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Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew

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"Pennington's study underlines the importance of the heaven-and-earth theme and offers a helpful way of considering its significance. His rejection of the reverential circumlocution and Semitic origin hypotheses of this language is convincing."--Warren Carter, Biblical Interpretation

The theme of heaven and earth is a much-overlooked aspect of the Gospel of Matthew. In this work, rising scholar Jonathan Pennington articulates a fresh perspective on this key interpretive issue. He challenges both the scholarly and popular understandings of the meaning of Matthew's phrase "kingdom of heaven" and overturns some long-held assumptions in New Testament scholarship.

Pennington argues that rather than being a reverent way of referring to God, as is typically assumed, "heaven" in Matthew is part of a highly developed discourse of heaven and earth language. He explains that Matthew's way of using heaven language serves one overriding theological purpose: to highlight the tension that currently exists between heaven and earth or God and humanity, while looking forward to its eschatological resolution. Now available in paperback, this volume will appeal to students of the New Testament, including those interested in its theological and pastoral applications.


"When I began to read this book, I was sure that the main thesis was wrong. When I finished, I was sure it was right. This is a significant contribution that corrects much we have mistakenly taken for granted."--Dale C. Allison Jr., Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This book is a refreshingly well-written compendium of research that is both comprehensive and convincing. Pennington has articulated a more careful understanding of a pervasive theme in the first Gospel that must be accounted for in subsequent scholarship."--Daniel M. Gurtner, assistant professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary

"Pennington's work on heaven and earth in Matthew enriches readers at several levels. He challenges long-standing exegetical assumptions, showing that they lack a credible foundation. He offers a deft and insightful interpretation of the terms heaven and earth in Matthew and fruitfully explores the theological import of the terms. We stand in debt to Pennington for this significant and creative study."--Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"This clear and compelling study sheds fresh light on familiar but inadequately understood expressions dominant in Matthew's Gospel. Specialists will appreciate Pennington's thoroughness, logical rigor, and independence of judgment. Pastors and advanced students will benefit from his practical findings. This is a model of creative investigation into Matthew's theological convictions and literary strategy."--Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

"Matthew's distinctive use of the term kingdom of heaven is usually treated as an insignificant variant of kingdom of God. Pennington's persuasive argument shows, however, that it is integral to Matthew's theology and serves a distinctive theological purpose. This book makes an important contribution to our appreciation of the theology of Matthew's Gospel."--Richard Bauckham, emeritus professor of New Testament studies, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

The Author

  1. Jonathan T. Pennington
    Freddy Sinarahua

    Jonathan T. Pennington

    Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews), a popular speaker, teacher, and preacher, is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also on staff as a preaching pastor at Sojourn...

    Continue reading about Jonathan T. Pennington


"Pennington succeeds in what he sets out to do in this book--to unsettle a long-settled scholarly consensus. . . . The pastoral and theological importance of [the heaven and earth] theme for Matthew emerges in Pennington's close reading and comparison with Old Testament and other texts. . . . Pennington also does a good job of relating the Kingdom of heaven with the Church's mission to the nations. His research also sheds light on how Matthew intended his book to be 'a new Genesis,' portraying Jesus as 'the culmination of God's redemptive purposes.'"--Letter & Spirit

"Pennington examines 'heaven and earth' as a neglected but significant literary and theological motif in Matthew. . . . Pennington's study underlines the importance of the heaven-and-earth theme and offers a helpful way of considering its significance. His rejection of the reverential circumlocution and Semitic origin hypotheses of this language is convincing. While noting antecedents to individual parts of his thesis in previous discussion, Pennington draws the material together into a thematically coherent entity."--Warren Carter, Biblical Interpretation

"[A] detailed study of the Gospel of Matthew. . . . Many interpreters of Matthew's gospel have assumed that 'heaven' was used as a euphemism for the term 'God' (the 'kingdom of God'). But Pennington, probing deeply into the background of this phrase and noting its usage in Matthew's narrative, challenges this interpretation. . . . Pennington's insight seems to be a valid one and gives proper weight to Matthew's overall theology of the Christian life."--Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today

"Pennington's careful assessment and challenge of the reverential circumlocution explanation for heaven language in Matthew is, I think, mostly convincing. He shows how Dalman's hypothesis (reproduced by so many scholars that it is almost labeled a 'fact' today) is inadequate in view of a more refined understanding and use of Jewish sources. His suggestion for 'metonymy' as a more appropriate term is persuasive. . . . Pennington's work is very thorough. His rigor in the examination of heaven language in Jewish sources alone makes the book a worthy addition. . . . This book makes an important contribution to Matthean studies. Even if one does not entirely agree with Pennington's fresh proposal about Matthew's use of 'heaven,' he has convincingly argued that the old Dalman paradigm should be firmly rejected."--Osvaldo Padilla, Bulletin for Biblical Research

"Students of the First Gospel have long assumed that the uniquely Matthean expression 'kingdom of heaven' is nothing more than a circumlocution employed to help the faithful avoid using the word for 'God.' This well-written and thoroughly researched monograph turns that conventional wisdom on its head, arguing that Matthew's use of 'heaven' represents far more than an insignificant variant. . . . Pennington shows that decades of Matthean scholarship have failed to scratch the surface of an important Matthean theme. . . . Even those who disagree with the conclusions will find the research and argumentation nearly unassailable. Those with interests in the First Gospel, especially future commentators, need to pay attention to this book."--Christopher W. Skinner, Religious Studies Review

"The book corrects several misunderstandings. . . . Sometimes in scholarly circles, as in life, a saying is repeated so frequently that one never takes time to question its validity. Pennington gives reason to pause, reflect, and challenge such assumptions. In this case the challenge proves illuminating since it uncovers a theme latent in Matthew. The book has already convinced several significant Matthean scholars. It seems likely that as Pennington's work is accessed more broadly, fewer and fewer will simply pass along the unchallenged consensus of previous generations. . . . This volume provides helpful insights for students of Matthew, Daniel, Genesis, and the influence of Second Temple thought on NT authors."--Jonathan S. Marshall, Trinity Journal

"In a thorough and robust study of the topic, Pennington successfully shows that 'Kingdom of Heaven' is not merely a circumlocution for 'Kingdom of God'--rather, it is part of a highly developed cosmological discourse about the heavens and the earth in relation to God, Jesus, and the Church. . . . Pennington successfully shows how Matthew intended to reconfigure the worldview of the readers so that they would align their behavior, beliefs, and values with the God who dwells in heaven. . . . May Pennington's work on Matthew receive a cornucopia of attention."--Michael F. Bird, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"The main contribution of this work lies in its compelling critique of the reverential circumlocution hypothesis. It also offers a plausible thesis that the theme of heaven and earth in Matthew serves a distinctive literary and theological purpose. . . . This book provides a helpful analysis of a neglected topic in Matthean studies."--Lidija Novakovic, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"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."--John C. Poirier, Pneuma Review

"The book has contributed a fresh new look at what is arguably the most visible theme of Matthew's gospel. Pennington has taken a given in the interpretation of Matthew and shown the evidence needed to cause all exegetes to rethink their understanding of the function of heaven and earth within the gospel. . . . His work should stand at the beginning of a new line of scholarship of Matthew--one which must re-think its understanding of the other theological strands of Matthew and their relation to and/or dependence upon this newly rediscovered strand. This book should be commended to New Testament scholars, theologians, and pastors alike. . . . The sheer breadth and depth of Pennington's survey of texts leading to the first century demand a response from anyone who would claim anything other than a theological purpose behind the heaven and earth language in Matthew's gospel."--James A. Benson, Africanus Journal