Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
In discussing the relationship between the two mission statements in Matthew, France interprets the second (28:19-20) as and extension of the first (10:5-6): he comments: “The Gentile mission extends the Jewish mission – not replaces it; Jesus nowhere revokes the mission to Israel (10:6), but merely adds a new mission revoking a previous prohibition (10:5)” (1115). France’s point is surely correct although I wish he would have developed this idea more. In what way is the mission new? Does the new mission consist of a different task along with its different target—thus, implying two complementary missions? Or does France think that the newness of the mission of 28:19-20 is merely in its scope—now the mission is to all nations, including Israel? From the statement itself, I am inclined to think that he would take the latter view.
France’s comments on the direction of reading Matthew’s Gospel are useful and interesting. It is of course commonplace to consider the end of Matthew as its Schlüssel and there is the tendency to read it from back to front. France admits the theological significance of this scene in Matthew influences the reading of the whole and gives the approach some legitimacy. Still he seems prefer to read Matthew from front to back as a literary work “arriving at this final pericope in which all the strands have come together”. I would go further than France and assert that one can understand the significance of the elements of 28:19-20 from Matthew’s perspective only after reading the unfolding narrative. For example the significance of Jesus’ proclamation: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” as well as the place of the Gentile mission. One of course would come away with the impression that Matthew’s Jesus has cosmic authority and that is the basis for a mission to the nations, but the texture of the ideas is lost without the narrative.
Related to this point is one of the most important pieces of analysis in the whole commentary in my view. Here France rightly places the stress of the passage on the culmination of Jesus kingship. By doing so, he reveals that Matthew’s narrative climaxes with Jesus’ Davidic kingship. Matthew, then, ends where he began with the affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Davidic Messiah who is not simply “the king of Jews” as the Magi heralded, but is king over the heavens and the earth. France states, “It is the universal kingship of the Son of Man which has emerged as a distinctive feature of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus” (1113).
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
France’s discussion of the Parable of the Vineyard provides a window into his understanding of Matthew’s perspective on Israel. Despite his comments in the introduction about the nature of early Christianity making the question of extra muros or intra muros complex, he seems to quite clearly in the extra muros camp.
While acknowledging that the context demands that the “tenants” of the parable be understood as the “current Jerusalem leadership”, France takes Jesus statement “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and will be given to a nation which produces its fruit” as a suggesting Matthew conceives of a redefinition of Israel as a new people of God comprised of ethnic Israel and Gentiles. France states:
The vineyard, which is Israel, is not itself destroyed, but rather given a new lease on life, embodied now in a new “nation.” This “nation” is neither Israel nor the Gentiles, but a new entity, drawn from both, which is characterized not by ethnic origin but by faith in Jesus (817).
One, however, may wish to question when background “hints” (800) and subtle implications (810) become “fore grounded” arguments. It seems to me that such a reading inappropriately sidelines what is for Matthew’s narrative primary. Even if the Gentiles of Matthew 8:11-12 are included in this “nation” (note the singular) this does not imply redefinition, but fulfillment in line with the Isaianic prophecies of 56:3-7 and 66:18-21. This prophetic fulfillment in 21:13, Matthew has already echoed with his statement of rational for the Temple action: “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Isa 56:7).
3 Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
18 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to comea and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyansb and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
France’s conclusions about Matthew’s view on Torah-observance reveal a propensity , albeit a right one, to interpret Matthew against the wider context of the New Testament. But it should be said that the theological content of the NT context is a presupposition not argued for but assumed.
