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"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

Apr 11, 2019

In this episode Brother Jonathan begins a series on the book of Matthew.

 

Remnant Bible Fellowship

S3EP11

Introduction to Matthew

 

  1. Literary Genre
    1. The Bible, at the very least, is a literary work. It is not literature in the sense of how we normally think about it—usually fiction. But at the very least it is a work of literature. Within literature there are different genres. We have historical narrative, poetry, etc. And with every genre there is a different way that you would read them: a different way that you interpret them. For instance, you don’t read poetry like you read historical narrative. Even though some poetry my reference a historical event you recognize that poetry has elements that are non-literal. Well, the Bible has different genres within it also. It has law books, proverbs, poetry, prophecy, and historical narrative.
    2. The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first four books of the New Testament, have been debated about within academic circles since they were written. You have people who have immediately rejected them as being nothing more than ancient myth simply because they record miracles. That’s ridiculous because every ancient historian of Rome recorded the miraculous—except for Thucydides I believe. They have no problem taking a lot from those accounts to write textbooks on Rome’s history. So why do they have a problem taking from the Gospels knowledge about Jesus of Nazareth?
    3. The Gospels are generally regarded today as being part of the genre of Greco-Roman Bios. Bios comes from the Greek word “bios” which means the “life and activity of someone”. In English, we combine it with the Greek word “graphe” to become biography. The Gospels are biographies about Jesus of Nazareth, and as such are to be read in generally literal manner. Yes, within them there are passages that are not to be taken literally just like any biography. There are idioms and non-literal expressions. There are parables and prophecy. But these are excerpts and not the whole, and even a cursory reading of them makes that plain. They were written to be taken as being a historical narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings. Luke says in chapter one:
      1. “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” (Luk 1:1-4)
    4. Luke understood these things as being believed among them and that they were to be taken as literal historical events. The intention of the authors of the Gospels was for them to be read as biography, as historical narrative.
  2. Greco-Roman Bios
    1. Now there are two aspects of the Gospels that we need to take into consideration. There are narratives, which are the stories of events of Jesus’ life, and then there are His sayings, His actual teachings. These two aspects of Christ’s life were arranged selectively by the Gospel writers to give a biography for Him.
    2. If you’ve read each of the Gospels you are aware of some of their differences and some of their similarities. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are generally called the synoptic Gospels because of their similarities. It is pretty clear that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source for theirs—along with other sources. This makes them all overlap quite a bit. John’s Gospel is very different because it was written independently of the others and for a different purpose.
    3. Greco-Roman bios were generally written with a particular theme and audience in mind. Each of the evangelists, gospel writers, emphasized a certain role of Christ and certain aspects of His person and ministry tailored to their ideal audience.
    4. Matthew seems to have written to Jewish Christians about the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. He emphasizes Israel’s history and OT scripture fulfillment regularly. He also weaves throughout his gospel consistent references to the gentiles being accepted with God through Jesus in some way or another. This culminates in the last two verses being the Great Commission and the gospel being preached to all nations.
    5. Mark seems to have had gentile Christians in mind, at Rome. At least, that’s where his gospel became very used. He is believed to have recorded the memoirs of the Apostle Peter.
    6. Luke’s is the fullest and most carefully composed of the first three gospels. It’s believed by some that Luke had in mind gentile Christians as well when he wrote his gospel. Him being a companion of Paul the Apostle, who was the apostle to the gentiles, would seem to make this likely.
    7. John’s gospel is different than the other three in that it was written for primarily doctrinal reasons. John’s disciple Polycarp said that John told him that the reason he wrote his gospel was because of the rise of incipient Gnosticism in the latter part of the first century. That’s why his gospel is so different than the synoptic ones. He’s writing for a very different purpose. His emphasis is clear in the first chapter that “He was manifest in the flesh.” That’s probably why John didn’t think it was necessary to retread old ground that Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already written.
  • Writing Habits
    1. The ancient concept of writing history was very different back in the first century than it is today. Today, with our modern concepts, we are used to getting, or at least trying to get, every detail one-hundred percent correct. We are the generation of cell phone cameras, printers, fax machines, phones, and the internet. It was not so in the first century. Their concept of history writing allowed, and regularly used, paraphrasing, events being out of chronological order, omission of irrelevant details, the recontextualizing of quotations, etc. The writers of the gospels were no different. They were conservative in these practices, but they used the writing style of the day.
    2. Now, hearing things like that might upset some people, but you need to understand that it was commonly said at the time also by historical writers and accuracy that extremely important. They stressed accuracy as well in the midst of these practices.
    3. Writers though did arrange events in a more topical form though. They put quotations where they fit for their overall purpose without changing the meaning of them overall.
    4. This is how the Holy Spirit chose to have Christ’s life and teachings preserved for us. And He did preserve them for us. While some people study these things and it causes them doubt about the accuracy of the scriptures, the longer I study the more comforted and reassured I am that we absolutely have the words and teachings of the Lord.
  1. Scholars
