vrijdag 8 februari 2013

Review of: Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2007; in: Interpretation

Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2007

Review in: Interpretation 2009 63: 180
Review door: John Y. H. Yieh
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/63/2/180.full.pdf+html

Matthew 1-7: A Commentary
by Ulrich Luz
Hermeneia, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007.
432 pp. $75.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-8006-6099-4.

THIS NEW RELEASE COMPLETES the Hermeneia edition (three volumes) of Ulrich Luz's critically acclaimed commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, originally published in the German Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar series (four volumes). This volume (Matthew 1-7) is based on the thoroughly revised fifth German edition of Vol. 1 (finished in 2000 and published by Benziger and Neukirchener in 2002). It replaces an earlier English edition in the Continental Commentary series (Fortress, 1989), which was translated from the first German edition of 1985.

One might ask why there is a need for a new translation. The main reason is that the revised fifth edition in German has grown from 420 pages in the first edition to 553 pages. The twenty-five percent increase in content includes not only clarifications and corrections of Luz's earlier notes and positions, but also new discussions of Matthew's texts from narrative-critical, sociological, and reader-oriented exegeses. These thoughtful revisions reflect Luz's genuine appreciation of recent methodological advances and his honest interaction with critical reviews from colleagues over the past fifteen years. As a result, he offers new insights gleaned from current Matthean scholarship.

More importantly, Luz has had more time to explore and develop the so-called "history of the text's influence" (Wirkungsgeschichte) approach that he adopted from Hans Georg Gadamer, a philosophical hermeneutician, and began to apply to his reading of Matthew in the first edition. This approach attends not only to what biblical texts might have meant to their first readers in historical contexts, but also seeks to find well-reasoned ways to make sense of their meaning for the present time. It assumes that every reader comes to biblical texts with presuppositions and perspectives formed and shaped in different ecclesial and interpretive traditions (e.g., Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Anabaptist, or Pentecostal). Thus, critical reflection on influential expositions of Matthew's themes in major commentaries and theological writings across denominations, as well as a text's influence in such popular forms as sermons, hymns, and the arts throughout history may provide the reader with ecumenical insights and corrective examples for consideration. In order to bring "the biblical texts of the past into the present" and in so doing bring some "judgments about the present" (p. 65), Luz adds to his exegetical comments on each pericope of the Gospel a section entitled "History of Interpretation," in which he surveys church history to highlight contested interpretations of the texts and discusses their theological implications, pastoral relevance, and social consequences. These discussions help the reader compare, contrast, and discern what "directional meaning" might be appropriately drawn from Matthew's texts for the purpose of theologizing, preaching, or teaching today. This innovative section is a characteristic of Luz's commentary and is particularly important for an age that has often forgotten the lessons of history.

A fascinating feature of this new edition is Luz's use of Christian arts to illustrate changing views of Matthew's nativity stories in the history of the church. Indeed, paintings reflect an individual artist's view of the nativity stories, but also create new understandings of the texts for the viewing audience and function for many as a pictorial Bible. A critical survey of paintings reveals the variety of interpretations (e.g., christological, salvation-historical, pietistic-exemplar, and political) that circulated in the church in different times and settings. Readers are thus presented with multiple meanings that may speak to their special concerns and interests. Those willing to learn from historical interpretations (textual, artistic, liturgical, and life) and critically assess their impact (positive and negative on individuals and society) will find assistance as they seek to bring out potential meanings of the texts appropriate for new situations. Hindsight can be very instructive when making new interpretive decisions.

This volume is a must read for serious students of Matthew, especially preachers and teachers, for other compelling reasons. First, as Vol. 1 of a three-volume commentary, it provides judicious and updated introductory materials on the literary character, source traditions, and historical situations of Matthew's Gospel, from one of the best Matthean scholars. This material presents a clear picture of recent scholarship and sets up signposts for current debates on critical issues in Matthean studies. Most remarkable in the introduction is Luz's succinct definition and discussion of the "history of the text's influence" approach he has pioneered in recent years. Distinguishing WirkungsgeschichtefromAuslegungsgeschichte and Rezeptionsgeschichte, Luz makes it clear that his purpose is to discern the "effective power of the texts themselves" rather than the people who receive the texts (p. 61). His interest goes beyond the realm of history to the practice of hermeneutics. Luz is unable to discuss all of Matthew's texts in detail and explains why he favors some texts "whose later influences paradig-matically form and illuminate the present situation of churches, confessions, and Christians" (p. 62). This approach, he insists, reminds us of the "abundance of the meaning potential in biblical texts" and helps us learn from "successful and unsuccessful realization of biblical texts" in our attempt to preach and teach Matthew with integrity today (pp. 64r-65). Readers interested in further exploration of this approach may consult two other perceptive books by Luz: Matthew in History: Interpretation, Influence, and Effects (Fortress, 1994) and Studies in Matthew (Eerdmans, 2005), in which he explains the rationale, methods, and significance of this approach.

Moreover, this volume covers the first seven chapters of Matthew's Gospel, so it contains gospel traditions peculiar to Matthew (i.e., the nativity stories and the Sermon on the Mount). The importance of Jesus' virgin birth for christological discussion and the significance of the magi's visit for Christmas celebration go without saying. How have Christians made sense of Jesus' divine origin in the early church and in a post-Enlightenment era? As mentioned above, Luz's attention to Christian art sheds new light on this question. What about the Sermon on the Mount? How did godly and intelligent people in the past wrestle with its high moral demands? In much of his discussion of the "History of Interpretation," Luz brings the reader face to face with the radical discipleship commanded by Jesus. Is the Sermon on the Mount a new law to be obeyed, as assumed in the ancient church, or a preparation for the gospel, as suggested by Luther? How can one follow such exhortations not to resist evil-doers and to love one's enemies in a time of terrorism and war (even though the Anabaptists and Ghandi have done so)? Can one trust in the loving care of God the heavenly Father so much that there is no need to save money for emergency or retirement in a capitalist society? The Sermon on the Mount is extremely challenging for any reader serious about discipleship. Luz's commentary is a superb resource for serious reflection and critical discernment.

Also noteworthy and useful are excurses on the fulfillment quotations and concepts such as righteousness, Son of God, disciple, and false prophets. In these short essays, Luz offers lucid explanations of key themes and motifs in Matthew's Gospel to help the reader better understand Matthew's narrative logic and theological convictions. Since Luz writes this commentary particularly for preachers and teachers, his insights on "preaching and teaching" in Matthew's Gospel (pp. 168-169) and his reflection on the "praxis of the Sermon on the Mount today" (pp. 395-400) are particularly noteworthy.

With his meticulous exegesis, precise exposition, and theological acumen on the history of interpretation and the history of the text's influence, Luz has made Matthew's Gospel understandable and relevant to contemporary Christian faith and discipleship. Moreover, as he explains Matthew's texts and intentions, he urges thoughtful readers to exercise critical discernment and responsible judgment as they prepare to preach and teach Matthew's Gospel. Any serious scholar, preacher, or teacher who wishes to explore the abundant meaning and vital relevance of Matthew's Gospel for the faith and life of the church, or who wants to learn about the "history of the text's influence" approach as a way to bring biblical texts of the past into the present, cannot afford to miss this new classic on the Gospel of Matthew. It sets a very high standard for any Bible commentary yet to be written.


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