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«OCTOBER 199 1 The Symposia of Concordia Theological Seminary (January 1992) 241 The Relation of Matthew 28:16-20 to the Rest of the Gospel David P. ...»

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Volume 55: Number 4


The Symposia of Concordia Theological Seminary

(January 1992)


The Relation of Matthew 28:16-20 to the Rest of the Gospel

David P. Scaer


Cyprian, Donatism, Augustine, and Augustana VIII:

Remarks on the Church and the Validity of Sacraments

William C. Weinrich

267 Theological Observer

Book Reviews 3 13 The Relation of Matthew 28:16-20 to the Rest of the Gospel David P. Scaer The importance of Matthew 28:16-20 in the life of the church is demonstrated by its frequent use. It is the pericope used more than any other to show the necessity of baptism, and it is used in the liturgy for baptism. Infant baptism is supported by this pericope also. The same pericope is used in the liturgy for ordination to show that God has established the office of the ministry. This pericope is also used to demonstrate that God is tri-personal.

Accordingly, the traditional service of the church begins with its words, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," and, according to the Small Catechism, morning and evening devotions and those offered at meals should begin the same way. Its words have been incorporated into the Gloria Patri, and thus it is spoken or sung with the Psalms of Matins and Vespers and the Introit of the main service of the church. In more recent times it has become the rallying point of the Church Growth Movement, which takes one of its characteristic words, "discipling," from this pericope.

Matthew 28:16-20 comes as close to being the universal proof text as any other.' I. Initial Considerations A. The Authenticity of Matthew 28 The confessional Lutheran scholar Edmund Schlinck adopted the then popular opinion that this pericope was so theologically advanced, with its Father-Son-Holy Spirit formula, that it could hardly have been spoken by Jesus.' He held that its trinitarian theology was so advanced that it was read back into the mouth of Jesus by the early church. Others have held that this passage, as well as the chapter in general, was not even part of the earliest forms of Matthew's Gospel. Some years later erstwhile LCMS New Testament scholar Jack Kingsbury undermined that theory by showing that Matthew 28:16-20 did not contain anything which could not be linguistically integrated with the rest of the g ~ s p e l. ~ Kingsbury showed that the evangelist was capable of a trinitarian theology in other parts of his gospel. In 11:27, for example, the Father and the Son each has exclusive knowledge of the other. The language of 11:27 is so advanced in its theology that to many


246 scholars it seemed strangely out of place in Matthew--something which would have been more comfortable in John. Kingsbury's study was sufficiently exhaustive to demonstrate that Matthew 28: 16was so similar to the rest of the gospel that one author was responsible for the entire gospel.

Not only is Matthew 28: 16-20 an integral part of the entire gospel, but indeed the evangelist intended it as a summary and an endorsement of the gospel. No other book in the entire Scripture comes to such a satisfactory conclusion as does Matthew with Jesus' command to preserve His words and make disciples through baptism and His promise to be with the church until the current epoch has ended.

The evangelist never informs his readers whether the apostles actually followed the command to make disciples of the Gentiles.

Perhaps Luke-Acts was written to tell the reader that the church did follow this command, but that idea is a matter for discussion at another time. If there were Gentiles in Matthew's first audience, they would have been living evidence that the command had been fulfilled at least in some way.

