Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom

Written by Jack Dean Kingsbury Reviewed By George A. Gay

No-one interested in Matthean studies should neglect this redaction-criticism study of the first Gospel. Kingsbury has done a thorough study of Matthew’s text and has come up with solid conclusions about its purpose and message. In the first major section (39 pp.) he emphasizes the integral relationship between the form and content of Matthew’s Gospel by first showing that it is divided into three main sections, with Matthew 1:1, 4:17, and 16:21 serving as ‘superscriptions’ for the material included under each of those divisions; the last two verses begin with the famous apo tote phrase. An investigation into the content of these sections shows that they portray the person and mission of Jesus Christ: (1) the person of Jesus Messiah; (2) the proclamation of Jesus Messiah; and (3) the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Messiah. In a secondary way Matthew puts all his material against a well-ordered concept of salvation history, based on the idea of God’s presence with his people in the person of his Son to the end of the age (1:23; 18:20; 28:20). Two basic periods are distinguished: the time of Israel (OT) and the time of Jesus. The latter period extends from the birth of Jesus up to the parousia.

In the second main section (88 pp., the longest and most important part of the book) Kingsbury examines selected key passages, particularly 1:1–4:16, and he comes to the conclusion that the title ‘Son of God’ is the basic concept of Matthew’s christology; all other titles are auxiliary to this one, including kyrios. 28:16–20 has been misinterpreted to support a kyrios Son of man christology when it is really a Son of God christology. Matthew ‘poses for his church the central question as to who Jesus Messiah is.’ He is pre-eminently the Son of God. However, the title ‘Son of Man’ is almost on a par with ‘Son of God’—they are distinguished only by the fact that Son of God relates to the true disciples and the Son of man relates to the unbelievers and the world in general, especially at the parousia event.

The last major section on the kingdom (33 pp.) points out how completely Matthew’s christology has penetrated his theology, i.e., his concept of the kingdom of heaven (God). ‘Matthew’s radical christological modification of his concept of the Kingdom of heaven’ has salvation-historical, cosmic, and ethical dimensions. The first of these stresses that the kingdom is an eschatological reality that ‘presently’ confronts people in the time of Jesus, being of ultimate significance for their eternal destiny, whether salvation or condemnation. Matthew’s cosmic dimension of the kingdom is concerned with the ‘so-called growth of the Kingdom’, being the kingly activity of God through his Son in the church; from this small beginning will issue the universal kingdom to be set up at the parousia. So there is a direct continuity between the present and future forms of the kingdom. The ethical dimension has to do with the new life that results from contact with the Rule of God—the believer does the will of God and will ultimately inherit the kingdom. There are other discussions in this final section that have to do with the relationship of the kingdom of heaven to Satan’s kingdom, to Israel and the nations, and to the church. As to the latter, ‘God has withdrawn his Rule from Israel and given it to the church.’ The church is the ‘empirical’ sphere where God exercises his Rule through the Son. The relationship between the kingdom and the church is one of association, not identification. The church is the entity that is waiting for the consummation.

Although Kingsbury writes from the point of view of redaction criticism, his presentation does not stress extreme positions sometimes connected with this type of approach. In fact, much against other scholars, he emphasizes that for Matthew there is no discontinuity between the time of Jesus and the time of the church; really the latter is a sub-section of the former.

For those of us who espouse the importance of the text of the Scriptures, Kingsbury has done us a great service by presenting a study that is totally integrated with the text of Matthew; the textual references to Matthew alone occupy seven and a half pages in the index.

On the other hand, it is not evident that Kingsbury brings off his thesis that subordinates all christological titles in Matthew under the phrase ‘Son of God’. His attempts here seem at times forced and at times exegetically questionable. To me, the title ‘Lord’ (kyrios) has much more relevance in Matthew than Kingsbury allows. (Cf. Matthew’s general presentation of the kingdom, and such passages as 7:21–23, the master-servant parables, and particularly 28:16–20. In this latter passage, Jesus’ Lordship is clearly proclaimed (28:18) and the term ‘Son’ is subordinated in a trinitarian formula that hardly singles out Jesus as Son in a specific way.)

Then it is not clear that the title ‘Christ’ is unimportant in a Gospel that particularly stresses the fulfilment of OT messianic passages. In Peter’s great confession (16:13–20), is ‘Christ’ or ‘Son of the living God’ the more important designation? Prior to this Jesus has not been confessed as Messiah, but he has been called the ‘Son of God’ (14:33).

Kingsbury’s view that Matthew divides his salvation history into the time of Israel (OT) and the time of Jesus can be seriously challenged. Is Matthew’s emphasis on this, or is it on a distinction between the time of Jesus and the time of the church within one total division of the present phase of the kingdom?

Despite the above observations, Kingsbury’s non-technical presentation of Matthew’s theology is a valuable addition to the continuing debate on this crucial gospel.

George A. Gay

Associate Professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California