The Gospel according to Matthew
The Gospel itself does not identify its author as a letter might. (The titles we have in our Bibles for the Gospels are not part of the original Greek, being a later addition to identify the four Gospels when they were brought together in one collection.) As a consequence one must seek to deduce its authorship from internal evidence and from what external sources might suggest. Further, dating of the Gospel will be determined by what conclusions one draws from the considerations of the above.
Basically two views prevail. The traditional viewpoint is that Matthew, one of the twelve apostles, wrote it. According to Matthew 9:9-13, he was a tax collector when Jesus called him to follow him. As a tax collector, he would have been an educated man, most likely knowing Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. The Gospel itself suggests that its author was educated, could teach, knew how to organize and present, and handled Greek well. Matthew, the tax collector become disciple, would qualify on all these points. The Matthean authorship has been the unanimous, traditional view of the church until 19th and 20th century scholarship raised questions about its feasibility. Dr. Franzmann, as well as some other contemporary scholars, advocate for the traditional view and date the Gospel in the decade of the 50s.
Leading modern scholarship to question the traditional Matthean authorship is the perspective that the Gospel follows the outline of Mark’s Gospel about 90% of the time; its Greek is better than Mark’s; the Marcan narrative is shortened; its rough Greek is smoothed out; expressions and comments that might be offensive are softened, changed, or eliminated. These factors lead these scholars to conclude that Mark must have been written first; and that Matthew used Mark for the outline of his work into which he inserted additional material. Further, they question why an eyewitness to the events and speeches he is reporting would utilize the outline of someone who was not one of the twelve and use his language in the stories he included. A closer inspection of the note from Papias, second bishop of Hierapolis, c. 130, reported in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, reveals that his comment does not say that Matthew wrote the Gospel, but that he wrote oracles of Jesus in Hebrew. In view of the good Greek of Matthew’s Gospel, they suggest that what is referred to is a collection of Jesus’ sayings, parables, and sermons. This collection could then have been utilized in the preparation of what is now our Gospel according to St. Matthew; by association his name was attached to the Gospel. Allowing time for Mark’s Gospel to have first been written and for the Gospel of Matthew’s author to draw upon it, these scholars normally date Matthew in the 70s and 80s of the first century. They suggest, especially in view of the “teaching nature” of the Gospel and its Jewish coloring, that it may have been written by a converted Jewish rabbi.
Separated as we are in time and space from the original composition of the Gospel, and recognizing that the above analysis rests on certain presuppositions, it is best not to get overly excited about the actual human authorship and dating of the Gospel, but see it as a book inspired by the Holy Spirit, penned by a “scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:52), and worthy of our diligent study. It has much to teach us!
All scholars, recognizing the Judaic coloring of the Gospel, suggest that it was written for Jewish Christians to confirm them in their faith in Jesus the Messiah; to call them to ongoing discipleship, a life of righteousness; and to lead them to see that the history of Jesus Christ, which took place in Palestine, is meant for all people throughout the world. The location frequently identified as the place where the Gospel may have been written is Antioch of Syria, since early references to it emanate from there. Another possibility is Jerusalem or less specifically, Palestine. The contents of this “Jewish-Christian” Gospel, however, are rich with insights for disciples everywhere, as they hear and heed Jesus’ call, “Follow me.”
Remembering that the percentage of people who could read and have their own copy of a book (scroll) like Matthew was extremely low helps us appreciate the various devices Matthew incorporates into his Gospel to help the listener/reader absorb its message.
Notice, first of all, how Matthew often groups his material into groups of three, five, seven, or even ten, for clustering material in such a fashion aids remembering it. The genealogy in chapter one is divided into three sections of 14 generations each, from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, from the exile to Jesus’ birth. Seven quotations from the Old Testament are included in the opening major unit of the Gospel (1:1 – 4:16). Matthew presents much of Jesus’ teaching material in five major discourses (chs. 5-7; ch. 10; ch. 13 [with seven parables]; ch. 18; chs. 24-25). These five discourses would likely bring to mind the five books of Moses and/or the five books of the Psalter. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the new righteousness with five examples (5:21-48), the new piety as it shows itself in three areas (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, 6:1-18). In chapters 8 and 9, Jesus’ authority is demonstrated in ten miracles, clustered in groups of three, three, and four. In chapter 23, Jesus denounces the hypocritical practices of the scribes and Pharisees with seven woes.
