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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

The Gospel According to Matthew - Introduction

This Gospel, the favorite of the early church, offers a carefully crafted account of Jesus' birth, mission, and passion. Beginning with a genealogy * that anchors Jesus in Jewish history, the text develops the story of a messiah * who faithfully upholds the Torah, * fulfills prophecy, and establishes the model of leadership through service.

The Gospel is neatly organized for teaching purposes. Following the infancy accounts, baptism, * and temptation, which securely connect Jesus to the scriptures of Israel, the evangelist presents five extended speeches interspersed with controversy accounts and healings. The best known, the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5–7 ) combines blessings and teachings to convey the radical nature of Jesus' message. The second discourse (ch. 10 ) offers missionary instructions as well as warnings of the persecutions that will accompany proclamation of the good news. The parables * collected in ch. 13 describe the kingdom of heaven as a time and a place of great joy, if only those with ears to hear can grasp the message. Rules for ecclesial organization comprise ch. 18 , and chs. 24–25 prophesy the apocalyptic * consummation of history and the final judgment.

Such literary artistry provides one of several hints that the evangelist was a scribe * (see 13.52 ), capable of combining traditional material into a coherent narrative. * Scribal training may also account for the Gospel's extensive use of fulfillment citations: Along with numerous allusions, Matthew directly quotes scripture forty times and offers several statements, called “fulfillment citations” or “formula citations,” which proclaim Jesus' “fulfillment” of a passage from scripture ( 2.17–18, 23; 4.14b–16; 8.17; 12.18–21; 13.35; 21.4–5; 27.9–10 ). Finally, perhaps scribal training underlies Matthew's depiction of Jesus as a new Moses: Both, as infants, escape a death ordered by political leaders; both sojourn in Egypt; both give instructions from a mountain; and both face people not always receptive to their message.

In Matthew the emphasis on Jewish history, the use of the expression “kingdom of heaven” rather than “kingdom of God” (which marks Jewish avoidance of the sacred name), the preservation of the Laws of Torah, and the lack of explanation for Jewish practices such as ritual washing prior to eating all suggest a setting among Jews who proclaimed Jesus the messiah. Possibilities for the place of writing range from Syria to Galilee to the Transjordan. Stressing Torah observance, the evangelist is unclear about the extent to which the commandments (Heb., “mitzvot”) should be followed by gentile * believers in the church. In part, this lack of clarity results from the Gospel's view of salvation-history: Before the cross, Jesus comes only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” ( 10.6; 15.24 ); in the Great Commission of 28.16–20 , the mission is extended to “all nations” ( 28.19 ).

Although the evangelist urges that Pharisaic teachings be followed ( 23.2 ), the Gospel also reflects, frequently through harsh polemic, * the church's separation from the synagogue. * Whether Matthew should be considered “anti-Jewish” remains an area of debate. Scholars who view the evangelist as Jewish and still within the synagogue system frequently classify the polemical language as typical disputation between members of the same group. Others even propose that Matthew's polemic has the same setting and effect as the excoriations of Israel delivered by the prophets. * Those who see the Gospel as reflecting a majority gentile audience and as having separated from the synagogue are more likely to see the text as anti-Jewish. Regardless of its historical circumstances, the Gospel of Matthew, with its infamous line attributed to the Jerusalem crowd, “His blood be on us and on our children” ( 27.25 ), has tragically served as a warrant for violence against Jews. Given Matthew's insistence on higher righteousness—“righteousness” is a key Matthean term—and love of neighbor, likely the evangelist would be horrified by such actions taken in the Gospel's name.

Along with establishing its tense relationship to Jews who did not accept the gospel message, Matthew also reveals the Christian community's process of developing an internal identity. Of the four canonical * Gospels, Matthew's is the only one to use the term “church” (Gk. “ekklesia”) and the only one to proclaim Peter the “rock” who holds the keys to the kingdom. This concern for institutional organization, coupled with the evangelist's use of sources, interest in the gentile mission, awareness of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple * in 70 CE (see Mt 22.7 ), and self-definition in relation to the synagogue, suggests a compositional date sometime toward the end of the first century. Economically, the church may have been comparatively well off. Only in Matthew is Joseph of Arimathea explicitly designated “rich” ( 27.57 ). Whereas Luke has Jesus announce, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “Blessed are you who are hungry now” (Lk 6.20–21 ), the Sermon on the Mount proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5.3, 6 ).

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