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New Testament: Matthew

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Summary

Adoration of the MagiThe Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus the Messiah whose signal genealogy and miraculous birth are the sign and promise that "God is with us" (1:23). Jesus the Messiah proclaims God's continuing righteous reign in his words of blessing and deeds of healing. Jesus calls his followers to experience God's mercy anew, constitutes them as a new community of faith, and then, as crucified and resurrected Messiah, claims all power and authority as he commissions these disciples for mission with the promise that he will be with them until the end of the age (28:18-20).

So What?

Matthew's Gospel is important for its distinctive and grand conception of the God who comes to claim and call a people in Jesus the Messiah. The promise of God's presence frames and interprets the whole story of Jesus the Messiah. It thus calls to discipleship and faithful and confident following, shaping a new community that is constituted and lives by the forgiveness of God. The Sermon on the Mount proclaims to Jesus' disciples the blessing of God for a people who are salt and light for the world. This is a people who experience the surprising message of the kingdom as being like treasure hidden in a field and who in the joy of discovery go and sell everything to acquire such a treasure. Such a people are surprised to find a God who desires mercy and not sacrifice, and so calls them to live responsibly here and now in the meantime as a new community empowered by the living presence of God's Messiah, to live in the promise of mutual forgiveness. Matthew adds numerous parables of Jesus that help the disciple reader to imagine this new life; to see what it means to live as ones who are often "weary and are carrying heavy burdens," but who are called to experience the promise of rest from a savior who is "gentle and humble in heart" (11:28-30); and then to live as ones who trust in that mercy and lavish it just as freely on those they are called to serve (see 25:31-46; 28:18-20).

Where Do I Find It?

Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, the first of the four Gospels.

Who Wrote It?

The authorship of all of the canonical gospels, though perhaps reflecting some authentic traditions, is anonymous, the names being attached by later tradition. Tradition associated this Gospel with Matthew the tax collector, and claimed that its author collected the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew dialect for others to translate. This very late sketchy tradition preserved by Eusebius, writing in the fourth century C.E., cannot fit with a text that is clearly Greek and with a later dating necessary to fit an awareness of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. From the way in which Matthew adapts and supplements the Gospel of Mark, he would seem to have been a Greek-speaking Christian, a "teacher" steeped in Jewish Scriptures and tradition, living in an urban center like Antioch of Syria, who seeks to interpret the message of Jesus the Messiah for a new community in conflict with its neighbors over its relation to a Judaism in transition.

When Was It Written?

Though a precise date of writing is unclear, several clues invite a somewhat confident assumption of the period 80-100 C.E., and thus a date around 90 C.E. is a convenient approximation. Matthew's clear use of Mark, probably written sometime around 70 C.E. places Matthew's Gospel later, as does the almost certain reflection of the 66-70 C.E. war and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (see 22:7). The conflicts with Judaism evidenced in the text seem to reflect the dialogue with Judaism as it developed in the decades following the destruction of the temple. The text of Matthew seems to have been used by the Didache and by Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who writes around 110 C.E.

What's It About?

The Gospel of Matthew proclaims the good news that God is Emmanuel ("God with us"), that Jesus is God's Messiah whose teaching, healing, suffering, death, and resurrection now constitute a new disciple community, and that this Jesus Messiah, with all power and authority, commissions this community with the promise that he will be with them to the end of the age.

How Do I Read It?

The careful reader of Matthew will want to read it while reflecting on what the narrative as a whole reveals about the nature of the gospel message of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. By its use and adaptation of Mark and Q and by its addition of much distinctive narrative material, Matthew is certainly in conversation at least with the other Synoptic Gospels. That conversation concerns the message of the kingdom of God as that applies to and makes sense for a particular community seeking to resolve matters of dialogue and conflict with the traditions of Judaism in the late first century, particularly around issues of the law and righteousness, and the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of Israel. The initial genealogy placing Jesus solidly within the tradition of Israel as a child of Abraham and King David, and the angelic announcement of his pedigree as the "savior of his people" (1:21) need to be noted and emphasized both for their initiation of the narrative and as distinctive features of Matthew's particular message. Similarly significant is the literary framing of the narrative with the double assertion that in Jesus God is with God's people as resurrected Messiah (see 1:23 and 28:18-20). That presence of God is certainly part of the central confession of Jesus as "Messiah, Son of the living God" spoken by Peter as representative of the disciple community (16:16). God's presence is signaled in the prevalent theme of the reign of God in Jesus, who, according to Matthew's version of the good news, is to be characterized by mercy and forgiveness (see the doublets 9:13 and 12:7) that comes overwhelmingly as blessing and surprise to God's people (see 5:1-16; 16:17; 19:30-20:16; and 25:31-46).

AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek

1.    Title and Birth Narrative (Matthew 1:1-2:23)
The introduction, unique to Matthew's Gospel, announces Jesus as God's Messiah, links his story to God's promises in Abraham and David, and sounds distinctive themes of the Gospel.


A.    Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)

In a careful threefold structure of fourteen generations each, Jesus' genealogy is linked from Abraham through David to Joseph, the husband of Mary.
B.    The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:18-25)
Tellingly addressed as "son of David," Joseph is righteously obedient to the angel's command to take Mary as his wife and to name his son Jesus as a sign that he will be savior and Emmanuel, marking the presence of God.
C.    Visit of the Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12)
The global and cosmic scope of the good news is marked by wise men drawn by a star to worship Jesus, while King Herod sees only threat and already plots to get rid of him.
D.    The Escape to Egypt and Return (Matthew 2:13-23)
Once again warned by an angel in a dream, Joseph obediently flees with the baby Jesus and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod's massacre of the infants; they return to Nazareth when the danger is past.


2.    Jesus' Galilean Ministry: Preparation (Matthew 3:1-4:22)

The preaching and baptism of John, the testing of Jesus in the wilderness, and Jesus' initial preaching and call of disciples all prepare for the key narrative of the Galilean ministry of Jesus.


A.    The Preaching of John (Matthew 3:1-12)

John appears in the wilderness calling for repentance and baptizing people in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of "one who is more powerful" who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
B.    The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)
Although initially reluctant, John consents to baptize Jesus in order to "fulfill all righteousness," while a voice from heaven announces God's pleasure in this beloved Son.
C.    Jesus Is Tested by the Devil in the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)
Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he demonstrates his obedience and trust in God's word in the face of three trial assaults by the devil.
D.    Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:12-17)
After John's arrest Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee in fulfillment of the prophecy regarding "light dawning in the darkness"; he thematically calls for repentance because "the kingdom of heaven has come near."
E.    Call of the First Disciples (Matthew 4:18-22)
In parallel scenes Jesus calls two sets of brother fishermen to follow him, and they immediately leave everything to follow him.


3.    Jesus' Galilean Ministry: Proclaiming in Word and Deed (Matthew 4:23-9:38)
Like the birth narrative, this narrative section is carefully structured to reveal Jesus as Messiah in word and deed (see 11:4-5). Framing summaries surround the two major sections, the first one focusing on Jesus as teacher, the second on Jesus as healer of every disease.


A.    Framing Summary: Teaching, Preaching, Healing Every Disease (Matthew 4:23-25)

Jesus goes "throughout Galilee" teaching, preaching the good news, and healing "every disease" so that his fame spreads and crowds follow him.
B.    Ministry in Word: Sermon on the Mount. First Discourse (Matthew 5:1-7:29)
Seated on a mountain and surrounded by the crowds, Jesus addresses his disciples and announces with authority God's blessing that calls forth a new community of salt and light whose hearing and doing coalesce in a new kind of righteousness. This is the first of five major discourses of Jesus in Matthew (see 7:28-29).
C.    Ministry in Deed: Cycle of Nine Miracles (Matthew 8:1-9:34)
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is now followed by a carefully structured narrative of three cycles of three miracles: Jesus heals a leper, a centurion's servant, and Peter's mother-in-law; calms a storm and heals two demoniacs and a paralytic; finally, Jesus heals a woman who touches his garment along with a young maiden who has died, two blind men, and a demoniac who is also mute. Each cycle is interspersed with call stories about following Jesus.
D.    Framing Summary: Teaching, Preaching, Healing Every Disease (Matthew 9:35-38)
A framing summary repeats the theme of Jesus teaching, preaching, and healing, but now with a transitional reference to Jesus' compassion for the crowds who are like sheep without a shepherd and who point to the promise of a "plentiful harvest."


