The title of the Gospel contains several of the most important cues. This title shows that the Gospel should be read Christo-centrically. The book is primarily about Jesus. Although modern English translations typically identify the title of the Gospel as something like “The Gospel according to Matthew,” the original title of the Gospel is Matthew 1:1.
When someone asks me about my role in mentoring PhD students, I sometimes half-jokingly say that it is my job to teach PhD students to read. Obviously, PhD students are literate. Some were even prodigies who were reading fluently before they entered elementary school. Nevertheless, I love to introduce students to Mortimer Adler’s text titled How to Read a Book that details strategies for reading a book that lead to far better comprehension and retention of the book’s content. Students desperately need these enhanced reading skills to succeed in a PhD program.
Though it is important to learn to read books in general, it is vastly more important that we learn to read the Bible well. And reading the Bible well requires reading it theologically. For the last ten years I have concentrated my studies on learning to read theologically the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. By reading “theologically” I do not mean reading Matthew through the lens of a particular creed or confession (though I am strongly confessional). Nor do I mean asking how each narrative or paragraph might relate to the various categories of systematic theology like ecclesiology, pneumatology, demonology, etc. (though I highly value systematic theology and often employ this reading strategy). I mean rather reading Matthew like the apostle himself intended it to be read. Matthew has packed his Gospel with all the cues and prompts necessary to read his Gospel properly.
The title of the Gospel contains several of the most important cues. This title shows that the Gospel should be read Christo-centrically. The book is primarily about Jesus. Although modern English translations typically identify the title of the Gospel as something like “The Gospel according to Matthew,” the original title of the Gospel is Matthew 1:1. Notice only one name appears in that title. That name does not belong to the author of the Gospel (Matthew). That name does not belong to the reader of the Gospel (in my case, “Chuck”). That name is Jesus. This Gospel is about him from beginning to end. Though Matthew will contain instructions that make me a better father, a more productive citizen, a more effective employee, the first question that we ask of an account in Matthew should not be “how can this help me be or do thus and such?” The first and most important question must always be, “What does this text tell me about Jesus?”
Son of Abraham
Matthew’s title also introduces the reader to three of the primary theological themes of the Gospel. We’ll examine them in reverse order. Jesus is the “son of Abraham.” This identifies Jesus as the special descendent of Abraham who was the focus of a great promise to the patriarch. In Gen 12:3 God promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gen 22:18 and 26:4 explain that this promise will be fulfilled through Abraham’s offspring. Peter (Acts 3:25) and Paul (Gal 3:8) identify Jesus as the descendant who fulfills this promise. Matthew does so as well. Since Jesus is the promised descendant of Abraham who will bless all the families of the earth, we should not be surprised that Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus includes four Gentile women, that Gentile magi worship the infant Messiah, that Jesus focuses his ministry on Galilee of the Gentiles, and that Jesus commends the faith of a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman. Jesus’s identity as the descendant of Abraham who will bless all the families of the earth anticipates the conclusion of the Gospel in which Jesus’s followers are commanded to make disciples of all nations.