Review: Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew

Konradt provides a reconsideration of Matthew in order to determine the correct motive for the transition from Jesus’ exclusive ministry to Israel in 10:5–6 to the nations in 28:19.

Overall, I would recommend this book to pastors and scholars who plan on preaching or teaching through the gospel of Matthew. Whether you agree with all of Konradt’s conclusions or not (I, for one, did not), he forces you to wrestle with what exactly is the unifying theme and purpose of Matthew’s gospel as well as its driving theological motivation. This will prevent piecemeal interpretations that analyze only the trees, but miss the forest of the gospel.

 

Matthias Konradt, Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew. Translated by Kathleen Ess. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 485. $79.95 (hardcover).

Konradt provides a stimulating reconsideration of the gospel of Matthew in order to determine the correct motive for the transition from Jesus’ exclusive ministry to Israel in 10:5–6 to the nations in 28:19. He challenges the traditional “rejection in Israel—turn to the nations” schema in favor of a more positive theological conception that is founded on Matthew’s gradually unfolding narratival Christology. The shift, he argues, is not a hard “break” from Israel to the nations as a consequence of Israel’s rejection, but an organic and “integral aspect of the narrative concept in which Matthew unfolds his Christology” (14). It is not a matter of replacement or supersession, but supplementation and expansion (86–87).

In fact, the very opening statement of the gospel—prior to the rejection of the Christ by some within Israel—already has the nations as its ultimate goal and aim, linking the gospel with the universal promises still unfulfilled in redemptive-history. Thus, the opening up of salvation to the nations was not because of a failure on the part of Israel, for they had not yet failed within the story, but because of the nature and identity of Jesus Christ as the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1). Konradt will specifically uncover the Christological foundation of this transition to be Matthew’s integration of Jesus’ identity as the Davidic-Messianic shepherd of Israel and the Son of God.

Yet, the rejection of Jesus is not negligible, but significant to the narrative. In order to integrate both the positive Christological construction of the transition and the negative rejection of the Christ by the religious authorities and Jerusalem, Konradt makes a couple of helpful distinctions that seem to be inherent to the gospel itself. First, he distinguishes between the “nations” and the “church”—two separate entities that are often conflated or thought of as interchangeable. By distinguishing them it becomes apparent that the relationship between Israel and the nations is not the same as the relationship between Israel and the church.

Second, he differentiates within Israel between the Jewish crowds, who respond positively to Jesus’ ministry as the one sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and the religious leaders who outright reject and oppose him at every point, even persuading Jerusalem (itself a character in the story distinguished from the crowds of Galilee and not to be confused with Israel as a whole) to have him crucified in the end. This guards against a collective view of Israel’s rejection of the Christ and helps to show how the church was initially formed within Israel by the replacement of the religious authorities with Jesus’ own disciples, which organically leads to salvation extending to the nations.

Konradt develops his thesis in three steps: “Jesus mission to Israel, Israel’s reaction, and the possible consequence of a negative reaction” (14). The first step is taken in chapter 2, in which he argues that Matthew “systematically sculpted the orientation toward Israel, formulated programmatically in the mission logion in 15.24, as an essential feature of Jesus’ earthly ministry” (85). This is evident in the “altering of geographical details (4.23–25; 15.29–31)” and the editing of texts in which Jesus’ ministry towards various Gentiles (8:5–13, 28–34; 15:21–28) is presented as “exceptions” to the pre-Easter situation (74, 85), for the καιρός when salvation would extend to the nations had not yet come and would only come post-Easter. The central reason, however, for Jesus’ Israel-oriented ministry was Christological, that is, it was founded upon his identity as the Davidic-Messianic shepherd of Israel. This title integrates both the healing and teaching aspects of his ministry, and its positive connotation reveals that he carried it out not for the sake of justifying his denunciation and rejection of Israel, but positively to fulfill Israel’s promises of salvation (86).

In chapter 3, Konradt highlights the differentiated reaction to Jesus in Israel, which he believes Matthew intentionally draws out by distinguishing the authorities and the crowds from one another (135). Maintaining his Christological focus, he notes that the conflict revolved around his authority as the Davidic Messiah, which the crowds recognized in his healings, but the religious leaders directly opposed. Likewise his teaching on the proper understanding of God’s will, i.e., the Law and the Prophets, also proved a dividing line. “To speak of healing and teaching is to speak summarily of the central aspects of Jesus’ ministry (cf. 4.23; 9.35; and 21.14 + 21.32a), and so the opposition against Jesus directed itself against his ministry as a whole” (136). In short, the division between the crowds and authorities was Christological. And this division remained a reality throughout Jesus’ passion, including 27:25. So, argues Konradt, Matthew does not have in view a collective rejection of Jesus in Israel; instead, Jerusalem is now included in the battle lines, which was anticipated in 2:3 and in Jesus foretelling his death (16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19). It was not Israel as a whole, but the authorities and the people of Jerusalem who decided against their Messiah (27:25).

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