A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek textPDF eBook
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In every ancient list of the gospels, Matthew is placed first. Although we usually hold that Mark was the first of the gospels written and that Matthew used Mark to write his gospel, it is possible that the early Christians knew of the dating of the gospel better than we do. Of course, it could be that Matthew was placed first because it was first in importance. It is a substantial work, with large blocks of teaching and closely tied to the Old Testament through key texts. As with each gospel, Matthew seeks to present a particular view of Jesus. Matthew's gospel is not just a recording of the life and teachings of Jesus, rather, it is a theological work in its own right with its own message.
The structure of Matthew
There is no single accepted structure for the gospel of Matthew. The following reflects that of Donald Carson, outlined in the Expositors Bible Commentary, with a nod to Professor Bacon and his theory on the five books of Matthew.
Who is Jesus?
1. Prologue, 1:1-2:23
The Origin and Birth of Jesus Christ
i] The genealogy of Jesus, 1:1-17
ii] God's call to Joseph, 1:18-25
iii] Wise men worship the king, 2:1-12
iv] The escape to Egypt, 2:13-23
2. The gospel of the kingdom, 3:1-4:25
Jesus early Galilean ministry
i] The preaching of John the Baptist, 3:1-12
ii] The baptism of Jesus, 3:13-17
iii] Jesus tempted, 4:1-11
iv] Jesus commences his ministry, 4:12-25
The 1st Discourse
Jesus' Great Sermon: Right standing in the sight of God / divine approval / holiness, is a gift of grace and cannot be attained by law-obedience. The law may guide God's people, but does not improve God's people, it condemns God' people, it curses us, forcing us to squarely face the inevitable consequence of our sin.
3. Law and grace, 5:1-7:29
The Great Sermon - Introductory Notes
i] The blessings, 5:1-10
ii] The persecution of the righteous, 5:11-20.
a) Blessed are you, 5:11-12
b) Salt and light, 5:13-16
c) Righteousness and the law, 5:17-20
iii] Righteousness and love, 5:21-48
a) Jesus' demand for perfection under the law, 5:21-37
b) True love defined, 5:38-48
iv] Piety - almsgiving, prayer and fasting, 6:1-18
v] Social righteousness, 6:19-34
a) Treasures in heaven, 6:19-24
b) Worry and God's fatherly care, 6:25-34
vi] Judgment and grace, 7:1-12
vii] The two house builders, 7:13-29
The 1st Narrative
Matthew presents Jesus' healing ministry as a paradigm of salvation, providing the solution to the problem posed by the Great Sermon. Salvation is a gift of grace appropriated through faith in Christ, apart from obedience to the law.
4. Salvation by grace through faith, 8:1-9:34
i] Three miracles that teach the way of grace through faith apart from the law. 8:1-17
ii] Three miracles that teach what it means to follow Jesus, 8:18-9:8
iii] The call of Matthew - eating with sinners, 9:9-13
iv] A question on fasting, 9:14-17
v] The raising of the ruler's daughter, 9:18-26
vi] Jesus heals the blind and mute, 9:27-34
B. The Mission of the Church
The 2nd Discourse
Jesus' teaching on the mission of a disciple in a world hostile to the gospel
5. Extending the kingdom, 9:35-10:42
i] Spreading the news of the kingdom. 9:35-10:15
ii] The difficulties of mission, 10:16-25
iii] The one to fear, 10:26-31
iv] The characteristics of discipleship, 10:32-39
v] The reward for welcoming the word, 10:40-42
The 2nd Narrative
Matthew presents the following episodes as a paradigm for the mission of the church in a world hostile to the gospel.
6. The business of mission, 11:1-12:50
i] Jesus and John the Baptist, 11:1-19
ii] The condemned and the accepted, 11:20-30
iii] Sabbath conflicts, 12:1-14
iv] Jesus' as the prophesied Servant, 12:15-21
v] Confrontation with the Pharisees, 12:22-37
vi] A request for a sign, 12:38-45
vii] Doing the Father's will, 12:46-50
C. The Preaching of the Gospel
The 3rd Discourse
Parables of the kingdom. The mission's message - the gospel.
