Friday, September 28, 2012

Pillars of Matthew

As Peter Leithart has aptly noted, "One of the most obvious things about Matthew is that it includes five large sections of teaching."1  From this there follows what was noted in a previous post (cf. The Importance of Red Letters, Sept. 2012), namely that chapters 5-7 begin the first of those five lengthy sections of teaching in Matthew's Gospel (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25).

Not only are the five lengthy discourses of Jesus evident simply by flipping through any conveniently colored Bible with the words of Jesus in red, but Matthew appears to have intentionally placed five distinctive phrases within his gospel to distinguish the end of each section. Each of the five discourses end with an identical phrase, "when Jesus had finished" (7:21, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1), indicating that Matthew structured his gospel around those five discourses.
  1. "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching..." (7:28)
  2. "Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities." (11:1)
  3. "When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place." (13:53)
  4. "When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." (19:1)
  5. "When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples..." (26:1)

This five-fold structure of Matthew's gospel has also been noted by a wide variety of biblical scholars. For instance, F. F. Bruce points out the intentionality of Matthew's main structure in one of his famous books, stating that:
The sayings of Jesus are arranged so as to form five great discourses, dealing respectively with (a) the law of the kingdom of God (chapters 5 to 7), (b) the preaching of the kingdom (10:5-42), (c) the growth of the kingdom (13:3-52), (d) the fellowship of the kingdom (chapter 18), and (e) the consummation of the kingdom (chapters 24 to 25).2 

In his famous exposition of Matthew's gospelD. A. Carson says:
The point is that the five discourses are sufficiently well-defined that it is hard to believe that Matthew did not plan them as such.3

And even though R. T. France finds the "geographical outline of the story" to be "more satisfying" than  discerning Matthew's narrative structure through "verbal division markers",4 he nevertheless admits in his massive commentary on Matthew's gospel that:
Recent discussion has often focused on the search for fomulae which may be taken to mark structural divisions. By far the most prominent is the slightly varying formula which concludes Matthew's five main collections of Jesus' teaching...(7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).5

Likewise, Craig Keener remains skeptical about how to interpret the five-fold structure of Matthew, but he nevertheless points out its plausibility in his socio-rhetorical commentary on Matthew's gospel:
This Gospel [i.e. Matthew] may divide chronologically into three sections; the teaching material divides topically into five. ...Most scholars identify five discourses by the closing formula "when he had finished speaking" in 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1.6

According to Peter Leithart, these five discourses of Jesus are intentionally highlighted by Matthew and "are like five pillars that hold up the book of Matthew"7, set between the Gospel's own opening and closing statements -- statements which mirror the opening "book of Genesis" and closing "Decree of Cyrus".8

1.  Peter Leithart, The Four: A Survey of the Gospels (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2010) p. 121
2.  F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981; first published in 1943) pp. 37-38
3.  D. A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1984) p. 51
4.  R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) p. 4
5.  Ibid., p. 2
6. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009) pp. 36-37
7.  Peter Leithart, The Four: A Survey of the Gospels (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2010) p. 121
8.  Ibid.

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