Sunday, 12 April 2015

Matthew's Gospel

I have been re-reading the Gospel of Matthew - and, for the first time, felt for myself a sense of its overall structure and methods.

My impression is of a text mainly composed of multiple memories about Christ and of what Christ said and did - probably taken verbatim and little altered. The effect is of multiple 'voices' and the author invisible.

The transitions between sources are not smoothed, the context and interpretation are seldom clarified. My inference is that the author regarded his sources as sacred, and was too modest or scrupulous to add or subtract - but satisfied himself with simply arranging the material in the best chronology he could.

The result is an aphoristic style: powerful, detached - and at times I could not understand the aphorisms, and they seemed to clash - always in situations where the context of the sayings and doings was non-obvious. 

Of the synoptic Gospels, the impression was that this was the one in the rawest and least-edited state; with advantages from that of less distortion, and also with a greater-than-usual proneness to error if using the 'proof text' method of reading the Bible a verse at a time.

What comes across with great clarity is the importance of Jesus's strong claim to literal Kingship (i.e. earthly leadership) of the Jews via his adopted father Joseph

There is throughout an overwhelming sense of Jesus's immense and formidable personal authority - his claim on the throne by descent and fulfilment of prophecies, his greatness as a scholar and debater - superior to all other Rabbis, and the extraordinary events of his death and resurrection with multiple prophecies being fulfilled and multiple signs that some great thing had just happened (including resurrections of other people).

And, as so often, I felt again the importance of John the Baptist - whose spiritual authority seems to have been so great; and therefore whose endorsement of Jesus as the Christ seems to have been yet another vital strand in the interlocking of evidence that here was the Messiah.