4.    Call and Mission of the Disciples. Second Discourse (Matthew 10:1-42)
In light of the harvest Jesus now calls his disciples and sends them out in mission like "sheep into the midst of wolves," warning them both of the dangers and rewards of faithfully taking up the cross and losing one's life for Jesus' sake. This is the second of Jesus' major discourses in the Gospel (see 11:1).
5.    John's Question and the Gathering Conflict (Matthew 11:1-12:45)
When John sends his disciples to question whether Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah, Jesus tells them to tell John what they "hear and see" and calls "blessed" those who take no offense in him. The interplay of themes of blessing ("come to me….and you will find rest," 11:28-30) and growing offense at Jesus mark this section (remarks on the ministry of John, woes to the unrepentant, challenges to Jesus' healing on the Sabbath, charges that he is in league with Satan, and a generation that will receive only the sign of Jonah).
6.    Teaching in Parables: The Kingdom of Heaven. Third Discourse (Matthew 12:46-13:58)
Matthew's third major discourse (see 13:53) now focuses Jesus' central teaching regarding the kingdom of heaven, including a number of parables unique to Matthew. The parable section sees this understanding of the kingdom as central to what it means to be a disciple who has been "trained for the kingdom."


A.    Framing Summary: Jesus' True Kindred (Matthew 12:47-50)
In a transitional frame, the theme of blessing and offense presses to the understanding of Jesus' true kindred as those who do "the will of my Father."
B.    Parables of the Kingdom: Treasures New and Old (Matthew 13:1-53)
Parables of the sower, of the weeds, of the mustard seed, of yeast, of hidden treasure, of a merchant, or of a net picture the nature of the kingdom of heaven, while being interspersed with discussion of Jesus' reasons for speaking in parables, and concluding with a remark about them as a key to disciple understanding.
C.    Framing Summary: Rejection by His Own People (Matthew 13:54-58)
Once again picking up the theme of blessing and offense, the parable discourse is framed by a reference to the response to Jesus' teaching that elicits offense especially in his hometown.


7.    Ministry in Galilee and Gentile Territory: Growing Opposition (Matthew 14:1-15:39)

Jesus' ministry in Galilee continues as he crosses back and forth over the Sea of Galilee and as stories of his miracles invite reflection on the response of faith, while at the same time opposition and challenge to his ministry and mission seem to grow.


A.    Death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12)
Once again Herod looms as a threat to Jesus who now hears of the beheading of John the Baptist.
B.    Feeding the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:13-21)
When Jesus hears of John's death, he withdraws and feeds five thousand in a wilderness place.
C.    Jesus Walks on Water (Matthew 14:22-33)
Jesus comes at night to his beleaguered disciples and calls Peter to come to him on the water. But when Peter begins to sink, Jesus chastises them for their "little faith."
D.    Summary: Healing the Sick (Matthew 14:34-36)
Even as the disciples' faith is put to the test, crowds flock to be healed by Jesus.
E.    Pharisees and Scribes Protest: On Clean and Unclean (Matthew 15:1-20)
The Pharisees and scribes protest Jesus and his disciples for their failure to follow tradition. Jesus responds with discussion of their hypocrisy regarding matters that come from within and from the heart.
F.    Canaanite Woman's Faith (Matthew 15:21-28)
In Gentile territory a remarkably persistent woman is praised for her great faith in light of which her daughter is healed.
G.    Summary: Healing the Sick (Matthew 15:29-31)
Great crowds now come and are healed to the amazement of those who see and give praise to the God of Israel.
H.    Feeding the Four Thousand (Matthew 15:32-39)
Once again Jesus feeds a multitude in wilderness.


8.    Ministry in Galilee: Peter's Confession and Jesus' Foretelling of His Passion (Matthew 16:1-17:27)
Jesus rejects the Pharisees and the Sadducees who come asking for a sign. Instead he now questions his disciples about the Son of Man. Peter responds with his central confession that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus remarks that this confession is sign of God's blessing and the foundational rock for his church. Twice Jesus foretells his coming passion, death, and resurrection. He teaches about discipleship as taking up one's cross, and after leading his disciples up on a mountain he is transfigured before them.
9.    Jesus' Teaching: A New Community of Forgiveness. Fourth Discourse (Matthew 18:1-35)
Jesus' fourth major discourse (see 19:1) comes in response to the disciples' question about what greatness in the kingdom will look like. Jesus responds that it will be like the humbleness of a child who is welcomed in Jesus' name. After noting that it is the will of the Father in heaven that not one of these little ones be lost, Jesus calls for the practice of forgiving love that is empowered by the Father's presence. To Peter's question of how often one should forgive, Jesus' responds with the negative example of the parable of the unforgiving servant.
10.    Jesus' Ministry in Judea: On the Way to Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1-20:34)
Jesus has foretold his passion and now leaves Galilee and turns toward Jerusalem. On the way he engages in teaching about discipleship on various issues: on divorce, on the blessing of children, on keeping the commandments, on the danger of riches and on the rewards of discipleship. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which underscores the generosity of God, is tellingly framed by a key theme in Matthew's understanding of the kingdom: "the last will be first, and the first will be last" (20:16; see also 19:30); this is followed immediately by Jesus' third and final foretelling of his passion, death, and resurrection. In Jericho, on the threshold of Jerusalem, Jesus, "Son of David," has compassion on two blind men who, once healed, immediately follow him.
11.    Jesus' Ministry in Jerusalem before the Passion (Matthew 21:1-23:39)
Jesus enters Jerusalem amid a riotous celebration of him as the coming Son of David. But his cleansing of the temple soon arouses the anger of the leaders, and they challenge Jesus' authority. They recognize the parables of the two sons, of the wicked tenants, and of the wedding banquet as being about themselves. Jesus' responses to their questions about paying taxes, about the resurrection, and about the greatest commandment silences them, after which Jesus launches into a whole chapter of woes upon the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
12.    On the End of the Age: Faithful Waiting for the Son of Man. Fifth Discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46)
In the fifth major discourse of Matthew (see 26:1), Jesus, while sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, responds to the disciples' questions about the coming age of the Messiah. Jesus speaks of the necessity of enduring and watchful readiness for the coming of the Son of Man. He describes the faithful as ones who the master "will find at work when he arrives," and seals the teaching with three uniquely Matthean parables about the exercise of discipleship in this time of waiting: the parable of the ten bridesmaids, of the talents, and of the judgment of the sheep and goats with its picture of those who faithfully but unwittingly serve the Son of Man in their care for the neighbor.
13.    The Passion of Jesus Messiah (Matthew 26:1-27:66)
Matthew follows closely Mark's narrative of the passion but with several distinctive motifs, noting the anointing at Bethany, Judas' agreement to betray Jesus, the Passover meal, the prayer in the Garden, the betrayal and arrest, the trials before the high priest and Pilate, Peter's denial, the soldiers' mockery, Jesus' crucifixion and death with the women looking on, the burial of Jesus, and the setting of a guard at the tomb.
14.    The Resurrection and Great Commission (Matthew 28:1-20)
On the first day of the week, a great earthquake and lightning greet the women who come to the tomb. The guards become like dead people, while an angel announces the resurrection of Jesus and instructs the women to go tell the disciples. On their way Jesus himself meets them with the same instructions. As they are going, in the meantime, the guards are being paid off to keep the story quiet. In the final verses of the Gospel Jesus meets the disciples on a mountain in Galilee and with authority commissions them to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe his commands, and to remember his promise to be with them to end of the age.

AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek

Matthew has been traditionally the most familiar and favored of the four canonical Gospels. Its unique presentation of the Sermon on the Mount characterizes Jesus' teaching for many, Christian and non-Christian alike. Its words have been the most commonly assigned for reading in worship through most of Christian tradition and so shape the narrative of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for many. Still, for Matthew and the other gospels, the origins and description of what constitutes a gospel are somewhat unclear. The term "gospel" was not part of the title in the original documents, but was added late in the second century C.E. Of the gospels we possess, most scholars think that Mark was the first to be written. In his opening title Mark describes his narrative, which bears some features of what might be described as a "biography" or "life" of Jesus, as the beginning of the  euaggelion ("gospel" or "good news") of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). It is likely that Matthew and the other "Gospels" were identified by this same term because they followed Mark's style and, at least in the case of Matthew and Luke, incorporated and adapted much of Mark's narrative within their own.