B. The Organization of Matthew 28 Matthew's final chapter consists of three recognizably separate sections or pericopes: (1.) the events concerning the discovery of the empty tomb with the appearances of the angel and Jesus to the women (w. 1-10); (2.) the Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus (vv. 11- 15); and (3.) the commissioning of !he disciples (vv. 16-20). Compare Matthew's final chapter with Luke's. In Luke, as in Matthew, the women discover the empty tomb (24:l-7), but the narratives of the Emmaus Road (24:13-32) and Jerusalem (24:36-53) with Jesus as the center of each are uniquely Lucan, with no parallels in Matthew. Mark has only the discovery of the empty tomb with the angel's annunciation to the women (16:l-8). John is not unlike Luke in giving us narratives in which Jesus appears and speaks to His followers, namely, the Magdalene (20: 11-18), the disciples (20: 19-23) and Thomas (20:26and the disciples and Peter (21:l-22). In comparison with the conversing Jesus of Luke and John, Matthew's resurrection narrative is more formal. In Luke and John Jesus engages in extensive The Relation of Matthew 28:16-20 247 conversations with His followers. He converses for what must have been several hours with the Ernmaus disciples and then later with the Jerusalem disciples (according to Luke). There is a dialogue or conversation with the Magdalene and Peter (according to John).

Nothing in Matthew parallels this type of conversation between the resurrected Lord and His followers. Jesus speaks. Those who hear His words do not respond. The absence in Matthew's resurrection narratives of any conversation with Peter (as in John 21:9-22) or even mention of Peter (as in Mark 16:7 and Luke 24:34) is all the more surprising, since that disciple plays a prominent role for Matthew before the crucifixion (16: 16-18; 17:1,4; 18:21; 26:33-35, 69-75). Those who argue for Petrine supremacy, as the Church of Rome does and must do, on the basis of 16:17-19, must answer the question of why Peter is singled out for no special role in the final commissioning of the apostle^.^ In Matthew 28 the events accompanying the resurrection are reported, namely, the earthquake (v. 2), the coming and appearance of the angel (v. 3), the trembling of the guards (v. 4), and the annunciation to the women that the Crucified One is risen and that they are to report this back to His disciples (vv. 5-7), though the reader is never informed when and how this resurrection was accomplished (v. 8). Jesus then appears, is worshipped (v. 9), and repeats the angelic command that the women are to inform His disciples to go to Galilee, where He will be seen (v. 10). Unlike Luke and John, Matthew has no record of what the women said either to the angel or to Jesus. What is central is that the tomb is empty, that Jesus has appeared to the women, and that the disciples are to see Him in Galilee, a message which is repeated twice (vv. 7, 10). Matthew makes no mention of how the disciples responded to the women. They do, as Jesus told the women, see Him in Galilee.

The record of the Jewish allegation of the disciples stealing the body of Jesus (vv. 11-15) is remarkable, since it is without parallel any place in the rest of the New Testament. The words of the Jewish officials to the soldiers are preserved, but not in the sense of a dialogue. Matthew's inclusion of the allegation of body-stealing has implications for dogmatical theology and hence for the church's mission. The resurrection may be more than merely a historical


248 event (as the resurrected body is a soma pneurnatikon, a body which by the Holy Spirit has been brought into the realm of God [I Cor.

15:44]), but not in the sense that its reality is beyond ordinary historical investigation. After all, the women are invited to examine the empty tomb (v. 6), and the guards, who are not believers, are in fact the first historical reporters of the resurrection (v. 11). In the scheme of his gospel Matthew seems to have included this pericope to show that the proclamation of the gospel could not continue among those who denounced as untenable the resurrection, a characteristic feature of the Christian proclamation. Those who were creating and spreading lies, saying that the resurrection of Jesus was a fiction created by the disciples, could not expect their allegations to remain unanswered. The church would have no hesitancy in engaging them in debate. (Christian apologetics was born, so to speak, here in Matthew.) We note again that, unlike Luke and John, who devoted considerable space to the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, Matthew bas only two brief appearances of Jesus. Besides his recording of the commissioning of the disciples, Matthew preserves only these words: "Hail"; "Do not be afraid; go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me." Mark, of course, has no appearance or word of Jesus.

