Book Review: A Theology of Matthew

A-Theology-of-MatthewQuarles, Charles L. A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. 240 pp. $14.48

The Explorations in Biblical Theology series is written “for college seniors, seminarians, pastors, and thoughtful lay readers” (ix) who do not have a robust knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, or advanced theological training. Charles L. Quarles’ contribution to the series maintains this desire. A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator brings a refreshing and accessible look at the Gospel of Matthew. As the title suggests, this is accomplished by addressing three significant theological claims that Matthew makes concerning Jesus.

Summary

After a brief look at Matthean authorship (5–9) and interpretative measures for understanding Matthew’s message (21–30), Quarles begins his discussion on Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the New Moses. There is a plethora of comparison between the two, from similar infancy narratives (35–37) to their transfigurations (42–43), and the comparisons are too similar to overlook. Indeed, Quarles argues that for Matthew’s original readers, Moses was not simply a lawgiver but rather a “savior, a redeemer, and a deliverer” (47). This is primarily viewed through the inauguration of the new covenant (51–60, esp 53–54), which finds its fulfillment in Christ through his language in the Lord’s Supper and ultimately his death upon the cross.

Not only does Matthew compare Jesus to Moses, but he also compares Jesus to King David in numerous ways. Perhaps most clearly is the genealogy in Matt 1:1–17, with the emphasis placed on the person David rather than Abraham. With the addition of the article before David’s name, Quarles notes that David was the king par excellence (75), which sets up Matthew’s presentation of the New David theme. Most striking is Matthew’s account of Jesus healing two blind men, unique only to this gospel. Quarles notes the significance of Jesus, as the Son of David, healing the blind. “The Old Testament promises that when the Messiah arrives, he will preserve the sight of those who see and grant sight to the blind (Isa. 32:1–3; 33:17)” (75). The theological importance of this theme, as Quarles discusses the presentation of the Davidic Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures and shows their fulfillment in Matthew, should not be overlooked.

Though not reflected in the title, Quarles also notes how Matthew presents Jesus as the New Abraham. This “implies far more than that Jesus is merely born of Abraham’s line” but that Jesus is Abraham’s seed and “will fulfill a role in God’s plan similar to the one fulfilled by Abraham himself” (99). As one might surmise, this is done through the founding of the New Israel, the church (109–110). The New Israel is graciously chosen by God, which mirrors God’s election of Israel in the Old Testament. This New Israel will bless the nations, be holy, and be a light to the other nations.

Quarles saves the best theme for last, arguing that Jesus as the New Creator “simply denotes that Jesus, as God with us, is not only the One who made the universe, but also the Author of the miracle of new creation” (133).  There are five titles associated with Jesus as the New Creator: Son of Man, Wisdom, Lord, Son of God, and Immanuel.  Each title is used to communicate the deity of Jesus, and Quarles draws heavily from the Old Testament to show the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The only proper response the readers of the Scriptures should have is to worship Jesus, for “his identity as God with us demands nothing less” (189).

Critical Evaluation

A Theology of Matthew preserves the wishes of the series editor. The book is accessible not only for the seasoned scholar but also for the armchair theologian. Still, Quarles does not pass over themes quickly or haphazardly, taking the reader on a journey through Matthew’s Gospel that does not disappoint. When Quarles addresses a specific theme, he is painstakingly thorough, running over the richness of Matthew with a fine-toothed comb.

With each theme Quarles highlights, he provides ample amounts of evidence to support his claims. He employs not only Scripture, but also literature from First-Century Judaism because he believes that “modern readers of the Gospel of Matthew need to step into Matthew’s world and read his gospel as his original readers would have understood it” (22). While Christians should prioritize knowing the Old Testament more than Jewish literature written around the time of Christ, Quarles does consider it helpful (23).

Throughout the book, Quarles utilizes literature from this time, but it often left me wondering, after clear reference to Old Testament Scripture has been cited, is it necessary? For example, Quarles compares the narratives of Jesus and Moses’ birth; rather than citing Ex 1:8–2:2, Quarles opts for Antiquities of the Jews where, according to Josephus, Pharaoh murdered the Hebrew children because a scribe in Pharaoh’s court predicted the birth of an Israelite boy who would bring down Egyptian dominion and liberate the Israelites (36). However, Exodus 1:8–9 contradicts Josephus’ claim.

Conclusion

Those interested in furthering their understanding of Matthew would do well to add this book to their library. Quarles is a seasoned scholar of the Bible, and it does not surprise me that this book is not only thorough, but also has a pastoral tone throughout. A Theology of Matthew is a welcome addition for the study of Matthew and the continuing of biblical theology.


This review also appeared in SWJT 58:1 (2015): 128-129.

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