Oral Techniques in Matthew
1. Matthew employs the common oral technique of grouping like materials together, as exemplified in the way he places Jesus’ teachings into five large sermons (421). In exegesis, it is important to avoid isolating passages and scenes into isolated pericopes. The exegete needs to pay attention to the larger groupings of sequences of teachings and narratives which Matthew organizes. These smaller pericopes serve to develop the themes Matthew is focusing on in the larger unit. The task of the exegete is to understand the theme Matthew is working with in the larger unit and then focus on the smaller pericope in order to see how Matthew develops that theme in the passage at hand.
2. Matthew commonly marks the end of these large units with a refrain such as “When Jesus had finished this discourse” (411). These refrains help the exegete know where Matthew ends a unit, but they also do something more significant. Matthew’s refrains commonly are related to the people’s reactions to Jesus’ words and works (411). When coming to a refrain, it is important for the exegete to note how Matthew is expecting and leading his audience to respond to what Jesus said and did. “The audience of an oral piece of literature is very sensitive to such echoing intimations, so that, while these refrains help to bind the parts of the story together, they involve the hearers at the same time in the strong under-current which runs beneath the surface of the action demanding their own reaction and response” (411).
3. Matthew utilizes repetitions of words throughout his work. “Where a compiler is dealing with traditional materials, the repetition of key-words frequently enables him to provide a thread of continuity which will serve to bind them together. Often, therefore, an understanding of this device will supply a clue to seeing the materials as he saw them” (422). It is important for the exegete to note these key-words and to pay attention to how Matthew uses these words throughout his Gospel. When exegeting a passage with one of these key-words, it is important to pay attention to the associations that word has gathered over the course of the narrative thus far. These associations will be in play in the passage at hand.
Charles H. Lohr, "Oral techniques in the Gospel of Matthew," Catholic Biblical Quarterly23.4 Oct.1961): 403-435.