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La »poca fede« nel vangelo di Matteo. Uno studio esegetico-teologico.
Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico 2005. 302 S. gr.8° = Analecta Biblica, 156. Kart. EUR 20,00. ISBN 88-7653-156-4.
Benedict Thomas Viviano
This book is a revised dissertation in biblical theology written under the direction of Klemens Stock, submitted to the Gregorian University in Rome. It examines the five pericopes in Matthew where the term »little faith« is used (oligopistos, oligopistia), a usage proper to Q and to Matthew, a sub-theme within the macro-theme of faith, closely related to the themes of discipleship and of doubt. These links are explicit in the gospel. The subject matter is thus of both perennial and timely interest. Because the theme of doubt is so interesting, C. adds a chapter on 28:17, the doubt of the disciples before the risen Christ.
After a brief introduction, which mentions Matthew’s covenant formulary framing of the whole gospel (1:23; 28:20; why not also mention 18:20?), and reviews five earlier studies (by H. J. Held, H. Klein, V. Fusco, A. Ogawa and V. Mora), and states its synchronic, atomizing yet contextualizing method, the work consists of six chapters and a conclusion. The chapters concern the four uses of the adjective oligopistos, the one of the noun oligopistia, and a chapter on doubt. The five passages are: 1. 6:30, in the section on anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. This case poses most of the questions. Is the teaching addressed to all hearers of good will or only to disciples? (Matt 5:1 versus 7:28). C. prefers the second option. For him, 6:30 speaks directly only to the disciples; only they can be of little faith (50–51). Since this verse comes from Q (Luke 12:28), it could go back to Jesus, but if so, what might be the Semitic substratum? C.s synchronic method does not allow him to ask, much less answer such questions. Even though he notes synoptic/Johannine parallels, here and elsewhere, they are not discussed in detail or allowed to make a contribution. C. wants to study a primarily Matthean theme, without practicing redaction criticism.
2. Matt 8:26 occurs within the stilling of the storm, a story in the triple tradition, and addressed to the disciples. 3. 14:31. Walking on the water is an episode told also in Mark and John, but not in Luke. Here however the word »of little faith« occurs in Matthean special material, Peter’s walk on the water. Here the link with doubt is made explicit. 4. 16:8, embedded in the teaching on the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, is addressed to all the disciples. 5. 17:20 contains the noun < /span>oligopistia, a hapax within the New Testament. It occurs in the healing of the epileptic boy, which the disciples are not able to heal. To this analysis is joined the episode of the barren fig tree, with its strong teaching on faith. The sixth chapter deals with the mixture of doubt and worship of the eleven at meeting the risen Christ, where again C. does not decide whether all or only some of the eleven doubted. The conclusion tries to make the point that there is a progression in Jesus’ pedagogy of the disciples in the course of the five texts. (This must remain uncertain, because of the address to the crowds in the first case, and the same state of belief and doubt in the last case, which gives the impression that the disciples have made little or no progress.) The conclusion also notes the object of faith in the five cases: in the first case, little faith in God the Father’s providential care, in the other cases, Jesus’ strength to save, and mentions five lessons for a »practice« of the faith.
Despite the present significance of its subject matter (little faith and doubt, faith and doubt), this book is unsatisfactory in the reviewer’s estimate. The methodological problems begin with the first sentence of the preface (by the director): »Only in the gospel of Matthew does Jesus speak of little faith.« This is plainly false, as noted on p. 9. But the book’s method prevents it from facing the music posed by the synoptic question. Most hard questions are studiously and endlessly deferred, e. g., the structure of the gospel (253); C. seems not to see that the tripartite division of Matthew is an ideological strategy to minimize the role of the discourses. The book tends to pious exaggeration (e. g., 184 and 191), while showing no use of historical or sociological reality checks. (There is no index of references, so it is hard to check the use of sources, e. g., Josephus.) C. only admits rhetorical exaggeration in the gospel when he is pushed to the wall (207); there he denounces the »delusion of omnipotence« regarding the moving of mountains; this is a form of theological critical thinking which he otherwise avoids.
The required length is attained by simply rehearsing what the gospel says, e. g., by studying other passages in Matthew, that is, by enlarging the context. This is not a wrong approach in itself, but since the surface of the texts is hardly ever penetrated, the result gives the impression of a certain shallow diffusion of energy. Since comparisons with Q and Mark are avoided, the picture of Matthew’s theology is blurred. C.s missed opportunities, for the reviewer, were a consideration of the five sins of Peter (Matt 14:31; 16:22; 26:56; 26:69–55; Gal 2:11–14) taken as a group, and a deeper reflection on the values and dangers of doubt: heuristic tool, paralyzing suspicion, safeguard against fanaticism, violence, hatred, illusion. It is regrettable that an inadequate method has turned an important redactional theme into a timid and tedious book, which however shows great discipline and promise for the future.