Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 8 – “Son of God” in Matthew)

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I have been thoroughly enjoying Daniel Kirk’ssaintmatthew.JPG newest book, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Overall his thesis is proving to be extremely persuasive as well as a welcome addition to the many scholarly voices on Christology these days. Today I will discuss the section entitled “Son of God in Matthew,” which is the final section in the second chapter. As per my custom, I will summarize and review Kirk’s arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments and observations of my own in italics.

  • Son of God for Matthew’s implied readers – Kirk rightly notes that those who read and obey the teachings of Jesus contained within Matthew’ Gospel may authentically regard God as their heavenly Father, thus making them sons (and daughters) of God. In other words, the father-son terminology is not reserved for Jesus alone but is used of the Church which seeks to follow the words of Jesus as outlined by Matthew. How can the title “son of God” be a persuasive reference for divinity or even the divine side of the later doctrine of the two natures?
  • Hosea 11:1 – The first reference to Jesus’ sonship is in a citation from Hosea 11:1 used in reference to Jesus leaving Egypt as a child. The phrase “Out of Egypt I have called my son” originally referred to God’s election and rescue of the nation of Israel during the Exodus event. In Matthew, however, Jesus is the fulfilment (dare I say, embodiment) of Israel, and Exod 4:22-23 clearly regards Israel is son of God. Jesus is thus regarded typologically as the new Israel (son of God), a nod to Exodus’s title used of the nation in regard to their election.
  • Baptism – Matthew, like Mark and Luke, places heavy emphasis on Jesus’ baptism where he is identified (and anointed) as the messianic son of God. Jesus submits himself to John’s baptism in solidarity with the rest of Israel. Kirk sees in this narrative hints that Matthew may even by pointing to Jesus as the new Isaac, drawing attention particularly to the language of “my beloved son” from Gen 22:2, 12. I still think more can be made out of the baptism/anointing of Jesus as the messianic son of God, an event alluded to later in the Gospel (21:25) in order to answer a question about Jesus’ self-understood authority to enact prophetic signs of judgment in the temple. If son of God is a messianic (kingly) title then the baptism allowed others to hear the voice from heaven designate Jesus as the kingly son of God, one who because he is the king possesses legitimate authority over the temple (cf 2 Sam 7:13).
  • Johannine bolt from the sky – The reference in 10:22 to Jesus full knowledge of the Father is not due to, according to Kirk, ontological unity with the Father or Jesus’ supposed preexistence in heaven. Nothing in the text indicates a coequal or omniscient relationship between the Father and Jesus ( esp. 24:36 discussed below). Rather, it is best understood in light of Israel’s kings and prophets sometimes regarded to possess exclusive divine knowledge. Kirk helpfully notes that there is a major narrative emphasis in Matthew regarding the people’s ability to recognize God’s authorized agents. He offers examples drawn from his research in the first chapter of the book regarding idealized human figures who were admitted into heavenly/sacred space: Moses (Heb 8:5), Isaiah (Isa 6), and Zechariah (Zech 3). This further indicates that Matthew regards Jesus as the authentic revealer of the Father, thereby making the words of Jesus important for Matthew’s readers to faithfully observe and retain.
  • Peter’s confession – The chief apostle gets an A+ for correctly answering the question regarding Jesus’ identity as revealed in Matthew. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (redacting and further clarifying the remark made in Mark’s Gospel). Again, both “Christ” and “son of God” are parallel titles (cf Psa 2:2, 7). Jesus further notes that the Father in heaven has revealed this information to Peter. If the Father revealed this information to Peter, it should be sufficient christological information. No further revelatory data is required, such as Jesus being the second member of the so-called triune godhead.
  • Jesus walks on water – It is often suggested that Jesus walking on water, claiming ego eimi, and receiving worship as the son of God points to a divine status. Kirk rightly notes that Psa 89:25 regards the Davidic king as genuinely empowered by God to calm the seas of chaos (just as Moses and Joshua split the waters). Kirk also notes that Peter also walked on water, and this does not make him divine. The claim by Jesus to ego eimi is a simple affirmative phrase “it is I” and nothing more in the text of Matthew indicates that it should be read any other way. As for Jesus being worshipped, this is reminiscent of David the human king being given prostration from the people in 1 Chron 29:20. I also suspect that Jesus possessing authority over the created realm makes him out to be an Adam figure, as Adam was given authority and kingship over the created realm in Gen 1:27-28. This authority is explicitly mentioned at the end of the Gospel, where God gives authority to Jesus (28:18). Admittedly, Adam is not a key figure in Mathew as he is in Luke, but he seems to be an example of Kirk’s idealized human figures relevant for this particular account.
  • No one knows the day nor the hour – Kirk also notes the important passage in Matt 24:36 where Jesus admits that he does not possess knowledge of the moment of his second coming. Even as the empowered and authorized revealer of the Father, Jesus nevertheless bears limitations to what he knows. The Father clearly possesses knowledge and understanding above the son of God. It should also be noted that Matthew redacts Mark and adds the adjective “alone” to the Greek text, further clarifying that only the Father possesses this knowledge.

After summarizing the data presented by Matthew, Kirk offers a quotable observation worthy of sharing:

Even where we might see Matthew’s Jesus pushing us to recognize aspects of idealized human Christology not fully enunciated or depicted in Mark, we nevertheless find ourselves dealing with a human Jesus and not, yet, incarnate God” (p. 258)

Tomorrow I will begin to work through chapter 3 wherein the “Son of Man” is the focus in the three Synoptic Gospels. Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Matthew. Thanks for stopping by!

2 thoughts on “Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 8 – “Son of God” in Matthew)

  1. Nice work, Dustin! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through your synopses of this book – in fact I ended up buying the book for myself! And your bullet points have been very helpful in keeping track of the key points and concepts. Looking forward to your thoughts on chapter 3.

    Also – since I enjoy your book reviews so much – have you heard of “The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma” by Kegan Chandler?

    In Christ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s