The Genesis of a Jesus Covenant: Covenant in the Gospel of Matthew

The impetus for this essay is the conclusions of two authors concerning Matthew’s Gospel and its relationship to covenants and covenantal language—both disconcerting and equally inspiring. The first author, Veronika Niederhofer writes, “The consideration of covenantal aspects in Matthew is uncommon.” After concluding that there is some implicit covenant theology in Matthew, she surmises “In light of Matthew’s context and argument, what is an adequate definition of covenant, and what kind of covenant is Matthew referring to in his Gospel?” and, “What kind of Old Testament covenant is the Matthean writer referring to in his Gospel?” Her guess is that perhaps Exod 24:8 is connected to the Sermon on the Mount as a type of new Torah covenant. The second author, Alan Culpepper, notes covenant themes throughout his newest commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. Most interesting is his assessment of Matthew’s Gospel in his introduction: “Matthew is a biblical book. It situates Jesus in the context of the history of Israel. This Gospel affirms the fulfillment of the Scriptures and quotes Scriptures. Matthew’s theology is thoroughly biblical, and its language is biblical […].”
In this essay, I will argue in the vein of Culpepper in an attempt to remedy Niederhofer’s conclusion and answer her important questions. I will contend that (note Culpepper’s language above) Matthew is a divine-human covenant book patterned after Exod 19–24. It situates Jesus and his disciples in the context of the history of Israel’s covenant with God. This Gospel affirms the fulfillment of the Scriptures’ covenant language through Jesus’ message and mission and quotes Scripture’s covenants. Matthew’s theology is thoroughly covenantal and its language is covenantal.

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