[Originally written in 2011 for Protestants for the Common Good.Revised in 2019, and 2023.]
The Gospel readings in the Revised CommonLectionary for the current year (Year A, 2023) will come mainly from the Gospel According to Matthew.
This Gospel was composed around 85 CE, probably in Antioch in Syria, a city with many Judeans and mainly Greek-speaking.The Gospel incorporated two older sources, the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source Q, and added a good deal of its own local lore.“Matthew” put into good flowing Greek the accepted teaching of that second-generation church just as it had finally separated from its roots in the synagogue.
(This was the consensus view of critical scholars during the twentieth century.There is currently a growing tendency among Evangelical scholars to date the Gospel earlier, before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.There is still unanimity that this is the most “Jewish”or “Jewish-Christian” of the Gospels.)
Contents of this Review
1. Matthew Emphasizes Jesus’ Teachings.
2. The Old Scriptures of Israel Testify to the Messiah.
3. Matthew’s Jesus Calls for a Greater Righteousness.
4. The Messiah’s Mighty Works Anticipate the Kingdom.
5. The Church Awaits the End of the Age – as Jesus’ Servants.
6. Matthew Reflects Bitter Conflicts with Judean Groups.
7. Narrative Sequence is Theological in Matthew.
Some Commentaries on Matthew.
[Note: When referring to New Testament texts and persons, I use “Judean” instead of “Jew” and “Jewish.” The latter terminology developed in some European nations in Medieval and Modern times and is now used by English-speaking Jews of themselves. However, the Biblical texts always include the "d" sound.]
1.Matthew Emphasizes Jesus’ Teachings.
A quick survey of the 28 chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew reveals the clusters of long teaching sessions by Jesus. This is especially so if one compares this Gospel with those of Mark and Luke. Sayings and pronouncements that are scattered in various contexts in Mark and Luke are gathered into sustained discourses in Matthew. Someone has worked hard to organize Jesus’ teachings into topics and placed the resulting discourses in appropriate contexts in Jesus’ career.
Overall, Matthew follows Mark’s narrative framework but locates the large teaching blocks within it. Tradition has identified five discourses in Matthew, each concluded with a statement like, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things...” (Matthew 7:28, NRSV; see also 11:1; ; 19:1; 26:1).
These are the five resulting discourses:
Matthew 5-7 The Sermon on the Mount – the gospel of the Kingdom.
Matthew 10 The Mission of the Twelve to Israel.
Matthew 13 Parables of the Kingdom.
Matthew 18 Instructions for life in the Church.
Matthew 24-25 Instructions and Parables on the Last Judgment.
There is actually a sixth discourse that lacks the concluding formula but is also a compilation of sayings from various sources. This is the condemnation and Woes on the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” in chapter 23. This discourse, longer than the one on the church in chapter 18, stands in the Gospel as Jesus’ final encounter with these opponents before the crucifixion.
Mark has 282 verses of Jesus speech (of a total 664 verses);
Matthew has 643 verses of Jesus speech (of a total of 1,071 verses).
Thus, Jesus speech is 42% of Mark’s Gospel; 60% of Matthew’s Gospel.
2. The Old Scriptures of Israel Testify to Jesus the Messiah.
It is immediately evident that Matthew’s Gospel is about Jesus, the Anointed One (Messiah). “The scroll of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1, NRSV modified). Jesus is an heir of David, the founder of (true) kingship in Israel; he is also an heir of Abraham, the ancestor of all the elect people.
Each of these great figures in Israelite history received an unconditional promise (covenant) from God – Abraham was assured of the continuance of the people; David the continuance of his line of kings in Israel. This Jesus, who is shown in this Gospel as the world-ruling Son of Man, was the fulfillment of old promises recorded in the Israelite scriptures. That fulfillment is emphasized repeatedly as the story unfolds – especially in a group of passages scholars call the Formula Quotations.
There are between ten and fifteen of these formal citations of scripture, each linking some feature of the Jesus story to the Judean scriptures.
(A classic study of these quotations was Krister Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew, Fortress Press, 1968 [original 1954]. A current summary, listing 15 citations, is in Pheme Perkins, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels, Eerdmans, 2007, pp. 176-181. Looser ways of counting quotes find much higher numbers, such as 41, J. L. McKenzie, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall, 1968, vol. II, p. 64.)
The Gospel According to Matthew emerged and flourished in a community that saw this fulfillment of scriptures as evidence of continuity between the God of Israel’s past and the new community founded by Jesus.
It is well to note here the conception of the scriptures these passages reflect: the old scriptures are viewed as oracles (in the Greek sense). That is, the writings in the old scrolls are divine pronouncements, often with veiled or unexpected meanings. The old texts are coded messages, the mysterious (and sometimes highly improbable) meanings of which make up a scribal lore, to be ferreted out by much oil and prayerful inspiration. (Thus it required a “school” of scribes to develop and formalize these scripture references for the new Messianic community – a la Stendahl.)
This role of the old scriptures is made clear early in the Gospel. The formula quotations cluster especially at the beginning. (Eleven of fifteen quotations are in the first thirteen of the Gospel’s twenty-eight chapters.) The birth and infancy stories especially have scripture quotations, sometimes requiring a far stretch from the old Israelite text. For example, Rachel weeping over her lost children (Matthew -18) is a lament in Matthew, but in Jeremiah it is part of a prophecy of hope (Jeremiah 31:15-17).
The prophetic scroll of Isaiah is especially important in the formula quotations. Eight of fifteen formula quotes are from Isaiah, and these include
the Emmanuel passage (Isaiah , quoted in Matthew ),
the Voice in the Wilderness (Isaiah 40:3, quoted in 3:3);
the “people who dwell in darkness” (Isaiah 9:1-2, quoted in -16);
the healing by the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:4, quoted in ); and
the calling of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1-4, quoted in -21).
