Matthew Introduction – Part 4: Why did Matthew NOT write his gospel?
5. (Why?) did Matthew NOT write his gospel?
Traditionally, inquiry into the author’s purpose is stated in the positive versus the negative as it is here. However, this particular dialectic approach to Matthew’s gospel has enormous value – especially when attempting to “root out” modern misconceptions about Jesus, His ministry or the Christian Faith in general. As such, what follows serves as both an explicit apologetic (against the heresies of our day) as well as an implicit guide to Matthew’s purpose and intent in writing.
5.1. To proclaim that the dispensation of law is over.
As mentioned under Historical Context, Evangelical Christianity finds similar ground w/the apostate Judaism of Jesus’ day. Most specifically, that God is willing to remain in covenant/saving relationship with people who possess only the initial markers of their salvation (new birth, faith/baptism). IOW: there is no obligation to His Law as a necessary condition. The reason for such thinking in the last 100 years, can largely be credited to those who proclaim that “the dispensation of the law is over”, otherwise known as Dispensationalists. Arguably the most popular approach to understanding the Bible today, Dispensationalism teaches that God’s dealing w/man (most notably in salvation), has changed over time. This includes what is now to be understood as the path of salvation. During the prior dispensation (or period of time), salvation was earned through obedience to God’s Law (i.e. the Dispensation of Law/Works). Under our current dispensation, it is just the opposite. Hence why (per Dispensationalism), Jesus stood so opposed to the Pharisees. They continued to push a work-based system, though under Jesus, the times (and path to salvation) had changed. It was now the Dispensation of Grace (i.e. a time of God’s free forgiveness to the undeserving). As such, obligation to the Law is no longer necessary. As a matter of fact, it is condemned! The only thing truly necessary to be saved, is faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. Mat 11:28-30, 19:16-22)1.
How we know this was NOT the purpose behind Matthew’s gospel:
5.1.1. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus stood against any abrogation of the Law (Mat 5:17-20, 19:17).
This means Jesus also stands against Dispensationalism whose view of the Law promotes an antinomian/easy-believism gospel.
1 Such thinking did not originate with the Dispensationalists. It was instead the re-packaging of one of the Reformation’s true low-points: Luther’s law-grace distinction; a distinction which sought to view the Jews as the original Roman Catholics (i.e. works-based purveyors of salvation).
“This phenomenon of Antinomianism…seems to be an integral, though disavowed, part of dispensationalism. The dispensational doctrine…fits this model of classical Antinomianism virtually to the letter. The magisterial Reformers were very sharply opposed to Antinomianism.” – John Gerstner (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, a Critique of Dispensationalism)
5.1.2. Had Jesus come proclaiming this as His gospel (no more obligation to obey the Law), hardly would He have been opposed (much less killed)!
According to Matthew, it was actually b/c Jesus stood against such teaching, that His approval rating quickly dropped to deadly during His short public ministry. The Jews wanted a Messiah handing out hall- passes for sin. That however was not the kind of “grace” He came to offer mankind (Mat 21:28-46)
5.1.3. The gospel Jesus preaches requires more than simply faith to be saved.
Matthew makes a special point to highlight those teachings of Jesus which demonstrate that getting into the kingdom is not good enough. One must also maintain their citizenship through faithfulness (Mat 19:17, 22:1-14, 24:42-51, 25:1-46).
5.1.4. Matthew depicts the Pharisees in the same light as the rest of the religious leaders: antinomian/easy-believism hypocrites, not works-based worry-warts (Mat 3:7-9, 23:1-4, 23-28) 2.
As such, Dispensationalists represents the new Pharisees!
5.2. To reveal that God was now good with having a whore for a wife, or, at least one on the side.
A necessary consequence of Dispensational (or Lutheran) thinking, is the conclusion that God is now good with having a whore for a wife. In other words, He will tolerate a covenant community that continues to live in sin and disobedience to His Law. Whereas before God did not tolerate such covenant unfaithfulness (i.e. God repeatedly judged Old Covenant Israel); with New Covenant Israel (i.e. the church), it is different. Such activity is tolerated as long as faith continues3. Specific to Dispensationalism includes also the belief that God continues to pursue – and will eventually be reunited, w/ His former whoring wife (i.e. Old Covenant Israel). This conclusion is however more than just consequential; it too is believed to be a part of Matthew’s purpose in writing (e.g. Mat 24:29-30).
How we know this was NOT the purpose behind Matthew’s gospel = Unfaithfulness to God’s Law is the very reason (according to Matthew) that Jesus prophesies God will be divorcing Himself from Old Covenant Israel and taking to Himself a new wife; one who will be faithful to His Law (Mat 21:43 w/1Sa 28:17-18). Additionally, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mat 24) is meant to reinforce the finality of God’s severed relationship w/His former whoring wife, not give the hope of a future re-marriage. This includes verses 29-30. Jesus is using the figurative language of the OT prophets; language meant to represent judgment not deliverance or restoration (e.g. Isa 13:1-16, 19:1ff). For further enlightenment regarding God’s continuing intolerance of unfaithfulness consider (Heb 13:8).