Another aid to hearing, remembering, and capturing the essence of the message is repeating certain phrases. Old Testament quotations are often introduced with a phrase something like “then was fulfilled what was spoken of by the prophet name.” Each of the five discourses concludes with this phrase, “when Jesus had finished these sayings,” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1 [this last one inserts the word, “all,” into the phrase!]. Many parables are introduced, “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” On occasion Jesus punctuates his statements with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (11:15; 13:9,43)
In Dr. Franzmann’s introductory notes, he mentions another feature which highlights the teaching character of the Gospel, that which he calls the “extreme case” method. In the first Beatitude, for instance, he shows the extreme limit to which Jesus goes in showing his grace, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3) The first three miracles in Matthew 8 are “extreme cases,” as Jesus extends his healing to those who normally would be excluded–the leper, a centurion’s servant (a non-Jew), and a woman who would be considered a second-class member of society. (vv. 1-17) Jesus calls a tax collector to be his disciple, again, an extreme act of grace, for tax collectors were categorized with public “sinners.”
Just as Jesus’ grace reaches beyond normal limits, so too does his call to repentance. His disciples are to reflect a repentance greater than the scribes and Pharisees, the best in Judaism. The disciples are to practice a righteousness that is not merely content with the letter of the law; it must penetrate to the spirit of the law. (5:19-20) Peter is not to forgive just seven times, which he suggested as sufficient; the parable of the unforgiving debtor shows that there should be no limit to our forgiving one another, for it is based on God’s lavish love in forgiving us (18:21-35). (Franzmann, CSSC, NT, pp. 8,9)
Another device that helps the hearer/reader to remember the message of Jesus is his use of “contrast.” In Matthew 5, as Jesus addresses the disciples’ righteousness, he contrasts what has been said by those of old time, etc. with “but I say unto you.” (5:21,22; 27,28; 31,32; 33,34; 38,39; 43,44) Jesus does his miracles to help people in need, but refuses to produce a sign to force people to believe (Jesus feeds the 5,000 [14:13-21], heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter, [15:21-28], feeds the 4,000 [15:32-39], but will not give the Pharisees a “sign from heaven” [16:1-4].) Jesus agrees with Peter’s identification that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (16:16), but insists that being Messiah calls for suffering, death, and resurrection. It is a sharp contrast to popular ideas of what the Messiah should be like–a powerful king who overthrows his nation’s enemies.
Through these various devices, Matthew’s Gospel presents the person, teaching, and work of Jesus Christ in such a way that people could hear, learn, remember and live by it. As the next section hopes to illustrate, the Person Matthew presents in Jesus Christ is indeed the One worth following, the One around whom the church is called to orient its life and carry out his mission.
We begin by stressing the authority of Jesus Christ. We have already seen Jesus demonstrate his authority, with his magisterial, “But I say unto you.” (Matthew 5:22,28, 32,34,39, and 44). At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the evangelist observes, “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (7:29) The next two chapters illustrate the breadth of Jesus’ authority as he heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons and stills an angry sea. He is over all. In the middle of those signs of authority, we see demonstrated the depth of his authority–it is a divine authority for Jesus, the Son of man, has authority on earth to forgive sin (9:2-8). In chapter 11, he asserts that same authority in another way, as he insists that he alone is the way to God and experiencing his rest: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, and I will give you rest.” (11:27-28) This authority, as his miracles have already shown, was not exercised to show off his power but to help people in need, to demonstrate the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, the dawn of the new creation. When James and John are angling for positions of authority in Jesus’ coming kingdom, Jesus makes it clear that his authority [Son of Man is a term of authority] is used for service of others and not self-service. He comes to give his life as a ransom for many [Semitic way of saying “all”](Matt. 20:20-28). All of his disciples forsake him in the hour of crisis. He alone is faithful until death. After he laid down his life in keeping with the will of God, he came back to life. He had made the supreme sacrifice for the sins of all. His word to the women tells it all: they are to tell “‘my brothers’ to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” This is a word of forgiveness for the disciples who had abandoned him. He loves them still and wants to use them in his mission. The climax of Jesus’ authority is expressed: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:18,19) He wants his disciples to make more disciples that all people may know his Lordship which brings forgiveness, new life, and ultimately everlasting joy.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ leads us to a second theological emphasis: Jesus calls people to follow him and live as his people. He wants disciples who are characterized by righteousness. Someone who gives his life for all wants his followers to give their all, to live their lives wholly for him. Two passages underscore this truth. In 5:18-20, Jesus says, “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 16, after Jesus has explained that his being Messiah means suffering, death, and then resurrection, Peter opposed him, “God forbid!” Jesus, however, called that thinking demonic and not divine. He made it clear that what held for him held also for his followers: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (vv. 24-25) The last parable in the eschatological discourse underscores these points (Matt. 25:31-46).