It is clear that for the Matthean community, the scroll of Isaiah was a primary testimony to the Messiah who was to come!
3. Matthew’s Jesus Calls for a Greater Righteousness.
After the preliminaries of his birth, baptism, temptation, and return to Galilee (chapters 1-4), Jesus presents a great Sermon from a mountain, providing the constitution and torah for a new Messianic community.
In chapters 2 through 7, Jesus is presented as a new Moses: at his birth he is threatened by a wicked king, as Moses was by Pharaoh; like Moses he is called out of Egypt; he is tested in the wilderness. After gathering disciples he ascends the mountain to bring a new law to a newly chosen people, and the Sermon begins with the Beatitudes just as Sinai opens with the Ten Commandments. These parallels between Moses and Jesus are not continued past the Sinai-like setting of the Sermon on the Mount, but they add a powerful aura to the one speaking the Sermon.
The Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount greet the new chosen people – proclaiming their actual blessedness, in spite of worldly appearances to the contrary. These blessed folks are in fact the salt of the earth; beyond appearances, the light of the world (Matthew 5:3-16).
The first major instruction of the Sermon is that Jesus has not come to abolish the past religious tradition (“the law or the prophets”); not to abolish that tradition but to “fulfill” it. The custodians of that tradition in the contemporary world were “the scribes and the Pharisees.” But for the new community, Jesus declares at the very outset: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew ).
In the Sermon, the meaning of this “greater righteousness” seems to be that you have to go beyond mere formal observance of the (moral) commandments; you have to take into yourself the spirit and intention of the commandment. Not only do you have to not murder; you have to purge your heart of hatred and envy that lead to violence. This is the import of the series of “...but I say unto you” teachings in Matthew -48.
The Greater Righteousness requires a purification of the inner person. It is a matter – in Israelite anthropology – of the Heart.
The Sermon’s discussion of righteousness does not refer explicitly to Jeremiah’s New Covenant passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34), but the thought certainly is in agreement. As Jeremiah presented the New Covenant, God will transform the motivational center of the restored people, the heart: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). The Sermon certainly suggests that such inward change was the “greater righteousness” that Jesus required of his new elect people.
At the end of Jesus’ teaching, there is perhaps the most profound presentation of the greater righteousness that Jesus hoped for: the unselfconscious care for the needy and neglected, given anonymously and inconspicuously – which the Lord sees as given directly to himself (Matthew 25:31-45).
4. The Messiah’s Mighty Works Anticipate the Kingdom.
After the Sermon, blessing and instructing the new community, Matthew presents a series of miracles, especially healings, that reveal the power of the one who brings the kingdom, even before its full realization. (“Mighty works” is the traditional English translation of the Greek ta dunάmeis, as in Matthew -24.)
Chapters 8 to 9 present, in rapid succession, the cleansing of a leper, healing of a Centurion’s servant, curing the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, followed a little later by exorcising demons, curing a paralytic, raising a girl from supposed death, and restoring the sight of some blind men and the speech of a mute person. Besides these works of mercy for people, Jesus stills a storm on the lake, prompting the disciples to ask, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (, NRSV).
Thus the Gospel of Matthew alternates between long teaching sessions of Jesus and his works of power – though the further along we go in the Gospel, the fewer mighty works are reported. After the announcement of the coming suffering and death, at , when he recognized that the powers that be will not accept his message but will execute him instead, there are almost no miracles.
But if there was any doubt about the meaning of Jesus’ mighty works, Jesus puts it plainly to his opponents, who accuse him of being in league with Satan: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (12:28).
Jesus’ miracles are the early breaking in of the Kingdom of Heaven!
5. The Church Awaits the End of the Age – as Jesus’ Servants.
The first generation of Jesus followers were an apocalyptic sect within Judaism, expecting the coming judgment and open to charismatic revelations. The movement clearly became contagious and multiplied cells and clusters of Jesus believers.
When eventually the Gospel According to Mark put in writing the legacy of the first generation of Greek-speaking preachers of Jesus’ Messiahship, what it presented was an apocalyptic drama. At key points Mark makes clear that Jesus’ return in power was still close at hand.
And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. (Mark ).
Also, Mark’s longest Jesus discourse is the instructions about the end times (chapter 13).
The long, and long-meditated, passion narrative in Mark made the death of Jesus a major event in God’s salvation history, but the ultimate moment of the drama was always the final judgment that Jesus, the Son of Man, would carry out upon his return in glory (see especially Mark 14:61-62).
The sayings about the end coming in the first generation are repeated with virtually no modification (Matthew from Mark 9:1; Matthew 24:34 from Mark ). Matthew also keeps the main body of Mark’s Apocalyptic Discourse as Jesus’ final speech preceding the passion (Matthew 24:1-25, 29-36).
However, while Matthew doesn’t omit Mark’s apocalyptic materials, he does add significantly to the materials about the last judgment.
Matthew adds six sizeable pieces, totaling 61 verses. (Mark 13, the apocalyptic discourse, is 37 verses.) These are Matthew’s additions:
1) “About that day and hour no one knows” – Noah’s flood as example, 24:36-41.
2) “Keep awake therefore...” – the thief coming at night as example, 24:42-44.
3) The faithful and unfaithful slaves – when the master is delayed, 24:45-51.
4) The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (“virgins”), 25:1-13.
5) The Parable of the Talents, 25:14-30.
6) The Son of Man Judges the Nations, 25:31-46.
All except items (4) and (6) in this list have parallels in Luke, which suggests that they were in the Sayings Source Q, independently drawn on by Matthew and Luke. These include the examples of Noah’s flood, the thief in the night, and the servants waiting out their lord’s delay. Item (5), the Parable of the Talents, as it is called in Matthew, has had a complicated history. In Luke it is the parable of the “pounds” and many details are quite different – though the overall point is much the same (Luke -27).
