In Sunday morning Bible study we have been studying The Gospel According to Matthew. Since September 2011. We finally reached Matthew 26 two weeks ago!! A week ago Sunday as an introduction to chapters 26:2-28:20, I showed several connections in the beginning and end of the section, and how some previous threads (chapters 1-25) were coming together.
There are many ways to look at the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, but I think this particular view is most helpful. This basic five division structure comes from noting these specific passages:
7:28 And when Jesus finished these sayings,
11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing
13:53 And when Jesus had finished these parables
19:1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings
26:1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings
These five verses mark out the concluding boundaries of five major sections. Each section has a group of deeds related to one aspect of Jesus’ ministry, followed by a group of words that expand and explain the deeds. So when we get to Matthew 26, we read the last concluding comment or division marker:
When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” (Matthew 26:1-2 NAS)
The last section of Matthew’s Gospel begins with the plot to kill Jesus:
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.” )Matthew 26:3-5 NAS)
Anointing of Jesus
Then I briefly mentioned the anointing of Jesus by a woman in 26:6-13. A question arose about the anointing and when it took place, because John’s Gospel seemed different. I noted that each author had his own purpose and style. Attempts to reconcile the various accounts have to be undertaken cautiously: 1) to let the individual uniqueness of each Gospel remain intact, and 2) to not force a reshuffling of any Gospel account just to achieve “a harmony.” I spent a little time on each point.
During the week, I realized that such an answer, while true, didn’t provide a more complete answer to the specific question in class. So last week I was thinking how to address the issue again. In my teaching experience, if I can draw a Timeline, map, chart, or diagram, I can teach most topics. So I began a reading of all four Gospels, using Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the base point (since all four Gospels have the entry in the same basic position leading into Passover).
Here are my handwritten scribbles; not very helpful for most people, but I knew what each portion meant and how I would proceed. And it gave me ideas about how to organize the material
As I began to write down the two events (entry and anointing), it became clear that the order of events was not identical. Further, the other details of the anointing weren’t all of one piece. Notice, that Matthew and Mark essentially tell the same story line in the same sequence with the details of the anointing corresponding. Luke, however, has an anointing, but unrelated to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. At that point I was realizing that the location was different, but also different in John’s Gospel, and with different people involved.
So I began thinking in terms of table showing each Gospel, then looking at the sequence (entry, anointing), as well how, how, what, and location the anointing took place. I came up with this approach in class Sunday, filling in the spots as I taught.
Sunday night I realized I needed to formalize this from handwriting to computer organization. This was the result.
It appears from this table that there are at least three anointings, an early one in Luke (7:36-50, taking place in Galilee), plus two separate anointings in Holy Week. In John’s Gospel, the anointing takes place in Bethany, in the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, the anointing occurs in Bethany, but in the house of Simon the leper, and it is after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Notice that the anointing in Matthew and Mark is done by “a woman,” (as also in Luke’s account), whereas in John’s account, the woman is identified as “Mary,” but we don’t know which Mary. In Matthew and Mark, the woman anoints Jesus’ head, in Luke’s and John’s accounts, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet.
Now, there are many other things that could be said and studied. But I approached this task from the standpoint of a lay person who likely will not have access to detailed commentaries. Rather, the only necessary tools to achieve this kind of study are: the Bible, paper, pen/pencil (or computer). Then the process involves looking at each account within that specific Gospel, note major features, and after all four are examined, note parallels and challenges.
This approach allows the student to continue to appreciate the integrity of each Gospel, and the ability to note that we don’t have to destroy one (or more Gospel) accounts to satisfy an urge to see or resolve inconsistencies. Granted, not all such endeavors will work as well as this, but at least we don’t have to automatically capitulate to critics of the Bible.
This is by no means the end of the story (how do you think we lasted 3 ½ years in studying Matthew so far?). But, at least this serves both as a tool for further study, and a method that people can follow without the maze of academic trails to follow.
Hope this helps someone in the study of God’s Word.