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Jonathan Pennington’s Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, reviewed by John Poirier

From Pneuma Review Fall 2012

Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of MatthewJonathan T. Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 416 pages, ISBN 9780801037283.

This book is a more affordable edition of a book published by E. J. Brill in 2007.

The Gospel of Matthew is the only gospel to use the term “kingdom of heaven” in place of “kingdom of God” (in all but four places), a characteristic that has not been widely discussed. Jonathan Pennington seeks to show that the usual explanation for Matthew’s preference for “kingdom of heaven”—that “heaven” serves within that term as a Jewish-style reverential circumlocution for “God”—cannot possibly be correct. As Pennington shows, Matthew shows no guardedness against the use of “God” at any point in his gospel. If Matthew objected to the term “kingdom of God” out of reverence for “God”, it is strange that he so carelessly uses “God” so many times.

The fact that “kingdom of heaven” is not simply a circumlocution opens the way for a different explanation, one likely to be theological. According to Pennington, “‘heaven and earth’ provides the parameters and content for Matthew’s symbolic universe” (p. 336). Pennington convincingly argues that Matthew defines the people of God in non-ethnic terms. God’s people are heavenly—they act according to heaven’s way of doing things, and they are identified over against the systems of the world.

Pennington’s writing is clear, and his notations are always relevant. This study is superb in every respect, and there is little question that it deserved to be put in the price range of more people.

Reviewed by John C. Poirier

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2012, Pneuma Review

About the Author: John C. Poirier, Th.M. (Duke Divinity), D.H.L. (Jewish Theological Seminary), has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics and has been named the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Middletown (Cincinnati), Ohio.

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