7. The gospel, 13:1-52
i] The parable of the sower, 13:1-9, 18-23
ii] Understanding the purpose of parables, 13:10-17
iii] The parable of the weeds, 13:24-30, 36-43
iv] The parable of the mustard seed and yeast, 13:31-35
v] Three parables of the kingdom, 13:44-52
The 3rd Narrative
Matthew shapes the following episodes as a paradigm of the gospel at work, of life-giving faith in some, but misunderstanding, confusion and hostility in others.
8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23
i] Rejection at Nazareth, 13:53-58
ii] Herod and Jesus, 14:1-12
iii] The feeding of the five thousand, 14:13-21
iv] Jesus walks on the water, 14:22-36
v] Jesus and the tradition of the elders, 15:1-20
vi] The faith of a Canaanite woman, 15:21-28
vii] The feeding of the four thousand, 15:29-39
viii] The yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, 16:1-12
ix] Peter's confession of Jesus, 16:13-20
x] The way of discipleship, 16:21-28
xi] The Transfiguration, 17:1-13
xii] The healing of an epileptic boy, 17:14-23
D. The Christian Community
The 4th Discourse
Jesus' teaching about life under kingdom authority - bearing the fruit of faith, love, of building community through acceptance, care, reconciliation and forgiveness. In this discourse Jesus encourages the children of grace to be gracious.
9. In love and forgiveness, 17:24-18:35
i] The temple tax, 17:24-27
ii] The greatest in the kingdom of heaven, 18:1-10
iii] The lost brother, 18:12-20
iv] The parable of the unforgiving servant, 18:21-35
The 4th Narrative
Matthew shapes the following episodes as a paradigm for life in the Christian community. This pastoral theme of "instructions for the Christian household", D&A, touches on issues of acceptance and forgiveness, for "the first will be last and the last first."
10. The fruit of faith, 19:1-20:34
i] Accepting the children of grace, 19:1-15
ii] Wealth and the kingdom, 19:16-30
iii] The parable of the workers, 20:1-16
iv] Suffering and service, 20:17-28
v] Healing two blind men, 20:29-34
E. The Coming of the Son of Man
The 5th Narrative
The coming of Jesus to Jerusalem serves as a prelude to the final judgment and the end of history. Jesus now reveals himself as the supreme authoritative Word of God. Those against him, those who judge him, will find themselves judged; those who affirm this man of destiny will share in his glory.
11. Out with the old and in with the new, 21:1-23:39
i] Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, 21:1-11
ii] Cleansing the temple, 21:12-22
iii] The issue of Jesus' authority, 21:23-32
iv] The parable of the tenants in the vineyard, 21:33-46
v] The parable of the wedding feast, 22:1-14
vi] The question about paying taxes, 22:15-22
vii] The issue of marriage in the resurrection, 22:23-33
viii] The great commandment, 22:34-40
ix] Whose son is the Christ? 22:41-46
x] Jesus warns against false teachers, 23:1-12
xi] Seven woes on the teachers of the law, 23:13-33
xii] Judgment upon the old Israel, 23:34-39
The 5th Discourse
The coming of the Lord in purifying wrath - blessings and cursings.
12. The day of judgment, 24:1-25:46
i] The coming of the birth-pangs, 24:1-14
ii] The coming of the Son of Man, 24:15-35
iii] "Watch!", 24:36-51
iv] The parable of the ten bridesmaids, 25:1-13
v] The parable of the talents, 25:14-30
vi] The vision of the supreme court, 25:31-46
13. The passion and resurrection of Jesus. 26:1-28:20
i] The anointing, 26:1-16
ii] The last supper, 26:17-30
iii] Gethsemane, 26:31-46
iv] The arrest of Jesus, 26:47-56
v] Jesus before the Sanhedrin, 26:57-68
vi] Peter denies Jesus, 26:69-75
vii] Judas commits suicide, 27:1-10
viii] The civil trial of Jesus, 27:11-26
ix] Jesus' humiliation and passion, 27:27-56
x] The burial of Jesus, 27:57-66
xi] Christ is risen, 28:1-15
xii] The disciples commissioned for service, 28:16-20
In determining the structure of Matthew's gospel there are a number of obvious patterns:
i] Geographical. Matthew does seem to agree with Mark's geographical movement throughout the gospel story: Ministry in Galilee, in the North, journey toward Jerusalem, confrontation in Jerusalem, passion and resurrection.
