Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew
This book is foundational in the study of chiasmus.
Paul Gaechter, Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew
Translated from German into English by Lore Schultheiss from Die literarische Kunst im Matthäus-Evangelium (Stuttgarter Bibelstudien 7; Stuttgart, 1965), and published, with permission from Katholisches Bibelwerk, by John W. Welch, ed. (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2013).
According to the oldest tradition, the Gospel of Matthew was recorded by Matthew; he was one of the Twelve whom Jesus had assembled around him and trained in such a manner that, later, they would be powerful witnesses of him to the world. Unfortunately, the earliest version of the Gospel of Matthew that we have is in the Greek form; but even in the Greek version we find so many features of Hebrew sentiments and thinking that one cannot doubt the Semitic origins of this Greek work—whatever other additional changes may have been made to the original Semitic text. Some of these changes will be discussed later, but among the authentic Semitic features contained in the Gospel of Matthew are those compiled and discussed in this booklet.
In 1919, Hermann Cladder S.J. (Unsere Evangelien, Herder/Freiburg) proved that the Gospel of Matthew shows an artificial and, at the same time, artistic structure. He also pointed out the undeniable numeric order in which the so-called miracle chapters, Matt. 8 and 9, are written. This and several later studies trained my eyes to discern artificial text orders, until—during my work on my commentary (Das Matthäus-Evangelium:Ein Kommentar. Innsbruck: Tyrolia,1964; here shortened to Mt-K)—it turned out that similar orders exist in almost all parts of the Gospel of Matthew.
The word artificial here describes orders which do not rest in the nature of the individual pericopes (or selections or extracts of a book) but rather in the historic sequencing or in the relatedness of the pericopes’ contents; the latter is at times used as a structuring principle. In general, the structuring principle in the Gospel of Matthew seems to be applied to the material. One has to consider that the presence of an artificial order in one passage of the text does not mean that the following passage or even all parts of the Gospel have to be ordered in the same or analogous manner as well. But an exegete cannot be kept from watching out for further occurrences of an artificial order once an artificial order has been recognized. However, each artificial order has to evidence itself; everything that is presented in this booklet as an artificial form should be regarded as an object for further investigation.
Further, one has to consider that not all artificial orders can be determined with the same amount of certainty. The structure found in the miracle chapters may be above all reasonable doubt; but it would be unreasonable to expect or demand equal clarity for everything. For example, there are elements of an artificial order in account of the crucifixion (Matt. 27:31b-61), but these elements not recognizable with the same clarity as they are in the miracle chapters; questions always arise: Is the part divided off from the following and preceding parts in the right manner? Are all the elements recognized and are they recognized correctly? Artificial structures, without question, contain an element of beauty, which also speaks to our sentiments, regardless of the fact that we do not always recognize such “closed forms,” except in poetry. But we sense them, and they allow us to speak of “literary art.” For everything beautiful that is created by the hand of man is art. Hence the title of this work: The Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew. Let us remember, though, that the author of this Gospel, this Matthew, did not train his literary taste on Western literature that spanned many centuries, but on Old Testament and Old Jewish literature, Infact, he probably shared his literary preferences with other authors of his people and his time.
Matthew wrote as a Jew and for the Jews. His sphere of life was not the culture of writing as is ours. Some of his contemporaries were able to read and write, but not the majority. They, rather, lived in a culture of memory where, as paradox as it may seem to us, one trusted memory more than the written word. Memory, thus, did not mean uncertainty and untrustworthiness for them, as it might for us. And Matthew derived his material from this memory-based tradition.
Out of this culture of memory came Matthew’s literary art forms which can be seen all throughout his Gospel. Their matrix is the oral, and thus, memory-based tradition of spoken material. What is contained in the books of the prophets and the older books of wisdom of the Old Testament was originally spoken and remembered words. This kind of tradition was not lost, but was handed down through Jewry until long after this time. Jesus himself neither wrote nor gave the order to write; he spoke, and he took it for granted that his words would be passed down faithfully according to memory. This confidence in his audience can only be understood in a culture of memory.
When the attention of the listeners was focused on the speaker with adequate intensity—either instinctively and involuntarily or consciously and deliberately—they would remember his words for their whole lives. With lesser concentration, the listeners would retain the content, which, depending on the need, they would render in their own words as a whole or in part.
Like the teachers before him, Jesus also often taught using memorable forms, taken from poetry, even if the content of his lecture might not have had anything to do with poetry. This was the traditional, higher form of teaching. Its basic element was a line containing two or three naturally stressed words, not counting the others. Such a line is also called stichus. Such stichi were often spoken in pairs, with or without parallelism in content, for the Hebrew language lends itself well to such rhythmic forms of expression. Two or three stichus-pairs, most of the time, formed a whole, which is called a strophe, even with non-poetry content. Such strophes were combined into strophe groups that formed a whole that is called a recitative. The goal of these rhythmic and strophic forms was to make it easier to remember and recollect the presentation. Finally, these strophe groups could be formed into larger, more artistically structured complexes. Examples for all these groupings be found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. Jesus also used this teaching technique. Compare the eight beatitudes in Matt. 5:3-10 (see below, pages 13-14; they are also found in modified form in Luke 6:20-26) or Jesus’s self-description as judge of the world in Matt. 25:31-46 (see below, pages 50-51). Following his example, the Twelve then also combined Jesus’s words into recitatives, as for example Matt. 12:31-37 (see below, pages 15-17). We find such combinations in the Gospel of Matthew. So much concerning the Semitic art form in spoken material.
Little is known about the art forms that were applied to narratives. Research on them has only started in the historic books of the Old Testament, but one can already recognize patterns that Matthew followed with his use of art forms that extended into narratives.
Compared with the style of representation in the Gospel of Mark, Matthew narrates succinctly and to the point and in general limits himself to the essential. His Gospel comes across as dry. Additionally, he does not reveal what emotions his literary material evoked in him; and he holds back with his judgments regarding Jesus, his teachings and experiences. Matthew reports purely matter-of-factly, and the facts are supposed to affect the reader by their own merit. But this lack of personal disclosure—if it is a lack—is counterbalanced by the art that Matthew reveals in the way he groups the material; for in the ordering he often expresses his own judgments.
Without excluding the big speeches in the Gospel of Matthew, we now turn our discussion mainly to the narrative material here. Except for a few passages, the narrative material is arranged into bigger, artificial groups. Therefore we speak of closed forms. Closed forms are arrangements of individual pericopes, at times even of individual verses, which, in each case, were formed according to a number principle, and, often, according to additional formal aspects. With regards to the form, these arrangements comprise a whole. We call an arrangement “closed” because one can neither take away from it nor add a piece to it without destroying the overall form. There is not one, same, stereotypical closed form; rather, closed forms can change from time to time. Therefore it is the exegete’s task to carefully probe Matthew’s text in order to find out whether a closed form is present and what kind of form is. Hermann Cladder pointed out a few of these forms in his work, and others emerged to me during my own review of the Gospel. Surprise set in when I found that practically the whole Gospel of Matthew is arranged in closed forms. This discovery led to more questions as to what these forms meant: What does the evangelist express through them? Are they only there to satisfy his artistic literary sentiment? Or do they also have a content function and serve to express certain thoughts? Of lesser importance is the fact that our taste does not completely coincide with Matthew’s, and that that which to him and his Jewish readers meant art, perhaps to us only seems artificial. At least we are also able to sense elements of beauty in the closed forms.
Besides being arranged according to the number principle (which will be illuminated in the first section) the closed forms are, in many places governed by symmetry as well. There are examples of the simplest kind, a middle piece flanked by two others in an a-b-a pattern (e.g., Matt. 7:1-11; Mt-K 140), but there are also symmetrical forms that consist of numerous elements making them very complex. The number of these components is not the same everywhere, but they do always stick to certain limits. When many elements are discussed, like the nine miracles and four questions in the miracle chapters (see below, pages 12-13), they are organized into smaller sub-groups within the symmetrical overall structure.
Symmetry rises to chiasm when the symmetrically arranged elements also correspond in content. Chiasm thus goes beyond pure numeric correspondence. All symmetric patterns by Matthew contain numerically equal elements that are arranged around a pericope at the center (a-b-c-d-c-b-a). There seem to be no examples without a central pericope, that is, a symmetrical order with only an assumed center; except from Matt. 26:1 to 28:20.
If we add up the individual parts in which closed forms can be determined, they amount to almost the whole Gospel. Mainly, they consist of the narratives (i.e., everything that is not instructional teaching), including the Passion account (Matt. 26:1 to 28:16); only Matt. 28:16-20, as the finale of the whole Gospel, stands outside any of these forms. If these closed forms have been identified even half-way correctly, this leads to important conclusions. First, the originator of the closed forms was not Greek, but Hebrew, since the arrangement of literary (non-poetic) material into such forms can only be understood with in the Semitic background. Our version of the Gospel of Matthew is thus based on a Semitic original form, which apparently has been translated faithfully; otherwise we would not see the closed forms in the Greek Gospel. This original form has to have been in Hebrew, not in the popular Aramaic. For the person who wrote in such art forms had readers in mind who recognized and felt them; and that audience could only have been the educated rabbis whose literary language was Hebrew.
Second, the author of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew comes across as someone in whose blood runs a drive for clean order. Someone who arranged the parts of this work, one after the other, in closed forms, cannot, at the same time, be known as the originator of unstructured forms. This is of great importance. For in the Gospel of Matthew, there are pieces which are anything but cleanly formulated: interrupted rhythms, rhythmic passages mixed with prose additions often of a keyword-like character, text abridgements corresponding to Greek sentiment, fragmented traditions, etc. All of this is disorder and contrasts starkly against the well-ordered closed forms. Such disruptions occur at times in groups of Jesus’s utterances that are woven into the narrative passages (which also applies to ch. 23), but also into the Sermon on the Mount (ch.5 to 7), the instruction of the disciples (ch. 18), and especially in the apocalyptic utterances (ch. 24 to 25). Whereas a closed form is more or less recognizable throughout the Greek text of the Sermon on the Mount and the instruction of the disciples, in spite of several insertions, chapter 24 can only be described as being in hopeless disarray. Chapter 25, on the other hand, could very well be the second half of a closed form. For details, I have to refer you to my commentary.
Where, then, do these disorders originate from, for which Matthew cannot be held responsible? All evidence points to the man who provided us with the Greek translation. It seems that he added many words of Jesus—known to him from the Greek tradition—that weren’t contained in the Gospel of Matthew, and he inserted these without realizing that he thus disturbed artificial closed forms. He may even have substituted shorter speech passages in the original text with enriched parallel pieces from the Greek tradition—with the intent of not loosing any of the tradition known to him. We can only thank him for that and will not rebuke him, a man rooted in the Greek tradition, for not having a feeling for Semitic literary forms. When he, nevertheless, maintained Semitic literary forms in his Greek text, it happened unknowingly and mainly in the narrative passages. In this manner we can explain the co-existence of both an artistic form and a lack of order which we encounter in Matthew.
The reader can realize from this that the study of literary art forms in Matthew allows insights into the nature and making of our “Gospel of Matthew,” as it probably has been called since the early second century.
Throughout the entire Gospel of Matthew we encounter divisions or arrangements according to simple, one might even want to say primitive, number relationships. There is no example that suggests a coincidence; every single one shows the deliberate forming hand of the evangelist or of the oral tradition preceding him. As simple as these arrangements are, they bear in our perception an element of beauty and speak to us of Matthew’s literary, artistic effort and ability.
We begin with a look at the entire Gospel. Works from antiquity lack content-indicating subtitles according to the manner that we usually arrange larger texts to make them more accessible. The Gospel of Matthew does not have such chapter headings either. The division of the Gospel into chapters as we know them dates back to the thirteenth century. But our evangelist inserted a formula into his work which, at least remotely, fulfills the task of our chapter titles. A read-through reveals longer and shorter speeches by Jesus. At the end of five longer ones we find the closing transitional formula, “And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings…” That is the literal translation. It marks the end of five large collections of sayings: Matt. 5 through 7; Matt. 10; Matt. 13; Matt. 18; and Matt. 24 through 25. This phrase does not close the collection of saying in chapter 23, however, because those sayings simply belong to a different literature genre than the other five so that chapter need not close with the transitional formula. The five collections have doctrinal content, whereas, chapter 23 essentially is an accusation against the pharisaical rabbis opposed to Jesus—something totally different from the five collections of sayings with doctrinal and teaching contents. By adding a concluding formula to these, and only these, he emphasizes them as five constitute parts of his Gospel. The always-constant formula is designed to emphatically point to the importance of the preceding speeches and their essential function in the structure of the Gospel.
Each of these collections of sayings—let us call them speeches—is connected with a series of narratives; for example, the narrative in Part V seems to be split into two parts (16:13 to 17:27 and 19:1 to 20:16) with a speech (ch. 18) in the middle. Narrative here is to be taken in the broadest sense. These series comprise not only the miracles and ministry of Jesus, but also the disputes, lamentations and accusations brought against him; among the latter is also Matt. 23. All together there are five big sections inside of the Gospel of Matthew, each of these consisting of a speech and a series of narratives.
These five sections are preceded by a section (regarding the beginnings of Jesus, Matt. 1 through 4) that does not contain a speech and followed by a section without a speech that concludes the Gospel (the Passion and Resurrection account, Matt. 26 through 28). This explains the structure of the Gospel of Matthew as it came from the author. It contains seven parts, no more and no less.
Now, a sevenfold sequence without an inner grouping would be very boring. Matthew must have felt that as well, so he built up this sequence inside of a formal chiasm that evidences itself in the speeches. Chiasm will be discussed more in depth later, but as far as it is concerned with the overall structure of the Gospel, the last part (Part VII) corresponds to the first (Part I), inasmuch as both lack a speech; the first speech (Part II) corresponds to the fifth and last speech (Part VI), inasmuch as both are more addressed to the people than to the disciples; the second speech (Part III) and the fourth speech (Part V) contain instructions addressed to the disciples, not the people; and the third speech (Matt. 13), the middle of the chiasm, is a unique parable, even if parables occur in other speeches once in a while. We can, therefore, depict the structure of the Gospel of Matthew schematically:
Part I (1 to 4) —no speech
Part II (5 to 9:34) —speech to the people, ch. 5 to 7
Part III (9:35 to 12) —speech to the disciples, ch. 10
Part IV (13:1 to 16:20) —parable speech, ch. 13
Part V (16:13 to 20:16) —speech to the disciples, ch. 18
Part VI (20:17 to 25:46) —speech to the people, ch. 24 to 25
Part VII (26 to 28) —no speech
This artistic structure is a deliberately-applied literary, stylistic tool. Here, we have limited ourselves exclusively to the surface, the formal, the structure of the Gospel as a whole. The surface appearance is entitled to be considered as well; the result justifies this. Later we will also discuss the content, as far as its features and its disposition fall under literary art. We shall see that the content and the surface appearance are closely related. During this discussion, though, we also want to only focus on form.
As the number seven dominates the overall structure, one could feel tempted to regard it as the actual determining principle. In the following, many evidences will appear that reveal this view as wrong. Although the number seven is not the least dominating forming principle of various sections, it is only one out of several.