France begins this section with the notice that a plain surface reading of the passage, which clearly presents an author who took a very conservative line on Torah observance, would be “out of step with the overall thrust of NT Christianity and with the almost universal consensus of Christians ever since” (179). Later in the section again he comments similarly about 5:19:
The use of the verb ‘do’ in v. 19 is easily read as meaning that the rules of the OT law must still be followed as they were before Jesus came, and thus as reinforcing the ‘righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’ which the next verse will disparage. But if that is what Matthew intended these words to mean, he would here be contradicting the whole tenor of the NT by declaring that, for instance, the sacrificial and food laws of the OT are still binding on Jesus’ disciples – and surely by the time Matthew wrote Christians were already broadly agreed that they were no longer required” (186).While there is much to commend with France’s analysis of this important Matthean text, I find the manner in which he attempts to harmonize Paul with Matthew inappropriate (180). He does suggest that one can see the tension with the surface reading of 5:17-20 within Matthew itself (e.g. 15:11), but it appears that the tensions in Matthew present themselves clearly only when one brings a certain reading of Paul’s perspective to Matthew. Furthermore, his attempt to show that Matthew has brought together different responses to two opposing tendencies—a Pauline Torah-free and a Pharisaic Torah observance—in the paragraph is a reach to far in my estimation (181). There is little in the text of Matthew to support such a hypothesis especially given the unity of the paragraph and the section as a whole.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
For my two sense, I think Scot is right in his response. I attended DTS and was not accepted at any American universities I applied to and attended a British university. One element that has not been discussed is the ecomonic angle. American universities especially the top end schools (e.g. Duke, Notre Dame, etc) don't need students. They have 100 applicants for 2 spots each year. Furthermore, one has to score extremely well on the GRE before one is even given a siff. These kind of odds make it extremely difficult to get into the program no matter who you are.
On the other hand, as has been well documented, British universities are in desperate financial crises. And many of the more well-known schools are dependent on North American students to bolster their bottom line. The economics of the situation make it easier for an evangelical student to get accepted into a British university and that has nothing to do with a non-liberal bias. This is not to say that the British system is not more "open" in ways pointed out by both Dan and Scot. Indeed it is and this is a strength of a British research degree: You're on your own with regard to your research.
One last personal note. I have not felt slighted at the SBL meetings because of my evangelical pedigree. I am a co-chair of the Matthew section and have had very positive engagement with non-evangelicals-many of whom I consider good friends. I think it is not so much that you are an evangelical, it is how you wear it that really matters.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Sunday, December 06, 2009
In these verses Matthew introduces Jesus Galilean mission supported by a quotation from Isaiah 9:1-2. I think this passage reveals the need for a more robust understanding by France of the territorial interests of Matthew that he has himself so usefully pointed out. This weakness also relates to his view of the central concept of the kingdom of Heaven.
With respect to the significance of the Isaianic quotation, I think France overlooks a significant point that his own comments have suggested. He much to briefly sets aside Matthew’s reference to the tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphthali as merely echoes of Isaiah’s prophesy which he was about to write. Since, according to him, “tribal areas had little actual relevance by NT times”, Matthew’s mention of them was only apparently at the level of style and not theology. This is an unconvincing argument because it overlooks both his exegesis and a major point of emphasis for the significance of Jesus’ mission according to Matthew.
First, France shows an inconsistency in his reading of Matthew’s geographical interests by concluding that Matthew’s mention of the land of Zebulun and Naphthali is of little importance. Earlier when discussing Matt 2:6, France makes much of Matthew’s insertion of “land of Judah” into the quotation substituting it for “Ephrathah”. Contrasting with others who have seen little importance in this alteration, France suggests that Judah is emphasized to underline Jesus’ Judean origins and Davidic identity (2:6). Matthew seems theological (I would say politically as well) driven in his mention of geographical information not just in 2:6, but also here in 4:13 and else where.
Also, France notes that Matthew’s abbreviated citation “throws the focus on the geographical terms” of the quotation emphasizing “the link between his Galilean location and the dawning of the light”. Furthermore, he comments that Matthew’s rendition put the phrases: “way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” and “land of Zebulun and Naphthali” in apposition and suggest a westward looking orientation. France asks: “Did he then understand Isaiah to be speaking not from his own Palestinian standpoint but from that of the Assyrian invader?” Finally, France sees “Galilee of the nations” as referring to the significance Gentile presence in the northern region of Israel due to the “Assyrian conquest”.
These points suggest that Matthew is placing Jesus kingdom proclamation in the context of Israel’s exile. This point France seems to miss. It is curious because his observations point strongly in this direction. Instead he seems to read these clear points as “hints” of Matthew’s Gentile mission not launched until 28:16-20. However, Matthew’s opening genealogy focused on the exilic condition of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises of a restored Davidic throne. Matthew’s narrative is enfolding this story. It seems that the introduction to the Galilean mission reveals Jesus mission in Galilee as the inauguration of the reversal of Israel’s exilic condition.
