah 40.3), baptism of Jesus.B. Sermon on the Mount (5.1-7.29)
Green: John in Josephus, Ant. 18.116ff: there he is a Baptist, doing it himself r than self-Baptism of Essenes; understood its moral r th ceremonial significance; doesn't connect that with the coming judgement. Mathew's is a Christian account.
4. Temptation in wilderness 40 days, return to Galilee, fulfills Isaiah 8.23ff. Calls disciples, heals. ("Repent!" the beginning of the teaching here.)
5. Beatitudes ("Blessed are those . . ."). "Do not imagine that I come to abolish the Law or the Prophets," 5.17. But a new standard, higher: "Love your enemies," 5.43, 46.
6. Secret almsgiving; prayer; fasting. Lord's Prayer. Trust in providence.
7. Do not judge or profane; "Ask and it will be given." Golden rule, narrow gate, false prophets, true disciple like sensible man who built house on rock. Crowds amazed.
A. Narrative: 10 miracles (8.1-9.38)IV. The Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven (11.1-13.52)
8. Leper; servant of centurion; Peter's mother in law; calms storm; Gadarene swine.
9. Cures paralytic; eats with sinners and discusses fasting ("new wine in fresh skins"). Hemorrhaging woman, official's daughter, blind men etc. Pities crowds, "like sheep without a shepherd."
B. Instruction of Apostles (10.1-42)10. Mission of the 12: "Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, . . . go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Persecution certain. Setting a man against his father. Renounce yourselves.
A. Narrative (11.1-12.50)V. The Church, First Fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven (13.53-18.35)
11. John the Baptist: "Are you the One . . .?" Jesus fulfills Isaiah, Malachi, Micah; laments over towns by Sea of Galilee; revealing to mere children.
12. Picks corn on sabbath; cures; the "chosen servant" (Isaiah 42.1-4). "He that is not with me is against me." Attacks hypocrites; sign of Jona; unclean spirits; true kin.
B. Sermon of Parables (13.1-52)
13. Introduction: Sower; why he speaks in parables (contrast Mark 4); fulfills Isaiah 6.9-10. Parables of darnel, mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearl, dragnet, blazing furnace.
A. Narrative (13.53-17.27)VI. The approaching advent of the Kingdom of Heaven (19.1-25.46)
13. Visits Nazareth: a "prophet despised in his own country."
14. Herod and Jesus: beheading of John the Baptis. 1st miracle of loaves (5 loaves, 2 fish), walks on water with Peter, cures.
15. Traditions of Pharisees: wash hands. Jesus: "Hypocrites," cites Isaiah 29.13 ("The doctrines they teach are only human regulations.") Clean and unclean, blind leading blind, what goes into/comes out of mouth. Cures non-Israelite after argument ("house dogs"); 2nd miracle of loaves (7, fish, 4000 people).
16. Pharisees demand sign from heaven. Jesus: signs of the times; sign of Jonah. Yeast of pharisees and sadducees. Peter's preeminence. 1st prophecy of passion; "taking up cross"--uses his fate, not yet experienced, as a metaphor.
17. Transfiguration (Moses, Elijah [these = law and prophets], God's voice. Elijah has come already (John the Baptist?). Epileptic demoniac, 2nd prophecy of passion, payment of temple tax.
B. Discourse on the Church (18.1-35)
A. Narrative (19.1-24.39)VII. Passion and Resurrection (26.1-28.20)
19. Question about divorce (pharisees, ref. to Moses); Little children, rich young man.
20. Parable: vineyard laborers; 3rd prophecy of passion.
21. Entry into Jerusalem. Isaiah 62.11. Expels dealers from Temple. Withers fig tree. Priests: what authority have you. Answers with question about John the Baptist. Wicked husbandman parable; stone rejected by builders.
22. Wedding feast parable. Tribute to Caesar (pharisees); resurrection of dead (Sadducees). Greatest commandment, echoing Leviticus 19.18, Deuteronomy 6.5--passages that show these commandments aren't Christian innovations.
23. Hypocrisy and vanity of scribes and pharisees. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets."
B. Sermon on the End (24.1-25.46)
24-25. Introduction: ". . . Not a single stone will be left . . ." "As it was in Noah's day, so shall it be when the Son of Man comes." Parables.
26. Conspiracy against Jesus. Anointing at Bethany, betrayal by Judas. Institutes ritual. Arrested, taken to Sanhedrin, Peter denies him.Some Study Questions
27. Jesus before Pilate, death of Judas, crucifixion, death, burial.
28. Empty tomb, angel's message, appears in Galilee.
Please respond to the listserv about two of these.
Think of Jesus as the "hero" of this book. Is he in any way similar to other heroes you've encountered?
Note Matthew's attitude toward the Jewish law, at 5.17 and elsewhere. Compare the parable on the wineskins at 9.17 with those at Mark 2.22 and Luke 5.39; compare the words of Jesus on the marriage feast at Matthew 22.14 with those at Luke 14.24.
Note how often Matthew quotes from or refers to the Hebrew scriptures, and look up a couple of the passages he uses. Do they seem to you to fit the uses to which he puts them?
In what ways is Jesus like Moses?
Read the following with special care:
The Parable of the Wineskins
Neither do you put new wine into old wineskins; if you do, the skins burst, and then the wine runs out and the skins are spoilt. No, you put new wine into fresh skins; then both are preserved.
Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to complete. I tell you this: so long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Law until all that must happen has happened.
No one puts new wine into old wine-skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and then wine and skins are both lost. Fresh skins for new wine!
[T]hose who were around him . . . asked him about
And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables, in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand, so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'"
The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing
they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: You
will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but
never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their
ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they may
not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with
their heart and turn--and I would heal them.
The section headings in some Bibles unite all of 19-25 under the topic, "the approaching advent of the kingdom of heaven." Consider how the parables and references to the Hebrew scriptures contribute to this general theme.
Note Jesus' relations with the Pharisees and high priests here.
At 22.37-40, Jesus sums up the Hebrew scriptures of the law and the prophets. He is quoting here, from Leviticus 19.18 and Deuteronomy 6.5.
Jesus prophesies three times that he will be killed: 16.21, 17.22, 20.17.
Try to "stand back from the canvas" after you've read this section and free-associate. What themes, i.e. general (perhaps recurring) topics occur to you?
Note Jesus' final statement, "My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me" (27:46). This is drawn from Psalm 22, which
is echoed also at 26:24, 27:39 and 43. Read that Psalm and be prepared
to discuss how it affects your understanding of this crucial moment.