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John, Acts: Volume Two

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Overview

This Pradis software includes the complete 4-volume Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Brimming with lavish, full-color photos and graphics, each book will walk you verse by verse through the books of the Old Testament.

Details

  • SKU: 9780310872856
  • SKU10: 0310872855
  • Title: John, Acts: Volume Two
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Release Date: Mar 01, 2011
  • Category: COMMENTARIES
  • Subject: Biblical Commentary - General
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Chapter Excerpt


Chapter One

Introduction to The Gospel According to Matthew

On the surface of the Mediterranean world lay the famed pax Romana, "the peace of Rome," which the Roman historian Tacitus attributes almost solely to the immense powers of Caesar Augustus. But as Tacitus observes, the "peace" that Augustus inaugurated did not bring with it freedom for all of his subjects; many continued to hope for change. Tides of revolution swirled just below the surface and periodically rose to disturb the so-called peace of the Roman empire.

In one of the remote regions of the empire, where a variety of disturbances repeatedly surfaced, the hoped for freedom finally arrived in a most unexpected way. A rival to Augustus was born in Israel. But this rival did not appear with fanfare, nor would he challenge directly the military and political might of Rome. Even many of his own people would become disappointed with the revolution that he would bring, because it was a revolution of the heart, not of swords or chariots.

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded by the apostle Matthew as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of true peace and deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

Author

All of the four Gospels are technically anonymous, since the names of the authors are not stated explicitly. This is natural since the authors were not writing letters to which are attached the names of the addressees and senders. Rather, the evangelists were compiling stories of Jesus for churches of which they were active participants and leaders. They likely stood among the assembly and first read their Gospel account themselves. To attach their names as authors would have been unnecessary, because their audiences knew their identity, or perhaps even inappropriate, since the primary intention was not to assert their own leadership authority, but to record for their audiences the matchless story of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Therefore we must look to the records of church history to find evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. The earliest church tradition unanimously ascribes the first Gospel to Matthew, the tax-collector who was called to be one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. The earliest and most important of these traditions come from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (c. 135), and from Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. 175). These church leaders either knew the apostolic community directly or were taught by those associated with the apostles; thus, they were directly aware of the origins of the Gospels. While the full meaning of their statements is still open to discussion, no competing tradition assigning the first Gospel to any other author has survived, if any ever existed. False ascription to a relatively obscure apostle such as Matthew seems unlikely until a later date, when canonization of apostles was common.

Matthew, the Person

The list of the twelve disciples in Matthew's gospel refers to "Matthew the tax collector" (10:3), which harks back to the incident when Jesus called Matthew while he was sitting in the tax office (cf. 9:9). When recounting the call, the first Gospel refers to him as "Matthew" (9:9), while Mark's Gospel refers to him as "Levi son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), and Luke's Gospel refers to him as "Levi" (Luke 5:27). Speculation surrounds the reason for the variation, but most scholars suggest that this tax collector had two names, Matthew Levi, either from birth or from the time of his conversion.

The name Levi may be an indication that he was from the tribe of Levi and therefore was familiar with Levitical practices. Mark's record of the calling refers to him as the "son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), which some have understood to mean that he was the brother of the apostle "James son of Alphaeus" (cf. Mark 3:18). But since the other pairs of brothers are specified as such and linked together, it is unlikely that Matthew-Levi and James were brothers.

Matthew-Levi was called to follow Jesus while he was sitting in the tax collector's booth. This booth was probably located on one of the main trade highways near Capernaum, collecting tolls for Herod Antipas from the commercial traffic traveling through this area. Matthew immediately followed Jesus and arranged a banquet for Jesus at his home, to which were invited a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners (9:10-11; Luke 5:29-30). Since tax collectors generally were fairly wealthy and were despised by the local populace (cf. Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), Matthew's calling and response were completely out of the ordinary and required nothing short of a miraculous turn-around in this tax collector's life.

Little else is known of Matthew-Levi, except for the widely attested tradition that he is the author of this Gospel that now bears his name. As a tax collector he would have been trained in secular scribal techniques, and as a Galilean Jewish Christian he would have been able to interpret the life of Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament expectations. Eusebius said that Matthew first preached to "Hebrews" and then to "others," including places such as Persia, Parthia, and Syria (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.6). The traditions are mixed regarding Matthew's death, with some saying that he died a martyr's death, while others saying that he died a natural death.

Date and Destination

No precise date for the writing of Matthew is known, although Jesus' prophecy of the overthrow of Jerusalem (24:1-28), has recently been used to indicate that this Gospel must have been written after A.D. 70. However, such a conclusion is necessary only if one denies Jesus the ability to predict the future. Since the early church father Irenaeus (c. A.D. 175) indicates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Paul and Peter were still alive,2 the traditional dating has usually settled on the late 50s or early 60s.

The highly influential church at Antioch in Syria, with its large Jewish-Christian and Gentile contingents (cf. Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), has often been recognized as the original recipients of this Gospel.This is confirmed in part because of its influence on Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and on the Didache. But Matthew's message was equally relevant for the fledgling church throughout the ancient world, and appears to have been disseminated fairly quickly.

Purpose in Writing

Matthew's first verse gives the direction to his purpose for writing: It is a book that establishes Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel's throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church's identity as God's true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.

Matthew's Story of Jesus Messiah

Matthew's Gospel, according to citations found in early Christian writers, was the most widely used and influential of any of the Gospels. It has retained its appeal throughout the centuries and has exerted a powerful influence on the church. Its popularity is explained at least in part because of the following distinctives that are found throughout this gospel.

(1) The bridge between Old and New Testaments. From the opening lines of his story, Matthew provides a natural bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He demonstrates repeatedly that Old Testament hopes, prophecies, and promises have now been fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus, beginning with the "fulfillment" of the messianic genealogy (1:1), the fulfillment of various Old Testament prophecies and themes, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. The early church likely placed Matthew first in the New Testament canon precisely because of its value as a bridge between the Testaments.

(2) Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism." These terms emphasize that Matthew's Gospel lays striking emphasis on both the fulfillment of the promises of salvation to a particular people, Israel, and also the fulfillment of the universal promise of salvation to all the peoples of the earth. Matthew's Gospel alone points explicitly to Jesus' intention to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-6; 15:24), showing historically how God's promise of salvation to Israel was indeed fulfilled. Yet the promises made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations are also fulfilled as Jesus extends salvation to the Gentiles (cf. 21:44; 28:19). The church throughout the ages has found assurance in Matthew's Gospel that God truly keeps his promises to his people.

(3) The new community of faith. Facing the threat of gathering Roman persecution within a pagan world, Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging community of faith. The community apparently has a large membership of Jewish Christians, familiar with temple activities and the Jewish religious system. But it also has a large contingent of Gentile Christians, who are discovering their heritage of faith in God's universal promise of salvation. The church has consistently found in Matthew's Gospel a call to a new community that transcends ethnic and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah.

(4) The church is built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence. Matthew alone among the evangelists uses the termekklesia, which later became the common term to designate the church. He emphasizes explicitly that God's program of salvation-history will find its continuation in the present age as Jesus builds his church and maintains his presence within its assembly. Whoever responds to his invitation (22:10)-whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free-are brought within the church to enjoy his fellowship and demonstrate the true community of faith.

(5) A "great commission" for evangelism and mission. The form of Jesus' commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (28:19) is unique to Matthew's Gospel, providing continuity between Jesus' ministry of making disciples in his earthly ministry and the ongoing ministry of making disciples to which the church has been called. This "great commission" has been at the heart of evangelistic and missionary endeavor throughout church history.