Kingship of God (4:17; cf. 3:2)
Given France’s stress on the Davidic focus of the Gospel it may come as a surprise, at least it did to me, that when he defines the central phrase “kingdom of heaven/God” in 3:2 (referring back to it when discussing 4:17), he does not bring the Davidic element into the discussion or allow it to exercise any influence on his understanding of the definition of the kingdom. Instead France offers a familiar definition that posits a more spiritually oriented sense of the term. He criticizes the use of the term “kingdom” and opts for “kingship” as a better definition: the kingship of God” since this better captures the idea of God’s reign. While there is nothing wrong or unbiblical about his definition, it is not the whole story. If France is right about Matthew’s fixation on Davidic messianism then the kingship of God is seen in the presence of the Davidic messiah and his kingship. The Old Testament expectations of a future Davidic king are dependent on the statements in 2 Samuel 7 wherein God links his own kingship to David’s such that in time and space God’s kingship is tangible perceived through the Davidic dynastic reign. Thus, it is not simply “the coming of God” that is in view, but the coming of God through the coming of Messiah. The kingdom of God can no more be limited to reign as it can to realm. The creational kingship of God through Davidic messianism is a kingship through Israel over the all the nations.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Continuing the series of posts reviewing France's Matthew commentary in the NICNT, I begin addressing specific passages. The first is the Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)
France’s comments on the genealogy reveal his view on the question of the proper theological context for the interpretation of the First Gospel. France rightly presents Davidic Messianism as fundamental to Matthew’s presentation of Jesus.
Matthew’s genealogy is divided into three sets of 14 generations as is well known. Careful study shows that this can only be accomplished by a selective and historically imbalanced presentation. The point that France makes from this observation is that Matthew’s genealogy is a selective “survey of the history of the people of God” including a “royal list”, a “dynastic document” to imply that the succession of the Davidic throne continued while the actual monarchy had not. France concludes that the genealogy “focuses on the royal dimension . . . which finds its culmination in the coming of Jesus, the “son of David” and thus potentially in the restoration of the monarchy” (32).
The structure of the list with its two pivots at David (1:6) and the Exile (1:12), reveals Matthew’s interests in the issues of Davidic kingship and exile. France summarizes:
Its aim is clear enough: to locate Jesus within the story of God’s people, as its intended climax, and to do it with a special focus on the Davidic monarchy as the proper context for a theological understanding of the role of the person to whom Matthew, more than the other gospel writers, will delight to refer not only as “Messiah” but also more specifically as “Son of David” (33).
The Davidic character of the opening of the Gospel is absolutely the “proper context for a theological understanding” of Jesus’ mission. This observation is impressive and important. Although most would not disagree, few, even France himself, have yet to provide a reading of Matthew that is thoroughly Davidic.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
The title of the paper was "Of the Making of Commentaries There is No End: The Past, Present, and Future of a Genre”. In the lecture Tremper argued that writing new commentaries is an important and necessary endeavor. To be honest, I was surprised at this perspective given the oft stated remark, "Not another commentary!" I thought he would trumpet the elitest view that commentaries are a waste of scholarly energy.
Given that I am currently under contract for two commentaries, Tremper's argument was relevant to me. So for all you commentary naysayers here is Tremper's seven reasons for writing new commentaries.
