[Originally written in 2011 for Protestants for the Common Good.
Revised in 2019.]
The Gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the current year (Year A, 2020) will come mainly from the Gospel According to Matthew.
This Gospel was composed around 85 CE, probably in
in Antioch , a
city with many Judeans and mainly Greek-speaking. The Gospel incorporated two older sources, the
Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source Q, and added a good deal of its own local
lore. “Matthew” put into good flowing
Greek the accepted teaching of that second-generation church just as it had
finally separated from its roots in the synagogue. Syria
(This was the consensus view of critical scholars during the twentieth century. There is currently a growing tendency among Evangelical scholars to date the Gospel earlier, before the destruction of
in 70 CE. There is still unanimity that
this is the most “Jewish” or
“Jewish-Christian” of the Gospels.) Jerusalem
Contents of this Review
1. Matthew Emphasizes Jesus’ Teachings.
2. The Old Scriptures of
Testify to the Messiah. Israel
3. Matthew’s Jesus Calls for a Greater Righteousness.
4. The Messiah’s Mighty Works Anticipate the Kingdom.
5. The Church Awaits the End of the Age – as Jesus’ Servants.
6. Matthew Reflects Bitter Conflicts with Judean Groups.
7. Narrative Sequence is Theological in Matthew.
Some Commentaries on Matthew.
[Note: When referring to New Testament texts and persons, I use “Judean” instead of “Jew” and “Jewish.” The latter terminology developed in some European nations in Medieval and Modern times and is now used by English-speaking Jews of themselves.]
1. Matthew Emphasizes Jesus’ Teachings.
A quick survey of the 28 chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew reveals the clusters of long teaching sessions by Jesus. This is especially so if one compares this Gospel with those of Mark and Luke. Sayings and pronouncements that are scattered in various contexts in Mark and Luke are gathered into sustained discourses in Matthew. Someone has worked hard to organize Jesus’ teachings into topics and placed the resulting discourses in appropriate contexts in Jesus’ career.
Overall, Matthew follows Mark’s narrative framework but locates the large teaching blocks within it. Tradition has identified five discourses in Matthew, each concluded with a statement like, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things...” (Matthew 7:28, NRSV; see also 11:1; ; 19:1; 26:1).
These are the five resulting discourses:
Matthew 5-7 The Sermon on the Mount – the gospel of the Kingdom.
Matthew 10 The Mission of the Twelve to Israel.
Matthew 13 Parables of the Kingdom.
Matthew 18 Instructions for life in the Church.
Matthew 24-25 Instructions and Parables on the Last Judgment.
There is actually a sixth discourse that lacks the concluding formula but is also a compilation of sayings from various sources. This is the condemnation and Woes on the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” in chapter 23. This discourse, longer than the one on the church in chapter 18, stands in the Gospel as Jesus’ final encounter with these opponents before the crucifixion.
Mark has 282 verses of Jesus speech (of a total 664 verses);
Matthew has 643 verses of Jesus speech (of a total of 1,071 verses).
Thus, Jesus speech is 42% of Mark’s Gospel; 60% of Matthew’s Gospel.
2. The Old Scriptures of
It is immediately evident that Matthew’s Gospel is about Jesus, the Anointed One (Messiah). “The scroll of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1, NRSV modified). Jesus is an heir of David, the founder of (true) kingship in
; he is also an heir of Abraham, the ancestor of all the elect people. Israel
Each of these great figures in Israelite history received an unconditional promise (covenant) from God – Abraham was assured of the continuance of the people; David the continuance of his line of kings in
. This Jesus, who is shown in this Gospel as the world-ruling Son of Man, was the fulfillment of old promises recorded in the Israelite scriptures. That fulfillment is emphasized repeatedly as the story unfolds – especially in a group of passages scholars call the Formula Quotations. Israel
There are between ten and fifteen of these formal citations of scripture, each linking some feature of the Jesus story to the Judean scriptures.
(A classic study of these quotations was Krister Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew, Fortress Press, 1968 [original 1954]. A current summary, listing 15 citations, is in Pheme Perkins, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels, Eerdmans, 2007, pp. 176-181. Looser ways of counting quotes find much higher numbers, such as 41, J. L. McKenzie, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall, 1968, vol. II, p. 64.)
