Matthew is a Liturgical Document

Matthew is a Liturgical Document

Introduction and Key Words

The word liturgy, derived from the technical term in ancient Greek (Greek: λειτουργία), leitourgia, which literally means “work for the people” is a literal translation of the two words “litos ergos” or “public service”. Liturgy is the customary public ritual of worship performed by a religious group. Liturgy can also be used to refer specifically to the public worship of Christians. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy represents a communal response to and participation in the sacred through activities reflecting praise, thanksgiving, remembrance, supplication, or repentance. It forms a basis for establishing a relationship with God. Technically speaking, liturgy forms a subset of ritual. The word liturgy, sometimes equated in English as “service”, refers to a formal ritual enacted by those who understand themselves to be participating in action with the divine. (source: Wikipedia)

James Edwards notes that the Greek of Matthew, as compared to the other Gospels, is clean and consistent, and his style and wording rarely need to be (or can be) improved and that it is apparent that the Gospel of Matthew has been passed through numerous editorial filters. His summation is that “the result is a Gospel that affords memorization and is eminently suitable for public reading” (James Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel, p.248).

Powell also observed that Matthew presents a more developed Christology than does Mark or Luke. This is evidenced by Matthew’s use of terms such as Son of Abraham, Son of David, Son of God, Emmanuel, Prophet, Christ, Son of Man, and the Coming One. The greater frequency of these titles in Matthew as compared to Mark or Luke is an indication that Matthew is the latter and most developed of the three. 

Further evidence of this is the Greek word used for worship, which occurs 52 times in Matthew, but only 10 times in Luke and 5 times in Mark. Matthew exhibits a sophisticated implicit Christology in that Jesus is overwhelmingly made the object of this verb, which results in an implicit indication of divine status being applied to him. There is no reasonable explanation why Luke, who shows Hebraisms in his Gospel, would omit such a term if he were drawing on the Matthew of canon as one of his sources.  (James Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel, p.248).

This is clear evidence of Matthean Posteriority, which is augmented by many other observations including that of Matthew representing positions on women, sinners, tax collectors, lawless people, wealth, and possessions that reflect a time period later than the Gospel of Luke.  (H. P. West Jr., “A primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew,” pp. 80-88).

Furthermore, Scholarship has observed how Matthew is designed for homiletics (sermons) and liturgical use. In terms of Homiletics, the art of preaching, Matthew consolidates the words of Jesus in various sections and is structured to facilitate preaching as opposed to being a chronological historical narrative. Homiletics comprises the study of the composition and delivery of religious discourses. It includes all forms of preaching: sermons, homilies, and catechetical instruction. It may be further defined as the study of the analysis, classification, preparation, composition, and delivery of sermons. The word homiletic is used to describe something that relates to homiletics and thus can be applied to Matthew in association with its liturgical qualities. 

The Liturgical Character of Matthew

G.D. Kilpatrick, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2007 (Originally published 1946 Oxford)

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The Liturgical Background

The evidence of Jewish literature confirms and fills out that of the New Testament. By the first century of our era the synagogue hand acquired the outlines of liturgy, and one of the main purposes of its services was regular instruction in religion. Of this, the kernel was the reading and exposition of Scripture as was found described in the New Testament. (p. 60) 

The evidence also shows that the Church, just as much as the Hellenistic synagogue, practiced considerable liberty in deciding what was to be read, and much that was later rejected from the Canon of Scripture was read without any qualms at an earlier date. Indeed, an apostolic name was not regarded as necessary to commend a book to the ears of the faithful, and the epistles of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, as well as the Shepherd of Hermas, were accepted, through their true authors was known. On the other hand, 2 Peter, Barnabas, the Gospel and Apocalypse of Peter show by their ascriptions that the value of an apostolic name was realized.  (p. 65)

The use in the liturgy was the most universal, as it reached both the members of the Church and interested pagans. In contrast to this, the other activities in which the gospel material found a use were limited and departmental. This is clearly true of the employment of the Gospel in missionary work, in the instruction of the interested and the catechumens, in its controversial activities, and in its task of building up a corporate rule and law. Further, in the liturgical use of Scripture these other aspects of the Church’s use of the material were focused. The combination of reading and sermon permitted a missionary turn to be given to the practice, or an instructional or a controversial, or a legislative. It is for reasons of this kind that we may feel justified in ascribing the greatest importance to the liturgical practice of the Church in the early history of the gospel material. (p.67)

