Matthew Themes

The central purpose of Matthew is to provide systematic and clear guidance on how a community of the followers of Jesus (a Church or Ekklesia) should conduct itself and he therefore provides both a catechetic and liturgical grounding which involves establishing Jesus not as the receiver of Torah (the Jewish written law embodied in the Pentateuch or first five books of the Jewish Scriptures attributed to Moses) but its authoritative interpreter and personification.

Topics central to Matthew:

  1. Successor of Moses and God's Son - Jesus' title is established by genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). The birth account echoes Exodus: he is miraculously born (Exodus 3:10; Matthew 1:18-25), saved from a wicked king (Exodus 1:22; 2:1-2:10; Matthew 2:1:13-14) and called out of Egypt (Exodus 1:15; Matthew 2:15?). His baptism () resembles the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-25) and his testing () echoes the testing of the Jews in the wilderness (Numbers 11:1; 14:1; Deuteronomy 1:26; Exodus 16:2; Psalm 95:8-11 &c). He brings a new version of the Torah from the mountain (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21; Matthew 5; 6; 7).
  2. Teacher of new Torah - The collection of material known as the "Sermon on The Mount" (Matthew 5; 6; 7) is partly included in Mark and Luke (Matthew 6:17-49) and the material repetitively refers to "Father in Heaven". The key passage is Matthew 5:17-20: "... think not that I have come to abolish The Law ... but to fulfil them".
  3. The Radical - Three examples: on murder and adultery the need to match internal attitudes with external behaviour (Matthew 5:21-30); on swearing and divorce he admits no mitigating casuistry (Matthew 5:31-37); and in human relationships he demands much more than adherence to the letter (Matthew 5:38-47).
  4. Founder of The Church - Three passages: in Chapter 10 Jesus sends out the Apostles in a context of rejection; in Chapter 18 the inner life of The Church is discussed; in Matthew 28:16-20 issues of authority and mission are set out in a valedictory message.

Partly taken from:

Johnson, Luke T.: The Writings of The New Testament: An Interpretation, Fortress, 2002

KC IX/07

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