Around the middle of the first century, perhaps stimulated by the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 C.E., the gospels began to appear, as communities and authors changed the initial oral proclamation and memories of Jesus into written forms. Each of these gospel narratives seems to have been created and adapted for a particular time and place and for a particular community as it sought to be faithful in its witness and life to the message of Jesus the Messiah. Almost no information is preserved about these gospels or their settings. The associated authors' names are late, and they must be regarded as anonymous. Details of dating and setting need to be conjectured from data gleaned from the narrative. The writer of Matthew, writing in the last two decades of the first century (90 C.E. is a convenient date), seems to have been a person of Jewish origin, perhaps a teacher, who adapted Mark's narrative for what appears to have been a firmly established, Greek-speaking, urban and relatively well-to-do community including both Jewish and Gentile residents. Most assume the city of Antioch of Syria as a likely location. In the midst of a community where dialogue and conflict over the nature of emerging Judaism and Christianity in relation to the scriptures and traditions of Israel are being debated, Matthew seeks to describe what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus, who is God's Messiah and savior, in light of the good news of the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus and by his followers in his name.

AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek

•    The birth of Jesus. One of the key features of Matthew is its unique narrative of the birth of Jesus. It reveals Matthew's use of intricate structure to support the narrative's appeal and persuasive power and makes use of motifs that will continue to shape the remainder of the narrative of Jesus. The narrative divides neatly into sections, none of which can be harmonized with the quite different story in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1-2)-a genealogy, the birth and naming, Herod and the wise men, and the flight and return from Egypt. The opening title identifies the Gospel as a "book" (biblos) about Jesus, who is the Messiah and both "Son of Abraham" and "Son of David," thus anchoring the narrative of Jesus in the tradition and the hopes of the people of Israel. An intricately structured genealogy (Matthew 1:2-17) traces the origin of Jesus through three movements of continuity and discontinuity, culminating in the surprising link to Mary through Joseph. Joseph and his "righteous" character are the focus of the birth and name of Jesus (1:18-25). Instructed by an angel, Joseph obediently adopts "Jesus," whose role as Emmanuel, "God is with us," and Savior who "will save his people from their sins" is in line with the prophecy of scripture. Angels, dreams, and stars are transparent to the guiding purposes of God, as wise men arrive from the nations as the first to worship this new king, while King Herod and Jerusalem are the first to greet his arrival with suspicion and even murderous fears (2:1-12). Warned by a dream and in accord with scriptural prophecy at every step, Joseph along with Mary and the child escape Herod's massacre of the innocent children and, after Herod's death, return to live in Nazareth.

•    Christology in Matthew. To speak of Matthew's "christology" is to raise the question of the character of Jesus in the narrative and its relation to theological judgments about the purpose and meaning of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. In these judgments the various "titles" of Jesus have seemed important, but not all have agreed in their evaluation. Many have been persuaded by the argument (Kingsbury) that the affirmation of Jesus as "Son of God," in spite of its infrequency (4:3, 6; 8:29; 14:33; 16:16; 26:63; 27:40, 43), is central for Matthew and that other titles for Jesus, such as "Son of David," "Christ" (or "Messiah"), "Servant," or "Lord" are subordinate to and interpret it. The title "Son of Man," though very infrequent seems to be a special case, since it is reserved almost exclusively as a self-designation by Jesus. Not all are convinced, especially, in light of the fact that, except for Peter's confession, the majority of the uses of the title "Son of God" are on the lips of the devil or of Jesus' mockers. On the other hand, the title "the Messiah" (Christos) occurs very frequently in Matthew. It opens Matthew's Gospel and identifies Jesus with the hopes associated with his ancestor King David. Five times that title is repeated in Matthew's birth narrative (1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4) and so remains for the narrative reader the controlling identity of Jesus throughout his Galilean ministry. It occurs again when, after the narrative of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry, John the Baptist has questions about whether Jesus is actually the expected Messiah (11:2). Jesus' response links the role of Messiah with what John can "hear and see" in the ministry of Jesus. Peter, as representative of the disciples makes the central confession of the Gospel in his assertion that Jesus is the Messiah (16:16). There, it could be argued, "Son of the living God" supplements and interprets the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus receives that confession as a sign of the revelation of God, and from then on in the story Jesus' role as the Messiah is directed towards his suffering, death, and resurrection. Finally, in the last reference to him as such, Jesus the Messiah is pronounced worthy of death and so fulfills the destiny of God's new king (26:63, 68).

•    The church. Matthew wrote his Gospel for members of a disciple community in order to instruct them in their faith in Jesus the Messiah and to call them to obedient service and mission in his name. Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels to use explicitly the word "church" to identify that community as a new community of Jesus' followers constituted by the words of Jesus himself. The first reference to the church occurs in conjunction with Peter's climactic confession of Jesus as Messiah (16:16-19). Jesus commends Peter's confession as a mark of God's revelatory blessing. He further announces that on this confession he will build his church and commissions this community with the power of the keys with its authority to exercise God's forgiving love. The second occurrence of the word (18:15-18) comes significantly in one of Matthew's major discourses of Jesus, all of which focus on Jesus' teaching of the new community of his disciples. Here Jesus again instructs the community in its need to exercise forgiveness in order that none of God's "little ones" be lost. In 11:28-30 Jesus calls upon all his hearers to come to him in order to find rest for their souls. In 12:46-50 he identifies those who respond as part of a new kindred family of those who are obedient to the will of the Father in heaven. Throughout the Gospel, in addition to these two specific references, Matthew images Jesus' kindred as a community of obedient followers, who at the end of the Gospel are commissioned to continue to exercise Jesus' ministry of making disciples among all the nations.

•    The community of Matthew. Matthew has traditionally been characterized as the "Jewish Gospel," in part because of the readily recognized Jewish motifs: the attention to scriptural prophecy, Jesus' embodiment of Jewish hopes in the Messiah as Son of David, and concerns about the law and righteousness. At the same time, readers have also noted much material that seems to be stridently "anti-Jewish" in character: Jesus' repeated chastising of the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their general antagonism toward Jesus' ministry, and their role in the passion and death of Jesus. Thus, though most would see Matthew's community as being in some kind of close relationship or even a part of a basically Jewish community, part of the difficulty is that in recent decades biblical scholarship has been in the process of assessing and revising the picture of Judaism in the first century C.E. In the process some have seen Matthew's community as representing a decisive break with Judaism, while others have seen it to be still within the developing consciousness of what constitutes Judaism. All would see Matthew's community as belonging to the time of transition in both Jewish and Christian communities following the destruction of the temple. Most would agree that Matthew's central witness to Jesus as the Messiah and his commitment to the Gentile mission occasioned the tensions that are evident in his Gospel narrative.

•    The disciples in Matthew. As representatives of the new community of Jesus' followers, the portrayal of the disciples is a key feature of Matthew's Gospel (the Greek root for "disciple" is specifically used seventy-five times in the Gospel). At the beginning of his ministry Jesus calls disciples who "follow" him immediately. Just as Joseph, though not described as a "disciple," is noted for his obedience to the command of the angel, so Matthew portrays the disciples as ones who obediently follow Jesus. In contrast to Mark's narrative, Matthew's disciples "understand" the teaching of Jesus (compare for example Matthew's adaption of Mark 8:21 in Matthew 16:8). Where Mark points to the disciples' lack of faith, Matthew adapts his narrative to speak to his disciples, to "you of little faith" (four times and only in Matthew is this term used: 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). Among these disciples, Peter stands as a special representative, especially emphasized in Matthew by the addition of new material (14:28-31; 16:16-19; 18:21-22; see "Peter" under Theological Themes).

Significantly, all five of Jesus' major discourses in Matthew are addressed to and define true discipleship. Jesus' key teaching on the righteousness of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (5:1) imagines a disciple community that responds obediently to the will of God in hearing and doing (7:21-27; 12:50). Jesus calls and sends out his disciples in mission with promises of rewards for faithfulness (10:1-42). As recipients of Jesus' special teaching in parables (13:1-53), disciples are blessed, and once "discipled" for the kingdom are ready to bring out of their treasury things new and old ("discipled" is the literal Greek behind the English "trained," 13:52; of the Gospels only Matthew uses this word as a verb). At the end of the Gospel Jesus commissions these disciples to go in his name and make disciples of all nations (28:18-20). As it waits for the return of the Son of Man, this disciple community is encouraged to responsible exercise of the forgiving mercy of God (18:1-35) and obedient love of the neighbor (22:39; 24:1-25:46).

