Reading the Old Testament in the New: The Gospel of Matthew by Scott Hahn

The following is what I learnt from Scott Hahn’s free Scriptural Study on the Gospel of Matthew from (quotes taken directly from the Bible study course).

Lesson One: Learning to Listen for Echoes: A New Approach to the New Testament

3 important assumptions for all interpreters of the Old Testament (and New Testament):

1. Scripture, read as a whole, is totally self-consistent.

2. Every detail in scripture is significant.

3. Scripture is always understood according to its context.

Understanding typology:

From the Greek word, typos, (“model” or “pattern“) – is the major difference between the New Testament and other writings from the first-century Jewish writings. Everything in Scripture was seen as pointing to the coming of Jesus and His establishment of the Church.  The entire Old Testament served as a kind of “narrative sub-structure” for the New Testament, as well as for the dogmas, creeds and sacraments of the early Church. Prophecy is nothing but the typological reading of history.  In fact, even Jesus Himself taught the apostolic writers to read “typologically” (see Luke 24: 27-45).

It’s important to understand what typology is and isn’t. Typology isn’t a technique by which New Testament writers mechanically read the Old Testament like a fortune-teller. Typology, really, is a whole new worldview, a way of seeing all of reality – past, present and future – according to the certain patterns, patterns of God’s consistent dealings with His people.

As readers of the New Testament, we have to pay close attention, not only to direct quotes from Old Testament sources, but also to echoes, allusions, and other more subtle references to the Old Testament.

Lesson Two: Son of David, Son of Abraham (Matthew Chapters 1 & 2)

The Old Testament isn’t just the background for Matthew’s Gospel – it forms the backbone, the structure of his Gospel. Matthew’s prologue tells us who Jesus is and how He came into the world. 

Matthew reads like a “mini-Penteteuch” – that it seems deliberately arranged to resemble the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Law. Each book is composed of a narrative introduction followed by His commandments or teachings. Each of the five books ends with a formula-like statement – “And when Jesus had finished…” The five books of Matthew’s “Book of the Law” are “book-ended” by a prologue that describes Jesus’ birth and an epilogue that describes His death and Resurrection.

Prologue: The Birth of Jesus

Matthew 1-2

Book I: John the Baptist / Early Ministry of Jesus
Narrative: 3:1-4:25
Discourse: 5:1-7:27 (Sermon on the Mount)
Formula: 7:28-29: “When Jesus finished….”

Book II: Miracles and Commissioning of Apostles
Narrative: 8:1-9:35
Discourse: 9:36-10:42 (Missionary Sermon for Apostles)
Formula: 11:1: “When Jesus had finished….”

Book III: Controversy and the New Kingdom
Narrative: 11:2-12:50
Discourse: 13:1-52 (Teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven)
Formula: 13:53: “When Jesus finished….”

Book IV: Teaching the Church
Narrative: 13:54-17:21
Discourse: 17:22-18:35 (On Life in the Church)
Formula: 19:1: “When Jesus finished…”

Book V: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Narrative: 19:2-22:46
Discourse: 23:1-25:46 (On End Times, Farewell)
Formula: 26:1: “When Jesus finished all these words…”

Epilogue: Passion and Resurrection of Jesus
Matthew 26:3-28:20

Who Jesus is:

Matthew’s prologue does two things – it tells us Who Jesus is and how He came into the world. And for Matthew, the Old Testament background is critical to understanding both.

St. Jerome’s translation of Matthew 1:1, “The book of the new genesis wrought by Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.”  What’s happening with Jesus is a new creation, a new beginning for creation, for the world and the human race. Matthew wants us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham and also heir to “David the King.” Note also that in the genealogy only Jesus and David are identified by their titles – David as King (1:6), Jesus as Messiah (1:16). Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is the promised Royal Messiah and Davidic King.

How He came into the world:

The “how” is a miracle. Here, Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus to Mary “through the Holy Spirit” as fulfilling a prophecy of Isaiah (see Matthew 1:18,22-23Isaiah 7:14). 

A question remains: How is the prophecy of a child prophesied to be named Emmanuel, fulfilled in a child who Joseph has been ordered to name Jesus? (see Matthew 1:21).

