This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2011 vol. 168 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
MatthewZondervan, Grand Rapids October 19, 2010
This is an exciting time to be an evangelical biblical scholar, as a renaissance of sorts in commentary writing is afoot. Several publishers have recently made strides in developing commentary series that advance exegetical scholarship while remaining sensitive to theological themes and presenting the material in a format that is accessible to different types of readers. The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is one such series, and Osborne’s contribution on the Gospel of Matthew is a recent example.
This Zondervan series is aimed not toward the layman on the one hand nor toward the scholar on the other, but toward the individual somewhere in between who has had some training in exegesis, biblical backgrounds, and biblical interpretation (see p. 9 of the work for seven criteria of the assumed reader the series editors kept in mind). To fulfill this goal the editors have developed a distinctive approach in the commentary that addresses seven areas for each division of the biblical text: literary context, the main idea, translation and graphical layout, structure, exegetical outline, explanation of the text, and theology in application. Some of these areas are regularly discussed in commentaries, but some are not, even though they have been part of the exegetical method taught in Bible colleges and seminaries for quite some time. For the reader with training in exegesis, this approach will be quite welcome, but it could be overwhelming for the uninitiated reader. For example the translation and graphical layout can be confusing unless one understands the principles that guided the layout of the text and the additional clausal functions (see pp. 10–11 for the editors’ explanation). On the whole, however, each element makes a strong addition to the overall presentation. The page layout is pleasing and easy to navigate; so the reader should be able to find desired material quickly. The series shows great design, as exemplified by this volume, and Zondervan is to be applauded for its innovations.
The introduction to Matthew covers traditional material, such as the date and purpose of the Gospel, but it also has a fair amount on the interpretive process (due no doubt to Osborne’s own work on hermeneutical method in his book The Hermeneutical Spiral). Following the introduction is a select bibliography. Then each division of the commentary proper on the biblical text addresses the seven areas mentioned above. Osborne does a good job in focusing on the main argument of the text, using the footnotes for technical arguments and references. After the last section of the commentary proper is an important chapter on Matthew’s theology, in which Osborne addresses many traditional topics, such as Christology and discipleship. The end matter includes three indexes (Scripture, subjects, and authors).
The textual commentary clearly explains Matthew’s intention as expressed in his own Gospel. In view of Osborne’s interest in redaction criticism and historical Jesus studies this reviewer expected to see frequent technical discussions about these issues. These issues are appropriately subordinated to a discussion of Matthew’s meaning. The unfortunate consequence is that the reader is often left wanting more, but not necessarily needing it. For example in discussing the Sermon on the Mount as a whole (pp. 159–61), Osborne advances several reasonable conclusions about the Sermon: (1) It advances ethical standards of righteousness for Jesus’ followers in this present age. (2) It is the same as the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20–49) but with different emphases. (3) The structure of the Sermon consists of an introduction (5:3–16) and conclusion (7:13–27) surrounding a threefold structure: the relationship of the Law to the New Covenant (5:17–48), true versus false piety (6:1–18), and social ethics (6:19–7:12). No doubt Osborne could have written extensively about each of these issues, but he wrote in keeping with the series goal, and the result is a useful discussion of Matthew’s meaning as the primary emphasis of the commentary with occasional forays into more technical issues.
Relatively minor critiques of the work may be mentioned. The introduction could have been more thorough in places. Having the chapter on theology included in the front matter as an aid to interpretation may have been better than having it at the end of the work. For example in the chapter on theology Osborne discusses the issue of the Gentile mission. This is an important interpretive framework for understanding Matthew, so that placing it toward the end minimizes it as a live issue. The “Select Bibliography on Matthew” is somewhat disappointing because it is too diverse. By its name one would think that it would focus exclusively on Matthean works, but it is more general and thus less useful. Also in many places the literary context and main idea are not very distinct. And the themes presented in the “Theology in Application” section are often simple phrases where complete sentences would have been clearer and more helpful expressions of the theology.
In spite of these minor criticisms Osborne’s work is a clear presentation of Matthew’s meaning and should prove useful for both academic and pastoral work.
—Michael H. Burer