ii] J. D. Kingsbury's three sections based on the phrase "from that time Jesus began", 4:17, 16:21. He sees three major sections: The person of Jesus the messiah, 1:1-4:16. The proclamation of Jesus the messiah, 4:17-16:20. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the messiah, 16:21-28:20. These are certainly observable sections in the gospel.
iii] Bacon in Studies in Matthew, 1930, suggested a fivefold division based on the five discourses. He named these divisions the Five Books of Moses and argued that each of the discourses were introduced by the preceding narrative. Some minor commentaries follow this structure, others build on the idea of a thematic structure for Matthew, eg., Gundry ("Matthew edits his narrative materials to carry out the overriding theme of the preceding discourse as far as possible"), Patte. Most of the major commentators don't give much weight to a thematic approach. None-the-less, it does seem likely that Matthew frames his gospel around the discourses:
Ch.5-7. Jesus' teaching on law and grace;
Ch.10. Jesus' teaching about mission;
Ch.13. Jesus' teaching about the gospel;
Ch.18. Jesus' teaching about community / church;
Ch.23/24-25. Jesus' teaching about the future.
These notes proceed on the assumption that Matthew designs each of the first four narrative sections to develop the theological issue covered in the preceding discourse. Thus, the narratives serve as paradigms of the central issue expounded in the partnered discourse. The final discourse, The Day of Judgment, chapters 24-25, is introduced by the narrative which begins with Jesus' coming into Jerusalem, 21:1-11.
These notes rest on the thesis that Paul the apostle is the inspired exegete of Jesus such that to properly understand the synoptic gospels it is necessary to read them from the perspective of Pauline theology. Further, it is held that Paul's exegetical influence has even extended, in varying degrees, to the editing and arrangement of the apostolic tradition by the individual synoptic authors. In the gospel of Matthew, Pauline influence is particularly evident. Having covered the introductory material, Matthew moves to the Great Sermon, 5:1-7:29, and the attached narrative section, 8:1-9:34. In these chapters Matthew leads the reader to a righteousness that is apart from the law. In the sermon we see the law serving its prime function of exposing sin, of establishing that all who have heard the divine Word have failed to put it into practice and thus face the consequence of their sinful condition. In the narrative section we are led to the one who is willing and able to make us clean, so that although once blind we may now see, although once dead we may now live, and this as a gift of grace through faith apart from the law.
Further, as a byproduct of the new perspective on Paul, we now recognize that the Pharisees, as with the judaizers / members of the circumcision party, believed that, as God's chosen people, they were saved by grace, but that their progress as children of God and thus their full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant, was by law obedience. When Paul addresses the same heresy, he is not addressing justification by law obedience / legalism, but sanctification by law obedience / nomism - the shaping of holiness for the appropriation of divine blessings. The heresy is all about staying in the kingdom for blessing, not getting in.
Matthew's Great Sermon can guide the Christian life, but that's not it's purpose - only a person blind to their sin can claim to live by the Sermon on the Mount. Neither does the Great Sermon seek to establish the sinfulness of unbelievers - it is not a pre-evangelistic tool. The sermon is directed fairly and squarely at the children of the covenant, the poor in spirit, the "you" who "are the salt of the earth." Believers are the intended recipients of the sermons, not so much to guide their Christian life, although it can serve that end, but rather to remind us that law-obedience cannot progress holiness for blessing, but that the promised blessings of the covenant are ours in union with Christ, by grace through faith, apart from works of the law.
Paul is the inspired exegete of Jesus. To understand the synoptic gospels it is necessary to understand Paul's take on justification by grace through faith:
Text: "The righteous out of faith will live", Habakkuk 2:4.