Emmanuel, which Matthew translates for his reader as “God is with us” is who Jesus is (see Isaiah 43:5Ezekiel 37:27Zechariah 8:23). And we will see in Matthew numerous places where Jesus describes how He will be “with us” for all time (see Matthew 18:2025:40,45), most especially in instituting the Eucharist (see Matthew 26:26-28). And in the very last lines of Matthew’s Gospel, we’ll hear an echo of Isaiah’s Emmanuel prophecy, as Jesus promises: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).

In his second chapter, Matthew deepens his identification of Jesus as the son of David and the Messiah. But his focus shifts. In this chapter he wants us to remember that the Messianic Son of David was to be the “King of the Jews” (see Matthew 2:2). As Matthew presents them, the Magi are the first to recognize Jesus as the Lord of all nations, again fulfilling Israel’s expectation that the restored Davidic Kingdom would be not only a nation-state, but a worldwide empire.

Lesson Three: ‘Not to Abolish, But to Fulfill’ (Matthew Chapters 3 to 7)

With the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and his temptation in the wilderness, Matthew returns to the “new Moses” symbolism he introduced in his prologue to the Gospel. Remember that in the prologue Jesus, like Moses, is born under perilous circumstances – all the male Hebrew children are under a despotic ruler’s death threat. Like Moses, he is saved in Egypt.

Jesus, as Matthew tells the story, is going to relive the experience of Israel – which was born as a new people of God in its miraculous crossing of the waters of the Red Sea, then tested in the desert, before finally being given a new law and a new covenant brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai.

The three temptations put to Jesus roughly correspond to those endured by Israel in the wilderness. [1] He is first confronted with hunger and tempted, as Israel was, to grumble against God (see Exodus 16:1-13). [2] Next, he is dared to put God to the test – challenged to question God’s care and concern for Him. This, too, recalls the quarreling of the Israelites with Moses at Massah (see Exodus 17:1-6Numbers 20:2-13Psalm 95:8). [3] Finally, Jesus is tempted to worship a false god, which Israel actually did in creating the idol of the golden calf (see Exodus 32).

As Moses climbed a mountain and brought the people the Law of the Old Covenant (see Exodus 24:12-18), Jesus too goes up to a mountain and begins to teach. But unlike Moses, Jesus doesn’t bring to the people a Law written by God. He is more than a new covenant-mediator and a new law-bringer. Jesus is the New Covenant (see Isaiah 42:6) and the new Law – in Him we will see modeled perfectly the commandments of God, the words that He preaches.

Jesus then pronounces some of the most crucial words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (see Matthew 5:17). No longer is the Law of God’s people to be a simple prescription for external behavior. It is now an interior law, to be written in the hearts of believers. In the Sermon on the Mount, He gives us not written commandments, but His Law to be written in our hearts. God will no longer be our “Master” but our Father.

Lesson Four: Healing and Restoration (Matthew Chapters 8 to 10)

On the surface, these stories demonstrate Jesus’ command over sickness, the demons, the forces of nature, and even death. But Matthew provides a deeper Old Testament context for Jesus’ actions. In effect, he is offering an inspired commentary on what Jesus is doing, showing how His actions relate to God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations.

The most dramatic events in this second book are the healings. Jesus not only heals, but touches people whom, under the Law, were considered ritually impure or “unclean” – a leper (see Matthew 8:2-4), a dead girl (see Matthew 9:18-19,23-25) , a woman with chronic menstrual hemorrhaging (see Matthew 9:20-22). By His touch of the untouchables, Matthew explains, Jesus is “fulfilling” Isaiah’s prophesy that God would send a Suffering Servant to take on Israel’s infirmities and diseases (see Matthew 8:16).  In Isaiah’s prophesy, the physical infirmities borne by the Servant are a sign of Israel’s sin (see Isaiah 53:6,12Psalm 107:17). In the same way, then, Matthew wants us to see these healings of Jesus as signs that Jesus is taking on the sin of Israel and extending to Israel God’s mercy and forgiveness.

In this conflict, Matthew wants us to see that the ritual prescriptions of Moses’ Law were originally meant as means to an end – [1] to purify Israel of the idolatry it was so prone to (see Joshua 24:14Ezekiel 20:7-8Acts 7:39-41),[2]  to draw the people closer into their covenant relationship to God, [3] and to prepare them for their vocation as a light to the nations (see Isaiah 42:649:6).  But this restoration is not to be one based on blood or family lines, but on belief in Jesus and the Gospel. He makes this clear in telling the Apostles to shake the dust from their feet of any house or town that will not receive them (see Matthew 10:14).

