This week we kicked off our series on Matthew, so here is a quick recap of some things we covered, and more.
First things first, what is a gospel, and who is Matthew? Gospel means “good news,” coming from the Old English term godspell, translated from the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news,” or good tidings. It was used elsewhere in antiquity for various announcements of good news, such as victory in battle and upon the arrival of a new Roman emperor, etc. In the Bible it refers to the announcement of the good news of what God has done for the world through His son, Jesus.
Matthew was a tax collector, also called Levi, and He was a disciple of Jesus. As with any book of the Bible, pretty much, there have been debates about authorship that we simply do not have time to get into this semester if we want to make it through the whole book and given the time limitations of our weekly meetings. In this series we will assume the traditional understanding of Matthew as the author.
In the New Testament canon, the collection of writings adopted as authoritative for the church, there are four books called Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), which tell the story of Jesus. (There are other “gospel” books out there, which were ultimately deemed unworthy of inclusion in the Biblical canon.) As Mark Strauss points out in his book Four Portraits, One Jesus, the four NT gospels are complimentary, each painting a slightly unique sort of picture of Jesus. There is unity and diversity in them. Strauss gives the helpful analogy by way of the story of his own young son going through a whole range of emotions during a little portrait photo shoot: he went from happy and laughing and being silly during the photo shoot—to being angry and pouty, simply not wanting to be there. We’ve all been there, especially when we were kids, right? At any rate, the question arises: which one of the pictures of his son taken during that shoot really captures who the boy is? The answer is: well, all of them.
The gospel books of the NT work much in the same way, each one written by particular people for particular audiences. Mark seems to have written his first, followed by Matthew and Luke, who seem to have been very familiar with Mark’s work, as they use some of the exact same phrases and quotes, tweaking them here and there for their needed emphasis in their communities.
We’ve chosen to study Matthew for the main reason that it is the most Jewish gospel, that is, it seems to have been with a Jewish audience in mind (more than the other gospels), yet it also is for everyone, as we will see throughout our study. We want to see Jesus in his historical context: how he was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (beginning with Abraham!) to set the world right after creation’s collapse into sin and decay (back in the garden with Adam and Eve). God has a mission to restore the world and set things right, brining about peace and joy and justice all over the earth—for all people and again, even for the earth itself.
The craziest part, perhaps, is that God even wants to use ordinary people like you and me to participate in and help fulfill His mission by His grace and through allegiance to the anointed King: His son, Jesus.
The Gospel according to Matthew was written without our modern writing conventions of section headings, chapters, and verse numbers, but there are some linguistic structural elements that help us identify a flow to the book, a careful arrangement of stories and sayings. In particular, we will follow the “Christian Pentateuch” outline of the book, which sees five discourses in the center of the book (reflecting the five books of Moses, a.k.a. the Torah or Pentateuch), with the birth narrative and passion narrative at the beginning and end respectively, as sort of bookends around the five discourses in the middle. That does not, however, mean they are any less central to the story, of course! Matthew wastes no space in His writing. Here’s the outline we will follow throughout the semester, spending two weeks on each section except the first (due to the time period of the semester):
1:1-2:23 Birth Narrative
3:1-7:30 Discourse 1
8:1-11:1 Discourse 2
11:2-13:53 Discourse 3
13:54-19:1 Discourse 4
19:2-26:3 Discourse 5
26:3-28:22 Passion, Resurrection, Commission
READING THIS WEEK: CH.1-2
We read chapter one in our first meeting and noted a couple of important things. One of the first words in the gospel of Matthew is the greek word for genesis, which means “beginning,” and immediately conjures up memories of the first book of the bible, Genesis, in which God creates the world. In the Old Testament, Moses becomes a central prophet and leader of Israel, and we will see throughout Matthew how Jesus is painted as being not only a new Moses but actually greater than Moses. To begin this gospel with the word used for genesis, then, may be intentional on Matthew’s part as if to say: this story is so important that it is as if it is a new beginning, a new era.
Probably to avoid conflict with Nicean definitions of “the Trinity,” English translators opt not to say the beginning of Jesus but rather, as in the NRSV: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” It does go through a genealogy of Jesus, but for our purposes today, as in introduction to the book, we will do well to simply dive into this very first verse.
What is a Messiah? Who are David and Abraham?
Messiah is a Hebrew word for “an anointed one.” In the Old Testament, Kings, prophets, and priests are anointed for their roles, always by someone greater than themselves. Some Jewish people, as some at Qumran, anticipated a Messiah who would fulfill all of those roles. Most often, though, the Messiah is expected to be a future King from the line of David, who was one of the greatest former kings of Israel and with whom God made a foundational covenant in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, spoken by the prophet Nathan, promising to keep a king on the throne from the line of David. The future king’s rule would bring about Israel’s liberation from its oppressors (e.g. Rome in first century) and ensure their primacy.
2 Sam 7:12-16
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
This is why Matthew, and so many NT writers regularly and profusely refer to Jesus as a “son of David.” (Cf. Matt. 22:42) As one of our students said this week, Matthew is sort of “showing the receipts” as proof of Jesus’ alignment with God’s purposes and promises to His people Israel.
But are His promises just for this special nation of Israel? The answer to that question is intentionally included in the very first verse of this book in the next major figure in Jesus’ genealogy: Abraham.
Abraham is sometimes referred to as “father” Abraham because it was with him that YHWH formed a covenant to bless the whole world through his lineage, which of course included David and ultimately, Jesus.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
From the start, Matthew is offering, on the one hand, an apologetic of sorts that defends the rightful claim of Jesus to the throne to rule Israel and indeed the world. On the other hand, Jesus marks the beginning of something new, the inauguration of the coming of the kingdom of God in YHWH’s mission to reunite heaven and earth and dwell Himself with humankind in peace, love, and joy. Throughout this Gospel we will see how Jesus himself is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and how ultimately He promises to send that same spirit to live inside His followers when He commissions them (and now, us!) to follow in His steps.
Next week, our second week of the semester, we will focus on Matt. 3-4 in particular, which tells the story of John baptizing people in the wilderness, including Jesus, as well as the temptation of Jesus and the calling of His first disciples. Because we are covering the entire book of Matthew in one semester, we will be moving quicker than we may be used to, so that makes it all the more important that you read the scriptures each week for yourself, so you can bring with you any questions or comments you have, since we will not have time to unpack every story and verse.
Wherever you are, you are invited to join us in this journey through Matthew. UH students and recent alum are welcome to join our weekly Zoom meeting, and please give us a follow on IG at @uh.thepoint and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter, which you can find at link too in the Linktree on our IG profile page. Thanks for tuning in, and until next time: grace, peace, and happy studying.