Psychology and Biblical Studies


SBL Annual Meeting Papers, November 2010


Suspicion Regarding Peter’s Salvation:
Suspense, Emotive Affect, and the Structure of Matthew’s Gospel

Karl McDaniel
McGill University

ABSTRACT: The development of suspense in the Gospel of Matthew has never been examined. Using a structural-affect model, Brewer has studied the impact of narratives on human emotion, with particular emphasis on suspense. His definition of suspense has been verified by cognitive appraisal theory which views suspense as caused by an oscillation of the prospect-based emotions, viewing suspense as involving a hope emotion and a fear emotion coupled with the cognitive state of uncertainty. In relation to biblical literature, this paradigm was originally theorized by Meir Sternberg. Fear and hope, and their relation to suspense, have been examined in appraisal models and verified in studies of advertising and television news. This paper will apply suspense theory to Matthew as a whole, with specific attention granted to Peter. Jesus comes to save his people as revealed at the beginning of the Gospel (Mt 1:21). This initiating event allows for development of significant consequences for the narrative’s characters, including Peter. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ didactic proclamations and parables emphasize understanding of and dedication to himself. These criteria, when used to evaluate Peter’s words and actions, emphasize his failure and set up a tension with Jesus’ salvific mission. Throughout, readers hope for Peter’s salvation, and at times he is exemplary, but readers also continually encounter his shortfalls and return to a state of fear. The back and forth play of these emotional responses builds suspense as the narrative draws to its conclusion. Finally, it will be shown that the promised presence of Jesus at the Gospel’s conclusion leaves readers in a perpetual state of suspense regarding Peter’s outcome. This tension induces fear regarding their own failure along with hope for their own success as disciples resulting in an existential suspense.