St Matthew's Gospel
The Gospel according to St Matthew is divided into five books each consisting of a discourse introduced and led up to by selected narrative matter; these five books, plus the stories of the Infancy and of the Passion are combined to form a well-knit whole of seven sections. Matthew used his sources with great freedom in order to reach his carefully mapped out ensemble which is so brilliantly adapted for teaching purposes. Matthew's plan is completely different to Mark. The fact that this gospel also reports Christ's teaching much more fully than Mark, and stresses specially the theme of 'the Kingdom of heaven' (4:17+), makes it a dramatic account in seven acts of the coming of the kingdom of heaven.
The same light of faith and the same broad outline of Christ’s life naturally occur in Matthew as well as in Mark, but with quite a different emphasis. To begin with the plan is not the same and is much more elaborate: Matthew is divided into five books each consisting of a discourse introduced and led up by painstakingly selected narrative matter; these five books, plus stories of the Infancy and of the Passion are combined to form a well-knit whole of seven sections. It is possible that this arrangement, which is so clear in Matthew, goes back to the Aramaic gospel and that it is traceable also in Mark’s brief account; but whether this is so or not, it remains true that as we have already seen, Matthew used his sources with great freedom in order to reach his carefully mapped out ensemble, which is so brilliantly adapted for teaching purposes.
The fact that this gospel also reports Christ’s teaching much more fully than Mark, and stresses especially the theme of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (4:17), make it a dramatic account in seven acts of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. These acts are as follows:
The preparation of the kingdom in the person of the child-Messiah, ch. 1-2.
The formal proclamation of the charter of the Kingdom to the disciples and the public i.e. the Sermon on the Mount, ch. 3-7.
The preaching of the kingdom by missionaries whose credentials (the ‘signs’ which are to confirm the word) are now hinted at by several miracles done by Jesus himself; the missionaries received their instructions, ch. 8-10.
The obstacles with which the kingdom will meet from men, and which are part of God’s deliberate design that the kingdom should come without show, even imperceptibly, as illustrated in The parables of the concluding Instruction, 11:1-13:52.
Its embryonic existence in the group of disciples with Peter at their head; the rules for this Church in the making are outlined in the concluding Instruction on the Community, 13:53-18:35.
The crisis, provoked by the increasing hostility of the Jewish leaders, which is to prepare the way for the definitive coming of the kingdom and which is the subject of the concluding Eschatological Instruction. ch. 19-25.
Lastly, the coming itself, a coming effected through suffering and triumph, through the Passion and resurrection. ch. 26-28.
The kingdom of God (of the ‘heavens’ in Matthew), is the reassertion of God’s dominion as King over men who are who at last know him, serve him and love him. This kingdom was prepared and foretold in the Old Testament. Matthew therefore, writing among Jews for Jews, makes a special point of demonstrating that the scriptures are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.
In every significant passage of his work, he makes use of the Old Testament to prove that law and Prophets are ‘fulfilled’ – a phrase which means that their hopes have been not only realised but have also been perfected, ennobled, surpassed. As applied to the person of Jesus, he appeals to Old Testament texts for his Davidic descent (1:1-17), for his virgin birth (1:23), at Bethlehem (2:6), for his stay in Egypt and his setting at Capernaum, (4:14-16), for his Messianic progress into Jerusalem (21:5,16); as applied to the work of Jesus: he appeals to Old Testament text for cures (11:4-5); and finally as applied to the teaching of Jesus: this ‘fulfills’ the law (5:17), while raising it to further heights (5:21-48; 19:3-9, 16-21)
Matthew asserts equally strongly that the scriptures are also fulfilled in the lowliness of Christ’s person and in what humanly seems to be the frustration of his work. In this way God’s plan contains, and the Old Testament foretells: the massacre of the Innocents (2:17f), the hidden life at Nazareth (2:23), the gentle compassion of the ‘Servant of God’ (12:17-21; cf. 8:17; 11:29; 12:7), the disciples desertion ((26:31), the paltry price of betrayal (27:9-10), the arrest (26:54), and the three days burial, (12:40); in this way too the Old Testament foretold the unbelief of the Jews (13:13:15), too tenacious of their man-made traditions (15:7-9), who could be approached only by teaching through the veil of parables (13:14-15,35).
Matthew is not the only one of the three synoptics to make use of arguments from the Old Testament, but even apart from the fact that they might have been copying Matthew Aramaic in this, Matthew relies so heavily on this argument that he has made it one of the chief characteristics of his gospel. Remembering this and recalling the gospel’s systematic structure, the work can be aptly described as the great charter of the new order which in Christ completes God’s plan. For Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew emphasizes this more than Mark; cf. 14:33, 16:16, 22:2, 27:40,43) and as his teaching is the new Law that fulfills the old, so the church which he built on Peter (16:18), and of which he is the keystone rejected by the builders (21:42), is the same Messianic Community as that of the Old Testament, but universalised, since God has allowed those who were first invited to decline (23:34-38; cf. 10:5-6,23; 15:24); this was so that he might throw open the gate of salvation to all nations (8:11-12; 21:33-46; 22: 1-10; cf. 12:18-21; 28:19). It is easy to see why a gospel as complete and as neatly arranged as this and written more grammatically (though less attractively) than Mark’s should have appealed to the early Church and been used by it in preference to others.
(Copyright © Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, Jerusalem Bible, 1966).