The Structure of Matthew’s Gospel

September 14, 2006 | 8 comments
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Here’s one way of thinking about the Gospel of Matthew.

[But it isn't going to be elegantly displayed because I don't know how to put a chart in WordPress (Anyone? Anyone?). So use your imagination.]

Jesus’ Sermon: 5:1-7:28 (the Sermon on the Mount)
Old Testament Parallel: Genesis
Sandwich Story I: Jesus heals the sick (4:23-25)
Sandwich Story II: Jesus cleanses a leper (8:1-4)

Jesus’ Sermon: 10:5-11:1 (sermon on discipleship)
Old Testament Parallel: Exodus
Sandwich Story I: the Twelve commisioned (10:1-4)
Sandwich Story II: John the Baptist (11:2-6)

Jesus’ Sermon: 13:1-53 (parables of the kingdom)
Old Testament Parallel: Leviticus
Sandwich Story I: His true family (12:46-50)
Sandwich Story II: rejected because of his family (13:54-58)

Jesus’ Sermon: 18:1-19:1 (how to treat others)
Old Testament Parallel: Numbers
Sandwich Story I: Jesus challenged (temple tax) (17:24-27)
Sandwich Story II: Jesus challenged (divorce) (19:2-9)

Jesus’ Sermon: 24:3-26:1 (discipleship in the last days)
Old Testament Parallel: Deuteronomy
Sandwich Story I: temple destroyed (23:37-24:2)
Sandwich Story II: conspiracy to kill Jesus (26:2-5)

Notes:

(1) I didn’t discover this; most commentaries on Matthew will contain something similar to this (although some scholars will mention it and then ultimately disagree with it). I don’t cite one specific source for this because my chart here is an amalgam of the features that I find most compelling from the various sources I am familiar with.

(2) The basic idea is that, as part of his presentation of Jesus as the new Moses, Matthew has Jesus deliver five main sermons as a parallel to the five books of Moses in the Old Testament. Hence, each sermon is parallel to one of those OT books.

(3) ‘Sandwich stories’ is the extremely technical term for a literary structure where one story (the meat) is surrounded by two stories (the bread) and all three stories elucidate each other.

(4) The structure is highlighted by the fact that all five sermons end with almost identical language–something along the lines of “when Jesus finished saying these things.” Further emphasizing the connection to Moses, this language is very similar to Deut. 32:45.

(5) For those of you into that sort of thing: I read somewhere that narrative and discourse never occupy the same geographic space in this gospel.

(6) The main advantage, to my mind, of finding a pattern such as this is not thinking, “Oh, that’s pretty” but rather using it as a guide for further study. Considering the relationship between the various facets of the chart should lead to all sorts of questions to ponder: What do the two sandwich stories teach us about the Sermon on the Mount? What does the Sermon on the Mount teach us about its sandwich stories? In what ways is the Sermon on the Mount parallel to Genesis? What does the ‘bread’ before one sermon have to do with the ‘bread’ after that same sermon? etc.

8 Responses to The Structure of Matthew’s Gospel

  1. Jim F. on September 15, 2006 at 1:12 am

    Julie, I absolutely love it when you post things I can steal for my Sunday School lessons. You should post these kinds of things at Feast Upon the Word, too.

  2. greenfrog on September 15, 2006 at 11:17 am

    In such a rubric, what happens to the other parts of Matthew that don’t get referenced (e.g., Mt 25:31-46)?

    Maybe it’s a purely subjective notion that I’ve held, but I always have associated the teachings of Matthew 5-7 and Matthew 25:31-46 as the instructional bookends of Jesus’ ministry, the former laying out the new Law, the latter prophesying its application.

  3. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2006 at 11:28 am

    “In such a rubric, what happens to the other parts of Matthew that don’t get referenced (e.g., Mt 25:31-46)?”

    Mt 25:31-46 would be included in the fifth sermon, 24:3-26:1. Sorry if that wasn’t clear–my ‘chart’ above leaves a lot to be desired in terms of formatting, I know.

    I do like your ‘bookending’ idea–good observation.

  4. Robert C. on September 15, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    For future reference (i.e. when I’m studying Matthew for next year’s SS lesson!), I posted a link at the Feast wiki here. Thanks Julie, very interesting….

  5. greenfrog on September 15, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Ah — thanks for the clarification. I missed the final span.

  6. Mike on September 18, 2006 at 9:26 am

    Does this structure persist into 3rd Nephi?

    Does this imply that Mathew did not sit down and just write of these events as he remembered them, but that they were constructed or compiled or edited many years later, similar to what Mormon does to the sermons of Alma?

    I was told in seminary several decades ago that Mark was written first and Mathew was an elaboration using Mark as a basic outline. Mark was not an eye-witness but was Peter’s son and wrote for him. Matthew was an eye-witness, but one who had a credibility issue in that society because he sold his Jewish soul to the Romans to become a tax collector and later devoted his life to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How does this structure in Matthew relate to Mark?

    The Book of Mormon account suggests (to me) that Jesus is teaching Nephites/Lamanites the material in Matthew with very little variation a few hours or days following the massive disasters surrounding his crucification, before there was time to compose the gospel of Matthew.

    What is being taught in seminary and institute today along these lines?

  7. Tom in Cala Dor Palma de Mallorca on October 1, 2006 at 8:02 am

    Very fitting I think: \”God is the inner principle of all movement, the only identity which already fulfils and illuminates the universe. Everything is incorporated in this one principle, because it encloses infinity, it includes everything, and there is nothing that could be outside of it. \” Giordano Bruno

  8. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    I just noticed comment #6.

    I’m not sure if the structure is in 3Nephi–that’s a very good question and should be fairly easy to answer. There are all sorts of complicated possibilities, though: to use one slightly out-there example: it is not impossible that both Matthew and a BoM editor/writer could have been separately inspired to write their accounts of Jesus’ ministry according to this pattern.

    As for the other questions, let me put it this way: almost all scholars accept that Mark was written first. Most scholars do not accept unquestioningly the traditional assumption that Mark was an associate of Peter. (I’ve never heard ‘son’ before–just associate.) I’ve also never heard the ‘credibility issue’ for Matthew–assuming the author is the same person as the tax collector (which is not an airtight assumption), then why would he have had any worse credibility issues than Peter, who denied Christ? I think the theory is a misguided effort to explain away the potentially embarrassing fact that someone who knew about the existence of another gospel thought it was necessary to write their own, which implies that there was something ‘wrong’ with the existing one. (I don’t agree with that–I think each writer just wanted to emphasize different things about Christ’s life with just a small amount of ‘cleaning up’ after the previous writer.)

    “What is being taught in seminary and institute today along these lines?”

    Depends on the teacher. I think most are going with the traditional stuff (i.e., Mark as an associate of Peter), but not all.

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