    1. I have no problem accepting that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew who is also referred to as Levi. Scholars tend to argue about miniscule things and make them more complicated than I believe is necessary. Craig Keener said that scholars make complicated things simple and simple things complicated. My experience has taught me to accept his conclusion on the matter. I will say though that sometimes, possibly a majority of the time, you will learn a lot from scholars. They do know more than you or I almost always. I find that there exists a problem somewhere in the sphere that they have to operate in. For instance, philosophers (even Christian philosophers) tend to make terrible theologians. They get used to thinking along certain lines that affect how they come to scripture. I think the same can be said for academics in general. They get used to operating in such an empiricist atmosphere where you need a substantial amount of evidence to prove your point that they cannot simply come to the scriptures in simple faith a lot of the time.
    2. Craig Keener said in a lecture that when he was studying and writing his book on the “historical Jesus” that there was one day when he was talking with his wife where he asked her if she had evidence for something she said and it struck him how much his studying for the matter was affecting him. I can empathize just a little bit having tried to dip my toe into that end of the pool. It does affect you to do academic studying on the scriptures. Study all you want to, but don’t forget it’s about faith and love for the Lord according to the scriptures. It’s things like that that make me very leery about textual criticism. There is a need for it to wade through the manuscript evidence that we have, but you end up looking at every passage with a skeptical eye. It’s very dangerous in a way, needful, but dangerous.
    3. You will find that as I go through the gospel of Matthew that I am quite conservative. Scholars are needed by the body of Christ, but the confusion that you get reading their arguments about passages can affect your faith. The argument about remarriage after divorce is a nightmare to look into among scholars for instance. But I’m not going to lie about it. Unless you are very secure in your relationship with Christ don’t go traipsing into the fog that is scholarship. People like Bart Erhman, an enemy of Christianity if ever I saw one, came about because he got into textual criticism and chose to allow it to rattle his faith.
    4. On the other hand, we cannot cling to our ideas blindly just to maintain a certain kind of psychological security. To feel like “I got it” and you’re ignorant of the entire issue. That kind of insecurity—because that’s all that it is—is unhealthy and antithetical to Christian faith. We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot grow in knowledge if you are not studying. Not everyone needs to study Greek and Hebrew. Not everyone needs to study exegesis. But if you are a teacher, preacher, or pastor, you are required to at least understand the issues and discussions and be able to intelligently give justifiable reasons for why you believe the scriptures teach this or that. That is your role. If you can’t do that then I don’t believe that you are supposed to be in that role. I’m not saying you need a degree, and I’m not saying that there is some bar for you to aim for. If we give ourselves to learning the scriptures, honestly, really learning them, then God will direct us in study. Our part is to be open to whatever He teaches us and whatever the scriptures do say. One of the most important verses in scripture about studying doctrine, I think, is Proverbs 18:13:
      1. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Pro 18:13)
    5. We can’t reject interpretations before we even listen to their arguments, and we can’t just shutdown conversations about doctrine because it makes us uncomfortable. That’s not how a Christian should handle God’s Word. That’s how an insecure person handles God’s Word.
  2. Matthew
    1. I believe that Matthew, who is also called Levi, wrote the gospel of Matthew. Many scholars place the date of his gospel being written around 55-70AD. Some of course date it later than that. Scholars are always debating these things and it will never be done even if we find a manuscript that had his name written across the top with a date stamp.
    2. At least one early church writer said that Matthew had originally written his gospel in Aramaic. This has led some to suspect that versions such as the Peshitta are greater than the Greek text. I don’t think this belief has very much support at all with scholarship. It’s kind of more like a fringe thing.
    3. A question that gets asked is why the gospels weren’t written immediately after Christ’s ascension. I believe that some scholars have given some very good reasons to explain why. You see, the world would not see the printing press for almost 1500 years after He ascended. They were, in a lot of ways, an oral culture. The Jews especially. People were used to public reading of books and important works. Studies have shown that people’s retention of oral reading was exponentially better than ours today. Even today overseas where technology is not very known some people still are oral cultures and retain great amounts of knowledge after hearing it very few times.
    4. It’s not uncommon in the middle east for instance for Muslims to have memorized the entire Qu’ran. In an oral culture you can understand why it took the disciples about 25 to 40 years to consider writing them: they weren’t needed. There were still dozens of eyewitnesses to the events themselves. What’s interesting is that the expectation of memorization was much higher if you were a disciple of a teacher. It was expected that you could competently explain or recite your teacher’s sayings. The Pythagoreans for example wouldn’t let you get out of bed in the morning without reciting everything that your teacher said the day prior. And it was in this kind of culture that Christ Himself had disciples.
    5. Papias, who was an early Christian writer, even notes that Matthew had written down Christ’s words early on. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean his gospel but could just be His sayings. I believe that is what is meant.
    6. There is also the consideration of whether or not the Apostles believed it would be long before the Lord returned. Rome was in power in accordance with the book of Daniel’s prophecy about the return of the Lord. There was, at times, rampant Christian persecution as Christ said would be. Jerusalem was eventually surrounded by armies. In fact, that’s why some scholars date the synoptic gospels after 70AD. They believe that it was the destruction of Jerusalem that showed them it would be longer than they thought. We don’t know for certain. I believe that for these reasons it makes sense that they didn’t write things down initially. They had no need yet.
  3. Closing
    1. So I hope you’re geared for us to start going through Matthew. I didn’t go very much into the specifics of Matthew this episode, but I wanted you to keep these things in your mind as we get started. This will actually be the first time that I’ve taught through a book verse-by-verse, and I’ve already learned a lot myself getting ready. I do think that verse-by-verse teaching is very important because it forces us to encounter passages and issues that we otherwise normally would not have to deal with. It’s good for us.