Essay / Theology

The Most Helpful Matthew Commentaries

As soon as a teaching semester ends I begin excavations on my desk, digging through the layers of books to find the desk itself. This semester I got to teach the gospel of Matthew at the best Bible Institute in Los Angeles, so a thick growth of Matthean reference works needs to be cleared away before summer gets started. As I load them back onto shelves or return them to the library, here are notes on the Matthew commentaries that helped me the most this term.

First, the three large commentaries that formed my front line of research, the ones I always consulted on any passage:

R.T. France’s Gospel of Matthew in the NICNT. Shortest introduction I’ve ever seen for a comprehensive commentary: barely 22 pages, after which France gets down to the verse-by-verse exposition. All the information is exactly where I want it to be in this volume. So good. France finished this volume in 2005, in his late sixties, and I love his ability to shrug off some of the unnecessary complications of gospel criticism. Though he knows everything about synoptic parallels, he refuses to speak simply of Matthean redaction in a “rigid x-copied-y approach.” The result is a great reading of Matthew’s own gospel. France also has more to say about the Galilee-versus-Jerusalem dynamic than other commentators, which I found fascinating and illuminating.

D.A. Carson’s Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. I can’t tell whether this shiny new 2010 revision is much different from the 1984 edition (it doesn’t seem to be). 650 pages of sober, balanced, reasonable commentary. Carson at his best always manages to hit that sweet spot between details and readability. I also made good use of his earlier books, God with Us: Themes from Matthew, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7, and When Jesus Confronts the World: An Exposition of Matthew 8-10.

David L. Turner’s Matthew in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I enjoyed Turner’s recent article “Matthew Among the Dispensationalists” in the Journal of the ETS, and was glad to find this 2008 full-length commentary written from a progressive dispensationalist viewpoint. Growing up, I imbibed a pretty hard-line dispensationalist take on Matthew (especially the “offer of the Kingdom”), and there are parts of the Gospel that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read any other way. Turner is an excellent guide to what is best in that tradition of interpretation.

Grant Osborne’s Matthew in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. I didn’t use this one as much because I didn’t get a copy until after the class had already started, and I had my study habits already too set to admit a fourth jumbo commentary. But I like the layout of this brand new series (can’t wait to read general editor Clint Arnold’s Ephesians volume), which takes you through the full text of the book repeatedly in each section.

Michael Wilkins’ Matthew in the NIV Application Commentary. I went to Wilkins last of all, to make sure I had my head on straight and was taking the right overall message to the class. If he had identified the main thrust of a passage as lying somewhere different from where I was planning to take the class, I stopped in my tracks and reconsidered. I also swiped a lot of his ideas about practical application.

Ed Glasscock’s Matthew in the Moody Gospel Commentary series. A former student gave me a copy of this commentary, and I was impressed with how well Glasscock brought together the most important things in concise, non-technical comments.

Robert Gundry’s Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. The “Higher Critical Conclusions” and the “Theological Postscript” make this commentary largely a cautionary tale, showing what kind of critical problems you make for yourself if you follow Gundry’s methodology. Page after page presented problems about redaction, midrash, and (according to Gundry) non-historical Matthean interpolations. But for all that, Gundry is just a genius when it comes to close observation of the text’s dynamics. I learned a lot from this flawed commentary, much of it having great spiritual significance.

J.C. Ryle, Matthew: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Nice to have an old evangelical Anglican bishop to say things like “May we all think often about Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum! Let us settle it in our minds that it will never do to be content with merely hearing and liking the Gospel. We must go further than this, we must actually repent and turn to God.”

Special mention for Jonathan Pennignton’s Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. . As the powerful back-cover blurb says, “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.” Pennington shows exactly why Matthew talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, by showing how heaven-and-earth language permeates Matthew’s usage. So helpful.

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