"By what authority?" The literary function and impact of conflict stories in the Gospel of Matthew
The purpose of this thesis is to explore the significance of conflict stories in the Gospel of Matthew from a literary critical perspective. The key research question the thesis has attempted to answer is, how do conflict stories function in Matthew’s narrative? Because their interest is often limited to the Sitz im Leben behind the Matthean text, previous studies attempting the similar pursuit view conflict stories as transparent accounts of Matthew’s polemical program against the Jews or Judaism. Thus they have neglected a vital purpose of the author, that is, besides his interest to record or preserve what happened in history, the Gospel author is also interested to arouse or affirm the readers’ faith in Jesus through his preservation and redaction of his sources, which is an inseparable part of the author’s theological program. How exactly then has his literary work achieved this purpose? Assuming the literary unity of the Matthean text, this study has treated the Matthean text as a mirror and explored literary nuances reflected by the textual ‘surface.’ Under such a premise, the narrative analysis of this thesis has highlighted three foci: 1. The connection which each conflict makes with its narrative context; 2. How the Hebrew Scripture interacts with the author’s composition or redaction of the stories; and 3. The literary impact these stories have on the implied reader. This study selects a total of seventeen conflict stories in Matthew based on three criteria, Matt 9.1-8, 9-13, 14-17; 12.1-8, 9-14, 22-37, 38-45; 13.53-58; 15.1-9; 16.1-4; 19.1-9; 21.14-17, 23-27; 22.15-22, 23-33, 34-40, 41-46: 1. The presence of an attitude of hostility or challenge in the setting of the narrative (either explicit or implied); 2. The presence of a question of an accusation or a challenge; and 3. The question or the accusation is usually followed by a reply of Jesus. In conclusion, the literary analysis of this study suggests two most important functions of Matthean conflict stories: 1. Conflict stories function, either individually or in clusters, as kernels of the Matthean plot to advance the narrative forward in order to reach its climax in the passion narrative. 2. The Christological focus in conflict stories is consistently concerned not only with the superiority of Jesus over the opponents, but more importantly with the nexus between the divine status of Jesus and him being the messianic figure.