Thursday, January 19, 2006

Matthew and Money

"Whatever I love, I finance. And whatever I finance, I love."

Scot McKnight has been blogging on and off on the Sermon on the Mount, most recently on money. One particular question related to this is the interpretation of Matthew 6.21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I want to point out two possible ways to interpret this verse, which may not be mutually exclusive. 1) Does the location of one's investment (heaven or earth) reveal the commitment of one's heart? 2) Or does one's heart follow one's stockpile? paraphrased from Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew NIGTC, 299.

Davies-Allison and Nolland favor the former. Nolland points out that verse 24 will add love to the discussion, and suggests that this indicates that the first interpretation has it right: love produces works.

But it's certainly possible to see the second option as well: works are indicative of, and may even lead to, true love. As anyone who has a child or spouse can tell you, serving someone can actually change your heart towards them. I care about the things to which I give myself. When billionaires buy ball clubs, they care more than ever about those teams. And when I give my money to missions, the poor, or my church, I may in fact be fostering a greater heart connection than previously existed.

In sum, I suspect both of these interpretations are applicable. Whatever I love, I finance. And whatever I finance, I inevitably wind up loving more than I did before I gave. If you want to find out what someone loves, look at their bank statement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present

Dale C. Allison, Jr. is the author of a magnificent commentary on Matthew's Gospel (discussed below in a recent post, my top ten commentaries on Matthew), as well as important monographs such as The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Fortress 1993) and a host of related books on articles (on historical Jesus and Q). This book does no harm to the title, bestowed by Scot McKnight on the inside flap, "North America's most complete New Testament scholar." Nor does it damage his reputation as one of the two premier Matthew scholars in the world (along with Ulrich Luz). I will be reviewing this book, which was published by Baker Academic last year, over the next few days or weeks.

In the present post, a few introductory comments are in order. The book is beautiful, and reasonably priced. There is only a short preface, and the first chapters help the reader enter the argument of the book. Indeed, most chapters stand alone quite well (and at least four of the thirteen chapters have former lives as articles or chapters). The book is divided into two sections of almost equal length. Part I, The Exegetical Past, provides concrete evidence of the value of paying attention to the history of interpretation. The first five of the six chapters investigate the history of interpretation of five challenging texts in Matthew. These studies establish in part that there is nothing new under the sun: we find that most contemporary opinions are foreshadowed or spawned by ancient interests, and in the first chapter Allison argues that an ancient interpretation actually provides the key to understanding the Magi of Matthew 2. These five chapters lead to a concluding study called "Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers."

Part II, Literary and Historical Studies, contains seven studies which use of combination of newer methods to address problems in Matthew's Gospel. Despite the commitment in the second section to "literary" studies, the narrative trend in Matthean studies is perhaps less well-represented than some scholars would like, although this should not bias narrative critics from interacting with Allison's material. I'm not yet finished with this section, so will withhold additional comments for the time being.

The book only possesses an index of names and a Scripture index, no bibliography. Moreover, the index is slanted toward texts whose authors have names; thus Q, Qur'an, various rabbinic texts, and the Didache all get the shaft--particularly lamentable given the author's interest in "Interpretation Past."
Mike Bird to Publish First Book

T&T Clark did themselves a favor by picking up the dissertation of
the prolific and insightful Mike Bird of my very own Highland Theological College. Congrats to Mike. There will be a fair bit of Matthew material, although the dissertation is "historical Jesus" in approach and focus. Among many points of interest, Mike interacts with Allison's interesting article, Dale C. Allison, “Who will Come from East and West? Observations on Matt. 8:11-12 – Luke 13:28-29,” IBS 11 (1989), 158-70. If I remember correctly, I think Mike argues against Allison, who reads the logion behind Mt 8:11-12 (against its present context) as return from dispersion.

The title of chapter four is particularly sweet, as Dr. Bird himself is nothing if not Gentile.

Monday, January 16, 2006

SBL's online Review of Books has a couple of valuable looks at a volume of Ulrich Luz articles, Studies in Matthew and The Gospel of Matthew in Its Roman Imperial Context. I hope to blog on these later in the spring, so I won't comment at this point, except to say that T&T Clark are accepting kidneys and retinas for the latter from poor students who can't fork out 125US for a text.
Top Ten Recent Commentaries on Matthew: Number One
In general, I think the rule of thumb for selecting these commentaries is as follows: if your library burned down, and you were slowly rebuilding your collection of commentaries (on a limited budget), what would I recommend?

1) My favorite commentary on Matthew is David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel (New York: Crossroad, 1993; Smith & Helwys, 2000). This is the "nicely equipped Honda Civic" of Matthew commentaries, the first commentary I would recommend to students, pastors, and teachers who are non-Matthean specialists. Reading Matthew exhibits superb handling of literary style with an eye towards the message of the text, and appropriate and concise use of contemporaneous historical data. Because of the format, Garland is "to the point" (apx 300 pages). His writing style is very good and his conclusions reliable and unforced. This is not a high-octane research volume (no indices or footnotes, for example), but Garland has clearly done his homework; there are enough references in the text to keep you engaged and send you elsewhere.

