Lectionary Year A
February 10, 2002
Step III: Composition
A. Immediate Context
(JFC) Pre - Chapter 16 of Matthew begins with Pharisees and Sadducees confronting Jesus and asking for a sign from
heaven. He tells them that only a crooked and perverse generation requests such. As they traveled on from there, Jesus taught the disciples about avoiding the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Next, Jesus asks them "Who do the people say that I am?" The disciples' answers lead Peter to profess his belief in Jesus' Messiahship and Jesus' blessing him with "the keys of the Kingdom", for his faith. Then He warned them not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Thereafter, Jesus began to predict His passion and death. When Peter rebuked Him for such talk, Jesus told him, "Get behind me, Satan, for being a stumbling block for setting your mind on mundane rather than on heavenly things." Finally Jesus calls them to deny themselves to follow Him, even into His Kingdom, which He predicts will come soon.
Post - The rest of chapter 17 records Jesus' telling the disciples how the unbelievers mistreated Elijah when he returned to make things right and that they would also mistreat Him and then they understood, but they thought He was talking about John the Baptist. Next a man with an epileptic son came to Jesus for healing and reported that the disciples were unable to cure him. When the disciples asked Jesus why they failed to cure the lad, He told them they lacked faith to do so. He told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains. He predicts His passion, death and resurrection and concludes the chapter with a teaching about paying temple taxation.
B. Organization of the Compositional Whole
(JFC) Albright and Mann, observe in the Anchor Bible commentary, "Matthew has two principal interests: the fulfillment
of God's purposes in and through Jesus, and how this fulfillment will find its expression in the community which Jesus founded." Although the most concise outline of this Gospel is in Reginald H. Fuller's article in Harper's Bible Commentary, a more nearly complete summary might be: the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel tell of Jesus' birth. 3:1-12 relate John the Baptist's activities. 3:13-4:11 give accounts of Jesus' temptation and baptism. 4:12-18:35 tell of His teachings and preaching in Galilee. These chapters include the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), commissioning and instructing the twelve (10), parables on the Kingdom (13), life in the new community/the New Israel (14-17) and Jesus' journeying to Jerusalem for His last week on earth (21-28). Through these segments, Matthew's Gospel seems to intend to depict Jesus as the Messiah the Old Testament Jews longed for. It seems to highlight Jesus' fulfilling more prophecies than the other Gospels do. It seems to want to clarify that the New Testament people are the true Israel (16:17-19), actually replacing the former Israel. Several commentaries give "five discourses in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25, that Matthew intended his work to serve as a foundation book for his community, . . . In fact, Matthew came to serve as the preeminent Gospel for the church as a whole." So states Fuller.
C. Issues of Authorship
(JFC) Since early in the second century CE, when Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis, referred to Matthew, the tax collector,
one of Jesus' disciples (Matt. 9:9 and 10:3), it has been thought he wrote this Gospel. However, Papias says the work to which he refers contains only sayings of Jesus and that it was written in Hebrew. Matthew, as we have it, tells of actions and events, as well as sayings of Jesus and it was written in Greek, not Hebrew. So, evidently, Papias means another document, one now lost. This Gospel seems to have been written anonymously between 70-85 CE, since it is mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch in 115 CE and relies on Mark's Gospel, which was written about 70 CE. Ignatius also says it was written in Syria. Suzanna de Dietrich (LBC) notes that the community addressed by this Gospel is "experiencing persecution. Certain passages without doubt reflect this situation. The writer was concerned to fortify the faith of the Christians - to remind them that Jesus had foreseen these struggles and that He had foreseen the apostasy of some, the lukewarmness of others (5:11-12; 10:16-23; 24:9-13)." And, Eduard Schweizer (The Good News According To Matthew) says, "Above all, the method of learned interpretation of the Law, which 'loses' and 'binds,' was still central for Matthew and his community. . . Preservation of sayings such as 23:2-3, which support the continued authority of Pharisaic teaching, and above all the special emphasis placed on the requirement not to offend those who still think in legalistic terms (17:24-27) show that dialogue with the Jewish Synagogue had not yet been broken off. On the other hand, a saying like 27:25 shows that the Christian community had conclusively split with the Synagogue, even though hope for the conversion of Jews was not yet totally dead."
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