Exegesis of Matthew 7 21 23 Essay

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Matthew 7:21-23

An Exegesis of Matthew 7:21-23

Literary Criticism

Matthew 7:21-23 falls within the portion of the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Public Ministry of Jesus. It is more precisely located in the Sermon on the Mount in which Christ lists the eight beatitudes before proceeding to elaborate on what these beatitudes entail for the Christian way of life. Chapters 5 and 6 include a description of the beatitudes, as wells as the idea that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Law, not the abrogation of it, the idea that His disciples should not harbor hatred, should have chastity, should love their enemies, should have purity, should pray, fast and trust in God.

Chapter 7 sees a continuation of the sermon as well as the commendation of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). 7:21-23 concludes the portion pertaining to the obstacles to virtue. It is followed by the conclusion of the sermon itself, the working of a miracle (specifically, the healing of the leper, and the meeting with the Centurion who asks Jesus to cure his servant but admits that he is not worthy to have Christ in his house -- a remark which provokes marvel in Jesus and prompts Him to declare, "Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel" (Matthew 8:10).

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Essay on Exegesis of Matthew 7 21 23 Assignment

The Gospel of Matthew is a narrative account of the life of Jesus, written to his countrymen in Palestine around 50 AD. Matthew was one of the twelve Apostles, and was a publican (tax-collector) before his conversion -- a much hated profession by the Jews. Matthew's gospel is like Mark's and Luke's in that it deals with Christ's ministry, His preaching, His journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and His passion, death, and resurrection there. It differs in that it begins with the genealogy of Jesus and goes on to act as a means of encouragement for the Christian believers in Palestine as well as a mode of instruction for non-believers; showing how Jesus is the Messiah come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven: "My kingdom is not of this world." St. Matthew, by reference to the Old Testament prophecies makes reply to those who had followed John the Baptist into the desert and asked, "Art thou he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" The key theme, therefore, is the truth of Christ's Divine Mission; the major events recorded are the virgin birth, the visit of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, the preaching of John the Baptist (who is also a major personality), Jesus' preaching of the beatitudes, some miracles such as the healing of the demoniac and the leper, some answers to the Pharisees (who also play a major role, and who are the recipients of the lengthy allocution of Our Lord, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!"

The four evangelists offer very distinct approaches to Jesus' ministry. Each Gospel is designed to fulfill a certain purpose. According to Russel Pregeant, "The majority of scholars have viewed Matthew as the 'most Jewish' of the four Gospels" (224). This would explain why Matthew emphasizes Jesus' pronouncement of the obstacles to virtue, of which Matthew 7:21-23 is the conclusion: it calls attention to the Jewish denial of Christ and likens it to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees -- of whom Jesus says "Do as they say, but not as they do." In other words, works are important to Christ and are part of the necessary ingredients for salvation: "He who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21).


As H.J. Bernard Combrink states, "Concerning the structure -- or composition -- of the Gospel of Matthew, no consensus has thus far been reached among New Testament scholars" (61). Overall, Matthew may be seen in three parts: first, the opening genealogical part; second, the life of Jesus and His teachings; third, the Passion, death and Resurrection.

The structure of Matthew 7:21-23, however, may be isolated and identified as one which takes the arrangement of a warning. Christ's admonition is terse and to the point: first, He states who shall not enter into heaven; second, He states why they shall not enter into heaven (suggesting that the reason is a kind of spiritual sloth, i.e., speaking the truth but not acting upon it); thirdly, He expresses with simplicity and clarity what one must do to enter the kingdom of heaven -- specifically, know Jesus. Which is to say, one must divest oneself of Self and put on Christ, as St. Paul advocates. Professing a belief in Jesus is not enough to be saved; one must show and exercise the belief: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

In the light of miracles that Christ works prior to the Sermon on the Mount and the healing of the Centurion's servant after the Sermon, Matthew 7:21-23 takes on a special significance. If Matthew 8:10 is concerned with the faith of the Centurion, which is greater in the Roman than in any Jew that Christ has encountered in Israel, Matthew 7:21-23 is concerned with the lack of faith in those who may outwardly follow Christ, but in their own hearts say, "Raca" to their brother (Matthew 5:22), or "prophesy…and work many miracles" in the name of Jesus (Matthew 7:22).

In other words, Matthew shows that to "enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21), one must have faith as the Centurion has, hope as those who persevere have, and charity as Christ Himself has. It is not enough to utter empty expressions of devotion such as "Lord, Lord" (Matthew 7:21). Unless Christ's disciples exhibit the kind of humility shown by the believing Centurion in the following chapter, they are but empty vessels who have not been filled with Christ, but who have rather worked "iniquity" (Matthew 7:23).

Redaction Criticism

Matthew makes a direct reference to those who prophesy in Jesus' name, which Petri Luomanen states may be "terminologically" connected to "the preceding" verses (97), in which Christ warns his followers to "beware false prophets" (Matthew 7:15). Luomanen also asserts that "indirect evidence for the fact that verses 15-20 and 21-23 were connected in Matthew's mind came up in the redaction-critical analysis of verses 16-20 when we notice that Matthew omitted Lk/Q 6:45, a saying that would hardly have suited verse 21" (Luomanen 97). Aside from what Luomanen suggests, there is little evidence of these verses having undergone any transformation or change in translation and meaning.

According to J. Daniel Hays, "Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by the New Covenant" (22).

John Nolland, however, asserts that Matthew 7:21-23 functions primarily "in qualifying the significance of addressing Jesus as Lord in Chapter 8-9" (348). Thus, scholars may debate the interpretation of the Matthew 7:21-23, but evidence of textual change is wanting.

Key Words

Samuel Tobias Lachs asserts that the expression "I never knew you" in Matthew 7:23 is "an expression of rejection used by the Rabbis, often as a form of a ban" (150) and that the expression "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity" is a reference to the Psalms. In other words, Christ is using the language of the Rabbis and the Old Testament in order to appeal even more strongly to the Jewish people for whom he has first come. But as the following chapter shows, the Gentiles show more recognition of the Messiah than the Jews.

Likewise, Lachs shows that "to do the will of my Father" is a "common expression in rabbinic literature" (150). Matthew 7:22 also contains the seeds of eschatology by its reference to the Day of Judgment, "On that day." Furthermore, Lachs draws attention to the importance of the expression "in your name," in Matthew 7:23 ("did we not prophesy in thy name"). Lachs states that the Hebrew word "beshimkba, occurs three times in this verse for emphasis" and that "the name possesses the power of the one named," indicating that the rite of exorcism depends on the person of Jesus rather than on the exorcist (Lachs 150).

Finally, Matthew 7:21 also serves as a parallel to Luke 6:46, in which Christ asks, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?" And to Luke 13:26-27: "Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.'" the message is thus clear: one does not guarantee his salvation merely by association with Christ but by working out his salvation "with fear… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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