Gospel of Matthew – Introduction to the text


Please note: this is an introduction to the text, not to doctrine or faith

Gospel of Matthew: what is it and when was it written?

• Probably written ~ 85 CE; author unknown (unlikely the tax collector, cf. 9: 1).
• Matthew, like Luke, draws heavily on Mark. Therefore Mark (estimated ~65-70 CE) must predate Matthew (~75-85 CE). Also, if Matthew knew Jesus, why would he have copied so much of Mark??
• Matthew (and Luke) also use a [presumed] ‘lost’ ‘sayings’ document Q (German, quelle – source), but arrange that material differently. Both Matthew and Luke also have unique material (presumably from their separate oral traditions). This is called the Four Source Hypothesis.
• There is very little overlap between the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John. John’s Gospel mostly tells different ‘Jesus-stories’ and was written later (~95 CE??)
• It is very helpful to use a Bible with cross -references and paragraph headings

• It is easiest to discuss Matthew by drawing on the differences with Mark. Unfortunately, that requires familiarity with Mark!

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah

• Matthew’s emphasis: Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, in fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures – repeated use of the phrase “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” The Gospels are not modern historical biographies; they were written to support a particular community’s developing Christian beliefs.
• All Gospel writers (but therefore especially Matthew) had a problem: how could the glorious and powerful Messiah have been publicly humiliated and executed.
• Matthew’s depiction of Jesus is more spiritual than Mark’s but much less other-worldly than John’s.
• For Matthew’s community of early Christians, Jesus, via the Torah, is the way to salvation. However, Matthew’s Jesus is more stridently anti-Pharisee than Mark’s or Luke’s, compatible with the tensions in Judaism when it was written (after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE). Maybe this community became the Church in Jerusalem, led by James the brother of Jesus (see Acts 15, where Paul had to account for his activities to the Jerusalem Council).

But who or what would the Messiah be?
• A military king like David, who would defeat the Romans
• A divine judge who would come on clouds of glory
• A super-priest who would guide Israel to correct interpretation of Torah
• A prophet who would offer salvation from oppression and disclose God’s righteous law
**Matthew’s Gospel has elements of all of these**

• Matthew presents Jesus as much more openly acknowledged during his lifetime than Mark, who frequently has Jesus tell people not to say anything about him. Example: The disciples clearly recognize who Jesus was (Matthew 14:33) when Jesus walked on water, contrast Mark 6: 51.

Opening of Matthew’s Gospel

• Like Mark, Matthew identifies Jesus as Messiah (1:1). Matthew then justifies his Jewish credentials (which Gentile Christians often seem to overlook!) with a genealogy back to Abraham (1: 1-14).
• For Matthew, the key issue is that Jesus’s kingship comes from the David line by the direct will of God.
• The genealogy is peculiar: Four females are identified (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) whereas usually only male forbears were identified (even though the Jewish line is matriarchal). Oddly, all four were Gentiles, and all four had a taint of sexual scandal (Genesis 38: 15; Joshua 2: 1; Ruth 1; 2 Samuel 11).
• Joseph appears as the ‘husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born’ but not as Jesus’ father. Maybe the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was not completely settled when Matthew wrote his Gospel. Like the other four females, Mary was sexually ambiguous (Joseph wanted to divorce her).

Jesus’ miraculous birth – visit of the Magi – flight into Egypt (1: 18 – 2: 23)

• Matthew’s birth story quite different from Luke’s, but both stress Jesus’ divinity in a parabolic way.
• Joseph is the chief character in Matthew’s birth story (Mary in Luke’s). He takes an active role in the story. He is a model for the human response to God’s call. Three times Joseph must do something in response to an angelic command. In Luke, Mary is more passive (Let it be done to me … Luke 1: 38).
• Joseph is Mary’s husband (not her fiancé) but they had not lived together (though this is not completely clear 1: 19; 20b; 24b). At 1: 20, Joseph is explicitly called Son of David.
• 1: 21 Joseph, not Mary, is to name the child. Explanation of the name Jesus as ‘he who saves.’ God’s plan makes Jesus part of Joseph’s family, regardless of ‘who did what to whom.’
• The angel’s prediction, 1: 22-23, Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah): virgin vs young woman (‘with child from the Holy Spirit’). First OT fulfilment; Jesus’ birth identified as part of God’s plan. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfil the prophesy by Micah, and his mother was a virgin to fulfil the prophesy by Isaiah. Immanu-el = with us – God, but different from John 1, ‘The Word became flesh …’, = the Second Person of the Trinity.

