The literary and thematic unity of Matthew 19-20

The more I preach through Matthew’s gospel account the more I see its wonderful thematic coherence. For example, it is interesting to see how scholars treat passages like Matt 20:17-19 or Matt 20: 29-34. They will say things like, “this is a late addition by Matthew borrowed from Mark or Q” or “this passage is a departure from the flow of Matthew’s thought.” Of course the evidence for such conclusions can be found on the same aisle at Walmart that sells unicorns and leprechauns.  As always, the literary-thematic flow of NT narrative is crucial to understanding each individual pericope and the book’s central message/purpose. In Matthew 19-20, Matthew uses six narrative units to uphold a significant point about the Messiah.

Long story short, although the OT was clear that the Messiah would suffer, the disciples were often befuddled over the fact that Jesus had to die (e.g., Matt 16:21-23). After all, if He is the one who makes His enemies His footstool (Ps 110), then why does He have to die? Matthew wants the reader to see that the Messiah will not come in the way many expect. In fact He will come to those who are the outcasts, the foolish, and the despised of this world. Shockingly, the Messiah has done this by becoming preeminent not among the first but among the last. The chapter divsions between Matt 19 and 20 are unfortunate but they are what they are. Here’s how I see the literary unity of Matthew’s point:

19:1-12 Introduction and testing the Messiah

19:13-15 Narrative 1–The kingdom is for the last.

19:16-26 Narrative 2–The kingdom is shut off to the first.

19:27-29 Narrative 3–The kingdom is rewarded to the last.

19:30-20:16 Parable–Kingdom blessing is sovereignly rewarded.

20:17-19 Narrative 4–The Messiah is preeminent among the last.

20:20-28 Narrative 5–The Messiah came to serve the last through giving His life.

20:29-34 Narrative 6–The Messiah demonstrated His compassion for the last.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom Bohmfalki on October 21, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Paul,
    I am currently teaching through Matthew in my home bible study. I came to this same conclusion. One can see how wonderful Matthew (and Holy Spirit) are as editors. Chapter 20 must be interpreted in the context of chapter 19. I added that no one can work to enter the kingdom; the One who did not need to work did the work for us; true work is defined as serving others, and the chapter ends with grace being shown to those who could not work at all! Thanks for your insights. Tom Bohmfalk

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