Monday, November 04, 2013

Structure of Matthew's Gospel: not too much Bacon, and some crazy charts

photo credit
I have been  intrigued (summoned?) by the structure of Matthew's gospel ever since I took a class from the master; the man who wrote the book on it (No, not THAT Master, I mean David Bauer of Asbury Seminary, his book The Structure of Matthew's Gospel: A Study in Literary Design  is still  the benchmark)..

Basically, I like his take  (inspired by his teacher,

Jack Dean Kingsbury ) on the 1:23 and

2 28:20 inclusio as being the key

 template (I hate what Leonard 

Sweet calls "alien templates"(see

 "the greatest song ever sung"), 

 It literally keeps the Kingdom central

(see this and this, 

and I believe it

 sets the famous five teaching

 blocks in perspective.  It is too

 tempting too read too much

Bacon into the gospel..

Here's an excerpt of a helpful article,  giving an overview...and since you asked, explaining the bacon reference:

Matthew follows the broad ‘geographical’ layout of Mark, which is really the fundamental structure of each of the Synoptic Gospels:
  1. Prologue: Introducing Jesus (1:1 – 4:11, cf. Mark 1:1-15)
  1. Jesus’ Journeys through Galilee, Neighbouring Regions and to Jerusalem (4:12 – 20:34, cf. Mark 1:16 – 10:52).
  1. Jesus’ Ministry in Jerusalem (21:1 – 25:46, cf. Mark 11:1 – 13:37)
  1. Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (26:1 – 28:20, cf. Mark 14:1 – 16:8)
However, Matthew is distinctive in alternating large blocks of discourse and narrative material. Each discourse is concluded with a similar formula, which acts as a literary link and gives continuity to the whole (a variation of καὶ ἐγένετο ͑ότε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους at 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1).

Bacon gave the classical presentation of the theory that the five-fold formula concluding the discourses marked the conclusion also of five major sections of the work, so that the whole Gospel constituted ‘The Five Books of Matthew Against the Jews’.[1] He went so far as to suggest that the Evangelist was a converted Rabbi—a Christian legalist—who, as a member of a church threatened by lawlessness, met this heresy by providing a systematic collection of the words and deeds of Jesus in five parts,after the fashion of the Mosaic Pentateuch.  His structure was:

The Preamble (1 – 2)
Book I        Concerning Discipleshipa. Introductory narrative, 3-4
b. Discourse, 5-7
Book II        Concerning Apostleshipa. Introductory narrative, 8:1 – 9:35
b. Discourse, 9:36 – 10:42
Book III        Concerning the Hiding of the Revelationa. Israel is stumbled, 11-12
b. Teaching parables, 13:1-53
Book IV        Concerning Church Administrationa. Jesus and the brotherhood, 14:1 – 17:21
b. Discourse, 17:22 – 18:35
Book V        Concerning the Judgementa.        Jesus in Judea, 19-22
b.        Discourse, 23-25

The influence of Bacon’s hypothesis on Matthean studies has been immense, leading some to conclude that the Gospel was structured to provide a lectionary for church services (Kilpatrick, 1946), or a manual for teaching and administration in the church (Stendahl 1968), or to convey sermons mediated by the risen Jesus (Marxsen 1968).
However, while agreeing with the notion of a five-fold structure, many have argued that there are reasons for doubting that this Gospel was meant to be a new Pentateuch, a counterpart to the five books of Moses.[2] Kingsbury argues as follows:

a. It is inadequate to designate the birth narratives as ‘preamble’ and the death-resurrection narratives as ‘epilogue’—they are much more central to Matthew’s presentation than that.

b. There may be six discourses (if we note the change of setting between ch. 23 and chs. 24-25).[3]

c. How real is the similarity to the Pentateuch in contents and structure?

d. If there is a ‘new Moses’ typology, it is ‘not so dominant a trait as to render Bacon’s proposal credible.’

For all that, the formula ‘when Jesus finished these sayings’ is significant literarily —indicating the end of five particular discourses and the beginning of narrative sections—and theologically—indicating that Jesus is the one who presents these discourses and that they have the status of divine revelation. They seem to indicate significant stages in the ‘history’ of Jesus, as Matthew presents it.

Kingsbury has taken a new approach to the structure of Matthew by focusing on its Christology and arguing that any attempt to describe the document as liturgical, apologetic, catechetical, or didactic, does not do justice to Matthew’s own summary of the contents of his work as ‘the gospel of the Kingdom’ (26:13; 24:14 cf. also 4:23; 9:35).

