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Mainstream or Marginal?

The Matthean Community in Early Christianity


Friedbert Ninow

This book constructs a profile of the Matthean Community by using insights from sociology and studies of oral and chirographic cultures, together with a careful investigation of the material unique to the Gospel of Matthew. A picture emerges of a self-regulating, independent community with the kind of strong self-definition and tension with its surrounding society characteristic of a sect. It had a high regard for law and practiced Sabbath-observance, as well as observing the distinction between clean and unclean foods. The community viewed its members as saved sinners who should conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to those who await the soon return of their Lord. Somewhat provocatively, this book argues that the Matthean Community was likely to be mainstream in early Christianity, not marginal.


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Chapter 3. Towards a Solution of the Methodological Challenges Facing Research on the Matthean Community


Chapter3.TowardsaSolutionoftheMethodologicalChallengesFacing ResearchontheMattheanCommunity On the face of it, any research into the Matthean Community is fraught with severe methodological difficulties. Aside from the Gospel of Matthew, for example, there are no extant written materials known to come from the same community.1 Likewise, there are no surviving contemporary or near contemporary works which give any reliable information about the community, or even who wrote the Gospel or where it was written. Thus, the only source on which any investigation can be based is the Gospel of Matthew. But the Gospel of Matthew itself presents methodological problems. Since it was written to give an account of the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus, it only provides indications of the interests of the community in unintentional ways. In addition, the Gospel may well be the work of one individual, and the work of that individual may not be representative of the interests of the larger community of which he was a part. These and other considerations mean the issue of methodology needs thorough examination. This chapter begins with an evaluation of several of the points made by those who argue that the methodological difficulties are so great it is impossible to reconstruct the Matthean Community with any confidence. This will be followed by a glance at the current state of the debate on the relationships between the three Synoptic Gospels, which, if anything, will exacerbate the methodological challenges. After the methodological challenges are clearly in view, progress can be made in working towards...

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