Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel according to Matthew (Greek: Εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ματθαῖον, romanized: Euangélion katà Matthaîon), also called the Gospel of Matthew, or simply Matthew, is the first book of the New Testament and one of the three synoptic Gospels. It tells how Israel's Messiah, Jesus, comes to his people and forms a community of disciples, of how he taught the people through such events as the Sermon on the Mount and its Beatitudes. This culminates in his departure from the Temple and his execution. At this point the whole people reject Jesus, and on his resurrection he sends the disciples out into the world to spread the Gospel of Salvation.
Matthew seems to emphasize that the Jewish tradition should not be lost in a church that was increasingly becoming gentile. The gospel reflects the struggles and conflicts between the evangelist's community and the other Jews, particularly with its sharp criticism of the scribes and Pharisees with the position that through their rejection of Christ, the Kingdom of God has been taken away from them and given instead to the church. The divine nature of Jesus was a major issue for the Matthaean community, the crucial element separating the early Christians from their Jewish neighbors; while Mark begins with Jesus' baptism and temptations, Matthew goes back to Jesus' origins, showing him as the Son of God from his birth, the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The title Son of David identifies Jesus as the healing and miracle-working Messiah of Israel (it is used exclusively in relation to miracles), sent to Israel alone. As Son of Man he will return to judge the world, an expectation which his disciples recognize but of which his enemies are unaware. As Son of God, God is revealing himself through his son, and Jesus proving his sonship through his obedience and example.
Most scholars believe the gospel was composed between AD 80 and 90, with a range of possibility between AD 70 to 110; a pre-70 date remains a minority view. The work does not identify its author, and the early tradition attributes it to the apostle Matthew.
The gospel of Matthew is a work of the second generation of Christians, for whom the defining event was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in AD 70 in the course of the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–73); from this point on, what had begun with Jesus of Nazareth as a Jewish messianic movement became an increasingly gentile phenomenon evolving in time into a separate religion. The community to which Matthew belonged, like many 1st-century Christians, was still part of the larger Jewish community: hence the designation Jewish Christian to describe them. The relationship of Matthew to this wider world of Judaism remains a subject of study and contention, the principal question being to what extent, if any, Matthew's community had cut itself off from its Jewish roots. Certainly there was conflict between Matthew's group and other Jewish groups, and it is generally agreed that the root of the conflict was the Matthew community's belief in Jesus as the Messiah and authoritative interpreter of the law, as one risen from the dead and uniquely endowed with divine authority.
Structure and content
Structure: narrative and discourses
Matthew, alone among the gospels, alternates five blocks of narrative with five of discourse, marking each off with the phrase "When Jesus had finished..." (see Five Discourses of Matthew). Some scholars see in this a deliberate plan to create a parallel to the first five books of the Old Testament; others see a three-part structure based around the idea of Jesus as Messiah; or a set of weekly readings spread out over the year; or no plan at all. Davies and Allison, in their widely used commentary, draw attention to the use of "triads" (the gospel groups things in threes), and R. T. France, in another influential commentary, notes the geographic movement from Galilee to Jerusalem and back, with the post-resurrection appearances in Galilee as the culmination of the whole story.
Prologue: genealogy, Nativity and infancy (Mat. 1–2)
The Gospel of Matthew begins with the words "The Book of Genealogy [in Greek, "Genesis"] of Jesus Christ", deliberately echoing the words of Genesis 2:4 in the Old Testament in Greek.[Notes 1] The genealogy tells of Jesus' descent from Abraham and King David and the miraculous events surrounding his virgin birth,[Notes 2] and the infancy narrative tells of the massacre of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, and eventual journey to Nazareth.
First narrative and Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 3:1–8:1)
The first narrative section begins. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. Jesus prays and meditates in the wilderness for forty days, and is tempted by Satan. His early ministry by word and deed in Galilee meets with much success, and leads to the Sermon on the Mount, the first of the discourses. The sermon presents the ethics of the kingdom of God, introduced by the Beatitudes ("Blessed are..."). It concludes with a reminder that the response to the kingdom will have eternal consequences, and the crowd's amazed response leads into the next narrative block.
Second narrative and discourse (Mat. 8:2–11:1)
From the authoritative words of Jesus the gospel turns to three sets of three miracles interwoven with two sets of two discipleship stories (the second narrative), followed by a discourse on mission and suffering. Jesus commissions the Twelve Disciples and sends them to preach to the Jews, perform miracles, and prophesy the imminent coming of the Kingdom, commanding them to travel lightly, without staff or sandals.
Third narrative and discourse (Mat. 11:2–13:53)
Opposition to Jesus comes to a head with accusations that his deeds are done through the power of Satan. Jesus in turn accuses his opponents of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The discourse is a set of parables emphasizing the sovereignty of God, and concluding with a challenge to the disciples to understand the teachings as scribes of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew avoids using the holy word God in the expression "Kingdom of God"; instead he prefers the term "Kingdom of Heaven", reflecting the Jewish tradition of not speaking the name of God).
Fourth narrative and discourse (Mat. 13:54–19:1)
The fourth narrative section reveals that the increasing opposition to Jesus will result in his crucifixion in Jerusalem, and that his disciples must therefore prepare for his absence. The instructions for the post-crucifixion church emphasize responsibility and humility. This section contains the two feedings of the multitude (Matthew 14:13–21 and 15:32–39) along with the narrative in which Simon, newly renamed Peter (Πέτρος, Petros, meaning "stone"), calls Jesus "the Christ, the son of the living God", and Jesus states that on this "bedrock" (πέτρα, petra) he will build his church (Matthew 16:13–19).
