Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Matthew, The Gospel according to. Gospel most likely written about a.d. 90 by an unknown Christian who was most probably at home in a church located in or near Antioch of Syria. The date of a.d. 90 commends itself because the destruction of Jerusalem appears to be an event that was rapidly receding into the past (22:7). Although the apostle Matthew may have been active in founding the church in which this Gospel originated (9:9; 10:3), the author exhibits a theological outlook, command of Greek, and rabbinic training that suggest that he was a Jewish Christian of the second generation (cf. 13:52). Antioch of Syria is most likely the place of writing (cf. 4:24) because the social conditions reflected in Matthew correspond with those that seem to have prevailed there: the church of Matthew was resident in a prosperous, urban, Greek-speaking area and subject to persecution from the side of a seemingly large population of both Jews and Gentiles (5:10-12; 10:17-18; 24:9-14).


The Gospel According to Matthew

I. Jesus presented (1:1-4:16)

II. Jesus’ ministry (4:17-16:20)

III. Jesus in Jerusalem (16:21-28:20)

Composition: For most scholars, the Two-Source Hypothesis still explains best the composition of Matthew. Apparently, the author drew upon two written sources: Mark, and a collection of sayings of Jesus called Q. In addition, he used traditions available only to him (M). From these, he fashioned a theologically sophisticated story of the life and ministry of Jesus. The formula at 4:17 and at 16:21 divides this story into three main parts: the figure of Jesus Messiah (1:1-4:16); the public ministry of Jesus Messiah and Israel’s repudiation of him (4:17-16:20); and the journey of Jesus Messiah to Jerusalem and his suffering, death, and resurrection (16:21-28:20).

The context of this story of Jesus is the history of salvation. It extends from Abraham (1:1, 17) to the consummation of the age (25:31-46) and comprises two epochs. The first epoch is the time of the ot, which is the time of prophecy (11:13). The second epoch is the time of fulfillment (cf. 1:22; 26:56), which is the time of the earthly-exalted Jesus (1:23; 28:20). The time of Jesus encompasses the ministries to Israel of John the Baptist (3:1-2), of Jesus (4:17), and of the earthly disciples (10:7), as well as the ministry to the nations of the post-Easter church (24:14; 28:18-20). Still, central to this time is the ministry of Jesus himself, for the ministry of John prepares for it and the ministries of the pre-Easter and post-Easter disciples are an extension of it (10:1-8; 28:18-20).

Major Themes: Matthew’s story of Jesus proclaims a central message. It comes to the fore in 1:23 and 28:20, passages that ‘enclose’ the story (cf. 18:20). The message is that in Jesus, Son of God, God has drawn near with his eschatological Rule to dwell to the end of time with his people, the church. This message summons the reader to perceive that God is uniquely present and at work in Jesus and that, in becoming Jesus’ disciple, one becomes a child of God, lives in the sphere of his end-time rule, and engages in mission to the end that all people may find God in Jesus and become Jesus’ disciples.

In the first part of his story (1:1-4:16), the author presents Jesus to the readers. Initially, he describes him as the Messiah, Son of David, and Son of Abraham (1:1). Jesus is the Messiah because he is the Anointed One, Israel’s long-awaited King (1:17; 2:2, 4; 11:2-3). He is the Son of David because Joseph adopts him into the line of David (1:16, 18-25) and he fulfills the eschatological expectations associated with David (9:27-31; 12:22-23; 15:21-28; 20:29-21:17). He is the Son of Abraham because in him the entire history of Israel attains to its culmination and the Gentiles, too, find blessing (1:17; 8:11).

Upon Jesus’ birth, the Magi arrive in Jerusalem and ask where they may find the King of the Jews (2:1-2). To Herod and, later, to Pilate as well, the title King of the Jews denotes that Jesus is a throne-pretender or insurrectionist. The result is that Herod plots to have Jesus found and killed (2:13) and Pilate, later, hands him over to be crucified (27:26, 37). In Matthew’s perspective, Jesus is in truth the King of the Jews, not, however, because he aspires to the throne of Israel or foments rebellion against Rome but because he saves his people by submitting to suffering and death (27:27-31, 37, 42).