As one looks particularly at the five major discourses in this Gospel, he realizes that the Gospel according to St. Matthew is a teaching Gospel. Jesus is not only laying before his disciples how he wants them to live (the Sermon on the Mount, chs. 5-7), but also that he wants them to carry on his mission (ch. 10). The parables of chapter 13 alert his disciples to the twofold response that mission will elicit, both faith and rejection. Chapter 18 teaches them how they are to live in the community of God’s people–with humility, with concern for the straying, and with forgiveness that reaches out to others without limit, mirroring the mercy of their Lord. Finally, the last discourse highlights the hope which God’s people have because of their Messiah, a hope which leads not only to watchfulness but also to stewardship which seeks to serve those in need (chs. 24-25). As Jesus teaches them, he in turn wants them to evangelize and teach others: disciples making more disciples. The Great Commission with which the Gospel concludes highlights this note: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
This Gospel is also known as the ecclesiastical or churchly Gospel. When people hear and answer the call of Jesus’ “Follow me,” they enter with him into the community of faith, which has Jesus as its head. Since Jesus came in fulfillment of the Scriptures the community into which he initiates them is in continuity with the Old Testament people of God. One enters this community by faith, gains a new “heavenly” family with God as its Father, and is called to live out that identity within that community as well as the world. The Lord’s Prayer surely re-enforces this understanding, for we pray it not in the singular (“My” Father who art in heaven, but “Our” Father, and in the second half of the prayer, the pronouns are plural, “us and our.” This new community has a future. When the centurion exhibited sincere faith in Jesus’ word, Jesus assured him that many would come from all directions “to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (8:12) He was included by faith, which gave him this glorious future to anticipate. Of the four Gospels, this is the only one which uses the word church, or in the Greek ecclesia, which it does twice. In both instances, forgiveness is at the heart of the community which Jesus is forming. After Peter has confessed Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus commends him with words that reveal that Peter has gotten that confession through the gift of the heavenly Father. Further, Jesus says, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (16:18) He gives him the keys to loose and bind sins. (16:19) Jesus’ commendation does not make the church Peter’s church; it remains Jesus’ church. He is its architect and builder. As a builder, he is picking up Peter like a rock, and building him into the edifice of his church. Jesus is using Peter for his service; he wants to use him to pass on his forgiveness to others, and so bring them into his community through faith. To read into this text an authorization for Peter to be the church’s first leader and the beginning of the Roman Catholic Papacy is to misread this text. These are not addressed in this text. The authority of the keys to forgive and retain sins (16:19) is also given to the whole church, (18:18). This latter text comes in the midst of the discourse on the fellowship into which the disciple of Jesus Christ is initiated. It is a fellowship that ties us to each other, as in a family. Matthew 18: 15 begins, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” The next sentence enlightens us how to handle such a situation, step by step, because our goal is “gain the brother,” who has been separated by his sin. It involves others in seeking that reconciliation, and if need be “the church” (18:17).
Finally, another key aspect of this “Jewish-Christian” Gospel is the fact that it is universalistic in its outlook. Jesus fulfills the Scripture, coming as the son of Abraham and son of David (1:1), but his birth is made known to Magi from the East, signaling that he had come for the Gentiles too. (Matt. 2:1-12). As previously noted, he healed a Gentile centurion’s servant, a sign that through faith people from the nations would enjoy fellowship with the heads of the Jewish people: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although Jesus instructed his disciples to go “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” (10:6) he himself did not refuse the urgent cry for help from the non-Jewish Canaanite woman pleading for help for her daughter (15:21-28). Through these notes scattered throughout the Gospel, the concluding clarity of the Great Commission comes as no surprise, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” What Jesus did, he did for all. He came in fulfillment of God’s Word to his ancient people Israel, but the fulfillment of those plans were for a universal outcome and blessing. It had been signaled by the promise to Abram in Genesis 12:2-3, re-enforced at the beginning of the Covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:5-6) as God asked his people to be his kingdom of priests mediating his grace and goodness to all the nations, echoed in the Psalms as all nations were called to praise the one God over all, and sounded in the prophets, as the Servant of the Lord was to be a light to the nations. (Is. 49:6).
The wonderful thing is that in Jesus Christ his disciples of every day and place find the strength and encouragement to undertake this universal mission he sends them on. Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of the promise made in Isaiah 7:14 that he would be “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23) His parting promise to us is “I will be with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) In the strength of that promise we can follow him as his disciples and undertake confidently the universal mission on which he sends us. May your study of this Gospel help you see your Lord Jesus Christ more clearly, that with joy and commitment you may live for him!