The seven is most salient in the parable chapter (Matt. 13). Inserted incidental remarks help the author divide the seven parables according to the pattern 1 + 3 + 3 (Mt-K 429):
1. Parable (of the sower), 13:3-9
Purpose of speaking in parables
Explanation of the first parable, 13:10-23
2. Parable (of the wheat and the tares), 13:24-30
3. Parable (of the mustard seed), 13:31-32
4. Parable (of the leaven), 13:33
The parable speech as fulfillment of scriptures
Explanation of the parable of the tares, 13:34-43
5. Parable (of the hidden treasure), 13:44
6. Parable (of the pearl of great price), 13:45-46
7. Parable (of the Gospel net), 13:47-50
Concluding words to the disciples 13:51-52.
As Matthew, on his own, thus arranged the seven parables artificially, he divided these seven in the demonstrated manner as well. That is Semitic literary art. With it, he employed a known cliché; it is also used in Revelation 16 for the seven vials of wrath, only in reverse order: 3 + 3 + 1 (Mt-K 429).
We still have not expounded the whole composition of the parable chapters, though. The two sets of three parables are further artistically formally shaped with regard to the content of each other:
2. Parable (of the wheat and the tares), content: separation at the end of time
3. Parable (of the mustard seed)
4. Parable (of the leaven) a pair of equally structured parables
6. Parable (of the hidden treasure)
5. Parable (of the pearl of great price) a pair of equally structured parables
7. Parable (of the Gospel net), content: separation at the end of time
Even if we are speaking of the arrangement according to simple number relationships, the other devices used for structuring such relations of the whole Gospel and of the parable chapter prove that Matthew was anything but a primitive soul. Both examples attest to high literary art. Matthew seems to have used the same pattern when he arranged the seven calls of woe against the Pharisees in Matt. 23:13-33 (Mt-K 731f). Unfortunately, the transparency of this pattern in this piece has been impaired greatly by the oral tradition such that it cannot be ascertained with complete certainty.
The seven pericopes within Matt. 21:28 through 22:46 are arranged in a simpler manner than the parables in Matt. 13. Once again, Matthew groups similar material together. Matt. 21:28 finds Jesus is at the height of his confrontation with his pharisaical opponents. It starts out with three parables in which he shows their attitude. Three attacks on Jesus by the Pharisees follow, in which they pose questions, expecting that he will sorely compromise himself. Against all their expectations, Jesus emerges from this confrontation as the winner thanks to his astonishing wisdom. In the seventh pericope, Jesus is the one who attacks and silences his opponents:
1. Parable (of the two sons), 21:28-32
2. Parable (of the wicked husbandmen), 21:33-46
3. Parable (of the marriage feast), 21:1-14
1. Attack (the tribute money), 22:15-22
2. Attack (the resurrection), 22:23-33
3. Attack (the greatest commandment), 22:34-40
Jesus’s Counterattack (the Son of David) 22:41-46
In all probability, these events would not have taken place in this exact sequence and tight timeline; the arrangement is completely the work of Matthew. To describe Jesus in this last spiritual fight, Matthew once again uses the seven in its breakdown into 3 + 3 + 1. But what power speaks from the seven pericopes arranged in this manner! Of course, Matthew is directly talking to us this way; it is his interpretation of what happened in particular. But that does not address everything. The question arises: Did Matthew not judge correctly in concentrating the confrontation parables and debates into such an effect? Who dares to say no?
A discussion on the number seven is not complete without considering the genealogy listed in Matt. 1:1-17. This automatically brings us to discuss the number three. Both three and seven were often used symbolically in Israel, both expressing perfection, holiness, and divinity. The long list of names in this passage tells many readers rather little; it tells a little more to the Jewish reader as well as those readers who are familiar with Israel’s history in detail. In 1:17, Matthew emphasizes it being three times fourteen generations. The fourteen probably has to be valued as a double seven as, in itself, it does not have any special function. Matthew created the second and third group of fourteen by omitting certain names (Mt-K 28-29), but he was probably still aware that his sources only offered him fourteen names instead of fourteen generational lines in the first group. Using the number three and the double sevens, Matthew expresses that, with the final link of the chain, namely Jesus, the implicit Redeemer promised to Abraham, has appeared; hence, there can not be any Messiah after him. Situated within the culture of Jesus and Matthew, even this series of names, which seems so dry, gains a theological life.
It is remarkable, incidentally, how Matthew assigns additions to the names in the genealogy, especially in the first part:
1:2 “Abraham begat Isaac;
and Isaac begat Jacob;
and Jacob begat Judas + and his brethren;
3 And Judas begat Phares + and Zara of Thamar;
and Phares begat Esrom;
and Esrom begat Aram;
4 And Aram begat Aminadab;
and Aminadab begat Naasson;
and Naasson begat Salmon;
5 And Salmon begat Booz + of Rachab;
and Booz begat Obed + of Ruth;
and Obed begat Jesse;
6 And Jesse begat David + the king;”
The second generation chain begins thus:
6 “and David the king begat Solomon + of her that had been the wife of Urias;”
and continues monotonously until the last link:
11 “And Josias begat Jechonias + and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon.”
The third generation chain is similarly monotonous. Only at its end, it is brought to life twice:
16 “And Jacob begat Joseph + the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
The additions in the first generation chain occur with the third and fourth link, counting from the beginning, and with the fourth and third link, counting from the end—thus creating a symmetrical arrangement. These additions diminish the monotony of the enumeration and even add a romantic touch for those who are familiar with the story. The inner reasons for the additions, however, can only be speculated. With the first “and his brethren” (v. 2), Matthew reminds us not only of Israel becoming a people, but also of the evil deeds that the brothers of Joseph performed. From them, the first shadow of guilt falls on the later series of generations. The addition of the three women—Thamar, Rahab, and Ruth—cannot mean that the genealogy of the Messiah was tainted early on, for all three were highly honored by the Jews at the time of Jesus and Matthew (Mt-K for 1:3.5). Matthew reminds us of Thamar’s actions (Genesis 38:12-26)—which were not totally compatible with our morals—because it shows how God did not allow the chosen ancestral line of the Messiah to be crossed by the resistance of Judah; God also did not choose the firstborn, Zara, as son and heir, but Phares (Genesis 38:27-30). Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles and signify that heathendom was part of the heritage of Jesus, the Redeemer of all mankind.
Matthew adds the simple designation “the king” to David. Formally, he signals the end of the first series of generations with this addition. Concerning the content, he expresses here that Israel had reached its climax in David; Israel had become a sovereign people. But David could not mean the absolute endpoint, which should be the Messiah redeeming all from their sins (Matt. 1:21), for David began the second line of generations with adultery and murder (Matt. 1:6b).
The line “of her that had been the wife of Urias” is not there to taint Batsheba, but David. Thus begins the line of kings which, from the beginning, was overshadowed by guilt. Probably not by accident it continues totally monotonously until the final link. The guilt grew steadily, without much interruption, until the utter rotting of the royal house at the time of Jechonias; hence the additional comment “and his brethren” (v. 11; see also Mt-K regarding the passage).
The monotony of the third generation series is of a different nature. The House of David—as the monotony seems to convey here—had totally disappeared from public life, all glory and majesty had vanished from it.
With the double addition at the end of the third generation series, Matthew emphasizes that, now, the absolute end had been reached and, therefore, any continuation of the family of David had lost all meaning.
Matthew knew how to organize the three sets of fourteen generations for the knowing reader into a telling summary of the epoch that prepared Israel for the Messiah. He did so by arranging a mere list of names according to the numbers seven and three and by retouching the content in the form of short additions.
Besides using seven as a forming principle, Matthew also uses the number three, as the genealogy shows. The Sermon on the Mount first offers an example of this that does not usually catch the reader’s eyes. In Matt. 5:21-48 we find the six anti-theses or replies (compare Mt-K 169), named this way because of their introductory formula and structure; in each one, Jesus contrasts a doctrine of the traditional rabbinical interpretation of scriptures with his own teaching. In order for it not to seem to monotonous in its structure, Matthew divided the six into two groups of three using a slight change in the introductory formula:
5:21 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time” (see Mt-K 5:21) (longer formula, first anti-thesis. About killing)
27 “Ye have heard that it was said” (shorter formula, second anti-thesis. About adultery)
31 “It hath been said” (short formula, third anti-thesis. About divorce)
33 “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time” (longer formula, fourth anti-thesis. About perjury)
38 “Ye have heard that it hath been said” (shorter formula, fifth anti-thesis. About revenge)
43 “Ye have heard that it hath been said” (shorter formula, sixth anti-thesis. About loving one’s enemies)
We are not used to paying attention to such minor details; but they were not lost on educated Jews in those days. They also perceived that the first and the sixth anti-theses did not only contain longer formulas, but they also shared love as the subject of the content, the first one in the negative sense and the sixth one in the positive sense. Thus both provide an inclusion for the whole section. In order to better understand this arrangement, it is necessary, though, to ignore those increases which were added in the Greek form to the original Hebrew one (see Mt-K 139-140).
More obvious is the set of three in Matt. 6:2-18, which is severed, though, by the insertion of verses 7 through 15, but preserved intact in its elements, disregarding minor variations (see Mt-K 139 and 208). The unity of the three elements is emphasized beyond any doubt by their identical structure. In substance, the form is the following:
When thou [doest thine alms/prayest/fastest]
Thou shalt not [be/do] as the hypocrites [are/do]:
For they [do such and such],
That they may [have glory of/be seen of/appear fasting unto] men.
Verily I say unto you,
They have their reward.
But thou, when thou [doest alms/prayest/fastest],
[act in such and such a way],
That thine [alms giving/praying/fasting] appear not unto men
but to thy Father in secret:
And thy Father which seeth in secret:
shall reward thee openly.
This way, Jesus teaches how one is supposed to give alms, pray, and fast. But these three exercises of piety are not a complete listing, as always is the rule otherwise, Rather, they are but three examples which represent any act of religious life.
Further, in Matt. 6:19-24 we encounter a set of three similarly formed utterances by Jesus that express the same basic idea:
6:19-21 on laying up treasures in heaven
6:22-23 on the light of the body being the eye
6:24 on the impossibility of serving two masters
A formal connection between these pericopes is missing. But from the similarity of their features and from Matthew’s preference for sets of three we can gather that this grouping into three is Matthew’s work.
This preference for triplets is noticeable in numerous lesser passages, which we will disregard here. It becomes especially evident in the miracle chapters, Matt. 8 and 9. These form the narrative series for the Sermon on the Mount (in Part II) and help Matthew point out Jesus’s competence as a teacher and prophet sent by God. Even his opponents could not deny that Jesus performed miracles; they were uncomfortable enough for them: “What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him” (John 11:47-48). The miracles make obvious that God was with Jesus. But the kind of miracles that Jesus performed and the manner in which they worked also had to create the impression that he in no way sought glory for himself, but was all cooperation, love, and compassion. Both his divinity and moral attitude together were supposed to draw the people to Jesus as the believable prophet of God. Once again, in Matt. 8 and 9, like in the parable chapter, we find the plain triplets together with content-rich secondary arrangements, and thus the narrative is lifted out of the sphere of the primitive into the sphere of high, literary art:
- 1. Miracle (Healing the lepers), 8:1-4
- 2. Miracle (Healing the centurion’s slave), 8:5-13; “faith” (v. 10), “believed” (v. 13)
- 3. Miracle (Healing the mother-in-law of Peter and mass healings), 8:14-17
- 1. Question (On following Jesus), 8:18-20
- 2. Question (Let the dead bury the dead), 8:21-22
- 4. Miracle (Calming the storm on the sea), 8:23-27
- 5. Miracle (Casting out of the demons), 8:28-34; “Son of God” (v. 29)
- 6. Miracle (Healing the lame), 9:1-8
- 1. Question (Interaction with sinners), 9:9-13
- 2. Question (Fasting by the disciples), 9:14-17
- 7. Miracle (Raising of the daughter of Jairus, healing the woman with an issue of blood), 9:18-26
- 8. Miracle (Healing to blind people), 9:27-31; “believe” (v. 28), “faith” (v. 9)
- 9. Miracle (Healing the dumb and possessed man), 9:32-34.
These nine miracles, divided by two questions each into groups of three, are simultaneously engaged in a certain symmetry. In the narratives of the second and eighth miracle the expressions “faith” and “believe”—important to Matthew—appear in chiasmic sequence (a-b . b-a). The third and seventh miracles, and only these, feature women as the subject, and, at the same time, have received extensions (mass healing, healing of the woman with an issue of blood). Thus they flank miracle groups I and III, sandwiching II. In miracle group II, the middle miracle narrative is marked by the highly significant expression “Son of God.” This way, the fifth miracle becomes the center around which the rest are grouped symmetrically. These pericope groupings lead us to the understanding that Matthew used his closed forms for theological reflections.
Groupings of three that were already available to Matthew as based on historic events can also be numbered among the groups of three typical for him. These would include the three prayers and walks in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46) and Jesus withstanding the three temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). The latter are remarkable in a literary sense for a not yet discussed reason that leads our discussion beyond arrangements by number. The three temptations are similarly structured. As opposed to Luke, Matthew kept the order, which probably has to be considered the historic one, and shows a surprising amount of intensifications (Mt-K 109). First there is intensification through geographic gradation. The three temptations lead us from the desert, to the temple, and onto a very high mountain. Furthermore, the first temptation takes place in the isolation of a desert, the second one in the public setting of the temple, and the third one is worldwide and universal. Even in the tempter’s demands, one can see an increase in effrontery: a challenge to turn stone into bread, a life-threatening dare, and a presupposed usurpation of world power. The types of demands the tempter issues intensifies as well from a simple suggestion, to a suggestion supported by scripture, to an audacious demand for worship and submission. But even Jesus’s reactions intensify: rejection by citing scripture, rejection by an emphasized scripture quote, and rejection by the brusk “Get thee hence, Satan” (vs. 10). Matthew demonstrates a more vivid sense of the power of these intensifications than Luke who switches the second and third temptations and thus renders them ineffective.
Besides using the three and seven forming principles to mark closed forms, Matthew also uses four. The eight beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10), which are divided into two strophes of four two-liners each, can be discussed here.
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Bold added.
As usual, Matthew is not content with the mere number relationship, but he outwardly rounds off this recitative with the enveloping “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3 and 10). Also, the two strophes are marked as such by the stichs “righteousness” at the end of each strophe.
Although ordering by fours may be unexpected, examples of this can be found in the Old Testament and its contemporary literature, the Mishna and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Mt-K 143, Note 2). Verses 11 and 12 contain a beatitude as well: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” The closed form of verses 3 through 10, however, confirms what literature critique concludes: the beatitude construction in 11 and 12 is a relatively later addition to the eight beatitudes. “Blessed” acted as a keyword, so that in the course of oral tradition another utterance by Jesus was added (Matt. 5:11-12) to the eight beatitudes. Here is one indicator that the Greek sector of the primitive church had no sense for closed forms, otherwise this connection would not have happened. The use of closed forms and arrangements according to simple number relationships was, exclusively, a Semitic literary art tool.
