The Plan of Matthew

Ray Summers  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 5 - Fall 1962

Any development of the Plan of Matthew must start with one’s concept of the origin, outlook, and purpose of the book. Even a casual survey of this Gospel reveals an interesting variety of approaches. Filson[1]Floyd V. Filson,  A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (London: A. & C. Black, 1960), pp. 22-24. considers three as basic but within this three-fold framework many themes may be found. Dibelius[2]M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935). found the basic idea to be the missionary purpose of the Church through preaching; this he developed in the lines of Formgeschichte. Kilpatrick[3]G. D. Kilpatrick, The Origin of the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1946). found the organizing theme to be the need of a Church calendar and public readings of the Scriptures after the order of the older synagogue pattern. More recently Stendahl[4]Krister Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1945). has understood this Gospel as a handbook for Christian teachers. This long recognized didactic purpose of the author will be considered more fully in another part of this paper. All readers of Manson[5]T. W. Manson, “The Life of Jesus: some tendencies in present-day research,” The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology, ed. by W. D. Davies and D. Daube (Cambridge: The University Press, 1956). are acquainted with his view of Matthew as a theological interpretation of the history of Jesus. Moule[6]C.F.D. Moule, “The Intention of the Evangelists,” New Testament Essays, ed. by A.J,B. Higgins (London: Manchester University Press, 1959). also recognizes this interest in the history of Jesus along with the idea that Matthew was an instrument of evangelism in the early Church. Milton[7]Helen Milton, “The Structure of the Prologue to St. Matthew’s Gospel,” The Journal of Biblical Literature, June, 1962. finds in Matthew a major emphasis on the fulfilment of God’s covenant to Abraham and to David. Jesus is “son of Abraham” and “son of David,” yet he is “son of God.” Israel’s hopes are fulfilled in the Jewish Christian stream and not in Pharisaic Judaism.

In all these approaches one sees the three basic ideas mentioned above, i.e., Filson’s analysis. There is a chronological development after the pattern of the Gospel of Mark.[8]Compare E. F. Scott, The Literature of the New Testament (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 69-70; A. H. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1953), pp. 17-21; and The Gospel According to St. Matthew (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1949), pp. xii-xiii. There is a theological interest which controls the work in general (the author’s use of Mark) and the additions from “Q” and “M.”[9]”M” is here used as a general designation for all the “non-Markan” and “non-Q” material in Matthew whether documentary or oral account. Others interested in the theological approach of Matthew are Tasker[10]R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1961). and Howard[11]Fred D. Howard, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961). The didactic design[12]For specific development of this approach see William Manson, Jesus the Messiah (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1946), pp. 51-55; Floyd V. Filson, Opening the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster   Press, 1952), pp. 45f.; E. P. Blair, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (New York: Abingdon Press, 1960), pp. 36-41; Stendahl; and Kilpatrick. in Matthew is clear and must be considered in either of the other two themes (chronological or theological). Indeed this very strong didactic motivation contributed a large impetus in the Formgeschichte analysis. This didactic design has come to be the controlling approach to the Gospel of Matthew in the last generation and in the present. Some of these more specific developments must be considered.

Matthew: The New Pentateuch

For a quarter of a century the study of the plan or structure of Matthew has been carried on in the shadow of the monumental work of B. W. Bacon.[13]Studies in Matthew (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1930). The emphasis on the Law in Matthew influenced Bacon to a study which resulted in his finding “Five Books” in this Gospel,[14]Ibid., pp, 145-263. hence, the idea of a “New Pentateuch.” These five books are:

Book I—Matthew 3-4 (narrative); Matthew 5-7 (discourse)

Book II—Matthew 8-9 (narrative); Matthew 10 (discourse)

Book III—Matthew 11-12 (narrative); Matthew 13 (discourse)

Book IV—Matthew 14-17 (narrative); Matthew 18 (discourse)

Book V—Matthew 19-22 (narrative); Matthew 23-25 (discourse)

It is clearly observed in this analysis that each “book” consists of narrative followed by discourse. A study of the text of Matthew reveals that each discourse ends with the same stylized formula “and when Jesus had finished these sayings” (Matt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Bacon finds this to be a copy of the formula “and when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel” (Deut. 32:45). He interprets this as a deliberate means of pointing out the parallel between Moses and Jesus, between the Old Law (Torah) and the New Law.

Bacon feels that this understanding of Matthew as a second Pentateuch is very old. He finds support for the idea in an early Christian fragment published by Rendel Harris in 1917. The fragment in poetic form was designed as a prologue to Matthew and it described Matthew as a Gospel in “five discourses.” Green[15]F. W. Green, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1936), pp. 16-17. agrees with Bacon’s analysis and finds support for it in Papias’ comment on the “orderly arrangement” of Matthew.

