By Garrett Best
The Bible is a well of water from which to draw that will never be exhausted. Every time I come to the Scriptures, without fail, I discover something new that challenges me and reinvigorates my awe of the richness and depth of the Scriptures. Going back hundreds and even thousands of years, Christians have noticed that Matthew’s Gospel is laced with allusions to Moses. Many biblical scholars have noted the vast number of parallels between the two figures in Matthew. In 1993, Dale Allison wrote an in depth study on this theme, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology. Allison finds over twenty passages in Matthew that reflect this motif. Drawing on Allison’s work, here is my own list of how Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses. (note: the bold passages are those that are unique to Matthew’s Gospel)
It is clear to me that Matthew intends to present Jesus as the new Moses. That of course raises the question of why Matthew would want to present Jesus in this way. There are a number of reasons Matthew might have wanted to present Jesus as the new Moses. First, most readers of Matthew’s Gospel quickly notice that it is very Jewish. More than the others, Matthew is at pains to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament passages. Most scholars believe he wrote his Gospel as an apologetic to a mainly Jewish audience. Presenting Jesus as the new Moses is a literary motif that serves to bolster the view that Jesus is the promised Messiah to a majority Jewish audience. Put in layman’s terms, showing that Jesus was in continuity with Moses helped make the case that Jews ought to follow Jesus.
Second, it’s difficult for me to believe that Deuteronomy 18:15-16 does not lie behind the persistent use of this motif. Moses had said that God would “raise up a prophet like me from among” Israel. The Gospel John makes the explicit connection between Jesus and “the prophet” (John 1:21, 25, 45). In Acts, Luke also connects Jesus with the prophet of Deuteronomy 18 (Acts 3:22-26; 7:37). Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new Moses is his way of linking Jesus with the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15-16.
Third, Moses is one of the most interesting characters in the Old Testament. Some of the most amazing stories in the Old Testament are about Moses- the baby sent down the river, the ten plagues, the crossing of the sea, Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law, the golden calf, the wilderness wandering, the striking of the rock, etc. Moses is a very multi-faceted character. He is a lawgiver, leader, liberator, savior of the people, miracle worker, prophet, intercessor, etc. Presenting Jesus as the new Moses allowed Matthew to present Jesus as messiah in a very multi-faceted way. Jesus goes on a mountain to give a law (Matt. 5:1). Jesus is a prophet and intercedes for the people. Jesus is the liberator and savior of the people from bondage. Jesus works miracles. We could go on, but you get the point.
Lastly, in Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus lays out his own relationship to the Law . Jesus had not come to abolish the Law or to set it aside. He said that not a jot or tittle should be removed from the Law. His life stood in continuity with it. He was, in fact, the fulfillment of the Law. Matthew is at pains throughout his Gospel to show that Jesus fulfills the Law. You can hardly read a chapter without seeing the fulfillment formula, “this happened to fulfill what was written by the prophet…” The motif of presenting Jesus as the new Moses is part of that program. Jesus is not setting Moses and his Law aside. Rather, Jesus is the new Moses and shows us what God had always intended with the Law. In other words, Matthew’s Moses typology is a narrative expression of his teaching in 5:17-20.