It may surprise us to also find four as the forming principle in a narrative part. Chapters 3 and 4 are structured in the following manner:
The Baptist and his effect (quote in v. 3), 3:1-6
Words of repentance, 3:7-10
Words concerning the Messiah, 3:11-12
Baptism of Jesus, 3:13-17
Jesus’s temptation, 4:1-11
Setting of Jesus’s ministry (quote in v. 15), 4:12-16
Jesus’s preaching, 4:17
Calling of the brother pairs, 4:18-22
Jesus’s teachings and healing, 4:23-25.
Jesus’s baptism in chapter 3 and temptation in chapter 4 stand in close relationship. Chapters 2 and 5, on the other hand, have totally different contents than 3 and 4. The two chapters (3 and 4), divided according to their content, consist of four pericopes before and four pericopes after the temptation account, but they do not seem to have any evident relationship. The first four speak about the Baptist; this is true for the account of Jesus’s baptism as well. The other four concern Jesus. Matthew made it clear that both groups of four belong together by weaving a scripture quote into the beginning of both. Though we do not have a strophic recitative here, both scripture quotes function as a counterpart or responsion. This provides us with some certainty that Matt. 3 and 4 is indeed structured according to the above pattern.
So that the number five gets its fair treatment, we point to Matt 1:18 to 2:23. This block of five individual narratives is dedicated to Jesus’s childhood (birth by a virgin (1:18-25), visit of the wise men (2:1-12), flight to Egypt (2:13-15), child slaying in Bethlehem (2:16-18), and return from Egypt (19-23)). Matthew has equipped each of these five narratives with a scripture quote and thus unified them into a closed group as well.
An overview of the first group of artificial and artistic structures in the Gospel of Matthew helps us recognize that Matthew had a decided preference for literary art forms and also that he did not favor one over the other. It requires no more special proof than that his Gospel, structured in his sense, does not divide exclusively into groups of seven. Rather, Matthew enjoyed variation and variety. The question, of course, which we cannot further address here, and which we already touched upon in the introduction, is: how many of these forms were already available in some fashion to him when he wrote his Gospel? Apart from this, one can attribute to him a certain preference for the three and the seven despite his use of a variety of artistic forms. This probably has to do with his preference for symmetry, which will be discussed next.
We have already encountered symmetrical arrangements, besides some other art forms, in both the genealogy (Matt. 1 through 4) and in the miracle chapters (Matt. 8 and 9). Matthew prefers this symmetrical art form more than any other and seems to apply it everywhere he can. Strikingly, this is especially true for the narrative series or narrative passages and often executed in a rather pronounced form. An actual obscurity regarding the artistic arrangement only exists in Matt. 23.
In the following discussion of examples, we focus on symmetry. Symmetry here is accomplished by an equal number of pericopes preceding and following a central pericope, the whole being a closed form both backwards and forwards. This closed form increases to chiasm at times. The pericopes and counter-pericopes, then, not only correspond in placement (i.e., in their distance to the center) but also in content, occasionally even using the same expressions. But where chiasm occurs, it is not always carried out completely and not always similarly fraught with meaning. As with all his art forms, Matthew applies this one with astonishing ease.
The symmetry in Matt. 12:22-45 (some of the narrative section in Part III) is remarkable:
Expulsion of the demon (prose form), 12:22-24
Jesus overcomes Satan, 12:25-30
Corruptness of the accusers, 12:31-37
Seeking of signs by opponents, 12:38-42
Return of the demon (prose form), 12:43-45
The framing pericopes, 12:22-24 and 12:43-45, are in prose form—in contrast to 12:25-30 and 12:38-42—and form a related pair due to their content. With the middle piece, though, the matter is quite different. As can be seen hereafter, it displays an artistic chiastic structure:
12:31 “Wherefore I say unto you,
All manner of sin and blasphemy
shall be forgiven unto men:
but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,
shall not be forgiven unto men.
32 And whosoever speaketh a word
against the Son of man,
it shall be forgiven him:
but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost,
it shall not be forgiven him, . . .
33 Either make the tree good,
and [ye have to assume] his fruit good;
or else make the tree corrupt,
and [ye have to assume] his fruit corrupt:
for the tree is known
By his fruit.
34 O generation of vipers,
how can ye,
speak good things?
for out of the abundance of the heart
the mouth speaketh.
35 A good ma
out of the good treasure of the hear
bringeth forth good things:<
and an evil man
out of the evil treasure
bringeth forth evil things.
36 But I say unto you,
That every idle word
that men shall speak,
they shall give account thereof
in the day of judgment.
37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified,
And by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Bold added.
Verse 34 is the center of this part. It is the only address form that occurs here. That it contains the central position does considerably contribute to the power of the accusation. Verse 34 is then framed by two statements with identical beginnings whose content form the picture (v. 33, tree) and its interpretation (v. 35, attitude). Similar things apply to the verses preceding verse 33 and the following verse 35, which, therefore, are coordinated. Verses 31 and 32, as well as verses 36 and 37, are expressed using heavily sinful words. One has to consider that the “idle” words signify blasphemies (compare Mt-K for 12:36).
The section 12:31-37 appears as central passage in the closed form found in 12:22-45. Thus, the address “generation of vipers” ends up in the exact middle of the section. This accusation expresses what the preceding and following pericopes, as an inclusion, want to tell the hostile pharisaic rabbis. This not only applies to the time of Jesus but also to the time when Matthew was expressing his opinion towards the sworn enemies of the church after Jesus’s ascension.
Another clear chiastic form appears in Matt. 11:2 to 12:21 (the other narrative section in Part III). Here we have to premise, though, that 11:7-15 probably has to be considered of secondary importance due to its content and, therefore, was probably not contained in the primary or original form (Mt-K 355). It will thus not be considered in the following diagram. It is very remarkable that through this exclusion, there not only arises no disturbances, but the closed nature of the art form emerges even more clearly—an additional, but nevertheless reliable, argument that the nature of verses 7 through 15 has been determined correctly. It would be a circulus vitiosus to first postulate a closed form and then to eliminate what does not fit in it.
The baptist’s mission (Isaiah quote), 11:2-6
Parable of the street youth, 11:16-19
Lamentation over the Galilean cities, 11:20-24
Jesus the Revelator, 11:25-30
Plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath, 12:1-8
Healing the withered hand on the Sabbath, 12:9-14
Jesus, the merciful Messiah (Isaiah quote), 12:15-21.
The two Isaiah quotes are extensive and round off the whole passage on the surface as inclusion elements, indicating the closed form. Furthermore, together with the central pericope, 11:25-30, they make Jesus’s personality the focus. The pericope pairs on either side of the center, on the other hand, illuminate more the function of the Messiah sent by God. The pairs correspond inasmuch as they provide insights into the hostile atmosphere that was prevalent between Jesus and the pharisaic leaders of the people. The calls of woe against Chorazin and Bethsaida (11:20-24) are no exception here; for if the people of these cities were so minded that they caused Jesus to make these painful utterances, it was due to the counter-propaganda which the Pharisees themselves had successfully spread.
Another example of a symmetrical and chiastic structure is found in Matt. 14:1 through 16:20 (the narrative section in Part IV). It is not easy to determine the beginning and the end of this block of pericopes as a literary unit. At least it is noticeable that it contains two equal parts on either side of the central pericope which contain accounts of an increase of bread, healings, disputes with the Pharisees, and instructions to the disciples (14:13 through 15:20 and 15:29 through 16:12). The central pericope in between contains the narrative about the Canaanite woman and the praise of her faith (15:21-28), and the two similar passages that frame it the expression “of little faith” occurs once each (14:31; 16:8). From there on, it is easy to see the correspondence between the beginning and ending pericopes in the execution of the baptist (14:1-12) and in the scene of Caesarea Philippi (16:13-20). Their correspondence exists in the content; the Baptist’s lot will be Jesus’s lot, and this as a psychological consequence of the situation described in 16:13-14 (Mt-K 468-9). The task performed by pericope 13:53-58, which precedes this closed form (14:1 through 16:20), will be addressed later (page 34).
Execution of the Baptist, 14:1-12
Increase of bread, 14:13-21
Jesus and Peter walk on water, 14:22-33; “of little faith” (v. 31)
Dispute regarding the tradition, 15:1-9
Instruction to the disciples, 15:10-20
The Canaanite woman, 15:21-28; “faith” (v. 28)
Increase of bread, 15:32-39
Demand for signs, 16:1-4
Instruction to the disciples, 16:5-12; “of little faith” (v. 8)
Conclusion and beginning at Caesarea Philippi, 16:13-20
Notwithstanding the function of the pericope at Caesarea Philippi (16:13-20) as the concluding element for 14:1 through 16:20, it seems to simultaneously be used as the introductory pericope for what follows, so that, in 16:13 through 17:27, we find another closed form as well as the first narrative section of Part V. (Regarding double functions, see page 34 below.) Verse 17:27 is then followed by the lecture in Matt. 18, so there can be no doubt concerning the partition on this side. Beginning this new closed form with 16:13, the following surprising result emerges:
Peter’s testimony; the new foundation, 16:13-20; “Son of the living God” (v. 16)
First prophecy of suffering, 16:21
Peter rebuked for contradicting, 16:22-23
Following Jesus, 16:24-28; “his cross” (v. 24)
Jesus’s transfiguration, 17:1-9; “my beloved Son” (v. 5)
Return of Elias, 17:10-13; “suffer” (v. 12)
Healing of the lunatic; the disciples rebuked, 17:14-21
Second prophecy of suffering, 17:2-2
Peter and the tribute money, 17:24-27; “the children” (v. 26).
This closed form features Peter at the beginning and at the end. It also identifies Jesus as the Son of God at the beginning, in the central narrative and, at least implicitly, at the end: when Jesus asks Peter “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?” Peter replies, “Of strangers.” Jesus then says, “Then are the children free” (v. 17:25-26). Thus—so Jesus reasons—he is not obliged to pay the tribute for the temple of his heavenly father; and Peter is exempt due to his connection with Jesus. The correspondence of both prophecies of suffering within this closed form is striking, as are the rebukes by Jesus to Peter and later to the disciples who remained at the foot of the mount of transfiguration. Furthermore, the ideas of suffering expressed in 16:24-28 and 17:10-13 also correspond. All this together proves irrefutably that Matt. 16:13 through 17:27 is a closed form which is not only symmetrically arranged around the transfiguration account but also contains elements that line up in a chiastic order (Mt-K 547-8).
After the lecture in chapter 18, Matthew continues with the second half of Part V’s narration series (19:3 through 20:16). We can justly place a decisive break at 20:17, for from then on Jesus is oriented towards Jerusalem (“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem”), and the pericopes that follow narrate Jesus’s last days. The narrative series that we are discussing here, however, is found in 19:3 through 20:16:
On divorce (against the Pharisees), 19:3-9
Being without marriage (to the disciples), 19:10-12
Jesus and the children (to the disciples), 19:13-15
The rich young man, 19:16-22
Danger of riches (to the disciples), 19:23-26
Promise for loyal discipleship (to the disciples), 19:27-29
Parable of the laborers in the vineyard (against the Pharisees), 19:30 through 20:16.
The central narrative of the rich young man itself does not show any perspective as the pericopes before and after it do, but it will have to be considered as being addressed towards the disciples since it is embedded in pericopes that refer to them. These pericopes, arranged around 19:16-22 as center, create a chiasm—the first and the last ones addressed to the Pharisees; the inner pericope pairs addressed to the disciples—which marks the whole passage as a closed symmetrical form.
We now look at the narratives in Part VI. The question as to whether the first narrative section (20:17 through 21:27) is a closed form is somewhat more difficult to answer than it was for the second section (21:28 through 22:46; see discussion above pages 7-8). But the combined power of the middle three narratives in the first section should be strong enough to answer the question in the affirmative. For the center is occupied by Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem being greeted as the “Son of David.” The preceding as well as the following pericope also contain the same greeting for Jesus as the “Son of David,” i.e., as the Messiah. And the fact that Jesus is the Messiah is by far more important to Matthew in everything that 20:17 through 21:27 contains than in the sections that precede and follow it. With some confidence, we can therefore divide 20:17 through 21:27 (Mt-K 441) in this manner:
Third prophecy of suffering, 20:17-19
The Zebedee’s request and rank dispute, 20:20-28
Healing the blind in Jericho, 20:29-34; “Son of David” (v. 30-31)
Entrance into Jerusalem, 21:1-11; “Son of David” (v. 9)
Jesus in the temple, 21:12-17; “Son of David” (v. 15)
Cursing of the fig tree, 21:18-22
Question of authority, 21:23-27
This exhausts the closed forms of symmetry and chiasm in the first six main parts of the Gospel of Matthew. In the following, we discuss those that are recognizable in Part VII, the account of the Passion.
The most peculiar literary art forms by far are encountered in the Passion account, for this account of Jesus’s death agony seems to be the first piece that was passed down to Matthew as a fixed narrative complex. Its structure follows the actual events and can be easily determined from Matthew:
Introductory events, 26:1-35
Fear of death on the Mount of Olives, 26:36-46
Judgment of Jesus by the Jews, 26:47-27:10
Judgment of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, 27:11-31
The death account, 27:31-61
The resurrection account, 27:62-28:20.
This structuring does not seem to contain much art; Matthew could not have rearranged otherwise if he wanted to follow the thread of the storyline. Therefore, the fact that “fear of death” and “the death account” correspond in essence and order cannot be attributed to Matthew.
Matthew’s hand becomes visible when we take a closer look at individual passages. This first applies to the structure of the introductory section, 26:1-35. It has two parts, each with a meal at the center:
I.The Passover starts in two days, 26:1-2
“Then” decision by Jesus’s enemies to kill him, 26:3-5
The meal in Bethany, 26:6-13
“Then” initiation of the betrayal, 26:14-16
Preparation of the Passover, 26:17-19
Using the word Passover at the beginning and at the end marks an inclusion. One should not make a big fuss about the little word “then,” for in the Gospel of Matthew it is found over eighty times and, most of the time, is a mere connector without special content. Here, too, it does not mean more, but it stands out formally by helping to accentuate the symmetrical structure; each one of the four pericopes in 26:3-19 could have started with then. This displays Matthew’s artistic hand. The second part of the introductory section could be displayed thus:
II. Prophecy of the betrayal, 26:20-25
Instituting the Sacrament, 26:26-30
Prophecy of the offense of the Twelve, 26:31-35
In Matt. 26:20-35, framed by the closed forms in 26:1-19 and the Mount of Olives account in 26:36-46, three pericopes form an artificial whole. The first and the third one not only correspond in content, but also in the chiastically ordered formulae: “Verily I say unto you” (v. 21); “it is written” (v. 24); “it is written” (v. 31); “Verily I say unto thee” (v. 34) (compare Mt-K 841).
We disregard 26:47 through 27:10 (Jesus’s judgment by the Jews) for the time being and turn to the interrogation by Pilate (27:11-31). This account only exists in an extreme abbreviation because there were actually two proceedings that are here combined into one (see Mt-K 902-903). In Matthew it receives a pronounced artificial structure and becomes a closed form:
Interrogation of Jesus as “King of the Jews,” 27:11-14
Barabbas and Jesus, 27:15-17
Pilate convinced of Jesus’s innocence, 27:18
The message of Pilate’s wife, 27:19
Pilate’s three questions, 27:20-23
Jesus rejected by the people, 27:25
Barabbas and Jesus, 27:26
Mocking of Jesus as “King of the Jews,” 27:27-31a.
