The Concept of the Return of Elijah in Matthew 11:2-24 and its Christological implications
Over the last few decades, research into first century Jewish beliefs regarding the return of Elijah has been divided between the views that Elijah would return before YHWH and Elijah would return before the messiah. While some have argued that in pre-Christian Jewish belief, Elijah returns before YHWH, Gospel scholarship has continued to favour the suggestion that Elijah was to return before the messiah. Some Matthean commentators have been bold enough to argue that in Matthew, Elijah returns before someone greater than the messiah and they point to that individual’s divine identity. Others simply note that scholars dispute whether Elijah was believed to return before the messiah or before YHWH. In either case, among those who suspect that it was believed that Elijah was to return before YHWH and that this happens in Matthew’s Gospel, the logic of that theme is not consistently traced through the narrative of Matthew’s Gospel.In my thesis, I enter this debate and review all the arguments and evidence in pre-Christian Judaism for belief in Elijah’s return. I include the evidence of 4Q76’s version of Malachi 3:1 which up to this point has not been considered as evidence in this debate. I argue that in all the pre-Christian Jewish evidence we possess, Elijah always prepares the way for YHWH’s return. I bring this insight first to Mark’s Gospel on my way to Matthew’s Gospel in order to see if this insight is consistent with the claims of Matthew’s key source – Mark. I then build off the arguments and insights gleaned and argue that the historical and literary consideration that Elijah was believed to return before YHWH has both narrative and Christological implications for Matthew. I argue for the insight of some Matthean commentators that in Matthew, Elijah returns before YHWH and that this Christological thread is picked up within Matthew’s narrative and has implications for Jesus’ vocation and his identity.In Matthew I focus on Matthew 11:2–24 where I seek to demonstrate that Matthew is picking up this Malachian theme of Elijah returning before YHWH and using it as the structuring device for this pericope in his Gospel. I argue that in Matthew Elijah returns before YHWH, as Malachi 3:23-24 contends, but Elijah fails to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and vice versa because of Israel’s hardness of heart. Israel’s leaders, along with many in Israel reject Elijah and this has implications for YHWH’s task when he comes after Elijah. YHWH, according to Malachi 3:24, now comes to strike the land of Israel with a curse. I argue that we see this exact narrative play out in micro form within Matthew 11:2-24. I conclude by suggesting that this is a fruitful place for future research. It has Christological implications beyond Matthew 11 in the transfiguration pericope where the Elijah forerunner concept is used along with the title the Son of Man. It also has vocational implications and I suggest that this thematic thread could significantly impact the Matthean theme of judgment and Jesus’ action in the temple and that it is a tradition in Matthew that parallels the apocalyptic Son of Man.
Advisor: Trebilco, Paul
Degree Name: Master of Theology
Degree Discipline: Biblical Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; John; the; Baptist; Elijah; Jesus; Christology; Matthew's; Gospel
Research Type: Thesis