Wages of Cross-Bearing and Debt of Sin: The Economy of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel
This significant monograph highlights a neglected feature of Matthew’s Gospel, namely the use of economic language to explain soteriology. It is the revision of a dissertation written under the supervision of Richard Hays at Duke University. Eubank is presently at Keble College, Oxford, as the Clarendon-Laing Associate Professor in New Testament Studies.
The book begins with a survey of statements about heavenly treasure and debts in the Old Testament and in the literature of second-temple Judaism. Proverbs 19:17, for example, states: “If you help the poor you are lending to the Lord, and he will repay you.” Another relevant text, Proverbs 24:12, is cited in Matthew 16:27 and Romans 2:6: “He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” Eubank shows how this theme of good deeds as a treasure in heaven is developed in literature that is antecedent to and contemporaneous with the New Testament. He then considers the theme of sin as debt in Matthew and how faithful living is linked to treasure in heaven. For example, the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew includes the petition: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those indebted to us” (6:12), and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:23–35), using money as a cipher for sin, shows the peril of the failure to forgive others. On the other hand, disciples are taught to “store treasures in heaven” (6:19), an invitation also extended to the rich man (19:21). Eubank makes the point that the term μισθός, often translated “reward,” should be translated “wage” or “repayment.” “Reward,” he argues, suggests something like a bonus rather than a recompense for work done and it obscures the connection between faithful living and laying up treasure in heaven.
Eubank traces these themes through Matthew with regard to both Jesus’s teaching and his manner of life. He argues that taking one’s cross and following Jesus is the primary means of accruing heavenly treasure and that Jesus by his faithful life accrued a great treasure that gave meaning to his statement “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). Eubank concludes that the ransom Jesus paid is based on his treasure accrued from faithful living and that is in turn used to buy freedom from the debt bondage of sin for all people.
While pointing to an important theme in Matthew (and elsewhere in the New Testament, e.g., 1 Tim. 6:18–19) that is often overlooked (or otherwise explained) by Protestants (Eubank is Catholic), if Eubank overstates the centrality of this theme in Matthew’s soteriology (a not-uncommon failing of dissertation writers), he nonetheless performs a valuable service in calling attention to this aspect of the Gospel’s message.