In reading the text, it becomes apparent that verses 18, 19, and 20-23 are hardly connected in a literary sense. The explanation for this can be found by looking at the chiastic order; the sequence has been determined in the interest of the artificial structure. The two beginning and ending elements (27:11-14 and 27:27-31a) correspond in their main idea and expression and thus form a narrative inclusion. Verses 18 and 25 unmistakably contrast each other, whereas verse 19, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man,” corresponds with verse 24, “I am innocent,” etc. The three questions in the middle have been compiled intentionally due to Matthew’s affinity for sets of three. To do so, Matthew has repeated the question from verse 17 in verse 21 (Mt-K 912).
Matthew’s hand is less transparent is the death account, Matt. 27:31b-61. But again, sets of three—three mockings, three warning signs—seemed to point to Matthew and made it seem advisable to probe the death account for its structures. Not everything is clear; however, there can hardly be any dispute regarding the three main parts: the crucifixion, Jesus on the cross, and Jesus’s burial. Following Matthew’s tendency for correspondence, an attempt was made to point out similarities between the first and third parts (Mt-K 918-919):
I. Crucifixion (27:31b-37)
Introduction: Jesus on the way to the crucifixion, 27:31b-32
Site of crucifixion and bitter drink, 27:33-34
Crucifixion, casting lots for the garment, and guard at the cross, 27:35-36
Inscription on the cross, 27:37
II. Jesus on the Cross (27:38-54)
Jesus crucified between two bandits, 27:38
Three mockings, 27:39-44
The darkness, 27:45
Cry of abandonment and drink of vinegar, 27:46-49
Jesus’s death, 27:50
Three warning signs, 27:51-53
Testimony that Jesus was the Son of God, 27:54
III. The Burial (27:55-61)
Women as witnesses, 27:55-56
Joseph of Arimathaea’s deed, 27:57-60
Women at the grave, 27:61
“In the literary structure of Matt. 27:38-54, verse 54 corresponds with verse 38; both sentences stand by themselves, without a closer connection with the context. In verse 38, Jesus is unmistakably labeled as the leader of the bandits; in verse 54, the statement that Jesus is the Son of God cancels out the defamation; both come from the same soldiers” (Mt-K 934). The “women beholding” (v. 55-56) may seem to be wrongly connected in verses 55-61 as they are mentioned as witnesses for the Jesus’s death on the cross and not for his burial, mentioned starting in verses 57-60. But if Matthew saw in them witnesses of the burial as well, he wins a motive for what the women took as a further tribute to the body of Jesus (Mt-K 935). Therefore, verses 55 and 56 are not absurd, the less so as parts II and III would thus receive a clear, artificial disposition, which cannot be a coincidence.
For the same reason as with Matt. 26:47 through 27:10, we also skip Matt. 27:62 through 28:15, the resurrection account; we will come back to both later in our discussion on apologetics (see below pages 42-43; pages 43-44).
As numerous as closed forms are in the narrative sections, they are quite sparse in the speeches. In the parable chapter (Matt. 13), the seven parables are not arranged symmetrically; the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 through 7) contains only one example of symmetry (see below), while the rest, as far as it is bound in closed forms, is arranged according to other principles; the same applies to Matt. 18, which will be discussed later. Only Matt. 10 can be mentioned as an example of chiastic symmetry of a grand design. The apocalyptic speech (Matt. 24 and 25) is totally left out of it. Before we discuss Matt. 7:1-11 and 10:5b-42, we turn to the reason why this is the case with Matt. 24 and 25.
The reason is found with the man who translated the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew into Greek and in the manner he went about doing so. For he not only translated, but he made changes at several places, mostly in order to enrich the material passed down in its original form by other material known to him beyond that.
He obviously did not change essentials in the narrative series, otherwise we would not be able to ascertain the Semitic, closed forms from his Greek translation. He did not leave out any narrative in the stricter sense and did not add any. We will discuss Matt. 28:9-10 (Jesus appears to the women) later. This does not preclude, however, that he, at times, added utterances by Jesus to those that he found in the Hebrew text. For example, the disciples ask in Matt. 17:19, “Why could not we cast him [the demon] out?” Jesus replied, “Because of your unbelief”(17:20). What follows then (“for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed . . .”) was probably added by way of a Greek keyword composition (“belief”—“belief”), that is, through the Greek translator (Mt-K 575 and 577). It is a true utterance of Jesus, but not passed down in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. Verse 21, however, (“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting”) originally did not even belong in the Greek Gospel of Matthew and can hardly be rated as Jesus’s utterance (compare Mt-K regarding 17:21).
Another example: Matt. 16:1-4 reports a demand for signs, which the rabbis issued to Jesus. But verses 2 and 3 treat something totally different: “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring, O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” That is, absolutely, a real utterance by Jesus; only it does not have anything to do with the demand for signs. Rather, it was most probably fused with the demand for signs in the oral Greek tradition; and the translator placed the whole block, as he knew it, into his translation. Such extensions of the original text are easily spotted through literary critique and have not considerably obscured the narrative material. Such, for example, are Matt. 11:7-15 (see above page 17), and Matt. 15:12-14 (Mt-K 496); parts of the parable of the marriage feast (Matt.22:1-14) belong here as well (Mt-K 690-691). These and many other passages concern sayings (both longer and shorter utterances by Jesus) that were inserted into the narratives.
Bigger additions to the collections of sayings, or speeches, are more common than they are in the narratives. Matt. 10 and 13 do not contain so many; by far there are more in the Sermon on the Mount. Besides 5:11-16; 6:7-15; and 7:13-23, which have already been discussed in part, additional words by Jesus were added in 5:23-24 (reconciliation and sacrifice), 5:25-26 (reconciliation and litigation), and 5:29-30 (temptation of sin). The parable of the lilies of the field (6:25-33) is interwoven with glossary-like additions (Mt-K 229-230). Regarding Matt. 18, see the next chapter. Pieces like those mentioned are probably easily recognizable as later additions to the original Gospel when they break the context as in 6:7-15. In other cases, the question regarding literary originality can only be answered with a probability factor; when there is no evidence independent of literary critique, one cannot speak of a closed form.
The first part of the apocalyptic speech contained in Matt. 24 and 25 is littered with insertions. In 24:45 through 25:46, one half of one of Matthew’s closed forms seems to occur; but the verses preceding it are a true nest of literary disorder. There are disruptive repetitions, fragments of utterances, prose additions in the middle of rhythmically connected utterances by Jesus, and remarks that can only be regarded as explaining glossaries. For details, I refer the reader to my commentary. I only give here an example of a fragment, Matt. 24:19: “And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!” We know of many calls of praise and of woe by Jesus; they always contain a second part in which is stated why Jesus is acting thus affected by either joy or pain. Here, such an indication is missing. Furthermore, verse 19 is rhythmic; the following part is a piece in prose, which for this reason alone indicates that it is not part of verse 19. Thus, verse 19 is, unfortunately, only preserved as a fragment. Nobody has yet succeeded in reducing Matt. 24, either with regards to content or to form, to a common denominator without forcing an interpretation of one or the other part.
The question arises how such disorders could originate in the Greek Gospel of Matthew that, most obviously, still contains numerous, artistic closed forms. Certainly they did not come from Matthew himself. A lover of artistic literary forms such as he would not disrupt the flow these with insertions that tear apart what belongs together. Neither would he mix elements from various passed-down units in such a manner that disorder results, like in the parable of the marriage feast, the allegory of the Last Judgment (25:31-46. Compare Mt-K 810-811and 817-819), and the first, bigger passage of Matt. 24. These facts point to another man, someone who had no sense for literary art forms. Certain expressions that he uses (for example, in Matt. 13:37-39, compare Mt-K 451; or the word “Parousia” in Matt. 24) shift the focus to the person who translated the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew into Greek. Even though we have to question his sense for literary art forms, the fact remains that he often preserved such forms unharmed. This can be explained by his, for the most part, translating the Hebrew original faithfully, without perceiving these forms. One has to assume that he felt closer to the Greek than the Hebrew—as this normally applies to analogous cases—which contributed to the fact that he did not recognize the Semitic forms.
However, this definitely does not explain everything. We can confidently suppose the translator to be a Jew born into the Greek culture who had converted to the belief in Jesus as the Messiah-Redeemer. His conversion must have occurred during the very first period of Christendom when no written gospel existed. He has the Christian oral tradition to thank for his conversion. This tradition reached him not in its first Semitic, partially Aramaic, partially Hebrew original, but in its later Greek form, which must have been created soon after, however. The oral Greek tradition was the mother of his belief.
The oral Greek tradition, though, was not subject to the control of the Twelve, the original witnesses of the Gospel message, as the Hebrew-Aramaic one was. Furthermore, the memory skills of the Greek speakers of the time probably did not reach the level of the memory skills of the Aramaic and Hebrew speaking Jews. The Greeks had more of a writing culture than the Jews, even if they were unequally more powerful than the memory skills of the modern Central European. If this was the case, then various errors in the details of the Greek oral tradition are to be expected. The disruptions in the speech passages in Matthew can easily be understood as a result of this tradition. That the disruptions occur more especially in the speeches has to do with the fact that, from the beginning, they drew more attention than the narrative material. This also applies to the prophecies regarding the temple, the holy City of Jerusalem, and the last days contained in Matt. 24. The more often Jesus’s statements were repeated in the Greek territory, the more there were opportunities for mistakes in the memory-based rendition.
The translation into Greek of the Gospel of Matthew, then, would have happened in this manner. In the narration series, the translator would have allowed himself relatively few additions. He applied a greater number in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), only a few in the parable speech (Matt. 13) and in Matt. 10, and some in Matt. 18. He seems to have completely changed Matt. 24, on the other hand. Matthew would have compiled a well-ordered block of Jesus’s utterances here as well, but the translator found this way too short compared to what he knew from parallel passages in the oral Greek tradition and inserted what the Greek tradition offered him. The lack of order seems to have in no wise bothered him. And his motive was the same in all cases: he wanted to preserve as much as possible of the handed-down material known to him. In this manner, much was actually preserved for us that originally did not exist in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, and for that we can only thank the translator. He did not work only as translator, but also partially as reviser of the original Matthew text.
These manipulations of the Gospel of Matthew have to be assessed in light of the position that the translator and his Greek, Christian contemporaries were in. The Hebrew Gospel would have been written between AD 40 and AD 48. Over the years, if not right from the beginning, it was also well received by the Greek Christians, but not as a Gospel in our sense, i.e., not as a book inspired by God, where it would have meant an offense against the revelatory religion to change anything about it. In the beginning, it only was the welcome written testimony of Matthew, one of the Twelve, which testimony served as a valuable support for the oral tradition. Its author and content gave it unique authority. But only the following years performed the step from the acceptance of the Gospel of Matthew as apostolic scripture to that of divine inspiration, as the books in the Old Testament were considered. We thus cannot throw stones at the revising translator when he has made changes to the original text in order to increase the material. The blame for the disarray in the speech material is therefore not to be put on the translator, or at least not in the first place, but the oral Greek tradition which lacked stronger control oriented along the Hebrew and Aramaic original. Despite everything, we owe our thanks to it for many well-preserved utterances by Jesus. When material is new to the Matthew text, it is often easily recognized as such. If it was changed over time, this mostly happened involuntarily according to the rules of memory and not because of the arbitrariness of an incompetent person.
This explanatory commentary seemed necessary in order to explain why no closed forms can be found in Matt. 24 and 25. We are compensated for this by the perfect chiastic closed form that Matt. 10 offers.
Matt. 10 is a lecture addressed to the Twelve, though there are passages that are directed to a larger audience of Jesus’s followers. The more distant introduction begins with Matt. 9:35; the situation of the speech is offered in 10:1-5a. The collection of sayings itself starts in 10:5b.
Introduction; mission of the Twelve, 10:5b-10
Reception of the Twelve by the people, 10: 11-15
Master and disciples, 10:24-25
God’s protection, 10:26-31
Jesus and the disciples, 10:32-33
Discord because of Christ, 10:34-39
Reception of the disciples, 10:40-42
What looks to us like a long, unorganized series of sayings when we read the text in our editions of the New Testament, is, in reality, a collection of carefully arranged utterances by Jesus. That they originated from totally different occasions appears clearly in verses 16 through 23. Imagine these words—describing arrests and scourgings—being spoken to the still very unready Twelve during Jesus’s lifetime: they absolutely lacked the understanding for Jesus’s prophecies regarding suffering. This is evidenced by their reaction to such prophecies as recorded in Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23; and 20:17-19. In reply to Jesus’s first declaration (Matt. 16:21), Peter openly contradicted him, saying something to the effect of, “What are you thinking, Lord! That will never happen to you!” Whereas Jesus rebuked him strongly, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Mt-K regarding 16:22-23). Regarding the second prophecy of suffering (Matt. 17:22-23), Luke remarks, “But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:45). Now imagine the impression on the Twelve if Jesus had directly spoken to them of the suffering that would be in store for them. Nothing could more radically contradict the still rather worldly expectations of a glorious Messianic kingdom. Did the Twelve not leave Jesus one by one, disappointed? How totally different it would be after they saw Jesus after his triumphant resurrection. Then Jesus’s prophesied suffering and death appeared to them in a totally different light—meaningful, even necessary, for the redemption of the world from sin. And with that, their connection to Jesus, the killed and now resurrected one, appeared in a new light. Only then was the moment in time when Jesus could reveal to them what we read in Matt. 10:16-23. The collection of sayings in Matt. 10 thus contains Jesus’s utterances from totally different situations and times.
But how carefully has Matthew arranged them! The first and the last passages talks about the people’s reception of Jesus and the Twelve; the second and the second to last passages talk about suffering for his sake, followed towards the center by the words regarding the relationship that the disciples and their master share; and at the center is the comforting thought that in all this difficulty they are under God’s special protection. Even if the individual little stones of this literary mosaic are not immediately connected (and at first glance they appear to be placed next to each other just like mosaic pieces), the whole shows an artistic pattern which is shaped into accord through the unifying sense of the whole collection (see below pages.48-49).
In particular, the following stylistic means illuminate the forming art of Matthew. In 10:16-23 (Mt-K 329-331), an introductory strophe (v. 16) is contrasted with a concluding one (v. 23). Beyond that, the thus framed verses have their beginning in verse 17a and their ending in verse 22cd—those being separate little phrases. The three strophes in the middle all start with a verb that can be translated as “deliver” or “betray,” that appears in each strophe at the beginning. They thus form a triple responsion—appropriate for the elevated Hebrew style.
The central piece contains something analogous (“God’s protection” v. 26-31). It begins and ends with “Fear ye not”; in the middle strophe—whereby this very middle strophe is emphasized as such—the same verb reappears twice, in both the negative and positive sense: “fear not” and “fear.” The central piece is supposed to follow here; but we have to consider that this is the translation of a translation, and that the outward poetic form (the content is not poetry, even if it is speaking in images) is based on the Hebrew rhythm of prophetic and didactic teaching methods (see above page 2).
10:26 “Fear them not therefore;
for there is nothing covered,
that shall not be revealed;
that shall not be known.
