Friday, July 24, 2009

In Store Now - Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew

We just received this in the store today and I'm already itching to read it. It is Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew by Jonathan T. Pennington who is assistant professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I made the mistake of skimming the introduction and now I'm hooked.

He writes, "Almost without exception, kingdom of heaven is explained away as a mere circumlocution on the part of the Evangelist to avoid saying the name of God. This explanation is given by nearly every commentator, both erudite and popular. It is not surprising that reference works of all kinds follow the same line of thinking as the commentators. . . I will argue that despite widespread acceptance of this view, it rests on very thin historical evidence. This notion apparently stems from but a singular modern source (Gustaf Dalman) and is teeming with methodological flaws. A close analysis of the literature in question reveals that there is very little reason to believe that there was a clear pattern of using heaven to avoid the name of God in Jesus' day, nor that this was motivating Matthew's usage." (pp. 4 & 7)

Pennington covers much more than just this issue. He takes issue with the view that "kingdom" "always means 'rule' or 'reign' and not a territorial kingdom." (7) Rather he attempts to show "the qualifying genitive reference to heaven indicates that a spatial understanding is central to Matthew's usage, even though this does not preclude a connotation of reign as well." (emphasis his, 7)

The endorsements on the back only entice me more.

Dale C. Allison Jr., says "When I began it read this book, I was sure that the main thesis was wrong. When I finished, I was sure it was right. This is a significant contribution that corrects much we have mistakenly taken for granted."

Richard Bauckham writes "Matthew's distinctive use of the term kingdom of heaven is usually treated as an insignificant variant of kingdom of God. Pennington's persuasive argument shows, however, that it is integral to Matthew's theology and serves a distinctive theological purpose. This book makes an important contribution to our appreciation of the theology of Matthew's Gospel."

Robert W. Yarbrough states "This clear and compelling study sheds fresh light on familiar but inadequately understood expressions dominant in Matthew's Gospel. Specialists will appreciate Pennington's thoroughness, logical rigor, and independence of judgment. Pastors and advanced students will benefit from his practical findings. This is a model of creative investigation into Matthew's theological convictions and literary strategy."

I may have to spend some time away from my other (already long delayed) books to spend just a little time with this most appealing work. It is paperback, 399 pages (including indexes) and sells for $42.99.


Paul D. Adams said...'re way too close to the loading dock of your store. The only place closer is at the press where the paper is cut and typeset is finalized! I want your job ;->.

Sounds like a fascinating read with new territory covered. Thanks for the post.

Louis said...

You're right, I am. I've finished the first chapter "Challenging the Circumlocution Assumption" and it was excellent. Pennington offers a four-fold response to the theory that is based on Gustaf Dalman's conclusions. He dismantltes Dalman's theory with a surgeon's precision. With that out of the way the remainder of the book is a reconstruction of the concept of heaven in Matthew and the setting forth of a positive alternative to what has been rejected. I'm so tempted to keep going.