The significant point in all this is: Most of Matthew’s additions to the apocalyptic materials are about the waiting period! The only exception is the new description of the Last Judgment itself (Matthew 25:31-46). Even there, however, the message is: Live your whole life now in service of the Lord. When he comes it will be too late!!
Otherwise, in Matthew’s communities it was important to exhort people to be watchful, not get complacent, and – in particular – not just sit around and wait. The Parable of the Bridesmaids shows the waiting church is in for a long haul – wise estimates and stock-piling are needed. The Parable of the Talents makes even clearer that investment and hard work are what the absent Lord has prescribed for the waiting servants.
These folks have staked their lives on a near end of the world, but they are under heavy commission to be energetic and productive in their common life during the waiting period!
Of particular interest for Church life is the description of the faithful and unfaithful slaves (24:45-51). This passage clearly reflects issues of leadership that had emerged in some congregations.
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom the master will find at work when he arrives. (Matthew 24:45-46, NRSV.)
Administrative arrangements in the early congregations are reflected here. In a few centuries, these functions would become the responsibilities of Christian bishops in Roman cities.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of the slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. (24:48-50.)
By the time of Matthew’s Gospel (or Q earlier), warning against irresponsible and corrupt leaders had already become part of their Jesus lore.
6. Matthew Reflects Bitter Conflict with Judean Groups.
Matthew’s Gospel is schizophrenic about its relation to Judaism. It shows a complex love-hate relation to the Judean tradition and some of its representatives.
(While there were several sectarian groups among the Judean people of Palestine, the Gospels certainly regard the Pharisees as the representatives over against whom Jesus defined his own positions. Matthew, however, unlike John and Luke, does not call these opponents simply “the Jews.”)
The Matthean communities would like to be fully Judean, only adding the provision that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Messiah.
Unfortunately, the majority of Judean people did not accept Jesus, and the Jesus believers became a separate and increasingly persecuted sect as the Palestinian world moved into and past the Roman War (66-73 CE). Especially after that war, the Jesus movement received more and more non-Judean people (“the nations,” that is “gentiles”), into their fellowship, which further separated the Christians (as they then were) from Pharisaic Judaism (on its way to becoming Rabbinic Judaism).
In Matthew, here is the conflict: On the one hand, Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, and that anyone who breaks even the smallest commandment is least in the kingdom of heaven (, 19). Further, when Jesus sent out the missionary disciples he warned them to go only to the Judean people (10:5). On the other hand, Matthew follows Mark in abolishing the dietary laws (Matthew 15:1-20, from Mark 7:1-23). By the end of the ministry, Jesus distinguishes between what the Pharisees teach and what they do. His disciples are to follow their teaching (such as the belief in the resurrection), not their conduct (23:2-3). Finally, the heavenly empowered disciples are sent to all the nations (28:19-20). Judean exclusiveness is no longer part of the gospel.
This conflict over whether Jesus was the Messiah led to deadly results. Jesus people were being persecuted, even to death, because of this sectarian warfare. The persecution is described in Matthew 10:16-23: “Brother will betray brother to death...and you will be hated by all because of my name” (verses 21-22, NRSV). The people were divided into separate camps, so that Jesus speaks of “their” synagogues (). We have moved into a world of “them and us.”
The bitterest result of this conflict from the side of the Jesus group is the notorious declaration of the people at the trial of Jesus. When Pilate sought to wash his hands of the whole Jesus business, “the people as a whole” cry out, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25, NRSV).
From Matthew’s viewpoint, this terrible curse was carried out in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In that catastrophe, all the population of Jerusalem was destroyed or, if lucky, dispersed to other places. For the Matthean communities, the conflict was essentially over. God’s judgment had been rendered, and the Jesus people went on with the gospel to all the nations.
Nevertheless, this vicious saying at the trial echoed down the centuries to bring untold misery, injustice, and slaughter to Jewish people at the hands of triumphant Christian fanatics. It doesn’t matter whether what Matthew reports was really said or not. From any viewpoint, the curse should have been over by the year 74. The devastation of Judea had dispersed survivors, both Judeans and Jesus followers, to other settings and the gospel should have gone forward with justice (righteousness) rather than hatred. (Jesus’ followers had been firmly commanded to love their enemies, Matthew 5:43-44.)
7. Narrative Sequence is Theological in Matthew.
Matthew starts out as an utterly Judean story, but ends as a message of salvation for all nations. Shaping the story in this way was critical to getting the right message out there.
Modern commentators agree that the major development in the storyline is the rejection of Jesus’ message by the Judean leaders.
The beginning of the story establishes that, from ancestry, birth, and God’s direct testimony, Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 1-4). It is the Messiah who delivers the Sermon on the Mount as the renewed Law for a restored Israel, and who does mighty works anticipating the kingdom. The disciples were then sent out to take that message to the Judean people (10:5), but most of their instructions anticipate resistance and persecution (-39). After that the direct opposition to Jesus increases until the Pharisees finally decide they must eliminate him ().
Teaching in parables (the discourse in chapter 13) is a recognition that direct statement is not sufficient, and in this context Isaiah is quoted to pronounce doom upon the people who will not understand what is told to them (Matthew 13:13-17, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10). From that point on, Jesus concentrates more on teaching and developing the alternative community, the disciples who begin to be called “the church” (; ).
After the disciples’ confession of Jesus as Messiah (-20), all is focused on going to Jerusalem.
Why to Jerusalem?
First, that is where all the Isaiah prophecies locate the glorious time of fulfillment (Isaiah 2:2-4; 40:1-11; 49; 60-62). Secondly, that is where the power of the authorities is concentrated, and where they must be challenged – which is what happens in the cycle of controversies in Jerusalem (chapters 21-22), including the final condemnation of the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (chapter 23).