If this is the correct understanding of the structure of Matthew the author’s purpose is clear. His purpose is to surround the New Law and the New Covenant of God in Christ with the same aureola of majesty which accompanied the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. The giving of the New Torah in the sermon “on the Mount” is given against the backdrop of the giving of the Old Torah on the mountain.[16]Ibid., p. 5. While not developing the idea of the “New Torah” to the extent of Bacon and Green, others have found adequate basis for a “five discourse” division of Matthew.[17]F. C. Grant, The Gospels: Their Origin and Growth (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1957); Sherman E. Johnson, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (“The Interpreter’s Bible,” Vol. VII; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956); and Blair, p. 133. William Hull[18]”A Teaching Outline of the Gospel of Matthew,” The Review and Expositor, October, 1962. presents an excellent introduction and “five book outline” of the Gospel of Matthew built not around the Pentateuch theme but around the purpose and mission of the Church. This theme is impressive since the Gospel of Matthew was written in the golden days of the early Church and appears to have been written to Jewish Christians by a Jew who was sympathetic toward the Gentiles and saw in the Christians a new people of God.

In spite of Bacon’s great scholarship, his analysis of Matthew has been challenged. Bornkamm[19]Gunther Bornkamm, “Enderwartung und Kirche im Matthaus-evangelium,” “The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology, p. 244. See also Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), pp. 53-63. finds the total theme unconvincing although he accepts the idea that in the Christology of Matthew Jesus is the second Moses and the idea that the two “mountain lawgiving passages” parallel. Filson[20]Opening the New Testament, p. 46. considers the New Law approach to the Gospel of Matthew and boldly asserts, “This idea is false.” One of his major objections is that this analysis leaves too much of the material outside of the five divisions. Even Bacon sees this as a problem and must posit a Pre­amble (Matt. 1-2)[21]Bacon, pp., 145-64. and an Epilogue (Matt. 26-28).[22]Ibid., pp. 250-63. This, however, does not care for great sections of Jesus’ teachings which cannot in any sense be looked upon as thematic for the “New Pentateuch” motif. Goodspeed[23]E. J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Philadelphia: Winston Publishing Co., 1959). and Farrer[24]Austin Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark (London: Dacre Press: A. and C. Black, Ltd., 1954). recognize this and set up a “Hexateuch” to meet the problem!


Matthew: The New Exodus

Related to the “New Pentateuch” structure of Bacon and yet distinct from it in major emphasis is an area in the “motif” analysis which in recent years has been popularized in New Testament interpretation and theology. This is the idea that in Jesus God made a new start; he created a new people. As the Old Israel was a creation of God through the Exodus, so the New Israel (the Christian community) comes to be a creation of God by means of a New Exodus-the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is, of course, not restricted to the Gospel of Matthew. It is a “motif” approach which is understood to control the presentation in all Four Gospels and, in fact, the entire New Testament.

This “motif” appears in many current works on the New Testament. The most thorough analysis and interpretation of the movement is that of Balentine.[25]George L. Balentine, “The Concept of the New Exodus in the Gospels,” unpublished Th.D. dissertation, James P. Boyce Library, Louisville, Kentucky, 1961. This is a masterful piece of research and interpretation. Balentine traces the appearance of the idea of a “New Exodus” in the Old Testament[26]pp., 2-70. where men of spiritual insight express their longings for a new experience in which the presence of God will be as meaningful as it was in the Exodus and in the wilderness. He sees this in the literature of Judaism[27]pp., 71-113. outside of the Old Testament—in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, in Qumran, in Josephus, etc. He finds evidences of the idea in the life and thought patterns of the early Church.[28]pp., 114-85. This is all background for the development of the idea in the Gospels.[29]While a long list of books on this theme could be presented, the following will be found to be most basic: G.W.H. Lampe and K. J. Woollcombe, Essays on Typology (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1957); Howard M. Teeple, The Mosaic Escha­tological Prophet (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1957); Blair, the idea of Jesus as the second Moses; Otto Piper, “Unchanging Promises: Exodus in the New Testament,” Interpretation, Vol. XI, January, 1957; Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark and A Study in Mark (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1951); John Marsh, The Fullness of Time (London: Nisbet and Co., 1952); Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958).

The approach is that of typology. At times the typology is clearly drawn from terms used. At other times the typology is not at all clear and at other times it appears to be forced. A noticeable work against the idea of typology in Matthew is that of Nepper­-Christensen.[30]Poul Nepper-Christensen, Das Mattausevangelium ein Judenchristliches Evangelium? (Denmark: Aarhuus Stiftisbogtrykkerie, 1957). An element of typology has long been clear in the Gospel of John.[31]Harold Sahlin, Zur Typologie des Johannesevangeliums  (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1950). There, in discourse with his Jewish antagonists Jesus is presented as the true representative of God (Moses) who gives bread in the wilderness (Manna) to feed the people. The bread which Jesus gives is his own body.[32]Ray Summers, “The Johannine View of Future Life,” Review and Expositor, July 1961. That typology is not so clear in the Synoptics.