The Gospel According to Matthew emerged and flourished in a community that saw this fulfillment of scriptures as evidence of continuity between the God of Israel’s past and the new community founded by Jesus.
It is well to note here the conception of the scriptures these passages reflect: the old scriptures are viewed as oracles (in the Greek sense). That is, the writings in the old scrolls are divine pronouncements, often with veiled or unexpected meanings. The old texts are coded messages, the mysterious (and sometimes highly improbable) meanings of which make up a scribal lore, to be ferreted out by much oil and prayerful inspiration. (Thus it required a “school” of scribes to develop and formalize these scripture references for the new Messianic community – a la Stendahl.)
This role of the old scriptures is made clear early in the Gospel. The formula quotations cluster especially at the beginning. (Eleven of fifteen quotations are in the first thirteen of the Gospel’s twenty-eight chapters.) The birth and infancy stories especially have scripture quotations, sometimes requiring a far stretch from the old Israelite text. For example, Rachel weeping over her lost children (Matthew -18) is a lament in Matthew, but in Jeremiah it is part of a prophecy of hope (Jeremiah 31:15-17).
The prophetic scroll of Isaiah is especially important in the formula quotations. Eight of fifteen formula quotes are from Isaiah, and these include
- the Emmanuel passage (Isaiah , quoted in Matthew ),
- the Voice in the Wilderness (Isaiah 40:3, quoted in 3:3);
- the “people who dwell in darkness” (Isaiah 9:1-2, quoted in -16);
- the healing by the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:4, quoted in ); and
- the calling of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1-4, quoted in -21).
It is clear that for the Matthean community, the scroll of Isaiah was a primary testimony to the Messiah who was to come!
3. Matthew’s Jesus Calls for a Greater Righteousness.
After the preliminaries of his birth, baptism, temptation, and return to
(chapters 1-4), Jesus presents a great Sermon from a mountain, providing the
constitution and torah for a new Messianic community.
In chapters 2 through 7, Jesus is presented as a new Moses: at his birth he is threatened by a wicked king, as Moses was by Pharaoh; like Moses he is called out of
he is tested in the wilderness. After
gathering disciples he ascends the mountain to bring a new law to a newly chosen
people, and the Sermon begins with the Beatitudes just as Sinai opens with the
Ten Commandments. These parallels between
Moses and Jesus are not continued past the Sinai-like setting of the Sermon on
the Mount, but they add a powerful aura to the one speaking the Sermon. Egypt
The Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount greet the new chosen people – proclaiming their actual blessedness, in spite of worldly appearances to the contrary. These blessed folks are in fact the salt of the earth; beyond appearances, the light of the world (Matthew 5:3-16).
The first major instruction of the Sermon is that Jesus has not come to abolish the past religious tradition (“the law or the prophets”); not to abolish that tradition but to “fulfill” it. The custodians of that tradition in the contemporary world were “the scribes and the Pharisees.” But for the new community, Jesus declares at the very outset: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew ).
In the Sermon, the meaning of this “greater righteousness” seems to be that you have to go beyond mere formal observance of the (moral) commandments; you have to take into yourself the spirit and intention of the commandment. Not only do you have to not murder; you have to purge your heart of hatred and envy that lead to violence. This is the import of the series of “...but I say unto you” teachings in Matthew -48.
The Greater Righteousness requires a purification of the inner person. It is a matter – in Israelite anthropology – of the Heart.
The Sermon’s discussion of righteousness does not refer explicitly to Jeremiah’s New Covenant passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34), but the thought certainly is in agreement. As Jeremiah presented the New Covenant, God will transform the motivational center of the restored people, the heart: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). The Sermon certainly suggests that such inward change was the “greater righteousness” that Jesus required of his new elect people.
At the end of Jesus’ teaching, there is perhaps the most profound presentation of the greater righteousness that Jesus hoped for: the unselfconscious care for the needy and neglected, given anonymously and inconspicuously – which the Lord sees as given directly to himself (Matthew 25:31-45).
4. The Messiah’s Mighty Works Anticipate the Kingdom.
After the Sermon, blessing and instructing the new community, Matthew presents a series of miracles, especially healings, that reveal the power of the one who brings the kingdom, even before its full realization. (“Mighty works” is the traditional English translation of the Greek ta dunάmeis, as in Matthew -24.)
