Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 1:1-11:1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
“Matthew’s Intention” pp. 8-58. “Matthew as Narrative” pp. 30-47.
Gibbs approaches Matthew as an independent narrative to be read and understood primarily “for its own sake,” i.e., without assuming a dependence on Mark’s Gospel (Gibbs 2006, 30). Gibbs observes that this means the evangelist was free to select and arrange details as he wished, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It also means that we need to be sensitive to the Gospel genre, a matter Gibbs discusses at more length (Gibbs 2006, 31).
Since the 19802, Gibbs identifies the rise of a critical method known often as “narrative criticism.” Because it has taken root in New Testament scholarship, Gibbs considers it worthy of examination (Gibbs 2006, 32). The method generally accepts interpretation of each Gospel on its own terms. Further, it is not concerned with finding or describing a community underlying the development of a gospel account. Rather, the account is considered complete enough that it can be read and accepted as a fair portrayal of the world, at least that of the particular Gospel.
A significant problem of narrative criticism is that it assumes an “implied reader.” This is the reader which the text seems to desire to have (Gibbs 2006, 33). The reader is assumed to have some certain knowledge and experience base. Discerning what that knowledge and experience base could be is a challenge. Further, and more difficult, the interpreter must discover what the narrative expects in terms of pre-existing beliefs (Gibbs 2006, 34). For this reason, Gibbs concludes, the actual personal understanding of Christianity and acceptance of it is essentially the same terms as the original readers of a Gospel account is needed to rightly understand it. Otherwise, some important principles are almost certain to be misunderstood. Gibbs has been deliberate in his attempts to read Matthew as the intended reader, and he considers this a right approach. However, he finds that there are both advantages and disadvantages in such a scholarly attempt (Gibbs 2006, 35).
A broad overview reading, required of the narrative reader, will clarify our view of many concepts. For instance, Gibbs notes that “the crowd” in Matthew is not the same as “the disciples.” The crowd generally has a minimal grasp of Jesus’ work, and is thus easily swayed. That could explain the welcome on Palm Sunday and the crisis for execution five days later (Gibbs 2006, 36). The narrative approach is helpful in finding context for passages. The smaller units do make part of a large picture, rather than serving as the picture themselves. As an example, Gibbs cites Matthew 22:15-22 and shows that Jesus’ words about paying Caesar are readlly a move to turn aside the constant and irrelevant attacks of the Pharisees, with a focus on repentance and life before God (Gibbs 2006, 37).
This strength of the narrative approach can also be a serious drawback. Application of events to the greater context of history and culture may be neglected, especially if the text does not specifically make a connection (Gibbs 2006, 37). Further, there are times when parallel accounts provide the context needed to understand a text. Gibbs sees this to be the case in our attempts to build an understanding of the events in the infancy narrative of Jesus.
Gibbs considers the structure and overall message of Matthew next (Gibbs 2006, 38). This will be important to his attempt to provide an adequate and balanced commentary based on the narrative as a whole. He initially considers whether the models based on the five main discourses reflect the actual structure adequatel. The five discourse approach may reduce the importance of the Passion and resurrection (Gibbs 2006, 39). This radically alters what most readers would see as the overall goal of Jesus’ actions.
Rather, Gibbs finds a “three-part narrative outline” (Gibbs 2006, 39), which others have also described. First, he considers 1:1-4:16, where Jesus is presented to the reader, but where Jesus does not yet begin to speak and teach. The Old Testament is cited extensively, the christological titles are introduced, and the events are presented as “in those days” (Gibbs 2006, 41). The second segment covers 4:17-16:20 beginning from the start of Jesus’ actual preaching and teaching. There is a division after Matthew 11:1, whih is used for the end of this commentary volume. 4:17-11:1 emphasizes Jesus’ authority, while 11:2-16:20 describes Jesus, identity and opponents (Gibbs 2006, 43). The third and final segment is 16:21-28:20, where Jesus deliberately moves to the cross both in is teaching and actions (Gibbs 2006, 45). Jesus’ authority returns to a place of prominence but this time it is rejected by his opponents (Gibbs 2006, 46). The goal of the Passion, resurrection, and Jesus, commission of his disciples becomes clear.