Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and welcome to episode 7 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the next 4 episodes I want to briefly look at the structure of each of the Gospels. Understanding some of these details will cause them to make so much more sense and come alive in a new way. Remember, these books are not collections of fairy tales. They're books of real historical events that tell us about a Person named Jesus who is God in the flesh and that we are to grow in relationship with. Each of the Gospels has a specific author, audience, and structure that matter to the way we understand what Jesus is like and what He is really saying. Now each Gospel may have been written for a different purpose, but the Person they're talking about is the same Jesus and the good news they are announcing is the same message. Remember, as I said back in episode 1, all of the details of Jesus' life and story matter to us because He matters to us. Fight the academic stench that comes into your nose as you dig into some of these things. It's important that we know them because it matters to the growth of our relationship with the One who saves us from God's wrath, not because we need to know them to pass a test or win an argument on social media. To do that is to miss the entire point of having faith in Jesus. So in this episode I want to start with the book of Matthew.
First, who wrote Matthew? Well, the text itself doesn't tell us anything at all. In fact, the headings "the gospel of Matthew" or "the gospel of Luke" were probably added some time in the first or early second century to distinguish each of the four from one other [see footnote 1]. But early church tradition unanimously ascribes the first gospel in our New Testament to Matthew, the tax collector and disciple of Jesus.
Where and when was Matthew written? Many scholars have proposed Matthew was written in Antioch in Syria. The likelihood that the Gospel was written in Greek to Jewish Christians seems to fit Antioch, since the church there was founded when Greek-speaking Jewish Christians fled there from Jerusalem, as we see in Acts 11:19 through 21. It seems like his gospel was in circulation after the year 60 and before the year 90. It's a wide range for sure, but we just can't know with any certainty.
What about the structure of Matthew? Matthew is organized very differently than the other 3 gospels, and this is extremely important to understand if we want to piece together a chronological picture of Jesus' life. The most important thing we have to remember is that Matthew did NOT arrange his gospel chronologically like Mark, Luke, and John did. Not knowing this simple fact has caused so many of us to see all of the gospels as just this big sea of events with Jesus just doing random things at random times and finally going to the cross at the end. So if you've been provoked by the last few episodes and you're starting to read the Gospels again or if you're an evangelist and you're telling people to read the Gospels to be familiar with the life of Jesus, it's probably not the best idea to tell them to start with Matthew.
Scholars agree that Matthew has an introduction, a conclusion, and a main section describing Jesus' public ministry. That is further divided up into five major sections, each consisting of a collection of Jesus' teachings and narrative of His story. Each of the teaching sections finish with a phrase like "when Jesus had finished these sayings". These are the structural signals we see in how Matthew groups his narrative sections around the five discourses that we see in Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, and 26:1. [see footnote 2]
The first major grouping of his teachings begin in Matthew 5 with the famous Sermon on the Mount. Now there are many well-meaning people who emphasize the importance of the Sermon on the Mount because they say it was one of the very first things Jesus preached. I agree it is very important for us, but Luke, who is largely chronological, rightly places the event at just about a year into Jesus' two-year ministry, right before the Passover in April of 28. Matthew also is grouping some of Jesus' teaching from different times together, so not all of what we call the Sermon on the Mount was delivered all at the same time. For instance, the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6, you know "our father, who art in heaven", was probably not spoken at the same time as what we call the sermon on the mount, as Luke narrates the Lord's prayer chronologically much later in Luke 11, after the Feast of Tabernacles sometime in September or October of 28 somewhere closer to Perea, a whole six months after Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount by the sea of Galilee.
Now the other thing to note is that it only takes us maybe 15 minutes to read through those 3 chapters in Matthew 5 through 7. One of the things we're going to see is that there is massive summarizing going on in Matthew and all of the Gospels. Think about it - Jesus didn't just talk for 15 minutes and then it was over. In several other scenes, the Gospel authors tell us that Jesus taught and healed and ministered ALL DAY. We'll talk more about summarization and the Sermon on the Mount in a future episode.
Now just because Matthew is not fully chronological does not mean that we aren't able to use it to piece together a clearer chronological picture, or a harmony of the Gospels, as some have called it. As we look at events in future episodes, even beginning with Jesus' birth, we'll see the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in how all of the Gospels complement one another and collectively give us a portrait of the life of God in the flesh.
Alright, so how about some of the themes and distinguishing features we see in Matthew's gospel?
Well, Matthew seems to be written primarily written for a Jewish audience, or at least a mixed Jewish and Gentile audience.
Matthew includes a lot of Jewish terms that often don't make a lot of sense for us as 21st century folk, like when He was talking about "binding and loosing" in Matthew 16 or the eye being the lamp of the body in Matthew 6. He uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" instead of "kingdom of God" to refer to the Messiah's reign in Jerusalem. He also writes a lot more on eschatology than any of the other Gospels.
As a result of his Jewish focus, Matthew's genealogy in Matthew 1 presents Jesus as the one promised to fulfill the covenants made to Abraham and to David. Matthew extensively quotes Old Testament passages to prove that Jesus is indeed the son of David and the Christ or Messiah who was prophesied to sit on David's throne in Jerusalem. He also portrays Jesus as the figure that Judaism called "the Prophet", as He pronounces judgment on Israel like the Old Testament prophets did and is demonstrated to be Israel's leader just as Moses was.
Jesus also speaks more about the Old Testament law in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels, specifically highlighting the Pharisees' strict external adherence to it and how that is insufficient righteousness for salvation from God's wrath on the Day of the LORD. Jesus constantly appeals to the need for repentance and an internal righteousness with the law written on the heart as the way to inherit the promises made to Abraham on the day of the LORD.
There's so much more that can be said. For more, be sure to check out my recommended resources on www.joshuahawkins.com.
So as a summary of the main points of this episode relating to this Gospel: Number one, Matthew the tax collector and disciple of Jesus is probably the author. Number two, it was in circulation probably between 60 and 90AD. Number three, the big one, Matthew is arranged topically, not chronologically. And number four, Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience.
So in the next episode, we'll look at Mark - the shortest of the four Gospels but the most chronological and the most succinct. I hope you join me next week. God bless.
Craig Blomberg, New American Commentary: Matthew, p. 43
Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 39