Reviews of

Matthew, Disciple and Scribe

In Baker Academic, Ben Hussung, Biblical Theology, Intertextuality, Matthew, New Testament, Patrick Schreiner, Uncategorized on January 30, 2020 at 4:00 pm

9780801099489

2020.01.03 | Patrick Schreiner. Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. ISBN: 9780801099489.

Review by Ben Hussung, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Patrick Schreiner serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary, and he has produced several compelling works early in his career. The latest of these is Matthew, Disciple and Scribe, in which he presents a thorough case for Matthew becoming “a teacher in the style of Jesus” (p. 2). More specifically, he argues, “Matthew expounds the wisdom of Jesus by becoming a scribe and teacher to future generations, mediating the instruction of his sage” (p. 2). Schreiner builds his arguments in two parts. In the first, he argues for Matthew’s identity as a scribe, outlining his convictions and methods, and in the second, he details Matthew’s scribal work, exploring Matthew’s presentation of Jesus in relation to David, Moses, Abraham, and Israel.

In Part 1, Schreiner argues that Matthew is the “discipled scribe,” who has been discipled by his teacher of wisdom, Jesus. Schreiner gives four reasons for viewing Jesus as a teacher of wisdom: (1) the Hebrew Scriptures’ promises of a “sapiential messiah,” (2) the titles of Jesus and his opponents, (3) the content of Jesus’ teaching, and (4) the context of Matthew 13 (pp. 14–20). Matthew himself becomes wise as he learns from his wise teacher or “sage-king” (p. 21). As a scribe, Matthew participates in four primary activities: (1) learning, (2) writing/interpreting, (3) distributing, and (4) teaching (p. 22). Schreiner essentially argues that Jesus has formed a new scribal school, seen through Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus, his correlation between scribes and disciples, and his negative portrayal of the Jerusalem scribal school (p. 35). The purpose of the scribe of Jesus, however, is not simply to convey wisdom but also to form a type of person. Matthew, then, serves as Jesus’ representative, transmitting his message of wisdom in order to shape disciples of Jesus (p. 36).

Schreiner then shifts to discuss Matthew’s convictions and methods as a scribe. Fundamentally, Matthew learned from Jesus that “the arrival of the apocalyptic sage-messiah fulfills the hopes of Israel; this results in the unification of Jewish history” (pp. 37–38). Matthew primarily uses his gospel-narration through shadow stories to convey this fulfillment. Shadow stories use quotes, allusions, and echoes—rather than “word” connections alone—to portray Jesus’ fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (p. 55). Matthew reads backward and forward, both receiving meanings from Old Testament texts and producing meanings in earlier texts only revealed retrospectively (p. 57). As the discipled scribe, Matthew has learned from the wisest exegete and now beautifully crafts the story of Jesus, drawing out treasures both new and old.

In Part 2, Schreiner looks at Matthew’s work as a scribe, focusing on how he portrays Jesus in relation to the Old Testament. First, Matthew “takes his readers on the geographic journey of the Davidic king” (p. 99). Jesus is born into David’ family, grows up in David’s town, is exiled, and then returns, where he conquers and is enthroned as king (p. 99). Second, Matthew portrays Jesus’ actions as those of the Davidic messiah. The Davidic king is to embody the Torah, heal the nation, rebuild the temple, shepherd the flock, and be enthroned in Jerusalem (p. 128). Jesus fulfills all of these actions as he unites the kingdom, brings Israel back from exile, establishes the temple and the new covenant, and teaches his people wisdom (p. 128). Key to Matthew’s portrayal, however, is the way that he also subverts these themes in Jesus’ fulfillment. Jesus pronounces the temple’s destruction rather than rebuilding. He denounces the Jewish leaders’ interpretation of the Law rather than affirming it. He arrives in Jerusalem humbly rather than kingly. He is mocked and crucified rather than revered and enthroned (p. 129). While different than expected, Matthew shows his readers that Jesus himself is the Davidic messiah.

