The author of the Gospel of Matthew used Mark, Q, and his own sources (designated by scholars as "M"). The Gospel was written between 80-85 C.E., probably somewhere outside of Palestine. This chapter applies the redactional method to uncover Matthew's narrative emphases. The redactional method relies on the principle that an author only changes his/her sources for particular reasons. These changes, therefore, give the reader hints about the author's emphases.
The Importance of Beginnings: Jesus the Jewish Messiah in Fulfillment of Jewish Scriptures
In Matthew, Jesus is unmistakably Jewish: Matthew emphasizes Jesus' connection to two of the most important figures in Jewish history, David and Abraham. Jesus' relationship to Jewish history is further underscored by the genealogy presented in chapter 1. According to this genealogy, there were fourteen generations between Abraham and David, fourteen between David and the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen between the Babylonian exile and Jesus. At the end of each period, something important happened in Jewish history: first came the greatest king, then the worst catastrophe, and finally the arrival of the messiah.
The emphasis on Jesus' Jewish roots and the insistence that his life was a fulfillment of prophecy can be traced from the genealogy to the birth narrative and through the rest of the Gospel. Matthew uses "fulfillment citations" to prove that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. Matthew further emphasizes Jesus' importance to Judaism by modeling his birth and ministry on Moses' birth and mission: Jesus is the new Moses who has been appointed by God to free his people from bondage and to give the (new) law. According to Matthew, people do not need to choose between Jesus and Moses, nor must they choose between Jesus' law and Moses' law. Jesus is, for this author, the final interpreter of Mosaic Law.
The Portrayal of Jesus in Matthew: the Sermon on the Mount as a Springboard
The Sermon on the Mount is one of five blocks of teaching in Matthew. The five-fold structure may mimic the five books of Moses. This sermon is a clear example of Matthew's propensity to equate Moses' and Jesus' roles: Jesus delivers the law of God while standing on a mountain. The sermon deals largely with life in the kingdom of heaven, an earthly kingdom that God will establish on earth. The Beatitudes serve as assurances to those who are currently weak and oppressed-they will have a place in the kingdom of heaven. The Beatitudes are not, therefore, commands but statements of fact.
Matthew's Jesus does not advocate abandoning the Mosaic Law. Instead, Jesus insists he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus urges his followers to keep the law even more rigorously than the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus explains what he means in the next passage, known as the antitheses. In these statements, it is clear that the spirit of the law, not the letter, is ultimately what God's people are called to keep. The law is summarized in two commandments: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and "love your neighbor as yourself." Thus, love is at the core of the entire law.
Jesus Rejected by the Jewish Leaders
Although Jesus is presented as thoroughly Jewish in the Gospel of Matthew, he strongly opposes Judaism as it is practiced by the leaders of his day. Jesus requires Jews to keep the law, but urges them to reject the Jewish leaders. For this author, the Jewish authorities are hypocrites who are blind to Jesus' messianic identity. In a story unique to Matthew, Pilate washes his hands of Jesus' blood, and the crowd of Jews cries out, "His blood be on us and on our children" (27:25). Rather than implicating the Jews as a whole for Jesus' death, however, Matthew indicts the Jewish leaders who stir up the crowds; it is the leaders who are responsible for Jesus' death.
Matthew and His Readers
Because of Matthew's insistence on keeping the law, scholars have surmised that his audience consisted of a number of Jewish converts. There were probably Gentile converts in the community as well, however, because Matthew writes that outsiders will enter the kingdom of God. At the end of the Gospel, moreover, Jesus commands the disciples to baptize the nations-a commandment that does not distinguish Jews from Gentiles.
Scholars suggest that the Gospel of Matthew originated somewhere near Palestine. The author's criticism of Jewish leaders may indicate his community's opposition to a local Jews. Matthew may have written his Gospel to show that Jesus was in fact the Jewish messiah who, like Moses, gave his people God's law.