Smith & Helwys volumes aren't the cheapest, but I think you get what you pay for with this volume. I know of nothing its size which can match the attention to literary flow/style, without getting bogged down in full-blown literary critical, historically-blind analysis. For a bargain on this volume, try, search ISBN 1573122742.

This book also pairs up well with any of the others in the top five. For instance, if you have Carson and this book, you're probably set as an evangelical (though give France a read on Matt 23-25). Or if you have Davies-Allison and this book, you've got a great balance between in-depth historical and source-critical investigation and the traits Garland offers.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Top Ten Recent Commentaries on Matthew
Such lists are always highly subjective of course, and I suppose I should say that I'm certainly open to changing my mind as I learn. In any case, here are my current favorite commentaries, numbers 2-5--I'll post number one tomorrow. 3-5 are a virtual tie, thus the funny numbering. Since comparing commentaries is like comparing apples and oranges, these are graded subjectively based on their goals, value, and all-round utility.

2) Davies-Allison -- (Mercedes--will run forever and retain value) A true classic; thorough. N. B. that the commentary was really written almost entirely by Allison, a master of Matthew, even if he is a bit too interested in source criticism for my taste. Since this is now available in paperback, it trades places with Luz.

3) Luz -- (Jaguar--complicated but beautiful and exciting in a traditional sort of way) Excellent...and priced accordingly. I think his emphasis on reception history is going to prove prophetic. The format is quite user-friendly, I think.

3) France -- (Toyota Camry) This refers to his Tyndale NTC; n.b. that he is writing the NICNT on Matthew, and has other books on Matthew, as well as I think commentary on Matthew in one volume commentaries. Good handling of many issues; good sensitivity; somewhat famous for his important treatment of Matthew 23-25. Different enough from Carson and Garland to avoid evangelical excess. Owning this and Carson would be a good "evangelical" start. Anyone doing a Bible study on Matthew could probably profit from a read through this book.

3) Carson -- (Fully loaded Ford F350, a real workhorse for traditional tasks) Apologetic and thorough, with a surprising (for 1984, and for a theological-exegetical scholar) sense of the allusive function of Matthew's use of the OT and other matters. The series editor gave Carson the task of absorbing synoptic issues and other matters, so this is the largest and (to my knowledge) the finest commentary in the EBC's NT. Unfortunately labeled "David A. Carson" in Allison's latest book.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Top Ten Recent Commentaries on Matthew

In this series, I'm listing my favorite "recent" commentaries on Matthew, of those published since, say, 1950. It is difficult to differentiate between commentaries which are (in my estimation) close in value, so these are in clusters, with some "ties" sharing the same number. Here are numbers 6-10, with comment.

10) Robert H. Gundry -- (Chrysler PT Cruiser--interesting but a bit too unusual) Gundry is too eccentric to be of top value, but he is no one's stooge. I'm not too positive about his approach to midrash and redaction and source criticism, and I find some of his conclusions very strange (Matt 1-2 as a midrash on the OT and nativity material from Luke; see also the first page or so, where he thinks "huiou Abraam" [son of Abraham] might modify David, rather than Jesus--which is grammatically possible, but odd beyond belief. Nonetheless, this commentary is certainly worth investigating.

6) Warren Carter -- (Volvo Hybrid Power) Written specifically as a commentary from the point of view of the marginalized, Carter is probably the least known commenator on Matthew (save for the #1). Carter is willing to read his own interests into the text (aren't we all), and a few of them succeed; many others are thought-provoking. Carter helpfully tries to steer a middle ground between historical and literary critics via "audience-oriented criticism." His other works on Matthew are also worth consulting, forming a nice corpus, albeit narrowly-focused and sometimes lacking in macroexegetical (i.e., theological) sense. In some ways, Carter will be far better on some passages (Beatitudes) than others. Manages to incorporate feminist and ideological scholarship on Matthew more than Keener, Hagner, Luz, Gundry, or Davies-Allison. On the flip side, however, he almost completely ignores conservative scholars.

6) Craig S. Keener -- (Lincoln Town Car) Encyclopaedic in his references to ancient sources, sometimes (often?) without being at all informative. Fully 30 % of his commentary is subject index, author index, and bibliography (none of which are exhaustive). Some of the commentary is quite good, however.

6) Donald Hagner -- (Dodge Caravan, with no extras) Good commentary. I'm still not sold on the WBC format. Not always as successful at examining and integrating diverse opinions as he probably should be. Still more valuable than e.g., Gundry, given his large bibliography (which is still not complete) and the less adventuresome approaches he takes to the text.

