“Even The Dogs”: Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew -- By: Gene R. Smillie

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:1 (Mar 2002)
Article: “Even The Dogs”: Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew
Author: Gene R. Smillie

“Even The Dogs”:
Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew

Gene R. Smillie*

* G. R. Smillie teaches with the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Enrique Larreta, 9, Bajo, 28036 Madrid, Spain.

For all its traditional reputation as the Gospel written for Jews, Matthew has surprisingly numerous references to Gentiles.1 At times these references are harmonious with conventional Jewish stereotypes of the goyim as archetypes of unrighteous behavior, as when Jesus warns against long prating meaningless prayers “as the Gentiles do: don’t be like them” (6:7), or against “lording it over others, as the Gentile rulers do: it is not to be so among you” (20:25–26). In such cases Matthew resembles the near-equation of Gentiles with sinners that one typically finds in sectarian Palestinian Jewish literature like Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch, or Jubilees. Thus, in a recent monograph purporting to depict the Sitz im Leben of the redaction, Sims concludes from such data that the author of Matthew is basically anti-Gentile.2 At other, equally frequent, intervals, however, Matthew portrays Gentiles in a much more positive light. They are often found manifesting belief, or at least approbation, in regard to Jesus—e.g. the centurion at the foot of the cross (27:54), Pilate’s wife (21:17–24), or, in more detail, the story of another centurion’s faith in 8:5–13. Senior posits that Matthew deliberately places “Gentiles who respond favorably to Jesus and thus become harbingers of Gentile participation in the Christian community in the role of exemplars.”3

Noting these contrasting phenomena, this study attempts to explain the apparent divergences in attitude towards Gentiles in Matthew as congruent with and in fact parallel to Matthew’s characteristic literary contrasts between the demanding rigor—the almost harsh severity of expectations for would-be disciples—in the cognitive discourse material and the much warmer, compassionate praxis of Jesus towards the needy and helpless—or, more specifically, towards those who manifest faith in him—found in the narrative materials which follow or interpolate the discourses. This countervalence of severity and mercy, of righteous works and humble faith, of stringent demands and generous benefits, walks on two legs all through Matthew, and must be held together to do justice to the interpretation of the book.

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