Introduction to Matthew’s gospel

Matthew’s gospel is neatly arranged into 5 sections like the five books of Moses. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, the new law-giver. “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Sermon on the Mount. Moses said… now I say to you…

In the early 20th century B. W. Bacon noticed that Jesus used the phrase, “When Jesus finished saying these things…” (Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους…) five times, at the end of five long discourses, or sermons (Mt. 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1). He pointed out the five-fold narrative/discourse structure. To oversimplify, one could organize Matthew’s gospel as follows:

Introduction: Matthew 1

  1. Narrative: Matthew 2-4. Discourse: Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)
    2. Narrative: Matthew 8-9. Discourse: Matthew 10 (Missionary Discourse).
    3. Narrative: Matthew 11-12. Discourse: Matthew 13 (Parables of the Kingdom).
    4. Narrative: Matthew 14-17. Discourse: Matthew 18 (Living in Community).
    5. Narrative: Matthew 19-22. Discourse: Matthew 23-25 (Olivet Discourse).
    Conclusion: 26-28 (Death Resurrection)

Introducing the New Testament

Mark Allan Powell is a professor at my own Alma Mater, Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. His book I’m a bit of a Mark Allan Powell junkie, I’ll admit. Nevertheless, his textbook on the New Testament, helpfully named “Introducing the New Testament,” is, at the outset of 2014, the second most popular New Testament textbook. What I love about Powell’s book is that it comes with a website, http://www.IntroducingNT.com, which houses all the illustrations and also numerous others that would not fit in the book. Brilliant. You can also watch some videos by Dr. Powell himself.

Powell reminds us that 90% of Mark’s gospel is also in Matthew’s gospel. For various reasons, scholars believe Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke used it as one of the sources for their gospels. The gospel is anonymous, but later Christians attributed it to Matthew based on a comment by Papias (early second century). Papias says that Matthew the tax collector was collecting sayings of Jesus and translating them into Greek. Eusebius took this to mean Matthew the tax collector wrote this gospel, and so it is named. Matthew’s use of the Jewish Scriptures and customs suggests training as a scribe.

Here is a list of the material that is unique to Matthew’s gospel: http://assets.bakerpublishinggroup.com/processed/esource-assets/files/584/original/05-01.pdf?1375212749. They include the only passages in which Jesus talks about the church. Jesus intends to build a church in Matthew’s gospel, and he gives advice on how matters should be handled in that church.

Jesus shows less human frailty in Matthew than in Mark’s gospel. One would say it has a higher christology than Mark, though significantly lower than John.

Hyperlinks 5.1 to 5.28 provide some outstanding snapshots of Matthew’s gospel: http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/introducing-the-new-testament/264690/esources/themes/15

God With Us

Another book by powell approaches Matthew from a pastoral perspective. Most books on Matthew approach it from a systematically theological perspective: What are Matthew’s Christology, soteriology, eschatology, ethics? Powell’s hope is that looking at Matthew through a pastoral/ministry lens might offer new insights into Matthew’s perspective.

The book has five chapters:

1. MISSION
2. WORSHIP
3. TEACHING
4. STEWARDSHIP
5. SOCIAL JUSTICE

MISSION

Powell points out that Matthew’s gospel comes to a close without the mission having been accomplished. Not only have the disciples not preached the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24), they have not preached it anywhere. Not only have they not made disciples of all nations (Matthew 28), they have not made any disciples. Matthew’s gospel ends in a way that feels somewhat incomplete. Unlike Luke, with Matthew we don’t get the rest of the story.

What is the mission of Jesus in Matthew’s terms? Powell points out Jesus’ relationship to the law. Sometimes he relaxes it, other times intensifies it, but it seems clear in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ mission is to be the fulfiller of the law. Powell puts in one column all the verses in which Jesus lays out his sense of his own mission, and in another the verses in which he spells out the mission of the church. The juxtaposition sparks new insights. The earthly, eschatological and ethical imperatives of the kingdom cannot be fulfilled until he returns, but until then, the mission of God begun in Jesus is to be carried out by the church. There are challenges for us here.

WORSHIP

Worship is not as prominent a theme in Matthew as in Luke. There are no major works on worship in Matthew. Powell begins with a study of the eight words Matthew uses for worship. Then he looks at those who worship in Matthew: the Magi, the leper, the crowds, a ruler, Jesus, the disciples, a Canaanite woman, the mother of James and John, children. He points out 13 explicit acts of worship.

