One of my very perceptive students, George Farmer, pointed out something to me a few years back that has stayed with me: Matthew appears to intentionally vary those who call Jesus ‘Son of God’ in his story, almost as though he were running through the chain of being in order to depict the progressive revelation of Jesus’s true identity. When I looked at the text, I was struck by a certain correspondence that might almost suggest a chiastic arrangement. I am wildly skeptical about all proposed chiasms and fully expect people to kick against this one (which is merely floated for the sake of it), but at least some of the correspondences (esp. B-B’) are striking:
A. 3.17 – voice from heaven*
B. 4.3, 6 – Satan [cf. Luke 4.3, 9]
C. 8.29 – demoniacs* [cf. Luke 4.41]
D. 14.33 – disciples
D’. 16.16 – Peter
C’. 26.63 – high priest* [cf. Luke 22.70, though change in speaker]
B’. 27.40, 43 – mockers (using same phrase as Satan: ‘if you are the Son of God’)
A’. 27.54 – Gentile centurion*
Some of these are in the Markan source, at least roughly (those marked by an *), but Matthew has certainly added the title at significant junctures, which suggests that literary structuring would not be out of the question. 3.17 is slightly dubious since the title isn’t explicitly used, but it would be difficult for God to say, ‘This is God’s son’. So what do you think? Is there anything to this? Surely someone has made this observation before?
If something like this is even roughly in the text, what might it mean? One could think of this as the descent of an announcement of Jesus’s identity from God through Satan and the demonic beings to being grasped at last by the disciples and Peter. The identity is then reciprocally questioned by human actors mirroring demonic opposition, until at last the Gentile affirms what God also intended, and the passing on of the message is complete.
Perhaps the parallel between the demoniacs and the high priest is more difficult than the others. I suppose one could suggest that it is a double instance of opposition in which the mission of Jesus is called into question, but I admit that the parallel is not strong. The God-Gentile parallel strikes me as more defensible, especially since Mark already seems to parallel these two events (though without a chiastic arrangement), and the dissimilarity between the two confessions would seem to indicate an important development. That is, the chiasm (if it is that) would then have the effect of calling attention to a movement: from God to the disciples to the Gentiles, marked by opposition all around. This may all be a stretch, but the parallel between Satan and the mockers is too good to ignore. And since many commentators suggest that ‘Son of God’ is (one of) Matthew’s key christological title(s), it would make sense if he put a lot of thought into his placement of it, even if to say it is a chiasm is a bit too far. I haven’t sold myself yet, but I’m still pondering.