The Gospel can be outlined in a number of different ways, but most of them result from one of two approaches. Either one organizes the material around the five major discourses together with the important introductory section and the closing climactic section of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, OR he organizes the material according to a more narrative approach to Jesus’ ministry around two similar introductory phrases, “From that time Jesus began to preach,” (4:17) and “From that time Jesus began to show,” (16:21). This latter approach begins with attention to the opening section dealing with Jesus birth, baptism, and temptation (1:1-4:16) It then highlights the narrative of Jesus’ ministry with the first major section highlighting his preaching/caring ministry to the public, and the second half emphasizing his ministry to his disciples as he headed to Jerusalem. The former approach organizes the Gospel around the discourses, seeing a progression as they move forward from an emphasis on righteousness to witnessing to the response that witnessing engenders to the development of the community through faith (fellowship) to the hope of the disciple, climaxing in the resurrection. the deeds that precede the discourse anticipate them and the discourses in turn interpret the deeds which preceded. A combination of the two approaches most likely comes closest to capturing the richness of this extremely well planned document.
We share with you the outline prepared by Dr. Franzmann as presented in the Concordia Self-Study Commentary, NT, p.12).
“Behold, Your King Is Coming to You”
- 1:1 – 4:22. Introduction: Jesus the Messianic Fulfiller
The genealogy and seven fulfillments of prophecy.
- 4:23 – 7:29 First Group of Messianic Deeds and Words
The present kingdom and the call to repentance.
III. 8:1 – 10:42 Second Group of Messianic Deeds and Words
The compassionate Shepherd-King commissions His apostles to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
- 11:1 – 13:52 Third Group of Messianic Deeds and Words
The contradicted Messiah conceals the Kingdom from those who have rejected it (those who “have not,” 13:12) and further reveals it to those who have accepted it (those who “have,” 13:12).
- 13:53 – 18:35 Fourth Group of Messianic Deeds and Words
Toward the new Messianic people of God, the church. The Messiah separates His disciples from the mass of old Israel, deepens His communion with His own, and shapes their relationship to one another.
- 19:1 – 25:46 Fifth Group of Messianic Deeds and Words
The Messiah gives His disciples a sure and responsible hope.
VII. 26:1 – 28:20 Conclusion and Climax
The Passion, death, and resurrection of the Messiah complete and crown His ministry. The risen Lord in the perfection of His grace and power gives His disciples their universal and enduring commission as His apostles.
Another way to approach the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew recognizes the discourses functioning as pivots in the narrative. Each discourse reinforces the preceding text and transitions into the next narrative point of the gospel. In so doing, Matthew presents Jesus’ identity as fulfillment (1-4, 26-28), clarification concerning the kingdom and what it means (5-7, 13, 23-25), and the resulting mission of God (10, 18).
Matthew 1-4 The kingdom comes in Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies, even in unexpected ways. He is the king; he is Israel.
Matthew 5-7 [First discourse] Jesus fulfills the law/teaching of the Old Testament, God’s teaching. He clarifies the good news of the kingdom by highlighting God’s desire for word and deed.
Matthew 8-9 Jesus does the law in unexpected ways. His actions clarify the law/teaching of God. He establishes the need to send workers into the harvest of the kingdom.
Matthew 10 [Second discourse] Jesus sends out laborers for the harvest and prepares them to be opposed.
Matthew 11-12 The opposition is realized. Jesus is greater than the temple, Jonah, and Solomon; yet the people fail to receive him, the one in whom there is rest.
Matthew 13 [Third discourse] Jesus teaches in parables. The parables recognize that the gospel is received differently by different people. It also recognizes the value of the gospel and the reality of the end time judgment.
Matthew 14-17 The parables of the kingdom play out. Jesus continues to do the work of the kingdom. Teachings of the kingdom are contrasted with teachings of ‘traditions’. The capacity of the kingdom is seen as Jesus casts out a demon by faith that the disciples failed to cast out. In addition, Jesus teaching begins to illustrate that the kingdom calls the disciples of the kingdom to take up their cross and follow Jesus.
Matthew 18 [Fourth discourse] Jesus teaches humility as one approaches the kingdom and the value of the kingdom. He then highlights the call to seek the loss bringing forgiveness and thus restoration to their lives.
Matthew 19-22 Conflict and opposition highlight misunderstandings of the mission and continue to clarify who Jesus is and the kingdom he is about.
Matthew 23-25 [Fifth discourse] The judgment on the Jewish leaders and others who reject Jesus and his teachings is proclaimed even as Jesus’ mission receives clarification as Jesus continues to communicate the kingdom.
Matthew 26-28 Jesus fulfills and clarifies his role as Christ, Immanuel, King of the Jews, and Son of God. As he finishes his work and recognizes the rejection by Israel he frees the disciples to go out to all the nations.