Jesus’ early life

• Visit of the Magi // visit of the shepherds, except the Magi are Gentile, whereas the shepherds are local = Jewish. ∴ first revelation of Jesus to Gentiles. Magi: probably astrologers, but the word was also used for emissaries/ambassadors sent to bring gifts to new kings or rulers, in which case Matthew contrasts bringing gifts to Jesus rather than Herod. The gifts are symbolic: gold = kingship; frankincense and myrrh both used in OT stories as royal fragrances (Jesus as Son of King David). The star should be seen as supernatural, no need to invoke comets etc.
• The chief priests and the scholars know about the Messiah (2: 4-6) but do not acknowledge him. Instead, foreigners, pagans, go.

Massacre of the Innocents

This narrative is unique to Matthew. It sets Jesus up as the ‘new Moses.’
• Miraculous male child
• Holy Family refugees in Egypt // Israelites slaves in Egypt – Scripture fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son’ // Hosea [11:1]. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.
• Herod kills baby boys // Pharaoh kills first born sons, and puts Herod in a particularly unfavourable light. [Herod the Great ruled 37-4 BCE.]
• The Holy Family returned when Herod died [4 BCE], but had to return to Nazareth (in Galilee) not Bethlehem in Judea, where King Herod’s brutal son Archelaus ruled [2: 22]. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee (he was the Herod who had John the Baptist killed later).
• 2: 23 He shall be called a Nazorean. This may be a word play: the town Nazareth and a Nazirite (one consecrated to God e.g., the prophet Samuel)

Matthew 3-4: Jesus’ baptism through to calling disciples and initial ministry

This section follows Mark, with slight changes.

• 3: 7-10 is added to John the Baptist’s proclamation. It is more apocalyptic (end of times). Also, it treats the Jewish leadership very harshly. For Matthew, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’ // ‘We have Christ as our Saviour.’
• 3:14-15 is added, to explain why the sinless Jesus got baptized by John. Jesus is thus superior to John (apart from what John himself says)
• 3: 17: Change of “You are” to “This is” my beloved Son – more public
• 4: 1-11 Temptations = pre-ministry retreat. The devil has human form
• 4: 12-16 is added as another OT prophesy fulfilled. At 4: 12, we do not yet know that John was arrested (or why). Only Matthew records Jesus’ change of home base from Nazareth to Capernaum.
• Only Matthew ties the messages of John and Jesus explicitly: 3: 2 = 4: 17. As in Mark 1:15, these words are the first spoken by Jesus in his ministry

Matthew 4: 17 to 16: 12

• This covers the ministry of Jesus, after which the story becomes more “theological” – end of the age material, then the Passion/ Resurrection.
• It begins with the call of the first disciples 4: 18-22 // Mark and Luke.
• Then there is a quick bit of ministry and healing (4: 23-25).

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

• Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is a rightly beloved set piece of Jesus’s sayings that provides a much clearer ethical framework for discipleship than the other Gospels. Disciples must balance the needs and norms of society with service to God: faith vs morality. Few commentators think that it was said on a single occasion.
• Much (not all) of this material is in Luke (from ‘Q’), but not in one place.
• It interrupts the Mark text on healing miracles. The New Moses gives the New Law. This does not overturn the old Law (5: 17-20).
• It goes further (5: 21-48) and cricizes the ‘hypocrites’ (6: 1-18).
• Hearers and doers (7: 24-27) // James 1.
• 7: 28, ‘When Jesus had finished these sayings,’ is Matthew’s way of saying, ‘To change the subject,’ See also 11:1; 13: 53; 19:1; 26:1

Matthew 8-10

This section largely follows Mark’s narrative, with some insertions from Q (8: 5-13; 8: 18-22; 9: 35-38; 10: 26-39) + Matthew-only material (9: 27-34).
• This section combines healing miracles with teaching material that is similar to the Sermon on the Mount.
• In 8: 8-10, Jesus seems to reach out to Gentiles. We don’t know whether that meant that Gentiles should convert to Judaism: compare 28: 17-20, the Great Commission.
• In 8: 14-17 (healing Peter’s mother-in-law), Matthew adds a citation from Isaiah as fulfilling an OT prophesy.

Matthew 11: 1 to 13:52

• Chapter 11 is all Q material // Luke.
• John the Baptist: He is in prison (11: 2-19), but executed later (Chapter 14). The OT prophesy in Matthew 11: 10 (Isaiah 40: 3 or Malachi 3: 1) is also given in Luke.
• Matthew 12: 1-14 returns to the Mark narrative
• Matthew 12: 15-21 is unique to Matthew. It “explains” Mark’s repeated insistence that Jesus told people to keep quiet about him. Some scholars say that it explains why Jesus was not better known during his earthly ministry (OT ref. is Isaiah 42: 1-4 and 9).
• The rest of Chapter 12 follows Mark (22-37; 46-50) or Luke/Q (38-45)
• Matthew 13: 1-52 is a collection of parables. Mostly, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like …” The parable of the sower follows Mark, that of the weeds is unique to Matthew. These are the only examples of parables that were explained by Jesus. Mark includes the parable of the mustard seed, but the three short parables (13: 44-52) are only in Matthew.

