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"Reality Search" The Gospel of Matthew

Michelle Nailon

sociology of Matthew's gospel>

(The format of this site is set out in much the same way as

The gospel of Matthew has been largely copied from the gospel of Mark. 1 However there is a different approach taken and most scholars would agree it has been written from the context of a Jewish based community. 2 Mark's community was more likely to have a mixture of people from a Jewish and Greek (c/f pagan) background. Matthew's gospel was most probably written in the 80's CE around the same time as the gospel of Luke but in a different location. The Jewish Temple and Jerusalem itself had been destroyed in 70 CE. 3 So, by the 80's CE the Jewish people were trying to come to grips with their new reality. 4 Many of the Jewish leaders spoken about in the gospels were now gone, for example, the high priests, the Sadducees, the Zealots etc as also the whole cultural milieu of Jerusalem. In fact of these groups, only the Pharisees remained and they were taking over the leadership of the Jewish people. It is estimated that the Jews at the time constituted about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. 5 But now they had no longer had a central base and they were relying on the local Synagogue as their key gathering place. At that time the followers of Jesus (not yet widely known as Christians) were only a tiny, disparite group, largely based in the cities. 6 Paul had set up a number of these communities in the 50's CE in strategic towns such as Corinth. It was during this, before the gospels were written, that Paul sorted out many of the theological questions faced by the emerging group. According to scholars, it appears that Matthew and his community (in the 80's) believed that it should be themselves who took over the leadership role of the Jewish people. 7 After all, they believed that Jesus Christ had already fulfilled the Jewish law 8 But the mainstream of Jewish people were opting instead to follow the Pharisees. And, in turn the Pharisees were rejecting the followers of Jesus, hence the complaints about them in Matthew's gospel. (Matthew 3:7) What did the Pharisses do? At the time many of the followers of Jesus from a Jewish background continued to identify themselves as Jews continued to attend the Synagogue. They, and others, thought of themselves as belonging to a sect of Judaism (c/f Acts 28). But the Pharisees put out an edict from Jamnia which required that a prayer/curse against Jewish Christians to be recited at the synagogue Sabbath prayers. 9 This made the position of Jewish Christians untenable and they were forced into making a choice and and letting go so many of their roots in a Jewish identity. Therefore in the gospel of Matthew, the writer is trying to reassure members of his community. He shows the connections between Jesus and the Jewish history and heritage. Hence the quotes from the Old Testament prophets in Matthew's gospel (e.g. Mtt 2:6).

In Matthew's gospel there is also a heavy emphasis on teaching, rather than the suffering to be found in the gospel of Mark. As a follow on from this there is an emphasis on the words of Jesus. Also, as the Matthew's gospel stresses that the followers of Jesus inherit the promises made to the Jews, it is arguably written within the framework of Law. The Jewish people, we recall, were known as "the people of the book" and their lives centered around the Torah, or Law. 10 How would the writer set out his gospel in the framework of Law? If we work it out law, especially natural law, is understood in terms of cause and effect and these are observed within time. Thus the writer would more likely to use statements of time (rather than place) as the "markers" of his paragraph divisions. Also in the Jewish cosmology everything, including time, was set out in an ordered "map." 11 Another factor here would be that as coming from a Jewish background, Matthew would want to order his text as a "map."

If Mark (c/f was using "place" to mark out paragraph divisions he could create patterns like a concentric circle, out of these. But if Matthew was to use statements of time instead this would not work, especially if such statements were implied. For instance two paragraphs starting with "then" are too fluid as compared with two paragraphs starting with "over the sea." On the other hand Matthew could be inclined to follow a paragraph with an explanatory sub-section that explains the first statement. This is the pattern used in the Jewish psalms.

It might be asked in what language were the gospels originally written. The language of the New Testament is Greek and translations these days are probably more accurate than ever. In the first century CE in Palestine it was probably Arabic that was spoken around the villages. But in the towns Greek was spoken. 12 A few Jews would have known the ancient Jewish language of Hebrew. But by now there was a Greek translation of this called the Septuagint which Paul quoted. 13 Also, even though the official language of the Roman Empire was Latin, the culture of the Empire, known as Hellenism (c/f the Greek story of Helen of Troy) was based on Greek culture. Thus scholars of the first century talk about the "Graeco-Roman Empire."

Another question may relate to this. Mark's gospel was the first to be written and it was then largely copied by Matthew and Luke. Why then is Matthew put first in copies of the New Testament? (c/f the ditty "Matthew, Mark Luke and John, hold the horse while I get on!") The sequence actually dates back to antiquity and spiritual exercises based upon working through the gospels. 14 Matthew's gospel, it appears, was more palatable and encouraging than the starkness of Mark.
Matthew Group Workshops sociology of Matthew's gospel

Related Sites:

A Description of books on the Reality Search Analysis

Gospel of the Day

Animated workshops

Gospel Workshops (a different approach)

All the pages of the Reality Search Analysis, in their analysed format

Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Luke
Book of Acts (Pt 2 of Luke)
Gospel of John
Gospel Sociology

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Note: Some introductory material on the realitysearch books can be found on

Reality Search

A Line of Logic

Outline of Line of Logic

Value Frameworks

Section on Matthew

Two World Views

Section on Matthew

Five Pivotal Texts

Section on Matthew

Translation Analysed

Section on Matthew


Section on Matthew

Animated Texts

(parts of this can be found elsewhere or downloads are available)

Material to help in understanding

Towards a Sociological Interpretation of the Gospels

Questions and Answers

The booklet above is the first section of a much fuller exploration of positions in the material below,

This referenced material, below (over 300 pages), explores positions that are either at the base of the Reality Search Gospel analysis or which are raised by the analysis.

Is There a Critique of Greek Philosophy in the Gospels?

Also, given that the Reality Search Analysis uses Semiotic Analysis as a method of interpretation an explanation of this method is provided here.

according to the Catholic Pontifical Biblical Commission 1994
Reality Search (semiotic) analysis of the gospel of Matthew.