The typological interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew is based on that of Mark. Mark’s typology is understood as implicit and that of Matthew quite explicit as he develops the “New Exodus framework” of Mark and clearly spells out the different phases of this New Exodus. While space forbids a lengthy de­lineation of the approach,[33]Balentine’s thesis runs to 435 pages! the most basic elements indicate the thrust of the interpretation:

The “genesis” in the background of this “New Exodus” is observed in the opening words of Mark’s Gospel indicating that this is the “beginning” (genesis) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is regarded as natural since the Exodus story does in fact begin in Genesis-Joseph in Egypt, etc.

To this “genesis” of Mark, Matthew adds the infancy narrative with its several parallels to the experience of Moses. An attempt on the life of the infant Moses was made and was frustrated; so was it in the case of the infant Jesus. Moses was called “out of Egypt”; so the flight into Egypt results in Jesus being called “out of Egypt.” Here Jesus is seen not only as the “New Moses” but as the “New Israel” as well. He is also the “New Joshua” who will finally bring the new people of God into God’s Promised Land, delivering them from spiritual bondage. Joseph, a man of dreams, had much to do with the initial setting of the Old Exodus. Joseph (Mary’s husband), a man of dreams, occupies a similar role in the initial events of the New Exodus.

After the silent years of his childhood, Moses appeared to accomplish the purpose of God; this is also true in the case of Jesus, though that involved a “Red Sea” passage—his baptism. This passing through the waters of baptism is understood as a typological “Red Sea” crossing.

For forty years Moses and Israel were tested in the wilderness. For forty days Jesus was tested in the wilderness. They were hungry; he was hungry; God fed both.

Moses from Mt. Sinai delivered the Old Torah (Law) to the people. Jesus from the Mount of Beatitudes delivered the New Torah to the people.

Ten great signs (plagues) authenticated Moses as God’s deliverer. In Matthew ten great signs (miracles) authenticate Jesus as God’s deliverer. To the objection that in the Old Exodus the miracles preceded the Red Sea passage and Sinai so the order is lost in the New Exodus idea, the interpreter answers that the arrangement is antithetical for emphasis on the redemptive deliverance of the New Exodus.[34]Sahlin, p. 82. The miracle of the stilling of the storm (Matt. 8:23-27) is a pointed recall of the Mosaic Red Sea passage.

Ultimately the Old Israel made its journey to the Promised Land. So Jesus at last goes up to Jerusalem[35]Recall that in Mark and Matthew this is the first recognition of Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem. and this is interpreted in a “Promised Land” setting even with the difficulty of the Cross which awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. The ultimate was the triumph of the resurrection.

This current and popular understanding of the Plan or structure of Matthew has many impressive arguments and many vulnerable points.[36]Let this writer confess a basic distrust of typological and allegorical interpre­tation except where the Scriptures indicate typology or allegory! There is an ever­ present danger of the arbitrary. Whereas John is often clear in an indication of typology (bread, water, light, door, sheep, vine, etc.), the Synoptic Gospels are not. If there is an Exodus motif, it is covered from the casual reader and available only by digging. Again, the pattern of typology is not consistent. In one place Jesus is seen as the New Moses; in another the New Joshua; in another the New Israel. In matter of fact it must be observed that in the Gospels where he is understood as another (Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, etc.), no one ever says of him “He is Moses.”


Matthew: The Gospel of the King and His Kingdom

As a third approach to the Plan of Matthew, observe the emphasis on the idea of King and kingdom. This stands out in bold type on the page of Matthew’s Gospel. When Jesus was born the Magi from the east came asking for the one “born to be king.” Jesus taught much about the kingdom of Heaven (God) in his parables. He interpreted the miracles as indication that kingdom powers were present and at work in his presence among men. It was as a “king” that he was finally mocked in the course of his trials. The superscription on his cross ironically proclaimed him king of the very people who rejected him. The following Plan is subjective and without documentation. It is the basic approach to a manuscript now in process of preparation for publication.


The King and His Kingdom
The Origin and Early Life of the King, 1:1-2:33

The divine plan is seen in the genealogy (1:1-17). This is the way Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Spirit of God, came to be “legally” the son of Joseph and through this male lineage a rightful heir to the “throne of David.”

The divine process is seen in the virgin birth (1:18-25). Matthew makes it very clear that the source of Mary’s conception is the power of God and not human paternity.

The divine publication is seen in the announcement to the Magi (2:1-12) that one “born to be king” has appeared. It is typical of Matthew’s grasp of the total significance of the redemptive work of Jesus that in a Gospel directed to the Jewish Christians he includes the announcement made to the Gentile world.

