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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 55, 2007

ULRICH LUZ, Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). Pp. xii + 385. Paper. $US30.00.

Ulrich Luz’s four volume commentary on Matthew evolved from 1985–2002 (English Translation 1989–2005). This volume, Studies in Matthew, brings together eighteen essays written between 1971 and 2003, which Luz describes as “pieces of solid exegesis which document my exegetical journey with Matthew” (vii). Most of these essays are appearing here for the first time in English. The essays are grouped under eight headings: Matthew’s Story; Matthew and his Tradition; Christology; Ecclesiology; Ethics; Miracles; Matthew and Israel; and Hermeneutics with Matthew in Mind. This review will look briefly at the contents of each section before offering a general comment on the significance of this book.

The first section looks to the historical background of the Matthean community and the role the Gospel played within that community, which Luz understands as a Jewish Christian community, opening to Gentiles after the destruction of the Temple, and the failure of their mission to Israel. Matthew’s Gospel shapes the Jesus’ story making it “transparent for the community's own story” (14). The two chapters of this section are titled: “Matthew the Evangelist: A Jewish Christian at the Crossroads” (original 1991), and “The Gospel of Matthew: A New Story of Jesus, or a Rewritten One?” (2001). Drawing on his sources, Mark and Q, Matthew creates a story of Jesus and his preaching that is “fictional in character” (7). Reading Luz’s essays I am reminded of J. Louis Martyn’s work on the Gospel of John and his description of it as a “two-level” drama, a comparison Luz also makes (104) but sees Matthew as far more tradition-oriented, thus his Gospel remains a Jesus story (27).

The next two chapters look at Matthew’s tradition in essays titled, “Matthew and Q” (1998) and “Fictionality and Loyalty to Tradition in Matthew’s Gospel in the Light of Greek Literature” (1993). Luz argues that Matthew draws on a written version of Q (Q-Matt) which is not identical with Luke’s version (Q-Luke). This Q source, a ‘sayings’ source, gives the content to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom which in Mark is just sketched in outline. The chapter on Greek literature seeks to understand the development of the Hellenistic concept of fiction and within that category the various genres. This is a most helpful summary of the possible literary precedents for the Gospels generally and Matthew in particular. Not surprisingly, Luz concludes that Matthew does not seem to be influenced by Hellenistic genres, but rather the Scriptures of Israel. “Matthew intends his story to be read as an analogy to the foundational biblical history of Israel” (78).

Under the heading of Christology, Luz offers two essays, “Matthean Christology Outlined in Theses” (1991) and “The Son of Man in Matthew: Heavenly Judge or Human Christ?” (1992). The first of these essays approaches Matthew’s Christology through the three major titles ascribed to Jesus, “Son of David,” “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” Here Luz takes a narrative approach arguing that each title underscores particular aspects of Matthew’s Christology, vis-à-vis the others, and can only be grasped in terms of the total narrative. In looking at the “Son of Man” title, Luz argues against reading it in the light of the Daniel apocalyptic figure. He then offers a six-page overview of the use of this title across the narrative. He concludes that the expression on the lips of Matthew’s Jesus is a way of describing “his way through history” (110)—the story of one who is “homeless, rejected, blasphemed, the one with power over sins, the one who is handed over killed, risen and comes for judgement” (110). It thus functions as ‘insider’ language for the horizontal dimension of Jesus’ life, as distinct from the vertical dimension represented by the title “Son of God.” This chapter offers some significant comments on the reception history of this title in the next centuries. The next section, “Ecclesiology,” offers two chapters on discipleship—“The Disciples in the Gospel according to Matthew” (1995) and “Discipleship: A Matthean Manifesto for Dynamic Ecclesiology” (1989)—and “The Primacy Saying of Matthew 16:17–19 from the Perspective of Its Effective History” (1991). For Luz, “mathëtës is an ecclesiological term” (131). In a way similar to but not identical with Mark, the disciples of Jesus in the narrative are transparent to the disciples of the now exalted Jesus within the Matthean community, they are the models or ‘type’ of discipleship (125). The next two chapters raise ecumenical issues as Luz reads discipleship and the issue of leadership against the background of later Reformation concerns. These chapters show Luz’s continuing interest in the reception history of the Gospel.

The next three sections provide single chapters: “The Fulfilment of the Law in Matthew (Matt 5:17–20)” (1978); “The Miracle Stories of Matthew 8–9” (1987) and “Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of Matthew as a Historical and Theological Problem: An Outline” (1993). His final section offers six chapters considering significant hermeneutical issues: “Reflections on the Appropriate Interpretation of New Testament Texts” (1982), “The Significance of the Church Fathers for Biblical Interpretation in Western Protestant Perspective” (2000), “Can the Bible Still Be the Foundation for a Church Today? The task of Exegesis in a Society of Religious Pluralism” (1998), “Canonical Exegesis and Hermeneutics of ‘Effective History’” (2003), “Hermeneutics of ‘Effective History’ and the Church,” and “The Significance of Matthew’s Jesus Story for Today.” These last six chapters bring together Luz’s reflections on the shift from the primacy of historical-critical exegesis to narrative and reader oriented criticisms and the search for criteria in determining the correctness or ‘truth’ of biblical interpretation. On the one hand he grounds truth in the history of Jesus Christ, even while recognising many difficulties (281). A second criterion he offers is that “New Testament texts and interpretations of them are true so long as they bring about love” (284). These pages cannot be succinctly summarised and I recommend they be read and considered by all engaged in interpretation both for academic and pastoral purposes. An index of names and subjects is provided, as well as a selective index of Biblical texts.

In this volume we trace the scholarly journey of one of the most significant commentators on Matthew in recent decades. The value of these essays is that each is able to focus on one particular and highly significant topic divorced, to a large extent, from other narrative considerations. The final hermeneutical chapters are particularly challenging. The essays show the value of bringing a wide range of skills to the task of interpretation-historical-critical and narrative-critical methodologies work together, alongside concerns with the reception history of the text in the past and its appropriation today. These essays will be a valuable addition to Matthean studies, and adjunct to Luz’s magisterial commentary.

Review by
Mary L. Coloe
Australian Catholic University
PO Box 456
Virginia VIC 4014