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Here is a basic principle for interpreting the Bible.

Early in a book of the Bible, the author educates his readers to read the text correctly.

Bible scholar, Paul Minear, confirms this concept:

... it was the habit of biblical people to find at the outset of a story a kind of preview of all that would follow. An inaugural episode was like a seed which carried within it all that would emerge as it germinated and grew toward its own fruition.

So, how does Matthew educate us to read Matthew's Gospel correctly?

A quotation

Matthew has a number of keys in its early chapters to educate the reader in unlocking its text.

One of these keys is the use of the Old Testament prophecy of Hosea. 

Matthew 2:13-15 quotes Hosea 11:1 in this way:

When [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

The careful reader cannot pass by the words in bold print without pausing to wonder what Matthew is doing.

For those familiar with Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son” was written about 700 years before Matthew’s text. Hosea wrote about the historical exodus of the nation of Israel some 600-700 years prior to his time. He was not writing about a coming messiah, or about Jesus.

What was Matthew doing?

A controversy

Some are critical of Matthew's use of Hosea. He has been accused of using Hosea 11:1 dishonestly to make his point.

For example, the title of an article by S. V. McCasland says everything about this opinion: “Matthew Twists the Scriptures.”

Is there an alternative? 

Most definitely!

If we listen to Matthew, and allow him to educate us about what he is saying, what do we hear?

A key

By using Hosea 11:1 the way he does, Matthew intentionally compares Israel’s historical exodus from Egypt, and Jesus’ historical exodus from Egypt. Jesus is now “my Son” – something that is reaffirmed at his baptism: “This is my Son …” (Matthew 3:17).

To Hosea, "my son" was the nation of Israel. Reading the context of Hosea 10-11, we learn of a people that God loves, protects, and blesses. Yet, those people rejected God by their rampant idolatry.

To Matthew, "my Son" is now Jesus Christ. Put another way, Jesus is the "new Israel." This is reaffirmed at his baptism when we hear "This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased" (3:17).

Matthew is focusing or retracing the history of Israel in the person of Jesus Christ.

A confirmation

Let’s test this understanding in the context of Matthew 2-4 and see where it takes us. 

  • In Matthew 2:16, Herod slaughters Jewish male infants, paralleling the atrocity of Pharaoh in Exodus 1.
  • Matthew 4:1-11 records a testing in the wilderness: for Israel it was 40 years; for Jesus 40 days. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6 and 8 concerning the unfaithfulness of Israel in the wilderness, in marked contrast with Jesus’ faithfulness.
  • Jesus then restates God’s righteousness (Matthew 5-7), in the same way that Moses’ restated God’s law at Mount Sinai, or later in Deuteronomy 6-30. 

Indeed, Matthew is telling the life of Jesus in a way that parallels the history of Israel. To miss or ignore this key will leave much of Matthew locked to a reader.

These and other dimensions for understanding and living Matthew’s message are presented in the to book Listening Well to Matthew. To download your FREE copy of this book, simply subscribe by clicking here

Some conclusions and questions

Using this key will equip you to read Matthew with a greater understanding. Of course, it may raise more questions for you – and that can be a good thing.

Here are a few conclusions, and some questions:

1.       The concept of biblical prophecy is different than many think. Seldom is prophecy a mere prediction of the future. Space does not allow expansion of this subject here. 

How does this impact your understanding of prophecy, and the use of Old Testament quotations?

2.       Matthew portrays the life of Jesus as paralleling the history of Israel. The Lord Jesus Christ is “new Israel”; Matthew 2:15 proclaims a “new Exodus.” All of God’s covenants are fulfilled and embodied in Jesus Christ. This includes the blessing of the world (Abrahamic) and the eternal and universal king (Davidic).   

What does this tell us about Jesus and about Israel?

3.       Those who are followers of Jesus are his disciples. As his disciple you are called to cooperate with the Spirit in his work of transforming you into the likeness of Jesus Christ (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:18), and equipping you to be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus to this world (e.g., 1 Peter 4:10-11).

What influence can this have in your life? 

Click here to let me know what you’re thinking, and what you have to add.

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