Matthew and Paul Agreements # 1- Mission to the Gentiles

Matthew and Paul Agreements # 1- Mission to the Gentiles September 21, 2020

One aspect where Matthew and Paul obviously agree is the necessity of a mission to the Gentiles. Paul was a key protagonist in that mission – but not its only participant it should be remembered – and Matthew writes at a time when the writing is on the wall and the church is definitely heading in the direction of a Gentile majority in the foreseeable future. Paul described his own “conversion” to Christ as co-terminus with a call to be an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16; 2:8; Rom 1:13; 11:13). Paul took the message of Jesus the Son of God to non-Jews and importantly fought for the equality of Jews in Christian assemblies as Gentiles and without having to first convert to Judaism and become proselytes. Paul is undoubtedly pro-Gentile mission, but is Matthew in agreement? The answer has to be a strong affirmative!

One the one hand, the Matthean Jesus maintains Jewish invectives against pagan impurity and immorality and uses the opprobrium “dogs” and “swine” for such persons (Matt 7:6; 15:26). The way of Gentiles is to be avoided (Matt 5:47; 6:7, 32; 18:17; 20:25). Jesus also limits his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:5; 15:24) and forbids his disciples from going to the “Gentiles” and “Samaritans” (Matt 10:5). Of course, that seems to be a temporary limitation only in effect until Jesus “saves his people from their sin” (Matt 1:20) which Jesus must first do to “fulfill all righteousness” and “fulfill” the Torah (Matt 3:15; 5:17).

On the other hand, Matthew is overwhelmingly pro-Gentile as evidenced by the inclusion of Gentile women in the Matthean genealogy including Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (Matt 1:3, 5, 6). Jesus’s birth includes a visit from magi from the east to visit the king of the Jews (Matt 2:1-2). The ministry of Jesus has its beginnings deliberately located in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matt 4:15) which matches with Matthew’s scriptural location of Jesus’s ministry as intended to proclaim justice to the nations and to bring them hope (Matt 12:18-21) both passages quoting from Isaiah  9:1-2, and 42:1-4 respectively. Gentile supplicants who exhibit faith are exemplary figures as shown in the centurion whose faith is accented (Matt 8:5-12) and the same holds for the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28). The Queen of the south of Solomon’s day is also held up as an exemplary Gentile (Matt 12:41-42). The parable of the wedding banquet suggests an open, inclusive, and non-discriminatory policy of acceptance into the kingdom (Matt 22:1-14). In the eschatological discourse, the gospel of the kingdom must be proclaimed to the whole world and only then does the end come (Matt 24:14). In addition, Matthew’s Great Commission is a strong statement that the post-Easter context was characterized by an intense sense of having a missionary vocation given by the risen Jesus to the church to proclaim Israel’s God, the Spirit, and the Messiah (Matt 28:16-20). Whatever differences Paul and Matthew have, affirming a mission to Gentiles, and making laudatory estimations of Gentile faith is not one of them.

See Brendan Byrne, “The Messiah in Whose Name ‘The Gentiles Will Hope’ (Matt 12:21): Gentile Inclusion as An Essential Element of Matthew’s Christology,” AusBR 50 (2002): 55-73; James LaGrand, The Earliest Christian Mission to “All Nations” in Light of Matthew’s Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).

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