Finally, of course, Jerusalem is where the unfaithful people have always killed the prophets (23:37), so that the final irony is that the glorious city of Isaiah’s prophecies will in fact become the center of defeat, death, and destruction for the people who put Jesus to death instead of heeding him. Matthew, like Mark, does not expect any new life from Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. The risen Lord will be seen in Galilee.
It is clear that the linear story is important in Matthew. Things change, especially because the Judean people did not recognize their Messiah, and instead of Messianic blessing, brought disaster upon themselves. It was important to keep telling the story this way because the Matthean community was still living beside and arguing with the descendants of those Pharisees whom Jesus denounced in this Gospel.
The story line ends, of course, on that other mountain in Galilee, in which the community of Jesus’ disciples is expanded to include all the peoples.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:18-20.)
I was reluctant to include this section, because it is potentially endless. Lists of books without comment are not helpful. These are, of course, highly personal lists, with personal notations. The comments are what I would say in short form to graduate students faced with the bewildering writings about Matthew. (Craig A. Evans, in his 2012 commentary, lists 68 commentaries – and these are only the modern ones – 142 volumes of studies pertinent to Matthew, and then more small studies than I can count.) For what they are worth, here are my lists and comments.
1. Some Old Classics.
A. Carr, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, “Cambridge Greek Testament,” Cambridge University Press, 1894 (original 1880). Written before British scholars adopted the “Markan priority” view of the Synoptic Gospels. Follows B. F. Westcott’s views of an extensive oral tradition drawn on by the written Gospels. [The later replacement of this work by B.T.D. Smith, The Gospel according to Matthew, Cambridge Greek Testament, 1927, is surprisingly up-to-date, informed by the Oxford Group on the Synoptics, especially B.H. Streeter. It is well-written and insightful.]
A. B. Bruce, “The Synoptic Gospels,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. I, Eerdmans [reprint], 1956 (original 1897), Matthew = pp. 3-340. Bruce was the first generation of scholars to teach the “modern” view of the Synoptic Gospels to students of the Free Church of Scotland at Glasgow University.
Willoughby C. Allen, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, T&T Clark, 2d ed., 1907. Allen was an Anglican Oxford Don. For many decades afterwards his commentary served as a major source on the language usage of Matthew – words shared with Mark, with Luke, confined to Matthew only, etc. In his “Preface” he gave a perfect description of what a “redaction critic” should do – but on that he was far ahead of his time.
Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Macmillan, 1915. McNeile was a Cambridge scholar, writing in the prestigious Macmillan commentary series aimed especially at students who had to pass exams on the Greek Gospels. He takes a rigorous approach to the historicity of the Jesus story, and will have none of the Apocalyptic Jesus. He was to remain a dean of British New Testament scholars for several decades, and in this commentary he decidedly represents Anglican conservatism.
C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed., 2 vols, Macmillan, 1927. Montefiore was a prominent Jewish scholar who was part of the movement to reclaim Jesus as an important figure in Judaism. He was fully versed in current Christian scholarship such as the works of Rudolph Bultmann and B.H. Streeter.
2. The Era of the Biblical Theology movement (roughly 1935 to 1970).
Sherman E. Johnson, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951, pp. 229-625. A good representative of church-oriented scholarship of the mid-century.
David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible, Attic Press (Greenwood, S.C.), 1972. Hill gave a balanced treatment of Matthew after the full impact of form criticism.
Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, tr. David E. Green, John Knox Press, 1975. The Good News commentaries translated all of Schweizer’s volumes from the German popular series, Das Neue Testament Deutsch. Schweizer was well into redaction criticism, but the ethos of his commentaries is still that of the Biblical Theology movement.
3. New Movements in Matthew Studies.
John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel, Paulist Press, 1979. (Meier’s more recent fame is for his multi-volume work on the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew, Doubleday/Yale, four volumes as of 2009, and still counting.) This volume is a small-scale commentary on Matthew, working through issues for later publications.
Graham N. Stanton, A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew, Westminster/John Knox, 1993. This work is an excellent summing up of where things stood with Matthew as of 1990. The book is addressed to scholars and has three parts. Part I, “Redaction Criticism: the End of an Era?”; Part II, “The Parting of the Ways,” i.e., has Matthew’s church really separated from Judaism yet?; and Part III, “Studies in Matthew,” detailed work on the Sermon on the Mount (resisting Hans Dieter Betz’ theory) and on the “comfort” words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 (not really a “wisdom” saying). While not a commentary, these are the kind of studies good commentaries are made of.
4. Since 1988 -- Era of Hugh Commentaries.
W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Vol. I, T&T Clark, 1988 (750 pages); Vol. II, 1991 (807 pages); Vol. III, 1997 (790 pages). These volumes replaced the Allen work in the ICC series. It is a massive reference commentary, where you look up things rather than simply read it. Davies had published Setting of the Sermon on the Mount in the 60s, emphasizing the relation of Matthew to the post-70 rehabilitation of Pharisaic Judaism. The commentary builds on that perspective.
Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7, 2007; Matthew 8-20, 2001; Matthew 21-28, 2008; all translated by James E. Crouch; Hermeneia Series; FortressPress. Total of 1838 pages. Luz was a Swiss New Testament scholar who published a four-volume commentary on Matthew in German in the ecumenical series, Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, here in English translation. Besides covering at length scholars’ views of form and redaction criticism, he pays special attention to the history of interpretation of the various pericopes over the ages.
5. Recent Neo-Evangelical Huge Commentaries.
Background. Since the 1970s, there has been an upsurge in publications aimed at Neo-Evangelical believers. (The “fundamentalists” of the early 20th century came to shun that name and in the 1940s began to call themselves “Evangelicals.” Historians call them “Neo-Evangelicals” to distinguish them from the much older true Evangelicals of European background.)