(6) The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship. The concluding element of the commission, in which Jesus states that new disciples are to be taught "to obey everything I have commanded you" (28:20), gives a hint to one overall purpose for Matthew's Gospel. The presentation of five of Jesus' major discourses, all of which are addressed at least in part to Jesus' disciples (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), forms the most comprehensive collection of Jesus' earthly instructional ministry found in the Gospels. They provide a wholistic presentation on the kind of discipleship that was to be taught to disciples as the basis for full-orbed obedience to Christ and became the basis for Christian catechesis within the church throughout its history.

The Geneaology of Jesus Messiah (1:1-17)

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1). The Greek word translated "genealogy" in 1:1 is genesis, "beginning," which is the title of the Greek translation (LXX) of Genesis, where it implies that it is a book of beginnings. Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God's creation and covenant relations with Israel-while Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1). Matthew's opening had special importance to a Jewish audience, which traced their ancestry through the covenants God made with Israel. "Jesus" (Iesous) was the name normally used in the Gospels, derived from the HebrewYeshua,"Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua, "Yahweh is salvation" (Ex. 24:13). "Christ" is a title, the transliteration of the Greek Christos, which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of a Messiah or "anointed one" who would be the hope for the people of Israel. God had promised David through Nathan the prophet that the house and throne of David would be established forever (2 Sam.7:11b-16), a promise now fulfilled in Jesus as the "son of David." But Jesus is also the "son of Abraham." The covenant God made with Abraham established Israel as a chosen people, but it was also a promise that his line would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18).

Abraham the father of Isaac (1:2). The Jews kept extensive genealogies, which served generally as a record of a family's descendants, but which were also used for practical and legal purposes to establish a person's heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights.

* Matthew IMPORTANT FACTS:

AUTHOR: While technically anonymous, the first book of the New Testament canon was unanimously attributed by the early church to Matthew-Levi, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.

DATE: A.D.60-61 (Paul imprisoned in Rome).

OCCASION: Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging Christian community of faith-it transcends ethnic,economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah. His Gospel becomes a manual on discipleship to Jesus, as Jew and Gentile alike form a new community in an increasingly hostile world.

PORTRAIT OF CHRIST: Jesus is the true Messiah, Immanuel, God-incarnate with his people.

KEY THEMES:

1. The bridge between Old and New Testaments.

2. Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism."

3. The new community of faith.

4. The church built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence.

5. A "great commission" for evangelism and mission.

6. The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship.

* Early Church Testimony to Matthean Authorship

Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, lived approximately A.D. 60-130.

Continues.

Continues.


Chapter One

ROMANS

All kinds of issues would need to be tackled in a full-scale introduction to Paul's letter to the Romans: not least the questions about the letter's purpose and theme. But the introductory remarks that follow will concentrate on the background issues that are the focus of this commentary. Other issues will be ignored or touched on only briefly.

Events Leading up to Paul's Writing of Romans

Understanding Paul's own situation as he writes Romans helps us appreciate the purpose and theme of the letter. In 15:14-22, he looks back at a period of ministry just concluded. "From Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum," Paul tells us, "I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ" (15:19). This verse indicates that Paul's ministry has reached a significant geographical turning point. As Luke tells us in Acts, Paul first preached Christ in Damascus (and perhaps Arabia) after his conversion (Acts 9:19-22; cf. Gal. 1:17). Only after three years did he go to Jerusalem to preach, and then only briefly (Gal. 1:18; cf. Acts 9:28-29). Why, then, mention Jerusalem as the starting point for his ministry? For two reasons. First, the city represents the center of Judaism, and Paul is concerned to show how the gospel spread from the Jews to the Gentiles. Second, the city stands at one geographic extremity in his missionary travels. At the other extremity is Illyricum, the Roman province occupying what is today Albania and parts of Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only here does Paul refer to missionary work in this province, although such a ministry can be fit easily into the movements of Paul on his third missionary journey (see comments on Rom. 15:19). An "arc" drawn from Jersualem to Illyricum, therefore, passes over, or nearby, the important churches that Paul has planted in south Galatia (Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Derbe), Asia (Ephesus), Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea), and Achaia (Corinth).

But what does Paul mean when he claims that he has "fully proclaimed" the gospel in these areas? The Greek has simply the equivalent of our verb "fulfill" (peplerokenai). To "fulfill" the gospel, therefore, probably means to preach it sufficiently such that viable churches are established. These churches can then carry on the task of evangelism in their own territories while Paul moves on to plant new churches in virgin gospel territory (cf. 15:20-21).

In pursuit of this calling, Paul is moving on to Spain (15:24). On the way, he hopes to stop off in Rome, evidently to enlist the Roman Christians' support for his new gospel outreach (see comments on 15:24). But before he can begin his trip to the western Mediterranean, he must first return to Jerusalem (15:25). Throughout the third missionary journey, Paul has collected money from the Gentile churches he planted to bring back to the impoverished Jerusalem believers. Now he is ready to embark on this trip, and he earnestly asks the Roman Christians to pray for it (15:30-33). The collection represents for Paul a key step in what he hopes will be the reconciliation of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church.

The Life-Situation of Paul and Why He Wrote

Four pieces of information from 15:23-33 are especially helpful in understanding the situation of Paul as he writes Romans. First, he is almost certainly writing the letter during his winter stay in Corinth at the end of the third missionary journey (Acts 20:2-3; cf. 2 Cor. 13:1). Not only does this place and time best fit the movements Paul describes in chapter 15; it also explains why he commends to the Romans' attention a prominent woman from the church in Cenchrea, the seaport of Corinth (16:1-2).

Second, Paul is conscious of having reached a significant turning point in his missionary career. He has "fulfilled" the gospel task in the eastern Mediterranean and is now ready for new, fresh fields, "white for the harvest." Such a turning point is a natural time for Paul to reflect on the gospel he has preached and the controversies he has come through.

Third, Paul is deeply concerned about the results of his impending trip to Jerusalem with all its implications for what is to him, and to many others, a central theological issue in the early church: the integration of Gentiles into the people of God. We should not be surprised, then, that this issue plays such a large role in Romans.

Finally, Paul is seeking the support of the Roman Christians for his new ministry in Spain. Perhaps one of the reasons Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome is to introduce himself and explain his theology so that the church will feel comfortable in supporting him.

Rome and Its Church

Some scholars surmise that Paul's own circumstances suffice to explain why he writes Romans. At a key transition point in his ministry, the apostle sets forth the gospel he preaches to the Roman Christians so that they can pray intelligently for his visit to Jerusalem and so that they will be willing to support his new evangelistic effort in Spain. But left out in all this is the Roman church itself. And what we know about that church provides further critical information about the nature and purpose of Romans.

We have no direct evidence about the origins of Christianity in Rome. The tradition that Peter (or Peter and Paul together) founded the church is almost certainly erroneous. Not only is it difficult to place Peter in Rome at such an early date, but it is difficult to imagine Paul writing to a church founded by Peter in the way he does, considering his expressed principle not to build "on someone else's foundation" (15:20). No other tradition from the ancient church associates any other apostle with the founding of the church.

Thus, the assessment of the fourth-century Ambrosiaster is probably accurate: the Romans "embraced the faith of Christ, albeit according to the Jewish rite, without seeing any sign of mighty works or any of the apostles." Luke tells us that "visitors from Rome" were present on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Some of them were probably converted as a result of Peter's powerful speech. They would have returned to their home city and begun preaching Jesus as the Messiah. We know that enough Jews had emigrated to Rome by the first century B.C. to make up a significant portion of the population. The Jewish community was not apparently unified, with many synagogues independent of one another. This circumstance may help explain why the Christians in Rome are also divided.

