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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Nature of the Text.

1.

Much of Matthew's meaning remains implicit, even much of importance. We know this after only the first few verses, for the insertion of four women into the genealogy, a fact that cannot be ignored, must mean something. But the meaning is not made explicit. And so it is throughout: Matthew is a discourse full of tacit references; it is densely allusive. The ubiquitous scriptural citations and allusions—which are anything but detachable ornamentation—direct the informed reader to other books and so teach that Matthew is not a self-contained entity: much is missing. The gospel, in other words, stipulates that it be interpreted in the context of other texts; it evokes tradition through the device of allusion. This means that it is, in a fundamental sense, an incomplete utterance, a book full of holes. Readers must make present what is absent; they must bring to the gospel knowledge of what it presupposes, i.e. a pre-existing collection of interacting texts, the Jewish Bible (the main source for our knowledge about the four women in the genealogy). The First Gospel, like so much ancient Jewish literature, is partly a mnemonic device, designed to trigger intertextual exchanges which depend upon informed and imaginative reading. It is a catena of allusions.

2.

If Matthew constantly alludes to the Jewish Bible and the traditions parasitic upon it, it also often alludes to itself. Our text was almost certainly composed with some sort of liturgical (and perhaps also some sort of catechetical) end in view, which means that it was designed to be heard again and again. In line with this the text assumes that listeners will appreciate not only intertextual allusions but intratextual allusions. For instance, 5:38–42 alludes to Isaiah, but also, plainly, to Matthew's own passion narrative; and if 17:1–8 develops a Moses typology, it also foreshadows the crucifixion and perhaps Gethsemane. Our gospel was not composed for bad or casual readers. It was rather written for good and attentive listeners accustomed, because of their devotion and relatively small literary canon, to polysemous and heavily connotative religious speech; and such listeners, who heard Matthew repeatedly, would be expected to relate the gospel to itself.

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