27 What I tell you in darkness,
that speak ye in light:
and what ye hear in the ear,
that preach ye upon the housetops.
28 And fear not them
which kill the body,
but are not able to kill the soul:
but rather fear him which is able
to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows
sold for a farthing?br> and one of them shall not
fall on the ground
without your Father.
30 But the very hairs of your head are
— — — — —
— — — — —
31 Fear ye not therefore,
ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Bold added.
The dashes in verse 30 stand for a second piece that is missing here. Verses 26-31 may serve as an example for how many of Jesus’s preserved utterances are worded in the Gospel of Matthew; they are worded differently in individual cases but are similar in the basic type, like this recitative.
Another, smaller example of this can be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Matt. 7:1-11 can equally be understood as symmetrical, even if this form is not as easily recognizable.
Regarding judgment, 7:1-5
The holy, the dogs, and the pigs, 7:6
Trust in God the Father, 7:7-11
What gives us the right to speak of a symmetrical order here? I have noted in my commentary (Mt-K 140) that the arrangement long-short-long catches the eye, but that a normal connection among these three sayings is missing. This refers to the individual expressions. But it needs to be noted that the first and the third piece begin with passive verb forms: “that ye be not judged” (v. 1), “ye shall be judged . . . it shall be measured to you” (v. 2), and “it shall be given you . . . it shall be opened unto you” (v. 7). With such forms, Jesus often paraphrases God’s work, since during that era people in general aimed to avoid bringing God into direct contact with his creatures. Both pericopes are followed by a metaphor, i.e., applied parables. In verses 3-5 he talks about the “mote that is in thy brother’s eye” and the “beam that is in thine own eye”; in verses 9-10 (v. 11 is the application) Jesus asks, “What man is there of you [who has a son]? Whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Both pericopes are then structured according to the same pattern. By placing the one in front and the other after the totally disconnected verse 6 (“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine,” etc.), a short closed form with symmetrical features results from the whole. The symmetry of Matt. 10, therefore, does not stand totally alone among the art forms of the lectures after all.
Bisections should actually not be expected in Matthew, for he shows a pronounced tendency to symmetrical arrangements with a central piece. The lack of a central pericope would hinder the development of his preferred symmetry. Nevertheless, he has undoubtedly created bisections as well. He thus divides the narrative series for Part III of the Gospel into two symmetrical arrangements: 11:2 through 12:21 and 12:22-50; the same applies to the narrative series in Part V; here, the two halves (16:13 through 17:27 and 19:3 through 20:16) are even kept apart by Matt. 18. The narrative series of Part VI shows two parts as well, but of different structures (20:17 through 21:27 and 21:28 through 22:46).
A bisection can also be pointed out in the first collection of sayings, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 through 7). But both parts are irregular, as in Part VI, and the overall structure of the Sermon on the Mount is not beyond all doubt. After the introductory beatitudes, comes Matt. 5:17-48. This section consists of some introductory verses (5:17-20) and then six anti-theses arranged into two sets of three; this is the first main passage of the speech. The second main passage consists of two groups of three with equal or similar pericope structure (6:1-18 and 6:19-24), according to what has been mentioned earlier (see above pages 10-12). Thus, elements arranged into two sets of three appear here as well as in the first main passage. Matthew probably did this on purpose, but it cannot be proven with complete certainty since the pericopes themselves lack the telling closed form elements. At least, “righteousness” in 5:20 and 6:1—the two beginnings of both main passages—and in 6:33, at the end of the second one, suggests that we have one whole—in the sense of Matthew’s style—in front of us which consists of two equivalent parts. This same structure is found in Matt. 18 and is more conspicuous than in the Sermon on the Mount.
Before this structure can be explored, we have to check whether Matt. 18 contains foreign, secondary pieces—independent of any regard for a closed form. Such a piece is found in Matt. 18:8-9. This passage is a repetition of Matt 5:29-30 (with some changes) and was added to 18:6-7 because of keywords (Mt-K 585 and 593). Furthermore, 18:16b-17 is foreign to the present context and is therefore not original. Jesus has just given instruction regarding the personal moral conduct of a person who has been wronged by someone else. That person is supposed to try and reconcile himself again with the other person, first by speaking with him “between thee and him alone” (v. 15), and if that doesn’t work by taking with him “one or two more” (v. 16a). Then this utterance of Jesus breaks off. For with verse 16b a purely juristic form of speech begins that cannot be considered a continuation of the begun passage: “ . . . that [you may fulfill the law:] in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Thus it reads in Matt. 18:16. But “one or two” (v. 16a) are not the legally required number of “two or three” (v. 16b). The insulted person is then referred to the church; when the offender does not listen to these, “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (v. 17). These words, spoken to Jews, meant nothing less than that Jesus was allowing hatred free rein, which hatred they habitually had toward the heathen and the publicans. Could Jesus utter such words? The constant accusation the Pharisees made against Jesus was that he communed with sinners and publicans (e.g, Matt. 9:11); of them Jesus said they would go into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees (Matt. 21:31). Like he had heart for the publicans and sinners, Jesus also had a heart for the heathen. He prophesied about them that they would occupy the place assigned to the Jews in the kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 8:11), he performed the second bread miracle among them (compare Mt-K regarding 15:31, which is followed by the second increase of bread with v. 32-39), he healed the slave of the heathen centurion in Capernaum (Matt. 8:5-13) and the daughter of the heathen Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). Jesus thus would have been contradicting himself if he had given free rein to the Jewish hatred of the heathen, not to mention that his main commandment was to “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:43-48). We can say with certainty: Jesus did not utter Matt. 18:17. A clear, literary seam, by the way, separates verses 15 and 16a, words spoken by Jesus, from verses 16b and 17, an insertion which a not much enlightened Jewish Christian took the liberty of adding to the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (Mt-K regarding the passage). Verse 18, on the other hand, once again undoubtedly is truly one of Jesus’s utterances, even if it sits loosely in the text (Mt-K 585); nevertheless, it probably is part of the original material in the Gospel of Matthew.
Considering these perceptions, the following arrangement of Matt. 18 could be depicted thus:
First half: 18:1-14
Attitude of a child, 18:1-5; “kingdom of heaven” (v. 1, 3, 4)
Offending the little ones, 18:6-7
Parable of the lost sheep, 18:10-14; “my Father which is in Heaven” (v. 14)
Second half: 18:15-35
Striving for reconciliation, 18:15-16a, 18-20
Readiness to forgive, 18:21-22
Parable of the pitiless slave, 18:23-35; “kingdom of heaven” (v. 23),
“my heavenly Father” (v. 35)
Both halves are not arranged symmetrically, but rather in a bisection of parallel parts. Each contains three pericopes, the last one of each being a parable. The significant expression, “kingdom of heaven,” surrounds the whole in the manner of a Semitic inclusion, and “Father in Heaven” in the third and sixth pericopes forms a responsion or correspondence.
It is remarkable that a parable concludes both parts of the bisection. This shows us another one of Matthew’s art forms. Matthew and Luke were probably not the first ones who concluded the Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the wise man and the foolish man (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49). Their correspondence points to the fact that Jesus did this himself. Matthew may have even adopted the practice of ending bigger speech passages with a parable from Jesus himself. In any case, he does so in Matt. 18 and elsewhere as well: the end of the second part of the Sermon on the Mount is marked by the lovely parable of the lilies of the field (6:25-33); at the end of the symmetrical passage in Part III (12:22-45) stands the parable of the returning devil (12:43-45); and at the end of Matt. 19:3 through 20:16 stands the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16). Additionally, the parables of the fig tree (24:32-33) and of the days of Noe (24:37-39) probably concluded the two subdivisions of the first half of the apocalyptic speech (Matt. 24 and 25; Mt-K 762) in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. In any case, the metaphor of the Last Judgment not only forms the end of this speech (25:31-46) but the end of all of Jesus’s lectures as well.
These examples constitute no menial evidence that Matthew was working here with deliberate artistic skill. By developing, at the end, a metaphoric speech of Jesus’s from often difficult to grasp teaching material (i.e., Jesus’s words as well as actions), Matthew stimulates the more animated imagination of his reader in order to offer the understanding mind some alleviation and encouragement for a more willing grasp of the presented material.
In several pericopes in the Gospel of Matthew we encounter conspicuous word series which constitute proof of a literary art unknown to us. Matt. 12:43-45 (the return of the cast-out demon) probably belongs in this category. A definite judgment could only be made on grounds of the not-preserved Hebrew text. However, the Greek version shows (and this is conveyed even in the German [and English] translations) the conspicuous usage of eundi mundi:
12:43 “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man,
he walketh through dry places, . . .
44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out;
and when he is come, he findeth it . . . garnished.
Then goeth45 he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits . . .
and they enter in and dwell there.” Bold added.
The “gone out” at the beginning and the “enter in” at the end are undoubtedly an intended inclusion. Whether “come . . . findeth” and “goeth . . . taketh” are more used as planned, stereotypical Jewish expressions remains an open question.
The following piece, Matt. 12:46-50 (Jesus and his relatives), on the other hand, shows an undoubtedly artificial structure, if of a very simple kind.
12:46) “behold, his mother and brethren . . .
47 Behold, thy mother and thy brethren . . .
48 Who is my mother?
and who are my brethren? . . .
49 Behold my mother and my brethren! . . .
50 is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
The typically Semitic repetition of the expression pair “mother and brethren” is not as striking as the fact that the repetitions are divided by two questions. This lends a certain amount of symmetry to this sequence. The last verse adds “sister.” This corresponds to a known proceeding in Hebrew poetry to fashion the concluding element slightly heavier—whether through an additional stichus or through a meaningful word—as done here.
From this piece it is only another small step to word chiasm. We define this here as the arrangement of various kinds of words according to the principle of chiasm, i.e., in the form a–b–c … c–b–a. Interestingly, it is also a pericope that talks about Jesus’s relatives, 13:53-58 (Jesus in Nazareth):
13:54 “he was come into his own country . . .
insomuch that they were astonished [affect], and said,
Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother called Mary?
And his brethren, James, and Joses, . . .
56 And his sisters, are they not
all with us?
Whence then hath this man all these things?
57 And they were offended in him [affect]. But Jesus said unto them,
A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.” Bold added.
The descriptions of the affects (v. 54 and 57) are here built into the artificial word sequence as well. Verses 53 and 58 are framing remarks by the narrator.
When we read about Jesus’s “brethren” and “sisters” we have to keep in mind that Oriental Jews are speaking to us in the scriptures of the New Testament. Matthew was a Jew as well. They were used to applying “brother” and “sister” in a broader sense, like Orientals all the way to China even do today. If they wanted these words to be understood in their strictest sense, as usually is the case in the Western tradition, they have to explicitly say so. But this does not happen in any of the above passages, and, actually, nowhere in the New Testament. The conclusion cannot be drawn, therefore, that Mary had other children besides Jesus (compare Mt-K about 12:46).
We encounter an unexpected example of chiasm in Matt. 18:10-14 (the parable of the lost sheep). The important expressions are the following:
18:10 “one of these little ones . . .
of my Father which is in heaven . . .
12 be gone astray . . .
ninety and nine . . .
that which is gone astray . . .
13 ninety and nine . . .
astray . . .
14 of your Father which is in heaven . . .
one of these little ones . . .”
One has to keep this arrangement in mind when performing a critical comparison with the parallel passage in Luke 15:3-7 in order to determine what is original and what is Matthew’s work (Mt-K 594).
This word chiasm indisputably reaches its climax in 13:13-18 (purpose of speaking in parables). Matthew begins with mentioning an Isaiah prophecy; he then adds this Old Testament scripture verbatim (Isaiah 6:9-10), inserts another utterance by Jesus in verses 16-17, and continues in verse 18 with an introduction to the parable of the sower. The word chiasm extends into this introduction (Mt-K 435). This is the order of the keywords:
“see . . . hear”
“hear . . . see”
“ears . . . hear”
“eyes . . . see”
“ears . . . hear”
16 “see . . . hear”
“see . . . hear”
The question of how Matthew obtained such artificial designs would be appropriate to ask here. He certainly did not fashion them for his private pleasure. He himself must have been led by a literary-aesthetic sense, but he must have also known that his readers were open to this sentiment and had an eye (or better an ear) for such artificial and artistic designs. The structure of Matt. 13:14b-15, (i.e., the quoted passage from Isaiah 6:9-10) would not have been lost on them or on himself; the chiasm of the expressions of “heart … heart” (v. 15) already stood out at this point. After Matthew had used a reminiscence from Isaiah with “see . . . hear” in the introduction (v. 13-14a), he will have felt the drive to list the quote in its whole length and then fashion the ending in such a way that it corresponded to the beginning because it would complete the chiasm of the words. Filling out the structure (which was partially given with his introduction [v. 13-14a] and partially with the Isaiah quote [v. 14b-15]) was likely much easier for him than we would imagine—like a man with poetic talent often has rhymes, rhythms, and ideas come to him spontaneously as needed.
If one of us wanted to create a chiasm like the one in Matt. 13:13-18, it would probably be a painful process with the use of many written outlines—a graphic arrangement for the eye would be absolutely necessary. For this reason, the author of this booklet is eager to display the artificial literary forms of the Gospel of Matthew in clear text arrangements,. Meanwhile, it is very doubtful that Matthew worked this way. He was a member of the Near Eastern memory culture, notwithstanding that he was able to read and write. His perceptive organ was preferably his hearing; his auditory imagination was trained. From this auditory imagination he could fashion a word chiasm—like a melody that returns to itself—without much compositional effort. In this case, one of Jesus’s words triggered Matthew’s treasure of memories to deliver to him the appropriate elements that round out the chiasm to its full effect. How many of us, on the other hand, have read Matt. 13:13-18 without even noticing the word correspondences!
Beginning with verse 16, Matthew adds other words by Jesus. Verse 16f, which was being passed around orally before Matthew wrote his Gospel, originally contained the word pair “[eyes] see . . . [ears] hear” and the word “prophet.” His artistic sense reminded Matthew of this utterance by Jesus and added it to fill the word chiasm. He finished the whole off by reiterating the first word in the chiastic series, “parables.” Matt. 13:18 thus reads, “Hear ye therefore [the explanation of] the parable of the sower.”
Another question that could be asked is why Matthew felt he could handle Jesus’s words so freely. When comparing this passage with the parallel passages in Mark.4:10-12 and Luke 8:9f, we see that the Isaiah quote did not belong to what Jesus originally said. The preceding reference to the Isaiah passage originates with Jesus himself—according to the witness of all three synoptics. Thus, the added formal quote becomes an explanation for what Jesus has said. Matthew listed it as Jesus’s utterance because it reflected his thoughts. Similar situations are found often, such as when John weaves his own explanations into Jesus’s speeches without pointing this out. With this, we have to keep in mind that the Jews of that time, like the old Orient in general, almost always rendered the Thought as the Said.
It is due to Matthew’s literary art skills that he can let one and the same literary element carry out two functions at once. One could first point here to the concluding formula of the lectures, e.g., Matt. 11:1, “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach [his message] in their cities.” The same sentence both concludes the lecture and leads into something new, but he does so with different parts of the sentence so that we cannot actually speak of a double function in its real sense. The same is true for Matt. 13:53; 19:1; 26:1.