In response to this it should be noted that:
a. These verses do not refer to Matthew’s work per se, but to the content of Jesus’ preaching.b. But Kingsbury rightly re-emphasizes the gospel nature of Matthew, both with respect to structure and contents.With regard to structure, Kingsbury observes the structural significance of the formula ἀπὸ τότε ͗ήρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς. At 4:17, Jesus is shown from that time on publicly presenting himself to Israel and ‘summoning it to the Kingdom of heaven’. At 16:21, after the rejection of Jesus by so many in Israel, comes the revelation to disciples that it is God’s will that he go to Jerusalem to suffer, to the and be raised.Thus, Kingsbury argues that Matthew broadly divides as follows:

The Person of Jesus Messiah (1:1 – 4:16)The Proclamation of Jesus Messiah (4:17 – 16:20)The Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Messiah (16:21 – 28:20)

With regard to content, Kingsbury argues that:

a. Of all the titles given to Jesus in the first main section 1:1 – 4:16, the most important one is Son of God.  Matthew permits that title to ‘surpass all others’ (Son of Abraham, Son of David, Servant-Messiah, King of the Jews).

b. In the second main section (4:17 – 16:20), the presentation is controlled by the central thought expressed in 4:17. Jesus publicly presents himself to Israel and summons it to the Kingdom (offering salvation in word and deed). But rejection by Israel leads to more and more concentration on ministry to disciples.

c. In the third main section (16:21 – 28:20) the focus is on the necessity for Jesus’ death and its consequences: ‘because Israel rejects him, the direction the ministry of Jesus Messiah, the Son of God, takes is toward death (16:21).’

d. Son of God is ‘the one christological predication that extends to every phase of the “life” of Jesus: conception, birth and infancy; baptism and temptation; public ministry; death; and resurrection and exaltation’ in this Gospel. This christological title expresses for Matthew ‘the deepest mystery of the person of Jesus Messiah’; it represents ‘the most exalted confession of his Christian community’ and ‘can be uttered by people only by ‘revelation of God’ if such utterance is not to be accounted as blasphemy’ (Kingsbury, 82).[4]With regard to the purpose of Matthew, Kingsbury argues that: ‘regardless of the weighty ecclesiological concerns that surface in the Gospel, it is primarily a christological document and has as its central purpose to inform the members of Matthew’s community against their present situation, of Jesus Messiah and of his relationship to the Father and of what it means to be his disciple’ (962).In response to Kingsbury it should be noted that he rightly re-emphasizes the gospel character of Matthew—a document designed to proclaim the ultimate significance of the person, ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah for all people, whether Israelite or Gentile.

Although he asserts that the document has the members of a particular community specifically in view, he tends to undervalue the apologetic and catechetical characteristics of Matthew.[5] Luke-Acts appears to have been written for the edification of believers, but also to help them in their apologetic-evangelistic engagement with unbelievers in the Greco-Roman world.  Matthew could have the same aim, but with particular reference to the world of Judaism.

Kingsbury’s outline breaks up the prime Peter passage in an unacceptable way (cf. Carson on 16:13-16), and at both transitionsMatthew may have been more influenced by the order of Mark than by ‘structural’ considerations. Furthermore, his topical headings are artificial: e.g. ‘the person of Jesus’ is still a focal point in Sections 2 and 3 and ‘the proclamation of Jesus’ cannot rightly be restricted to section 2. (Carson, 50).

Combrink 1983, 70-3, combines the insights of Bacon and Kingsbury to propose a structure in which narrative and discourse are sometimes combined.  LINK

See also a PDF of Wren's The Macrostructure of Matthew’s Gospel: A New Proposal here.

Some of these literary structures I once charted out are based on Bauer, some on the outlines of others.

Have fun trying to figure out everything I mean:

Though it can be seen as (also) the other way, I think seeing the sections preceding the five teaching blocks
as embedding/previewing their themes has merit:

An internal inclusio:

Twice, Matthew makes almost identical statements, which might lead us to draw an inclusio around them:

And he went throughout all Galilee,
teaching            in their synagogues and
preaching         the gospel of the kingdom and
healing             every disease and every affliction among the people. 
(Matt. 4:23)


And Jesus went through all the towns and villages,
teaching            in their synagogues,
preaching          the good news of the kingdom and
healing              every disease and sickness.  
(Matt 9:35)

Maybe Jesus only did three things in this section.
 Q Who is Jesus in Matthew?  
               The one who teaches, preaches and heals.

Since this threefold ministry is so intentionally signaled, might it not mean that in other places in Matthew
that when one or two of the three is mentioned, the third is implied, hidden somewhere, or conspicuous by its absence?

How about 11:1?:

"After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to
teach and
in the towns of Galilee "

Where is the healing?
How about  15: 29-30:
Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he
went up on a mountainside and sat down (implies teaching ).
Great crowds came to him (so now you expect to see him teaching, but he is healing instead...or is healing a firm of teaching here?)
bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.