•    The discourses of Jesus. Already in the second century C.E., Matthew's literary structure caused the impression that his Gospel was comprised of five "books," perhaps, in imitation of the Pentateuch, wishing to present Jesus as a new teacher like Moses in his reinterpretation of the Jewish law (Bacon). Indeed, five times Matthew presents major discourses of Jesus, all of them addressed to Jesus' disciples and clearly delineated by a formulaic conclusion: "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things" (7:28; 19:1; 26:1; see also 11:1; 13:53). Though the speeches contain some traditional materials from Mark and Q, the formula, their content, and their thematic integration within Matthew's narrative identifies the discourses as part of Matthew's particular perspective. Each formula functions as a transition, pointing back to the words of Jesus and linking his words to an unfolding vision of discipleship. The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29), the most familiar of the discourses and Jesus' first explicit teaching in the Gospel, presents Jesus' authoritative teaching about the righteousness of the kingdom seen in obedient "hearing" and "doing" that fulfills the law. In the Missionary Discourse (10:1-42) Jesus formally calls his disciples and commissions them to imitate his call to repentance in light of the kingdom, preaching and healing with his authority. In the Parables of the Kingdom (13:1-52) he points to the hidden treasure of the kingdom, disguised by the presence of evil in the present age, but  granted to disciple eyes to see. The New Community Discourse (18:1-35) describes God's will that not one of the little ones should be lost to the kingdom and calls for the rigorous exercise of forgiveness on its behalf. Finally, in the concluding Judgment Discourse (24:1-25:46) Jesus calls the disciple community to confident watchfulness and obedient care for the neighbor while waiting for the return of the Son of Man.

•    Doubling. Many readers have called attention to Matthew's love of presenting things in doubles. On numerous occasions such repetition in the narrative calls special attention to or emphasizes key themes or motifs. Sometimes the repetition consists of a phrase or saying that presents a special Matthean theme. For example, twice Jesus says, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (9:13; 12:7). In so doing Matthew adds a comment based on Hosea 6:6 that effectively links Jesus' remarks about coming to call not the righteous but sinners with the scriptural motif of the steadfast love and mercy of God. Twice he uses the phrase "The first will be last, and the last will be first" (19:30; 20:16), but with the clauses reversed perhaps for effect. This time the phrase literarily frames a distinctively Matthean component of Jesus' teaching, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (19:30; 20:16), again with special emphasis on righteousness in connection with the surprising generosity of God. Two summary passages about Jesus' teaching, preaching, and healing ministry (4:23-25; 9:35-38) frame and bind together as a comprehensive whole the narrative section comprised of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29) and his miracles (8:1-9:34). On a number of occasions Matthew seems to want to heighten the impact of a narrative by "doubling" certain constituent motifs. For example, whereas in Mark's narrative Jesus heals only one (10:46-52), Matthew in his adaptation of the story reports that Jesus heals "two blind men" (20:29-34). Many readers have called attention to the almost humorous detail of Matthew's narrative of Jesus' Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. Whether composed as a literal fulfillment of scriptural prophecy (21:5) or as a  "doubling" of Mark's model (11:7), it is clear that in Matthew Jesus rides on two beasts (21:6-7).

•    End time and judgment. Theologians often use the word "eschatology" to refer to concerns about what is going to happen in the future in light of the ongoing and emerging story of God's people. "Apocalyptic" eschatology tends to see the world as radically divided between good and evil, and salvation in terms of a dramatic and decisive entry of God to rescue and restore the fortunes of the righteous. Whether because of world events or because of the situation of the community to which he writes, Matthew's special concern with the end time seems to belong to a vision that is more "apocalyptic" than that of the other Synoptic Gospels. Matthew sees his community as living in a world that is divided into spheres belonging to God or the devil (for example, 4:1-11). In the report of Jesus' teaching in parables in chapter 13, Matthew removes Mark's parables about the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29). He substitutes the parable about the weeds growing alongside the wheat,, along with its interpretation (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), which explicitly identifies the wheat and the weeds which must be allowed to grow together until "the end of the age" (13:39), respectively, as the righteous "children of the kingdom" and as the "children of the evil one." Though Matthew in chapter 24 simply takes over much of Mark's view of the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13) he explicitly adds to the disciples' question concerning "the end of the age" (Matthew 24:3) and then adds three parables (chapter 25), all of which treat the issue of waiting in the meantime before the coming of the Son of Man. Finally, in his unique Great Commission, Jesus promises to be with his disciple community "until the end of the age."

As Matthew's reworking of Jesus' Parables of the Kingdom in chapter 13 shows, Matthew's view of the end time in terms of a disciple community that is to be obediently about the business of responsible discipleship as it awaits the coming of the Son of Man is clearly related to his understanding of the kingdom of God. In a telling example he has rewritten Jesus' saying about discipleship in Mark 9:1. Whereas in Mark Jesus speaks about some "who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power," Matthew's community imagines itself waiting for the Son of Man whose kingdom is in the process of coming.

•    The kingdom of heaven. The understanding of the "kingdom of heaven" is central to Matthew's story (the phrase occurs nearly forty times in Matthew, including five times as "kingdom of God," which Matthew usually avoids; the word kingdom never occurs without the modifier). In its pointing to the announcement of God's overarching reign now being revealed in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah it could even be said to be the central message of the Gospel. This focus has been achieved in great part precisely by Matthew's restructuring of Mark's story. John the Baptist comes preaching, calling for repentance, because "the kingdom of heaven has come near" (3:2). Jesus' preaching imitates that call (4:17; 10:7; see also 4: 23; 9:35). In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus interprets discipleship and God's blessings in terms of kingdom talk (5:3, 10, 19, 20). In the Lord's Prayer the disciple community is invited to pray for the kingdom (6:10). Striving for the kingdom and for righteousness are synonymous (6:33). The disciples in turn are sent in mission with the same message of the kingdom (10:7). In his parable chapter (chapter 13) Matthew offers his distinctive picture of the kingdom, including his unique images of the treasure hidden in a field and the precious pearl. Finally, Matthew adds a number of other unique parables, alike in their presentation of images of the nature of the kingdom, for example, the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:23-35), the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), or the parables of waiting before the end time in chapter 25. The central content of the kingdom is God's generous and steadfast love seen in the forgiveness of sins. This has already been stated in the announcement of the angel to Joseph: his name is Jesus because "he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). It is repeated in Jesus' words to his disciples at the Last Supper, when this forgiveness is extended to "many," that is, to all nations (26:26-28). The three parables mentioned above combine for a useful summary of Matthew's picture of the kingdom. The kingdom is comprised of a community of obedient followers who wait for the return of their master, and in the meantime are engaged in exercising forgiving love on behalf of the neighbor, because that is the will of the Father who has chosen to be generous to all alike, and whose will is that not one of God's little ones be lost. But perhaps its most beautiful expression is in Jesus' invitation, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (11:28).

•    The law and righteousness. Though the word "law" occurs only eight times in Matthew, it is clear that concern for the "law" is a central theme in Matthew, especially when it is seen as joined to the companion theme of "righteousness." In fact, it is attention to this unity that offers some helpful illumination of the sometimes confusing comments of Jesus on the place of the law. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus announces that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (5:17). These remarks about the enduring validity of the law are immediately interpreted by the call for a righteousness that exceeds that of the tradition as represented by the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). As such they cannot then be seen as mere reassertion of the law, as the series of antitheses which immediately follows makes clear (5:21-48). Such righteousness has already been glimpsed earlier in the story of Joseph, who risks disobedience to the strict requirements of the tradition (or law) in order to be obedient to the command and purpose of God's salvation (1:18-25). It will be seen again in Jesus' assertion that he has not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, a repentance that for Matthew is to be interpreted uniquely by reference to the mercy and steadfast love of God (9:13). Finally, attention to the law is about God and God's ways of righteousness: "You must "be perfect" (teleios; the word means purposive and complete) "as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48). If in Matthew we hear that God has handed over all authority to the Son (11:25-27; 28:18-20), then from now on the law and righteousness will have to be interpreted in terms of the risen Messiah. When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responds that it is twofold, to love God completely, and to love the neighbor as oneself (22:34-40). The demands of the law center in the love of God and neighbor, and for Matthew the obedient discipleship of the kingdom to which Jesus calls is thus only the fulfillment of God's "law" from the beginning. It is their attention to the "letter" of the law and not to this spirit of steadfast love and mercy at the center of the law that Jesus roundly chastises in his woes upon the hypocritical leaders of the people (chapter 23).

•    Mission to the Gentiles. The call to discipleship and the mission of discipleship is present throughout Matthew. Early in Matthew's story that mission seems to be directed intentionally toward a Gentile audience. In his unique story of the birth of Jesus, by the guidance of a star the wise men become the first ones to hear of and worship this newborn king (2:1-12). When the family returns from Egypt, again through divine leading and in fulfillment of prophecy, they return not to Bethlehem and environs steeped in Jewish tradition, but take up residence in Nazareth of Galilee (2:19-23). When Jesus begins his ministry, the Matthew's familiar language of "withdrawal" (4:12) marks his move to Galilee and the regions of Capernaum as purposive. Once again, scriptural warrant underscores the location of his ministry as Galilee "of the Gentiles" and "the people" who are its object as Galileans (4:15-17). At the conclusion of the two major sections of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry (5:1-9:34), Jesus remarks to his disciples about the plentiful harvest before them and instructs them to pray for laborers for the harvest (9:37-38). Immediately following is Jesus' second major discourse on the mission of the twelve, concluding with sayings that link the rewards of discipleship to faithfulness in mission, to taking up the cross, and to finding one's life by losing it (10:1-42). Yet, in light of the earlier focus on mission to the Gentiles, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Jesus now instructs his disciples to "go nowhere among the Gentiles…but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:5-6). That this remark is not an accident is underscored in Matthew's addition of essentially the same remark in his reworking of the story of the Canaanite woman (15:24). Still the overall importance of the Gentile mission for Matthew is clear. That all nations are the object of the mission of Jesus the Messiah is assumed in the picture of a disciple mission that cares unselfishly for the needs of the neighbor in the parable of the coming of the Son of Man (25:31-46). Jesus promises that his blood is to be poured out for the forgiveness of all people (26:28). Finally, the mission to all nations is made explicit in Jesus' Great Commission at the end of the Gospel (28:18-20).

•    Outline of Matthew. Outlines are ways of calling attention to key structures and meaning that readers find in the text. Different readers of Matthew have proposed a number of alternatives for outlining what Matthew is about. One source and effect of that task is to note the changes which Matthew makes over against his model Mark. For example, although Matthew takes over Mark's carefully structured threefold passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), they no longer have the same integration into his literary structure.

Many have noted the prominence of the five discourses of Jesus in Matthew (chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 24-25). In 1930, Benjamin Bacon proposed an outline based on these speeches and the thematically related narrative material that accompanies them, arguing that they intended to present a kind of analogy to the "Five Books of Moses." Less than satisfactory in this proposal was making Matthew's birth and passion narratives into "preamble" and "epilogue." Jack Kingsbury in 1975 proposed a simpler christological outline focused by the repeated formula "from that time (on) Jesus began…" (4:17; 16:21), dividing Matthew into three parts: (1) the presentation of Jesus (1:1-4:16); (2) the ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel's repudiation of Jesus (4:17-16:20); and (3) Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and his suffering, death, and resurrection (16:21-28:20).

Each outline has value in focusing particular emphases or structures, but neither seems completely adequate to the complexities of Matthew's structure and literary technique. Certainly, the narrative plot-Jesus' birth, ministry in Galilee, the ministry in Judea and Jerusalem, and his passion, death, and resurrection-provides a basic outline. Within that outline Matthew uses various literary devices to rhetorical effect. The framing of the whole narrative with the theme of Emmanuel, God with us (1:23; 18:20), is certainly both structurally and thematically important, as is the framing of Jesus' teaching (5:1-7:29) and miracles (8:1-9:34) with the parallel summary accounts of his teaching, preaching, and healing (4:23; 9:35). The confession of Peter (16:16) and the Great Commission (28:18-20) are certainly pivotal and climactic episodes in the Gospel. The complexity is heightened by Matthew's use of chiastic patterns, doubling, repetition, etc. The outline suggested here seeks to pay attention to a number of these compelling features, but it is clear that Matthew's literary art is so complex that it is difficult to propose one outline that will completely satisfy.

•    The parables of Jesus. There is no question that for Matthew Jesus' teaching in parables is a central key to the understanding of his ministry and mission. They focus his important role as a teacher, and their content is focused in the central topic of Jesus' preaching, the message of the kingdom of God (4:17). One of the five major discourses of Jesus (13:1-53) is devoted to Jesus' teaching in parables. In that collection Matthew has carefully adapted Mark to give Jesus' teaching his own vision of the kingdom of heaven and discipleship. Consistent with themes of judgment elsewhere in the Gospel, he replaces Mark's parables of the hiddenness and secrecy of the kingdom with the parable of the weeds and the wheat and its interpretation, which envision the kingdom as a mixture of righteous and evil children until the end time judgment. He has focused more clearly the conviction that Jesus' use of the parables fulfills scripture in dividing those who hear and understand from those who fail to hear and respond (13:10-15). Yet his key alteration has to do with discipleship and the nature of the kingdom. Like treasure hidden in a field or a precious pearl, finding the kingdom is a surprising gift that belongs to God and over which the disciples have no control (13:34-35; 44-50). To have ears to hear and eyes to see is to experience the blessing of God (13:16-17; see also 5:1-12; 7:24-27). At the conclusion of the discourse, Matthew underscores the special importance of the parables for discipleship, calling attention to their role in understanding and discipling for the kingdom (13:51-53).
 
In addition to this parable discourse, Matthew elsewhere adds a number of other unique parables of Jesus that illustrate his special understanding of kingdom. The parable of the unforgiving servant (18:23-35) underscores the community's call to the unlimited exercise of God's forgiveness. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard, framed by the saying on "first and last," focuses the world-transforming power of God's generous mercy and love (19:30-20:16). For a community that waits for the coming of the Son of Man, Matthew adds three parables that illustrate responsible and obedient discipleship of the kingdom-the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the last judgment (25:1-46).

•    Relation to Judaism. Matthew's Gospel has long been recognized for its special associations with Jewish traditions and themes. This is accounted for in part by such things as his prevalent use of the scriptures, his genealogy which links Jesus to Abraham and David and the history of the people of Israel, and his concern for righteousness and the law. At the same time Matthew seems to present an antagonistic attitude toward the Jewish leaders beyond that of the other Gospels. In contrast to his preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Mark (1:4), in Matthew John the Baptist addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to be baptized as a "brood of vipers" who are warned about presuming on their being children of Abraham (3:7-9). When Jesus begins his ministry, scriptural warrant is given for the fact that his mission is directed to Galilee and Gentile territory rather than to Jerusalem and Judea (4:12-17). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the righteousness of those who belong to the kingdom must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). At the end of the parable of the wicked tenants Jesus says that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to those who produce its fruits (21:43). He includes a whole chapter of "woes" in which Jesus repeatedly calls them "hypocrites" or a "brood of vipers" (23:1-36). At the trial before Pilate, only Matthew includes the uncomfortable cry of the Jewish people calling for Jesus' death in the words "His blood be on us and on our children" (27:25). Still the picture is ambiguous. In the story of the Canaanite woman, Matthew has rewritten Mark to make the saying about not throwing the children's bread to the dogs refer specifically to the restriction of Jesus' mission to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:21-28; compare Mark 7:24-30). Matthew's Jesus needs to be retaught about the mission to the Gentiles. Many would see in these motifs a clue to the situation of Matthew's community in which a Jewish community is engaged in hot debate and dialogue over the truth and confession of Jesus as God's Messiah, and the status of Jewish and Gentile mission is still in flux.

•    Salvation in Matthew. Although the explicit title "Savior" occurs nowhere in Matthew's Gospel, one of the central roles of Matthew's Messiah is that of savior. The angel announces to Joseph that the child's name will be Jesus "for he will save his people from their sins," thereby explicitly delineating Jesus' saving role and focusing the effects of his saving work in the forgiveness of sins (1:21). Consistent with this understanding, the disciples as representative followers of Jesus, buffeted by the storms at sea, twice address Jesus with the appropriate language of faith: "Lord, save us" (8:25; 14:30). The story of the healing of the paralytic (9:2-8) or the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage (9:20-22) are typical in their explicit linking of Jesus' healing with themes of salvation and the forgiveness of sins: "Your faith has saved you" (the Greek of 9:22). The promise to disciples who endure faithfully to the end is that they "will be saved" (10:22; 24:13). Ironically, the role of Jesus as savior becomes both the ultimate mockery and confession at the cross: "He saved others; he cannot save himself" (27:42).

Matthew has centered this clear understanding of Jesus' role as savior within a much broader perspective of God's overall work of salvation. Although Matthew understands God to be doing something new in the birth of the Messiah, that birth also confirms the promise of God's continuing presence ("God is with us," 1:23). The promise is linked by the initial genealogy to the story of God's people from Abraham to David and through exile and return (1:1-17). At the end of the Gospel, Matthew's community receives the risen Lord's promise of that same abiding presence until the end of the age. Salvation for Matthew is thus an unfolding story. Salvation has a "history" in the particular events of God's people. Matthew's community has become part of that story, which has now become centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

•    Sermon on the Mount. There is no question that the Sermon on the Mount plays an important role in Matthew's understanding of the good news about Jesus. It is the first of the five major discourses of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel, which combine to summarize Matthew's distinctive vision of Jesus' teaching and the response of discipleship. Matthew has clearly adapted Mark's outline to give Jesus' role as teacher special prominence and to make the Sermon on the Mount the fundamental illustration of that teaching. The earlier reference to Joseph as righteous (1:19) and Jesus' word about his baptism as fulfilling all righteousness (3:15) have anticipated the Sermon's central theme of kingdom righteousness (5:6, 10, 17-20; 6:33). In its initial attention to the "blessing" of God (5:1-12) and its concluding call to be "hearers" and "doers" (7:24-27), its themes set the agenda for the remainder of the Gospel, themes that are gathered finally in the Great Commission with its charge to a disciple community to teach the words of the Lord to all nations (28:18-20).

Much has been written about the proper understanding and use of the Sermon on the Mount, most of it centering appropriately on Jesus' key remark about the fulfillment of the law and call for a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:17, 20). The series of Jesus' antitheses press the ethical demands of the law and tradition to the extreme, culminating in the summary comment on the need for perfection (5:21-47, 48). In this context the Sermon's call to seek the kingdom of God and God's righteousness (6:33) might seem difficult to reconcile with the picture of the kingdom presented in the parable of the treasure (13:44), the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), or Jesus' invitation to all who carry burdens to "come…and find rest" (11:28-30). Some have seen the Sermon as presenting impossible demands calculated to drive hearers to repentance. Others have seen it as an interim ethic valid only for those who await the fullness of the kingdom at the end of time or valid only for a special elite corps of disciples. Still others have seen its commands as part of a vision of the new possibilities of the kingdom inaugurated in the ministry and mission of Jesus the Messiah. It is perhaps best to link it with the whole range of Matthew's picture of righteousness, captured certainly in the twofold expression of the great commandment to love God and the neighbor (22:37-39), and illustrated by the discipleship righteousness that is a sign of the mystery of the kingdom. In that mystery disciples are blessed to understand what it means that God desires mercy and not sacrifice (9:12-13; 12:7) and that in God's generous mercy the first will be last and the last will be first (19:30; 20:16).

•    Sources of Matthew. The question of Matthew's sources is related to consideration of the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. From the early part of the second century, Christians have assumed some relationship, based in the evident similarity in plot and content of these three, while also regularly noting their divergence from the Gospel of John on both counts. The long-standing tradition, summarized by St. Augustine already in the early fifth century, assumed that the canonical order of Matthew as first was indeed their chronological order. Along with the widespread use of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, and other content in worship and Christian piety, this probably contributed to the Gospel's popularity in the church.

For a variety of reasons, almost all having to do with a careful reading that paid attention to similarities and differences in narrative order, content, and minute matters of literary composition, this traditional view began to be challenged in the nineteenth century. Although debate continues, the dominant working hypothesis of modern biblical scholarship is that Mark, not Matthew, was the first to be written and that both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark along with a collection of sayings of Jesus as their primary sources. The common assumption is that the sayings source was a written document, now lost, to which scholars have given the hypothetical name "Q" (from the German word Quelle for "source").

According to the so-called "two source" theory, Matthew made use of two main sources for his work, incorporating almost all of Mark and Q. However, close comparisons reveal that Matthew did not just copy slavishly, but reworked those sources giving them the stamp of his own literary and theological perspective. In addition Matthew has made use of extensive material that is special to his Gospel, deriving either from other sources or from his own editorial composition, to which the term "M" (for Matthew) is commonly assigned. These materials would include such things as the birth narrative (chapters 1-2), the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-43), the parables of the weeds, the treasure, the pearl and the net (chapter 13), the parables of the unforgiving servant and the laborers in the vineyard (18:23-35; 20:1-16), the parable of the last judgment (25:31-46), and the Great Commission (28:16-20).

•    Use of scripture. Matthew shows an intense interest in the continuing story of God's promises to the people of Israel. Those promises are part of the scriptures, and Matthew makes extensive use of the scriptures to establish and shape his story of Jesus the Messiah. More than sixty times that use is explicit in direct citation of a biblical source. Often it is more indirect in the reference to events, such as in the genealogy (1:2-17) or Jesus' testing in the wilderness (4:1-11), or in the use of Old Testament motifs, such as Jesus as lawgiver on the mountain (5:1-2), the sheep and shepherd (9:36), or the vineyard of God (20:1-16; 21:33-44). The overwhelming impression is the great extent to which the Jewish Scriptures have shaped Matthew's understanding of the story of Jesus and its meaning.

One of the distinctive ways in which Matthew's perspective is evident is in the notable prevalence of "fulfillment" formulae in his gospel narrative (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35, 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9). The announcement of the birth of Jesus and his naming as Emmanuel are established as a "fulfillment" of God's purpose and design of salvation on the basis of scriptural promise. Of five explicit quotations of scripture in the birth narrative, four of them use this same "fulfillment formula" to introduce the text. This formulaic fulfillment theme extends through the whole gospel, with the resulting impression that Matthew regards the whole story of Jesus from beginning to end as shaped and guided by the hand of God through the promise of the scriptures. At times the concern to bend events to the prophecy ventures on the humorous, as when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on two animals, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah (21:1-7). At times prophecy seems to be bent to the events (2:5-6) or even to be invented (2:23). What is clear in Matthew's use of scripture and in his fulfillment citations is that Matthew wishes to view the total reality of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's plan and promises as revealed in the scriptures of Israel.

AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek

•    Angels. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to instruct him to take Mary as his wife and to name the promised child Jesus, savior and Emmanuel. Four times in Matthew's birth story (1:20, 24; 2:13, 19) angels are the agency of God's presence and instruction, and they appear in that role a total of twenty times at key points in Matthew's narrative. They are present with the Son of Man in the coming of the kingdom and the end of the age (24:31, 36; 25:31) and are the agents of the announcement of the resurrection (28:2, 5).

•    Authority. At the conclusion of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds are astounded because he taught with such "authority." Throughout Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is a teacher and he teaches with authority. That authority extends also to his healing (9:6, 8). In his preaching he claims that "all things have been handed over" to him by the Father (11:27). And in his Great Commission, which concludes the Gospel, Jesus the risen Messiah claims "all authority" and with that authority commissions his disciples to baptize and teach all nations in his name and with the promise of his abiding presence (28:18-20).

•    Baptism. In Matthew's Gospel baptism is important in its link with the related central theme of righteousness. Matthew removes the thematic link of baptism to Jesus' death, which is a key motif in Mark's Gospel (compare Mark 10:38-39 with Matthew 20:22-23). Its link instead with righteousness and repentance is established in the preaching of John the Baptist (3:6, 11). It is explicit at Jesus' baptism when, only in Matthew, Jesus overcomes John's reluctance, asserting that he must be baptized "to fulfill all righteousness" (3:15). If for Matthew righteousness is a key description of disciples of the kingdom (5:20; 6:33), then it is significant that at the end of the Gospel Jesus' last words to his disciples are to go and "baptize" in his name.

•    Bearing fruit. In Matthew's narrative one of the key adaptations of Mark's narrative of John the Baptist is in John's call for his hearers to "bear fruit" that is worthy of repentance. Bearing fruit is a key mark of repentance worthy of the kingdom. The image of the good tree that bears good fruit is a key image in the Sermon on the Mount: "You will know them by their fruits" (7:16-20). So it is not surprising when Matthew's key addition to Mark's version of the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1-12; Matthew 21:33-46) is Jesus' explicit linking of the discipleship of the kingdom with bearing fruit: "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom" (21:43).

•    Blessing. Knowing that it is blessed by God is a key mark of Matthew's disciple community. Its repetition as the key sign of God's people in the "beatitudes" that open the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-12) is perhaps one of the most familiar themes of Matthew. For Matthew blessing is a key signifier of the promises of God, and Matthew uniquely asserts that blessing at key points in the narrative. The blessing of those who respond in faith is contrasted with those who take offense at Jesus preaching (11:6; 13:16). The blessing of God occasions the climactic and pivotal confession by Peter that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (16:16).

•    Church. Matthew is the only one of the four gospel writers to present Jesus as talking explicitly about the "church." In 12:46-50, Jesus describes a new family and community constituted by faithful obedience to the will and promise of God. In response to Peter's confession of him as Messiah (16:17-20), Jesus characterizes that community as "church"-as "ones who are called" by God's authority to exercise God's forgiving mercy. In the fourth major discourse in Matthew's Gospel (18:1-35), this "church" (18:15) is again instructed about that unlimited exercise of forgiveness through which this new community joins the Father in seeking the lost and making sure that not one of God's little ones goes astray.

•    Creation (Genesis). Although often disguised in translations by the word "genealogy," the title of Matthew's Gospel actually describes it as a "book" (biblos) about the "genesis" of Jesus the Messiah. Not once but twice in his unique birth narrative (chapters 1 and 2) Matthew makes explicit thematic connections to the opening book of the scriptures and to the account of God's creation. Matthew begins his Gospel with a distinctive narrative in which the birth of Jesus the Messiah is seen as the new creative activity of God, a perspective which then shapes the hearing of the remainder of the narrative.

•    Discipleship. Discipleship is a key theme of Matthew's Gospel (the Greek root occurs seventy-five times in the Gospel). At the beginning of his ministry Jesus calls disciples who "follow" him immediately. Jesus' five major discourses in Matthew are addressed to and define true discipleship (5:1-7:29; 10:1-42; 13:1-53; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46). In contrast to Mark's narrative, Matthew's disciples "understand" the teaching of Jesus (compare for example Matthew's adaption of Mark 8:21 in Matthew 16:12; see also 13:51). At the end of the Gospel Jesus commissions these disciples to go in his name and make disciples of all nations (28:18-20; see also 13:52).

•    Dreams. Like angels, dreams in Matthew are seen as transparent to the presence and leading of God in the story of Jesus. Five times in Matthew's birth narrative (1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22) the obedient response to the leading of God in dreams occasions the preservation of God's actions of salvation in the response of Joseph and of the wise men. Ironically, in the only other instance where a dream is mentioned, the warning of Pilate's wife about the innocence of this "righteous" man (27:17) is not able to thwart God's purposes in the passion and death of Jesus the Messiah.

•    End time. Matthew has a special concern with the "end time" in which he sees his community as living in a world divided into spheres belonging to God or the devil (for example, 4:1-11). In his distinctive parable of the weeds and the wheat, he imagines the righteous "children of the kingdom" and the evil "children of the evil one" living together until the "end of the age" (13:36-43), a theme that is picked up in Jesus' discourse and parables on the end time and judgment in chapters 24-25. Finally, in his unique Great Commission, Jesus promises to be with his disciple community "to the end of the age" (28:20).

•    Faith. Faith, along with righteousness, is a key mark of discipleship in the kingdom. In 17:20 Jesus criticizes the "little faith" of the disciples and promises that if they have faith even as small as a mustard seed "nothing will be impossible" for them. Twice, in stories symbolic of his disciple community, the stilling of the storm (8:23-27) and Peter's walking on water (14:22-33), Matthew modifies stories to make them explicitly focus on the issue of faith. In both instances and elsewhere he uniquely speaks not of the disciples' lack of faith, but of their "little faith" (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20). In the story of the Canaanite woman's faith, Matthew has completely reworked the story to focus on the faith of the woman in contrast to the disciples. Only here-in fact, only here in the whole New Testament-Jesus remarks upon the "great faith" of this foreigner in response to which her daughter is immediately healed (15:28).

•    First and last. "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." Matthew has taken over this theme, variously stated in Mark's original (9:35; 10:31) and emphasized it by making it more formally a doublet (something occurring twice) (19:30; 20:16). It has then been focused more prominently as a key to the generous extravagance of God's righteousness in the kingdom by using it to frame the unique parable of the laborers in the vineyard. In this parable the "last" hired are paid "first" and made "equal" to those who have worked the whole day (20:1-16).

•    Forgiveness. For Matthew, forgiveness is a key mark of the new community of Jesus' disciples modeled and authorized in the death of Jesus the Messiah. Only in Matthew, Jesus promises at his last meal with his disciples that his blood is being poured out for all people "for the forgiveness of sins" (26:28). Understanding that God desires "mercy, not sacrifice" (9:13; 12:7) is a key to God's mission of salvation in Jesus' ministry. One sees this in his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for and to model forgiveness (6:12). Forgiveness defines the new community of Jesus' disciples. When Peter makes his bold confession, it is the promise of the power to forgive that marks God's blessing (16:19). The fourth of Jesus' major discourses in the Gospel (18:1-35) is focused around the discipline of forgiveness. To underscore Jesus' assertions about the unlimited exercise of forgiveness (18:22) Matthew appends his unique parable of the unforgiving servant with its call for an exercise of forgiving love that imitates that of the master (18:23-35).

 •    Fulfillment. Matthew has a special concern to see almost every event in the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy. Fulfillment marks the story from Jesus' birth (1:22) to his passion and death (26:54, 56). As such the story of Jesus as God's Messiah is seen as continuous with God's acts of salvation narrated in the stories of God's people from Abraham, through David, and continuing in Matthew's own disciple community as they await the coming of the Son of Man (24:3-25:46).

•    "God with us" (Emmanuel). The promise of God's abiding presence with God's people frames the whole Gospel and so is in many ways its central message. The promise of the angel at Jesus' birth is that in Jesus, Messiah and Savior, God is Emmanuel, a promise that the author is careful to emphasize by asserting it as a fulfillment of scripture and by translating it for the hearers of the gospel (1:23). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus claims all authority, and sends his disciples out in mission with the promise that he will be "with them" until the end of the age (28:18-20). The abiding presence of Jesus is suggested in his call to the weary to come to him and find rest (11:28-30). In his treatment of the stories of the stilling of the storm and Jesus' walking on the water (8:23-27; 14:22-33) we see a kind of parable of the disciple community with its promise of Jesus' saving presence even amid the storms of life.

•    Judgment. In the final words of Jesus' teaching in Matthew, the parable of the judgment (25:31-46), the Son of Man sits on his throne judging the nations in terms of their deeds of mercy. The theme of judgment and of the rewards of discipleship in relation to the call of the kingdom to bear fruit worthy of repentance is a repeated theme in Matthew. It is there in the preaching of John (3:7-12); it is repeated in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (7:15-19); and it is repeated numerous times in Jesus' teaching (for example, 10:15; 11:24; 13:30, 39-43). With such images Matthew repeatedly calls his community to responsible obedience as it awaits the return of the Son of Man.

•    The kingdom of heaven. The understanding of the "kingdom of heaven" (Matthew regularly avoids the name of God) is central to Matthew's story. John the Baptist comes preaching, calling for repentance, "for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (3:2). Jesus' preaching imitates that call (4:17). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus interprets discipleship and God's blessings in terms of kingdom talk (5:3, 10, 19, 20). The disciples in turn are sent out in mission with the same message of the kingdom (10:7). In his parable chapter (chapter 13) Matthew offers his distinctive picture of the kingdom including his unique images of the treasure hidden in a field or the precious pearl. Finally, Matthew adds a number of other unique parables, alike in their presentation of images of the nature of the kingdom, for example, the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:23-35), the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), or the three parables of waiting before the end time in chapter 25.

•    Law. Though the word "law" occurs only eight times in Matthew, concern for the "law" is a central theme. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, it is joined to the theme of "righteousness" when Jesus announces that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (5:17, 18). The demands of the law center in the great commandment to love of God and neighbor (22:34-40). For Matthew the obedient discipleship of the kingdom to which Jesus calls is thus only the fulfillment of God's "law" from the beginning. It is their attention to the "letter" of the law and not to this spirit which is the center of the law's concern which Jesus roundly chastises in his woes upon the hypocritical leaders of the people (chapter 23)

•    Mercy. Matthew's use of the theme of mercy is unique to the Synoptic Gospels. When at the call of Matthew the tax collector Jesus is criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he responds with a comment that each of the gospels sees as emblematic of Jesus' ministry to those who are lost: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick….I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (9:12-13). Only Matthew inserts a further comment of Jesus, apparently based on the prophet Hosea (6:6): "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" This same saying is repeated again in response to those who criticize Jesus acts of mercy (12:7). Together they illustrate Matthew's understanding of Jesus' ministry and mission as consistent with God's steadfast love and mercy revealed in the scriptural tradition.

•    Messiah. The title of Matthew's Gospel identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Christos), a title that is meant to link him with the hopes associated with his ancestor King David. Five times that title is repeated in Matthew's birth narrative (1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4) and so remains the controlling title of Jesus throughout his Galilean ministry. It occurs next when, after the narrative of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry, John the Baptist has questions about whether Jesus is actually the expected Messiah (11:2). Jesus' response links the role of Messiah with what John can "hear" and "see" in the ministry of Jesus. Peter, as representative of the disciples, makes the central confession of the Gospel in his assertion that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of living God (16:16). Jesus receives that confession as a sign of the revelation of God, and from then on in the story, Jesus' role as Messiah is directed towards his suffering, death, and resurrection. Finally, in the last reference to him as such, Jesus the Messiah is pronounced worthy of death and so fulfills the destiny of God's new king (26:63, 68).

