Matthew's Perspective On Jesus

I love the story about the three wise men visiting the child Jesus. I know, I know. The Bible never says there were three of them. In fact, the Greek text of the New Testament doesn't call them wise men. They're simply identified as magi in Matthew 2:1, a word which is translated as magician or sorcerer in Acts 13:6 and 13:8. Kind of funny if you think about it. If they're the good guys in the story, English translations call them wise men. If they're the bad guys, then they're definitely sorcerers.


Maybe these were the Magi. Please, God. That would be awesome.

Still, I love the story. Visitors from a distant land follow a star to a child who they deem worthy of their worship. The regional ruler attempts to gather information from the visitors so he can squash this potential threat in the form of a child. The visitors choose to deliver their gifts to the child (three gifts, which is why we came to think of three visitors) and circumvent the ruler on their way back home.

Did you know if it wasn't for the gospel of Matthew, we wouldn't have this story? It's not in Mark, Luke, or John. In fact, Mark and John don't even mention the birth of Jesus. If it wasn't for Matthew and Luke, there would be no Christmas story. Matthew thought the story of the magi was worth sharing.

That's not the only thing that makes Matthew's "perspective" unique. Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. You can see this in the way Matthew often points to events from the life of Jesus and understands them as the fulfillment of prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures. It happens four times in the first two chapters of Matthew alone (Matthew 1:23; 2:6; 2:15; 2:18)! Clearly, Matthew is trying to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one. Only a Jewish audience would care about what the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures had to say.

Matthew's audience is also evident in the genealogy of Jesus included at the start of the book. He traces the lineage back to Abraham, the first patriarch, the father of the Jews. Nicely done, Matt. I like your style.

Sometimes, Matthew might take it a touch too far. There is a story in all four of the gospels about Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a donkey a week before his crucifixion (see Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12). Matthew, of course, points to the Hebrew scriptures and sees this event as a fulfillment of prophecy from Zechariah 9:9, which reads (literally):

Behold, your king comes to you,
Righteous and delivering salvation,
Humble and riding on a donkey,
Upon a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Hebrew poetry liked to practice parallelism. That is, they liked to state the same thing twice, slightly different the second time, but in a parallel manner. A great example is Psalm 24:1, which says the same thing in two different ways (and Psalm 24:2, for that matter). This happens a lot in the Hebrew scriptures, and that's what is happening in the last two lines of Zechariah 9:9. Mark understood this. So did Luke and John. Matthew seems to take it literally, however. Check out Matthew 21:7. The disciples brought the donkey and the colt, they put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. Huh? Both of them?

I know this guy isn't sitting, but I still like to think it was something like this.

Matthew, like a lot of folks, took the word of God rather literally. More literally than Mark, Luke, and John, it would appear. Doesn't really bother me much. Makes me laugh a little, but it's his perspective. I get it.

Comments

  1. This is the kind of stuff that qualifies as "contradictions" to many people. I know you hate apologetics so I'm warning you.
    That's what friends are for.

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    1. Sure, but not just to the people who take issue with the Bible. The truth is, that's why the Church has tried to downplay this sort of thing for a long time. It's easier to live in the black and white. Shades of gray raise too many questions that are too hard to answer and don't always fit neatly in a 3-point sermon. I think it's the stuff between the black and the white that makes the Bible interesting.

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  2. Okay, thanks to John Branyan for bringing you to my attention, I am definitely a new fan. Now, I just have to remember how to save this to my favorites...Maybe when my wife gets up...waiting...waiting.

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    1. Thanks for checking it out. You can always subscribe and get it delivered straight to your inbox. Thanks again.

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  3. Matthew's audience is also evident in the genealogy of Jesus included at the start of the book. He traces the lineage back to Abraham, the first patriarch, the father of the Jews. Nicely done, Matt. I like your style.


    Which casts the writer of Matthew in a rather poor light when one considers that the Pentateuch is considered Historical Fiction these days. But then, the writer probably bought into the myth like a great many people in those days.
    But Matthew is interesting in that it shows how much the writer plundered the Old T for his material.
    When one considers when this was supposed to have been written one can't help but smile a little at how on earth they managed to record verbatim the (supposed) words of the character Jesus of Nazareth.

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    1. Thanks for continuing to read, Arkenaten. As I read your comment, I think you have three distinct thoughts here, so I'll try to reply to all three.

      1) I'm not convinced it puts the gospel "in a rather poor light." Is it fair to assess the author in such a manner based on academic thought 2000 years later? He was a product of his time, just as I am and just as you are. I suspect neither of our writings will withstand the scrutiny of critics from 4018 AD. My guess is we needn't go that far into the future.

      2) As far as the writer plundering the Hebrew Bible for his material, it's widely accepted that Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience, attempting to convince them who Jesus was. He chose to do this (sometimes convincingly, sometimes less so) by using their sacred writ. This too is widely accepted. That's making a case, not plundering.

      3) I understand what you're saying about quoting Jesus verbatim, but I don't think that's a fair representation of how the gospels are understood not only by academia but even by most of the Church. Certainly there are those who perhaps still adhere to a "verbatim" understanding, but generally I think those are bygone days. Nearly every Jesus story that occurs in multiple gospels has variant phrasing, so a "verbatim" understanding is difficult to maintain.

      I hope you understand that my thoughts on the Bible are not intended to be devotional or apologetic in nature. I think that's very clear in my writing. My intention is simply to demonstrate that there is more going on in these texts than we often acknowledge or have been taught. Again, thanks for reading.

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  4. Thanks for continuing the dialogue. Always interesting to explore these topics.
    I agree, the author's thought process was undoubtedly influenced byt the times he lived in, which is why I stated he likely bought into the myth of the Pentateuch and the Abraham tale, and much more besides, no doubt.

    I would venture that much of what you and I write will not stand the ''Test of Time'', and yet, I would hope future readers - if we were so lucky they would be remotely interested in our paltry scribblings - would at least recognise that there is an attempt to try and separate the mythological from historical fact based on evidence , something the biblical writers were not that interested in as we know.
    The virgin birth narrative, for example, would definitely constitute ''plundering''. The tale did not even feature in the oldest gospel and thus, to flesh out the origins of the biblical character, the story was lifted from Isaiah in a rather weak effort to suggest prophecy, as I'm pretty sure you know. When this was pointed out, many apologists and more literal leaning Christians suggested this was a dual prophecy!
    One has to wonder why would there be a need to convince readers who the character Jesus of Nazareth was. Didn't Paul already convert thousands! Didn't Jesus himself feed 5000 then later 4000? Wasn't Jesus performing miracles far and wide, even developing a brand new method of viticulture if memory serves? Was he not hailed by multitudes wherever he went, including his ''triumphant '' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey ... or was it two donkeys? Did not the writer/s of John suggest we would need libraries to contain all the writings of his supposed good deeds?
    And yet, Jesus who? Quite ...

    There is a school of scholarly thought based on serious study that has estimated less than 5% of what the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth is claimed to have said could remotely be attributed to his tongue. In effect, what this means, to quote a line from Life of Brian: ''He's making it up as he goes along!''

    And with each new modern ''updated'' translation of the bible the edges are smoothed and the language changed in oh-so-subtle ways, how will we know if anything can be attributed to this person?
    I agree wholeheartedly there IS more going on in the texts, but mostly in the sense that we are very likely dealing with an entire corpus of historical fiction.

    Again, thanks for interacting. Always fun to explore these topics.
    Regards.




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