The Cyclical Structure of Matthew 11–12

Matthew has demonstrated great care and design in the flow of his Gospel, and chapters 11 and 12 illustrate this. Scholars have discerned that these two chapters are arranged in three cycles, and each cycle contains two sections of unbelief and rejection followed by a section of discipleship and faith.

  1. Cycle 1 (11:2-30)
    1. Rejecting John the Baptist and Jesus (11:2-19)
    2. Unrepentance Despite Mighty Works (11:20-24)
    3. “Take My Yoke and Learn from Me” (11:25-30)
  2. Cycle 2 (12:1-21)
    1. A Criticism from the Pharisees (12:1-8)
    2. A Conspiracy by the Pharisees (12:9-14)
    3. “In His Name the Gentiles Will Hope” (12:15-21)
  3. Cycle 3 (12:22-50)
    1. Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit (12:22-37)
    2. The Evil and Adulterous Generation (12:38-45)
    3. “Here are My Mother and My Brothers!” (12:46-50)

Two Observations:
1) 11:2 is the proper starting point for Cycle 1 because 11:1 belongs with the previous unit (10:1–11:1), evident by the inclusio at 10:1(-5) and 11:1. The chapter division obscures this feature.

2) The previous narrative passages (8:2–9:38) were also arranged in three cycles (8:2-22; 8:23–9:17; 9:18-38), which suggests Matthew views a cyclical arrangement to be an appropriate and effective way of telling the story of Jesus.

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