Third, Matthew presents Jesus as the prophet who surpasses Moses himself (p. 165). Jesus, as redeemer, is prophet, savior, lawgiver, and king. As Schreiner notes, “All of these titles and descriptors interact with one another and form a holistic picture of Jesus as the new Moses…All of these images are means to an end—the new exodus” (p. 165). Fourth, Matthew shows Jesus to be the son of Abraham who redefines God’s family around faith and repentance rather than blood (pp. 204–5). Fifth, and finally, Matthew parallels his own narrative with that of Israel, showing that Jesus is leading his people out of exile (pp. 207–8). As Schreiner writes, “Through his structure the scribe has Jesus completing the whole history of Israel by sequencing the life of Jesus in the mold of Israel’s history” (p. 239). Thus, as Matthew crafts his gospel-narration about Jesus, he shows that Jesus himself is Israel, and as Schreiner notes, he is “the better Israel” (239).

Schreiner’s work has much to commend. First, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe provides a helpful contribution to Matthean studies. Not only is Schreiner’s argument for Matthew as the discipled scribe new and helpful in understanding his gospel-narration, but his method of looking at shadow stories and focusing on a more holistic understanding of Matthew’s presentation of fulfillment through language, allusion, and echo joins a recent positive trend in that direction. Second, Schreiner’s arguments on a micro-level are clear, succinct, and thorough. For example, in his argument for the geographic journey of the Davidic king in Matthew, Schreiner offers a short section on each point of parallel, offering within each multiple points of parallel and justification. He groups these parallels into Matthean sections and provides a helpful summary for each section (p. 82).

Third, Schreiner’s writing throughout is straightforward, compelling, and enjoyable. In a field where academics sometimes pride themselves on stuffy writing, Schreiner seems just as interested in the effective communication of his content as the content itself. The easiest way to see this is in his employment of analogy, as he uses many that make his writing accessible both to scholars and laypeople. Maps (p. 37), types of wood (p. 39), the Star Wars movie The Force Awakens (p. 54), the book The Boys in the Boat (p. 58), and even the children’s movie The Lion King (pp. 129–30) are just a few example of the analogies that Schreiner uses to bring his arguments to life for his readers.

While Schreiner’s work proves quite convincing, there are areas where improvement would be helpful. First, once the reader moves from the first section, where Schreiner discusses Matthew’s identity and method as scribe, to the second section, where Schreiner discusses the interpretive work of Matthew as scribe, there is little mention of Matthew as scribe outside of chapter introductions and conclusions. While this shift from method to practice is no doubt intentional, more consistent connection throughout the later chapters back to Matthew’s identity and method as scribe would help to bind the book together more cohesively. Second, while I am confident that Schreiner avoids what some might call “parallelomania,” there is a small handful of points where Schreiner draws connections that are less than clear. For example, in showing parallels between Moses and Jesus, he notes similarities between Moses’s three signs—grasping the serpent, bringing waters of salvation and judgment, and resurrecting dead flesh—and Jesus’ ministry (p. 149). In discussing the serpent, Schreiner sees this parallel through Jesus’ fulfilment of the promises of Genesis 3:15 and his conquering of Satan. While a pattern certainly exists here, it seems more likely to be two derivations of this pattern flowing from Genesis 3:15, rather than an example of Matthew patterning Jesus’ conquering of Satan after Moses’s dominion over the serpent in Exodus (pp. 150–51).

Despite these slight criticisms, Schreiner’s Matthew, Disciple and Scribe proves to be an engaging and thoughtful interaction with Matthew’s portrait of Jesus in light of his identity as a scribe. Schreiner contributes a new and helpful lens through which to understand the first Gospel and promotes progress in biblical scholarship toward a more holistic approach to seeing parallels and connections between texts. Through clear and colorful prose, Schreiner has provided an accessible yet significant addition to Matthean scholarship.

Ben Hussung
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
bhussung [at] sbts.edu

 

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