BiND: The New Testament! (Day 68-70)
Well friends, we’ve made it into the New Testament. For some of us, this may be more familiar territory, and for some of us we may think it’s more familiar territory and end up surprised. I encourage you to keep your eyes, ears, and heart open as you read, even if this looks like stuff you know. Sometimes we can be surprised by what we thought it said!
Since we’ve started on the gospels, first a few things about these first four books. A “Gospel” as a genre is a subset of the biography genre. In ancient times, biographies were written with the intent of encouraging people to follow the example of the person being written about. Thus the four gospels as we have them now are not biographies the way we think of biographies, and are not history or storybooks either, nor are they entirely hagiography (saint’s biographies designed to prove saintliness). They are a combination of all these things, written to encourage particular communities in a particular way of life exemplified by Jesus. The first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are called the “synoptic” gospels and they have much in common. Mark was written first, right around 70AD, and is the main source of material for Matthew and Luke. All three write both from and to their particular context. John is, well, different. We’ll get to him later (umm, in about a week!)
Matthew’s gospel was likely written sometime around 80-ish, about 50 years after Jesus’ death/resurrection. It’s unlikely that it was written by Matthew the tax-collector mentioned in chapter 9. The name wasn’t even attached to the gospel until 100 years after it was written! Scholars speculate that Matthew was the leader community of Jewish Christians, probably in the northern part of Israel, maybe even as far north as Antioch (which is now in Turkey, though many in Syria still claim it as theirs). It seems likely that Matthew’s community is one that had tried to share the good news of Jesus with their synagogue, but it had gone badly and they’d had to withdraw and form their own community. Thus Matthew is interested in showing that Jesus is a fulfillment of Jewish hopes, dreams, and prophecy, and also in showing that the Jewish/synagogue establishment is hostile to the message. Matthew, just like any other author, writes both from and to his own context.
So…a few things I noticed on this read-through of Matthew’s Gospel…
–You may have noticed that Matthew’s Christmas story isn’t quite the one we’re used to. Often on Christmas Eve we read a combination of Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the story. Matthew’s is a little sparser and focuses on Joseph—not unusual since he would be the one “in charge” in the patriarchal system.
–Matthew is pretty thoroughly Jewish and also pretty thoroughly interested in showing that Jesus has brought God’s empire to earth, to directly compete with the Roman empire AND with the religious establishment.
–I always love the the Sermon on the Mount. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there. It’s 3 chapters (chapters 5-7) of teaching, from the beatitudes to “you are the light of the world” to “love your enemies” to the Lord’s Prayer.
–Matthew often explains things Jesus said or did in a way that makes me wonder if Jesus really would have explained it that way? For example, when parables get explained, they sound so simplistic and literalistic, so unlike the parables themselves. Particularly given that Jesus crosses boundaries all over the place in this gospel, the way the parables (like the parable of the weeds and wheat) are explained seem, as Richard once put it, “flat footed.” What do you think?
–I love Matthew’s resurrection story: the women are first to see and to tell (to give testimony), but also the guards are so afraid that they “become like dead men”—but when they snap out of it, they run to the priests (the religious establishment) who devise a plan to buy the soldiers’ silence and tell a silly story about grave robbing. And then Matthew says (remember his context!): “And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” wow.
What did you notice as you read Matthew?
photos are: from the top of the Mt. of Beatitudes, looking through the garden of the convent located there and toward the Sea of Galilee at the bottom; and a 1st century tomb in Palestine (not the tomb of Jesus, though there are a couple sites that claim to be that they don’t have the stone still in front). Both photos taken by TCP.