For some helpful commentary on the "literary world" (Hauer and Young) implications of Jesus' three activities...
healing to read these sections of David Bauer's commentary.
One writer comments:
  • These three activities were his chief occupations in public ministry. Think of what Jesus did:
  • He was teaching in their synagogues. What was a synagogue service like? We have some insight in two New Testament passages: Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus began to teach about his own ministry. We also have Acts 13:15ff, where Paul used the invitation to speak as an opportunity to preach the gospel based upon the history of Israel. In the service, a reading from the Law and the Prophets, which followed prayers, would be followed by a distinguished Rabbi, either resident or visiting, being invited to teach concerning a point of the Law or the Prophets. He would read a text and explain and apply it. This is what Jesus evidently did. And the traditions of the synagogue required that the teacher be attractive in his appearance and presentation, as well as intelligent and godly. Interestingly enough, such a teacher did not have to be ordained. And his message was to be tactful and not too personal. That Jesus taught often in the synagogues of the land, tells us that he was a welcome teacher and respected. No wonder he was referred to as "Rabbi."
  • The text tells us that he also was actively preaching the Gospel/good news of the Kingdom. You are of course aware that the word, gospel, means good news. And the substance of the gospel is given in verse 22, to wit that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. It is referred to elsewhere as the gospel of peace (Rom 10:15), the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 9:13), and its message was simply that the Kingdom of Heaven had come. To the Jews this would be good news, as it would mean that the Lord was announcing the reign of Messiah (Isa 9:6,7) and peace between Himself and Israel (Isa 52:7). God had come to rule and thus to show his love and concern for his people. And that is the essence of the gospel.
  • We want to be careful not to distinguish too closely between teaching and preaching, though, because he did both at the same time, cf. the next three chapters. Teaching would emphasize a systematic presentation of the truth. Preaching or proclamation would emphasize declaration of the truth, as opposed to giving a systematic presentation of it. In his teaching he gave the details of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
  • Finally, and this is what usually catches our attention most in this passage, he healedthe sick. The text says, he healed (literally) all chronic diseases and all occasional sicknesses among the people. The word, all, would place him in different category from other healers that were also going about the land. Perhaps the word would best be translated as the NIV does, every, because not all in the nation were healed. These other healers did not heal every case. They had their successes and their failures, but Jesus healed every disease he came into contact with, with no failures. The question needs to be asked, though, why? ..
  • Notice how these three ministries are tied together. What ties them together is the Kingdom of Heaven. The public teaching of Jesus focused upon the grace of God in coming to rule over his people and show his love and concern for them as their King. The healings were a tangible, easy to understand demonstration of the truth and power of the Kingdom. Jesus did not simply heal for the sake of making people feel better or improve their quality of life. Rather, those who were healed had an obligation to worship and serve the Lord, even to repent-cf. John 5:1-14. That is why, when Jesus preached he proclaimed the message that he did, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. This is an important point, one that is missed by some in the healing movement in Pentecostal Church circles. We are mistaken if we separate healing from the gospel's message and focus on it or any other miraculous part of the gospel instead of on the Kingdom of God.  -Link
 some  titles really kick in in this chapters 8-10 section: Son of Man and Son of God particularly.   It would seem obvious that these two titles are opposite in meaning: Jesus as human and God, respectively....but a study of the literary/historical world reveals that "Son of Man" was often used as a messianic connotations (and in a sense could mean "God"..see especially Daniel 7:

Check out this chart ,and note re: each title:
  • where in the gospel 
  • how often  
  • and on whose lips
  • where they cluster
  • inclusios etc.
click chart(and then click again once on a new page) to enlarge

-Son of God                         (7x..or 8, if you count 3:17)
-Son of the Living God         (once, hmm)
-Son of Man                         (29x.....and all by one person!)
-Son of David                      (9x)

>>Click to read the context of each time each title occurs:

To get more info on the titles, and a sense of how they are used in other biblical books, see this.

More?  see posts tagged "structure of matthew" below


  1. Jesus' use of son of man 29X stands out. As you mention, the background is Dan. 7, where in 7:13-14 one "like" a son of man comes to the Ancient of Days (who in 7:9 looks "like" an old man with white hair). So these are "like" men but not really men; perhaps the "man" in "son of man" is the Ancient of Days. But especially noteworthy is that to the one like a son of man is given a kingdom that includes (people from) all peoples, nations, and languages, so they will serve him (as king), and his dominion will not pass away. It seems the whole Gospel of Matthew is structured to show the beginning of this international kingdom of disciples who serve the new king, the son of man. This structure begins with the opening (Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham--pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be kings and be a blessing to all the nations) and closes with the ending (the great commission given by the king with all authority on earth and in heaven, so his disciples will go to all the nations and teach everything he, the king, commanded them--in this Gospel). The special use in Matthew of the phrase kingdom of heaven also points to the kingdom given by the Father in heaven to the son of man. Thus early on, the newly born son is conceived by the Spirit from heaven and is called Emmanuel, God with us; and in the end, Jesus promises to be with his disciples until the end of the age. This king and kingdom are very different from all the kingdoms of earth, including the kingdom of Israel.

  2. great stuff...and appreciate your blog.. Thanks for the interaction


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!