6) Craig L. Blomberg -- (Ford Taurus) Quite underrated; Blomberg is a very good exegete. In my experience (which is admittedly limited) this is the best NT commentary in the NAC series. If you are a dispensationalist or premillenial, go to Blomberg or Carson. Do not make the mistake of going with Walvoord, Touissant, etc., none of whom are true scholars of Matthew (even if they are experts at putting Matthew into their system).
Top Ten Matthew Commentaries

Bloggers seems to enjoy reading top ten lists, so a few blogs on my top ten commentaries on Matthew. My mind is still open on Wilkins (NIVAC), which seems promising and useful for pastors and teachers; and Nolland (NIGTC). I don't know enough French or German to comment accurately on Frankemolle, Gnilka, or Bonnard (although some swear by the latter two). France (NICNT) will be released shortly, and presumably so will the Matthew volume of the "Two Horizons" series and others. Word has it there is a place on the web that lists such upcoming volumes.
Matthew Comes First

My friend Mike Bird recently posted on the order of the canon, arguing that John should be the first book of the NT. Let me open my blogging account with a defense of Matthew as the first book--not for the sake of argument (especially with someone capable of going toe-to-toe with Stan Porter and Al Qaeda), but because we learn a great deal about Matthew and the Scriptures through the canonical placement of Matthew.

Even if we set aside the witness of the early church, placing Matthew at the head of the canon still makes a great deal of sense. Matthew's opening verse and genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17) tell the "Story of Israel" and the Old Testament. This story is referenced in a number of ways.

1) Matthew opens with "biblos genesews," which is usually translated "book/record of the generations/genealogy." But Dale C. Allison, Jr. has argued ["Matthew's First Two Words (Matt. 1:1)," Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present, (Baker Academic, 2005), 157-162, with Luz backing him up] that this should be translated so as to bring out the "Genesis" aspect of that phrase. "Biblos genesews" surely alludes to the title of (the book of) Genesis in Matthew's day. It also mirrors the LXX of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1.

There's no doubt Matthew hopes to call the readers' attention to the beginning of his Bible. More blogging on this to come, but for now we note that he begins at the beginning. Note that some, such as Hubert Frankemolle, have noted the way Matthew may allude to 2 Chr 36:22-23 in his conclusion, Mt 28:16-20. This may reflect an interest in the "shape" of Matthew's canon...perhaps more on that later as well.

2) Matthew then proceeds to draw the readers attention to the narrative of Israel's history. It' s a Story beginning with Abraham, the Story of God's repair of the chaos of Gen 3-11 and the solution of the problem of sin (first for Israel, 1:21, then for all). Israel is God's chosen vehicle through which the world will be blessed.

3) The genealogy is loaded with heroes--broken heroes, sinner-saints, 'aints (Ruth), and strangers (Rahab). Matthew references Uriah, contrasting (not for the last time) the righteousness exhibited by a Gentile with the failure of David, God's "anointed." We find prophets (Amoz=Amos, 1:10), priests (Asa=Asaph, 1:7), the tragedy of the Exile, and allusions to Israel as a nation leadership role promised, partially fulfilled, and lost by Judah-David and sons-Jeconiah ("and his brothers"..."king"..."and his brothers"). This points to the need for The Hero, David's Son, who would reign over his people and the world in righteousness. The inclusion of outsiders (besides four named Gentiles, see also Ram=Aram in 1:3-4) also points up Israel's vocation as a light to the nations (Isaiah; Matt 5.13-16), and her failure to fulfill said vocation.

4) The genealogy is structured around promises. Abraham and David were promised sons who would bless all nations and reign forever in righteousness (even over the nations, Amos 9 etc), and YHWH promised a solution to Exile. Here, at the very beginning of the NT, Matthew points to the fulfillment of these promises: Jesus, the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham (Mt 1:1). Jesus, then, is the telos of the Story, or at least one turning point in the I have avoided speculating at this point on the 3x14/6x7/40+1 (Augustine) schema. Plenty of time for that later.

Granted John has a Genesis of sorts, he does not reflect on the Story of the Old Testament, but merely articulates of Jesus' identity; Matthew does both. Luke has plenty of strong allusions in his opening (see Joel B. Green, "The Problem of a Beginning: Israel's Scriptures in Luke 1-2," Bulletin for Biblical Research 4 [1994]: 61-86), but these are less obvious and less sweeping than Matthew's opening. Only Matthew provides such an excellent bridge from OT to NT. (I do agree, however, that John would make a great second choice. Mike's decision to move Philemon back to Colossians is a great move--it's not just to an "individual," as the first verses make clear. But I would want James earlier somehow...and Luke should go next to Acts.)

For more on the Story of the OT and Matthew 1:1-17, see N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 384-390; Mervyn Eloff, "Exile, Restoration and Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus ho Christos," Neotestamentica 38,1(2004), 75-87; and the comments by Craig Keener in his commentary on Matthew.
This blog is a forum for my thoughts and those of others with similar interests. I'm currently pursuing a PhD in New Testament from Highland Theological College, University of Aberdeen, and Matthew's Gospel (the subject of my dissertation) will be a key theme. No subject is off limits, however.