The Disciples in Narrative Perspective: The Portrayal and Function of the Matthean Disciples

The Disciples in Narrative Perspective: The Portrayal and Function of the Matthean Disciples

The Disciples in Narrative Perspective: The Portrayal and Function of the Matthean Disciples

The Disciples in Narrative Perspective: The Portrayal and Function of the Matthean Disciples

Synopsis

Do the disciples in Matthew really understand Jesus, his mission and his message? Although redaction approaches have typically answered this question affirmatively, a narrative reading of Matthew highlights the ways the disciples frequently misunderstand both what Jesus is called to do and what he intends for his own followers. This study offers such a narrative reading, arguing that not only do the disciples frequently fail to understand Jesus, they do not progress toward greater understanding as the story unfolds. The author explores the way that this portrayal functions in the story and in shaping Matthew's concept of discipleship. Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature (www.sbl-site.org).

Excerpt

This book is a slightly revised version of a Ph.D. dissertation presented and accepted at Luther Seminary in October of 2001. While studying Matthew 19 and 20 for a doctoral seminar project, I was struck by the interplay between Jesus and the disciples. In my reading, the disciples repeatedly misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, an observation quite at odds with redaction-critical readings of Matthew.

This book offers a narrative-critical reading of Matthew focused on the disciples’ characterization. I argue that not only do the disciples frequently fail to understand Jesus’ mission and teaching; they do not progress toward greater understanding as the story unfolds. Such a conclusion begs the question, “What is the point or effect of the disciples’ frequent misunderstanding?” The function of the disciples’ portrayal is the final and most pressing issue for this study. By encouraging the reader of Matthew to evaluate the disciples in light of the author’s point of view, the disciples’ propensity to misunderstand functions as part of the Matthean view of discipleship. The contribution of the last major chapter is to provide a model of the way discipleship is configured in Matthew.

My hope is that this study will invite increased dialogue between literary and historical approaches regarding Matthew’s characterization of the disciples and specifically their level of understanding. Having been trained in redaction criticism, I have great respect and affinities for the results of that method. More recently, narrative criticism has contributed quite significantly to the study of characterization in the Gospels. Unfortunately, the methodological move to bracket out historical questions has typically bracketed out interaction with the results of historical-critical approaches as well, including redaction criticism. This has short-changed Matthean studies from a significant and potentially fruitful interaction between historical and literary methods.

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