Notes on Matthew.
I am reading The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays, and below is a summary of his chapter on Matthew. It’s a very interesting book (and if you decide to buy a copy, it’s cheapest as a Kindle book from Amazon, but if you want a physical copy, then Amazon seem to be the most expensive. I ordered a copy from Abe Books for half the price).
The Gospel of Matthew was written about 50 A.D. so after the Gospel of Mark, and the letters of Paul. The temple had been destroyed, and the Jewish Rabbis were striving to keep the Jewish people separate by concentrating on the laws of the Torah. In contrast, the early church was reaching out to Gentiles (non-Jews). All the early issues about Jewish law (like eating only clean animals) had probably already been sorted out during the time of Paul’s ministry, so Matthew doesn’t address them at all.
Matthew is writing an apologue (a moral story). He writes about an ordered world, where Jesus has all authority. The disciples are now forming a community, with an emphasis on teaching and obedience.
The book has a clear beginning (the genealogy of Jesus) and a clear ending (the commissioning of the disciples). It establishes Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The birth story is interesting, as it has the same typology as Moses’ birth story (‘typology’ just means ‘classification’). Moses was a deliverer and a law giver, and Matthew parallels this with the story of Jesus. He uses phrases like: ‘When Jesus had said these words…’ which is the same as the phrase often used in Hebrew, in the story about Moses.
The book is written as narrative, describing the activities of Jesus, and this provides a framework for big chunks of teaching. Matthew shows that: Jesus taught with authority, wise people obey his teaching, Jesus fulfils the law and the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus did not supersede the law, but rather he showed what the core meaning was, and called people to obey the essence of the law rather than thoughtlessly follow the letter of the law.
Matthew is basically all about living righteously, and showing mercy. Both aspects matter. He writes that an ‘unrepentant brother’ should be treated like a ‘tax collector’ or a ‘Gentile.’ I always understood this to mean the person should be rejected, cast out of the church. But Hays points out that Matthew has already shown that Jesus sought out tax collectors, and the disciples were told to preach to the Gentiles. Therefore, the unrepentant brother should be treated the same, shown mercy, and be a focus for their teaching. Whilst he would no longer be part of the church, the church should continue to try and reach him.
Matthew’s teaching about Jesus’ returning is still strong, but it’s less immediate. I guess he had already waited for 50 odd years, so unlike Mark and Paul, he was no longer expecting it to happen tomorrow. His emphasis is that God is with us now (a point he makes right at the beginning, when Jesus’ birth is foretold). When the church meets, Jesus is present.
Hays comments that Matthew is rewriting many of the stories in Mark, but adding his own explanations. He uses the stories to show his theology. For example, in the story of Jesus walking on the water, Hays thinks that Matthew is using the narrative to make a point, showing that the church (represented by Peter in the story) is being battered by persecution (represented by waves and wind in the story) and they will survive only if they keep their focus on Jesus and have faith that he is with them. Matthew adds the declaration of the disciples: ‘You are the Son of God’ at the end of the story, because this is something that the church of his time understood. (In Mark’s Gospel, the story ends with a rather gloomy comment about the disciples being amazed and not understanding because they were in a muddle over an earlier miracle.) The story adds to Matthew’s overall message, that God is with us now, however things seem, which is good news for everyone.
Matthew writes about Jesus coming unexpectedly, and that people should be ready. They must prepare by good living (because God will reward or punish people accordingly). He also calls people to have mercy and be compassionate towards the needy, because this is the essence of ‘good living.’
Thanks for reading, I will continue this tomorrow.
Have a great day, and take care.
Love, Anne x