The Gospel of the Son of God
An Introduction to Matthew
- ISBN: 9780830852321
- Published By: IVP Academic
- Published: November 2019
The Gospel according to Matthew continues to have a profound impact on the shape and contents of the Christian faith. At the same time, the Gospel also poses interpretive challenges for both novice and expert readers alike. In his book The Gospel of the Son of God: An Introduction to Matthew, David Bauer manages to serve both readerships by competently guiding newcomers through the issues most relevant to the interpretation of Matthew, while also making a number of thoughtful observations and suggestions which may prove stimulating for more seasoned scholars.
Though he acknowledges that Matthew’s Gospel has been the subject of countless books, Bauer argues that his work is unique on three counts: it attempts to be holistic and integrative, it is rooted in an inductive hermeneutical approach, and it is written for a broad audience (ix–xi). In addition, Bauer’s presuppositions regarding hermeneutics also distinguish his work from that of some others. As he states, Bauer proceeds from “the primary conviction . . . that hermeneutical method, that is, the specific strategy for reading and interpreting material, must correspond to the character of that which is being studied. In other words, the very nature of the Gospel of Matthew should provide us with the framework or mode for its study” (4).
The book is divided into three main parts: orientation, interpretation, and reflection. In part 1, Bauer focuses on preliminary matters that influence how Matthew is read. First, Bauer tackles the subject of genre, arguing that the Gospel of Matthew is an example of ancient biography. Next, Bauer provides an overview of the main modern methodological approaches that have been used to analyze Matthew. After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each, Bauer describes his own inductive approach, which “operates on the principle that interpretive method should arise from and reflect the very character of that which is studied” (41). Then in chapter 3, Bauer tackles the circumstances related to the composition of Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout this chapter, Bauer demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature, an ability to weigh evidence in a judicious manner, and a realism regarding what can and cannot be known about the historical circumstances surrounding Matthew’s composition.
Part 1 closes with an analysis of the structure of Matthew’s Gospel. Bauer provides a robust survey of modern proposals regarding Matthew’s literary structure. After reviewing seven major proposals, Bauer concludes that readers “must broaden the scope of structural analysis to include not only linear progression, that is, breakdown, but also structural patterns that operate throughout the book” (127). This is because, in addition to a text’s units and subunits, “literary structure involves the dynamic relationships between various themes, motifs, and other elements that at times intersect with the issue of the division of the book, but also transcend, or go beyond, the matter of linear development” (127). Bauer then provides his own analysis of Matthew’s literary structure, which also serves as a starting point for the second part of the book.
In part 2, Bauer offers an interpretation of the message of Matthew. On the basis of Bauer’s proposed structure for Matthew’s Gospel, this major section is divided into three chapters: the interpretation of Matt 1:1–4:16, the interpretation of Matt 4:17–16:20, and the interpretation of 16:21–28:20. Bauer’s exegetical work reflects his stated intention, which is to examine the Gospel in its final form and according to an inductive method. Thus, Bauer does not depend upon any particular view of the synoptic problem (i.e. the question of the literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke) for his interpretation of Matthew, and neither does he seek to use the text as a means for doing historical reconstruction. Moreover, Bauer is careful not to read Matthew’s Gospel through the lenses of theological categories which developed at a later period in church history. While certain readers may find these features unappealing, those who are persuaded of the merits of the inductive approach will find much to appreciate in these chapters.
The final section of Bauer’s book explores four major theological themes from the Gospel of Matthew. Bauer begins by devoting two chapters to Matthew’s Christology. In chapter 8, Bauer examines the titles used by Matthew to describe Jesus’ identity. These include such titles as “Son of God,” “Son of David,” “Christ,” “Lord,” and “Son of Man.” Here, Bauer argues that Matthew privileges the title “Son of God” over and above all other Christological titles. In the following chapter, Bauer examines other ways through which the Evangelist characterizes Jesus. He concludes that Matthew does ascribe divinity to Jesus, though the book does not evidence “anything like a worked-out Chalcedonian Christology” (275).
After treating its testimony regarding Jesus, Bauer explores Matthew’s depiction of God. He focuses attention on two features of Matthew’s theology: first, Bauer attends to Matthew’s presentation of God as both transcendent and active in the world, and second, he describes Matthew’s understanding of the modes and the content of God’s self-revelation. Subsequently, Bauer turns to the subjects of salvation history and eschatology. Here he contends that Matthew reflects an inaugurated eschatology while also predicting an age of consummation. In other words, Matthew presents Jesus as having ushered in the age of fulfillment and as having inaugurated the kingdom of the Son of Man; yet at the same time, the gospel writer also reveals that the final consummation of God’s Kingdom will only take place upon Christ’s return. Finally, Bauer closes the book with an analysis of the Gospel’s depiction of the character of discipleship and the mission of the disciples.
Overall, Bauer has succeeded in writing an introduction to Matthew that will be informative for students and thought-provoking for scholars. Students will greatly benefit from The Gospel of the Son of God, as the book will thoroughly acquaint them with many of the issues related to the academic study of Matthew’s Gospel. Furthermore, the book also provides a careful and (generally) compelling reading of Matthew as a whole. In addition to students, scholars may also find aspects of Bauer’s work useful, as a number of his interpretive observations and suggestions could provide starting points for further investigation.
Richard M. Blaylock is assistant professor of Biblical studies at Western Seminary.Richard BlaylockDate Of Review:February 28, 2022