There are several different kinds of worship in Matthew’s gospel. Some pray with requests. There is an economy to worship in Matthew’s gospel. Your heavenly Father already knows what you need, so there’s no need to heap up empty phrases like the hypocrites. Sown respond with worship to healing. Others are overwhelmed with the presence of God, as in the transfiguration. People respond in Matthew sometimes with joy and sometimes fear, awe or doubt. The disciples are afraid when they hear God’s voice at the transfiguration.

Finally, Powell points out the diversity of worshippers. They are of all ages. 1/3 are women, 2/3 men. They vary ethnically and economically.

TEACHING

Teaching is, of course, part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, or at least obeying Jesus’ teaching. However, this is the only place it is mentioned as a post-Easter event. Jesus’ mission is teaching, preaching and healing, but teaching is conspicuously absent from the disciples’ job description. In fact Jesus explicitly forbids them to allow people to call them rabbi, father or catechists.

But Matthew 28 makes it clear that teaching is one of the ways the church makes disciples. Powell explores what is to be taught, by whom and to whom? The results of allowing Matthew to not be invaded (for a moment) by Mark, Luke and John are interesting.

Matthew does not refer to Jesus ministry as teaching. Telling parables reveals the mysteries of the kingdom, but Matthew does not refer to this activity as teaching. The only time Jesus “teaches” in Matthew is in chapters 5-7, known as the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, keeping the law is paramount. At times the law is loosed (it’s okay to pick grain on the Sabbath to alleviate hunger). Other times it’s bound even tighter (even having lustful thoughts is adultery). Jesus’ disciples bind and loose the law according to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ interpretation of the law is to be supreme.

Teaching is for the church. Don’t cast pearls before swine. The ethical standards of the Sermon on the mount are likely to be too high for most of the world. In fact 5:1-2 suggests the Sermon is for Jesus’ disciples and not the crowd. Ironically, the world has often found the ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount compelling in a magnetic way. The astonished crowds “listen in,” and are mesmerized.

In 5:2 Jesus emerges as the master teacher. He restricts teaching authority at first, but later seems to open it up. Authority is a big deal in Matthew’s gospel. There is danger in teaching. A hypocrite is one who teaches one thing but does another. So it’s best not to judge. Focus on your own game. Powell contends the establishment of a hierarchical teaching office is forbidden in Matthew. The community is to be egalitarian. Jesus will be the only Teacher. Perhaps Matthew intends his gospel to be the teaching authority. Powell suggests that Matthew offers no distinction between teaching and doing. Jesus teaches. The little-faith, cowardly disciples are just to DO.

A reminder: Matthew’s witness is not The Biblical Witness. He is one voice among many. Intentionally so. We are taking a microscope to the mind of Matthew, who is redactor of Jesus, Mark, Q and who knows what else.

STEWARDSHIP

Anyone who has read Powell’s book “Giving to God,” knows he’s brilliant on stewardship. And anyone who’s read Matthew knows that the three parables most often used to teach stewardship of any kind (earth, time, money, etc.) come from this gospel: Matthew 21:33-43, 24:45-51, 25:14-30. Powell has a grand time rummaging around concepts of stewardship (oikonomos) as managing a household.

Powell explores motive, principle and human relationships of stewardship. Matthew’s concept of stewardship is grounded in some indelible truths: everything we have belongs to God, on whom we depend, and to whom we owe a debt we can never pay. All stewardship begins here.

As an aside, Powell points out that for Matthew, even divorce is a stewardship issue. No one has the authority (that word again) to separate what God has joined. We are stewards of our relationships, which are given to us by God.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

In Matthew, justice (krisis) is one of the weightier matters of the law. Those who hunger for justice we find satisfaction. Matthew challenges the concept that God’s will is done in the church rarer than in the world. Matthew understands justice won’t be complete in the world, but Jesus’ followers are to live justly anyway. The Gentiles lord it over over one another, but “it shall not be so among you.”

Powell points out that the most popular justice text is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 but the popular interpretation is not supported by modern scholarship. Matthew is more focused on justice within the community than without, and has been criticized because of this. Powell doesn’t condemn or defend Matthew’s concept of justice, but works to describe it as accurately as possible. Preachers should read this carefully edits pontificating on Matthew based on popular opinion.

CONCLUSION

This book is 15 years old. There has been a lot of ground-breaking New Testament scholarship in the last 15 years, and yet this book still has a fresh view. In fact, it feels very much like a piece of that research, drawing on modern literary theory and composition criticism. I look forward to this year, looking at the gospel and at Jesus through the eyes of Matthew’s community and his theology. I look forward to rediscovering why the church put this gospel as the first book of their New Testament.

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