- Advances in knowledge
- New methods and prespectives
- Competing interpretations
- Human finitude
- Reading in community(s)
- Changing context(s)
- Different readerships: clergy and laity
One other interesting element was Tremper's less than sanguine view of the Brazos's Commentary series. I would concur with his coolness . I reviewed the Matthew volume by Hauerwas. While I found it spiritually enriching, it was only loosely connected to Matthew. I wondered at times if he actually needed the Matthean text for the book. If a theological commentary works, it must engage closely with the text and its context. The text should not be a pretext for a theological perpsective that would have otherwise existed without the Matthean text.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Although one may quibble with where France perceives the major geographical shift the more substantive question is what does Matthew make of the geography? After providing what France hopes is not “a complete caricature” of Galilee, he affirms the prevailing view that the north-south divide is ideological in Matthew. Taking his cues of course from Mark’s narrative structure, Matthew has “enhanced the ideology he found in his Markan source”. France believes then that Matthew presents confrontation between the northern prophet and the southern establishment of Judea. As evidence he presents the label “Nazarene” from 2:23 in which he detects a “dismissive tone of a superior Judean observer. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, Matthew records both the comments of the people of the city (21:10-11) and what he characterizes as “two rival teams of Galileans and Judeans” who are “starkly opposed in their attitudes” to Jesus (7). Peter, whom France characterizes as “distinctive a northerner as his master” is noticed as a potential follower of Jesus the Galilean in 26:69. Most significantly for France is the Gospel’s climax taking place not in the “holy city”, but in Galilee. Galilee not Jerusalem is the place where the messianic mission is launched. This evidence then for France reveals “a Galilee/Jerusalem schema” (7).
While I applaud France’s appreciation of Matthew’s geographical theology, I find his understanding of its importance unsatisfying. A purely north-south divide cannot to my mind explain many of the territorial additions found in Matthew (e.g. 4:12-17; see comments below).
Author, Date, Setting, and Synoptic Relationships
Notable points on these issues are as follows:
- France “softly” advocates the traditional view that the author of Matthew is the Apostle.
- France has a more sophisticated understanding of the situation on the ground in early Christianity that makes the questions of extra muros or intra muros even more difficult to ascertain or better perhaps simply anachronistic. A clear break between Judaism and Christianity is a much later phenomenon that was a gradual process. He states “The specific point of ‘explosion’ in relation to which the situation of the Matthean community has commonly been assessed seems to me more a modern scholarly simplification than a realistic account of the likely pattern of relations between Jews and Christians in the first century” (16).
- France thinks the view, advocated most distinctly by D. Sim, that Matthew’s gospel was composed by an exclusively Jewish community (i.e. not mixed: Jews and Gentiles) whose interests, at least at the time of composition, were not focused on mission to the Gentiles is merely a passing fade. His doubt is not well disguised in his dismissive comment that the “trend . . . coheres well with currently fashionable attempt[s] to reclaim the historical Jesus for Judaism and to play down the extent of his challenge to scribal tradition” (17). Further, he accuses such interpretations as being as “one-sided in its reading of the evidence” as its opposite position on the question. He concludes: “I suspect that a commentary written in twenty year’s time would not feel obliged to give it so much attention” (17).
- France believes that the Matthean community is both “inside” and “outside” the Judaism of the late first century given its convictions about the person of Jesus of Nazareth and its inclusion of Gentiles within its borders as well as the rejection of such ideas by the traditional Jewish institutions. Thus, he concludes, “Matthew portrays a new community which is both faithful to its scriptural heritage and open to the new directions demanded by Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven, and therefore necessarily expanding beyond the bounds of the Jewish people” (18).
- France finds the pillars upon which the consensus of scholarly opinion regarding the date of Matthew to be suspect. While not seeing it of “great exegetical importance”, he nevertheless “favors” the position that Matthew was written in the sixties while the temple was still standing (19).
- France employs a modified and chastened approach to the question of synoptic relationships. He believes in the priority of Mark, but advocates a perspective of the process of composition as much more “fluid” than has been the case. This fluidity would allow for “the process of mutual influence between various centers of Christian gospel writing” (21). Where he thinks Mark’s most influential on especially Matthew is in the narrative structure “with a single journey of Jesus from north to south” (21). As for the Q hypothesis, France has little sympathy. Although happy to suggest Q tradition, the specificity with which scholars today speak of the “Q community” and “recensions of Q” leave him “cold” (22). In this light, France describes his approach:
I am more reluctant than many other interpreters to speak simply of how Matthew has “redacted” Mark’s material or to attempt in Q material to discern how Matthew has “adapted” the common tradition. I regard the Marcan and Lucan parallels as other witnesses to the traditions Matthew had available, but not necessarily as his direct sources. Where he differs from them, it may be because he is deliberately altering the tradition as they have recorded it, but it may also be because he has received the tradition in a rather different form. This commentary will therefore call attention to differences between the Synoptic accounts where they help to highlight the distinctive contribution of Matthew, but without always assuming direct dependence and therefore deliberate alternation of an already formulated tradition. (22).
