Jesus and the Virtues: The Biographical Presentation of Moral Qualities in the Gospel of Matthew

Daniel Hjort

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


The analysis of the virtues of Jesus in the Gospels has not gained a lot of interest in New Testament studies. Some scholars hesitate to use the term “virtue” in reference to Jesus, emphasizing the difference between the NT and the Greek philosophical tradition. Other scholars suggest that the Gospels are not concerned with the character of Jesus, but with his identity as Messiah and Son of God. But the understanding of the Gospels as ancient biographies, which is almost a consensus among scholars, gives expectations of a presentation of the moral qualities of the protagonist. The present paper describes the focus on the moral qualities in characterization in the ancient biographies of authors like Xenophon, Plutarch, and Philo, and shows that this focus is also seen in the Gospel of Matthew. Though Matthew highlights the identity of Jesus, who he is, it also concerns his character, how he is. This biography of Jesus presents a protagonist with several virtues that conforms to the ideals in the Hellenistic philosophy, but also with moral qualities that differs from these standards and rather adheres to the ideals of the Old Testament thought world. The virtues of Jesus can thus not merely be understood from the Greek rhetorical traditions, as suggested by some scholars. Matthew’s biography gives a portrait of Jesus’ character that both affirms common Greek virtues and highlights some peculiarities. Some terms in the Greek moral philosophy are also used in Matthew, but with different connotations. While the identification of the virtues of Jesus in the Gospels is appropriate, and the Greek philosophy can be clarifying, scholarship needs to pay attention to the idiosyncratic moral ideals in early Christian literature.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Aug 2
EventSociety of Biblical Literature International Meeting 2018 - Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 2018 Jul 302018 Aug 3


ConferenceSociety of Biblical Literature International Meeting 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Religious Studies


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