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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Overview of Matthew

Lord willing, we have three weeks left in our study of the book of Judges.  It has been a long and convicting road, as we have seen in the example of Israel the propensity of the human heart to follow after false gods.  As Israel’s journey into apostasy has been portrayed, we have had numerous opportunities to examine our own hearts to see if there are signs of “Canaanization” there.  With each passing week, the message of the book becomes more clear: man is utterly depraved and needs a Savior.
Judges is certainly not the only Old Testament book that points forward to a future Savior.  There are pictures of human depravity and God’s provision for salvation in virtually every book.  The voice of the entire Old Testament announces man’s dire situation and the divine promise of rescue.
In our next expositional series, we will walk through the New Testament book of Matthew.  This first Gospel offers a fitting answer to the message of Judges: the promised Savior has come
To prepare for this series, I’m going to do a short series of blog posts, giving an overview of the book, its authorship, structure, and main themes.  It is always important when studying any book of the Bible to get a broad understanding of the overall message of the book before dialing in for closer study. These posts should give us a decent idea of where we are going, so that we can dive into verse-by-verse exposition on July 24.  (Let me remind you that I preached through the first 2 chapters of Matthew during the Christmas season of 2010.  If you missed those messages, you can find them here.  For that reason, we’ll be starting in ch3 on the 24th.) 
Who wrote Matthew?  Some of us are satisfied that it was Matthew since the book is called…Matthew!  However, it may surprise some to find out that none of the four canonical Gospels explicitly identify the author.  The superscriptions at the beginning of each book (“The Gospel According to Matthew,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” etc.) were not part of the original, inspired autographs.  They were added later, ascribing authorship to those men believed by the early church to have penned the Gospels.  But what assurance do we have that the superscription on the book of Matthew is correct?
First of all, there are no competing theories regarding the authorship of Matthew.  It has been historically accepted from the oldest available church writings that the author of the first Gospel was the Jewish tax collector and disciple of Christ, Matthew.  The earliest of these sources, Papias (A.D. 140) and Irenaeus (A.D. 175), had contact with the apostolic community and would have been familiar with its authorship.
Second, if the early church were going to falsely ascribe the book to someone for the purpose of establishing its credibility, it is unlikely that they would have chosen Matthew.  The non-Christian Jewish community to whom the book seems to have been written would have resisted a work written by a former tax collector.  Further, comparatively speaking, Matthew was one of the more obscure of the 12 disciples.  If Matthew wasn’t really the author, the church had little to gain from ascribing it to him.
Third, there are several features of the text that point to an author consistent with Matthew’s background.  The book was written in Greek, but is full of Hebraisms.  Essentially, that means that there are numerous Hebrew idioms and phrases transliterated into Greek.  This means that the author needed to have an excellent grasp of the Greek language, while also being well familiar with Jewish customs and scribal traditions.  Matthew fits that description as he was a Jewish tax collector for Rome, a vocation that would have demanded an advanced knowledge of Greek.
Matthew is also the only Gospel that records Jesus paying the temple tax.  As a tax collector, Matthew would be quite likely to include such a detail.  In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, the author writes, “Forgive us our debts…” as opposed to Luke’s “Forgive us our sins…” (Luke 11:4).  For all of these reasons, it is reasonable to conclude that Matthew was the author. 
There are numerous ways to view the structure of the book.  For example, some prefer to see the book as progressing through Christ’s ministry in specific geographic locations:
1:1-15:20        Work and Teaching in Galilee
15:21-18:35    Work outside Galilee
19:1-28:20       A Journey to and Passion in Jerusalem
This approach is fine, but I think there is another outline that is more helpful in understanding the flow of the book.  My preference is to recognize that Matthew is written as a series of alternating narratives (stories) and discourses (teaching): 

Ch 1-4 /Narrative/ Intro: main character introduced

Ch 5-7 /Discourse/ Jesus’ demands upon His people 

Ch 8-9 /Narrative/ Jesus’ deeds within and for Israel

Ch 10 /Discourse/ Ministry through others’ words and deeds

Ch 11-12 /Narrative/ Israel’s negative response

Ch 13 /Discourse/ Explanation of Israel’s negative response

Ch 14-17 /Narrative/ Founding of the Church

Ch 18 /Discourse/ Teaching for the Church

Ch 19-23 /Narrative/ Commencement of the Passion

Ch 24-25 /Discourse/ The future: judgment and salvation

Ch 26-28 /Narrative/ Conclusion: passion and resurrection

This outline seems to show more clearly how the book progresses, from a gospel that is focused on the people of Israel, to the Jews’ rejection of that gospel, to the creation of the Church through the proclamation of the gospel to all people, Jews and Gentiles.
Next time, we’ll begin looking at some of the main themes of the book.  If you can, I would encourage you to take some time to begin reading through this Gospel in anticipation of our study.  There is much glorious truth waiting for us there!

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