Matthew as Story

Title of Work:

Matthew as Story

Author of Work:

Jack Dean Kingsbury


Pastor Daniel Waldschmidt

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In the three-year cycle of the ILCW lectionary, Year A is the year of Matthew. Since Year A has now ended and we are well into Year B, this review is perhaps a year too late (or two years too early). But you may want to put this resource on file for the next time you preach or teach the Gospel of Matthew.

The resource is a book called Matthew as Story, by Jack Dean Kingsbury. This books looks at Matthew from a literary perspective. If you read Matthew straight through, as a work of literature, how does his story unfold?

Kingsbury contends that Matthew is divided into three parts:

1:1-4:16 The Presentation of Jesus
4:17-16:20 The Ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel’s Repudiation of Jesus
16:21-28:20 The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection


In 1:1-4:16, Matthew introduces the reader to Jesus, telling him who Jesus is. For example, in the very first sentence of his book, Matthew tells the reader who Jesus is by lining up a series of titles: “This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew has three titles for Jesus in the very first verse (Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham). Christological titles are very prominent throughout 1:1-4:16, including “Immanuel” (1:23) and “King of the Jews” (2:2). Kingsbury contends that the most important Christological title in Matthew is “Son of God.” According to Kingsbury, the climax of the first part of Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus’ baptism where God himself declares who Jesus is: “This is my Son” (3:17) (52). Jesus has other titles and those titles are important for Matthew. “Preeminently, however, Jesus is the Son of God. What ‘Son of God’ connotes is the unique filial relationship Jesus has with God, his Father (3:16-17; 11:27). In Jesus Son of God, one encounters God” (11:27).

The second part of Matthew’s story starts in 4:17 and runs through 16:20. In 4:17 Matthew says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near.’” Kingsbury sees the phrase, “from that time on,” as key to understanding the structure of Matthew (40). According to Kingsbury, “from that time on” signals that a new part of the story is starting. “From that time on,” begins the second part of Matthew’s story: “From that time on Jesus began to preach” (4:17). Thus the second part of Matthew’s story is about Jesus’ ministry to Israel. The same phrase also begins the third part of Matthew’s story: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things” (16:21). Thus the third part of Matthew’s story is about Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

In the second part of Matthew’s story Jesus embarks on a ministry to Israel (4:17-11:1), but then is sadly is rejected by the majority of Israel (11:2-16:20). Thus the second part of Matthew’s story (4:16-16:20) is itself divided into two halves. In the first half of the second part of Matthew’s story (4:16-11:1) Jesus ministers to Israel, teaching them and healing their sick. He also sends out his disciples on a ministry to Israel (9:35-10:42). In the second half of the second part of Matthew’s story (11:2-16:20) the majority of Israel responds to Jesus’ ministry by rejecting Jesus.

I think Kingsbury’s arrangement does indeed have merit. If you read Matthew 11:2-16:20, you will find Jesus being rejected (13:53-58). You will also find Jesus denouncing certain towns because they rejected his message (11:20-24). Also, Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders escalates in part two (cf. 12:1-14 and 15:1-9) (73). Especially noteworthy is 12:14, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

But even though most of Israel is rejecting Jesus in part two, the disciples are starting to recognize more and more who Jesus really is. This builds up to the climax of part two, when Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). Notice that the climax of part two (Peter declares that Jesus is the Son of God), mirrors the climax of part 1 (At Jesus’ baptism, God declares that Jesus is the Son of God).

Kingsbury entitles part three of Matthew’s story “The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.” Part three begins in 16:21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things.” In part three Jesus teaches his disciples that his Sonship is suffering Sonship and that “suffering Sonship entails suffering discipleship” (93). Kingsbury ties suffering discipleship closely together with servitude, which makes sense in view of the fact that the disciples frequently ask about greatness and each time Jesus’ responds by emphasizing humility (18:1-5; 20:20-27).

There are many interesting insights to be gleaned from this book. For example, Kingsbury notices that in Matthew’s story, people who believe in Jesus address him as “Lord,” while the enemies of Jesus address him as “teacher” (63). This becomes extremely interesting at the Last Supper, when all the disciples in turn say, “Surely not I, Lord.” But then Matthew comes to Judas, and Judas says, “Surely not I, rabbi” (26:25) (143).

I would highly recommend this book. It is not intimidating being only 181 pages and is an easy read. It might even help a little with preaching on the Gospel of Matthew. As you preach on an individual pericope, you could place the pericope within the context of Matthew’s story by saying something like, “Now at this point in Matthew’s story, Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees was really heating up and the people were starting to reject Jesus.” Or you could say, “Especially in this first part of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew really wants to tell you who Jesus is. He’s not just a human. He is Immanuel, ‘God with us.’”

At times I disagreed with Kingsbury. He prefers to be indecisive about the authorship of the gospel (159). In another place, he insists that the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus was heard only by Jesus and not by John the Baptist or the crowd (51). There’s nothing in the account itself that indicates that Jesus was the only one who heard the voice. John 1:32-34 indicates that John the Baptist saw the Spirit descend on Jesus at the baptism. These two caveats are the exception. The vast majority of this book is filled with really good material.

Matthew as Story helps us to see the beauty of how the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to arrange his book as a literary work of art. It makes one wonder, “How did Mark arrange his gospel?” “How did Luke arrange his?” To find out, we will need to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke again and again. And what could be better than that?

Matthew as Story, by Jack Dean Kingsbury, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.

Jack Dean Kingsbury is the Aubrey Lee Brooks Professor of Biblical Theology, emeritus, at Union Theological Seminary. He specializes in a literary theory of reading the gospels. His other books include Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom; Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples; and The Christology of Mark’s Gospel.