The written gospels have always been of the greatest significance to the Christian church, because they form the principal source of knowledge of the life of the Lord Jesus. The word 'gospel' means good news and the use of the term for a written report about Jesus goes back to the first- or second-generation Christians. It does not so much indicate a literary genre but characterises the contents of the book: good news about Jesus Christ. The gospel describes the good news of how God has realized salvation in and through Jesus Christ. A matter that is discussed time and again in synoptic studies is the question of whether or not the gospels form a unique literary genre. Although in the past this was rather strongly suggested, scholars have been reconsidering this proposal during the last few years. Aune (1987: 46-76) concludes that the authors of the New Testament wanted to write according to the well-known genre of Greco-Roman biography (cf. Hengel 1983: 223-224). Shuler (1982) even argues for the identification of the gospels with a specific type of ancient biographical literature (encomium biography). This has tremendous implications for our understanding and exegesis of the gospels. The gospel writers wanted to describe a 'life of Jesus'. Of course, it is clear that we are not dealing with a biography in the modern sense of the word: this appears simply from the fact that the evangelists gave their primary attention to the last few years of Jesus' life. Among other things, the gospel writers had a missionary vision in mind with their writings, which explains their relatively extensive treatment of the history of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. The authors themselves were completely devoted to the person about whom they were writing. Character and structure
The primary purpose of ancient biographies was praise. At times this purpose incorporated apologetic concerns, while at other times imitation seems to have been important to the writer. These concerns are found in our gospel as well. Matthew begins his writing with a genealogy, in which he shows how Jesus descends from both Abraham and David. This reveals Matthew's goal, i.e., to make clear to his Jewish readers that Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled in Jesus. We may very well characterise the gospel of Matthew as the gospel of fulfilment. The author employs no less than about fifty quotations from the Old Testament. The book of Isaiah in particular has exercised a great influence on Matthew's gospel. From a methodical point of view, it is typical of Matthew that he summarises the narrative parts briefly and to the point. When we compare this with the other gospels, this immediately attracts our attention. Compare, for example, Matthew 14:3-12 with Mark 6:17-29, or Matthew 17:14-21 with Mark 9:14-29. What stands out is that our gospel is instructive by nature. Lengthy addresses and narrative sections occupy a major place. The many parables (chapter 13) and the lengthy instructions in the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7) also fit in with the instructive concern of the Gospel of Matthew. In accordance with this design Matthew rounds off his writing with the words of Jesus 'teaching them (i.e. the nations) to obey everything I have commanded you' (28:20). It can be deduced from the pedagogical design and the wording of the Great Commission (28:16-20) that, through his gospel, Matthew wanted to meet a catechetical need within the young church.
Date of Writing: As an apostle, Matthew wrote this book in the early period of the church, probably around A.D. 50. This was a time when most Christians were Jewish converts, so Matthew’s focus on Jewish perspective in this gospel is understandable.
Purpose of Writing: Matthew intends to prove to the Jews that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. More than any other gospel, Matthew quotes the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfilled the words of the Jewish prophets. Matthew describes in...
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