Our Thursday posts focus on material from the New Testament. As part of our fourfold priority of history, integrity, truth, and Scripture we consider it important to read and review significant scholarly work with both the Old and New Testaments. Dr. Scaer considers what we can discern of the admittedly shadowy figure of Matthew the Apostle from the narrative in the Gospel which bears his name.
Scaer, David P. Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church. St. Louis: Concordia, 2004. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 2, “Matthew as Catechist, Biographer, and Apologist” Loc. 814-1583.
The early Christians to whom Matthew wrote understood their place in God’s covenant. They saw their Christian faith as another step in God’s binding them together (Scaer 2004, Loc. 814). Matthew fits into the mold of a catechetical document, preparing believers to receive baptism and communion (Scaer 2004, Loc. 834). This is a highlight of Matthew’s work as a catechist. Scaer references the debate about an extended oral tradition of Matthew versus early composition (Scaer 2004, Loc. 835). Those hearing Matthew were likely Christians who were being equipped for life in Christ (Scaer 2004, Loc. 865). The Gospels were written in the midst of a climate hostile towards Christianity. Their intention was to provide an adequate defense of the Gospel (Scaer 2004, Loc. 885). Matthew’s Gospel, being arranged in the clear discourses and referring frequently to the Old Testament provides this material (Scaer 2004, Loc. 915). Citation of passages may combine or alter texts at times (Scaer 2004, Loc. 944). The culmination of the catechesis is knowing that in the Eucharist it is Jesus who is present in his death and resurrection (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1013).
Scaer compares the Gospel to a biography (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1033). Modern attempts to create a scholarly biography of Jesus from the Gospel accounts have generally discounted the supernatural and substituted naturalistic explanations for events (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1044). The work of the Gospels was not strictly biographical. They intended to encourage and inspire (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1063). Scaer suggests that possibly the Gospels would be classified as encomia (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1063). These works tended to provide fanciful details, something that Matthew resists (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1074). Rather than fitting strictly into one genre, “it is a document written to gather a community around Jesus and lead it to eucharistic participation with him. This community is recognized, at least from outward appearances, by its baptizing and eucharistic actions” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1113).
History and catechesis also have a challenging interaction. The historical events in the Gospels do not receive primary attention. “Instead, the story of Jesus is arranged to provide a crescendo that culminates in his death and resurrection” (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1143). The theme of atonement is clear and was known to the Jewish reader (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1154).
The closing verses of Matthew indicate that repeated reading should be fruitful (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1174). This passage also points toward a catechetical intention. The framework of catechesis makes it much easier to resolve problems of chronology in the Gospels (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1204).
Scaer next discusses Matthew as an apologist. The conversion of Jews was not, on the surface, as radical a change as that of Gentiles (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1233). There may have been instances in which an entire synagogue converted (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1243). he conversion, however, went below the surface as well. There was an underlying question of the purpose of the Law (Scaer 204, Loc. 1272). Jesus, claims about his body as the temple were recognized as an act of insurrection (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1282. The need for self-definition of the church could well explain Matthew’s use of discussions between Jewish leaders and Jesus. Jews and Christians were standing against each other (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1292). Scaer sees especially the beginning and end of Matthew’s Gospel as apologetic in nature, fighting against Jewish suggestions that the virgin birth and resurrection were hoaxes (Scaer 2004, Loc. 1322). Scaer goes on to discuss numerous other instances in Matthew where the reader could investigate the truth claims of the text.
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