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ClassicsOnline Home » NEW TESTAMENT (New Jerusalem version), Set 4: The Gospel According to Matthew
The Spoken Word
Set One: The Early Letters of Paul – Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians
Set Two: The Mature Letters of Paul – Romans, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon
Set Three: The Gospel according to Mark
Set Four: The Gospel according to Matthew
Set Five: The Gospel according to Luke
Set Six: The Acts of the Apostles
Set Seven: Letters and Documents
Set Eight: The Revelation to John
Set Nine: The Gospel according to John: 1 John
The scriptures, Old and New Testaments, were shaped into their present form over centuries. From a range of documents, first the Hebrew and later the Christian community selected certain writings authorised for reading in public liturgy. That is the whole point of the canons of scripture. The Christian Church adopted the Hebrew canon in its entirety as being part of its own canon. In arriving at their choice, our forebears also made decisions about the order in which the documents were to be placed within the canon. The New Testament possesses a rationality in its order, placing the story of Jesus first, followed by Luke’s account of the missionary growth of the church, then the body of letters and concluding with Revelation—a broad chronology of events.
I have chosen to arrange the recordings in the order of composition, so far as that order is generally agreed upon by scholars. The letters of Paul were written before any of the gospel accounts. Mark’s gospel was followed by Matthew, then Luke, a book in two halves,
the second half being the Acts of the Apostles. John’s gospel can be read as a reflection back on the entire tradition.
My objective in making these recordings is to present the scriptures to my contemporaries
in a manner that will, I hope, capture their imagination and attention. Most of the biblical books are finely nuanced, and it can take the art of reading to bring out those nuances. Through nuance we capture imagination. Each of these documents was a response to a need that passionately involved both the writer and their readers. We are able today, in some measure, to recapture what those circumstances were, and therefore approach the texts with a light unavailable in the past. In commencing with 1 Thessalonians, for example, we can listen as a people for whom there was nothing at all in writing relating to their new-found faith. In the letter, Paul’s own thinking is far from mature. Thessalonians shows us a community of faith just beginning to grapple with themes that have occupied Christians ever since.
Even by the last of Paul’s letters to be written, not one of the gospels has appeared. Paul knows little of the details of Jesus’ life and teaching. Even in the Judea of that period the stories of Jesus’ life must have been little known or little valued, since otherwise Paul would have been instructed during his times in Jerusalem. When Mark was published, it may have come as a shock and revelation to the whole church. By reading Mark after hearing Paul, we can enter in some measure into the experience of learning about the earthly life of Jesus against the background of the significance Paul has assigned to the man.
Mark presents a picture of Jesus that fits the Pauline theology of justification by faith. Matthew, writing a decade later, appears to shape his account to contradict Mark and show Jesus as the man of the Law, the establishment man. By reading Matthew after Mark and possibly as a reaction to Mark we bring new
light to our understanding of both.
This arrangement of texts also allows the connection of Luke and Acts into the continuous narrative they were originally intended to be and which the placement of John’s gospel between them destroys. John’s gospel, and the first Letter of John, is placed at the end of this collection not only because they were written around the turn of the century, with just a few of the New Testament documents subsequent, but principally because this gospel provides a supreme reflection upon the whole tradition and makes a fitting climax.
Here, then, is an invitation to listeners to bring new life and understanding of the scriptures that I believe will, in turn, invigorate our engagement with the scriptures in all our manners of approach.
The New Jerusalem Bible translation
I use the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) for these readings and I am grateful to the publishers (Random House (US) and Darton, Longman & Todd), for their permission to read from their translation. There are a number of good translation options available but, to my ear, only one, the NJB, captures the sound of words with vividness. Others are essentially literary compositions, their focus being upon the printed page. The NJB is not without its weaknesses but, on the basis of the sound of its words, it stands head and shoulders above other contemporary translations.
Any gift that I may have which is expressed in these readings is just that—a gift received from the Spirit through the person of others. I owe an inestimable debt to my speech tutor of student days, John N Thompson, and to Dr Raymond Foster, whose enthusiasm for Jeremiah and Ezekiel set me on the path of a love for the scriptures. To my son, Jonathan, I owe all my skills with the computer, enabling the technical side of these recordings, while my wife Barbara and daughter Ruth have been my unfailing support, encouragement and critics. Strangely, the centrepiece of this acknowledgement belongs to five children, my grandchildren,
for whom I ventured into recording in order to create for them disks of stories and music.
The manner of the gift
How did it come about that I created these recordings? The story commences in mid-2006 as I was emerging from a long period of illness. During this period the daily morning and evening prayer offices of the church were my sustaining support. I began to record these offices and publish them on my website and on podcast, receiving considerable affirmation and support from many for the initiative.
