Matthew, Disciple and Scribe

Patrick Schreiner, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. xiv + 289 pages. $29.99, paperback.

The last few decades have seen an explosion in New Testament scholarship working to understand the different ways New Testament texts use the Old Testament. As the studies have become more complex, scholars have been turning to the narrative shape of New Testament texts and how that shape makes use of the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, New Testament scholars have looked at not only what the text says but how it says it. In Matthew, Disciple and Scribe, Patrick Schreiner, son of Thomas Schreiner, and assistant professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary (Portland, Oregon), seeks to advance this discussion.

In this review, we will focus mainly on the first two chapters (where Schreiner lays out his thesis and methodology), while giving a brief summary of the rest of the book. Schreiner’s basic argument is “that Matthew is the discipled scribe who narrates Jesus’s life through the alternation of the new and the old” (9, cf. 241). The image of the discipled scribe comes from Matt. 13:52, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained (γραμματεὺς μαθητευθεὶς, which Schreiner translates as “discipled scribe”) for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of house, who brings out of his treasure what is old and new.” Building off of recent studies interpreting Jesus through the lens of wisdom traditions (e.g., Ben Witherington and Jonathan Pennington), Schreiner seeks to place Matthew in a self-conscious position of scribe. While some may find his argument unconvincing, he does make a solid case for seeing certain scribal tendencies in Matthew. It’s clear that Matthew matches a functional definition of scribe, “(1) learning, (2) writing/interpreting, (3) distributing, and (4) teaching” (22). The first gospel also suggests that Jesus is establishing his own sort of alternative scribal school (36).

The payoff for Schreiner in seeing scribal tendencies in Matthew is that this legitimizes a fundamentally “Old Testamenty” reading of the first gospel. Here Schreiner gets into his methodology. Matthew the Scribe, according to Schreiner, self-consciously sees Jesus through the lens of Old Testament narratives: “The First Gospel presents Jesus as the continuation and climactic completion of the story of Israel. He shapes his stories to sound like OT narratives to show that his narrative joins seamlessly to God’s unfinished work” (31). Most will not find much that is novel or controversial here. But Schreiner goes on to suggest a new way of reading Matthew that pulls together several more established threads of gospel studies. Schreiner states his proposed Matthean method as such: “Matthew learned from his teacher that the arrival of the apocalyptic sage-messiah fulfills the hopes of Israel; this results in the unification of Jewish history,” and “the method Matthew employs to communicate this conviction is ‘gospel-narration’ through the use of shadow stories” (38). Shadow stories are, for Schreiner, short-hand for how one ought to read Matthew. Explicit quotations and references only get one so far. Schreiner intends to show that by attending to shadow stories, i.e., stories that hearken back to “persons, places, things, offices, events, actions, and institutions of the OT” (55), a deeper and more satisfying reading will emerge. For those who desire clearer criteria, Schreiner admits that he is proposing a method that “resists tabulation and requires wrestling” (60). The narrative form of the first gospel invites exploration that moves beyond surface-level readings.

The rest of the book (chs. 3-7) is Schreiner’s attempt to apply his basic method to Matthew’s gospel. Each chapter approaches the story of Jesus as through a lens of a different stage of redemptive-history. Since Schreiner argues that Matthew unites all of Israel’s history in the person of Christ (38), the stages themselves do not function in isolation from each other. Instead each informs the other and deepens the significance of Christ’s earthly ministry.

Chapters three and four, “Jesus and the Journey of the Davidic King” and “Jesus as the Ideal and Wise King,” coordinate to picture Jesus as the final king of Israel. Central to Schreiner’s concern here is the stabilizing nature of the Davidic imagery in the first gospel (67). Beginning with the genealogy and ending with the titulus on the cross. Schreiner paints a vivid picture of how Jesus fulfills the role of the King as. Schreiner pulls from several different sources and methods in order to do this. Of note is the recent work by Joshua Jipp and the king as the embodiment of the law (102). Jipp’s research makes this a particularly interesting chapter for anyone interested in how royal ideologies may play a part in the New Testament.

While Schreiner’s notion of kingship sets the tone for the rest of the book, he devotes a significant amount of space (chs. 5-7) working backwards through Israel’s history. Chapter five develops Jesus as he stands in relation to Moses. Mosaic imagery in Matthew is common currency in gospel studies, and Schreiner does not necessarily add anything new to the conversation. Still, his keen literary eye allows him to bring out motifs quite clearly. Schreiner then moves from Moses to Abraham in chapter six. This and the next chapter are the best parts of the book for those interested in questions of intertextuality, typology, and literary readings of the first Gospel. The Matthean genealogy identifies Jesus as the son of Abraham, though many readings of Matthew miss the depth to which the disciple takes that identity. Schreiner doesn’t want readers to make this same mistake and proves a capable mentor in how to read the genealogy. The seventh chapter expands the Abraham typology into that of Israel as a whole. Here Schreiner is not concerned with specific episodes as much as the whole panorama of Israel. A broad vision is a fitting end to such wide-eyed book. The careful reader will notice that Schreiner is slowly working backwards to make plain just how comprehensive Matthew’s Jesus-Israel connection is.

For his conclusion Schreiner looks to bring his reading Matthew into discussion with practical concerns. If Matthew is first and foremost a scribe, then his purposes for writing are fundamentally about practical discipleship: “The purpose of this scribal training and profession was the formation of a certain type of person” (35). By becoming better readers of Matthew, Christians become better disciples. Though Schreiner gives some excellent reflections here on how Matthew provokes us to wisdom, the practical considerations, an important piece to Schreiner’s argument, receive little attention. A more thorough and sustained treatment of the implications for discipleship would have strengthened the book.

There are good reasons to read this book. Schreiner displays exegetical and literary abilities all along the way. His sensitive eye draws connections that many would pass over without a second thought. Schreiner also has a firm grip on the latest scholarship for both the New Testament and Old, so readers will unfamiliar with current trends will find this book a useful guide.

Two criticisms are worth mentioning. First, a popular level book such as this simply does not have the space to develop a methodology such as the one that Schreiner seeks to use. In many ways, this reviewer found his treatment of biblical theology more confusing than helpful. Eager to bring together both prospective and retrospective readings of the Old Testament, Schreiner does not reconcile such disparate voices as Geerhardus Vos (whose definition of biblical theology he uses [8n4]) and Richard Hays). At times Schreiner seems to give greater weight to more modern ways of reading (40), only then to support the idea of meaning more in line with Vos and Reformed methods of biblical theology (50). Some readers will be more frustrated than others with this tension

Second, and more significantly, is the uncertainty of many exegetical decisions. Many will think Schreiner is too quick to read the New Testament in light of the Old. Sometimes this is due to his own reading, while other times because of weaknesses in the source material. A significant example is Schreiner’s reliance on Jipp’s work. There is great debate over the presence of Counter-Imperial ideologies in Paul, so it follows that similar concerns extend to Matthew. For being such a significant piece to a chapter, Jipp’s work is dubious at best.

These criticisms aside, Schreiner has a written an excellent example of reading the gospels with an eye to the whole of Scripture. Engagingly written and thorough in its scope, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe is worth the attention of anyone who wants to become a better reader of Scripture. And here Schreiner is most certainly correct—the better readers of Scripture we are, the better disciples of Jesus we are.



Brittain Brewer
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte