The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2) Currently housed in: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A reminder about what a “gospel” is,  A literary work interpreting the theological meaning of a concrete historical event to particular people in a particular historical situation.

Although tradition and our Bibles attribute this gospel to “Matthew”, the reality is, we don’t know who wrote it. Many scholars think the gospel was written by a second generation Christian, using” Mark” and “Q” ( a collection of sayings of Jesus) along with the writers own sources. The Gospel was probably written around 85 CE (dates range from 80-90). The Gospel of Matthew was known by Ignatius of Antioch ( 110 CE).

Historical Context:

Scholars are not exactly sure where or for whom the Gospel was written but most think in was written in an urban Greco-Roman location. Antioch, Syria is the most commonly mentioned site.

Antioch was a large city, perhaps third largest in Roman empire. It was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and was a commercial center. At the end of first century it’s population was estimated to be between 150,00 to 200, 000. All these people lived in a small space. Scholars think there were about 205 people per acre in Antioch. By comparison, Bombay has about 183 people/acre and Calcutta about 122.

There were 3-4 Roman Legions, or about 15-20 thousand soldiers stationed in Antioch. Antioch was a staging ground for the 66-70 war. In that war, Jerusalem was occupied and the Temple was destroyed.

There was a significant Jewish population in Antioch. There were at least two synagogues and also a community center which had political, social, and educational functions. Like elsewhere, the Jewish community was diverse and multifaceted. After the destruction of the Temple and the loss of their land, a way of life and religious practice had ended. The Jewish community was in a state of flux, trying to discover their way forward.

Matthew’s Gospel was written for use in a particular community. Not for “outsiders” and not with an evangelistic purpose in mind. Scholars think the community reflected a cross section of Antioch’s urban society, mostly Jewish with some Gentiles. At this point in history, Christian Jews and non Christian Jews were becoming estranged. While Christian Jews thought their faith was consistent with Judaism, other Jews disagreed. Christian Jews were being ostracized from their community and from the synagogue. This has political, social, economic and familial implications.  Christianity is at a crossroad, trying to be faithful and trying find their identity which, while growing out of Judaism, is no longer Jewish but is also ( and never had been) pagan, even though pagan gentiles were joining the faith.

Scholars believe Matthew was writing to a small community. Estimates ranger from 19 to 150 to 1000. No matter what the number, there were a small group in a city of 150-200,000. The community Matthew is written for is a small group living in a tough urban setting which had to navigate life under Roman Imperial power and it’s dispute with the local synagogue over it’s place ( or lack thereof) in the Jewish community. This small community doesn’t “fit” well in any of the cultural, social, and political options available to it.

Main Themes:

Conflict  is central to  the plot. The cosmic conflict between God and satan and the conflict on earth between Jesus and demons, forces of nature, illness, the religious leaders and the disciples.

Identity shaping for life as marginal community of disciples. Matthew’s Gospel is a counter-narrative standing over against Roman Imperial power and Jewish religious authorities. Matthew offers another world view and way of life. The author encourages and challenges the reader to live a counter-cultural life.

Persons who are marginal in the Roman world are those who are most aligned with God’s plan. God’s empire comes from the margins to challenge the powerful status quo.

Formational rather than informational  The Gospel is not simple concerned with delivering information, nor is it evangelistic. It is concerned with those who are already disciples, encouraging, confirming, strengthening their faith.

Literary Composition

There are two (main) ways scholars think about Matthew’s composition.

The narrative develops in three major sections:

The Identity of Jesus (1:1-4:16)

The Ministry of Jesus (4:17-16:20)

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (16:21-28:20)

Within this narrative, the author also has organized the material into five discourses by Jesus, each representing a major theme. In between the discourses the acts of Jesus are told. Some believe the five discourses are an echo of the five books of Torah.

The Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5-7)

The Missionary Discourse (chapter 10)

The Parable Discourse (chapter 13)

The Community Discourse (chapter 18)

The Eschatological Discourse (chapters 24-25)

An Outline of the Gospel of Matthew

I. The Identity of Jesus: God Commissions Jesus 1:1-4:16

A 1:1-17 Genealogy

B 1:18-2:23 Infancy Narrative

 1:18-25 Jesus’ Conception and Commission

 2:1-12 Visit of the Magi

2:13-23 Murderous Herod and Faithful Joseph and Mary

C. Preparation for Ministry 3:1-4:16

 3:1- 12 John the Baptist

 3:13-17 Baptism of Jesus

 4:1-11 The Devil’s Temptation of Jesus

4:12-16 Galilee of the Gentiles: Jesus the Light Shines in Imperial Darkness

II. Jesus’ Ministry to Israel: Jesus Manifests God’s Empire and Commission in Words and Actions  4:17-11:1

A.  Jesus Begins His Ministry: How Jesus Carries out His Mission 4:17-25

4:17 The Message of Jesus

4:18-22 Call of Disciples

4:23-25 Summary

B. The Sermon on the Mount: The First Discourse 5:1-7:29

5:1-2 The Setting

5:3-12 The Beatitudes

5:13-16 Salt and Light

5:17-20 Jesus Interprets Scripture: The Greater Righteousness

5:21-48 The Antithesis: Six “For Examples”

6:1-18 Living Justly, Practicing Piety

6:19-34 Justice and Materialism

7:1-6 On Judging: A Community of Compassionate Correction, Not Condemnation

 7:7-11 Seeking God in Life and Prayer

7:12 The Golden Rule

7:13-27 Eschatological Scenes

7:28-29 The Crowd’s Response to the Sermon

C. Mighty in Word and Deed 8:1-9:38

8:1-4 Healing of a Leper

8:5-13 Healing of Centurion’s Servant

8:14-17 Healing of Peter’s Mother in Law and Many Others

8:18-22 Would be Followers: Costly Discipleship

8:23-27 Stilling of a Storm: Stormy Discipleship and Jesus’ Authority

8:28-34 Jesus Casts Out Demons

9:1-8 Jesus Heals and Forgives a Paralyzed Man

9:9-13 Jesus Calls Matthew and a Dinner Party

9:14-17 Question about Fasting: With all this Feasting, what about Fasting?

9:18-26 Jesus Heals a Ruler’s Daughter and a Woman

9:27-31 Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

9:32-34 Jesus Exorcises a Mute Demoniac

9:35-38 Summary: Jesus Many Miracles and Compassion

D.  The Missionary Discourse: The Second Discourse 10:1-42

10:1-4 Twelve Apostles Chosen: Call and Commission of an Alternative Community

10:5-15 Four Aspects of the Mission

10:16-23 The Hardship of Mission: Inevitable Persecution

10:24-42 The Courage, Impact, and Reward of Faithful Mission

III. Responses to Jesus’ Ministry:Israel’s Repudiation of Jesus 11:2-16:20

A.  A Negative Response  11:2-30

11:2-6 John’s Question About Jesus’ Authority

11:7-15 Jesus’ Statement About John’s Identity

11:16-19 The Negative Response to and Rejection of Jesus and John

11:20-24 Woe on Towns: Failure to Repent

11:25-30 The Revelation of Jesus’ Identity to the “Infants”

B. Open Conflict 12:1-50

12:1-14 Jesus, the Sabbath, and Access to Food

12:15-21 The Ministry of Jesus, The Suffering Servant

12:22-37 Conflict: The Source of Jesus’ Ministry

12:38-45 Jesus Announces Doom on this Generation

12:46-50 The True Family of Jesus: The Alternative Community of Disciples

C. The Parable Discourse: The Third Discourse 13:1-53

13:1-9 Jesus Addresses the Crowds (with Disciples) Seeds and Soils

13:10-23 Jesus Addresses the Disciples

13:24-35 Jesus Addresses the Crowds (with Disciples) The Weeds

13:36-53 Jesus Addresses the Disciples

D. Ministry in a Hostile Environment 13:54-16:20

13:54-58 Jesus’ Rejection by His Hometown Synagogue

14:1-12 The Murder of John the Baptist

14:13-21 Jesus Feeds More Than Five Thousand

14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Water

14:34-36 Jesus’ Compassionate Healing

15:1-20 Jesus Denounces the Religious Leaders

15:21-28 Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

15:29-31 Summary of Jesus’ Healing

15:32-39 Jesus Feeds More Than Four Thousand

16:1-4 Testing Jesus: Requesting a Sign

16:5-12 The Disciples Understand ?: Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