The Letter and Ancient Genre Considerations

Romans is, of course, a letter-but what kind of letter? Ancient authors used letters for many different purposes. Scholars have been eager to identify the particular persuasive, or "rhetorical," model that Romans belongs in. It has been labeled an "epideictic" letter, an ambassadorial letter, a "protreptic" letter, and a "letter essay," to name just a few of the more prominent suggestions. A good case can be made for several of these identifications. But, in the last analysis, Romans does not fit neatly into any specific genre. As James Dunn concludes, "the distinctiveness of the letter far outweighs the significance of its conformity with current literary or rhetorical custom."

Other scholars have noted the similarities between sections of Romans and the diatribe. The diatribe was a style of argument popular with Cynic-Stoic philosophers (the best example being Epictetus'sDiscourses [1st-2d c. A.D.]). The diatribe features dialogues with fictional characters, rhetorical questions, and the use of the emphatic negation me genoito ("may it never be!") to advance a line of argument. These are just the features Paul uses in passages such as 2:1-3:9; 3:27-31; 6:1-7:25; 9:14-23. Earlier scholars thought the diatribe had a polemical purpose and therefore tended to read Romans as a debate with an opponent (perhaps Jewish). But scholars have recently come to realize that the diatribe was used more often as a means of clarifying truth for converts and disciples. The dialogical "arguments" of Romans therefore have the purpose of helping the Christians in Rome better understand the gospel and its implications.

Address and Greeting (1:1-7)

People in Paul's day usually began their letters by identifying themselves and their addressee(s) and then adding a greeting. Acts 23:26 is a good example: "Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings." Paul follows this conventional structure but elaborates each element. He spends six verses identifying himself, probably because he needs to establish his credentials in a church that he did not found and has not visited. Paul claims to be an apostle, dedicated to the "gospel," the good news about Jesus, God's Son. This Jesus, a descendant of David in his earthly life, has now been invested with new power through his resurrection. It is this Jesus whom Paul serves by calling on Gentiles everywhere to trust God and to obey him. And since the Roman Christians are mainly Gentile, Paul has a perfect right to proclaim God's good news to them.

Servant of Christ Jesus (1:1). Great leaders in the Old Testament were also called "servants" of the Lord (see, e.g., Josh. 14:7: "I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land"). The phrase therefore hints at Paul's own status and authority. "Christ" comes from the Greek word for "anointed" and is equivalent to the Hebrew-derived "Messiah." Placing "Christ" first focuses attention on the word as a title.

* Romans IMPORTANT FACTS:

* AUTHOR: Paul the apostle.

* DATE: A.D. 57.

* OCCASION: Paul writes toward the end of the third missionary journey to a church that is divided between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

* PURPOSE: To help the Roman Christians understand the gospel, especially in its implications for the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the church.

* The Disturbance of "Chrestus" and the Roman Church

One circumstance in the life of the Jews in Rome probably played a significant role in explaining why Paul writes Romans the way he does. The ancient historian Suetonius tells us that Emperor Claudius "expelled all the Jews from Rome because they were constantly rioting at the instigation of Chrestus" (Life of Claudius 25.2).

Most scholars are convinced that "Chrestus" is a corruption of the term "Christ" and that Suetonius is thereby hinting at disputes within the Jewish community over Jesus' claim to be the Christ. Modern historians are less certain over the date of this expulsion. But a fifth-century Christian writer, Orosius, puts the event in A.D. 49; and this date fits nicely with Acts 18:2, which tells us that Priscilla and Aquila ended up in Corinth during Paul's second missionary journey, "because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome."

One can imagine the catastrophic effect this would have had on the fledging Christian community in Rome. Originating from the synagogue, the bulk of Christians would probably have been Jewish. Suddenly they are forced to leave (Claudius would not have distinguished Jews and Jewish-Christians). Left behind are Gentiles who had been converted over the years. Many, if not most, were probably from the class of "God-fearers," Gentiles who had an interest in Judaism and heard the message of Jesus in the synagogue. These Gentiles are the only Christians left in Rome, so the church naturally becomes less and less Jewish in orientation.

But by A.D. 54, the date of Claudius's death, Jews are beginning to return. As Jewish-Christians (like Priscilla and Aquila; cf. Rom. 16:3-5) filter back into the church, they find that they are now in a minority. The social tensions created by this history go a long way in explaining the tensions between Jews and Gentiles that the letter to the Romans abundantly attests (cf. 11:13, 25; 14:1-15:13).

(Continues.)


Chapter One

Who Wrote the Gospel?

The Gospel itself claims to have been written by a member of Jesus' inner circle, an apostle, one of the Twelve. Since the apostolic office was foundational and unrepeatable in the history of the church (Acts 2:42; Eph. 2:20), their message, the gospel, has special authority. As an apostle (i.e., one specially commissioned by Jesus Christ), John was given a mission to testify to what he had seen and heard (John 15:27; 1 John 1:1-4). In fact, being an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry was an indispensable requirement for apostleship (Acts 1:21-22; cf. John 1:14).

Implicit in John is also the claim of having been written by the disciple who was closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. All the Gospel writers concur that John's relationship with Jesus was particularly close. In the present Gospel, the apostle conceals himself behind the expression "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20). As an apostolic eyewitness, John is uniquely qualified to write an authoritative account of Jesus' life: "The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true" (19:35; cf. 21:24).

Where and Why Was the Gospel Written?

John's purpose is bound up with believing in Jesus and having life in his name (20:30-31). By presenting certain startling events in Jesus' ministry as evidence that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John seeks to lead his readers to place their faith in Jesus. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70, John shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of Jewish as well as universal human aspirations.

While ancient tradition places the writing of John's Gospel at Ephesus (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.1.2), the work ultimately transcends any one historical setting and applies to the entire church of John's as well as our day. Some of the material incorporated in this Gospel probably grew over years of preaching and teaching. John's awareness of the contents of the other canonical gospels may also have influenced his final selection of material.

Together with Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria, Ephesus ranked among the most important urban centers of the Roman empire. Located at the intersection of major trade routes, Ephesus was the largest and most well-known city of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

In an important development, Emperor Augustus declared Ephesus as capital of the province of Asia in place of Pergamum. The Ephesian temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and its theater could seat 25,000 people. Ephesus acquired its first imperial temple (attaining to the status of neokoros, "temple warden") during the latter years of Domitian's reign (A.D. 81-96).

A Gospel of Decision

John's Gospel has rightly been called "a Gospel of decision." Every person must choose between light or darkness, faith or unbelief, life or death. Light, life, and salvation, in turn, can be attained only by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus.

The Word's Eternal Preexistence (1:1-2)

Like the other evangelists, John gives an account of the life and ministry of Jesus. But he does so differently from the start. Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with Jesus' family tree and an account of his birth. Mark jumps immediately to the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus' forerunner. But John begins his account by showing Jesus embarking on a journey-not from Galilee to Jerusalem, but from existing eternally with God to becoming a human being like us. Thus we start in 1:1 in eternity past and arrive in 1:6 around A.D. 29 in the land of Palestine. Jesus' ministry is about to begin.

In the beginning (1:1). When hearing the phrase "in the beginning," any person in John's day familiar with the Scriptures would immediately think of the opening verse of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." John reaches back even farther into eternity past. His point is that in the beginning, even prior to creation, someone already existed along with the Father: the Word (cf. 1 John 1:1).

Was the Word (1:1). Echoes of the creation account continue here with allusion to the powerful and effective word of God ("And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light"; Gen. 1:3). The psalmists and prophets alike portray God's word (logos) in almost personal terms (e.g., Ps. 33:6; 107:20; 147:15, 18; Isa. 55:10-11). Isaiah, for instance, describes God's "word" as coming down from heaven and returning to him after achieving the purpose for which it was sent (Isa. 55:10-11). John takes the prophetic depiction of God's word in the Old Testament one decisive step further. No longer is God's word merely spoken of in personal terms; it now has appeared as a real person, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13).