During the 1970s the Neo-Evangelical churches and denominations reached a climax in “The Battle for the Bible” – title of the book by Harold Lindsell, Zondervan, 1976. The “Battle” was about the inerrancy of the Bible. True believers affirm that there are no errors in the Bible, at least in the original manuscripts from which our Bible texts are descended. The “Battle” culminated in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, 1978 (Inerrancy Statement ), which most Neo-Evangelical Biblical scholars are expected to affirm.
Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, Eerdmans, 1982 (652 pages). [Later reissued under the title Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, 1994.] A trail-blazer in several senses. He found a way to keep most of the Jesus talk as coming from Jesus, but also to accept and practice “redaction criticism,” recognizing that Matthew re-wrote Mark. For Neo-Evangelicals, what is inspired scripture is the written canonical text, not what historians (believers or not) may reconstruct about the historical Jesus (affirmed on p. 2). What Gundry calls “The Theology of Matthew” (pp. 5-10) is a transparent blast at Liberal Protestants, equating them with the “false disciples” and “false prophets” referred to in the Gospel. His commentary is a defense of the faith against such false moderns!
John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, 2005 (1579 pages). Like Gundry, Nolland studies “Matthew’s” use of his sources, Mark and Q; that is, he does redaction criticism. Also like Gundry, he argues for an early date for Matthew, before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Unlike Gundry, Nolland writes an impressive, balanced and accurate, essay on “The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew,” pages 38-43.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 2007 (1233 pages). France had worked with Matthew on smaller scales for decades. He did a small commentary in 1985 (Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Eerdmans, reprint 2001), and a general introduction in 1989 (Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, Paternoster). In this mammoth commentary he insists that he will not repeat his earlier work, and that this is “a commentary on Matthew, not a commentary on other commentaries” (p. xix).
D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol. 9: Matthew-Mark, Zondervan, 2010, pp. 23-670. Carson also did the first edition of this commentary, published in 1984, though this seems to be an extensive revision. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series was initiated by Zondervan Press to provide commentaries on the new Neo-Evangelical translation of the Protestant Bible, the New International Version, 1978 (exclusive rights held by Zondervan). It aimed to do for Neo-Evangelical students and pastors what the Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon Press) did for Liberal Protestants after the RSV translation came out in 1952.
6. Other Recent Commentaries.
Francis W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew, Harper & Row, 1981 (reissued by Hendrickson, 1987). A major commentary (550 pages) that didn't get much attention when it was published. It is, however, an independent and penetrating study of the Gospel. Beare taught for many years at Trinity College, University of Toronto. He says this commentary "was prompted in the first instance by the realization that this Gospel...is not properly understood if it is looked upon as a revised edition of Mark... The structure of Matthew is not determined by the narrative, but by the succession of great discourses..." Preface, p. vii.
Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation Commentary Series, Westminster John Knox Press, 1993 (340 pages). Hare was a long-time professor at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, a moderate Protestant institution. Following an influential book by Jack Kingsbury, he emphasizes the plot of Jesus’ story (derived from Mark) more than the long Jesus discourses.
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, Liturgical Press, 1991 (with updated bibliography, 2007). A moderate size commentary (446 pages) exemplifying the best modern (post-Vatican II) Roman Catholic Biblical scholarship.
M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, Abingdon, 1995, pp. 89-505. Boring is a lively and confident writer. His general approach to Jesus and the Gospels is close to that of the Jesus Seminar. This is not the Apocalyptic Jesus, though he is very future oriented.
Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, “The Bible & Liberation Series,” Orbis Books, 2000 (600 pages). This work is a full scale commentary on Matthew, but it takes the form of an emphatic anti-imperial polemic – in support of current Liberation theology. Carter later wrote The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide, Abingdon, 2009. The evil Herod of the infancy stories fits this approach well, but finding the Roman empire in most of Matthew is, as Carter admits, a matter of reading between the lines (“what was Matthew really thinking here?").
Robert T. Fortna, The Gospel of Matthew, The Scholars Bible, Polebridge Press, 2005 (270 pages). And here we have the full-blown Jesus Seminar! After the original Jesus Seminar separated from its parent professional society and incorporated, it created its own publishing arm. This was the third volume in their commentary series. It gives a Greek text of the Gospel and alongside it the Scholars Version translation. This is a kind of risqué translation, aimed at getting the kind of response from modern readers that the translators think the originals evoked for their hearers/readers. This translation was originally published by Robert J. Miller, The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge, 1994. Fortna gives several essays or notes on the Scholars Version diction and religious issues in the Gospel. It’s not a complete commentary, but gives the full flavor of the Jesus Seminar approach.
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Brazos Press, 2006 (267 pages). Modern Biblical scholarship was born in the eighteenth century when critics began to separate the historical Bible people from the dogmatic churches’ overlay. This commentary series tries to adjust the imbalance between history and theology that has resulted. Here we do not hear (professional) Biblical scholars; we hear professional theologians, reading the Bible. Hauerwas is a professor at Yale Divinity School (theological ethics) and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (history and philosophy). He says, “I have tried not to write about Matthew. I have tried to write with Matthew, assuming that the gospel was written for us” (p. 18).
Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Baker Academic, 2010 (384 pages). This series is clearly aimed at serving the ongoing life of the current Roman Catholic Church. It uses the New American Bible translation, long ago initiated by the bishops of the American Catholic Church. The authors are from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. The commentary sees the dominant theme as the kingdom, and expands this under the headings the Christ (Christology), the Church, and the Christian vocation.