16:13-20 Confession of Peter: Summary of the Third Narrative Block

IV Journey to Jerusalem: Jesus Will be Crucified and Raised 16:21-20:34

A. Looking Toward Cross and Glory 16:21-17:27

16:21-28 The Way of the Cross for Jesus and Disciples (First Passion Prediction)

17:1-13 The Transfiguration

17:14-21 A Difficult Exorcism of an Epileptic Boy

17:22-23 Jesus’ Second Passion Prediction

17:24-27 Payment of the Temple Tax

B. The Community Discourse: A Community of Sustaining Relationships and Practices 18:1-35

18:1-5 Who is the Greatest? Like a Child

18:6-14 Concern for Little Ones

18:15-20 Communal Reproof and Restoration

18:21-35 A Community of Repeated Forgiveness

C. Jesus Travels to Jerusalem 19:1-20:34 

19:1-2 Transition: Jesus Travels to Judea

19:3-12 Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

19:13-15 Disciples are Children

19:16-30 Discipleship, Wealth, and Privilege

20:1-16 Parable of the Householder

20:17-28 It Shall Not Be So Among You (Third Passion Prediction)

20:29-34 Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

V. Jesus in Jerusalem: Conflict and Death 21:1-27:66

A. Confrontation with Authorities 21:1-22:45

21:1-11 Jesus Enters the City

21:12-17 In the Temple

21:18-22 The Fig Tree

21:23-27 Jesus Authority

21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons

21:33-46 The Parable of the Rebellious Tenants

21:1-14 The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22:15-22 Conflict with the Pharisees and Heroidians Over Paying Tribute to Rome

22:23-33 Conflict with Sadducees Over Resurrection

22:34-46 Conflict with the Pharisees

B. Condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees 23:1-39

23:1-12 Warning to Disciples

23:13-36 Seven Woes Against the Pharisees

23:37-39 Lament for Jerusalem and Hopeful Anticipation

C. Eschatological Discourse: The Final Establishment of God’s Empire: The Fifth Teaching Discourse  24:1-26:2

24:1-2 Jesus Predicts the Temple’s Downfall

24:3-26 The Post – Easter Eschatological Woes

24:27-31 The Parousia: The Coming of the Son of Man and the End of Human Empires, especially Rome’s

24:32-35 The Parable of the Fig Tree

24:36-44 The Unknown Time: Be Vigilant

24:45-51 Parable of the Wise and Reckless Slaves

25:1-13 Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids: God’s Empire is like the Situation of the Ten Maidens

25:14-30 Parable of the Talents: Be Ready for the Master’s Return

25:31-46 Jesus Son of Man and the Judgment

VI: Passion and Resurrection 26:3-28:20

A. Jesus Last Hours with His Disciples 26:3-56

26:1-16 The Preparation: Four Perspectives

26:17-35 The Last Supper

26:36-46 Agony in Gethsemane

26:47-56 The Arrest

B. Jesus On Trial 26:57-27:26

26:57-68 Jesus’ Trail before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin

26:69-75 Peter’s Betrayal

27:1-2 Jesus Brought to Pilate

27:3-10 Judas’s Money

27:11-26 Jesus’ “Trial” before Pilate

C. Jesus Is Crucified and Buried 27:27-66

27:27-44 Jesus is Mocked and Crucified

27:45-56 Jesus Dies

27:57-66 Jesus’ Burial

D. Jesus Is Raised 28:1-28:15

28:1-10 Jesus Is Risen

28:11-15 The Report of the Guard: The Elites’ Alternate Story

28:16-20 Jesus Commissions the Disciples

Read More About It:

Boring, M. Eugene, “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in  The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Leander E. Keck,ed. (Nashville, Abingdon Press)1994.

Carter, Warren, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll,New York: Orbis Books) 2001.

Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 8 “The Gospel of Matthew”.

Powell, Mark Allan, “Matthew” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.

Tilden, Elwyn E., Bruce M. Metzger, “Matthew” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.