But a problem occurs in Matt. 1:1, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” The text continues in verse 2: “Abraham begat Isaac,” etc., and presents the same names as in verse 1 in reversed order: Abraham, David, Jesus the Christ. No doubt verse 1 is the introduction to the so-called family tree (Matt. 1:2-16), but the Greek expression rendered as “the book of the generation” can mean neither genealogy nor pedigree (Mt-K 34) considering the context of Matt. 1. This passage goes beyond referencing just the heritage of Jesus and points to the historic content of whole Gospel of Matthew. That means, therefore, that Matt. 1:1 functions both as an introduction to the Gospel as well as an introduction to the genealogy (1:2-16). Both functions run parallel without complaint.
Matt. 4:23-25 is surrounded by some twilight. This section contains a general account: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. . . . And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” After the scene of Jesus’s ministry is described in 4:12-16 and his teachings in 4:17, verses 23-25 follow well as general description of his ministry; this passage can be understood as closure for what can be titled “scene and ministry of Jesus.” Also, from the arrangement of the individual pericopes by number in Matt. 3 and 4, we can deduce that 4:23-25, as the last pericope, must belong to this part of the Gospel, Part I (Mt-K 81).
After Part I comes chapters 5 through 7 presenting the Sermon on the Mount as the first big collection of sayings. The introductory sentence reads, “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain” (5:1a). As Matt. 4:25 speaks of “great multitudes” in general and 5:1 then mentions “the multitudes,” the reader will connect both expressions with each other; though the first one belongs to a general description, and the second one concerns an actual situation. It is possible though to consider Matt. 4:25 as having a double function inasmuch as 4:25 is also supposed to function as introduction to 5:1.
Matt. 4:25 is not the only instance on this happening. At the end of the narrative series in Part III (9:35 through 12:45), we read the episode about Jesus and his relatives (12:46-50). How is this episode connected to the narrative series in a literary sense? It actually doesn’t seem to be connected with anything around it: it is preceded by a closed form (12:22-45) whose beginning and end are marked with the “casting out of the demon” (v. 22-24) and the “return of the demon” (v. 43-45). Therefore, it can probably not be counted with this literary unit. The introduction to the parable speech comes immediately after it: “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went [was forced to go] into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables” (13:1-3). In a literary sense, the episode with Jesus and his relatives also does not belong here either. It sits, then, between two bigger passages, and no expression connects them formally. For the answer to the posed question, then, we are solely dependent on the exegesis. The text in Matt. 12: 46-50 reads:
12:46 “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold, my mother and my brethren!
49 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
The emphasis of the pericope obviously rests on the last sentence; for its sake, Matthew included this pericope in his Gospel and placed it where we read it, between the two bigger passages. The preceding passage (together with all of Part III to which it belongs) expresses the thought that Jesus was rejected by the people as the Messiah; he proclaimed the will of God (Part II, Matt. 5:1 through 9:34), but they did not want to take notice. Matt. 12:50 stands now in sharp contrast to this.
By pointing at his disciples, Jesus indicated a very small minority where he had found the fulfillment of his Father’s will despite everything; these few, at least, stood in contrast to the multitude. Matt. 12:46-50 thus presents a contrast to the distressing content of Part III.
Part IV of the Gospel begins with the parable speech (13:-58). In this part, Matthew shows how Jesus necessarily separated himself more and more from the people due to their attitude (13:1 through 16:20). Compared to the unbelieving multitudes, his disciples stood by him like “brother, and sister, and mother.” Taken from the social context and transferred to the spiritual-religious, this comparison says that their connection with him even went beyond the bonds of blood and far surpassed them in closeness. The contrast between the disciples (who believed in Jesus and his word) and the people is also very clear toward the beginning of chapter 13. For the sake of this contrast, Matthew has premised Part IV of his Gospel with 12:46-50.
In summary, the pericope concerning Jesus and his relatives functions in contrast to the preceding Part III as well as to the following Part IV. It is an actual double function of content and literary manner that testifies of the mental work Matthew put into his Gospel.
Matt. 13:53-58 (Jesus in Nazareth) is another example of this literary art. It reads:
13:53 “And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.
54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”
The pericope Jesus in Nazareth is preceded by the closed form of the parable speech (13:1-52) and is followed by a series of narratives in which this pericope does not seem to be included; Matt. 14:1-12, the message about the Baptist’s death, foreshadows Jesus’s own death which found its deepest cause in the rejection by the people. This rejection, already visible in the parable speech and even more so in 14:1 through 16:12, is expressed most clearly through the review that Jesus performed with his loyal Twelve in 16:13-16. Thus, the Baptist’s fate will also be Jesus’s fate. Matt. 14:1-12 (the Baptist’s execution) and 16:13-20 (the scene in Caesarea Philippi) form an inclusion by content if not in form, and they thus contribute greatly to letting 14:1 through 16:20 stand out as a closed form (compare Mt-K 468f). This form does not include the Jesus in Nazareth pericope.
Nevertheless, it is formally connected with this closed form through the ideas of faith and unbelief. Please note the following expressions and their sequence:
14:31 “O thou of little faith” (to Peter)
15:28 “O woman, great is thy faith” (to the Canaanite woman)
16:8 “O ye of little faith” (to the disciples)
The Canaanite woman is an example of believing trust and, as a contrasting climax, sits at the center of the closed form. Peter and his companions still had not quite followed, yet they were supposed to have a more perfect believing trust in Jesus after all they had heard and experienced. The people around the Twelve, however, whose mouthpiece were the pharisaic rabbis, had sunk into deep unbelief. Here we concern ourselves with 13:58, “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Through the use of the word “unbelief,” the Jesus in Nazareth pericope becomes the title for the following narrative: “Jesus separates himself from his people because of their unbelief.”
Not formally but in content, the same verse and the people of Nazareth’s behavior also point to the preceding parable speech. When Jesus discusses the purpose of speaking in parables (13:10-17), he points out the indebted not-seeing and not-listening of the people. Through the use of the word “unbelief” in 13:58 this thought finds its most cutting form. Thus, the Jesus in Nazareth pericope simultaneously functions as the ending of the parable speech and as the title narrative for the following closed narrative series (Mt-K 468f). Here again, we may speak of a double function by which the position of the Jesus in Nazareth pericope in the structure of the Gospel becomes clear.
In the same manner, one would ascribe a double function to the content-rich Caesarea Philippi narrative, which differs though from those mentioned before. Whereas the Jesus and his relatives pericope and the Jesus in Nazareth pericope sit between the closed forms, the Caesarea Philippi narrative belongs to the former closed form as a conclusion and to the latter closed form as a beginning. We have just discussed how Matt. 16:13-20 concludes the narrative series in Part IV (14:1-16:20) as being inwardly connected to the Baptist’s execution (14:1-12). As a review shows, 16:13-20 is evidently an ending. Simultaneously, something enormous and new begins with this pericope, similarly evident; Jesus creates a new foundation for the Messiah’s people in Simon Peter. We would now expect that Jesus would have subsequently said much more about this new idea. This happens in 16:21 through 20:16, but in a way that is different than from what would be expected. This section comprises Part V of the Gospel of Matthew in which Matthew explains the Spirit of the kingdom of heaven to the reader, as well as the spirit of self-denial, selflessness, and love. But the kingdom of heaven is, in terms of fact, the church that Jesus promised to build upon the foundation of Simon, the Rock. This pericope, therefore, exquisitely lends itself as introductory pericope for Part V. The first of two narrative passages belonging to Part V extends from 16:21 up to 17:27, i.e., up to the lecture in Matt. 18. The last pericope in this narrative passage is 17:24-27, i.e., Peter and the temple tribute. If we regard the scene of Caesarea Philippi (16:13-20) as the first one, the two pericopes result in a surprising inclusion (compare Mt-K 547). This cannot be by chance, but it reveals the literary intention of the author. But then, the scene of Caesarea Philippi has a double function. It forms the last link in the narrative series of Part IV and simultaneously the first one in Part V. No one will deny that the Caesarea Philippi narrative (16:13-20) thus receives functional importance like no other pericope and that therein it verily corresponds to the recounted event, for the scene of Caesarea Philippi signifies the turning-point in the Gospel of Matthew (compare Mt-K regarding 16:21).
The position of the Jesus and his relatives pericope and of the Jesus of Nazareth pericope, as well as that of the scene of Caesarea Philippi, is unique to the Gospel of Matthew; nowhere else are there pieces with equal functions. Has Matthew not worked his Gospel uniformly throughout? Do the exceptions, which these three pericopes present, fall outside of Matthew’s careful planning? These questions are necessary in view of the love for order that characterizes Matthew’s writings.
The solution to this problem had not come to me yet when I was writing my commentary, and when I found it, it was as surprising to me as it may be for the reader. The question that calls for an immediate answer is: Where in the Gospel of Matthew are the three pericopes with the double functions situated? The answer can be depicted as follows:
I—II—III + IV, lecture + IV, narrative series + V—VI—VII
This means that the first three main parts as well as the last three parts are not connected by pericopes with double functions. The three middle parts are the only ones that are connected by such pericopes. Furthermore, the central Part IV shows a connection of its two constructive parts (the lecture and narrative series) based on the double function of the Jesus in Nazareth pericope (13:53-58). The three double functions then present themselves in a strictly symmetrical arrangement. They have been placed by Matthew conscientiously and deliberately where we see them, and they are elements of the artistic, symmetrical arrangement of the whole Gospel. They confirm and expand on what has been said above about the structure (pages 5-6). This unexpected harmony with the structure of the whole Gospel constitutes an affirmation for the fact that the double function of these three pericopes has been seen and determined correctly. We cannot tell whether Matthew saw other reasons beyond the formal to connect Parts III, IV, and V more closely.
The literary art forms appearing throughout the Gospel easily show that Matthew has arranged his material according to his purpose and taste. We can define the signature of his literary technique as freedom in the connection, and this in multiple regards.
One way this signature surfaces is in the selection of material. Almost everything that we read in Mark, and much of what Luke contains beyond that, we also read in Matthew. But Matthew’s knowledge about Jesus allowed him to present additional material that is missing in the other two synoptics. He often used this opportunity. To a certain degree, he felt bound to the material that was already circulating before he wrote it down; but this in such a manner that he simultaneously applied a certain amount of freedom to the selection of the material.
From the outset, his commitment to preexisting material attached official value to his Gospel. The selection of material probably originated with Peter, from whom the norming tradition originated and which later found its written form with Mark. The harmony with this standard tradition contributed much to the confirmation of what Matthew presented based on his dogmatic-apologetic objectives. For this material largely consisted of the testimonies that the Twelve, called by Jesus, bore. It did not consist of judgments that they themselves made of Jesus, as little as Luke and Mark were interested in this. They, and Matthew with them, concerned themselves mainly with Jesus’s words, acts, and experiences for which the Twelve appeared as witnesses. The reader should be able to draw his or her own conclusions. This action displays a remarkable certainty by the evangelists to report reliable information.
In passing, it can be pointed out that the narrative material and the parables, as we read them in the Gospel of Matthew, often do not appear in same form as the Twelve originally presented them to the listeners; for that purpose, this material has been kept much too brief. One only needs to compare, for example, the parables of the mustard seed and of the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:31-32 and 13:45-46) with the expansive parable of the prodigal son in Luke (Luke 15:11-32) or with the example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). With Matthew, only the story of the believing Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28) shows some copiousness. No matter whether all of this shortening to the essential was Matthew’s work, it fits the lively character of the book. At times, its brevity suggests that the readers were already familiar with a more explicit version (e.g., the healing of the lunatic in Matt. 17:14-21).
Freedom in connecting the material is evident in the sequence of the individual pieces of material in the Gospel of Matthew. This aspect is more significant than the one discussed above because Matthew’s artistic skill shows most palpably in the closed forms, and these are based on the specific sequences of texts. In the second half of his Gospel, Matthew follows a sequence already given to him; therefore, Matt. 14 through 28 continues to correspond with Mark 6:14 through 16:8. But once again, Matthew takes the freedom to insert his own material here; whereas in the first thirteen chapters in general he uses an order of his own.
It appears that the narrative type of the individual pericopes had taken on a more fixed form than their sequence before Matthew even wrote his Gospel. We can explain it this way: Chronologically, the first task of Peter as mouthpiece and of the Twelve was, on the whole, to demonstrate that the terrible catastrophe of Jesus’s death on the cross did not surprise Jesus, but that he knew of it, had prophesied about it ahead of time, and could have easily escaped it. This led to the development of a continuous narration of his death agony—the result of which showed that he had taken his death agony upon himself, voluntarily (compare Mt-K regarding Matt. 26:2; page 826). This, together with the manifold testimonies regarding the resurrected Jesus, took the edge off the scandal of the cross. The task of the Twelve grew, as soon as it was necessary, to support the conclusions that resulted from Jesus’s death and resurrection with Jesus’s teachings and actions in front of people in Jerusalem, in Judea, and in Galilee. Simultaneously, this added information served to increase and secure the knowledge regarding Jesus that some people already possessed. Furthermore, they wanted to show the educated people, i.e., the pharisaic rabbis, that Jesus’s life and suffering were in accordance with scriptural prophesies in the Old Testament. These tasks made it necessary to collect the individual memories—which, for the most part, were probably already circulating—to make a selection, and to fashion them into a whole in the best possible way. This process comprised several developmental phases and was by no means finished when Luke, as the last of the three synoptics, authored his Gospel. This affirms why Matthew arranged many things in a way that served his purpose, but with other passages he was able to pick up already fixed sequences and, if necessary, expand them with insertions. We will not discuss here how he used his sources in particular. In any case, we see that, even in the material sequence, Matthew remained true to his working principle: freedom in connecting the material.
A third aspect that illuminates this principle is perhaps even more remarkable than the two already mentioned (i.e., selecting the material and connecting the material). Matthew arranges his material in such a manner that a development line of Jesus’s life results, which is, on one hand, artificial and ideal, but, on the other hand, has to be called historic. It is remarkable how he knows how to incorporate already fixed passages into his work and still impress the whole, as well as the individual parts, with an artistic, literary form. Bondedness and freedom combine here in a unique manner.
Let us now consider his Gospel as a whole structure. The artificial form that Matthew gave his Gospel as a whole was explained above (pages 12-13). We want to show here how much this form served him in depicting an ideal and nevertheless mostly historic course of Jesus’s life.
Part I (Matt. 1 through 4) sheds light on “the beginnings of Jesus”: his lineage, which identifies Jesus as the born Messiah-King of the Jews; the special care with which God guarded his childhood; and the acceptance of his messianic mission through baptism in the River Jordan and through fasting in the desert with temptations. Then follows a general characterization of his teachings and actions. It is in accordance with the historic situation that Part I does not contain a collection of sayings, as much as the content of this part, chronologically, belongs at the beginning of Jesus’s life.
