Understanding Matthew

The Early Christian Worldview of the First Gospel

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


Stephen Westerholm provides an engaging guide to the gospel of Matthew. His goal is that readers "begin to understand how Matthew made sense of things, and to see how it makes sense to make sense of things that way."

Westerholm begins by introducing the idea of a worldview and considers what that might have looked like for early Jewish Christians. He surveys Matthew's account of God's dealings with Israel and Jesus's proclamation of the kingdom of God. He then considers Jesus's call to discipleship and illustrates it from the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Westerholm's study is a broadly accessible work that will provide students and pastors with an excellent introduction to the gospel of Matthew.


"This book is not a commentary; it is not a theology of Matthew (pastoral or otherwise). Rather, it is an exposition of Matthew's worldview, using Bonhoeffer's life and writings as a guide--clear, fresh, and evocative."--Charles H. Talbert, Distinguished Professor of Religion Emeritus, Baylor University

"In Understanding Matthew, Stephen Westerholm invites us into a reading of Matthew that makes sense of this Gospel within its first-century context in a way that is utterly engaging. Using Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a conversation partner and a touchpoint for contextualizing Matthew's message, Westerholm offers a compelling vision of how this ancient Gospel might become good news and true invitation for contemporary readers."--Jeannine Brown, professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary-San Diego

"Seasoned scholar Stephen Westerholm's remarkable treatment of Matthew also interacts seriously with one deeply influenced by Matthew, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Westerholm opens up the Matthean worldview with engaging discussions of themes relevant to his purpose. Seldom does one find such erudition presented in such a readable manner and with such impact on life. Westerholm's aim is Matthew's aim: to summon readers to a life of discipleship rather than to merely inform them about it."--David L. Turner, professor of New Testament, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Stephen Westerholm

    Stephen Westerholm

    Stephen Westerholm (DTheol, Lund University) is professor of early Christian studies emeritus at McMaster University. He is the author of Justification Reconsidered, Understanding Paul, Perspectives Old and New on Paul, and Jesus and Scribal...

    Continue reading about Stephen Westerholm


"This book merits a wide readership among scholars and students alike, as it both challenges and inspires the reader to a deeper Christian experience."--Publishers Weekly

"[Westerholm] uses the eloquent reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the meaning of discipleship under trying circumstances as a conversation partner with fundamental themes of Matthew's gospel. Readers looking for solid spiritual reading and a reliable understanding of the message of Matthew will find a sure guide here."--Donald Senior, CP, Bible Today

"Matthew's interest in discipleship--lived faith--is compellingly introduced when Westerholm opens his study with a discussion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's experiences in Nazi Germany and human response to the Messiah. . . . The book is written for the lay reader, but includes documentation and index."--Christian Chronicle

"Biblical scholars regularly offer introductory volumes that are intended for a general audience, but few are as successful as Westerholm in unpacking difficult concepts and finding apt analogies. Here he guides readers through Matthew's worldview and his understanding of Jesus, engaging along the way with Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an interpreter and an embodiment of discipleship."--Beverly Gaventa, Christian Century

"Westerholm explores the particular themes of the Gospel starting with Matthew's dialogue with the story of Israel's past. In the final chapter all is integrated into an overview of Matthew's story. Running all through the book is another, fascinating, dialogue, with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. . . . This deceptively simple book is a delight and mostly easy to read. . . . Understanding Matthew is essential reading for every reader of the Gospels."--Bryan J. Paradise, Theological Book Review

"I consider my reading of Stephen Westerholm's book to be worthwhile. . . . Westerholm has hit the mark. The concept of worldview is frequently discussed today. To use it as a means to examine a NT book is one strength of the book. What Westerholm has done is restate an important concept of the Christian life in contemporary language. Another strength is Westerholm's ability to concentrate on Matthew and resist consulting other scholars for their opinions. . . . One other strength I want to mention is his down-to-earth discussion of worldview in chapter 1. In simple terms he helps readers to gain a preliminary grasp on a slippery topic. . . . This work is especially beneficial for those who desire to understand the overall thrust of following Christ."--Rich Menninger, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Westerholm's approachable style will suit both pastors and lay people. It may remind some of C. S. Lewis. . . . Westerholm invites his readers to enter into Matthew's story, accept his worldview, and become disciples of Jesus. . . . [This book] provides a fresh and insightful reading of Matthew's worldview."--Carl N. Toney, Anglican Theological Review

"A skillfully woven introduction to the life and ministry of Jesus as presented in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew."--Kirk M. Wellum, Eusebeia

"Westerholm's study is brief but thought-provoking. It is extremely readable and by no means boring. . . . Open Westerholm's slim treatise at random and a telling phrase will leap from the page. This is biblical popularization at its best."--Casimir Bernas, Religious Studies Review

"This worthwhile little book by Stephen Westerholm is well suited for group study, engaging as it does the issues of faith and unbelief, true morality and action in the world today. In so doing, it offers plenty of scope for discussion on the various passages in Matthew's Gospel either quoted or listed in footnotes. . . . Although one may not always agree with Westerholm's interpretation, he accomplishes his purpose in guiding the reader to a deeper understanding of discipleship. Using this book in group study will surely lead to much fruitful discussion."--Adrian M. Leske, Toronto Journal of Theology

"Westerholm's approach is to elucidate in a general way the worldview that underlies the Gospel of Matthew. In doing so, he informs this enterprise in a surprising but welcome way by interaction with and reference to the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. . . . In terms of its intended aims and its intended readership, Westerholm's volume is eminently successful. It provides for the popular reader an engaging and informative discussion of the Evangelist's worldview as communicated in the text. The constant reminder to the reader, often forgotten in scholarly circles, that Matthew's Gospel is primarily a call to active discipleship based upon the model of Jesus, is well reinforced by reference to the life and work of Bonhoeffer, who read the Gospel in precisely this manner. . . . The appeal to the example of Bonhoeffer brings home in a pointed manner the complexities of discipleship in an uncertain and sometimes wholly evil world."--David C. Sim, Review of Biblical Literature