Lesson Five: Riddles of Rejection, Rock of Foundation (Chapters 11 to 18)

A parable is comparison that uses everyday images and stories to illustrate deeper truths.  Speaking in parables, Jesus is pronouncing judgment on those who refuse to hear Him, to recognize in His words and deeds, the Messiah promised by the prophets & also given for the benefit of the faithful.

Walking on the water:

Remember that Israel was “born” in a dramatic rescue at sea – the night crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army (see Exodus 14:10-15:21).  In the Old Testament, God alone has the power to walk on water. “He alone…treads upon the crests of the sea,” we read in the Book of Job (see Job 9:8Habakkuk 3:15).

And He assures the Apostles with the words: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” The phrase “do not be afraid” appears often in Jewish and Christian stories of divine revelation (see Matthew 17:728:5Revelation 1:17). But we want to pay particular attention to the phrase, “it is I.”

Ego eimi, the Greek words translated as “it is I,” literally mean “I am.” This is the same phrase that God used to reveal Himself to Moses (see Exodus 3:14) and in the Old Testament is a sign of divine identity and authority (see Isaiah 41:4,10,1443:1-13). With his careful use of Old Testament references, Matthew is showing us the divine identity of Jesus (compare John 4:268:24,28).

Upon This Rock I Will Build:

With Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ establishment of His Church “on this rock” we reach one of the highest peaks of Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew presumes we understand all of this Old Testament background. Indeed, the key concepts and images in these verses – the Messiah, the Son of God, rock, building, gates of Hades, keys, and kingdom- are all drawn from Old Testament traditions surrounding the Davidic Kingdom.

And in the later Old Testament tradition, the Messiah was expected to be a single figure – a priest, prophet and king – who would fulfill God’s promises, restore the kingdom of David, and usher in a new and everlasting covenant (see Isaiah 9:761:1-11Matthew 21:9-11Mark 12:35).

With Peter’s confession, Jesus for the first time acknowledges that He is the Davidic Messiah. He blesses Peter, saying that this insight into His Messianic identity must have been revealed to him by the “heavenly Father.” Then Jesus gives Peter a new name (his name had been Simon; see Matthew 4:18) and a new God-given role in salvation history – to be “the rock” upon which the Church of Jesus will be built.

The Key to the Kingdom:

The final blessings that Jesus gives to Peter are the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” and the powers to “bind and loose.”  In Davidic Kingdom, the king appointed a prime minister to handle the day-to-day affairs of the Kingdom. He was variously called the royal “vizier,” the “major-domo,” the “superintendent” or “master of the palace.” He is considered to be “a father to the inhabitants” of the Kingdom (see 1 Kings 4:1-616:918:32 Kings 15:518:18,3719:2Isaiah 22:22).

Peter is here being appointed prime minister of the restored Kingdom of David, the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaimed, the Church He called His own. The “keys” are a symbol of the King’s power, authority, and control. The reference to “binding” and “loosing” is a familiar allusion the powers of the rabbis to declare what is permitted and what is not permitted. As prime minister of the Kingdom of Heaven, Peter is the chief rabbi, with the ultimate teaching authority, the ability to declare what will be allowed and what will not.

Lesson Six: David’s Son, David’s Lord

Jesus, as King, takes possession of His capital peacefully, as Solomon did. His first action is to reclaim the sanctuary, the Temple, and to call Israel’s religious leaders back to their original sacred purpose (see Matthew 21:12-16).

What Matthew has been subtly trying to show throughout his narrative, Jesus finally reveals at the end. He does this through a skillful interpretation of Psalm 110. Jesus asks how Psalm 110 could describe David calling the Messiah “my Lord.” How could the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s lord? To understand His question, we have to know that Psalm 110 was believed to have been written by David and to be a Psalm about the Messiah. It describes the Messiah as begotten by God and seated at His right hand in heaven as both a princely ruler over the nations and as a priest.

Matthew carries the Son of God and Davidic King images through into the last scene of his Gospel (see Matthew 28:16-20).

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