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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 10. A Profile of the Matthean Community and its Place in Early Christianity


Chapter10.AProfileoftheMattheanCommunityanditsPlaceinEarly Christianity Some of the principal features of the Matthean Community have now emerged, although they have been scattered across several chapters. For convenience, these will now be summarised as a preparation for an attempt to use this profile to place the Matthean Community within the stream of early Christianity. 10.1.ABriefRecapitulationofthePrincipalResultsofEarlierChapters A community that exercises the power to exclude members from itself, such as is revealed in Matt 18, has both well-defined boundaries and a clear self-definition, and, furthermore, it exists as a community in its own right. Within Matthew the distinction between being part of the community and being excluded is as evident as the consequences are devastating. Inasmuch as the decision has already been “bound” in heaven, these consequences even have cosmic dimensions. Boundaries to the community are marked by the “us” and “them” language found throughout the Gospel. “Their synagogues” gain relatively frequent mention, for example, and the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven are only ever given to the inner group of disciples, while to those “outside” all was in parables. The community also clearly defines itself over and against its rivals – particularly the Pharisees. There is a strong distinction made between “their” halakah and “our” (Jesus’) halakah. In fact, the two rival expositions of the law serve to make explicit the differences, and thereby the boundaries, between “us” (the Matthean Community) and “them” (generally the scribes and the Pharisees). The community further made a strong distinction between the Pharisaic distinctive, the oral law, and the...

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