•    Mission. The call to discipleship and mission of discipleship is present throughout Matthew. At the conclusion of the two major sections of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry (5:1-9:34), Jesus remarks about the plentiful harvest before them, and instructs the disciples to pray for laborers for the harvest (9:37-38). Immediately following comes Jesus' second major discourse in Matthew on the mission of the twelve, concluding with sayings that link the rewards of discipleship to faithfulness in mission, to taking up the cross, and to finding one's life by losing it (10:1-42). That mission is made explicit in Jesus' Great Commission at the end of the Gospel (28:18-20). It is also assumed in the picture of a disciple mission that cares unselfishly for the needs of the neighbor in the parable of the coming of the Son of Man (25:31-46).

•    Obedience. Righteousness and obedience belong together in Matthew's picture of faithful discipleship in the kingdom. In the opening story of Matthew's Gospel, we see a "righteous" Joseph (1:19) who without question obediently follows the instructions of God through the angel and thus becomes the genealogy's requisite father of the Messiah, the Son of David. Jesus is obedient at his baptism so as to fulfill all righteousness (3:15). For Matthew, obedient discipleship prepares the way of salvation-a theme repeated numerous times in the Gospel. It is seen in the disciples' obedient mission (chapter 10). It is assumed in the open-ended command of Jesus with which the Gospel concludes (28:18-20).

•    Offense. "Offense" for Matthew is the flip side of faith. It is the key issue of discipleship that is in turn the mark of the gift of God's blessing. The Greek word is skandalon (often unfortunately disguised in translation as "stumbling block" or "temptation to sin"). When John asks Jesus whether he is the one to come or whether he should still wait for another, Jesus invites John to consider what he has heard and seen, and then concludes with the telling comment: "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me" (11:6). Some of those who hear Jesus' parable teaching of the kingdom are "offended" and reject him (13:41, 57). Six times in chapter 18, "offense" is the crime of those who occasion the loss of "little ones" from God's kingdom (18:6, 7, 8, 9). Even Peter is at risk as an "offense" to Jesus' mission of suffering and death (16:23). In the end all of the disciples are "offended" and forsake Jesus (26:31, 33).

•    Peter. The story of Peter's denial of Jesus during his passion is cemented in the Gospel tradition (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27). In a number of stories and motifs unique to Matthew's Gospel, Peter has a special place, perhaps as a representative model of discipleship. Jesus responds to Peter's confession of him as Messiah by marking it as a sign of the special blessing and revelation of God and as the rock upon which the church will be founded (16:17-20). In Jesus' discourse on the new community of the church, Peter needs to be instructed on the unlimited extravagance of God's mercy in forgiving (18:21-22). In the story of Jesus walking on the water, Matthew adds that Peter, when invited as a disciple to come to Jesus, at first walks on the water. When he begins to sink, he cries out to his Lord and Savior, but he is chastised for his "little faith" (14:28-31).

•    Repentance. Repentance is the sign of true preparation for the kingdom of God. It is the summary description of the preaching of John the Baptist (3:2). It is repeated in the inaugural preaching of Jesus (4:17). As a sign of the kingdom it is associated with the bearing of fruit that befits such repentance; for repentance, as regularly in the New Testament, is not so much a matter of sorrow for sin as it is a sign of the newly empowered response of faith and obedience to the summons of the kingdom. For Matthew, such response is a mark of the blessing of God for disciples who have been given eyes to see and ears to hear (13:16-17), gifts that remain hidden from those who fail to respond with repentance (11:20-21; 12:41).

•    Righteousness. Jesus tells the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that righteousness (or justice; the same Greek word underlies both) and the kingdom of God belong together as the goal of faithful discipleship (6:33). In Matthew's opening story, the only thing we hear about Joseph is that he is "righteous" (1:19). Then we get a glimpse of what that righteousness looks like in one who risks disobedience to the law and the tradition in order to be obedient to the leading and promise of God. Such obedient righteousness is the central theme of Jesus' Sermon (5:6, 10). It comes as a sign of God's blessing and is marked by a congruence of hearing and doing that exceeds the example of the scribes and Pharisees (5:17-20; 6:1; 7:24-27). The new righteous ones of Matthew's community have been blessed to see the surprising treasure of the kingdom (13:17, 43) and now live in the meantime in an unselfconscious exercise of love on behalf of the neighbor (25:37, 46).

•    Salt and light. Light (and salt) is a key metaphor of salvation and the kingdom for Matthew. His description of the beginning of Jesus' ministry is unique in its use of images of light dawning in the darkness, drawn from scriptural prophecy (4:13-16). There is a literal connection in this motif to the light of the star that "at its rising" (2:2) summons and guides the wise men to worship the infant Jesus. To have light within one is to have one's whole life opened to the leading of God (6:22-23). Being salt and light is part of the promise and blessing that belongs to the people of God and also part of the response of obedience whose works give glory and praise to God (5:13-16).

•    Savior. Although the explicit title "Savior" occurs nowhere in Matthew's Gospel, one of the central roles of Matthew's Messiah is that of savior. It is a unique key when the angel instructs Joseph that the child's name will be Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins," thereby explicitly delineating both Jesus' saving role and the effects of his saving work in the forgiveness of sins (1:21). Consistent with this understanding, the disciples as represented followers of Jesus, buffeted by the storms at sea, twice address Jesus with the appropriate language of faith: "Lord, save us!" (8:25; 14:30). The story of the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage is typical in its linking of Jesus' healing with themes of salvation: "Your faith has saved you" (the Greek behind 9:22). The promise to those disciples who endure faithfully to the end is they "will be saved" (10:22; 24:13). Finally, it is ironic that the role of Jesus as Savior becomes both the ultimate mockery and confession at the cross: "He saved others; he cannot save himself" (27:42).

•    Star. In Matthew's birth narrative, the wise men are summoned and guided by a star to worship the infant Jesus in Bethlehem (2:1-12). Like dreams the fourfold motif of the star is a mark of the presence and purposive hand of God in the story of Jesus. In the conviction that even the stars of the heavens are signs to God's work of salvation, the story of Jesus is linked to creation themes present in Matthew's story. The reference to the "rising of the star" is literally connected to the "dawning of light" on those in darkness that describes the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Thus Matthew links the story of Jesus' birth with his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing.

•    Teaching. Jesus is first and foremost a "teacher" in Matthew's Gospel and those who "follow" him are called "students" ("disciples"). Matthew has carefully adapted and rearranged Mark and his material in service of that theme. In the first summary of his ministry, a summary matched structurally by its repetition at the conclusion of the first section of Jesus' Galilean ministry (5:1-9:34), teaching takes precedence among the activities of Jesus (4:23). Though the references to Jesus as teacher number about the same as in Mark, Matthew has rearranged the outline and content so as to present more clearly Jesus in that role. After the opening summary (4:23-25), Matthew presents the Sermon on the Mount with its three chapters of teaching material (5:1-7:29). The Sermon concludes with the summary remark that Jesus "taught" with authority (7:29). The title of the whole Gospel as a "book" (biblos) contributes to this impression, as does the fivefold organization around major discourses of Jesus on subjects of discipleship (5:1-7:29; 10:1-42; 13:1-58; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46). Thus it is significant that, although the disciples have been commissioned to preach and heal in Jesus' name (10:1, 7-8), in the Great Commission at the Gospel's conclusion, now for the first time the disciples are authorized to "teach" in Jesus' name (28:18-20).

•    Wisdom. Especially in his special material, wisdom themes shape Matthew's understanding of the ministry of Jesus and the good news of the kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount concludes with the contrasting images of "wise" and "foolish," equating the wise with those who "hear" and "do" the will of God (7: 24-27). Just as the tradition knows that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," so the Great Commandment merges the twofold obligation to "love the Lord…with all your heart….and your neighbor as yourself" (22:37-39). Armed with such "wisdom," the disciples go out with the instruction to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (10:16). But they go with the awareness that true wisdom is a gift of God, "hidden…from the wise" but revealed to those who, like infants, receive the kingdom in humility (11:25; 18:3-4). As Peter is reminded in Jesus' rebuke, ultimate wisdom is to see in the hiddenness of the suffering and death of the Messiah the very workings of God's salvation (16:24-25).

AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek

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