The early broadcasts were poor in quality, both from the standard of equipment and my technical inexperience, but these gradually improved and the standards rose. Initially, I recorded each day’s office as a complete entity, but found that this consumed an immense amount of time—recording, editing and making ready for broadcast—and also brought variable quality, dependent as it was on my pressure, health and well-being on each day.
The logical next step was to record whole books of the Old and New Testaments and then break up the recordings into the tracks corresponding to the daily lections and that is what I proceeded to do. From that point it became a near-inevitable step to conceive the publication of the recordings in themselves, while a parallel development of conceptualisation took place regarding the philosophy behind the recording and their ordering, as recounted above. And so these recordings came to be. They remain for me indelibly planted in the spirituality of the prayer offices; for me, a gifting of the Spirit through me to the church.
For the prayer offices: www.genesis.net.nz.
David Guthrie, 2009
Set Four: The Gospel according to Matthew
Matthew’s gospel (not written by Matthew the Apostle but credited to his name in the manner of ancient writing) appears around a decade later than Mark’s gospel, in the seventh decade of the first century. In between the two gospels an event occurred that we can compare to the attack of 9/11—provided that we scale 9/11 to encompass the destruction of the whole city of New York. Only if we capture that scenario in our imagination can we grasp the impact on the Christian community when, in 70AD, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem. For Christians as well as Jews, Jerusalem represented the centre of the universe. To its religious world it was akin to what New York means today to the financial world: its utter destruction unthinkable, yet the unthinkable happened.
Just as 9/11 caused Americans and many others around the world to rethink their priorities and perspectives. So, too, did the destruction of Jerusalem affect the apostolic church. Events of this nature generate a withdrawal into bastions of conservatism and guardianship and this is what is mirrored in Matthew’s gospel. The previous twenty years, dominated by the radicalism of Paul and the free-spirited Jesus of Mark, were years of pushing boundaries and exploring new worlds of thought and ethical concepts. Paul encountered opposition from the conservatives who fought to keep Christianity inside the bounds of Jewish Law. The centre of this conservatism was in Jerusalem, yet even here Paul won his battle and received affirmation for his proclamation of the gospel as freedom from the Law. These were heady days indeed. Mark, publishing his gospel immediately after the death of Paul, projected Jesus as one who brought the experience of salvation to all who encountered him in faith. Jesus abolished the Law. Christianity was launched on its path of radicalism.
The traumatic event of 70AD destroyed not just the city but Jerusalem as the place of leadership. The church now needed a new source of stability and this was provided by Matthew’s account of Jesus. Matthew incorporates almost the whole of Mark, although he changes many of Mark’s details. Jesus as portrayed by Matthew is very different to the Jesus of Mark’s portrayal. Gone is the free spirit and in its place is the one who lays down instruction and requires obedience to those instructions. This Jesus comes not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it. This Jesus does not do away with commandments but intensifies them. This Jesus is the founder of a society, the church, for which he lays down governing rules and determines the leadership. One consequence of this approach is that the characters of the apostles are softened to play down their faults and failings. In Mark, for example, it is the sons of Zebedee who ask for positions at the right and left of the exalted Christ. Matthew has their mother ask on their behalf.
Matthew’s Jesus, however, is far from being a legalist. It is Matthew who makes the gospel of love so apparent in Jesus’ teaching and who makes it clear that the community of disciples must live by radical love. He it is who attacks the Pharisees for the burdens they lay by their traditions and who says, “my burden is light”.
Matthew’s gospel was a writing for its times. In that period of extreme anxiety it supplanted Mark’s gospel as the premier Christian writing and spread rapidly throughout the Christian world. It gained a place at the head of the Christian canon of scriptures that it held until the 20th century and did more than any other gospel to shape the way in which the church of succeeding centuries regarded and governed itself. Mark’s account of Jesus may lie closer to the historical truth but Matthew takes us deep into the truth of living the Christian life.
Another characteristic of Matthew’s writing was the increased influence of the new model of theism. The God of Matthew is a more ‘interventionist’ God. The birth of Jesus (about which Mark shows no knowledge) is portrayed as a miraculous event, cosmic in nature and accompanied by the appearance of angels. His death is likewise accompanied by cosmic occurrences. Jesus ascends to heaven after his resurrection. All this is a new perspective not only on Jesus but also on the understanding of the cosmos, a perspective alien to Mark and Paul of an earlier generation. The framework of thinking was changing and Matthew was writing in and for a new generation.
A comment should be made about the way in which Matthew structured his writing. Mark simply tells a story, even though his story is not just a factual account of a life but a presentation of a definite perspective on that life. Matthew, in contrast, structures his gospel in themes and each theme has two parts: a narrative section and a ‘teaching’ section. For Matthew, teaching is the focus.
Christianity is forever indebted to Matthew’s gospel. In capturing the needs of its age it played a critical role in the survival of the early community—and in the process gave us the incalculable gift of the Sermon on the Mount.
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