While the primary source of John's depiction of Jesus as the Word is the Old Testament, his opening lines would resonate with his Greek-speaking audience. In Stoic philosophy, for instance, logos was used to refer to the impersonal principle of Reason, which was thought to govern the universe. It is a mark of John's considerable theological genius that he is able to find a term ("the Word") that is at the same time thoroughly biblical-that is, rooted in Old Testament teaching-and highly relevant for his present audience.

The Word was with God (1:1). The term "God" (theos) is familiar to John's readers since it refers to the God revealed in the Old Testament. This word occurs in Genesis 1:1 (LXX) with reference to the Creator. The same expression is also used for "god" in the Greco-Roman world whose pantheon was made up of dozens of deities. In contrast, the Jews believed in only one God (Deut. 6:4).

The Word was God (1:1). Having distinguished the Word (i.e., Jesus) from God, John now shows what both have in common: They are God. From the patristic era (Arius) to the present (Jehovah's Witnesses), it has been argued that this verse merely identifies Jesus as a god rather than as God, because there is no definite article in front of the word theos. But John, as a monotheistic Jew, would hardly have referred to another person as "a god." Also, if he had placed a definite article before theos, this would have so equated God and the Word that the distinction established between the two persons in the previous clause ("the Word was with God") would have been all but obliterated. Clearly calling Jesus God stretched the boundaries of first-century Jewish monotheism.

Moreover, in Greek syntax it is common for a definite nominative predicate noun preceding the verb einai (to be) not to have the article, so that it is illegitimate to infer indefiniteness from the lack of the article in the present passage. If, in fact, John had merely wanted to affirm that Jesus was divine, there was a perfectly proper Greek word for that concept (the adjective theios).

The Word's Involvement in Creation (1:3-5)

Through him all things were made (1:3). The affirmation that all things were made through wisdom or through God'sWord is thoroughly in keeping with Jewish belief. John's contention, however, that everything came into being through "him"-that is, Jesus, God-become-flesh-is startling indeed. Nevertheless, this notion is in no way unique to John; it pervades much of the New Testament. Paul speaks of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, through whom and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:16). Jesus is the "one Lord . through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:6). Hebrews refers to Jesus as God's Son through whom he made the universe (Heb. 1:2). The Aramaic Targum refers to the "word" (memra) of the Lord as an agent of creation. Greco-Roman parallels likewise portray various intermediaries as instrumental in creation (e.g., Lucretius, Rer. Nat. 1:4-5, 21-23 [first cent. B.C.]), as does Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, who identifies wisdom and the Word (Alleg. Interp. 1.65; Heir 191;Dreams 2.242-45) and portrays the latter as the instrument through which the universe was created (Cherubim 127).

Life . light (1:4). Both "life" and "light" are universal religious terms, but John's teaching is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. At creation, calling forth "light" was God's first creative act (Gen. 1:3-5). Later, God placed lights in the sky to separate between light and darkness (1:14-18). Light, in turn, makes it possible for "life" to exist. Thus on the fifth and sixth days of creation, God makes animate life to populate both the waters and dry land, culminating in his creation of humankind (1:20-31; 2:7; 3:20).

Now, according to John, life was "in him," Jesus. Jesus is the source of life, including both physical and spiritual ("eternal") life. He also is the source of light, since only those who possess spiritual, eternal life have within themselves the capacity to "walk in the light," that is, to make moral decisions that are in accordance with the revealed will of God.

This again shows John's knack for contextualization. While drawing on solidly Old Testament concepts, he employs these universal terms to engage adherents of other religions and worldviews. For some, light was wisdom (or wisdom was even superior to light; cf. Wisd. Sol. 7:26-30); for others, light was given by the Mosaic law (2 Bar. 59:2) or Scripture (Ps. 19:8; 119:105, 130; Prov. 6:23); still others looked for enlightenment in philosophy, morality, or a simple lifestyle. Into this religious pluralism of his day, John proclaims Jesus as the supreme Light, who is both eternal and universal and yet personal.

Light . darkness (1:5). Beneath this contrast between light and darkness lies a significant cluster of Old Testament passages. Most interesting in this regard are several instances in Isaiah that depict the coming Messiah as a light entering the darkness. In Isaiah 9:2, we read that "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." In Isaiah 60:1-5, a time is envisioned when the nations will walk in God's light and the glory of the Lord will shine brightly.

Some believe John is here alluding to the Greek dualism between light and darkness. Rather than affirming belief in a personal God who is sovereign, all-powerful, and good, the Greeks viewed reality in terms of polar opposites, such as light and darkness or good and evil. John, however, refutes this kind of thinking in his first letter, where he states emphatically, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Another kind of light/darkness dualism is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly in the so-called "War Scroll" (1QM) depicting the battle between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness." But because of the sectarian nature of the Qumran community, light is never offered to those who live in darkness (cf. 1QS 3:21; 4:9-14).

In John, however, Jesus urges his listeners to "put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light" (John 12:36; cf. 8:12; 9:5). Light and darkness are no equally matched duality, but in the titanic battle between Jesus and Satan, Jesus, "the light," emerges as the overwhelming victor. Regarding this final outcome, John's readers are never left in suspense. Rather, the evangelist announces at the outset that the darkness has not overcome the light (1:5). To be sure, at the cross, the forces of evil appear to have gained the upper hand; but this is followed by the resurrection.

John the Witness to the Light (1:6-8)

A man . sent from God (1:6). The evangelist now moves on to anchor Jesus' ministry firmly in salvation history. This phrase is reminiscent of the Old Testament description of a prophet whose role was to function as a spokesman for God (e.g., Ezek. 2:3).

His name was John (1:6). The name "John," a common name in the Hellenistic world of that day, occurred frequently among the members of the Jewish priesthood, which included John's father Zechariah (Luke 1:5). "John" in this Gospel always means "John the Baptist." The "other John" known from Matthew, Mark, and Luke-that is, John the apostle, the son of Zebedee-is not referred to by name in this Gospel. It is likely that he, as the author of the present gospel, conceals himself behind the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (first used in 13:23; see comments there).

All . might believe (1:7). The desired (though not actual) result of John's ministry is that "all might believe" in Jesus (cf. comments on 1:9). The expression "believe" is found frequently in the Old Testament to describe the trust God desires from his people. Abraham "believed the Lord" and thus became the father, not just of the Jewish nation, but of all believers (Gen. 15:6). Israel as a nation, on the other hand, is known in the Old Testament not so much for her faith in God as for her unbelief (John 12:38; cf. Isa. 53:1). While John is not averse to "believing" as the affirmation of certain religious truths, he is much more concerned about active, relational trust in Jesus Christ.

The World's Rejection of the Light (1:9-11)

The true light (1:9). The coming of the Messiah is frequently depicted in the Old Testament in terms of light. An important oracle, picked up also by Qumran, envisions the coming of "a star" out of Jacob (Num. 24:17). Isaiah, too, describes the coming of the Messiah as "a light" shining in darkness (Isa. 9:2; cf. 42:6-7; see comments on John 1:5). Malachi announces that "the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Mal. 4:2). Echoing these words, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) says about Jesus that "the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness" (Luke 1:78-79). By affirming that Jesus is the "true light"-just as he is the "true bread from heaven" (John 6:32) and the "true vine" (15:1)-John indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and expectations.

Some have suggested that John is here engaging the Greek dualism between shadow and reality, contending that the expression "true light" is better rendered "real light" (in distinction to a mere resemblance). Perhaps some of John's Greek-speaking readers took it that way. But the primary contrast seems to be, not between real over against ideal in the Greek sense, but between earlier manifestations of God in Old Testament times through the law or various prophets and God's final, definitive revelation through Jesus Christ (cf. 1:17; 5:39; 12:38; cf. Heb. 1:1-3).

Continues.