Chapters 8 to 9 present, in rapid succession, the cleansing of a leper, healing of a Centurion’s servant, curing the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, followed a little later by exorcising demons, curing a paralytic, raising a girl from supposed death, and restoring the sight of some blind men and the speech of a mute person. Besides these works of mercy for people, Jesus stills a storm on the lake, prompting the disciples to ask, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (, NRSV).
Thus the Gospel of Matthew alternates between long teaching sessions of Jesus and his works of power – though the further along we go in the Gospel, the fewer mighty works are reported. After the announcement of the coming suffering and death, at , when he recognized that the powers that be will not accept his message but will execute him instead, there are almost no miracles.
But if there was any doubt about the meaning of Jesus’ mighty works, Jesus puts it plainly to his opponents, who accuse him of being in league with Satan: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (12:28).
Jesus’ miracles are the early breaking in of the
! Kingdom of Heaven
5. The Church Awaits the End of the Age – as Jesus’ Servants.
The first generation of Jesus followers were an apocalyptic sect within Judaism, expecting the coming judgment and open to charismatic revelations. The movement clearly became contagious and multiplied cells and clusters of Jesus believers.
When eventually the Gospel According to Mark put in writing the legacy of the first generation of Greek-speaking preachers of Jesus’ Messiahship, what it presented was an apocalyptic drama. At key points Mark makes clear that Jesus’ return in power was still close at hand.
And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the
has come with power.” (Mark 9:1) kingdom of God
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. (Mark ).
Also, Mark’s longest Jesus discourse is the instructions about the end times (chapter 13).
The long, and long-meditated, passion narrative in Mark made the death of Jesus a major event in God’s salvation history, but the ultimate moment of the drama was always the final judgment that Jesus, the Son of Man, would carry out upon his return in glory (see especially Mark 14:61-62).
Matthew’s Gospel keeps Mark’s apocalyptic orientation.
The sayings about the end coming in the first generation are repeated with virtually no modification (Matthew from Mark 9:1; Matthew 24:34 from Mark ). Matthew also keeps the main body of Mark’s Apocalyptic Discourse as Jesus’ final speech preceding the passion (Matthew 24:1-25, 29-36).
However, while Matthew doesn’t omit Mark’s apocalyptic materials, he does add significantly to the materials about the last judgment.
Matthew adds six sizeable pieces, totaling 61 verses. (Mark 13, the apocalyptic discourse, is 37 verses.) These are Matthew’s additions:
1) “About that day and hour no one knows” – Noah’s flood as example, 24:36-41.
2) “Keep awake therefore...” – the thief coming at night as example, 24:42-44.
3) The faithful and unfaithful slaves – when the master is delayed, 24:45-51.
4) The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (“virgins”), 25:1-13.
5) The Parable of the Talents, 25:14-30.
6) The Son of Man Judges the Nations, 25:31-46.
All except items (4) and (6) in this list have parallels in Luke, which suggests that they were in the Sayings Source Q, independently drawn on by Matthew and Luke. These include the examples of Noah’s flood, the thief in the night, and the servants waiting out their lord’s delay. Item (5), the Parable of the Talents, as it is called in Matthew, has had a complicated history. In Luke it is the parable of the “pounds” and many details are quite different – though the overall point is much the same (Luke -27).
The significant point in all this is: Most of Matthew’s additions to the apocalyptic materials are about the waiting period! The only exception is the new description of the Last Judgment itself (Matthew 25:31-46). Even there, however, the message is: Live your whole life now in service of the Lord. When he comes it will be too late!!
Otherwise, in Matthew’s communities it was important to exhort people to be watchful, not get complacent, and – in particular – not just sit around and wait. The Parable of the Bridesmaids shows the waiting church is in for a long haul – wise estimates and stock-piling are needed. The Parable of the Talents makes even clearer that investment and hard work are what the absent Lord has prescribed for the waiting servants.
These folks have staked their lives on a near end of the world, but they are under heavy commission to be energetic and productive in their common life during the waiting period!
Of particular interest for Church life is the description of the faithful and unfaithful slaves (24:45-51). This passage clearly reflects issues of leadership that had emerged in some congregations.
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom the master will find at work when he arrives. (Matthew 24:45-46, NRSV.)
