Matthew 23-25: The Extent of Jesus' Fifth Discourse

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Matthew's most prominent and best-known structural feature is the series of five discourses. Known variously as five books, speeches, sermons, or discourses, a good many scholars have proposed that these five sections form an integral part of the macrostructure of the book, or that Matthew intends for readers to use the five discourses as didactic material for discipleship. However, the extent of the fifth and final discourse is a matter of some debate. In the present study, I will examine the debate over the extent of the fifth discourse and show that it encompasses chs. 23 through 25. In my conclusion I will draw together ideas found throughout the article in order to show the significance of the extent of the fifth discourse for the interpretation of Matthew and for the structure of the Gospel. To be sure, many scholars have offered structural alternatives, such as Jack Dean Kingsbury's threefold outline revolving around plot development and the phrase ...1 Even if one takes such an alternative approach to the structure of Matthew, the discourses still stand out as a unique set of passages requiring attention, and I will suggest in my conclusion that what are often considered competing outlines may in fact be complementary.

I. THE PROBLEM

Despite the attention paid to Matthew's structure in the scholarly literature, the particular issue of the extent of the final discourse has not been addressed in a full-length essay. The present study fills this lacuna. The absence of a full-scale critical analysis of the extent of the discourse has perhaps contributed to some confusion and ambiguity in the literature. Warren Carter identifies the extent of the discourse as chs. 23-25 on three occasions and chs. 24-25 on three occasions, both in the same text.2 Ulrich Luz likewise offers opposing views. He states in the first installment of his commentary that chs. 23 and 24-25 "belong intrinsically together."3 Elsewhere he says that "the last great discourse in Matthew's Gospel . . . [a]ctually consists of two discourses; Matthew has treated the two quite unrelated discourses of chapter 23 and chapters 24-25 as a single unit in order to keep the number of discourses down to five."4 However, in two other texts Luz restricts the extent of Matthew's discourse to chs. 24-25 only and identifies ch. 23 as a "shorter discourse" belonging with those in chs. 11, 12, and 21-22.5 D. A. Carson and W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison label ch. 23 "narrative" in the introductory outlines of their respective commentaries, but then call it "discourse" in the commentaries proper.6 Kari Syreeni avoids such confusion with a vote for plurality: "Matthew could have it both ways."7 Accordingly, he identifies the discourse throughout his work as "Matthew [23]24-25." In the current climate, one can even find misrepresentations of B. W. Bacon's influential thesis, ascribing to him the view that the range of the fifth discourse consists only of chs. 24-25.8

A number of earlier scholars supported seeing Matthew 23-25 as a unified discourse, and a handful of recent interpreters continue to support this view.9 More recently, however, those opposed to seeing the three chapters as a unified discourse now constitute an overwhelming majority of those taking a position, and, particularly among works published since 2000, one can see virtual unanimity on the question: in today's scholarship, Matthew 24-25 is, de facto, the fifth discourse.10

Although as observed above no studies of note address this issue, scholars do on occasion give reasons for holding this position. The following analysis describes and responds to the various arguments offered for the separation of Matthew 23 from the subsequent two chapters. After responding to criticisms of an extended fifth discourse inclusive of Matthew 23, positive arguments will provide additional support for the present thesis.

II. ARGUMENTS FOR SEPARATING CHAPTER 23 FROM 24-25 BASED ON LOCATION AND AUDIENCE

The first and second arguments are related and may be addressed together. …