Justification by Faith in Matthew (with an Assist from Hilary)

I recently described how I read the Gospel of Matthew looking for an understanding of salvation: by keeping Paul in the back of my mind, but not letting him get in the front of my mind.

I wasn’t claiming to be original, just describing and recommending the kind of Bible reading that I think is theologically and exegetically responsible. But consider just how deeply unoriginal I was being: Reading Matthew with Pauline theology in mind goes way back to at least Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 368), whose Matthew commentary is saturated with the theology of Paul.

In an article entitled “Hilary of Poitiers and Justification by Faith According to the Gospel of Matthew” (Pro Ecclesia, Fall 2007) D. H. Williams of Baylor explains what Hilary was up to in this earliest complete Latin commentary to come down to us. There’s a lot to say about the anti-Arian theology: Hilary has been nicknamed “the hammer of the Arians,” is most famous for his excellent book On the Trinity, and his commentary on Matthew was written about 25 years after Nicaea. But there’s not just christology in his Matthew commentary, there’s lots of soteriology:

What comes as a surprise to the reader is that the overriding theology in this Matthean commentary is very evidently Pauline. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that Hilary integrates Paul’s concepts and language more thoroughly than any writer before him, especially in the matter that salvation comes through justification by faith. It is a central and repeated theological axiom that Hilary discusses throughout the commentary…

It’s very interesting that our first Latin Matthew commentary is so saturated with Paul’s theology.

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