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Essay Matthew's Christology Notes

Theology Notes > The Gospels of Matthew and John Notes

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'What features characterise Matthew's Christology?'

The Christology of Matthew's gospel is a complex and contested area of study. A number of different approaches have been used in attempting to understand the gospel, but what is immediately clear is that getting to the core of Matthew's Christology will require more than a simple analysis of titles. It might be argued that, for example, in the Gospel of Mark, Christology was more easily focused around titles accorded to Jesus during the course of the narrative, such as Son of God or Son of Man, rather than around the narrative itself, which appears to be the case to a greater degree in Matthew. To understand the gospel's Christology, then, we must first focus upon attempts to frame it in terms of the narrative, before applying particular titles as and where appropriate to come as close as possible to a 'formula' for Matthew's Christology, or as close as possible to understanding specifically what Matthew intended the reader to draw from his gospel in this regard. If we are to move away from defining Christology by titles, we must instead focus upon attempting to define Jesus by the stories and traditions amidst which he is found in the gospel, or what we might call 'narrative Christology'. JD Kingsbury takes a literary-critical approach to narrative Christology, centred upon the way in which Jesus is presented in the text, aside from historical or cultural setting, and argues that, ultimately, the structure of the narrative highlights the 'Son of God' title as the 'central Christological category of Matthew's gospel'1. The narrative defines this, Kingsbury argues, by presenting Jesus as 'Son of God' at the culmination of each of three major sections he identifies. The first of these comes at 3.17, concluding the introductory 'prologue'. Kingsbury argues for this by positing that three critical 'points of view' exist within the gospel. Naturally, that of the omniscient narrator Matthew pervades the gospel, and Kingsbury argues that Jesus' point of view coincides at all times with his. This is, naturally, not to say the historical Jesus necessarily, but in a literary-critical sense, it is reasonable in this case to agree that Matthew's constructed Jesus coincides in point of view with Matthew himself. The third important point of view, then, belongs to God himself, and this point of view is set aside from other mere 'actors' in the plot by virtue of its relationship with the narrator. With regard to every other character, Matthew as narrator is omniscient, and is able to make explicit time and again what particular emotions or intentions the characters hold, but with regard to God, there are no cases in which the scene of the story changes to 'God's abode'2, and no situations in which the reader is invited to see into God's heart or mind. Matthew's narration here, then, is no longer omniscient, and it is this that makes God 'ultimately authoritative' 3 in the gospel's plot. Thus at 3.17, when the title of 'Son of God' is accorded to Jesus by God himself, it is by virtue of the structure of the narrative that this title gains its emphasis. This occurs again at 16.16 and Peter's confession, and again we learn that it is only by virtue of the 'Father which is in Heaven' that Jesus' status as 'Son of God' has been revealed to Peter. This may appear to be focusing too directly upon the titles, in this case 'Son of God', to be called narrative Christology, but it is clear that it is by virtue of the narrative structure alone that the title is imbued with its particular significance. The title 'son of God' had before Matthew a long history of usage in Jewish tradition, meaning anything from the nation of Israel as a whole, as in Hosea 11.1, to a particularly important judge or ruler, as in Ps 86.2, but was never necessarily used to mean explicitly that the person in question were the progeny of God. Now, however, with God established as an authoritative point of

1 JD Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom, p82 2 JD Kingsbury, Figure of Jesus, p3 3 JK Riches, Matthew, p90

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