Review of The Obedient Son by Brandon D. Crowe

The Obedient Son: Deuteronomy and Christology in the Gospel of Matthew. By Brandon D. Crowe. BZNW 188. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012, x + 284 pp., $140.00.

CroweIn this revised doctoral thesis, The Obedient Son: Deuteronomy and Christology in the Gospel of Matthew, Brandon Crowe has made a significant contribution to both Matthean studies and Christology.  Recognizing Matthew’s extensive use of the OT, he argues for a very strong dependence on the book of Deuteronomy, especially as it pertains to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’ sonship. As he states, “the best backdrop for understanding the obedient sonship of Jesus in Matthew is the call for Israel to be filially obedient as it is foundationally set forth in Deuteronomy” (225). Thus, according to Crowe, Matthew’s emphasis on the sonship of Jesus parallels Deuteronomy’s emphasis on the corporate sonship of the nation of Israel; only as Israel was a disobedient son, Jesus is the obedient son, exhibiting the filial obedience which Israel never attained.

The work is divided into eight chapters: an introduction, conclusion and six content chapters. These chapters begin with a focus on Deuteronomy. In chapter two, Crowe persuasively illustrates the significance of the book in both Jewish and Christian literature. Deuteronomy, as Crowe argues, had special prominence for the sectarian community at Qumran, the broader Jewish community, the NT authors and the apostolic writers. As he demonstrates, certain portions were more significant; these include Deut 5–6, 8, 10–11, 27–30, and 32. This extensive use of Deuteronomy lays the foundation for Crowe’s argument for Matthew’s own use of the book.

Crowe’s attention to Deuteronomy continues into chapter three, where he explicates the interconnected themes of sonship and obedience within the book. Here he argues that the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel is expressed predominantly through the father-son relationship. Within the Deuteronomic perspective, Israel is to fulfill its calling as an obedient son as its primary duty as a partner in this covenantal relationship. This identity of sonship with its corresponding obligation of obedience is found especially in Deut 1, 8, 14, and 32. Crowe also suggests that the story of the rebellious son in chapter 21 may be included as a symbolic portrayal of Israel’s future disobedience.

In chapter four, Crowe examines the sonship-obedience association in other literature, from the OT to the early apostolic fathers. Here, these dual themes are brought to the surface through more echoes of Deuteronomy, predominantly from chapters 8 and 32. Crowe’s key observation is that there is a striking abundance of texts that correlate Israel’s obedience and sonship. Thus, it is likely that Matthew too is following suit by correlating these two themes in the person and work of Jesus.

The next three chapters zero in on the text of Matthew. Crowe divides his textual analysis into three sections categorized by the likeliness of their engagement with the sonship-obedience themes in Deuteronomy: 1) strong allusions, 2) likely allusions, and 3) possible allusions. Chapter five covers strong and likely allusions. Crowe presents one text that he considers a strong allusion: the temptation narrative (Matt 4:1–11), demonstrating how Jesus’ obedience in the wilderness stands in sharp contrast to the disobedience of Israel in their wilderness journey. Crowe then presents two “likely allusions” in Matthew: the sermon on the mount (Matt 5–7) and the parable of the children in the marketplace (Matt 11:16–19), both of which demonstrate that Jesus is fulfilling the covenantal duty of filial obedience to Yahweh.

Chapter six considers two more passages that Crowe asserts are “likely allusions” to the sonship-obedience themes in Deuteronomy. First, he argues that the reference to the beloved son in the voice from heaven in the baptism narrative (Matt 3:15–17) and the transfiguration account likely refers to the general concept of Israel as Yahweh’s son set forth clearly in Deuteronomy. This pronouncement then places Jesus firmly in this position as Yahweh’s son, the place previously reserved for the nation of Israel.

In chapter seven, Crowe covers three “possible allusions” to Deuteronomic sonship in Matt 1:20, Matt 12:46–50, and Matt 21:28–22:14. Although Crowe holds these allusions a bit more lightly, in each he proposes that passages in Deuteronomy related to the sonship of Israel should be considered as background texts, and that these texts potentially contribute to the overarching theme of Jesus’ obedient sonship that Matthew is expounding. This last section of analysis concludes Crowe’s study, which is followed by a brief summary in a final concluding chapter.

Several things about Crowe’s book are to be commended. First, Crowe’s work on the importance of Deuteronomy in Jewish and Christian literature is persuasive and forms a very helpful resource for anyone tracing Deuteronomic allusions throughout the NT. Second, he appropriately highlights the significance of Deuteronomy 32, a text that has not gotten the attention it deserves in NT studies. Third, Crowe is successful in pointing out the value of examining allusions, not just quotations, from Deuteronomy within Matthew. Although, by his own admission, not all are equally convincing, they form a good foundation for consideration and further study of these texts. Finally, Crowe’s argument regarding Jesus’ own obedient sonship in line with what was expected of corporate Israel is strong and while certainly not novel, it adds to the voices in scholarship that have continued to persuasively argue for this connection.

By way of criticism, although the material on the importance of Deuteronomy in Jewish and Christian literature is helpful, it seemed a bit more than Crowe really needed to argue his point. I would have liked to see some of that space replaced with more time expounding the theological significance of Jesus as Yahweh’s obedient son within Matthew’s overall theological purposes.  Although his analysis of particular texts was fairly well done, the work could certainly have benefited from more synthesis.

Overall, Crowe’s study is rich with solid analysis and insightful scholarship. Aside from its obvious significance for Christology and Matthean studies, it also would be a valuable resource for those exploring connections to Deuteronomy in other NT texts.

Thanks to De Gruyter for this complimentary review copy.

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About Susan Rieske

My dissertation focuses on the concept of "generation" in the book of Matthew. Before pursuing a doctorate, I spent several years in ministry serving on staff with Cru, in various leadership roles in the local church, teaching as an adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary, Michigan, and as a writer and speaker with Shepherd Project Ministries.
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