There are books, encyclopedias, and careers made by examining a few thousand words in Greek translated into all the languages of the earth. What I have added here is only a drop of mist in a world dependent on oceans of water for life. This is my fourth assignment for my Spring course on the Synoptic Gospels and Acts.
Determine four most important themes that characterize the Gospel of Matthew
Determine only four themes? Actually, I’m grateful for the reduced number. My study Bible editorial staff divides Matthew into seven themes, Raymond Brown follows these seven with slightly different titles, and Rudolf Schnackenburg divides the Gospel by subject area. The table below compares the three.
Table I: Comparison of Breakdowns of Matthew’s Gospel
The Catholic Study Bible
Donald Senior, Ed
An Introduction to the New Testament
Jesus in the Gospels
|I. The Infancy Narrative||1:1 – 2:23 Introduction: Origin and Infancy of Jesus the Messiah||1. THE STORY OF JESUS AS TOLD BY MATTHEW|
|II. The Proclamation of the Kingdom||3:1 – 7:29 Part One: Proclamation of the Kingdom||a. The prehistories that lead to Jesus, the bringer of salvation|
|III. Ministry and Mission in Galilee||8:1 – 10:42 Part Two: Ministry and Mission in Galilee||b. The expansion of the Easter event|
|IV. Opposition from Israel||11:1 – 13:52 Part Three: Questioning of and Opposition to Jesus||c. The narrative thread of the earthly appearance, activity, and destiny of Jesus|
|V. Jesus, the Kingdom, and the Church||13:53 – 18:35 Part Four: Christology and Ecclesiology||2. The Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian Dimension of the Story of Jesus|
|VI. Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem||19:1 – 25:46 Part Five: Journey to and Ministry in Jerusalem||3.The Church as the Locus of Jesus’ Ongoing Activity|
|VII. The Passion and Resurrection||26:1 – 28:20 Climax: Passion, Death, and Resurrection|
For the purposes of teaching in a parish or high school environment, I think a division into four sections is sufficient. I agree with Brown’s assessment that the Infancy narrative is an introduction of Jesus’ holy and familial origins. My division of Matthew would be in four parts for teaching; 1. The Moral Message, 2. The Reason to Listen, 3. The Arguments, and 4. The Reason to Believe.
Developing the Themes
First, there is a moral message from Jesus, whether He is only a prophet or is actually the Son of God. Matthew gives us four chapters of this message. It is written as if delivered in a daylong Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes, the positive ‘do’s’ of the Law that compliment the ‘don’ts’ of the Decalogue. Matthew follows with a presentation of practical ideas for daily living concerning letting go of anger and hate, of how to pray and what one should expect from prayers, and that this moral path is not easy but is possible to live.
Second, Matthew develops a picture of a physician, a healer of body and soul. Lepers are healed of a painful disease of the skin. Paralytics can walk, the blind can see either again or for the first time, fevers abate, and deaf can hear. Jesus demonstrates compassion from an earthly view and spiritual power from a spiritual perspective when he heals based on the faith of a centurion and forgives the sins of the paralytic he heals. He cures bleeding disorders and raises a child from the dead. Jesus backs his compassionate moral message with a demonstration of His authority. Most important, from a teaching perspective, He sends his disciples out to do the same as if to say, “You’ve listened and you’ve observed. Now go and do.”
Third, the arguments from the various officials provide the examples of how to be firm in this moral life in the face of opposition. The Sabbath is holy and no work is to be done, if one follows the Law. Yet if one is injured we are shown we should help them, that the day of rest is not a day to withhold our compassion. Jesus heals a withered hand and tells us the story of a lost sheep. We see others in a moment of anger and destruction. Jesus gives us the lesson of the fruit of a tree, rather than looking at a broken branch. We are accused of violating our own faith and oaths, and Jesus gives us the retort of the house divided not surviving such a division. Signs are demanded of Him, and His response is for the signs given to be recognized.
Fourth, the salvific act is the demonstrative example of how far one should be willing to go to live the message brought to us, with the seal of the resurrection as confirmation that the message is true. Herod, the local and cultural civic authority will not recognize Jesus’ authority. Jesus continues to heal. The religious authorities clammer against his practices. Jesus asks them why they can read the signs of the weather but not the signs from their own faith history. He continues his signs and teaching until He tells them directly during His trial He is the I AM, and they accuse Him of blasphemy rather than believing Him. Finally, one of His own betrays Him and Rome judges Him. Pilate finds no guilt in Him, yet releases Him to the crowd for crucifixion. Hanging on the cross He finally shows human weakness in His desperate cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). It is the guard, the civil authority that makes the public report of the resurrection. “While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened” (Matt 28:11). Jesus is raised from the dead. Matthew tells us of the Great Commission He gives us. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,” (Matt 28:19).
