Charles L. Quarles. A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed As Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator (Explorations in Biblical Theology). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013. 240 pp. $17.99.
I believe passionately that the church needs the academy; that lay Christians without Bible college or seminary education also need to think deeply about their faith, digging deeper into the meaning of biblical texts rather than jumping immediately into what it means “to them,” reading theological books rather than just books on “Christian living.” But good/appropriate resources can be hard to find; sometimes when you look for books that aren’t fluff, what you find are overly technical books that are great for the nerds and academics, but difficult and dry for the rest.
The Explorations in Biblical Theology series from P&R seeks to fill this gap, offering believers substantial biblical and theological content at a popular-level of readability and accessibility. The series (which is not yet complete) includes two types of books, those that treat a biblical theme (e.g. the Holy Spirit, justification) and those that treat the theology of a book of the Bible. Each book seeks to be Reformed in orientation and treats its topic (whether theme or biblical book) from the perspective of biblical theology.”Explorations in Biblical Theology is committed to being warm and winsome, with a focus to applying God’s truth to life” (x).
Intentionally titled “A Theology of Matthew” rather than “A Theology of the Gospel of Matthew,” this book seeks to explore the theology of the apostle Matthew. Part 1 sets this up by briefly tackling issues of authorship, date, location, audience, and intended structure in chapter 1. Quarles states the purpose of the gospel of Matthew as follows:
“From the first line of Matthew’s gospel, it is apparent that Matthew intends to focus his gospel on Jesus Christ. The description of Jesus as the Son of David and Son of Abraham indicates that Matthew intends to explain multiple facets of Jesus’ identity. Thus, Matthew’s gospel is Christocentric, and any responsible treatment of the theology of his gospel must emphasize Matthew’s Christology…Matthew’s primary concern is to reveal Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, and Immanuel, to his readers…Matthew has other concerns…but these are subordinate to his focus on Jesus” (16).
Thus, this book focuses largely on Matthew’s Christology rather than his broader theology; however, other theological themes that are so tightly integrated as to be inseparable are treated in an integrative approach.
Chapter 2 is an introduction to the theological study of Matthew. The Christology of Matthew can’t be approached with a simple survey of titles of Jesus; it takes a mining of the depths of the entirety of the gospel that is a work of a lifetime. However, Quarles provides several simple steps:
- Discovering the central message (via the grammatical statement of the book, which most scholars agree to as Matthew 1:21)
- Understanding first-century Judaism (modern readers often fail to understand this gospel as Matthew’s original readers would have due to lack of familiarity with the Old Testament and Second Temple Literature.
- Vertical reading of the gospel (reading from start to finish, preferably in a single sitting)
- Horizontal reading of the gospel (reading the gospel of Matthew in a harmony that places the three synoptic gospels in parallel columns)
The rest of the book is divided into four parts, looking at Jesus as the new Moses (deliverer), the new David (king), the new Abraham (founder of a new chosen people), and the new Creator (God and author of new creation). Each part looks first at Matthew’s development of the theme, then the theological significance of the theme.
This book is a great introduction to the theology of Matthew (written from the perspective of biblical theology). It is accessible to laypeople, as it is largely free from biblical languages and technical jargon. Yet it is still rich and deep in biblical and theological development, with ample footnotes for those who desire further study. This book not only enriches your understanding of the gospel of Matthew (especially its Christology), but it also enriches your understanding of the Old Testament as Quarles shows how countless Old Testament Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ. This book also draws us to worship.
A Theology of Matthew is a book for Christians anywhere on the spectrum – from laypeople interested in a deeper study of Matthew to Bible students and seminarians to pastors. For those who enjoy studying with Bible commentaries, I think this book is a great supplement since commentaries don’t draw out theological themes in this way.
Many thanks to J.C. and P&R for sending me a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!