Did Matthew Misinterpret Hosea? image

Did Matthew Misinterpret Hosea?

I just received the new edition of JETS (the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society), and as ever, there are some great little articles in it. The best one this time round is from Greg Beale, on the thorny old question of whether Matthew interpreted Hosea properly, when he cited "out of Egypt I called my son" and applied it to Mary and Joseph taking Jesus there (Matt 2:15, citing Hos 11:1). For many interpreters, this indicates that Matthew's concern was not with understanding Old Testament passages in their grammatical-historical contexts, but rather with reading passages Christologically even if the original author had not written it that way (to put it nicely), or just with random proof texting to make whatever point they wanted, regardless of the original meaning (to put it less nicely). For Beale, such a response is unwarranted. He argues, rather,

that Matthew is interpreting Hosea 11:1 in the light of its relation to the entire chapter in which it is found and in the light of the entire book, and that his approach does, indeed, verge upon a grammatical-historical approach combined with a biblical-theological methodology.

A tough sell, you might think. But Beale is a careful theologian, and he starts by reading Hosea 11 in its entirety, and pointing out that the theme of the chapter is not primarily the past exodus from Egypt mentioned in verse 1, but the future, latter exodus from all nations, including Egypt, mentioned in verse 11:

Thus, the main point or goal of Hosea 11:1-11 is the accomplishment of Israel’s future restoration from the nations, including “Egypt”. The overall meaning of chapter 11 is to indicate that God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, which led to their ungrateful unbelief, is not the final word about God’s deliverance of them; though they will be judged, God will deliver them again, even from “Egypt” ... The pattern of the first exodus at the beginning of Israel’s history (Hos 11:1) will be repeated again at the end of Israel’s history at the end time.

In other words, Hosea 11 presents the first exodus as something which will be recapitulated when Israel is restored. Beale then makes the important point that Hosea 11:10-11 leans deliberately on Numbers 23-24, in which the exodus from Egypt is coupled together with a lion-like Messianic leader (especially Num 24:8-9), and shows that Hosea also prophesied a future period of captivity for Israel in “Egypt” (7:11, 16; 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:5), after which she would experience a second, eschatological exodus (1:11; 2:15; 11:11; cf. Isa 11:11; 27:13). Taken together, these three factors in Hosea’s own prophecy - a future period of captivity in “Egypt”, an eschatological exodus, and the Messianic leader - make it highly likely that, when Hosea looked back to the exodus in 11:1, he also anticipated a future exodus in which Israel, having returned to “Egypt”, would be rescued from captivity there, led by (and perhaps, on the basis of Num 24:9, represented by) their Messiah. Which is precisely how Matthew reads Hosea’s intention when he quotes him:

Therefore, Matthew contrasts Jesus as the “son” (2:15) with Hosea’s “son” (11:1). The latter who came out of Egypt was not obedient, and was judged but would be restored (11:2-11), while the former did what Israel should have done: Jesus came out of Egypt, was perfectly obedient, did not deserve judgment but suffered it anyway for guilty Israel and the world in order to restore them to himself. Matthew portrays Jesus to be recapitulating the history of Israel because he sums up Israel in himself. Since Israel disobeyed, Jesus has come to do what they should have, so he must retrace Israel’s steps up to the point they failed, and then continue to obey and succeed in the mission Israel should have carried out.

It’s a great article. Elsewhere, there’s also a fascinating spin on 1 Timothy 2:15 (“saved through childbearing”), and three articles on compatibilism, Calvinism and libertarian freedom. The whole edition (55:4) is well worth a look.


Andrew is now on Twitter as @AJWTheology

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