Fifth narrative and discourse (Mat. 19:2–26:1)
Jesus travels toward Jerusalem, and the opposition intensifies: he is tested by Pharisees as soon as he begins to move towards the city, and when he arrives he is soon in conflict with the Temple's traders and religious leaders. He teaches in the Temple, debating with the chief priests and religious leaders and speaking in parables about the Kingdom of God and the failings of the chief priests and the Pharisees. The Herodian caucus also become involved in a scheme to entangle Jesus, but Jesus' careful response to their enquiry, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's", leaves them marveling at his words.
The disciples ask about the future, and in his final discourse (the Olivet Discourse) Jesus speaks of the coming end. There will be false Messiahs, earthquakes, and persecutions, the sun, moon, and stars will fail, but "this generation" will not pass away before all the prophecies are fulfilled. The disciples must steel themselves for ministry to all the nations. At the end of the discourse, Matthew notes that Jesus has finished all his words, and attention turns to the crucifixion.
Conclusion: Passion, Resurrection and Great Commission (Mat. 26:2–28:20)
The events of Jesus' last week occupy a third of the content of all four gospels. Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and drives the money changers from the temple, holds a last supper, prays to be spared the coming agony (but concludes "if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done"), and is betrayed. He is tried by the Jewish leaders (the Sanhedrin) and before Pontius Pilate, and Pilate washes his hands to indicate that he does not assume responsibility. Jesus is crucified as king of the Jews, mocked by all. On his death there is an earthquake, the veil of the Temple is rent, and saints rise from their tombs. Mary Magdalene and another Mary discover the empty tomb, guarded by an angel, and Jesus himself tells them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.
After the resurrection the remaining disciples return to Galilee, "to the mountain that Jesus had appointed", where he comes to them and tells them that he has been given "all authority in heaven and on Earth." He gives the Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you". Jesus will be with them "to the very end of the age".
Christology is the theological doctrine of Christ, "the affirmations and definitions of Christ's humanity and deity". There are a variety of Christologies in the New Testament, albeit with a single centre—Jesus is the figure in whom God has acted for mankind's salvation.
Matthew has taken over his key Christological texts from Mark, but sometimes he has changed the stories he found in Mark, giving evidence of his own concerns. The title Son of David identifies Jesus as the healing and miracle-working Messiah of Israel (it is used exclusively in relation to miracles), and the Jewish messiah is sent to Israel alone. As Son of Man he will return to judge the world, a fact his disciples recognise but of which his enemies are unaware. As Son of God he is named Immanuel (God with us), God revealing himself through his son, and Jesus proving his sonship through his obedience and example.
Relationship with the Jews
Matthew's prime concern was that the Jewish tradition should not be lost in a church that was increasingly becoming gentile. This concern lies behind the frequent citations of Jewish scripture, the evocation of Jesus as the new Moses along with other events from Jewish history, and the concern to present Jesus as fulfilling, not destroying, the Law. Matthew must have been aware of the tendency to distort Paul's teaching of the law no longer having power over the New Testament Christian into antinomianism, and addressed Christ's fulfilling of what the Israelites expected from the "Law and the Prophets" in an eschatological sense, in that he was all that the Old Testament had predicted in the Messiah.
The gospel has been interpreted as reflecting the struggles and conflicts between the evangelist's community and the other Jews, particularly with its sharp criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. It tells how Israel's Messiah, rejected and executed in Israel, pronounces judgment on Israel and its leaders and becomes the salvation of the gentiles. Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jews are referred to as Israelites — the honorific title of God's chosen people. After it, they are called [[Ioudaios]'(Jews), a sign that — due to their rejection of the Christ — the "Kingdom of Heaven" has been taken away from them and given instead to the church.
Comparison with other writings
The divine nature of Jesus was a major issue for the community of Matthew, the crucial element marking them from their Jewish neighbors. Early understandings of this nature grew as the gospels were being written. Before the gospels, that understanding was focused on the revelation of Jesus as God in his resurrection, but the gospels reflect a broadened focus extended backwards in time.
Matthew is a creative reinterpretation of Mark, stressing Jesus' teachings as much as his acts, and making subtle changes in order to stress his divine nature: for example, Mark's "young man" who appears at Jesus' tomb becomes "a radiant angel" in Matthew. The miracle stories in Mark do not demonstrate the divinity of Jesus, but rather confirm his status as an emissary of God (which was Mark's understanding of the Messiah).
The early patristic scholars regarded Matthew as the earliest of the gospels and placed it first in the canon, and the early Church mostly quoted from Matthew, secondarily from John, and only distantly from Mark.
- France, p. 26 note 1, and p. 28: "The first two words of Matthew's gospel are literally "book of genesis".
- France, p. 28 note 7: "All MSS and versions agree in making it explicit that Joseph was not Jesus' father, with the one exception of sys, which reads "Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus."
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- A textual commentary on the Gospel of Matthew Detailed text-critical discussion of the 300 most important variants of the Greek text (PDF, 438 pages).
- Early Christian Writings Gospel of Matthew: introductions and e-texts.
- Bible: Matthew public domain audiobook at LibriVox Various versions
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