The righteous reign of God (his setting all things right)
in justification (in judging right / setting right a people before him),
out of FAITH (Christ's faithfulness + our faith response),
establishes the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God's children (covenant compliance),
facilitating God's promised covenant BLESSINGS (the full appropriation of his promised new life through the Spirit),
and the fruit of faith, namely LOVE / the WORKS of the law (a striving to be what we are in Christ).
The Pauline synthesis, as drawn from the teachings of Jesus:
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.
Paul is not a libertine in stressing "apart from works" for he accepts that those in Christ naturally seek to live as Christ and to this end he exhorts believers to be what they are. Paul stresses "apart from works" in response to the nomist heresy of the Pharisees, and his opponents, the Judaizers, who taught that the full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant required a faithful attention to the WORKS of the law, namely:
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS + WORKS = BLESSINGS.
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.
James is not giving undue weight to works of the law, as Luther thought, but is seeking to counter the argument of libertine believers who taught that:
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS - (minus) WORKS .
The synthesis of the Reformers:
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.
Luther is Pauline in his view of justification, but his perspective is somewhat different to Paul because his opponents are not nomists, but legalists who taught that:
FAITH + WORKS = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS.
The Reformers focused on how a person can be saved, but Jesus, as with Paul, focused on how a person may fully appropriate the promised Abrahamic blessings / new life in Christ.
The New Perspective synthesis:
FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS - LAW = GENTILE INCLUSION.
This flawed synthesis proposes that Paul is not dealing with the issue of how a person appropriates the full blessings of the covenant, but rather how a Gentile can be included in God's covenant community, namely, by the removal of Jewish exclusivism, ie. works of the LAW.
i] Extensive use of Old Testament texts
More than any of the other gospels, Matthew seeks to support the life and teachings of Jesus with Old Testament proof texts. He emphasizes the notion of "fulfillment" - Jesus fulfills the words of the prophets.
The gospel of Matthew seems to reflect a Jewish Christian background, Old Testament proof texting, Hebrew and Aramaic untranslated words, Old Testament subject matter.... all lead to this conclusion. That doesn't mean that the gospel is composed for Jews only. It fully recognizes that the doors of the kingdom are now open to the Gentiles. The Gentiles have joined with remnant Israel and entered the kingdom.
The gospel is very carefully constructed. In particular, there are large blocks of thematic teaching material dispersed within the narrative.
iv] Church orientated
Unlike the other gospels, Matthew makes mention of the church and produces a gospel which is very useful in teaching new believers the Christian faith. Although the church envisaged in the gospel is not an institution as such, more a gathering of believers, it does reflect the need for discipling a fellowship of believers.
The work reflects a church situation where Jewish believers are in the majority, and so Palestine is the obvious origin of the gospel. Tradition states that "Matthew wrote among the Hebrews". Of course, there were Jewish communities outside Palestine and so other centers have been suggested, eg., Syria, particularly Antioch. There is no firm evidence one way or the other, and in the end, it makes little difference to our understanding of the gospel.
The tendency has been to date Matthew around 85AD, ie., some 20 years after Mark. An organized church, the priority of Mark, the supposed references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD...... are used to support this argument. Church tradition has Matthew as the first gospel, written while Peter and Paul were still preaching in Rome. (Tradition has Peter's execution in Rome dated 64AD). There is actually no reason to discount this view held by early Christian writers (eg., Irenaeus). The gospel certainly doesn't necessarily reflect the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Nor is there anything in the gospel to really preclude an early date, say around 60AD. The main problem is that it does seem that Matthew has used Mark as a prime source, but increasingly scholars accept that there may have been an earlier common source used both by Matthew and Mark. In any case, oral tradition would have been firmly set by this stage and could itself serve as a common tradition.
The gospel claims no author. Church tradition has Matthew, the disciple of Jesus, as the author, but early support for this tradition is confused. The writer is clearly an educated Jew who writes fluent Greek in an Aramaic style. He does seem to rest on oral tradition rather than an eye witness account, and so the designation "Matthew" is probably a dedication to a disciple whom the author respects, and even possibly knew.
