The Gospel of Matthew – Introduction
On Sunday, December 1, 2013 (First Sunday of Advent) we entered into the Matthean Year of the three-year Liturgical Cycle of the Catholic Church. This means that the Sunday Gospel readings will generally come from the Gospel of Matthew (unless it is displaced by a solemnity).
In celebrating this Year of the Gospel of Matthew, I am inspired to embark on a lofty project that I am very excited about – and I hope you will be also. I am going to write a Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew using the literary method of rhetorical analysis of as we go through the liturgical year.
Rhetorical analysis of the Bible is a unique method of biblical exegesis that was taught to me by the French Jesuit and biblical scholar Prof. Roland Meynet, S.J. at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where I studied from 2002-2006. (http://www.unigre.it/Prof/fmw/framework_en.php?adg_utente=907&adg_pgm=201).
I will also be using the rabbinical insights that I learned under Rabbi Asher Finkel PhD. of Seton Hall University who I had the privilege of studying under from 2001-2002 (http://www.shu.edu/academics/profiles/profile-details.cfm?customel_datapageid_148360=215441).
I will forever be grateful to these two men for introducing me to the beautiful world of the Bible. I owe my passion for Scriptures to them. I hope my meager contribution honors them.
If you are interested in knowing more about the method of biblical rhetorical analysis or biblical rhetoric you should visit the website for the International Society for the Study of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric (RBS). http://www.retoricabiblicaesemitica.org/Chi_siamo_en.html
I have outlined the Gospel of Matthew using the outline from The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition, New Testament, 2010. If you click on the different parts of the outline it will send you to a document where I have the rhetorical analysis done. I have three sections for every biblical passage: 1) Composition; 2) Biblical Context, and 3) Interpretation.
The section on “Composition” gives information on the literary structure (chiastic, concentric, genre, settings, motif, etc.) of the passage and the rhetorical devices used in the text (repetitions, merismus, gaps, citations, etc.). The section on “Biblical Context” explores the inter-Biblical connections or gancios (“hooks” in Italian) in the text. These two sections make-up what is generally known in Catholic exegesis as the literal sense of Scripture (cf. CCC 116).
The section on “Interpretation” explains the underlying and deeper meaning of the passage – what in Catholic exegesis is the spiritual sense of Scriptures (allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense; cf. CCC 117-119).
What has motivated me to produce this commentary in part is the deficiency I see in many New Testament commentaries regarding rhetorical analysis. These commentaries have by and large used methods of the historical-critical method (HCM) of exegesis that has focused on the diachronic (Greek: “through time”) composition of the biblical text. That is, how the text came together and evolved through time and the oral traditions (or fonts) from where the biblical authors drew their material to form the final literary text we have today in the Bible (this diachronic method is often generally called Source Criticism).
It is recognized today that the HCM as a general methodology of exegesis is indispensable in understanding the evolution of the biblical text and determining its literal sense, however, the HCM do not aid us in discerning the author’s intension or the spiritual sense of the text.
Furthermore, the different methodologies under the umbrella of HCM (textual criticism, grammatical criticism or philological analysis, literary criticism, genre criticism, tradition criticism, and redaction criticism) often brought with them the philosophical bias of their time including skepticism, moral relativism, and social evolution. Often biblical exegetes obsessed about the theological underpinnings of the biblical material trying to separate out from the New Testament text what is attributable to Jesus, the early Church communities, and the Gospel writers themselves. The diachronic approach was carried out at times to absurd degrees finding multiple sources behind just one verse of Scripture.
As the HCM methods and hypotheses multiplied there was a tragic separation between Church tradition and the deconstruction of biblical literature that began to effect Church life. A so-called “search for the historical Jesus” movement, whose roots are deeply connected to the rise of HCM itself, set out a path to “de-mythologize” the Christ proclaimed by the Church in her Christology (this search is later was referred to the “Jesus Quest”).
In the last 60 years with the rise of secular literary criticism there has thankfully been a shift away from the diachronic approach of HCM to a more synchronic (Greek: “with time”) approach – without abandoning the more positive aspects of diachronic methods. A new biblical literary criticism including the “New Rhetoric” aims to explore the characteristic features of the biblical literary tradition especially when it comes to Semitic culture and distinct modes of biblical communication. This new rhetorical method recuperates much of the lost theological, as well as spiritually aesthetic, significance communicated by the inspired authors (CCC 105-108).
In my work as a Catholic priest and pastor I have seen a great desire for Bible Study and a deeper understanding of Sacred Scripture among the faithful. With this biblical commentary I’m seeking to fill this great desire as well as to feed my own spiritual life through the Word of God that is always a consuming fire (Jer 23:29). This biblical commentary will follow the readings from the Gospel of Matthew found in the Lectionary of the Mass for this liturgical year, Cycle A.
One last point, the exegesis will have a liturgical dimension. When appropriate, I will be commenting on the Gospel text using the inter-textual illuminations from the first and second readings of the day.
Let me know what you think and if you find this Biblical Commentary helpful in breaking open the Scriptures. We are about to enter into the profoundly deep and beautifully rich world of the Bible – the Word of God. I hope you enjoy the ride!
Fr. Avelino González
17 January 2014
Feast of St. Anthony, abbot
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