Thematic Tension and Resolution
Raymond Brown presents us with eight different thoughts over seven pages that he calls “Issues and Problems for Reflection”(Brown, p. 217). Two of these have to do with the virgin birth. A third deals with the questions of Peter’s primacy and Papal succession discussed previously in the paper. Most important to our time and our charge to carry on the Church is Brown’s comments on Jesus as ethical teacher. Describing the ideas of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving Brown suggests “…if Jesus were speaking to some 20th-century contexts, he might strike out at the opposite vice.” “Jesus might well say in such a situation: When you pray, pray publicly to challenge those who never pray and see no sense in prayer; when you fast, let other see it so that their presuppositions about comfort may be challenged”(Brown, p. 220). Thematic tension seen by some in the Gospel of Matthew or any of the scriptures might well be a reflection of the real life situations always present in the world the Church is to be a light to. For me, the resolution is in the resurrection. Many millions have given their lives that others might live. We are routinely reminded of those that do so on the battlefield, and in our time, those first responders who were lost in New York on 9-11. Jesus of Nazareth is the only One whose body was raised by God, not through the hand of another after the death of the human body.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” (Matt 16:18)
It seems the argument is in both history and translation, the latter first. It seems there are two Greek words “The Aramaic term translitereated as Kēphas in Greek (Hare. Matthew. A volume in Interpretation; A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 189) and translated in English as Cephas is the first term to be concerned with. There is the consideration as to whether this means a movable stone or an immovable rock. Kēphas is used in John’s Gospel, though. Matthew uses the Greek words petros, meaning a stone, and petra meaning a rock. “Because petros was not used as a name, it is misleading to translate “You are Peter”; it would be more accurate to render the phrase “You are ‘Stone’” (Hare. p. 190). How often would we allow ourselves to slip into slang in our modern culture, especially in the teaching profession, and call someone having difficulty with a concept a ‘rock’ or a ‘stone’, deriding their intellect? Certainly it gives a modern twist on the concept of God building His Church on a thick headed and argumentative, uneducated fisherman. It seems even less likely to make this person the new Chancellor of the Kingdom of Heaven. Consequently, any authoritative succession seems absurd. Hare states this explicitly. “While these verses ascribe a unique primacy to Peter, there is no suggestion that this role can be passed on to a successor after Peter’s death” (Hare. p. 192) Historically speaking “This passage was not used for support of the papacy until the third century and later, as then was opposed by leading figures such as Origen and Augustine” (Keck. Ed. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol VIII, p. 345)
“But the underlying Aram(aic) phraseology of these vv (verses) is undeniable. Since Matthew’s community seems to have been ignorant of Aram. we can only admit that the phrases stem from an earlier source”(Fuller, R. Ed. A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 933) The writers of this Catholic volume give more depth to the literary placement of this promise than do their Protestant counterparts. First, they admit that it is a story and they are curious in later comments about when this proclamation was made. They certainly believe the proclamation is, in fact, made and point out the Traditional references to Israelite history as well as other known instances of Peter being singled out. Only Peter has his name changed by Jesus. This reflects the changing of the two other names in history by God. Abram become Abraham and Jacob become Israel. Both men become the progenitors of a new people dedicated to God. Peter likewise is the leader and “The name ‘Rock’ is not known to have been used of any other person before, either in Gr. or in Heb”(Fuller, R.) is the one upon which Jesus’ new Church is to be built.
Patrick Madrid also points out the name change given to Kēphas by Jesus and uses the same consideration as A New Catholic Commentary in his book Envoy For Christ. He begins by indicating that Peter’s name is mentioned 195 times in the scriptures, more than six times more than anyone else is. Madrid gives us examples that demonstrate why the arguments about the legacy of Peter’s primacy was not necessary before the third century. “The earliest account we have of a bishop of Rome exercising authority in another diocese comes from the Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians. It was written…around the year A.D. 80. In it he responds to the Corinthian’s plea for his intervention”(Madrid, p. 182). Madrid continues with a follow-on example. “Pope Victor I (reigned 189 – 100) worked to settle a dispute among the bishops of the East and West over when to celebrate Easter – know as the Quartodeciman controversy. The other bishops recognized his unique authority when they followed his directive to convene local and regional synods to deliberate on the issue. Most of the bishops decided to adopt his proposal”(Madrid, p. 183). Peter was designated by Jesus as the foundational leader of His new Church as recorded in scripture and Peter’s successors were recognized within the structure of that Church as retaining the authority delegated to Peter through Jesus’ continued teaching of Peter through the Ascension and Pentecost. Clearly, Matthew has recorded an important event in the mission of Jesus Christ in establishing His Church on earth, even if that event is not placed in an exact chronological position as might be accomplished in a modern biography.
Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2010. Print.
Fuller, R., Johnston, L., and Kearns, C., Eds. A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Thomas Nelson, Inc, New York. 1975. Print
Hare, D. Matthew. A volume in Interpretation; A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Mays, J., Miller, P. Jr., and Achtemeier, P. Eds. John Knox Press, Louisville. 1993. Print.
Keck, L., Ed. The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume VIII. Nashville, Abingdon Press. 1995. Print
Madrid, P. Pope Fiction: Answers to Five Myths and Misconception About the Papacy. Envoy Magazine. 2000. Reprinted in Envoy For Christ, Servant Books, Cincinnati. 2012. Print
Schnackenburg, Rudolf. Jesus in the Gospels: A Biblical Christology. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press. 2005. Print.
Senior, Donald. General Editor. The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford University Press. 1990. New York.