Book Write-Up: The Gospel of the Son of God, by David R. Bauer

David R. Bauer. The Gospel of the Son of God: An Introduction to Matthew. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

David R. Bauer teaches biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.

This book covers the content of the Gospel of Matthew from its beginning to its end. It also goes into issues surrounding the Gospel of Matthew, such as its authorship, date, place of origin, and the different types of scholarly criticisms, as well as topics in the Gospel, including Christology, God, eschatology, and discipleship.

Some thoughts and observations:

A. Scholars debate about whether Papias was referring to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew when he talked about a Gospel that Matthew wrote. Papias says that the Gospel in question was a book of Hebrew sayings, and that seems to differ from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew. Bauer makes a fairly reasonable case that Papias indeed was referring to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew. First, Papias uses the term logia not only for sayings but also for narrative (i.e., the Gospel of Mark), and the Gospel of Matthew contains both. Second, the Gospel of Matthew uses Q, which may have originally been in Aramaic. Aramaic was called “Hebrew” in antiquity. Third, early church fathers believed that Papias was referring to the Gospel of Matthew.

B. Bauer contends that the Gospel of Matthew was a Jewish Christian Gospel yet endorsed the inclusion of Gentiles into the Christian community and God’s Kingdom. Like the early Methodists, who were in Methodist communities yet also were part of Anglicanism, people in Matthew’s church may have been part of the Christian community while still remaining in the synagogue. Matthew’s community believed in the continued viability of the Torah, as Jesus affirmed its underlying principle of love and expanded its reach to the heart, not just external actions. Yet, it embraced an approach to the Torah that diverged, in areas, from the Torah itself and from Pharisaic interpretation and application of it. This is evident on such issues as Sabbath observance and divorce. Jesus’s innovations in Matthew are due to his inaugurating new conditions (i.e., the increased presence of the Holy Spirit), which necessitate a new approach to the Torah. Bauer offers an interpretation of Jesus’s warning not to flee Jerusalem on the Sabbath day (Matthew 24:20). According to Bauer, Matthew’s community was evangelizing Jews and did not want to create a stumblingblock by flagrantly disrespecting the Sabbath day. In this scenario, Matthew’s Jesus was not assuming that Christians were required to observe the Sabbath but rather supporting respect for the Sabbath for evangelistic purposes.

C. Christology looms large in this book. Bauer spends pages on Matthew’s definition of “Son of God” and whether Matthew believed in Jesus’s divinity. Bauer believes that “Son of God” encompasses Jesus’s status as ideal Israel and son of David yet goes beyond that, since Matthew agrees with Mark that Jesus was more than the son of David. For Bauer, Jesus’s virgin birth relates to how he was the Son of God. Regarding the question of Jesus’s divinity, Bauer is agnostic about whether Matthew saw Jesus as ontologically divine, yet he maintains that Matthew regarded Jesus as functionally divine. Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel carries divine titles, receives worship, does things that God does, mediates God’s presence, possesses divine authority, knows God in a manner that others do not, embodies divine wisdom, and is present with the church after his resurrection in a way that God is present with people.

D. In terms of eschatology, Bauer believes that Matthew sees the Kingdom of God as already and not yet. It encompasses the eschaton and the Second Coming, but, presently, it entails the creation of disciples of Jesus. Matthew 24, for Bauer, does not envision the Second Coming occurring in the first century. Bauer appeals to details of Matthew 24 to make this case. For example, Jesus says that the events of 70 C.E. marked the beginning of sorrows but was not the actual end. In addition, Jesus affirmed that no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’s Second Coming. Bauer concludes that the signs Jesus talks about would precede the destruction of Jerusalem, whereas the Second Coming would occur unexpectedly, without any signs preceding it. Bauer provides food for thought, yet he seems to contradict himself when he accepts N.T. Wright’s view that Jesus’s Second Coming in Matthew 24 relates to Jesus coming to his Father at his resurrection and the vindication of Jesus through the events of 70 C.E. This runs contrary to his argument that 70 C.E. and the Second Coming are distinct from each other.

E. Regarding salvation, Bauer does not seem to think that Matthew regards it as based on justification by grace through faith alone. In Matthew’s Gospel, people will be judged, not only on their belief in Jesus, but also on their words, whether or not they do righteousness, and what they do with the opportunities for mission that God gives them. Matthew 25 relates to Jesus’s judgment of the church as to whether it takes care of the least within its midst, and the price of not doing so is hell. A profound repentance is a requirement for being in God’s Kingdom. Yet, Bauer maintains that Matthew presents God as generous and gracious and assumes different levels of eschatological reward and punishment.

F. The book is not so much a verse-by-verse commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, but it goes through passages and shows how the parts fit into the whole. For example, in discussing Matthew 7:1-5, Bauer says that a critical spirit towards others runs contrary to identifying the sins in one’s own life and repenting of them.

G. Overall, Bauer is thorough and judicious in his discussions, leaving few loose ends. Even though one may think that his conclusions appear all over the place, there is a remarkable coherence to them. There are two loose ends, however. First, Bauer argues that John the Baptist was not a part of God’s Kingdom, yet he also states that God’s Kingdom retroactively includes the Old Testament saints. Bauer defends both points from elements in Matthew’s Gospel, but he fails to reconcile them with each other. Second, Bauer asserts that church discipline relates to things that Jesus did not explicitly address, and God supports the church’s decision. That just seems to give the church too much power, in my opinion, which can be abused. Yet, Bauer denies that church discipline’s legitimate application is arbitrary but coincides with the character of God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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