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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 7. Community Standards of Behaviour and Its Regulation


Chapter7.CommunityStandardsofBehaviourandItsRegulation Much of the material unique to Matthew relates to behavioural expectations which, when added together, show that the Matthean Community had behavioural expectations of its membership that far exceeded the generally accepted norms not only of the wider community, but also those of the Pharisees. Of central import is the Matthean understanding of OT law,1 and how the law should find a new and living expression in the lives of those who would follow Jesus. This chapter begins with an exploration of the Matthean theology of law, starting with Matt 5 :17–48, followed by a consideration of the concepts of righteousness and grace in Matthew. Three specific outcomes of the Matthean theology of law for actual practice will then be considered: the Sabbath in Matthew, the role of clean and unclean foods, and divorce. The chapter will conclude by considering what the expectations with regard to standards of behaviour reveal about the Matthean Community. 7.1.Matt5 : 17–48andthePermanenceoftheLaw 7.1.1.Matt5 :17–20JesusdidnotCometoDestroytheLaw The assertion found in Matt 5 :17–20 that the law has abiding validity for the disciples of Jesus lies at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount,2 the first Matthean 1 It scarcely needs to be said that at the time Matthew was written the concept of OT did not exist, but the expression “OT” and “OT law” is used here as a convenient way to say “the writings known to the first evangelist and which are now included in the Hebrew Bible,” and...

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