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Deines, Roland:


Die Gerechtigkeit der Tora im Reich des Messias. Mt 5,13­20 als Schlüsseltext der matthäischen Theologie.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2004. XVIII, 746 S. gr.8° = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 177. Lw. Euro 99,00. ISBN 3-16-148406-1.


Donald A. Hagner

One of the most difficult, and hence most often misunderstood, passages in the Gospel of Matthew, and indeed, in the entire New Testament itself, is Mt 5:17­20. What is to be the role of Torah in the new community of the church? What is the nature of righteousness (dikaiosyne) in this community? What is the relationship between demand and gift, between works and grace? These questions are of crucial importance not only within the Gospel of Matthew itself but also, of course, within the larger compass of the New Testament canon itself.

In this remarkable Habilitationsschrift Roland Deines takes up these questions by means of a thorough and insightful discussion of Mt 5:13­20. The contents of the book are divided into an introduction and two main parts. The introduction contains a setting of the main questions and various methodological observations, followed by discussion of the literary character of the Gospel. The first and longest part of the book, »Gerechtigkeit und Tora in Mt 5, 13­20«, consists of detailed treatment of this key passage. The second part of the book, half as long as the first part, deals with »Die Tora, David und die Gerechtigkeit«, and surveys the Son of David in Matthew and the concept of »righteousness« through the whole of the Old Testament canon. A conclusion to the entire work presents the results of the study under the title »Die Gerechtigkeit der Tora im Reich des Messias als Grundpfeiler der mt Theologie«.

D. makes it clear at the start that his concern is with the theology of the Gospel of Matthew as it stands, i. e. in its final form, as directed to its initial readers. He thereby sidesteps ordinary redaction-critical interests. D.¹s main interest is Matthew¹s theology as represented in the tri-polar complex of Torah, Messiah and righteousness, but also secondarily in the genesis of that theology. Regarding 5:17 as the key text for understanding Mt, D. first exegetes this and the surrounding verses before his treatment of Matthew¹s theology (section 12) and the biblical roots that lie behind it (section 13) that concludes the book.

Taking the Gospel as a whole and as a unity, as well as reading it in close relation to its Old Testament roots, gives D.¹s approach an impressive freshness. To begin with, he rightly rejects the argument of Hans Dieter Betz that the Sermon on the Mount is a kind of foreign body in the Gospel, essentially independent of the Gospel itself. On the contrary, argues D., it is the central piece of the Gospel and 5:17 may well be regarded as the Gospel¹s central text.

More importantly, D.¹s conclusions overturn some very common and influential readings of Matthew. He denies, for example, that every one of the seven occurrences of the word »righteousness« in Matthew refers to the obedience of the ethical demands of the law, finding in the first and last of these (3:15 and 21:32) a framing reference to the mission of Jesus, as a mission that leads to righteousness. But the most important corrective D. has to make concerns the relationship between righteousness and soteriology in Matthew. The key to a correct understanding of 5:17 is to note that it is the »law and the prophets« that Jesus has come not to abolish but to »fulfill«. In view here is a turning point in Heilsgeschichte in which the Messiah, the Son of David, now present among his people, establishes the law but in a fundamentally new way, through his teaching. A new eschatological situation has come with Jesus wherein the law is enabled to reach its goal or fulfillment. Neither 5:17 nor indeed 5:18, with its reference to »not a jot or a tittle« passing from the law, however, amount to a new and more aggressive establishment of the specific stipulations of the Mosaic Torah, thus imposing a new nomism upon the church. The antecedent figure who prefigures Jesus is not so much Moses as it is David; it is as Messiah that Jesus brings the law to fruition, together with the inbreaking of the rule of God.

Against such giants as Ulrich Luz and Georg Strecker, D. argues that 5:18­20 does not amount to a call to a thorough and unqualified Torah obedience as the prerequisite to the salvation of the community. It is fulfillment of Messianic Torah that is in view here, and that alters the entire perspective and dynamic of the law. Although many take »the least of these commandments« in 5:19 as an isolated piece of Jewish-Christian halachic nomism that does not fit well into Matthew, D. understands the phrase as a reference specifically to the commandments of Jesus and integrates it well into Matthew¹s theology. Similarly, 5:20 is not to be understood as arguing that entrance into the kingdom is via the observance of commandments. It is not a call to the disciples to create a righteousness of their own, but to participate in the eschatological righteousness that Jesus brings and makes possible. It is a call to a missionary existence whereby the disciples become salt and light for the world. In a final assessment, the righteousness of Matthew is a »Jesus-righteousness«.

The essential factor in a correct understanding of Matthew and Matthew¹s view of the law is the evangelist¹s conviction that with the coming of Jesus, Son of David and Son of God, the promised rule of God arrives. We are thereby brought into a new time frame that necessarily brings about a transformation of the Torah. The understanding of Torah, righteousness, and indeed the entirety of the Gospel is thus christologically determined. What is especially important to note in D.¹s analysis is that in Matthew the Torah is not done away with. Matthew is in no sense against the law. It remains for Matthew something given by God. Through the »one teacher« (23:8), the Torah takes its new, transformed place. D. stresses that observance of Torah in itself cannot lead to righteousness. Righteousness is something that only Jesus can bring. Here again we see the crucial importance of christology. Through Jesus, the promised Messiah and Son of God, the Torah is taken up and given new legitimacy. It becomes the Messianic Torah and is perpetuated in and through the teaching of Jesus.

How is it then that texts so often misunderstood can be read in this fresh, constructive and illuminating way? One common reason texts are often poorly understood is that they are read superficially and atomistically, in isolation from their immediate and larger contexts. Here precisely is the strength of D.¹s book. On the one hand, D. interprets his key passage in light of the totality of the Gospel of Matthew and successfully integrates it into the perspective of the whole. More than that, however, he places the material in the larger historical context of the scriptures of Israel, enabling us to see not only what the evangelist meant, but also how he was able to arrive at his conclusions.

It is, of course, impossible in this short review to do justice to D.¹s magnificent volume.

His expert knowledge of Judaism and Jewish sources is rewarding; his knowledge of the pertinent secondary literature and his interaction with it are impressive. Although, of course, one might take exception to this or that point, this would be quibbling given the persuasiveness of the main project itself. All in all D.¹s book is thoroughly satisfying. It provides a rich feast of biblical theology and a much needed corrective to the all-too-common misunderstanding of Torah and righteousness in Matthew. What the evangelist writes in 13:52 can well serve as a lodestar for the interpretation of his Gospel: »Therefore every scribe trained for the kingdom of God is like a householder who brings out of the treasure box new things and old things«. D. has shown us again that it is in the careful balance of the new and old (not in the neglect of either) that one comes to a correct understanding of this Gospel.