Matthew 13: 53 to 18: 34

• This section follows Mark closely up to 18: 9, with the exception of the Temple tax (see below). It includes some of the most famous Gospel stories – Feeding the Five Thousand; Walking on water; Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah; The Cross and self denial; The Transfiguration.
• 17: 24-27 Traditionally, the Temple tax was to support the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, but after the Jewish revolt and destruction of their Temple, Jews had to support the Jupiter Capitolinus temple in Rome. ‘The children are free’ suggests that Jesus did not support this. However, these events are 40+ years after Jesus’ death. The ‘render unto Caesar’ story [Matthew 22: 15-22] suggests that Jesus was opposed in principle to paying civil taxes.
• 18: 10-14: Parable of the lost sheep: Luke has this parable, but in the contexts of the lost coin and the prodigal son; also v. 14 is different in theme – ‘it is your Father’s will that none of these little ones be lost’
• 18: 15-34 (on forgiveness) is unique to Matthew. Reference to “the church” suggests a later emendation. Ethical behaviour is exemplified here and in the parable of the unforgiving servant, which follows.

Matthew 19: 1 to 25: 46

• Another ‘turning point’ at 19: 1. The rest of Chapter 19 // Mark, but the teaching about divorce is stricter in Matthew. The “you” in this section refers to the Pharisees.
• 20: 1-16 Labourers in the vineyard (Matthew only) speaks to Matthew’s view of God’s justice vs. human expectations. ‘Vineyard’ generally implies the people of Israel (cf. Isaiah 2; 5)
• 20: 17 – 21: 27 // Mark, overturns conventional views about fairness. At 21: 1-11, we have the Entry into Jerusalem.  After this, the narrative turns to end of time events [often called the ‘little apocalypse’], exemplified by the parable of the wicked tenants (the Temple leadership).
• The parable of the wedding banquet (22: 1-14) // Luke/Q. Matthew likes the phrase “gnashing of teeth.”
• The remainder of this section continues very dark, with increasing conflict with the Pharisees (Chapter 23). The need for watchfulness before the coming of the Son of Man is exemplified by the parable of the ten bridesmaids (25: 1-13, Matthew only); the parable of the talents (25: 14-30 // Luke) warns of making the wrong choice (cast into the outer darkness …).
• 25: 31-46: This is an important passage, unique to Matthew – ‘to the extent you did or did not do something for the least of my brothers and sisters …’

Matthew 26-27: Events leading to the arrest of Jesus and his crucifixion

• As in Mark and Luke, this is a major part of the text.
• Matthew amplifies the treachery of Judas [26: 14-16] and follows up in 27: 3-10 with the suicide of Judas (and what to do with the tainted money). Acts 1: 18-19 mentions Judas’ suicide, but Mark and Luke do not.
• Chapter 26 follows Mark closely. Of the four accounts of the Eucharist, only Matthew includes the words “poured out for the forgiveness of sins” concerning the Eucharist wine. The OT prophesies in this chapter all appear also in Mark.
• The events surrounding the Crucifixion have sections unique to Matthew. Pilate is treated more sympathetically, and releases Barabbas partly on his wife’s recommendation (27: 15-19; 22-23).
• 27: 24-25 has served (along with John 19: 7) as basis for anti-Semitism
• The rending of the Temple curtain (27: 51-53) and Pilate ordering a guard for the tomb (27: 62-66) are found only in Matthew.

Matthew 28: The Resurrection ad afterwards

• The accounts of the four Gospels vary in their details, but 28: 1-8 follows Mark almost exactly. Our most beloved post-Resurrection stories are found in Luke and John.
• 28: 9-10 tells the women to tell the male disciples to go to Galilee.

After the Resurrection
• 28: 11-15 gives an ‘ending’ to the story about the guard in 27: 62-66.
• 28: 16 The disciples go to Galilee as directed. There, “they worshipped him but some doubted”. Compare John 20: 19-31, Doubting Thomas. In Mark 16: 14, Jesus criticized the eleven for their lack of faith in doubting the resurrection.
• 28: 17-20 is known as the Great Commission. It is based on the longer ending of Mark (16: 15). There is no requirement about faith for baptism, but the Trinitarian formula for baptism must be a later addition. This did not come until much later.