Craig A. Evans, Matthew, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, Cambridge University Press, 2012 (565 pages). For about a century, from the 1880s to the 1970s, the Cambridge Bible series was a great collection of top-quality commentaries on both Old and New Testaments. All volumes were small – 6-1/2 by 5 inches – with brevity and succinct comments their hallmark. The New Cambridge Bible series, initiated for the twenty-first century with Ben Witherington III as General Editor, abandoned the old format. We now have relatively large-scale volumes – in some cases (such as this Matthew commentary) swollen with excessive verbosity. Evans allows himself to wander into side topics with little real relevance to the Gospel – again and again. Witherington is a professor at one of the most Evangelical-oriented seminaries in America (Asbury Theological Seminary), and Evans shows his own Neo-Evangelical sympathies at many points. He covers the general scholarship on Matthew, understands that Matthew re-wrote Mark, and reluctantly allows that Matthew was probably written after 70 CE. But his literalist preoccupation is exposed in such a comment as this on the devil tempting Jesus in Jerusalem: “How the devil took Jesus to the city is not clear; it is probably visionary” (page 85).
This was originally
written as an extended note for a Lectionary reading in December, 2015.It may be of some interest, however, to
people who wonder how we got the various components of our traditional
Modern Christians think of
Malachi as the last book of the Old Testament, and so it is in printed Protestant Bibles.In ancient times,
however, there was no Bible – no single large “book” containing all or
major parts of the scriptures.
(There’s a good reason you
have never heard of “the Dead SeaBooks.”)
The Judean scriptures in
Hebrew occupied 22 to 24 separate scrolls, and in their Greek translations closer
to 30 scrolls. (The Torah was originally five scrolls; thus, the pentateuch, the five-scroll work.)“The scriptures,”
therefore, consisted of one or more large cabinets with pigeonholes.Such cabinets (called capsa in Latin) contained the many scrolls
scribes needed in their studies.
The only order of
the “books” was by content:the Exodus
narrative followed the Genesis narrative, as you could discover by reading the
two scrolls.Scrolls like Psalms, Job,
and Proverbs were shelved as the presiding scribe thought fit.Prophetic scrolls were probably grouped
vaguely by historical period of the prophet mainly involved.
Fixed order of scrolls was established in
written form only after the invention of the codex, the “book.”
Christians adopted the codex
(quires of pages fastened at the side – our “book”) around 200 CE. The great advantage of the codex was that it could hold the contents of many scrolls. The Christians first used it to combine all four Gospels into one "book," the Gospel. (By the third century a separate codex, the Epistle, contained the New Testament "letters.")
[About the codex… ] The …
new book format appears initially to have had little success for Latin and
Greek literary texts, for which the roll was used exclusively.It appears to have been wholeheartedly
accepted by Christians, however, so much so that the new religion… is often
credited with establishing the codex as the standard format of the book,
gradually supplanting the roll.(Georgios Boudalis, The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity, Bard Graduate Center, New York City, 2018, p. 3.)
The first complete Bibles,
containing both Old and New Testaments in Greek – huge works, very expensive [for
example, codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus] – were made by or for a
few wealthy churches in Egypt and Syria beginning in the 4th century, a
generation after Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire.(Jews kept using scrolls for their
scriptures until sometime in the early Middle Ages – and still use scrolls
today for their Torah readings in Synagogue.)
How We Got Malachi.In both Hebrew and Greek there was a separate
big scroll called “the Scroll of the Twelve [Prophets].”This scroll, about the size of the big Isaiah
scroll found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained smaller collections of
prophetic oracles from such as Hosea, Amos, Micah, etc., but also included a
short story about a prophet – the story of Jonah.
At the end of this scroll
there were three prophetic
all beginning, “A burden:the word of
Yahweh to/concerning...”Each pamphlet
is headed by the Hebrew technical term “burden.”This is the Hebrew word massā’,
translated “burden” in the King James Version, but more recently as “oracle”
(RSV, NRSV, ESV), “prophecy” (NIV 2011ed), “message” (NJB), or “pronouncement”
(CEV).The word literally means a load,
something lifted, something picked up and carried, thus, metaphorically a
message carried to someone else.The
word is so used many times in the scroll of Isaiah.
These three pamphlets
headed “burden” followed the original collection of Zechariah oracles
(Zechariah 1-8). The first two pamphlets
(now Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14) came to be treated as continuations of
Zechariah, though they are very different in content from Zechariah’s original
prophecies.Modern scholars call these
first two pamphlets Deutero-Zechariah, the second “book” of Zechariah.
The third pamphlet had the
heading, “Burden:the word of Yahweh to Israel by the hand of my
messenger.”“My messenger” in Hebrew is mal’ākî,
which, after going through Greek and Latin, became “Malachi” in Modern English.
(The Greek translation of
the heading of the pamphlet is, “Burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel by the hand of his
angel.”Greek angelos means
“messenger,” but this Greek translation would have the prophet named “Malacho” [his messenger] rather than
Malachi [my messenger].)
The heading of this third
pamphlet, therefore, does not contain a proper name.“My messenger” is a title, not a name – until
later pious folks needed it to be a name.It was then decided that this whole pamphlet was a separate prophecy
by someone named Malachi.
This process of turning
the title into a name probably happened when it was decided that the big scroll
contained the writings of exactly TWELVE prophets.The last pamphlet was peeled off to be the
twelfth “book” of the scroll.That probably happened sometime between 350 and 200 BCE, between the old Hebrew
version and the Greek translation.
Thus the “book” of Malachi
is actually an anonymous pamphlet that was added to the other “minor” (that is,
“small”) prophetic scrolls to make up the “twelve” someone had decided was the
This pamphlet has its own
character and historical setting (a century or so after the exile), addressed
to a time when the temple service had degenerated and some social evils (like
divorce) had appeared.Such conditions
were present in Judah before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which began around 450 BCE.