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
R. T. France’s commentary on Matthew is a significant contribution simply in its size: a massive 1117 pages of introduction and commentary—with emphasis squarely on the latter as the introduction is a brief 22 pages. Much more than that however, France’s Matthew is the fruit of a life of labor toiling in the field of the Gospels more generally and Matthew specifically. Whatever weaknesses one may think it has, are significantly outweighed by its overall strength. One will go away from the commentary not only with a greater understanding of the First Gospel, but more importantly in my view with a greater passion for following its central character. Lay folks and scholars alike will find France’s commentary a useful guide to apprehending Matthew’s message. It will no doubt take its place alongside the few other evangelical Matthew commentaries that are widely consulted within the field.
This review will be extremely selective and admittedly superficial—but how does one do justice to such a tome in such a short presentation? The purpose of my study was to take some soundings of France’s commentary to grasp a sense of his reading of Matthew. I will proceed through the commentary sequentially dealing first with introductory matters and proceeding through the commentary proper. Then I will discuss interpretive issues that I found to be interesting or curious in what I deem to be key Matthean passages: (1) the genealogy Matt 1:1—17, (2) the introduction of Galilean mission (4:12-17), (3) the fulfillment of the Torah (5:17-20), (3) the parable of the vineyard (21:33-44), and (4) the mission statements (10:6; 28:19-20). This seemed to be the most useful strategy given France’s own words to potential reviews. He wrote:
I have noticed that reviews of biblical commentaries often focus on the introduction rather than undertaking the more demanding task of reading and responding to the commentary itself. Potential reviewers of this commentary who hope to use that convenient shortcut will, I fear, be disappointed (1)
Matthew’s Structure & Outline
One thing that immediately stands out to me in the introduction is France’s understanding of the structure of the Gospel. He argues, in contrast to most modern commentaries, that Matthew has structured his Gospel geographically. Following Mark, Matthew organized Jesus’ story within a geographical framework. He writes, “This geographical outline of the story seems to me a more satisfying basis for discerning its narrative structure than the search for verbal division markers” (4). He comments further,
To read the Gospel of Matthew as a continous [sic] narrative, structured around the geographical progress of the Messiah from his Galilean homeland to his rejection in Jerusalem, with its final triumphant scene back home in Galilee, is to begin to appreciate its power as a work of literature, no simply as a source for theological or historical data” (2007: 4-5).
In France’s earlier work, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, he notes that “references to Jesus’ geographical movements punctuate Matthew’s narrative even more clearly than Mark’s” giving the following as evidence: Matthew 3:13; 4:12-16; 4:23-25; 9:35; 11:1; 14:13; 15:21; 15:29; 15:39; 16:13; 16:21; 17:22; 19:1; 20:17-18; 20:29; 21:1 (1989: 151).
France’s outline of the Gospel, then, is as follows:
I. Introducing the Messiah (1:1—4:11)
II. Galilee: the Messiah revealed in word and deed (4:12—16:20)
III. From Galilee to Jerusalem: the Messiah and his followers prepare for the confrontation (16:21—20:34)
IV. Jerusalem: the Messiah in confrontation with the religious authorities (21:1—25:46)
V. Jerusalem: the Messiah rejected, killed, and vindicated (26:1—28:15)
VI. Galilee: the Messianic mission is launched (28:16-20)
While this geographical structure is a significant development and represents a turning back to a much earlier understanding of the Gospel’s structure (see for example Allen), one may ask why France sees a narrative turn at 16:21 since no major geographical move has happened. The next geographical statement of structural consequence comes rather in 19:1: “he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan River”. This is the first time in the narrative since 4:12 that Jesus is said to be moving to Judea.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
A few other thoughts:
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I think this is a new and mostly uncharted sphere of research!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, November 09, 2009
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
HT: Doug Chaplin