The Synoptic problem
Over the intervening years scholars have wondered about the similarities between the first three gospels (the synoptic gospels) and at the same time their many differences. Nearly 45% of Matthew's gospel is similar to Mark and follows much of the same order. Another 20% is similar to Luke, and again follows much the same order. In the 20th century it was generally held that Mark and a document called Q were the source for both Matthew and Luke - the Christian historian Eusebius gives priority to Mark. This theory is questioned by some. The Griesbach theory / hypothesis (originally proposed in 1789) proposes the priority of Matthew; see Farmer, Problem; either Matthew, Mark and then Luke (so Butler, The Originality of Matthew, 1951, ie., the canonical order, so Augustine) or Matthew, Luke and then Mark (so Griesbach, Farmer, .....). Matthew's gospel may well have been initially composed in Aramaic and later translated into Greek. It is very Jewish, anti-Pharisaic / nomistic, critical of the unbelieving members of the synagogue, emphasizing the teachings of Jesus over the teachings of the synagogue and formally arranged as a covenant renewal document. The way Matthew stitches sayings is also typically Aramaic, cf., James. So, the reworking of a document suited to believing Jews for distribution among Gentiles may well explain the production of both Mark and Luke. From a literary point of view, Matthew takes precedence due to the thematic arrangement of both narratives and discourses, but technically, Mark takes precedence The issue is unresolved, although the majority of scholars hold to the priority of Mark.
It is possible that the gospels developed independently of each other within particular church centers, or geographical regions. The gospel writer may have referenced a prior work (a proto-Matthew / proto-Mark), but their own received tradition took priority. There is little doubt that an oral tradition developed within the early church, a tradition where the stories and teachings of Jesus were told and retold. One would expect these traditions to move amongst the different Christian communities, rub off each other, and develop a common form and order. The verification of this tradition by the apostles would standardize it, and at the same time restrict the development of myth. The death of the apostles through martyrdom, or age, would prompt the production of a written version of the tradition. See Rist, The Independence of Matthew and Mark, 1978. There are strong literary parallels between Matthew and Luke indicating either as a primary source.
The purpose of Matthew's gospel is to proclaim that the kingdom, which God foretold by the prophets, has reached fulfillment in the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, the Christ, God's great I AM, the promised Messiah, the Son of David. Therefore the messianic kingdom of heaven (God) is now - "at hand", (inaugurated / realized). The immediacy of the kingdom demands an immediate response. Sadly the Jews, and especially their leaders, reject the evidence of the kingdom's presence in Jesus, and thus stand condemned. Yet, a faithful remnant of Israel do believe, and to this vine is grafted the Gentile stem and thus the church becomes the people of God in this final age. This people of God must stand in a troubled and hostile world and give witness to the new reality of the kingdom. This may bring persecution, but as members of the kingdom they share the blessings of the covenant. They stand eternally secure in the one who gave his life as a ransom for many.
So, the purpose of Matthew's gospel is to document God's important message to lost humanity - "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe the gospel". The gospel serves the following ends: to show the way to life by grace through faith apart from the law; to assure those who believe in Jesus, to instruct in the Christian life, provide apologetic and evangelistic resources, encourage in the Christian life, and deepen faith.
i] Christology - an explanation of who Jesus is
Matthew develops a very Jewish picture of Jesus, but not in any way different to the other synoptic gospels.
a) Christ. Matthew likes to use the title "Son of David" to define Jesus as the Messiah (the anointed one) who comes to his people Israel to establish the everlasting kingdom. The term "Christ" is also used, but Jesus only once uses it of himself. It is a loaded term likely to cause trouble with a questioning Jew. The role of the messiah is liberation in a particular sense - "he will save his people from their sins".
b) Son of Man. This was Jesus' favorite messianic title because it was unusual and confused the crowds. It could just mean "man", but obviously it referred to the Daniel Son of Man who, in glory and triumph, rules the coming kingdom, Dan.7:13-14.
c) King. For Matthew, Jesus is the "King of the Jews".
d) Son of God. Again, this is a loaded messianic term which is mainly said of Jesus, but not by Jesus. The use of the phrase shows something stronger than just messiah. In the coming of Jesus is the coming of God.