Similar things apply to Part VII, the concluding part, “the Passion and resurrection account” (Matt. 26 through 28). Suffering, death, and resurrection comprise the end of Jesus’s life. But the following is remarkable. The resurrected Jesus still instructed his twelve (eleven) disciples in many things. Luke’s record states, “These [i.e., his suffering and his resurrection] are [the fulfillment of] the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Luke then adds, “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the [holy] scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). What would we give if Matthew would have preserved for us, in a collection of sayings what Jesus had said during those days and hours. But Matthew does not offer a collection of sayings in this part. One reason might be that the original tradition had not compiled one; additionally, Matthew also undoubtedly wanted to continue the symmetrical structure of his Gospel and harmonize Part VII with Part I. By the way, he preserved some of the utterances by the resurrected Lord in chapter 10 placed in the midst of other words by Jesus (Mt-K regarding 10:16.26; see above pages 26-27); and many of the references to the Old Testament that are found in the apostolic scriptures may originate with the interpretation of scriptures by Jesus after his resurrection.
Part II (Matt. 5:1 through 9:34) can be titled “Jesus the Messiah and his message.” The collection of sayings (the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5 through 7), as well as the subsequent narrative series (the miracle chapters, Matt. 8 through 9:34), demonstrate the schematic form of the arrangement in their closed forms. The exegesis makes it plain that the individual miracles and the inserted questions stem from different stages in Jesus’s public ministry. But as a whole, Part II expresses that Jesus first offered his doctrine and his person as the God-appointed Messiah to the people. It thus inevitably corresponds with the historic course of things, even though Jesus performed these miracles at different places and at different times and continued to do so until the end of his life.
Part III, titled “Jesus as the Messiah rejected by the people” (9:35 through 12:50), follows the content of Part II with a certain degree of inner necessity. Even in historic regard, Part III marks another stage, which, in reality though, came about in a very irregular tempo and with varying degrees of consequence in the different areas and ethnic circles. In a standardizing manner, Matthew makes a whole out of it by presenting it as a literarily rounded-off part.
Similar things can be said of Part IV, titled “Jesus separates from his people” (13:1 through 16:20). The parable chapter (Matt. 13) is not to be understood in such a manner that Jesus had spoken to the people about the kingdom of heaven in parables only beginning at a later point of time and had told all seven parables one after the other. But, rather, Matthew says with this that Jesus, from a certain time on, did not talk publically about the kingdom of heaven in any other form, and, actually, Jesus would probably not have applied this technique everywhere beginning at the same point of time. The events that Matthew presents beginning with chapter 14 were already compiled during the pre-evangelic time period. Matthew thought that, en bloc, they fit into his artificial structure. As Jesus saw himself forced to do without Israel as his Messiah people, he created a new foundation in the Twelve, with Simon Peter at the head, for his spiritual kingdom that had to be built on earth. Not only with regards to the development of ideas, but also in a historic sense, Matt. 16:13-20 is positioned correctly.
Part V can be titled “the spirit of the kingdom of heaven” (16:13 through 20:16). The more the people inwardly distanced themselves from Jesus, the more intensively he dedicated himself to training his Twelve. In this regard as well, the development of ideas and history coincided approximately. Most of the material that comprises the narrative series falls into two groups (16:13 through 17:27 and 19:1 through 20:16) that date from the late period of Jesus’s public life—the prophecies about suffering, the transfiguration, the discourse on being without marriage, the promise to the Twelve (19:27-29); the same cannot strictly be proven for the collection of sayings in Matt. 18. In any case, Matthew designed it, like the narrative series, to explain the spirit of the kingdom of heaven—the attitude necessary for the kingdom of heaven as well as the height to which this attitude can develop in the kingdom of heaven.
In Part VI we read about the “last battles in Jerusalem” (20:17 through 25:46). It is a fact that Jesus spent time in Jerusalem towards the end of his life and that he was there on the occasion of the Feast of the Tabernacles, about half year before the Passover of the Last Supper. Before the Gospel of Matthew was written, tradition had already combined what happened in Jerusalem during this time period and created an account of Jesus’s last days in Jerusalem. In this period belong the fierce attacks that Jesus brought against his opponents and which these brought against him, and, of course, the apocalyptic utterances in Matt. 24 and 25. In mental battles with his opponents, Jesus indisputably remained the winner. Now only one path stood open to his enemies—the brutal force as described in Part VII.
The decisive aspect for Matthew was, no doubt, the conceptual development of Jesus’s life. But he knew how to fashion it in such a manner that the historic development was noted in it as well with broad strokes. This demonstrates great literary skill. It is further illuminated by the fact that he expressed this development in the artistically formed pattern of seven in the overall structure of the Gospel. Matthew proves himself to be a literary artist with great organizational power; his Gospel is a grand drama, fashioned after real life.
We already mentioned (above, page 39) that the Twelve were forced in the very early days to compile an account of suffering for the purpose of apologetics. For how could they proclaim Jesus as the Messiah after the highest Jewish authorities had condemned him to death and the Romans had crucified him? Matthew wrote his whole Gospel for an apologetic purpose, and let this purpose stand out starkly in the account of Jesus’s sufferings and resurrection. He did not do this through formal apologetics, through quoting and refuting, but, true to the gospel character, through the lining up of historic words and events whose voice was supposed to speak to the reader. For this, he used already existing narrative groups, only he gave them a sharper profile to the artistic as well as to the apologetic side. Matt. 26:20-35 shows the sequence that Mark 14:17-30 preserved as well; but in Matthew the first and third pericopes form a relation through artificial, formal connections (Mt-K 841; see above page 20) and thus gain an apologetic power.
Prophesying the betrayal, 26:20-25
Instituting the sacrament, 26:26-30
Prophesying the offense of the Twelve, 26:31-35.
Through their connection by the middle part, the prophecies line up as proof that the death agony did not surprise Jesus, but, rather, he was very able to prevent everything if he had wanted to. The traitor did not have him at his mercy, but he had the traitor; as Jesus accepted the shame of the Judas’s betrayal, he also voluntarily took on himself the shame of standing alone, left by his most loyal followers.
Furthermore, Matthew is the only one of all the evangelists who, through his artistic arrangement, puts Judas in such a light that the reader has to recognize him as an instrument of hell. What Luke remarks regarding Judas, “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot” (Luke 22:3), Matthew expresses through a closed form of symmetrical structure:
Betrayal by Judas, 26:47-56
Content listing for following parallel pericopes, 26:57-58
Jesus before Caiaphas, 26:59-66
Jesus mocked as the Messiah, 26:67-68
Denial by Peter, 26:69-75
Morning session and handing Jesus over to Pilate, 27:1-2
Judas’s end, 27:3-10.
That both Judas narratives belong together is proven by their content. The two mysterious verses, 26:57-58, anticipate the narratives of verses 59-66 and verses 69-75—like in modern works titles anticipate the content of the work or parts of it; wherefore, we can here speak of content listings. In their closed structure, these two verses correspond to the two verses in 27:1-2.
Judas’s end contains three thoughts: the traitor’s reward is tainted by innocently spilled blood (Mt-K regarding 27:3); Judas denies his God (Mt-K regarding 27:5); and he hangs himself out of desperation. These facts became widely known among the people and spoke an unmistakably clear language: Jesus was guiltless, his death, trial, and execution a crime. Judas proved only too clearly, through his behavior after the act, whose mind child he was. The same spirit spoke from the authorities’ proceedings and the people’s attitude towards Jesus. This led the teachable people to the realization that Jesus’s death agony had served a purpose which lifted him far above Messiahship as one had approached it in general: the cross only contradicted the nationalistic idea of a Messiah, not the idea of a Messiah as God realized it in Jesus. The popular idea of a Messiah was of the same spirit which had inspired Judas and led the authorities. That is the apologetic force which Matthew expresses through his artistic art form.
These apologetics are continued in the next section (27:11-31). It is a closed form as well (see above, page 21). Through the contrast that Matthew gains with this form, Pilate becomes a witness to Jesus’s innocence and the Jewish people become the criminal cause of the Messiah’s murder. (This applies to the Jewish people of that time; it would be contrary to Jesus’s spirit to condemn the modern Jewish people for the crime of their ancestors.)
After the burial, Matthew presents the narrative about the guards at the tomb as extra material (27:62 through 28:15). It is also fashioned to serve a certain apologetic purpose. That does not mean that it is invented and untrue; otherwise there would never be any valid defense, for defense is apologetics. Starting on the day of resurrection, the guards’ testimony, in the sense of the disciples perhaps having stolen Jesus’s corpse, was brought against Jesus’s disciples. How did they refute that?
Here, we first have to say something about Matt. 28:9-10 (Jesus shows himself to the women). Independent of all art forms, it can be made plain that this little pericope was not part of the original version of the Gospel of Matthew. The content is a vague generalization of Jesus’s appearance to Mary Magdalene as reported by John (John 20:11-18), with an inwardly improbable repetition of the command to the disciples from Matt. 28:7 (Mt-K 944). The angel first brought the message and the command:
“And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him.”
The angel did not do this in his own name, but by Jesus’s command, even if this is not explicitly stated. The message was of world-historic significance and, therefore, the scene in the burial chamber of greatest solemnity. It would have been bad form if Jesus had first sent a messenger and then himself repeated the task of the latter—even before the women could have carried it out; it would have equaled a devaluation of the messenger’s words. Matt. 28:10 is, then, an uncritical repetition of 28:7. Therefore, we can ignore both verses when we investigate the original form of Matt 27:62 through 28:15.
If verses 9-10 are left out of account, a surprising closed form of chiastic structure results:
The guards at the tomb, 27:62-66
The women on their way to the tomb, 28:1
The angel and the guards, 28:2-4
The angel and the women at the tomb, 28:5-8
The testimony of the bribed guards, 28:11-15
The actions and experiences of the women and that of the guards are not delimitated by any words, rather, they are stacked like bricks without mortar. With regards to content, though, one scene requires the other. The arrangement has thus been thought through, though the scene at the center (v. 2-4) separates the two scenes with the women in a somewhat brutal manner. One cannot fail to notice that the beginning and the end of this closed form create an inclusion; they are about the guards. Not only that, but the guards also appear in the central scene, showing that the main emphasis of the whole passage rests on them. We would not have arranged it this way because we are infinitely more concerned about the angel’s revelation, “He is risen,” than about the guards’ actions. But Matthew chose the artistic form as means for his apologetic purpose. In Matthew’s day, the Jewish people had become more and more hardened against the Easter message of the Twelve, and they argued against it with the guards’ testimony. Instead of defending the truth in thematic form, Matthew preferred to let the facts speak for themselves which then put this testimony into the correct light. In the narrative (27:62-66) Matthew uses the expression, “make [the sepulcher] sure,” three times with quiet irony. How big a failure this turned out to be is explained in the second and third guard scenes; the women served as indirect witnesses for what was told in the second guard scene, or the central scene. In the final scene, Jesus’s opponents do not even dare to deny that the tomb was empty. Either they accepted what the women had told the disciples and what these were able to confirm soon afterwards through their own experiences (but accepting this explanation would have meant admitting their grave guilt; any other way seemed better to them) or they chose the loophole of the historic lie. They chose the latter. Viewed from a moral and an intellectual standpoint, this choice was inferior, but no other choice was available to them. They bought the historic lie for a large sum of money. Thus the guards (one of whom must have blabbed, by the way) involuntarily, if indirectly, became witnesses for the truth. For the sake of this apologetic argument, Matthew did not leave us an account that contained the proof and nothing but the proof for Jesus’s resurrection, but an account of how the guards’ deceitful explanation, which is still believed, came about. In 27:62 through 28:15, the artistic form is used for apologetics.
Among all the art forms that he uses, Matthew most prefers the symmetrical arrangement, with or without chiasm of content. In the preceding section we saw how Matthew used this form for his apologetics. But this is not its only function. It emphasizes certain passages like no other form by moving these into the center of the symmetrical forms. It is worth the effort to review the symmetrical forms with this regard; we can then find out what, according to Matthew, are the high points of the Gospel.
Matt. 3 through 4 is arranged in such a way that the temptation account (4:1-11) is preceded by four pericopes about the Baptist and followed by four pericopes about Jesus (Mt-K 81). The expansive temptation account gains special significance by being placed at the center. We probably would have assigned this preferred position to the baptism. But for Matthew, Jesus’s fasting followed by the temptations was apparently more important for his reasoning. It says that Jesus expressed his willingness before God the Father to bring about redemption by the harsh way of the cross (Mt-K 116); at the same time he refused the Messianic idea that the Jews of his time wished for. In fact, he embraced what they rejected. The contrast, then, lies in the true, divine idea of a Messiah as opposed to and the wrong, national-worldly idea of the Messiah that the Jews held. The whole Gospel is brought into line with this; that is probably why Matthew accentuates the temptation account through its central position.
In the miracle chapters (Matt. 8 through 9), we find a triple symmetry (see above, pages 11-12). Through “faith . . . believe” (8:5-13) and “believe . . . faith” (9:27-31) the middle pieces of the first and of the third miracle in the trio are coordinated with each other and lifted from the flanking narrative pairs. The central position of the respective pericopes reveals that Matthew attaches special importance to faith; this is confirmed in other places as well. The central miracle narrative of the second miracle in the trio (8:28-34) simultaneously forms the center of all the miracle accounts listed in Matt. 8 through 9. It receives its distinctiveness undoubtedly through in Jesus’s designation as “Son of God.” This is the ultimate statement about Jesus. One was supposed to dedicate oneself to him, the Son of God, who, as such, was the true Messiah. Such is here the language of the applied art form.
A further symmetry is found in Matt. 11:2 through 12:21 (see above, page 17). Exactly at its center we find 11:25-30, “Jesus the Revelator.” This piece harmonizes with the framing pieces (11:2-6 with an Isaiah quote and 12:15-21 with an Isaiah quote) because they deal with Jesus’s personality, but it is not required by the further content of the closed form. Thus it sits at the center because Matthew wanted it there. We don’t go wrong if we compare it with 8:28-34. Just as Jesus’s divinity is attested in this centrally positioned pericope, it is also attested in 11:25-30. Here, as well, the position at the center of the symmetry expresses that Matthew attaches special meaning to this content. The form serves the content.
An analogous function, but of the opposite orientation, emanates from the central piece of the subsequent symmetrical structure (12:22-45). In the middle, the wickedness of Jesus’s accusers is delineated, and at the exact center of the chiastically constructed collection of sayings sits the address, “O generation of vipers” (12:34; compare Mt-K 409-410). The addressed are filled with such a degree of wickedness that a just judgment of Jesus cannot even be expected of them. At this point, the closed form (12:22-45) and Jesus’s self-defense both come to a climax.
The center of the symmetrical passage (14:1 through 16:20) is occupied by the narrative about the Canaanite woman (15:21-28). The relative copiousness indicates that Matthew fashioned it with especially great care. Its climax is Jesus’s words, “O woman, great is thy faith.” Once again it is the faithful devotion to Jesus which Matthew emphasizes through the central position of the pericope. In this, he does not just look at Jesus’s commandment in general. The pericope of the Canaanite woman stands in perfect contrast to the “unbelief” of the people of Nazareth (13:53-58; see above, page 36), and also to the “little faith” of Peter (14:31) and the other disciples (16:8).
The central position of Jesus’s transfiguration (17:1-9) within the structure of 16:13-27 (see above, pages 18-19 speaks for itself. Through its content of ideas, it compares with 11:25-30.
However, it is not clear why Matthew placed the narrative of the rich young man (19:16-22) at the center of the symmetry in 19:3 through 20:16 (see above, page 19). Perhaps the purpose was to show to what degree of sacrifice a disciple of Jesus is at times requird to give.
