Book Reviews

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

Matthias Konradt Waco, TX 2014

Most scholars agree that Matthew’s Gospel presents the picture of Jesus that is most conducive to a Jewish audience, but the exact relationship between Israel and Gentiles and between Israel and the church is debated. Jesus’s transition from a mission to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 10:6) to a call to disciple “all of the nations” (28:18–20) highlights the difficulty. Some interpreters argue that Jesus’s call to the nations is a response to Jewish rejection of his kingdom preaching. However, when the transition from 10:6 to 28:18–20 is understood within an intra-Jewish conversation, the relationship between Israel, the church, and Gentiles becomes more complex. This volume by Matthias Konradt shows the contours of this relationship from Matthew’s perspective.

For the most part, the Gospel of Matthew is a story of conflict. Konradt argues that the real conflict lies with the religious authorities, not Israel. Throughout the Gospel, Jewish people respond positively to Jesus’s ministry. During the Passion, when the crowd condemns Jesus, the religious authorities goad the angry mob. Matthew’s argument is not that the Gentiles replace Israel, but that the disciples replace the Jewish leadership. This clears the path for Konradt to define the relationship between Israel and the church. He concludes “that the emphatic concentration on Israel in Jesus’ mission does not serve to establish the people’s guilt and liability to judgment. Rather, the focus on Israel positively indicates the significance of Israel’s special position in the theological thought of the first evangelist” (p. 264).

According to Matthew, the Old Testament anticipates the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. The genealogy in chapter 1 points to this. By beginning with Abraham, Matthew alludes to the Abrahamic covenant and God’s blessing to all nations. Throughout the Gospel, Matthew emphasizes this with Jesus’s ministry to Gentiles (8:5–13, 28–34; 15:21–28). Matthew’s Christology gives this universal effect. Jesus is not just the Davidic heir; he is the Son of God with authority over all. Daniel 7:13–14 sits in the background, displaying the authority that God handed over to Jesus. For Konradt, Matthew’s Christology can account for the shift in his attention from Israel to the nations. He writes, “The two-tier concept of attention to Israel alone as a signature of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the extension of that attention to the nations in the commission by the resurrected Christ is accompanied by the sophisticated uncloaking of Jesus’ identity in the narrative development of Matthean fulfillment Christology” (p. 287).

The relationship between Israel and Gentiles undergirds Konradt’s discussion about the church. The church is not a replacement for Israel, rather it is a new group of people that emerges from Israel but also includes Gentiles (cf. Matt. 21:43). The church consists of those within the nation and outside it who have “accepted the λόγος τῆς βασιλείας (13.19) and [bear] fruit accordingly” (p. 336). The church comes about through Jesus’s death and resurrection, which is universal in scope. In this way Konradt challenges the modern notion that the church and Israel, or Judaism and Christianity, are two distinct and competing groups. This anachronistic reading ignores the church’s connection to Israel that Matthew develops throughout.

Konradt ends the volume with comments on Matthew’s intended audience—a minority of Gentile Christians and mainly Jewish Christians in competition with a Pharisaic brand of Judaism. This is speculative, but it makes sense of Matthew’s concerns. Matthew wrote during a time when Christianity, as well as Judaism, sought definition. At the outset, Christianity would have needed to define its relationship with Judaism.

Any theory is accountable to the text. This is the strength of Konradt’s work. His reading coheres with the structure of the Gospel and Matthew’s Christology, and he also provides careful exegesis of individual texts. Though his theory may appear specific, Konradt investigates several aspects of the Gospel as his question provides a basis for him to present a fresh reading of Matthew.

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Benjamin I. Simpson
Dr. Simpson joined the faculty in 2006 as the registrar. In 2011, he moved to Houston to work with the Houston campus. In 2016, he and his family moved to Washington DC where he continues helping external students complete their degrees while positively influencing their ministries. His research interests include Jesus, the Gospels, and hermeneutics. He is married to Amber and they have two children: Madison and Eli.
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