The Gospel of Matthew

Article excerpt

The Gospel of Matthew. By Rudolf Schnackenburg. Translated by Robert R. Barr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, vii + 329 pp., $24.00 paper.

During the last two decades there has been a proliferation of study on the Gospel of Matthew filling a void for good exegetical and background material. A new book on Matthew must break new ground on some specific issue, incorporate the gains that have been already accomplished, or explain to a lay audience the discoveries of the past. Doing none of the above, this book speaks to a lay audience without giving sufficient attention to these discoveries.

This commentary by Rudolf Schnackenburg is intended for a non-technical reader and makes an attempt to summarize the conclusions of form and redaction criticism in an interpretation of the text of Matthew. The introduction of thirteen pages attempts to quickly summarize issues of sources; Sitz im Leben; the relationship between Israel, Judaism, and the church; and brief treatments of some additional theological themes in the Gospel. The commentary offers a translation which ignores text-critical options. The translation at times is unique without defense, and the following commentary may actually contradict the translation. The commentary discussion, divided by the paragraphs of the text, offers the author's insights into each paragraph without observations on the overall argument of major sections.

The approach involves source, form, and redaction criticism, none of which is explained to the reader. It assumes that the lay audience is familiar with critical titles for the sources behind the Matthean text: i.e. Q, "sayings source," M, Mark. However, there is no defense of the approach or explanation. The underlying assumption is that the text must be divided into its various layers of sources before the reader knows what was important to the Matthean community. Editorial changes that were made to previous sources are attributed to the final author and to his community. Although this is the overall approach, the book offers no comprehensive picture of the nature of the Matthean community. The method fails to recognize that all of the material contained in the text (not just the final editorial process) had pastoral importance to the author and his community. Schnackenburg emphasizes the sources and the editorial process of the text but fails to treat adequately the final message.

Schnackenburg asserts, without making a strong case, that the Matthean community is mainly Jewish Christian with Gentiles present. However, he maintains that Matthew is anti-Jewish and that the new community has replaced Israel to the extent that there is no future for the "ancient people of God" (Matt 2:3-4; 8:11-12; 13:54-58; 21:18-22; 23:37-39; pp. 7, 13, 23, 83, 137, 204, 205, 235). This anti-Jewish interpretation of Matthew has many adherents, but it is unacceptable to argue that Jewish Christians in the first century were anti-Jewish and did not identify themselves as the true Israel in continuation with the Israel of the past. …