Book Review: Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew (Two Horizons Commentary)

Brown, Jeannine K. and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 575 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

This new addition to the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series is the first on the Gospels (Scott Spencer’s Luke volume was published in April 2019). Brown and Roberts have contributed an excellent example of theological interpretation Scripture as applied to Matthew the theologian and pastor.

Brown, Roberts, THNTC MatthewIn the introduction to the commentary the authors define what they mean by a theological and interdisciplinary approach to Matthew. The commentary is interested in how Matthew’s narrative theology was derived from his literary rhetoric and was informed by the socio-historical realities of his world (4).

In the introduction to the commentary, Matthew is the implied author (whether he is or not does not matter for a theological reading of the Gospel). The gospel was written to a Jewish audience that believed the Jesus was the Messiah. The authors employ the two-source hypothesis, implying that Matthew must have been written sometime after A.D 70. They take the burning of the city in 22:7 as an allegorical allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Didache and Ignatius make use of the gospel it cannot be dated later than A. D. 90. The Gospel is divided into three parts based on the phrase Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο in 4:17 and 16:20. After the preparation and identity of Jesus (1:1-4:16), 4:17-16:20 is the announcing of the kingdom of God, 16:21-28:20 concerns Jesus his trip to Jerusalem and the kingdom enacted through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The commentary proper divide Matthew into seven units covered in chapters 2-8.

  • Jesus’s Preparation for Ministry: Matthew 1:1-4:16
  • Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom: Matthew 4:17-7:29
  • Jesus Enacts the Kingdom: Matthew 8:1-11:1
  • Growing Opposition toward Jesus’s Ministry: Matthew 11:2-16:2
  • Jesus Teaches about His Coming Death: Matthew 16:21-20:28
  • Jesus Clashes with Jerusalem Leadership: Matthew 20:29-25:46
  • Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection: Matthew 26:1-28:20

In the body of the commentary Brown introduces each section with a paragraph on the narrative structure and logic followed by a fresh translation. Each pericope is treated as a whole; due to the brevity of the commentary it is impossible to do phrase by phrase or verse by verse. For example, Matthew 5:17-48 are treated in just over five pages. All Greek words appear in transliteration. Although she interacts with other major commentaries, this is done mostly in the footnotes, making for an extremely readable commentary. Brown is not particularly interested in the grammatical or syntactical problems found in the text, and there are only a few occasions when she deals with textual critical issues in the footnotes.

The second part of the commentary is a biblical theology, entitled “Thinking Theologically with Matthew.” In the first chapter of the section lays Roberts lays out his methods for theological engagement with Scripture (ch. 9). He recognizes Matthew’s theological categories are not those of contemporary systematic theology. We need to recognize our own assumptions and pre-readings before approaching Matthew’s gospel. But it is important to understand Matthew’s gospel is inherently theological (268). The gospel writer was already doing theology by working out the implications of the gospel. Each chapter in this section of the book begins with several pages unpacking a theological concept, the move into a reading of a pericope in the light of the theological issue. For example, Roberts reads the Beatitudes through the lens of Matthew’s already/not yet view of the Kingdom.

The second section of the book comprise of four chapters covering an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. First, Roberts deals with the complex and elusive problem of what the kingdom means for Matthew (ch. 10). Robert examines the Old Testament and Second Temple literature and argues Matthew picks up on these trajectories to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus’s kingly identity remains central throughout the gospel. There is an eschatological nature to the kingdom of God, and here Robert highlights the already/not yet of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.

Since the kingdom of God cannot be separated from Matthew’s Christology, Roberts devotes the next chapter to Matthew’s Christology (ch. 11). In Matthew, Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the Torah fulfilled, and wisdom embodied. He is the representative of Israel and by the end of the book is the full embodiment of Yahweh. Three critical moments in the gospel Matthew describes Jesus as “God with us” (1:23, 18:20, and 28:20).

Chapter 12 examines the Holy Spirit in Matthew. Although it is unusual to include the Holy Spirit as a theological theme in the Gospel of Matthew, Roberts traces Matthew’s pneumatology from the baptism through the final lines of the book (the Trinitarian formula in Matt 28:19). Since the Holy Spirit is actively involved in Christian mission, Robert is able to transition into Matthew’s understanding of discipleship (ch. 13). The burden of this chapter is how Matthew communicates discipleship. The reader will learn discipleship from Jesus his actions as well as the various characters who appear throughout the story. For example, Gentiles who have great faith or other seekers who come to Jesus. “Matthew thematizes the identification of Jesus as Isaianic servant whose ministry of teaching and healing, as well as his death and resurrection, embody mercy and justice for Israel and for the nations. This portrait of Jesus as servant sits at the center of Matthew’s meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” (367).

Finally, Roberts discusses the “Meaning of the Messiah’s Deeds” (ch. 14). Roberts warns against narrowing the theology of the Gospel of Matthew to only the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Matthew introduces the word gospel early (4:23) so that the entire book is “the gospel.” Yet it is true the death and resurrection of Jesus is the “obvious climax to the gospel.” Matthew foreshadows the Passion throughout the gospel. Robert asks whether Matthew has an atonement theology and whether this view supports later theories of atonement as expressed by systematic theology.  He concludes there are aspects of Christus Victor, substitution, and substation theories in the Gospel, but it would be wrong to reduce Matthew’s view to a single theory of atonement.

The final section of the book “Constructive Theological Engagement with Matthew.” After a short introduction to the method for the section, Robert asks “what would be missing from biblical theology if we did not have the contribution of the Gospel of Matthew?” He observes that Matthew’s place in the canon functions as a bridge between the testaments. Matthew looks back to the Old Testament to explain what Jesus does in his death and resurrection. The egalitarian values for the Christian community or a contribution of the Gospel of Matthew. Roberts describes Matthew 18 as “egalitarian in its values and practices” (396).

The last five chapters summarizes how various perspectives read Matthew (feminist Perspectives (ch. 17); Global Perspectives and Liberation Theologies (ch. 18); Reading Matthew Pastorally (ch. 19); Reading Matthew Politically (ch. 20); and Reading Judaism Ethically in the Post-Holocaust Era (ch. 21). Most commentaries would be written from the one of these perspectives. For example, there are many approaches to Matthew that read Jesus as a political activist, and that the gospel is generally anti-imperial. By including a chapter on each perspective, the reader is provided with multiple lenses to understand the Gospel of Matthew.

Conclusion. This commentary by Brown and Roberts is an excellent example of a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The commentary portion provides solid exegesis of the text without being lost in the details of grammar and syntax. The wide ranging theological articles included in the second half of the volume will stimulate readers to think more deeply about Matthew’s contribution to biblical and systematic theologies.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

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