The Literary Structure of Matthew's Gospel
Matthew organizes his book into alternating sections of stories and teachings. And we know this not only because we see Jesus doing things and then having long speeches but also because after each of the teaching sections Matthew repeats the same phrase, “when Jesus finished saying these things…” And Matthew does this to indicate the end of each teaching section (7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1).
In total there are five teachings, five blocks of teachings. And Matthew does this because he’s alluding back to the first section in the Bible, the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses. And as we saw in the last video the first sentence in Matthew alludes back to the book of Genesis, so also the arrangement as a whole alludes back to the first section in the Bible, the five books of Moses. And this is because Jesus is bringing a whole new order of reality a whole new kingdom a whole new creation. And Matthew wants to highlight that by organizing his work in the similar way to the organization of the first books of the Bible.
A - Story (Matthew 1-4)
B - Teaching - Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
C - Story (Matthew 8-9)
D - Teaching (Matthew 10)
E - Story (Matthew 11-12)
X - Teaching - Parable of the Kingdom (Matthew 13)
'E - Story (Matthew 14-17)
'D - Teaching (Matthew 18)
'C - Story (Matthew 19-22)
'B - Teaching (Matthew 23-25)
'A - Story (Matthew 26-28)
But wait, there’s more. You see, these teachings of Jesus relate in interesting ways. The first and the fifth teaching both happened on the mountain. The sermon on the mount and what’s traditionally called the Olivet discourse, that is, Jesus was teaching on the Mount of olives. And these teachings contrast. The sermon on the mount opens with eight blessings while the Olivet discourse opens with seven woes.
The second and the fourth teaching blocks are on land, in a town and both are about discipleship. In the third teaching, in Matthew chapter 13, the structural center of the book, Jesus teaches on the secrets of the kingdom. Jesus tells eight parables that he says are about the secrets, the character of the kingdom Jesus is bringing.
And it’s fascinating because Jesus has told no parables up to chapter 13 and he will tell no parables after. So Matthew has reserved all the parables for this central chapter in the book.
So Matthews whole gospel is structured as a chiasm. And if you don’t know what that is I have a video on it with a link in the description. But it is simply a structure where the first scene or section in the book corresponds to the last section and the second scene corresponds to the second to last and so on and so forth until you get to a central section that is typically either the turning point or emphasis or both.
Now, when you first see this you might think that this very structure looks like a mountain. And Matthew emphasizes mountains, he actually has seven of them. Because one of the themes in Matthew’s gospel is that Jesus is a new Moses leading his people and giving them a new law from the mountain, the sermon on the mount. And there’s also many other fascinating parallels between Jesus and Moses that will look at another video.
But I actually don’t think that that’s what Matthew is trying to communicate with the structure. I think he’s actually doing the opposite. Let me show you what I mean.
To understand what Matthew is doing we have to look at the geographical movement in Jesus’ teachings.
Remember, there are five blocks of Jesus’ teaching.
In this chapter Jesus delivers his parables on the water. So the geographical movement of Jesus‘s teachings are from a mountain down to a town down to the water then back up to a town and back up to a mountain.
Why does Matthew structure his geography this way.
So the structure is opposite because Jesus goes down from the mountain to the sea and then back up to a mountain. And the beautiful reason why Matthew does this is because Jesus is geographical movement mirrors he’s great action. That is, his going down into death and coming out in Resurrection.
Matthew’s gospel has already established the associations of water and death and mountains with glorified life. Jesus was baptized, symbolically drowned. And on the mount of Transfiguration he was transfigured he was shown to be glorious.
So Matthew communicates Jesus is central act in the very architecture of his book. But wait there’s even more.
It’s fascinating that when you read Matthew 13 in the parables Jesus tells us the reason why he speaking in parables.
Jesus speaks in parables for two reasons for the people who don’t except him the parables hide the truth, or unclear. But for those who do trust him and his works they reveal the secrets of the kingdom.
And this is also true with Jesus’ death. It is unintelligible it looks like a failure to most people. But for those who trust him who’s been listening to him they understand that it provides the secret of the kingdom.
So the genius of Matthews organization of his great work is that he communicates the central message in its very form and structure at this last king of Israel will go down and to death and come back out conquering it and that is the secret of the kingdom.