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In the Gospel of Matthew there are two lines that seem to suggest a transition in Jesus' ministry and perhaps add some sort of structure to the gospel as a whole.

The first is in 4:17 after Jesus arrives in Capernaum:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

The second is in 16:21 following Peter's confession:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

However, writing in the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, John P. Meier, states his doubts as to whether these phrases are strong enough to be load-bearing for the gospel's structure. "It is questionable whether five Greek words, occurring only twice in the gospel (4:17; 16:21), can be called a 'fixed formula'."

Are these two statements beginning with the words Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς indicative of a structure in Matthew's text? And if not, is it merely coincidence that they begin similarly? Or is there some other literary connection intended by the author perhaps?

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S. Levinsohn and R. Buth [1] discourage linking discourse boundaries to surface features. In other words it is a bad habit to think that you will find a boundary for a semantic-pragmatic unit MARKED by a particular fixed expression. Matthew uses τότε more often than any other gospel, 90 times in NA27 compared to Luke 15, John 10, Mark 6. Levinsohn claims that τότε in Matthew is frequently used as a marker of temporal continuity between two low level discourse segments of an ongoing story or to highlight a conclusion.

The argument for a “formula” Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο in announcing (marking) a major thematic boundary (semantic-pragmatic Levinsohn/Buth) which was proposed by N. B. Stonehouse and developed by Edgar Krentz fifty some years ago was still being floated as late as 1999 (see note in R.T. France, Matthew, NICNT 2007, p144,n19). Levinsohn uses this as example of making a surface feature carry more weight than it can bear. He claims that surface features are used to support semantic structure but ultimately that structure is tied to meaning and/or pragmatic function. [2]


[1] S. Levinsohn, Discourse Features NT Greek, 2nd ed., SIL 2000, pp. 94-44, 272 n2.

[2] Buth and Levinsohn have slightly different take on this which isn't suprising even though they taught the course for UBS/SIL toghether eons ago.

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Matthew begins by making an observation about the genealogy of Jesus:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17 KJV)

He focuses attention on the number 14 which is also the number of the name of David in Hebrew.

An overview of Matthew shows that he placed 14 quotes from the OT throughout his work: 1:22-23, 2:5b-6, 2:15b, 2:17-18, 2:23b, 3:3, 4:14-16, 8:17, 12:17-21, 13:14-15, 13:35, 21:4-5, 26:54,56, 27:9-10. Each is introduced with the almost the identical formula: “Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying…” 1

Next he placed the Sermon on the Mount between the seventh and eighth OT qoute to form a chiasm:

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The verses in question have been placed in key locations consistent with and in support of the primary outline:

First 7 OT Fulfillment Quotes

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (4:17 ESV)

Sermon on the Mount

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (16:21)

OT Verse #12:This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (21:4-5)

Jesus enters Jerusalem

The first statement (4:17) immediately follows the first seven OT quotes and supports/introduces the Sermon on the Mount. After the second statement (16:21) the next OT verse is about the king coming to His people and then Jesus enters Jerusalem.

The 2 statements are integral components of Matthew's structure.


1. Harper Collins Study Bible p. 1860

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Matthew's Gospel is substantially copied from two main sources, maintaining the same sequence as those two sources, while weaving material from one source (the hypothetical 'Q' document') into material from the other (Mark's Gospel). Mark's Gospel is well structured (as shown here) and Q seems to have a structure, although looser than that of Mark, but these are structures that Matthew inherits. Matthew no longer has the well-defined structures of Mark, partly because its author altered much of the material just enough to degrade the Markan structures and partly because of the inclusion of Q material and material from other sources.

I agree with the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary that the repetition of the five Greek words represents no more than a coincidence. Any conscious structure in Matthew's Gospel would involve changing the arrangement of material from Mark, or at least some very obvious additions and changes that create a new structure, but this is not the case. People from time to time believe they have found evidence of structure in Matthew's Gospel, but any structure is the remnant of structure in material from Mark's Gospel.

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    "People from time to time believe they have found evidence of structure in Matthew's Gospel, but any structure is the remnant of structure in material from Mark's Gospel." Well the narrative/discourse alternations are clearly a structure which isn't from Mark, even if there's no consensus yet over how to put them together into something bigger. – curiousdannii Jun 14 '15 at 23:33
  • @curiousdannii Thank you for that. It is true that Matthew alternates narrative and discourse, and true that there is no consensus as to whether any pattern can be discerned from this apart from the author using this to convey a fuller view of both narrative and discourse, but the question asks about a larger structure to the Gospel as a whole. – Dick Harfield Jun 15 '15 at 0:20
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    Asking purely out of ignorance, but why does it seem to always be assumed that it went from a structured Q to a less structured Matthew? Wouldn't an early version be more likely to be less structured and later revisions and versions using it would then have opportunity to make it more structured? Like later editions for a contemporary publication. Is there some evidence for why the Q is seen as more structured? Without having Q, I'd think it would be the opposite. – Joshua Jun 15 '15 at 1:55
  • @JoshuaBigbee Matt, like Mark, Luke, John, is a narrative gospel, whereas Q is a sayings gospel (Like GThomas) and has very little narrative. Q only has a structure in that the sayings are logically arranged, whereas the similar Gospel of Thomas arranges its sayings randomly. Coming now to Matthew: It follows the sequence of Mark (a well-structured gospel) fairly consistently. Inserting unrelated material from Q must therefore increase the entropy, even if that material is inserted in the same order as it is found in Q. Material from other sources further reduces any structure from Mark. – Dick Harfield Jun 15 '15 at 5:23

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