Matthew connects verse 10, the declaration to the women that His disciples, who are now called His brothers, are to see Him in Galilee, with verses 16-17, where they do in fact see Him. The disciples have obeyed the command of Jesus delivered by the women to go to Galilee (v. 16), although, as mentioned, we are not told under what circumstances the command was relayed.' Upon seeing Jesus in Galilee, the disciples worship Him, that is, recognize Him as God (v. 20).' The reference to doubting (v. 18 RSV) should be not understood as meaning that the disciples had questions about the nature or actuality of His resurrection. Rather this doubting of theirs involved confusion in the sense of not fully understanding the significance of the resurrection for them and the reason why Jesus had commanded them to come to Galilee.7 The command which follows to make disciples of the Gentiles is Although Matthew 28 opens in intended to answer such que~tions.~ The Relation of Matthew 28:16-20 249 Jerusalem, the evangelist thrusts the center of attention away from there to Galilee with the two nearly identical commands, one by the angel (v. 7) and the other by Jesus (v. lo), that His disciples will see Him there to receive a significant message.

C. The Audience Matthew is very careful in identifying the commission's original hearers as the "eleven disciples" (v. 16), a noteworthy distinction, since the original disciples even after the death of Judas were called "the twelve" (I Cor. 15:5), a designation which the evangelist himself knew (10:l-2). Matthew knew his options but chose the restrictive "eleven disciples." Any idea that Jesus was speaking to a huge crowd, such as confronted Him in the giving of the Sermon on the Mount or in the feeding of the four or the five thousand, is simply without support. Matthew deliberately intends the limited audience of the eleven as the recipients of the command to make disciples of the Gentiles. Luke speaks of a larger group of disciples present for the ascension, but Matthew 28: 16-20, which is situated in Galilee, dare not be confused with an event which took place on the outskirts of Jerusalem in Bethany (Luke 2450) at the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).

The eleven disciples (28:16), known to Matthew's readers as apostles (10:2), may have stood in the place of the church in hearing the command, but there is no suggestion that the church, as it was constituted at that time (the other followers or the wider community) were present? If others were present, Matthew does not mention it.

Matthew has already informed his readers in 10:2-4 of the identity of the eleven and has prepared them for the reduction of twelve (10:2) to eleven (28:16) by saying that Judas would betray Jesus (10:4). Thus, the reader already has the answer to the question of why there were eleven and not twelve present. Chapter 10 names the twelve and refers to their first status as "disciples" when Jesus enlisted them and their current status in the church as "apostles" (vv.

1-2). Matthew 10:2, while referring to Jesus' selection of the twelve, clearly presupposes the events of 28:16-20 by which the disciples were authorized as apostles. To put it in other words, already in chapter 10 the evangelist knew the outcome of his story.


250 The gospel was not composed as the events were taking place, but after and in the light of the resurrection. The eleven are already named in 10:l-2 and the evangelist expects that his readers already know the names.

In chapter 10 the disciples are also given their mission. Thus, chapter 10 is the presupposition for 28: 16-20. Jesus first regarded the twelve (l0:l-2; eleven, 28:16) as His disciples, but the church is to understand them as His apostles, men authorized by Christ to represent Him. From these pericopes, 10 and 28:16-20, the church could rightfully understand itself as Christian-that is, consisting in fbllowers of Christ--but also as apostolic--that is, taught by the apostles.

Jesus' designation of His disciples as "My brothers" (v. 10) is not without significance. Those who have been His students have been raised to a status almost equal with Him as teachers of His message to the church because they accomplish the will of the Father of Jesus (12:50), which is the proclamation of His death and resurrection.

The apostles are not the originators of the church's teachings, but they stand in His place as the teachers of the church. The "Apostolic Mandate" (a term used by the Reverend Charles J. Evanson) may have been intended at first for the ears of the apostles only, but the gospel in which Matthew recorded them was intended for the ears of the entire church. This intention hardly means that all those who were baptized could consider themselves as apostles, but they were aware of the special role that the apostles had in regard to the church and the church had in regard to the apostles. The apostles stood in Christ's place (10:40), and the church was obligated to support the apostolic mission with material means (10: 11).

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