The Revised Common Lectionary takes most of its Gospel readings in Year C from the Gospel According to Luke. Thus some introduction to that work may be appropriate, even after the year is well along.
[Other postings in this blog that are relevant here are Luke 24: the
Risen Jesus, and Luke 12: Life-styles of an Apocalyptic Commune.]
For eighteen hundred years, the Gospel According to Luke was something of a step-daughter within the Christian Scriptures. Of the four Gospels, the going-away favorites through the ages were Matthew and John. Luke was valued alongside the others because of a number of outstanding gems found only in this Gospel, such as,
the peaceful Christmas stories (to balance Matthew’s fearful nativity cycle),
some magnificent parables (such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son),
Jesus’ saying on the cross, “Father, forgive them...,” and
Jesus’ walk to Emmaus with two disciples on Easter day.
Otherwise, Luke was used to supplement (harmonize) the total Gospel story presented mainly in Matthew, or to provide a little compassion for the poor to balance the super-high Christ doctrine of the Gospel ofJohn.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the first three Gospels had been sorted out into two early documents – the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source Q – and other materials contained only in either Matthew (M) or Luke (L). Matthew and Luke themselves were composite documents, of historical value only for the later development of the Jesus tradition and of the early church.
(This later development included, of course, everything about Jesus’ birth and the more graphic post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.)
The Sources of Luke’s Gospel.
The consensus of critical scholars about how Luke was composed is as follows:
1.The overall narrative structure is based on Mark’s Gospel.
2.Luke prefixed, from sources of his own, the Birth and Childhood stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, Luke 1-2.
3.Mark’s ministry of Jesus in Galilee was expanded by additions from the Sayings Source Q and a few items of Luke’s own, Luke 3-9:50.(Luke also omitted a big hunk of Mark [Mark ] between Luke and 18, skipping straight from the feeding of the 5,000 to Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah.)
4.Luke created a large section, often called the “Travel Narrative,” which sits between the Galilean ministry and the Jerusalem ministry, Luke . These ten chapters contain rather miscellaneous materials from Q and L, the latter especially rich in parables.Near the end, Mark is drawn on again for his journey to Jerusalem, Luke 18:15-43.While theoretically this is a “travel” narrative, the journey never makes any progress (except in the section taken from Mark).The “journey” is a device for depositing a great conglomeration of teachings of Jesus not included in the Galilean ministry.
5.Luke follows Mark’s account of Jesus’ debates in the Temple, though with small variations (e.g., no cursed fig tree; the apocalyptic discourse is in the temple, not on the Mount of Olives), Luke .
6.The Passion narrative follows Mark, but with major distinctive touches (omitting the anointing in Bethany; having a symposium of speeches at the last supper; Jesus sweating in Gethsemane [a later addition]; Herod Antipas included in the Trial of Jesus; the Father forgive them saying [also a later addition]; the penitent thief on the cross), Luke 22-23.
7.The Empty Tomb is taken from Mark, though Luke (as often) needs two angels where one is sufficient for Mark and Matthew, Luke 24:1-11.
8.In post-resurrection appearances there is no Mark to follow, and Luke goes his own way (the walk to Emmaus, the appearance in the closed room, and especially the ascension), Luke 24:13-53.(The Gospel of John also knows the closed room episode, John 20:19-29.)
When the Gospel was Composed.
Luke compiled his two-volume work after the developing Jesus tradition had passed a significant landmark:the deaths of the first generation of prominent Jesus followers.
All three major leaders mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 15:3-8 – Peter, James the Brother, and Paul – had been martyred in the early 60’s of the Christian Era.James the disciple, elder brother of John son of Zebedee, had already gone the same route around the year 41 (Acts 12:1-2).Of the early group, the only known survivor was John the younger Zebedee brother, who migrated from Palestine to the Roman province of Asia (Ephesus), probably sometime after James the Brother was executed in Jerusalem in 62 CE.
None of the deaths in the 60’s is recorded by Luke in Acts – not because he did not know of them but because he is a disciplined writer and the scope of his work was to get Paul to Rome, still freely proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 28; see 1:8).The persecution of the Christians in Rome by Nero in 64 had come and gone, but carrying the narrative through that dark episode did not fit Luke’s objectives as shaped in the 80’s or 90’s.
On Jesus’ Return in Glory
Attributed to Alfred Loisy around 1906:“Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, and what showed up was the Church.”
Luke retained the apocalyptic tradition...When Luke wrote, one whole generation was gone and another was well along.Yet in his Gospel, Luke preserved those passages from Mark which predicted that the Son of Man (the risen Jesus) would return in glory before that first generation had died.
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.(Luke 9:26-27.)
Luke has modified the last sentence of Mark’s version.In Mark, that generation would not taste death “until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1).Mark preserved more thoroughly the truly apocalyptic orientation of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.That coming of the kingdom would culminate (after Jesus’ death) in the spectacular coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (Mark -27), an event Mark also asserted would happen before “this generation” passed away (Mark ).
...but Luke varied that tradition. Luke modified Mark’s saying by dropping out the phrase “with power” from the coming of the kingdom.This creates an important ambiguity.The “kingdom” may not necessarily be the apocalyptic climax with the Son of Man on the clouds; the kingdom might be something less spectacular, like a charismatic movement that advanced steadily and impressively across the Roman empire.
Luke also adapted other traditional sayings about the coming kingdom.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you [alternative translation, “within you”].”(Luke 17:20-21.)
Luke has Jesus go from this statement to the Pharisees to a long disquisition to the disciples about the suddenness of the Day of the Son of Man (-37).This discourse (mostly from the Sayings Source Q) says that Day will be like Noah’s flood or Sodom and Gomorrah – like lightning across the heavens.There will be no time for preparation; two women grinding, one gone, one left.
