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Saved by Obedience: Matthew 1:21 in Light of Jesus' Teaching on the Torah

From: Journal of Biblical Literature
Volume 132, Number 2, 2013
pp. 393-413 | 10.1353/jbl.2013.0033

Abstract

Abstract:

Recent studies by Warren Carter and Boris Repschinski have argued that the notice in Matt 1:21 that Jesus "will save his people from their sins" signals a major theme to be elaborated the Gospel's subsequent narrative. The standard exegesis of the passage identifies Jesus' function of forgiving sin (Matt 9:2-8), particularly in connection with his death by crucifixion (26:28), as the most significant elaboration of 1:21. Although both Carter and Repschinski make significant advances beyond the "standard view," both fail to define adequately the nature of the "sin" from which Jesus is depicted as saving his people. Following important strands of Second Temple Judaism, "sin" is defined in Matthew as transgression of the stipulations of the Torah. Once this definition is recognized, a mode of salvation from sin suggests itself: Jesus' advocacy of Torah observance. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is depicted as a proponent of strict obedience to the law (e.g., 5:17-20; 23:1-3; 28:19-20). In terms of the amount of material devoted to its exposition and its placement at important points in the narrative, the Gospel strongly marks Jesus' advocacy of Torah observance as one if its most important themes. The standard view inverts Matthew's own literary and theological priorities: Jesus "saves his people from their sins" not primarily by forgiving sin or by his death on the cross but by exhorting his audience to follow the Torah with perfect obedience.



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