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The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers

A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel

Howard Clarke

Publication Year: 2003

The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers is a biblical commentary with a difference. Howard Clarke first establishes contemporary scholarship's mainstream view of Matthew's Gospel, and then presents a sampling of the ways this text has been read, understood, and applied through two millennia. By referring forward to Matthew's readers (rather than back to the text's composers), the book exploits the tensions between what contemporary scholars understand to be the intent of the author of Matthew and the quite different, indeed often eccentric and bizarre ways this text has been understood, assimilated, and applied over the years. The commentary is a testament to the ambiguities and elasticity of the text and a cogent reminder that interpretations are not fixed, nor texts immutably relevant. And unlike other commentaries, this one gives space to those who have questioned, rejected, or even ridiculed Matthew's messages, since Bible-bashing, like Bible-thumping, is a historically significant part of the experience of reading the Bible.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-xii

This is, yes, another commentary on St. Matthew’s gospel, and like the others it is nothing more than a connected series of footnotes to the gospel text. But it is different from the others—different, indeed, from any biblical commentary known to its author. For one thing, its annotations are something of a mixed bag. They are not written from a denominational point of view, nor...

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Introduction: Scripture, Gospels, Matthew

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pp. xiii-xxiv

The Bible is not a book, it is an anthology, a library, a literature—that is, a collection of books, and of books so different from one another in size and style and content that it might be compared to a newspaper, where we have quite different expectations of what and how we will be reading as we look at the headlines, the sports pages, the editorial cartoons, the classified ads, the...

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l. The Infancy Narrative

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pp. 1-25

The Christian Bible begins with Matthew’s version of Genesis, as if he were commencing a new version of Scripture and a new era in human history. Like Luke, he includes a genealogy and an infancy narrative, and although the two evangelists differ in their choice of forebears and events (they do seem to agree on the dual sonship of Jesus and his virgin birth), they both want to satisfy converts’ understandable curiosity regarding Jesus’ background, both personal...

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2. The Ministry Begins

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pp. 26-60

With chapter 3 the narrative has bypassed Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood, which by the second century had become the stuff of legends. It is now the spring of AD 28 (perhaps) and a significant event occurs: the baptism of Jesus by his cousin and great predecessor, John the Baptist, now often called the “Baptizer,” or, among Baptists, “John the Immerser” (or, less reverently, the “Big Dipper”). Repentance, for John, entails baptism, to which Jesus also...

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3. The Sermon on the Mount

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pp. 61-94

If Matthew is both “the Jewish gospel” and “the church’s gospel,” it can also be “the Christians’ gospel”—and nowhere more convincingly than in the Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29). These three chapters are sometimes called Christianity’s “Constitution,” or at least an early kind of catechism, being derived largely from the sayings of Q, and hence popular among those who prefer “Christianity Light,” with a Jesus who was an itinerant teacher—a kind of...

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4. Miracles

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pp. 95-105

For many modern readers, nervous about appearing gullible and uncomfortable with the unverified cures they witness on televised “healing” services, the accounts of miracles in the Gospels are something of an embarrassment. Like prophecy, visions, and speaking in tongues, they belong more to spiritual enthusiasm than to conventional belief. Nevertheless, the incomparable...

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5. Disciples

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pp. 106-135

Chapters 10 and 11, studied while he was in military service and on maneuvers in Lower Alsace in the summer of 1894, were crucial for the development of Albert Schweitzer’s “eschatological” theology. It puzzled Schweitzer that nothing came of Jesus’ two predictions: that his disciples would be persecuted on their journey, and that the Son of Man would appear before their mission was completed (10:23). He rejected two current explanations, that this...

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6. Jesus and the Pharisees

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pp. 136-158

Here in chapter 15, the scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of contravening tradition by not washing their hands before eating, an act entailing ritual purification as much as personal hygiene. Jesus trumps their objection by charging that they do worse: they break the commandments to preserve their traditions. He offers the example of a son’s vowing to present to the...

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7. Jerusalem

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pp. 159-201

In chapter 19 Matthew presents two texts (12, 13-15) that have had significant human consequences, since they relate to marriage and celibacy. They are regularly cited in Catholic defenses of clerical celibacy, notably by Pope Paul in his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (though without mention of the “eunuchs” of v. 12). Voluntary celibacy is a gift, and its special advantage is that it is both an “imitation” of Jesus and a renunciation of those...

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8. Passion, Death, and Resurrection

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pp. 202-253

Chapter 26 begins with the announcement of the Passover feast and Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. The evangelists themselves disagree on the order of events in Passion Week, and there is still no modern consensus on the exact date or site of the Last Supper and its coordination with the Jewish seder, or Passover Supper, which was normally held within families. Matthew and Luke, following Mark, identify the two suppers, though they both omit significant...


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pp. 254-278


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pp. 279-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110619
E-ISBN-10: 0253110610
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253342355

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2003