John the Baptist is Elijah brought back to life, the forerunner of Jesus (3:1-12; 11:12). He readies Israel for Jesus’ coming by calling Israel to repentance in view of the nearness of God’s end-time Kingdom and the final judgment (3:2, 10-12).

The baptismal scene constitutes the climax of the first part of Matthew’s story (3:13-17). After John has baptized Jesus, God empowers Jesus with his Spirit and declares him to be his unique Son whom he has chosen for messianic ministry (3:16-17). This declaration by God reveals that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God in Matthew’s story. The significance of this title is that it points to the unique filial relationship that Jesus has to God; conceived and empowered by God’s Spirit (1:18, 20; 3:16-17), Jesus is ‘God with us’ (1:23), the one through whom God reveals himself to humankind (11:25-27) and who is God’s supreme agent of salvation (1:21; 26:28).

Guided by the Spirit, Jesus submits to testing by Satan (4:1-11). Three times Satan endeavors to get Jesus to break faith with God. Jesus, however, resists Satan’s temptations and shows himself to be the Son who knows and does his Father’s will. Returning to Galilee, Jesus is poised to begin his public activity (4:12-16).

In the second part of his story (4:17-16:20), the author tells of Jesus’ ministry to Israel (4:17-11:1) and of Israel’s repudiation of him (11:2-16:20). Through his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing (4:23; 9:35; 11:1), Jesus summons Israel to repentance (4:17; 11:20-21). Israel, however, repudiates Jesus (chaps. 11-12), yet wonders and speculates about his identity (11:3; 12:23; 13:55-56; 14:2; 16:14). Against the background of Israel’s false views about Jesus’ identity (16:14), the disciples correctly confess him to be the Son of God (14:33; 16:16).

In the third part of his story (16:21-28:20), the author depicts Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his suffering, death, and resurrection. The passion predictions sound the theme (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19), and the motif of the journey binds together disparate materials (16:21-21:11). In Jerusalem, Jesus makes the Temple the site of his activity, where he teaches, debates, and speaks in parables (21:12-23:39). Addressing the parable of the wicked husbandmen to the Jewish officials, Jesus raises the claim that he is the Son of God whom the officials will kill (21:37-39). In wanting to arrest Jesus for telling the parable (21:45-46), the Jewish officials show that they reject Jesus’ claim.

At his trial, it is the claim of Jesus’ parable to be the Son of God that the high priest puts to Jesus to secure his condemnation (26:63-66). When Jesus replies to the high priest’s question in the affirmative (26:64), he is sentenced to death for blaspheming God. The irony is that God has indeed affirmed Jesus to be his Son (3:17; 17:5).

Upon Jesus’ death, the Roman soldiers also affirm Jesus to be the Son of God (27:54). What the readers know that the soldiers do not is that the death of Jesus Son of God constitutes the climax of his earthly ministry and the act whereby he atones for the sins of humankind (1:21; 26:28). Atop the mountain in Galilee, Jesus appears to the disciples as the resurrected Son of God who remains the crucified Son of God (28:5, 16-20). Seeing Jesus as such, the disciples at last perceive not only who he is (16:16) but also what he has accomplished (26:28), and they consequently receive his commission to go and to make of all nations his disciples (28:18-20). Matthew’s story ends, therefore, with both the disciples and the readers sharing the same perception of Jesus and receiving his commission.

Entwined with the story line of Jesus in Matthew is that of the disciples. Called by Jesus, his followers live in the sphere of God’s end-time Rule and form a ‘family’ (12:48-50) of the ‘sons of God’ (5:9, 45) and of Jesus’ ‘disciples’ (10:24-25). This new family becomes the church (16:18; 18:17). The quality of life that characterizes the disciples is that of the greater righteousness (5:20). The disciples exhibit this quality when they are perfect (5:48), that is, when they are wholehearted in doing the will of God as explicated by Jesus (7:21). At the center of doing the will of God is the exercise of love (22:34-40). Loving as God loves, therefore, is of the essence of Christian existence (5:44-45).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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