Chapter One

Introduction to The Gospel According to Matthew

On the surface of the Mediterranean world lay the famed pax Romana, "the peace of Rome," which the Roman historian Tacitus attributes almost solely to the immense powers of Caesar Augustus. But as Tacitus observes, the "peace" that Augustus inaugurated did not bring with it freedom for all of his subjects; many continued to hope for change. Tides of revolution swirled just below the surface and periodically rose to disturb the so-called peace of the Roman empire.

In one of the remote regions of the empire, where a variety of disturbances repeatedly surfaced, the hoped for freedom finally arrived in a most unexpected way. A rival to Augustus was born in Israel. But this rival did not appear with fanfare, nor would he challenge directly the military and political might of Rome. Even many of his own people would become disappointed with the revolution that he would bring, because it was a revolution of the heart, not of swords or chariots.

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded by the apostle Matthew as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of true peace and deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

Author

All of the four Gospels are technically anonymous, since the names of the authors are not stated explicitly. This is natural since the authors were not writing letters to which are attached the names of the addressees and senders. Rather, the evangelists were compiling stories of Jesus for churches of which they were active participants and leaders. They likely stood among the assembly and first read their Gospel account themselves. To attach their names as authors would have been unnecessary, because their audiences knew their identity, or perhaps even inappropriate, since the primary intention was not to assert their own leadership authority, but to record for their audiences the matchless story of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Therefore we must look to the records of church history to find evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. The earliest church tradition unanimously ascribes the first Gospel to Matthew, the tax-collector who was called to be one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. The earliest and most important of these traditions come from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (c. 135), and from Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. 175). These church leaders either knew the apostolic community directly or were taught by those associated with the apostles; thus, they were directly aware of the origins of the Gospels. While the full meaning of their statements is still open to discussion, no competing tradition assigning the first Gospel to any other author has survived, if any ever existed. False ascription to a relatively obscure apostle such as Matthew seems unlikely until a later date, when canonization of apostles was common.

Matthew, the Person

The list of the twelve disciples in Matthew's gospel refers to "Matthew the tax collector" (10:3), which harks back to the incident when Jesus called Matthew while he was sitting in the tax office (cf. 9:9). When recounting the call, the first Gospel refers to him as "Matthew" (9:9), while Mark's Gospel refers to him as "Levi son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), and Luke's Gospel refers to him as "Levi" (Luke 5:27). Speculation surrounds the reason for the variation, but most scholars suggest that this tax collector had two names, Matthew Levi, either from birth or from the time of his conversion.

The name Levi may be an indication that he was from the tribe of Levi and therefore was familiar with Levitical practices. Mark's record of the calling refers to him as the "son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), which some have understood to mean that he was the brother of the apostle "James son of Alphaeus" (cf. Mark 3:18). But since the other pairs of brothers are specified as such and linked together, it is unlikely that Matthew-Levi and James were brothers.

Matthew-Levi was called to follow Jesus while he was sitting in the tax collector's booth. This booth was probably located on one of the main trade highways near Capernaum, collecting tolls for Herod Antipas from the commercial traffic traveling through this area. Matthew immediately followed Jesus and arranged a banquet for Jesus at his home, to which were invited a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners (9:10-11; Luke 5:29-30). Since tax collectors generally were fairly wealthy and were despised by the local populace (cf. Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), Matthew's calling and response were completely out of the ordinary and required nothing short of a miraculous turn-around in this tax collector's life.

Little else is known of Matthew-Levi, except for the widely attested tradition that he is the author of this Gospel that now bears his name. As a tax collector he would have been trained in secular scribal techniques, and as a Galilean Jewish Christian he would have been able to interpret the life of Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament expectations. Eusebius said that Matthew first preached to "Hebrews" and then to "others," including places such as Persia, Parthia, and Syria (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.6). The traditions are mixed regarding Matthew's death, with some saying that he died a martyr's death, while others saying that he died a natural death.

Date and Destination

No precise date for the writing of Matthew is known, although Jesus' prophecy of the overthrow of Jerusalem (24:1-28), has recently been used to indicate that this Gospel must have been written after A.D. 70. However, such a conclusion is necessary only if one denies Jesus the ability to predict the future. Since the early church father Irenaeus (c. A.D. 175) indicates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Paul and Peter were still alive,2 the traditional dating has usually settled on the late 50s or early 60s.

The highly influential church at Antioch in Syria, with its large Jewish-Christian and Gentile contingents (cf. Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), has often been recognized as the original recipients of this Gospel.This is confirmed in part because of its influence on Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and on the Didache. But Matthew's message was equally relevant for the fledgling church throughout the ancient world, and appears to have been disseminated fairly quickly.

Purpose in Writing

Matthew's first verse gives the direction to his purpose for writing: It is a book that establishes Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel's throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church's identity as God's true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.

Matthew's Story of Jesus Messiah

Matthew's Gospel, according to citations found in early Christian writers, was the most widely used and influential of any of the Gospels. It has retained its appeal throughout the centuries and has exerted a powerful influence on the church. Its popularity is explained at least in part because of the following distinctives that are found throughout this gospel.

(1) The bridge between Old and New Testaments. From the opening lines of his story, Matthew provides a natural bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He demonstrates repeatedly that Old Testament hopes, prophecies, and promises have now been fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus, beginning with the "fulfillment" of the messianic genealogy (1:1), the fulfillment of various Old Testament prophecies and themes, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. The early church likely placed Matthew first in the New Testament canon precisely because of its value as a bridge between the Testaments.

(2) Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism." These terms emphasize that Matthew's Gospel lays striking emphasis on both the fulfillment of the promises of salvation to a particular people, Israel, and also the fulfillment of the universal promise of salvation to all the peoples of the earth. Matthew's Gospel alone points explicitly to Jesus' intention to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-6; 15:24), showing historically how God's promise of salvation to Israel was indeed fulfilled. Yet the promises made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations are also fulfilled as Jesus extends salvation to the Gentiles (cf. 21:44; 28:19). The church throughout the ages has found assurance in Matthew's Gospel that God truly keeps his promises to his people.

(3) The new community of faith. Facing the threat of gathering Roman persecution within a pagan world, Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging community of faith. The community apparently has a large membership of Jewish Christians, familiar with temple activities and the Jewish religious system. But it also has a large contingent of Gentile Christians, who are discovering their heritage of faith in God's universal promise of salvation. The church has consistently found in Matthew's Gospel a call to a new community that transcends ethnic and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah.

(4) The church is built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence. Matthew alone among the evangelists uses the termekklesia, which later became the common term to designate the church. He emphasizes explicitly that God's program of salvation-history will find its continuation in the present age as Jesus builds his church and maintains his presence within its assembly. Whoever responds to his invitation (22:10)-whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free-are brought within the church to enjoy his fellowship and demonstrate the true community of faith.

(5) A "great commission" for evangelism and mission. The form of Jesus' commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (28:19) is unique to Matthew's Gospel, providing continuity between Jesus' ministry of making disciples in his earthly ministry and the ongoing ministry of making disciples to which the church has been called. This "great commission" has been at the heart of evangelistic and missionary endeavor throughout church history.

(6) The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship. The concluding element of the commission, in which Jesus states that new disciples are to be taught "to obey everything I have commanded you" (28:20), gives a hint to one overall purpose for Matthew's Gospel. The presentation of five of Jesus' major discourses, all of which are addressed at least in part to Jesus' disciples (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), forms the most comprehensive collection of Jesus' earthly instructional ministry found in the Gospels. They provide a wholistic presentation on the kind of discipleship that was to be taught to disciples as the basis for full-orbed obedience to Christ and became the basis for Christian catechesis within the church throughout its history.