It was natural that, in a revised gospel book produced for the worship of the Church, the needs and convenience of liturgical practice should be consulted. This was necessary since Mark, for example, for all its excellences, is not an ideal book for liturgical use. As a revised gospel book, it would also show the influence of some twenty years’ exposition of its sources. In particular, the use of quotations, the grouping of material, and rephrasing would be consequent upon this activity. Some of the changes are only in matters of detail, but the results as a whole are considerable. (p. 70)

Other consequences of this thesis that Matthew is a revised gospel book will come to light as the thesis itself is tested by the evidence. The important thing, once the thesis has been advanced, is to discover how far it provides a satisfactory explanation of features which cannot be explained by source criticism or by a reference to editorial activity, and how far other features come to light which accord with our liturgical hypothesis.  (p. 71)

The Liturgical Character of The Gospel

Several features of Matthew would support the suggestion that it was written to be read liturgically. The stylistic changes from Mark increase lucidity. Unnecessary and distracting details are omitted. The additions make the passages easier to follow. Antithesis and parallelism are introduced, repetition of formulae is common, and the phrasing is carefully balanced and rounded. The influence of previous homiletic exposition can be seen in the history of various passages, in the doublets and quotations, the background of oral tradition, and the grouping of material. The evangelist’s intention that the book should be read and expounded in worship was amply fulfilled in its later history. (p.71)
First, we will examine the strictly liturgical as distinct from the homiletic elements in the Gospel, noting features of style and agreement. If a book is written with the intention in being read aloud in church, it will require a lucidity greater than that requisite in a book intended principally for private use. Much that could otherwise be left to the readers’ understanding has to be made explicit for an audience, while on the other hand all unessential details are best away, as they burden and perhaps overburden the hearers’ attention. (p. 71)
Another device the evangelist employs is structural. He presents his material in a more satisfying and memorable form by giving it a carefully balanced and rounded phrasing. His use of antithesis and parallelism are frequently to be noted as serving this end. (p. 75)
That the reception that the book received at the hands of the Church would agree with the view that is his revision of his sources the author of the Gospel intended to produce a work more acceptable to the Church’s liturgical use. If we compare the citation from Matthew with those from the other Gospels, in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine for example, it is seen to be the most popular of the four. The tendency was, other things being equal, to prefer the Matthean version wherever it was available. Two examples of this may be indicated. The Matthean for of the Lord’s Prayer is deservedly the form that has established itself in the Church’s liturgical use. The form of the Beatitudes, also, which is usually quoted, is that in our Gospel. Indeed, so successful was it as a revision of Mark, that Mark dropped almost completely out of use, and it is only modern scholarship, with its interest in the historical and the primitive, which as rescued Mark from this neglect. If Matthew is usually the most quoted of the Gospels in the Fathers, Mark is regularly and by far the least quoted. (p. 77) 
The evidence which we have surveyed is intended to demonstrate that much of the material in the Gospel shows signs of previous homiletic use, and it is claimed that, apart form the negative argument that these features cannot be ascribed to the evangelist or to written sources, positive indications are to be discovered. The indications of grouping, context, motivation, and of a previous history for some, at any rate, of the passages in question, the explanations, the parallels to Halakah and Haggadah, the exhortatory touches, all would on our theory require some such mode of construction and vehicle of tradition as is provided by the homiletic custom of the Church’s liturgy. These indications require that the custom should be well established and have a long history and a fixed procedure, a condition that would be satisfied if the church took over the sermon from the synagogue. (p. 98)
While the minutiae of grouping may often be taken from the sources or the tradition of the pulpit, the broader lines of order and arrangement may be assumed to be the evangelist’s work. This would apply to the division of the Gospel into five books with the prologue and epilogue, the bisection of each book, and much of the structure of the discourses and narrative groups. In his grouping he seems to have aimed at associating material of like subject-matter without concerning himself to secure rigid consistency in the whole… A practical outcome of this is, that if any passage or section is to be found in our Gospel as well as in another, our Gospel is the one in which it may most easily be found.  (p. 99)
The success of the Gospel in the ancient Church has been noted. If it provide useful in exposition, and the commentators of antiquity would suggest that it was, this success would be the more understandable if such were its purpose. Origen, Jerome, and Chrysostom give it full and careful exposition and Augustine uses it almost as much as the other three Gospels together. (p. 99)
That there was a need for one such volume as our Gospel may easily be seen. There would be a great inconvenience in attempting to use together in the Church’s services such dissimilar documents as Mark, Q, and M, together with odds and ends of tradition and exposition. As soon as this mass of material became quite unwieldy, it was inevitable that an attempt should be made to build the elements into one manageable whole. This again would point to an homiletic and liturgical purpose in the evangelist’s activity. (p.99-100)