R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. 1169 pp. Cloth. ISBN:978-0-8028-2501-8. $60.00.
In the 1970s, I first became acquainted with the name R. T. France by way of his book Jesus and the Old Testament (1971). It was a welcome addition to the biblical-theological method of Geerhardus Vos which I had come to love. Using the formula citations of OT passages as indicative of the era of fulfillment in Christ, France elaborated on the mind of the NT writers (especially in their inspired presentation of Christ) as entering into the "fullness of time". Over the past thirty years, I have continued to appreciate France's careful, generally conservative and evangelical exploration of NT materials, particularly the synoptic gospels.
This volume is the latest from his pen descriptive of the above goal. It is, in fact, the second major commentary he has written on Matthewthe earlier and shorter work (1985) was his revision of the 1961 original Tyndale NT Commentary on the first gospel by R. V. G. Tasker. The present `weighty' tome is a more thorough and detailed exegetical work.
Throughout his career, France has eschewed the higher critical penchant for reconstructions of the gospel by attempting the (hopeless and perverse) task of peering behind the text. This arrogant evolutionism has given us the fabled (and mythical) Q documents, redactors ad infinitum (ad nauseum), Jesus seminars (and their glass bead games) and a host of other inaninities, absurdities, idiocies and dead ends. France chooses the "more excellent way" of the "continuous" reading of the narrative of Matthew. On this synchronic (as opposed to the liberal-critical diachronic) reading, he refreshs his contemporary evangelical and orthodox reader with traditional conclusions about authorship, provenance, destination, etc. (standard matters of NT Introduction). However these introductory details are more fully explored in another volume which France published in 1989 entitled Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher. This 1989 volume is propaedeutic to the present complete commentary (as France indicates on p. 1). In this former volume, France reviews the scholarly discussion of author (Matthew, the apostle, is his conclusion"I believe that authorship of the first gospel by the tax-collector apostle Matthew is the most economical explanation of all the relevant factors" ), destination (an unknown "early Jewish-Christian" congregation or group), purpose ("to say things about Jesus which Matthew believed to be important"), etc. If these are `conservative' conclusions, so be it. Those are the conclusions which the data suggests, apart from philosophical presuppositions imposing a re-imaging of Jesus and his disciples upon the first century Christian world. If the Jesus whom we meet in these re-imaging forays resembles the contemporary postmodern multicultural globalist, well surprise, surprise! (This is in fact the tendentious little dirty secret of all liberal criticism: they ever remake Jesus in their own cultural philosophical image.)
The surprises France provides for us are perceptive exegetical forays into the "treasures old and new", ever richer and deeper of this marvelous opening gospel of the NT canon. The 1989 volume elaborates the theology of Matthew on pages 166-317. The present commentary is a verse-by-verse exegetical elaboration and support of that theology.
I draw attention to only a few suggestions, leaving the reader to benefit from the rich insightstraditional and freshwhich greet him on the pages of this volume. France favors a geographical structure for the outline of the gospel. He interacts with David Bauer's important study (The Structure of Matthew's Gospel: A Study in Literary Design) and Jack Dean Kingsbury (Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom) who maintain a threefold structure to the gospel: 1:1-4:16; 4:17-16:20; 16:21-28:20 (based on the evangelist's phrase "from that time Jesus began to"). France's demur is actually a refinement of Kingsbury and Bauer. He believes that Matthew (following Mark) provides a "conscious structuring of the story within a geographical framework" (3). His own outline reads: 1:1-4:11; 4:12-16:20; 16:21-20:34; 21:1-25:46; 26:1-28:15; 28:16-20.1 He thus reaches conclusions formally reminiscent of Elizabeth Malbon's revolutionary study on geographical space in the gospel of Mark (Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark ). Surprisingly, France does not seem to be aware of Malbon's book, though he regards space as a fundamental organizing structure of Matthew and Mark (see his NIGTC commentary on Mark ). Let me also commend his theology of the Matthean birth and infancy narratives as well as the kingdom thrust of the Sermon on the Mount.2
This commentary will help the truly Vosian biblical theologian. How so? It will immerse him in the text; it will leave him with the powerful drama of the life of the incarnate Son of God (son of David, son of Abraham, Mt. 1:1); it will enable him to appreciate what Jesus and his apostle, Matthew, and the church to whom Matthew writes his gospel appreciatethe wonderfully climactic accomplishment of the OT in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, as well as the arrival and presence of the kingdom of God which has been a part of mankind's history since Jesus came. But the true Vosian biblical theologian will understand even more of these rich and precious realities. He will perceive the eschatological vectorthat vertical penetration of life from above which joins him or her as a participant in the drama of the kingdom of heaven; which lifts him or her up to the King of that kingdom; which informs him or her via parable, discourse and miracle of the life of that kingdom; and draws his or her existential Christian life into the world to come which Jesus announced had arrived with his arrival. That is the truly distinctive difference a genuine Vosian biblical theology will draw from the gospel of Matthew. France does not do this (though, I venture, he would not be averse to it); but combined with Vos's paradigm, we may learn from them both how to more passionately identify with the kingdom-arena of the son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God. The exegesis from France, the biblical theology from Vos drawing the reader (and hearer) into the truly joyous and transformed existence of the kingdom of heaven both now and forevermore.
James T. Dennison, Jr.
1 For a recent stimulating reworking of previous suggested outlines of Matthew, see Wim J. C. Weren, "The Macrostructure of Matthew's Gospel: A New Proposal," Biblica 87 (2006):171-200. Weren combines spatial and temporal markers in the text to provide a provocative new look at Matthew's narrative structure.
2 Compare my "Born of the Virgin Mary," Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 18/3 (December 2003): 16-25 and my "The Law from the New Mount," Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 21/1 (May 2006): 42-48.