Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew

Heaven and Earth

Matthew’s idiolectic use of Kingdom of Heaven has perplexed the multitudes. With Kingdom appearing 162 times in the entire New Testament, it appears 126 times in the Gospels. Moreover, Kingdom appears 55 times in Matthew; yet, only 5 times with the genitive God (Kingdom of God) and 32 times with heaven (Kingdom of Heaven). Jonathan Pennington, in Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, provides a superb analysis by providing solutions to this data.

Pennington’s thesis is multi-layered. Seeking to uncover the relationship between heaven and earth in Matthew, Pennington’s discussion begins with a deconstruction of Matthean presuppositions over the past 100 years concerning the reverential circumlocution. The Jewish nature of Matthew has led some to observe the reverential Jewish assumption of substituting other words for God and, consequently, conclude that Matthew exchanges Kingdom of God with Kingdom of Heaven. Pennington’s deconstruction is quite convincing by demonstrating Dalman’s (The Words of Jesus, 1902) scholarship to contain inconsistencies based on a faulty methodology, and, at not fault to Dalman, an inability to examine all the 2nd Temple intertestamental literature. Pennington proceeds to examine the evidence from OT, LXX, Qumran, Psuedipigrapha, and the New Testament literature. His conclusions, though, don’t fully negate the idea of circumlocution, but he does provide enough data to conclude this is not the prevailing or dominant pattern in Jewish literature. Furthermore, Matthew uses Kingdom of God, heaven is used in the singular and plural, and, thusly, the combined effort of these three items argue against a reverential circumlocution. (Keep in mind, Pennington’s argument is more developed). A cosmological duality may provide a better answer for Matthew’s use of Heaven and Earth.

Pennington’s second aim is to provide a diachronic evaluation of Earth, Heaven, and Heaven and Earth. Uncovering the evidence from the OT, LXX, Qumran, Pseudepigrapha, and New Testament literature, there appears to be a common dual, bi-parte distinction of the world. The uses of οὐρανός and οὐρανοί in Matthew have specific meanings, as Pennington explains:

Matthew generally uses οὐρανός in the singular to refer to the visible (earthly) world and in ‘heaven and earth’ pairs, and he uses the plural to refer to the invisible (divine) realm. (132)

This analysis of Earth, Heaven, and Heaven and Earth, in the various literature, demonstrates inconsistent patterns and reveals very few sources aiding Matthean interpretation. Therefore, Matthew appears to have idolectic patterns.

Finally, Pennington provides an analysis of Heaven and Earth in Matthew with special attention to the Father (e.g. “heavenly father” or “the Father in heaven”) and the kingdom (e.g. “Kingdom of Heaven”). Too often than not, ecclesiastic concerns interpret heavenly father with a framework of intimacy by placing human fathers in juxtaposition to the heavenly Father. Rather, Pennington appeals to sovereignty. With similar allusions to Daniel, the “God in Heaven” contains sovereign, rule-like implications over the kingdoms of the earth. Therefore, though “Heavenly father” can carry notions of intimacy, it extends much beyond that to depict His rule.

With apparent allusions to Son of Man and Kingdom of Heaven, Daniel’s (i.e., Daniel 2–7) duality of kingdoms on earth and the kingdom from heaven prove helpful. Therefore, rather than appealing to circumlocution, Matthew’s Kingdom of Heaven continues this cosmological duality and describes a Kingdom that is unlike any earthly kingdom—either Jewish or Gentile.

By describing this kingdom as heavenly or from heaven, Matthew highlights and heightens the tension between God’s kingdom and all earthly kingdoms. (322)

Upon completing this work, there are other areas for further research. First, what is the relationship between land and earth in Matthew? As related to the Kingdom, Dispensationalists have predominantly emphasized the idea of land in their literature. However, the idea of centralized land has not been as prevalent in other eschatological trends. Matthew’s theological themes do reveal Jesus as true Israel and the Kingdom exceeding contemporary expectations. Matthew describes the expansion of centralized land—central to Israel—to extend to the earth. Next, Genesis and Daniel appear to have various influential elements on Matthew’s message. It would be helpful, either through intertextuallity (if any) or by thematic analysis, to see the relationship between these three books. Third, though Kingdom of Heaven is strictly Matthean, how did patristic theology develop Matthew’s idolectic duality (Kingdom of Heaven and earth) and the Kingdom of God?

Entering this discussion with prejudice against the circumlocution idea, Pennington has provided a necessary substitute for describing Matthew’s use of Heaven and Earth. I anticipate, hopefully, this book being used in the top discussions of Matthew. If this fails to happen, it will be a great disservice to Matthean scholarship and the on-going conversation of the Kingdom.

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3 thoughts on “Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew

  1. Alright I’ll buy it. But to what degree does inter-testamental literature influence him? I still have a problem with a lot of weight given to those writers.

  2. Pingback: The Kingdom of Heaven, as once was promised. | We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

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