Overview of the book of Matthew

The most important thing to remember about the Gospel according to St. Matthew is that God’s people are called to be a kingdom of disciples.

 History: Context & Background

St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is generally agreed to be the author of this book.  Early Church sources strongly assert that this was the first Gospel book to be written, with Mark and Luke subsequently drawing from Matthew’s work.  Also from Early Church testimony, it is likely that Matthew wrote his Gospel account while living in Antioch in the 50’s or early 60’s, before the deaths of Saints Peter and Paul and the sack of Jerusalem.

 Literature: Style & Structure

Of the four Gospel books, Matthew’s has the most overt attention given to the Old Testament.  The book begins with a genealogy of Jesus, and is peppered with comments such as “This happened to fulfill what was written by the prophet…”  With this constant connection to the Hebrew Scriptures, it is likely that this book was written for an audience familiar with Judaism, or alternatively, an audience seeking to become more familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures.

Apart from these frequent commentaries from the author, the bulk of the book is historical in genre, aiming to communicate the person and teaching of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.  Extensive teachings (or sermons) from Jesus are quoted throughout the book, likely serving as compilations of his teachings, rather than directly relating any one particular day.  In an age dominated by oral communication, a transcript would be highly unusual, especially for an itinerant preacher like Jesus.

This book is essentially chronological in its sequence, alternating between narrative and sermon compilations.  It is structured in a basic chiasmic pattern. A chiasm is a literary device in which the beginning and end are parallel with one another, and all the parts in between are also parallel with one another, working all the way to the center (typically labeled as ABA, or ABCBA, and so on).  Sometimes this structure is employed to highlight the point in the center, and sometimes just for literary elegance.  Many poems and psalms in the Bible follow this pattern, usually for the latter reason.  But with this Gospel book, the center of the pattern (the third sermon compilation about the Kingdom of God) seems to be an apt central point to be highlighted since it deals with the Gospel mission of the Kingdom and includes an Old Testament reference.

Chiasm

Chapters

Description

A

1-2

The Arrival of Jesus

B

3-4

The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry

C

5-7

1st Compilation: Christian Life & Ethics

D

8-9

Power & Authority of Jesus Demonstrated

E

10

2nd Compilation: Christian Mission

F

11-12

Opposition to Jesus Develops

G

13

3rd Compilation: Parables of the Kingdom

F

14-17

The Identity of Jesus Developed

E

18-20

4th Compilation: Christian Community

D

21-23

Power & Authority of Jesus Asserted

C

24-25

5th Compilation: Prophecy & Judgment

B

26-27

The End of Jesus’ Ministry

A

28

The Resurrection of Jesus

 Theology: Themes & Insights

There are two main thrusts of Matthew’s Gospel account that should be taken into consideration.  The first, already mentioned, is his attentiveness to Old Testament background and prophecy.  The second is his approach to the Great Commission.  Every Gospel book has its own emphasis on what the Great Commission is for the Church, and for Matthew it’s making disciples.  Taking these two things together, we get a Gospel that points us to one place in two directions: we are pointed to the kingdom of God both in the past and in the present age.  By frequently referencing the Old Testament to explain Jesus’ life and ministry, this book reminds us that to be a Christian is to enter into the story of Israel.  By driving towards an evangelistic style of disciple-making, this book reminds us we are also continuing to build and grow this kingdom currently known as the Church into the future.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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