Conceptualising Fulfilment In Matthew -- By: J. R. Daniel Kirk

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 59:1 (NA 2008)
Article: Conceptualising Fulfilment In Matthew
Author: J. R. Daniel Kirk

Conceptualising Fulfilment In Matthew

J. R. Daniel Kirk


The question of how to understand the formula citations in the Gospel of Matthew is as important as it is disputed. This study begins by reviewing the avenues previously pursued for making sense of this collection of texts. Finding that typology is a helpful but ultimately insufficient means of making sense of Matthew’s formula citations, a diachronic, narratival typology is proposed. Rather than seeing Jesus as the one who embodies abstract or limited typological concepts, we see that his life takes the shape of Israel’s story. In assigning Israel’s role to Jesus, however, Matthew also opens up new avenues for interpreting this story. And so we find Jesus giving new substance to a narrative whose shape is given by the scriptures of Israel. This conception of narrative embodiment in Matthew holds promise not only for understanding Jesus’ relationship to the prophets but also for understanding his relationship to the law.

1. Introduction

The so-called ‘formula quotations’ provide interpreters of the first gospel with a unique venue for probing the intentions and theology of Matthew.1 Comparison with the other gospels and redaction critical studies have consistently highlighted not only that Matthew created the unique introductory formula that introduces these citations,2 but that he

(or his community) seems to be the one who culled the quotations from the Jewish scriptures and applied them to the traditions of Jesus.3

Looking at the unique elements of a text can very easily produce distorted claims about the purpose of the text as a whole—especially when the most substantial elements are held in common with other works. A warning along these lines seems to lie behind the title of a recent essay by Donald Senior: ‘The Lure of the Formula Quotations: Re-Assessing Matthew’s Use of the Old Testament with the Passion Narrative as a Test Case’.4 Senior points out that the importance of fulfilment as a theme in Matthew extends beyond the formula quotations, and that Jesus’ relationship to the OT is an important thread that runs through the whole gospel in references and allusions not introduced by Matthew’s distinct formula. Far from challenging the scholarly attention paid to the formula quotations, however, Senior concludes that they represent Matthew’s broader theology of fulfilment as expressed by the narrator’s voice:

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