The Geneaology of Jesus Messiah (1:1-17)

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1). The Greek word translated "genealogy" in 1:1 is genesis, "beginning," which is the title of the Greek translation (LXX) of Genesis, where it implies that it is a book of beginnings. Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God's creation and covenant relations with Israel-while Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1). Matthew's opening had special importance to a Jewish audience, which traced their ancestry through the covenants God made with Israel. "Jesus" (Iesous) was the name normally used in the Gospels, derived from the HebrewYeshua,"Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua, "Yahweh is salvation" (Ex. 24:13). "Christ" is a title, the transliteration of the Greek Christos, which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of a Messiah or "anointed one" who would be the hope for the people of Israel. God had promised David through Nathan the prophet that the house and throne of David would be established forever (2 Sam.7:11b-16), a promise now fulfilled in Jesus as the "son of David." But Jesus is also the "son of Abraham." The covenant God made with Abraham established Israel as a chosen people, but it was also a promise that his line would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18).

Abraham the father of Isaac (1:2). The Jews kept extensive genealogies, which served generally as a record of a family's descendants, but which were also used for practical and legal purposes to establish a person's heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights.

* Matthew IMPORTANT FACTS:

AUTHOR: While technically anonymous, the first book of the New Testament canon was unanimously attributed by the early church to Matthew-Levi, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.

DATE: A.D.60-61 (Paul imprisoned in Rome).

OCCASION: Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging Christian community of faith-it transcends ethnic,economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah. His Gospel becomes a manual on discipleship to Jesus, as Jew and Gentile alike form a new community in an increasingly hostile world.

PORTRAIT OF CHRIST: Jesus is the true Messiah, Immanuel, God-incarnate with his people.

KEY THEMES:

1. The bridge between Old and New Testaments.

2. Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism."

3. The new community of faith.

4. The church built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence.

5. A "great commission" for evangelism and mission.

6. The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship.

* Early Church Testimony to Matthean Authorship

Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, lived approximately A.D. 60-130.

Continues.

Excerpt


Chapter One

Who Wrote the Gospel?

The Gospel itself claims to have been written by a member of Jesus' inner circle, an apostle, one of the Twelve. Since the apostolic office was foundational and unrepeatable in the history of the church (Acts 2:42; Eph. 2:20), their message, the gospel, has special authority. As an apostle (i.e., one specially commissioned by Jesus Christ), John was given a mission to testify to what he had seen and heard (John 15:27; 1 John 1:1-4). In fact, being an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry was an indispensable requirement for apostleship (Acts 1:21-22; cf. John 1:14).

Implicit in John is also the claim of having been written by the disciple who was closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. All the Gospel writers concur that John's relationship with Jesus was particularly close. In the present Gospel, the apostle conceals himself behind the expression "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20). As an apostolic eyewitness, John is uniquely qualified to write an authoritative account of Jesus' life: "The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true" (19:35; cf. 21:24).

Where and Why Was the Gospel Written?

John's purpose is bound up with believing in Jesus and having life in his name (20:30-31). By presenting certain startling events in Jesus' ministry as evidence that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John seeks to lead his readers to place their faith in Jesus. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70, John shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of Jewish as well as universal human aspirations.

While ancient tradition places the writing of John's Gospel at Ephesus (Irenaeus, Haer . 3.1.2), the work ultimately transcends any one historical setting and applies to the entire church of John's as well as our day. Some of the material incorporated in this Gospel probably grew over years of preaching and teaching. John's awareness of the contents of the other canonical gospels may also have influenced his final selection of material.

Together with Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria, Ephesus ranked among the most important urban centers of the Roman empire. Located at the intersection of major trade routes, Ephesus was the largest and most well-known city of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

In an important development, Emperor Augustus declared Ephesus as capital of the province of Asia in place of Pergamum. The Ephesian temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and its theater could seat 25,000 people. Ephesus acquired its first imperial temple (attaining to the status of neokoros , "temple warden") during the latter years of Domitian's reign (A.D. 81-96).

A Gospel of Decision

John's Gospel has rightly been called "a Gospel of decision." Every person must choose between light or darkness, faith or unbelief, life or death. Light, life, and salvation, in turn, can be attained only by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus.

The Word's Eternal Preexistence (1:1-2)

Like the other evangelists, John gives an account of the life and ministry of Jesus. But he does so differently from the start. Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with Jesus' family tree and an account of his birth. Mark jumps immediately to the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus' forerunner. But John begins his account by showing Jesus embarking on a journey-not from Galilee to Jerusalem, but from existing eternally with God to becoming a human being like us. Thus we start in 1:1 in eternity past and arrive in 1:6 around A.D. 29 in the land of Palestine. Jesus' ministry is about to begin.

In the beginning (1:1).When hearing the phrase "in the beginning," any person in John's day familiar with the Scriptures would immediately think of the opening verse of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." John reaches back even farther into eternity past. His point is that in the beginning, even prior to creation, someone already existed along with the Father: the Word (cf. 1 John 1:1).

Was the Word (1:1).Echoes of the creation account continue here with allusion to the powerful and effective word of God ("And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light"; Gen. 1:3). The psalmists and prophets alike portray God's word ( logos ) in almost personal terms (e.g., Ps. 33:6; 107:20; 147:15, 18; Isa. 55:10-11). Isaiah, for instance, describes God's "word" as coming down from heaven and returning to him after achieving the purpose for which it was sent (Isa. 55:10-11). John takes the prophetic depiction of God's word in the Old Testament one decisive step further. No longer is God's word merely spoken of in personal terms; it now has appeared as a real person, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13).

While the primary source of John's depiction of Jesus as the Word is the Old Testament, his opening lines would resonate with his Greek-speaking audience. In Stoic philosophy, for instance, logoswas used to refer to the impersonal principle of Reason, which was thought to govern the universe. It is a mark of John's considerable theological genius that he is able to find a term ("the Word") that is at the same time thoroughly biblical-that is, rooted in Old Testament teaching-and highly relevant for his present audience.

The Word was with God (1:1).The term "God" ( theos ) is familiar to John's readers since it refers to the God revealed in the Old Testament. This word occurs in Genesis 1:1 (LXX) with reference to the Creator. The same expression is also used for "god" in the Greco-Roman world whose pantheon was made up of dozens of deities. In contrast, the Jews believed in only one God (Deut. 6:4).

The Word was God (1:1).Having distinguished the Word (i.e., Jesus) from God, John now shows what both have in common: They are God. From the patristic era (Arius) to the present (Jehovah's Witnesses), it has been argued that this verse merely identifies Jesus as agod rather than as God, because there is no definite article in front of the word theos . But John, as a monotheistic Jew, would hardly have referred to another person as "a god." Also, if he had placed a definite article before theos , this would have so equated God and the Word that the distinction established between the two persons in the previous clause ("the Word was withGod") would have been all but obliterated. Clearly calling Jesus God stretched the boundaries of first-century Jewish monotheism.

Moreover, in Greek syntax it is common for a definite nominative predicate noun preceding the verb einai(to be) not to have the article, so that it is illegitimate to infer indefiniteness from the lack of the article in the present passage. If, in fact, John had merely wanted to affirm that Jesus was divine, there was a perfectly proper Greek word for that concept (the adjective theios ).

The Word's Involvement in Creation (1:3-5)

Through him all things were made (1:3).The affirmation that all things were made through wisdomor through God's Wordis thoroughly in keeping with Jewish belief. John's contention, however, that everything came into being through "him"-that is, Jesus , God-become-flesh-is startling indeed. Nevertheless, this notion is in no way unique to John; it pervades much of the New Testament. Paul speaks of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, through whom and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:16). Jesus is the "one Lord . through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:6). Hebrews refers to Jesus as God's Son through whom he made the universe (Heb. 1:2). The Aramaic Targum refers to the "word" ( memra ) of the Lord as an agent of creation. Greco-Roman parallels likewise portray various intermediaries as instrumental in creation (e.g., Lucretius, Rer. Nat.1:4-5, 21-23 [first cent. B.C.]), as does Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, who identifies wisdom and the Word ( Alleg. Interp.1.65; Heir 191; Dreams2.242-45) and portrays the latter as the instrument through which the universe was created ( Cherubim127).

