Sunday, May 07, 2006

Matt 28:16-20 and the structure of GospMt

The structural role of the Great Commission is a major issue in Matthean studies. In my opinion it's safe to say that the "casual" reader would simply see Matt winding up the thrust of his whole Gospel in the final verses. But literary critics don't always agree.

Some have argued that the Grt Comm stands as a sixth or seventh (add chapter 11) or eighth (add chapter 23) "teaching block", in opposition to Bacon's old thesis and its derivatives that Matt features 5 "Pentateuchal" blocks of Jesus' teaching, with or w/out a "New Moses" or "Greater-than-Moses" emphasis. Frank Matera argued that "Matthew's Gospel can be read as a story whose plot concerns Israel's rejection of the Messiah and the consequent movement of the gospel to the Gentiles." All of these argue that in some sense Grt Comm sums up what Matthew wishes to say about Jesus.

Mark Allan Powell has argued against seeing the GrtComm as the climax of the Gospel; all the conflict, etc. in his mind points to the passion narrative as the conclusion. He argues that many narratives do not have a climax at the end, and that in Matthew in particular we have a plot that is not determined by causality, but by "teleology"; he reject the (aristotelian) three-fold division of narratives into beginning, middle, and end. He relies heavily on narrative critical analysis, including features such as the intensification of drama in the conflict narratives (notable by the "slowing" of narrative time in the passion narrative) and the repeated allusions to Jesus' rejection and death throughout the text, among other factors. The Grt Comm is not the climax, but a new beginning. I like the hermeneutical implications of that, but I think the literary analysis isn't quite complete.

But Powell tries to argue that the five major preaching blocks support his theory, as part of Jesus' conflict with Satan/apostate Jewish leadership. There is evidence for this, as the "teaching" does relate to conflict, particularly at the last (23/24-25). But at the end of the day I do not think this mitigates the role of Mt 28:16-20 in favor of Powell's view that "the passion the goal of the entire narrative," and the point of plot resolution. I also don't fully agree with Matera and others, who see a great "switch" from Israel to the nations. (Against Powell, much of the conflict isn't simply about Jesus in his day; it's proleptic, and thus not central to the temporal plot in GospMt.)

I cannot work this out in detail at the moment, but I think the story of central importance here is the story of Abe's people and their vocation (through the lens of early Xianity of course).

That is Matthew's central concern--how does Jesus finsih (fulfill) or bring a new chapter to this long history which precedes his own story of Jesus? How will Israel's vocation (light to the world, justice and righteousness among the nations, even to the nations) be fulfilled? How will the promises to Abraham of universal blessing, and to David of a son to reign and rule in righteousness, be fulfilled? Powell is correct in seeing the locus of "Matthean" plot, i.e., Matthew qua Matthew, intensified and in some sense "climaxed" in the conclusion of the conflict (suffering, death and--perhaps, as God's final blow in the battle--resurrection). But attending to this larger story is essential if we want the true meaning of Jesus' story within the larger Story where it finds meaning, if we want to understand the final five verses, and--I would argue--if we wish to apply Matthew's Gospel today.

This is a bit incomplete at the moment but perhaps we can come back to it later. I'll leave it to readers to comment.

[[I owe the quotes above to the fine analysis of Mervyn Eloff, chapter four of "Restoration from Exile as a Hermeneutical Prism for a Theological Interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel." Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Stellenbosch, ca. 2000. Eloff also is concerned with the "larger plot" (Israel's story) but still agrees with Powell, focusing on Exile and Sin via NTW; I think exile and sin is important, but the climax does NOT lie there, but with the larger plot, of which the exile/sin problem is but one aspect of completion.]]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did you get hold of Eloff's dissertation? I can't find it through UMI.

7:30 AM, May 14, 2006  
Blogger J. B. Hood said...

After seeing it cited in his neotest article, I tried to obtain it via Stellenbosch. This was going to be tricky, and eventually Eloff himself was very kind to send the relevant sections via PDF.

7:01 AM, May 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:11 AM, May 15, 2006  

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