Thus Luke and his communities still expect the sudden time of judgment, but it cannot be predicted.In the MEANTIME – “the kingdom of God is among you.”
As Luke reads the apocalyptic tradition of Jesus, the great judgment – first announced by John the Baptist (or Malachi) and declared more emphatically by Jesus – is sure.Sure – but still in the future.Given that certainty, Luke in both the Gospel and Acts tells how Jesus prepared for, and the apostles’ worked within, that great MEANTIME, a time during which many vigorous and faithful assemblies (churches) came into being.
How the kingdom was announced.Luke’s different take on Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom is seen in the contrast between Mark’s introduction of Jesus and Luke’s.Here is Jesus’ first proclamation according to Mark:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near [or “is at hand’]; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark .)
Though he follows Mark for most of the actions in the Galilee period, Luke omits this opening proclamation.Instead, Luke has Jesus go to Nazareth and preach his first sermon to the home folks (Luke -30).Instead of announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus announces that HE is at hand.And who he is is given in the prophet Isaiah:he is the one Anointed by the Spirit of God, not to execute a great judgment, but to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.
This is a new definition – at least a new formulation – of the kingdom of God.This is the kind of activity the disciples (later apostles) will be engaged in.It is the kind of activity the chains of assemblies (“churches”) will be engaged in.This is the coming of the kingdom of God – as Jesus first announced it, according to Luke.
On the Challenge of the “Meantime.”
John the Baptist’s reform program.Luke and his referent communities knew they lived in the “meantime.”The character and importance of that time between Jesus and the end is very much a concern of Luke’s writings.Mark and Matthew present John the Baptist as a preacher of repentance and conversion before the judgment.Only Luke has John present a program of social reform to guide conduct in that waiting time.
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”Even the tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?”He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”(Luke 3:10-15, NRSV.)
When Luke is moved to expand on the inherited tradition, he does so in the direction of the poor and the oppressed.Here is a program for (1) a social safety net, for (2) an honest internal revenue service, and for (3) a non-corrupt police and military establishment.When Luke focused on the MEANTIME, these are the needs he saw.
Wealth. On the same lines, the era of waiting – between the times – must inevitably raise the problem of the have-mores and have-nots.Wealth is a major preoccupation in Luke’s Gospel:In contrast to Matthew, Luke’s beatitudes for the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the persecuted are balanced by woes on the rich, the satisfied, the joyful, and the well-esteemed (Luke 6:20-26).The parable of the “Rich Fool” condemns an exemplar of capitalism (Luke -21), and a whole chapter is given to miscellaneous (and ambiguous) parables and sayings, generally devoted to condemning wealth (Luke 16).
More than the other Gospels, Luke shows us Jesus paying attention to the poor, the sick, women, the despised, and in general the marginalized.No nearness of the great judgment is an excuse for ignoring suffering, injustice, and neglect.Jesus is constantly finding and ministering to such folks around him – whether Luke takes the reports from Mark, Q, or his own informants (L).Luke conveys to his circuit of assemblies (churches) that those things are what the Meantime – the waiting for Jesus time – is about.
Into the World. What particularly shows the nature of the MEANTIME is the book of Acts.Pentecost, the great irruption into the world of God’s Spirit, does not cause the disciples to simply cultivate their spiritual community in Jerusalem.Pentecost sends them out – thus the great emphasis on all the foreigners who hear the gospel proclaimed.Acts portrays how the waiting time allowed believers to be sought in Samaria, Caesarea, Syria, the provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia as well as finally reaching Rome.The world of the kingdom in Luke is not only the Galilee and Judea of the Gospel but the extended world of the apostles Peter and Paul.
On the Church: Luke thinks of churches – not the Church.
Allowing for some exaggeration, the following is roughly true of the church in the Gospels:
Mark has no church; only discipleship, those following Jesus toward martyrdom or his return in power.
John has no church; only a mystic communion of disciples, exemplified in the Disciple that Jesus Loved.(The appendix in John 21 does have a church, fed by Peter.)
Matthew has a Church – with Authority.Only Matthew has the word “church,” ekklesia, assembly (Matthew ; ).“...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19, NRSV).
Luke has no “church” in the Gospel, but in Acts Luke presents the Courage to be the churches.
In Acts 1-5 Luke presents an idealized picture of the “original” church of Jerusalem. That church had ceased to exist around 66 CE and was no longer, if ever, relevant to Luke’s situation in Asia Minor and Greece.
The churches of Luke’s world are reflected in the many people of the churches Paul founds in Galatia, Asia, and Greece.The names of many of these local believers are included in Acts – Lydia in Philippi, Jason in Thessalonica, Sopater in Beroea, Dionysius and Damaris in Athens, Titius Justus and Crispus in Corinth, Eutychus in Troas, and the elders of Ephesus to whom Paul made his farewell speech (Acts 20:17-38).
The church for Luke was all these local assemblies, particularly those who traced an origin to the missionary work of Paul.The book of Acts preserves the founding story of those assemblies for the next generation.Luke knew these assemblies over a period of time, as well as others not mentioned in Acts.As a young man he had accompanied Paul on some of his trips – especially the one to Jerusalem and Rome (Acts 21-28).
As a more mature leader of the movement, Luke knew these churches more as they appear in the book of Revelation than as they were in Paul’s missionary days.In Revelation, chapters 2-3, the visionary receives letters from the heavenly Lord to seven of the churches of the province of Asia.These churches are a mixed bag, hot, cold, and luke-warm, but they almost certainly represent the state that the Jesus movement had reached at the time Luke wrote his two-scroll work, Luke-Acts.
In the perspective of Luke’s Gospel, these churches were that “kingdom” that Jesus’ generation would see before it died.These were the congregations caught up by the Spirit and directed to the work of that kingdom that, Jesus said, was “among you.”