Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Five

Fulfillment of the Torah (5:17-20)
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.

4 comments:

Josh said...

"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)."

Is it possible that Matthew's audience is made up of "very conservative" Jews who are tempted to jettison Christianity and return to Judaism? Perhaps Matthew takes the line he does for missiological reasons; maybe he wants to convince this particular audience that the story of Israel and the story of Jesus are in close continuity. This interpretation would make Matthew's frequent use of the OT understandable as well.

Scott W said...

This post represents the reason why I generally don't trust so-called Evangelical scholarship.For all the talk about the "authority of Scripture" when exegesis challenges Evangelical biblical theology,there tends to be a loss of nerve,a n unwillingness to go with the logical consequences of the Sola Scripture ideology.

If Matthew represents a divergent theology and praxis regarding the Law from Paul,then so be it. Theological diversity is okay--and even good!What is unacceptable is, for theological purposes, to cut the NT and its diversity down to our size to fit our theological systems and presuppositions. As ehticist Stanley Hauerwas once wrote:"Where are the fundamentalists when you need them?"

Joel Willitts said...

My own view is that what is in question is not Matthew, but the caricature of Paul. We assume a reading of Paul and then contrast it with Matthew. The reading of Paul we're assuming may not be on point.

jeff miller said...

France does not insist on a misreading of Jesus' words in Matthew 5 does He?

"...CLEARLY PRESENTS an author who took a very CONSERVATIVE LINE ON TORAH OBSERVANCE."

There is more than one probable reading. Jesus, according to Matthew may very well be affirming the authority of Torah "until fulfilled" (which he came to do) and "then" transferring same authority to "these authoritative teachings" (his)