Sunday, December 06, 2009

Review of France's Matthew, Part Four

Introduction of Galilean Mission (4:12-17)
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.

Isaianic Quotation
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.


Josh said...

"The kingdom of God can no more be limited to reign as it can to realm."

Is France simply trying to prevent identification of God's kingdom with a particular nation-state or geopolitical kingdom? What is meant by "realm"?

J. B. Hood said...

All I can say about that last paragraph is AMEN. Great stuff Joel.

(Josh, there's a long history of not attending to geography in weighing "kingdom of heaven(s)/God". Google up the interview with Jonathan Pennington on Justin Taylor's blog re: Pennington's dissertation, kingdom, etc.)