Life . light (1:4).Both "life" and "light" are universal religious terms, but John's teaching is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. At creation, calling forth "light" was God's first creative act (Gen. 1:3-5). Later, God placed lights in the sky to separate between light and darkness (1:14-18). Light, in turn, makes it possible for "life" to exist. Thus on the fifth and sixth days of creation, God makes animate life to populate both the waters and dry land, culminating in his creation of humankind (1:20-31; 2:7; 3:20).

Now, according to John, life was "in him," Jesus. Jesus is the source of life, including both physical and spiritual ("eternal") life. He also is the source of light, since only those who possess spiritual, eternal life have within themselves the capacity to "walk in the light," that is, to make moral decisions that are in accordance with the revealed will of God.

This again shows John's knack for contextualization. While drawing on solidly Old Testament concepts, he employs these universal terms to engage adherents of other religions and worldviews. For some, light was wisdom (or wisdom was even superior to light; cf. Wisd. Sol. 7:26-30); for others, light was given by the Mosaic law (2 Bar . 59:2) or Scripture (Ps. 19:8; 119:105, 130; Prov. 6:23); still others looked for enlightenment in philosophy, morality, or a simple lifestyle. Into this religious pluralism of his day, John proclaims Jesus as the supreme Light, who is both eternal and universal and yet personal.

Light . darkness (1:5).Beneath this contrast between light and darkness lies a significant cluster of Old Testament passages. Most interesting in this regard are several instances in Isaiah that depict the coming Messiah as a light entering the darkness. In Isaiah 9:2, we read that "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." In Isaiah 60:1-5, a time is envisioned when the nations will walk in God's light and the glory of the Lord will shine brightly.

Some believe John is here alluding to the Greek dualism between light and darkness. Rather than affirming belief in a personal God who is sovereign, all-powerful, and good, the Greeks viewed reality in terms of polar opposites, such as light and darkness or good and evil. John, however, refutes this kind of thinking in his first letter, where he states emphatically, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Another kind of light/darkness dualism is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly in the so-called "War Scroll" (1QM) depicting the battle between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness." But because of the sectarian nature of the Qumran community, light is never offered to those who live in darkness (cf. 1QS 3:21; 4:9-14).

In John, however, Jesus urges his listeners to "put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light" (John 12:36; cf. 8:12; 9:5). Light and darkness are no equally matched duality, but in the titanic battle between Jesus and Satan, Jesus, "the light," emerges as the overwhelming victor. Regarding this final outcome, John's readers are never left in suspense. Rather, the evangelist announces at the outset that the darkness has not overcome the light (1:5). To be sure, at the cross, the forces of evil appear to have gained the upper hand; but this is followed by the resurrection.

John the Witness to the Light (1:6-8)

A man . sent from God (1:6).The evangelist now moves on to anchor Jesus' ministry firmly in salvation history. This phrase is reminiscent of the Old Testament description of a prophet whose role was to function as a spokesman for God (e.g., Ezek. 2:3).

His name was John (1:6).The name "John," a common name in the Hellenistic world of that day, occurred frequently among the members of the Jewish priesthood, which included John's father Zechariah (Luke 1:5). "John" in this Gospel always means "John the Baptist." The "other John" known from Matthew, Mark, and Luke-that is, John the apostle, the son of Zebedee-is not referred to by name in this Gospel. It is likely that he, as the author of the present gospel, conceals himself behind the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (first used in 13:23; see comments there).

All . might believe (1:7).The desired (though not actual) result of John's ministry is that "all might believe" in Jesus (cf. comments on 1:9). The expression "believe" is found frequently in the Old Testament to describe the trust God desires from his people. Abraham "believed the Lord" and thus became the father, not just of the Jewish nation, but of all believers (Gen. 15:6). Israel as a nation, on the other hand, is known in the Old Testament not so much for her faith in God as for her unbelief (John 12:38; cf. Isa. 53:1). While John is not averse to "believing" as the affirmation of certain religious truths, he is much more concerned about active, relational trust in Jesus Christ.

The World's Rejection of the Light (1:9-11)

The true light (1:9).The coming of the Messiah is frequently depicted in the Old Testament in terms of light. An important oracle, picked up also by Qumran, envisions the coming of "a star" out of Jacob (Num. 24:17). Isaiah, too, describes the coming of the Messiah as "a light" shining in darkness (Isa. 9:2; cf. 42:6-7; see comments on John 1:5). Malachi announces that "the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Mal. 4:2). Echoing these words, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) says about Jesus that "the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness" (Luke 1:78-79). By affirming that Jesus is the "true light"-just as he is the "true bread from heaven" (John 6:32) and the "true vine" (15:1)-John indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and expectations.

Some have suggested that John is here engaging the Greek dualism between shadow and reality, contending that the expression "true light" is better rendered " reallight" (in distinction to a mere resemblance). Perhaps some of John's Greek-speaking readers took it that way. But the primary contrast seems to be, not between real over against ideal in the Greek sense, but between earlier manifestations of God in Old Testament times through the law or various prophets and God's final, definitive revelation through Jesus Christ (cf. 1:17; 5:39; 12:38; cf. Heb. 1:1-3).

Continues.


Chapter One

Introduction to The Gospel According to Matthew

On the surface of the Mediterranean world lay the famed pax Romana , "the peace of Rome," which the Roman historian Tacitus attributes almost solely to the immense powers of Caesar Augustus. But as Tacitus observes, the "peace" that Augustus inaugurated did not bring with it freedom for all of his subjects; many continued to hope for change. Tides of revolution swirled just below the surface and periodically rose to disturb the so-called peace of the Roman empire.

In one of the remote regions of the empire, where a variety of disturbances repeatedly surfaced, the hoped for freedom finally arrived in a most unexpected way. A rival to Augustus was born in Israel. But this rival did not appear with fanfare, nor would he challenge directly the military and political might of Rome. Even many of his own people would become disappointed with the revolution that he would bring, because it was a revolution of the heart, not of swords or chariots.

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded by the apostle Matthew as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of true peace and deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

Author

All of the four Gospels are technically anonymous, since the names of the authors are not stated explicitly. This is natural since the authors were not writing letters to which are attached the names of the addressees and senders. Rather, the evangelists were compiling stories of Jesus for churches of which they were active participants and leaders. They likely stood among the assembly and first read their Gospel account themselves. To attach their names as authors would have been unnecessary, because their audiences knew their identity, or perhaps even inappropriate, since the primary intention was not to assert their own leadership authority, but to record for their audiences the matchless story of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Therefore we must look to the records of church history to find evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. The earliest church tradition unanimously ascribes the first Gospel to Matthew, the tax-collector who was called to be one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. The earliest and most important of these traditions come from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (c. 135), and from Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. 175). These church leaders either knew the apostolic community directly or were taught by those associated with the apostles; thus, they were directly aware of the origins of the Gospels. While the full meaning of their statements is still open to discussion, no competing tradition assigning the first Gospel to any other author has survived, if any ever existed. False ascription to a relatively obscure apostle such as Matthew seems unlikely until a later date, when canonization of apostles was common.

Matthew, the Person

The list of the twelve disciples in Matthew's gospel refers to "Matthew the tax collector" (10:3), which harks back to the incident when Jesus called Matthew while he was sitting in the tax office (cf. 9:9). When recounting the call, the first Gospel refers to him as "Matthew" (9:9), while Mark's Gospel refers to him as "Levi son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), and Luke's Gospel refers to him as "Levi" (Luke 5:27). Speculation surrounds the reason for the variation, but most scholars suggest that this tax collector had two names, Matthew Levi, either from birth or from the time of his conversion.