Clearer is the reason why “Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem” (21:1-11) marks the climax of the closed form in 20:17 through 21:27 (see above, pages 19-20). Jesus presents himself to the people as the divinely appointed Messiah with more clarity than he ever did before or since..
We skip here the middle piece (10:26-31, “God’s protection”) in the sending forth speech; it will be discussed in the next chapter. Thus only the bigger symmetrical units that remain to be mentioned are in the Passion account.
It is significant that in the apologetically determined section, 26:47 through 27:10 (see above, page 42-45), Jesus is mocked as the Messiah in the symmetrical center (26:67-68). The Jewish people of the time were guilty of having rejected Jesus as the Messiah, which had the consequence that the Jews at the time of the primitive church hated Jesus as the Messiah and turned on the church as the Messiah’s community as well. Through its central position, this scene joins the temptation account and Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, both central pieces as well, and thus climaxes in Jesus’s delineation as the Messiah.
In contrast to the mocking of Jesus as the Messiah, Matthew emphasizes that Jesus had been executed as “the King of the Jews” through the position at the beginning and at the end of 27:11-31 (see above, page 21). At the center of the death account, on the other hand, appears Jesus’s death, introduced by the darkness and the Messianic cry of abandonment (27:45-50). After Matthew had already written in symmetrical arrangements, this was obvious and understandable (pages 21-22).
The equally apologetic section of 27:62 through 28:15 has been discussed in the preceding chapter. The main emphasis there is born by the guards. They also play a role in the central piece (v. 2-4) where it is described what they really had experienced and must have shared with someone contrary to their subsequent lies. Thus, they step closer to the event of Jesus’s resurrection than any other witnesses. The symbolism of what they experienced there should not be overlooked. God opened the tomb through an angel. It made no sense to keep an empty tomb closed; what must have happened immediately before is clear: Jesus had risen from the closed tomb to a divine life (Mt-K regarding 28:3). His hostile guards had to attest what was perceptible in these proceedings. In a text with apologetic tendencies, it cannot surprise us that this testimony is assigned the central position. This, however, does not change the fact that God did not officially inform the world through them; he informed the world through the mouth of an angel (v. 5-8).
Lastly, let us look at the position that 13:53-58 (Jesus in Nazareth) occupies in the overall scheme of the Gospel of Matthew. As has been mentioned, in the immediate context this pericope probably carried the function of closing the parable chapter and providing a table of contents for the subsequent narrative series (see above, pages 35-38).
If that is true, this pericope held special significance in the eyes of Matthew. This must be even more the case if we also consider that 13:53-58, structurally, sits at the very center of the artificial structure of the Gospel of Matthew; for one would not want to claim that the evangelist merely played a game with his literary art forms. Matt. 13:53-58, therefore, has a special task in the overall Gospel. Why does the pericope about Jesus’s rejection in Nazareth occupy such a central position?
This probably had two reasons. First, this event reflected the whole public life of Jesus. Jesus revealed his wisdom and mercy to the people. The people in Nazareth experienced his wisdom in his expounding the scriptures, they had learned about his mercy through the news regarding his working of miracles. Despite the initial amazement, the whole people rejected him like those from Nazareth. The consequence for Jesus was that “he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (13:58). Thus the unbelief of the people was also the reason why Jesus had to separate himself more and more from them. From the parallel account in Luke we learn that, in Nazareth, there even was an attempt to murder Jesus (Luke 4:29-30). Matthew does not report this, but after the Nazareth pericope he immediately continues in his Gospel with the account of the Baptist’s execution, which comes in 16:13-20 as a reference to Jesus’s final fate (Mt-K 468). With internal logical consistency, the unbelief of the people (exemplified in the unbelief of the people of Nazareth) led to Jesus’s execution.
Besides this aspect in the Gospel itself, Matthew will also have had an apologetic motive to place the pericope 13:53-58 at the center of the Gospel. The behavior of the people of Nazareth found its reflection in the behavior of the evangelist’s Jewish contemporaries. The people’s negative attitude towards Jesus continued in the rejection of his church, even to the point of bloody persecutions. Here now Matthew’s mitigating judgment in 13:58 stands out. Jesus was not able to perform many miracles because of the unbelief of the people of Nazareth, but some of them certainly must have believed in him. Thus it was in the days of Matthew. Back then there were not a few disciples of Jesus among the Jews, but the pressure that the unbelief exerted on the post-Easter church finally forced them out into the heathen world. This interpretation of the central position of the Nazareth pericope in the overall Gospel harmonizes with the leading ideas of the Gospel of Matthew.
When we compare the ideas that Matthew highlights and emphasizes at the center of the symmetrical art forms, they are, primarily, Jesus as the true, divine Messiah and, second, the appeal to join him, believing. This expresses the content and objective of the Gospel of Matthew. This correspondence is not totally unwelcome. It can be listed as affirmation that the literary art forms have been recognized and interpreted correctly. It further affirms that Matthew used symmetry to express the content.
At the end of our presentation, we can point out a feature in the Gospel of Matthew that honors the evangelist as an author. It is in his distribution of light and shadow. Jesus’s life, which Matthew described in his own manner, was a tragedy, a chain of painful disappointments and experiences which culminated in his shameful death on the cross. It is true: the resurrection finally eclipsed all past suffering through the divine glory and power in which Matthew lets us see Jesus in the concluding pericope (28:16-20). But this was not enough for the evangelist. He himself successfully tried to let lights eluminate the darkness. The following examples represent this.
Jesus’s earliest childhood was overshadowed by the darkness of persecution and threats to his life: Herod’s malicious persecution with the aid of the unsuspecting wise men; the flight to Egypt with the slaying of the children in Bethlehem, where little Jesus was the intended victim; and the detour to Nazareth in order to save Jesus from Herod’s cruel son and successor, Archelaus. Unexpectedly, Matthew here weaves in a comforting observation. Jesus was called a Nazarene (always in Matthew) because it was laid down for him in the scriptures. The passages to which Matthew probably refers carry the Messianic significance, thus referring to Jesus, that a special protection had accompanied him as God’s Messiah and continued to accompany him throughout his life (Mt-K regarding 2:23).
The following example is of a totally different kind. In the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, a series of Jesus’s teachings are compiled which exclusively and plainly demand serving God (6:1-24). That is a harsh demand if one does not leave it at merely reading. There, Matthew lets the lovely parable of the lilies of the field follow (6:25-33). Serving God is hard, but it is not the same as serving a tyrant. For those who believe in Jesus, God is a loving father who cares for them infinitely more than for the other creatures whom he has created.
Somewhat related to this is the purpose for which Matthew has inserted the central piece of the lecture into Matt. 10 (10:16-31). In this sending forth speech, he compiles claims by Jesus that speak of his followers’ future persecutions unto death and of their share in the bitter experiences of their master (v. 17-23, 24-25, 34-39). The center is now occupied by a recitative with a triple “Fear not.” In everything, God watches over his children as a father, in their work and in their afflictions. Thus this middle piece in the big symmetry of 10:5-42 gives both comfort and consolation.
Let us return to the narrative series. The main idea of Part III is “Jesus as the Messiah rejected by the people.” Accordingly, events line up in the two narrative series belonging here (11:2 through 12:21 and 12:22-45) that show how the rejection by the people and how the hostility of the rabbis steadily increased. But two pericopes are an exception here, the beginning and the ending of the first part. In 11:2-6 (“the baptist’s mission”) Matthew describes Jesus with the words of Isaiah in a charming manner as the Messiah from whom love, light, and salvation emanate; in the concluding pericope (12:15-21), in which Matthew once again speaks in the words of Isaiah, Jesus appears to us with spirit-filled gentleness and kindness. Both pericopes relieve the depressing content of Part III originating from the parable of the street youth (Mt-K regarding 11:16-19), the lamentation over the unbelieving cities in Galilee, and the Sabbath conflicts. The one is designed to secure the reader’s faith, the other one is for resting and gives a sense of relief. Both effects are also found in the central piece (11:25-30, “Jesus the revelator”) where Jesus’s compassion and love are seen once more.
But the real effect of this latter pericope seems to be intended for the subsequent narration series (12:22-45). After Matthew has illuminated the divine mystery in the person of Jesus, he shows him in the defense against the most infamous and poisonous of all accusations, supposing him to be league with the devil. In the central piece of this section (12:31-37) Jesus makes it clear that this accusation is only to be understood as the poisonous fruit of poisoned hearts. The attentive reader will not misjudge the contrast that exists between these vile slanderers and Jesus, the Son of God the Father who has become the Redeemer of the world out of his mercy. From the narration that forms a transition to Part IV (12:46-50, “Jesus and his relatives”) the reader then learns that, in contrast to the unbelieving people, there actually still were people who, due to their faith, were dearer to Jesus than “brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt-K regarding 12:49).
In our analysis, Part IV has the title “Jesus separates himself from his people.” In the final narrative (16:13-20) Jesus lays a new foundation for the Messiah people because Israel had proven unworthy of this task. Simultaneously, this pericope can only be understood with Jesus’s death that resulted from the people’s unbelief and which was already referred to in the beginning pericope (14:1-12, “the baptist’s execution”). Besides the idea of death, the closed form of 14:1 through 16:20 speaks of attacks by the rabbis and of the little faith of Jesus’s disciples. Right in the middle sits the masterly narration of the Canaanite woman whose sorely-tested faith outshines everything (15:21-28; see above, pages 45-46); once again, a light in the darkness.
A similar strong light is active in the account of Jesus’s transfiguration (17:1-9) at the center of 16:13-17:27. In the first (16:21) and the second prophecy of suffering (17:22-23) the imminent storm casts its shadows ahead which only intensifies the lack of comprehension in Peter and the other disciples (16:22-23; 17:14-21) and reinforces Jesus’s words about bearing the cross and about his future suffering. In the midst of this symmetrical narrative series, then, Jesus’s transfiguration rends the storm clouds by showing him in his divine glory; God has appointed Jesus as the Messiah. This strengthens the faith of disciples and later that of the readers of the Gospel.
Perhaps less of its own merit, but in connection with the transfiguration on the mount, the central pericope of 20:17 through 21:27 also functions as a light: Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem (21:1-11). Despite the lack of everything that, according to the people’s opinion, characterized the Messiah (financial means, political and military power—a lack which even the disciples do not comprehend) and despite the people’s resulting rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus constantly professes himself to be the Messiah sent by God. He does this in a manner that allows Matthew to show how the prophet Zacharias’s prophecy of the humble king has been realized in Jesus. But the fulfilling of scripture is proof of his Messiahship. Thus, the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration rightfully exists, in spite of everything.
Two more scriptures will be mentioned. The latter one was already mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. They are stylistically related since they put everything else in the shade with regards to greatness, despite their brevity. The first scripture is the description of Jesus, “the Son of man,” as world judge, with which Matthew concludes all of Jesus’s lectures (25:31-34, 41, 46. Mt-K 810-11). Their original form may have looked like this:
25:31 “When the Son of man shall come in his glory,
and all the holy angels with him,
then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations:
and he shall separate them from another,
as a shepherd divideth
his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand,
but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,
Come, ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand,
Depart from me, ye cursed,
into everlasting fire,
prepared for the devil and his angels:
46 And these shall go away
into everlasting punishment:
but the righteous
into life eternal.”
This metaphor contains the last and comprehensive answer to everything that Jesus was ever accused of and what Matthew has recorded in his Gospel. Jesus’s glory as divine judge eclipses all darkness of the lowliness in which Jesus as “the Son of man” had lived on earth.
This scripture can be compared with the one which concludes Matthew’s Gospel (28:16-20). In its original form it may have read like this:
28:18 “All power is given unto me
In heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things
whatsoever I have commanded you:
and, lo, I am with you
even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
See Mt-K regarding this scripture.
Victoriously, the crucified and now resurrected Jesus goes about winning mankind for himself. His emissaries are humans and their means are human teachings and instructions. But Jesus supervises their actions, he being the only divine being to have lived on earth. Thereby he sanctifies everyone who believes on him and directs them on the course to life; he assists his emissaries from the throne of God so that they can carry out his commandments with his power. Thus ends the earthly tragedy, which Matthew had to develop in his Gospel, in divine light.
If we add up all text passages in which we pointed out literary art forms, we find that almost the entire Gospel of Matthew has been covered. We did not consider additions which joined the Hebrew Gospel only later, which were able to be recognized as such by their being independent of the Gospel’s literary art forms. Likewise, the thoroughly revised chapters 23 and 24 (with 25), as well as Matthew’s introductory and concluding remarks. As such we identify also 1:17 (judging the form of the genealogy), 9:35-10:5a (transition to ch. 10 and introduction for the sending forth speech), as well as 11:1 and 13:1-3 as introductions, and 13:51-52 as a concluding judgment regarding the parable chapter. Also the monumental scene of sending the Twelve out into the world, as conclusion of the whole Gospel, exists outside of any closed form. Matt. 26:36-46 (the Mount of Olives account) may be regarded as having been appended as a prescient anticipation of 27:31-61 (death account); these pericopes probably already framed the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate before the composition of the Gospel of Matthew; their position is therefore not Matthew’s literary working. Looking at the whole, the Gospel of Matthew in its original form can be regarded as work that was created with great literary artistic skill.
This realization is based first-hand on the outward nature of these art forms. But it was discovered that even the content was fashioned in an artistic manner. While the outward forms have to be considered in the exegesis of a text, but only lie on its periphery, the artistic treatment of the content has a closer relationship to the interpretation of its meaning.
The insights successfully brought forth should reach the goal that was pointed out in the preface. The work, as it is presented to us, probably shows a secondary hand which has added material in a commendable manner but has not always preserved the given order. However, the artistic order of the original still shines through the translation so strongly that we are justified in seeing a work of great literary art in this original and honor Matthew as a master of Semitic literary representation. With honor, his work stands amidst the collection of scripture that the Spirit of God inspired and made into vessels of divine revelation.
[Simply replace commas with colons and update the page numbers]
[Back cover page:]
REGARDING THE TOPIC OF THIS BOOKLET. The evangelists were people of their time and their surroundings, people of a typical memory culture and of a great narrative tradition. They had a distinct sense for artful forms and arrangements. Using the Gospel of Matthew as an example, the author shows how such pre-conditions have affected the organization of the text and how their recognition helps us—often surprisingly—to better read, reconstruct, and apply the text to ourselves.
REGARDING THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOKLET. Paul Gaechter, Jesuit, born 1893, is an emeritus professor of the University of Innsbruck. He became well known through his publications regarding “Mary’s Earth Life” (3rd ed., 1955) and “Peter and His Time” (1958). Furthermore, he published a large commentary on the first Gospel (1964). He often pursues his own paths in his research, but his explanations are always interesting and always stimulating.
REGARDING THIS SERIES. The “Stuttgarter Bibelstudien” is a series of booklets on Bible research. The alert Christian of today is challenged to examine the Bible by and through church councils, liturgical renewal, ecumenicity, archaeology, atheistic skepticism, and modern Bible research itself. There are hot topics. The “Stuttgart Bible Studies” want to openly respond to this situation and move the discussion forward. Each booklet has been written by an expert.