For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of God's purpose for creation, as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures. The prophets announce the coming of the kingdom. In Jesus that kingdom is realized. To this end Matthew constantly shows from Old Testament scripture how the life and teachings of Jesus brings to final completion all that the prophets proclaimed.
Matthew, in a very particular way, describes a rebellious Israel whose faithful remnant is Jesus himself. Jesus is the true Israel and those who join with Jesus share in his standing before God. In Christ, the believer, both Jew and Gentile, becomes part of faithful Israel - the new community, the church. The church described by Matthew is not that of an institution, but rather the gathered fellowship of believers.
At first reading Matthew seems to establish a new ethic to replace the Law of Moses. People have often understood the teaching sections, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, as Law for believers. Yet, Matthew's purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus has not come to demolish the Law, but to "fulfill" it, in the sense of reveal it in perfection and do it perfectly. He is the one faithful Israelite who brings the Law to completion. He sets out to demonstrate a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, a righteousness of perfection, and by doing it, to offer that righteousness to those who take hold of it in him. This is not the righteousness a person gains by obedience, but a righteousness that is accounted to a person on the basis of their reliance upon the faithfulness of Christ. It is from this understanding of the Law that Paul the apostle develops his theology.
In the face of the perfection of Christ, the lost can only admit that they are unworthy and foolish servants who hear God's Laws, but do "not put them into practice". Yet, the condemned can look to Jesus for mercy, and through mercy receive, as a gift of grace, "surpassing righteousness", and thus eternal approval before God with all its associated blessings. Having been set right with God in Christ, the believer is then shaped toward that righteousness they already possess in him, (ie. we begin to exhibit the qualities of the Sermon on the Mount, qualities only Christ could fulfill).
Bibliography: Commentaries - Matthew
Albright, Anchor, 1971. Allen, ICC, 1907. Argyle, CBC, 1963. Beare, Harper & Rowe, 1981. Blomberg, NAC, 1992. Carson, Expositors, 1984. Cox, Torch, 1953. Davies & Allison / D&A, ICC, 1988, 1991, 1997. Dietrich, Layman's, 1961. Filson, Blacks, 1960. France*, Tyndale, 1985. France, NICNT, 2006. Fenton, Pelican 1963. Fortana, Scholars Bible, 2005. Glover, Marshall Morgan & Scott, Teacher's Commentary, 1956. Green, Clarendon, 1936, & New Clarendon. Gundry, Eerdmans, 1982. Hagner, Word, 1993 - 1995. Hamann, Chi Rho, 1984. Hare, Interpretation, Knox, 1994. Harrington, Sacra Pagina. 1991. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth, 1974. Hill, NCB, 1972. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, SCM. Keener, Eerdmans, 1999. Kingsbury, Proclamation, 1986. Lapide, Orbis, (Sermon on the Mount - Jewish perspective), 1982. Luz, Hermenea, 2001, 2005, 2007, . Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, SCM, 1949. McNeile, Macmillan, 1915. Meier, Veritas, NT. Message, 1980. Melinsky, Libra, 1966. Meyers, T&T Clark, 1877. Morris, Pillar, 1992. Mounce, NIBC, 1991. Nolland, NIGTC, 2005. Olmstead, HGT, 2019. Patte, Fortress, 1987. Plummer, Elliot Stock, 1909. Quarles, EGGNT, 2017. Rawlinson, Westminster, 1925. Ridderbos, Lutterworth, 1958. Robinson, MNTC, 1927. Schnackenburg, Eerdmans, 2002. Schweizer, John Knox, 1973. Smith, CGTSC, 2nd. ed. 1927. Strecker, ch. 5-7, Abingdon, 1988. Tasker, Tyndale, 1961, replaced. Turner, BECNT, 2007.