The name Levi may be an indication that he was from the tribe of Levi and therefore was familiar with Levitical practices. Mark's record of the calling refers to him as the "son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14), which some have understood to mean that he was the brother of the apostle "James son of Alphaeus" (cf. Mark 3:18). But since the other pairs of brothers are specified as such and linked together, it is unlikely that Matthew-Levi and James were brothers.

Matthew-Levi was called to follow Jesus while he was sitting in the tax collector's booth. This booth was probably located on one of the main trade highways near Capernaum, collecting tolls for Herod Antipas from the commercial traffic traveling through this area. Matthew immediately followed Jesus and arranged a banquet for Jesus at his home, to which were invited a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners (9:10-11; Luke 5:29-30). Since tax collectors generally were fairly wealthy and were despised by the local populace (cf. Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), Matthew's calling and response were completely out of the ordinary and required nothing short of a miraculous turn-around in this tax collector's life.

Little else is known of Matthew-Levi, except for the widely attested tradition that he is the author of this Gospel that now bears his name. As a tax collector he would have been trained in secular scribal techniques, and as a Galilean Jewish Christian he would have been able to interpret the life of Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament expectations. Eusebius said that Matthew first preached to "Hebrews" and then to "others," including places such as Persia, Parthia, and Syria (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist.3.24.6). The traditions are mixed regarding Matthew's death, with some saying that he died a martyr's death, while others saying that he died a natural death.

Date and Destination

No precise date for the writing of Matthew is known, although Jesus' prophecy of the overthrow of Jerusalem (24:1-28), has recently been used to indicate that this Gospel must have been written after A.D. 70. However, such a conclusion is necessary only if one denies Jesus the ability to predict the future. Since the early church father Irenaeus (c. A.D. 175) indicates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Paul and Peter were still alive,2 the traditional dating has usually settled on the late 50s or early 60s.

The highly influential church at Antioch in Syria, with its large Jewish-Christian and Gentile contingents (cf. Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), has often been recognized as the original recipients of this Gospel.This is confirmed in part because of its influence on Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and on the Didache . But Matthew's message was equally relevant for the fledgling church throughout the ancient world, and appears to have been disseminated fairly quickly.

Purpose in Writing

Matthew's first verse gives the direction to his purpose for writing: It is a book that establishes Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel's throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church's identity as God's true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.

Matthew's Story of Jesus Messiah

Matthew's Gospel, according to citations found in early Christian writers, was the most widely used and influential of any of the Gospels. It has retained its appeal throughout the centuries and has exerted a powerful influence on the church. Its popularity is explained at least in part because of the following distinctives that are found throughout this gospel.

(1) The bridge between Old and New Testaments.From the opening lines of his story, Matthew provides a natural bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He demonstrates repeatedly that Old Testament hopes, prophecies, and promises have now been fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus, beginning with the "fulfillment" of the messianic genealogy (1:1), the fulfillment of various Old Testament prophecies and themes, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. The early church likely placed Matthew first in the New Testament canon precisely because of its value as a bridge between the Testaments.

(2) Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism."These terms emphasize that Matthew's Gospel lays striking emphasis on both the fulfillment of the promises of salvation to a particular people, Israel, and also the fulfillment of the universal promise of salvation to all the peoples of the earth. Matthew's Gospel alone points explicitly to Jesus' intention to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-6; 15:24), showing historically how God's promise of salvation to Israel was indeed fulfilled. Yet the promises made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations are also fulfilled as Jesus extends salvation to the Gentiles (cf. 21:44; 28:19). The church throughout the ages has found assurance in Matthew's Gospel that God truly keeps his promises to his people.

(3) The new community of faith.Facing the threat of gathering Roman persecution within a pagan world, Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging community of faith. The community apparently has a large membership of Jewish Christians, familiar with temple activities and the Jewish religious system. But it also has a large contingent of Gentile Christians, who are discovering their heritage of faith in God's universal promise of salvation. The church has consistently found in Matthew's Gospel a call to a new community that transcends ethnic and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah.

(4) The church is built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence.Matthew alone among the evangelists uses the term ekklesia , which later became the common term to designate the church. He emphasizes explicitly that God's program of salvation-history will find its continuation in the present age as Jesus builds his church and maintains his presence within its assembly. Whoever responds to his invitation (22:10)-whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free-are brought within the church to enjoy his fellowship and demonstrate the true community of faith.

(5) A "great commission" for evangelism and mission.The form of Jesus' commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (28:19) is unique to Matthew's Gospel, providing continuity between Jesus' ministry of making disciples in his earthly ministry and the ongoing ministry of making disciples to which the church has been called. This "great commission" has been at the heart of evangelistic and missionary endeavor throughout church history.

(6) The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship.The concluding element of the commission, in which Jesus states that new disciples are to be taught "to obey everything I have commanded you" (28:20), gives a hint to one overall purpose for Matthew's Gospel. The presentation of five of Jesus' major discourses, all of which are addressed at least in part to Jesus' disciples (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), forms the most comprehensive collection of Jesus' earthly instructional ministry found in the Gospels. They provide a wholistic presentation on the kind of discipleship that was to be taught to disciples as the basis for full-orbed obedience to Christ and became the basis for Christian catechesis within the church throughout its history.

The Geneaology of Jesus Messiah (1:1-17)

This is the story of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, recorded as a compelling witness that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah, the prophesied fulfillment of God's promise of deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1).The Greek word translated "genealogy" in 1:1 is genesis , "beginning," which is the title of the Greek translation (LXX) of Genesis, where it implies that it is a book of beginnings. Genesis gave the story of one beginning-God's creation and covenant relations with Israel-while Matthew gives the story of a new beginning-the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1).Matthew's opening had special importance to a Jewish audience, which traced their ancestry through the covenants God made with Israel. "Jesus" ( Iesous ) was the name normally used in the Gospels, derived from the Hebrew Yeshua ,"Yahweh saves" (Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua, "Yahweh is salvation" (Ex. 24:13). "Christ" is a title, the transliteration of the Greek Christos , which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of a Messiah or "anointed one" who would be the hope for the people of Israel. God had promised David through Nathan the prophet that the house and throne of David would be established forever (2 Sam.7:11b-16), a promise now fulfilled in Jesus as the "son of David." But Jesus is also the "son of Abraham." The covenant God made with Abraham established Israel as a chosen people, but it was also a promise that his line would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18).

Abraham the father of Isaac (1:2).The Jews kept extensive genealogies, which served generally as a record of a family's descendants, but which were also used for practical and legal purposes to establish a person's heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights.

* Matthew IMPORTANT FACTS:

AUTHOR : While technically anonymous, the first book of the New Testament canon was unanimously attributed by the early church to Matthew-Levi, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.

DATE : A.D.60-61 (Paul imprisoned in Rome).

OCCASION : Matthew addresses a church that is representative of the emerging Christian community of faith-it transcends ethnic,economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in its adherence to Jesus Messiah. His Gospel becomes a manual on discipleship to Jesus, as Jew and Gentile alike form a new community in an increasingly hostile world.

PORTRAIT OF CHRIST : Jesus is the true Messiah, Immanuel, God-incarnate with his people.

KEY THEMES :

1. The bridge between Old and New Testaments.

2. Salvation-historical "particularism" and "universalism."

3. The new community of faith.

4. The church built and maintained by Jesus' continuing presence.

5. A "great commission" for evangelism and mission.

6. The structure of five discourses contributes to a manual on discipleship.

* Early Church Testimony to Matthean Authorship

Papias , bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, lived approximately A.D. 60-130.

Continues.

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