Note: This blog is the second in a series of posts on teaching the Gospel of Matthew. You can find the first blog on teaching Matthew HERE.
There is no shortage of books, study Bibles, and commentaries on Matthew to give us an outline of the book. And unlike some books of the Bible, there is wide-spread general agreement as to the basic structure of Matthew (even if there is robust diversity as to the arrangement of themes by Matthew). At the end of this blog post I will give you my working outline. This is the outline I handed out to my students as I taught through Matthew, but before we get to the outline, it will be helpful to review just how scholars come up with the outlines of Bible books.
First, it is important to remember that the chapters and verses in your Bible were added much later than the writing of the texts themselves. Matthew didn’t divide his book into chapters and verses. This means that the chapter breaks are not entirely useful for determining the outline and structure of a book. It is true that some thought was given to text units when Matthew was divided into chapters, but, for the most part, the chapter breaks and versification are only useful for quickly finding locations in the biblical texts.
Matthew didn’t have chapter breaks as a tool for indicating his outline. He didn’t have white spaces or even punctuation marks. All those “technologies” for writing would come along much later. All Matthew had was words, and, as is typical for most ancient writers, he used repeated phrases to indicate his outline.
Most scholars agree that structurally Matthew divides his own text into five major sections, with an introduction section at the front and a concluding section at the back. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew pairs a series of narratives about Jesus with a lengthy discourse (teaching) of Jesus. He then ends that discourse with the words, “After Jesus finished saying these things . . .” (Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, and 26:1). The next set of narratives about Jesus then begins, paired with a discourse, and so on.
Matthew’s five major discourses are the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the “instructions for the twelve disciples” (Matthew 10), the Parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13), teaching and parables about “life in the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18), and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25). There are some other “discourses” in Matthew’s Gospel (e.g. Matthew 11:7-30 and the Great Commission in Matthew 28), but Matthew, with his own words, seems to focus on these five discourses as key to his structure.
The introduction section, which begins Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 1-4), contains the genealogy of Jesus, the birth narratives, and the introduction to Jesus’ ministry (baptism, temptation, calling of the disciples, early miracles, etc.). The concluding section is made up of the Passion and Resurrection narratives, ending, of course, with Jesus’ Great Commission.
If we put all the pieces together, the structural outline of Matthew looks something like this. Note: the headings for each section are of my own creation (though they are certainly not unique) and are not part of the “generally agreed upon” structure of Matthew.
I. Section 1 – Introduction to Jesus and the Gospel – 1:1-4:11
A. Genealogy and Birth (1:1-2:23)
B. The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry (3:1-4:11)
II. Section 2 – The Gospel of the Kingdom (4:12-7:29)
A. The First Set of Narratives (4:12-25)
B. The First Discourse – the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)
III. Section 3 – Jesus’ Messianic Credentials (8:1-10:42)
A. The Second Set of Narratives (8:1-9:38)
B. The Second Discourse – Instructions for the Twelve (10:1-42)
IV. Section 4 – The Proclamation of the Kingdom (11:1-13:53)
A. The Third Set of Narratives (11:1-12:50)
B. The Third Discourse – Parables of the Kingdom (13:1-53)
V. Section 5 – Rising Conflict (13:54-18:35)
A. The Fourth Set of Narratives (13:54-17:27)
B. The Fourth Discourse – Life in the Kingdom (18:1-18:35)
VI. Section 6 – The Kingdom and the End (19:1-25:46)
A. The Fifth Set of Narratives (19:1-23:39)
B. The Fifth Discourse – Life in the Kingdom (24:1-25:46)
VII. Section 7 – The Passion and the Resurrection (26:1-28:20)
A. Passion Narratives (26:1-27:66)
B. The Resurrection and the Great Commission (28:1-20)
I spent some time teaching the outline of Matthew to my discipleship class every week. I think this helped them understand why I divided up the lessons the way I did, and I hope it helped them become better readers of Matthew. Also, as I taught through each of these sections, I repeatedly referred back to the outline. Questions like, “How do these stories about Jesus (in chapter 4) prepare us to hear the Sermon on the Mount (in chapters 5-7)?” and “How do the Parables of the Kingdom help us understand the stories that follow?” are very important to how we understand Matthew as a book and as God’s Word.