The divine protection is seen in the flight to Egypt (2:13-23) and the return to a secluded home in Nazareth. If this event had been included in John’s Gospel he would doubtless have indicated that Herod could not destroy Jesus because “his hour was not yet come.”


The Beginning of the King’s Ministry, 3:1-4:25

His forerunner (3:1-2), John the Baptizer, prepared the way for him as ancient people built a road to accommodate their king when he came to their territory.

His baptism (3:13-17) was one which impressed upon him his role as the “Suffering Servant son of God”-strange role for a king and yet through this he would qualify for his kingdom.

His wilderness temptation (4:1-11) left him with one fixed goal-he would set himself to the long hard road of the Suffering Servant Redeemer of God.

He established a working base at Capernaum, called his first disciples, and began his public ministry in Galilee.


Discipleship in the Kingdom—a Sermon (5:1-7:27)

The blessings of discipleship in his kingdom are set out in the Beatitudes (5:1-12). They are both for this age and the age to come.

The responsibilities of discipleship which grow out of the blessings of discipleship are illustrated by service as salt and as light (5:13-16).

The lives of kingdom subjects are stressed in the main part of the sermon (5:17-7:12). The standard of righteousness is to go beyond the legal ethic of Judaism (5:17-48). Genuine (versus hypocritical) righteousness is to be practiced in giving, in praying, in fasting (6:1-18). The guiding principle of life is to be trusted in the care of a loving God (6:19-34). Disparaging criticism is to be ruled out and prayer and the “golden rule” are to mark kingdom subjects (7:1-12).

The conclusion of the sermon drives home the necessity of personal righteousness by a series of illustrations: two gates and two roads (vss. 13-14); two kinds of prophets (vs. 15); two kinds of fruit trees (vss. 16-23); two kinds of builders (vss. 24-27).


The Enlarging Work of the King, 8:1-12:50

As he devotes himself to the work of God, Jesus performs miracles of deliverance (8:1-9:8, 18-38). He calls sinners to repentance (9:9-13). He chooses twelve from among his followers that he may prepare them for a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom (10:1-11:19). He pronounces woes upon those who reject him and his message (11:20-12:50).


Parables Concerning the Kingdom, 13:1-52

In a series of eight parables Jesus teaches concerning the kingdom, the basic idea is that of “activity” and “decision.” The seed of the Word is planted but the result depends on the condition of the soil (vss. 3-23). Satan also sows “seed” in the world, but the harvest of God’s judgment will defeat Satan’s work (vss. 24-30; 36-43). The kingdom begins as an insignificant thing in the world but it is destined to have its presence known everywhere (vss. 31-35). The kingdom is of such value that one must be willing to give up everything else in order to possess it (vss. 45-46.) The final word in matters of judgment will be that of God as his kingdom purpose is worked out (vss. 47-50). Rich in spiritual treasure is that man who finds in his treasure things both old (from Judaism) and new (from Jesus) (vss. 51-52).


Opposition to the King, 13:53-16:12

It is not to be expected that the work of God will go on unopposed. Jesus is rejected at Nazareth (13:53-58). He knows the ultimate end of his own life in the report of the death of John the Baptizer (14:1-14). Continuing his work in spite of opposition he provides for the needs of his followers (14:15-21) and teaches the Twelve the importance of faith in God as one does the work of God (14:22-36). There is much friction with the Pharisees and he warns his disciples concerning the Pharisees (15:1-16:12).


Instruction Concerning the King’s Death, 16:13-20:34

Near Caesarea Philippi Peter “confesses” Jesus to be the Messiah (16:13-20) and Jesus “confesses” himself to be a Messiah who is to die in Jerusalem (16:21-28). In his transfiguration he is revealed to his disciples as God’s final word of authority super­ ceding the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah); “Jesus only” remained and the Bath Kol said, “Hear ye him” (17:1-13).

He continues his teaching: concerning the power of prayer (17:14-23); duty to God (17:24-27); the kingdom (18:1-35); social problems (19:3-15); the way to eternal life (19:16-30); obedience to God (20:1-16); and his death (20:17-19). He begins the fateful journey to Jerusalem (20:20-34).


The Last Days of the King, 21:1-28:15

Sunday-a day of triumph, 21:1-11

Monday-a day of power, 21:12-17

Tuesday-a day of teaching, 21:18-26:16

Wednesday-a day of rest? (no record in New Testament)

Thursday-a day of treachery, 26:17-56

Friday-a day of trial and death as the king, 26:57-27:66

Saturday-Lo, in the Grave He Lay

Sunday-a day of triumph, 28:1-15

Conclusion: The King’s Commission to His Subjects, 28:16-20


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