The Gospel of Matthew

I am going through the "Introduction to New Testament History and Literature" video series, available on iTunes, by Dr. Dale Martin of Yale University.

I am somewhat disappointed by his treatment of Matthew. He approaches the text through the question, "What did this author want to do?" He concludes, "Matthew teaches a Torah observant form of discipleship to Jesus." He goes on to say that, "Matthew has a very different view of what Christians should do with the Jewish Law than does Paul..." Yes, Matthew portrayed Jesus as a second Moses. Yes, Matthew emphasized the Jewish Law. Yes, Matthew emphasized Torah observance. But so did Paul.

I think that his presentation is incomplete, for several reasons. First, as Martin said, Matthew deepened the application of the Law. It isn't enough to not commit physical adultery -- one must also abstain from lust. It isn't enough to not murder -- one must not even hate one's brother. It isn't enough to be as good as the scribes and Pharisees -- one must exceed their observance (and the "common" Jew generally thought the Pharisees the most observant of all), even to the extreme of being as perfect as God Himself. If this is the picture that Matthew presents (and I agree that it is), then one has to ask the question, "how does one do this? Is it even possible to do this?" Martin doesn't deal with this.

Second, Matthew, like Mark, Luke and Paul, present the offering of the cup at the Last Supper, as Jesus' blood of the [new] covenant. What does it mean to be a Jew living under the new covenant? What form does the Torah take when, as Jeremiah wrote, one's "sins and iniquities are remembered no more?" Again, this isn't addressed.

Maybe Matthew didn't have a fully formed view of how to deal with these issues. All of us stare up and the night sky and marvel at the beauty and wonder of the universe. Some men try to figure out how it works. Some, like Ptolemy, get it wrong. Others, like Newton, come close. But fewer still are like Einstein who see the world in a revolutionary new way. Certainly, Paul was the "Einstein" of the early Church; the systematic theologian who showed how the New Covenant works for Jew and Gentile. Perhaps Matthew was simply stating what Jesus taught: a presentation of the facts instead of a prescription for living. Perhaps Matthew didn't quite understand the underlying theory; heaven knows that most Christians don't, even after almost 2,000 years of having Paul's work.

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