Administrative arrangements in the early congregations are reflected here. In a few centuries, these functions would become the responsibilities of Christian bishops in Roman cities.
But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of the slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. (24:48-50.)
By the time of Matthew’s Gospel (or Q earlier), warning against irresponsible and corrupt leaders had already become part of their Jesus lore.
6. Matthew Reflects Bitter Conflict with Judean Groups.
Matthew’s Gospel is schizophrenic about its relation to Judaism. It shows a complex love-hate relation to the Judean tradition and some of its representatives.
(While there were several sectarian groups among the Judean people of Palestine, the Gospels certainly regard the Pharisees as the representatives over against whom Jesus defined his own positions. Matthew, however, unlike John and Luke, does not call these opponents simply “the Jews.”)
The Matthean communities would like to be fully Judean, only adding the provision that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Messiah.
Unfortunately, the majority of Judean people did not accept Jesus, and the Jesus believers became a separate and increasingly persecuted sect as the Palestinian world moved into and past the Roman War (66-73 CE). Especially after that war, the Jesus movement received more and more non-Judean people (“the nations,” that is “gentiles”), into their fellowship, which further separated the Christians (as they then were) from Pharisaic Judaism (on its way to becoming Rabbinic Judaism).
In Matthew, here is the conflict: On the one hand, Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, and that anyone who breaks even the smallest commandment is least in the kingdom of heaven (, 19). Further, when Jesus sent out the missionary disciples he warned them to go only to the Judean people (10:5). On the other hand, Matthew follows Mark in abolishing the dietary laws (Matthew 15:1-20, from Mark 7:1-23). By the end of the ministry, Jesus distinguishes between what the Pharisees teach and what they do. His disciples are to follow their teaching (such as the belief in the resurrection), not their conduct (23:2-3). Finally, the heavenly empowered disciples are sent to all the nations (28:19-20). Judean exclusiveness is no longer part of the gospel.
This conflict over whether Jesus was the Messiah led to deadly results. Jesus people were being persecuted, even to death, because of this sectarian warfare. The persecution is described in Matthew 10:16-23: “Brother will betray brother to death...and you will be hated by all because of my name” (verses 21-22, NRSV). The people were divided into separate camps, so that Jesus speaks of “their” synagogues (). We have moved into a world of “them and us.”
The bitterest result of this conflict from the side of the Jesus group is the notorious declaration of the people at the trial of Jesus. When Pilate sought to wash his hands of the whole Jesus business, “the people as a whole” cry out, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25, NRSV).
From Matthew’s viewpoint, this terrible curse was carried out in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In that catastrophe, all the population of Jerusalem was destroyed or, if lucky, dispersed to other places. For the Matthean communities, the conflict was essentially over. God’s judgment had been rendered, and the Jesus people went on with the gospel to all the nations.
Nevertheless, this vicious saying at the trial echoed down the centuries to bring untold misery, injustice, and slaughter to Jewish people at the hands of triumphant Christian fanatics. It doesn’t matter whether what Matthew reports was really said or not. From any viewpoint, the curse should have been over by the year 74. The devastation of Judea had dispersed survivors, both Judeans and Jesus followers, to other settings and the gospel should have gone forward with justice (righteousness) rather than hatred. (Jesus’ followers had been firmly commanded to love their enemies, Matthew 5:43-44.)
7. Narrative Sequence is Theological in Matthew.
Matthew starts out as an utterly Judean story, but ends as a message of salvation for all nations. Shaping the story in this way was critical to getting the right message out there.
Modern commentators agree that the major development in the storyline is the rejection of Jesus’ message by the Judean leaders.
The beginning of the story establishes that, from ancestry, birth, and God’s direct testimony, Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 1-4). It is the Messiah who delivers the Sermon on the Mount as the renewed Law for a restored
and who does mighty works anticipating the kingdom. The disciples were then sent out to take that
message to the Judean people (10:5), but most of their instructions anticipate resistance
and persecution (-39). After that the direct opposition to Jesus
increases until the Pharisees finally decide they must eliminate him (). Israel
Teaching in parables (the discourse in chapter 13) is a recognition that direct statement is not sufficient, and in this context Isaiah is quoted to pronounce doom upon the people who will not understand what is told to them (Matthew 13:13-17, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10). From that point on, Jesus concentrates more on teaching and developing the alternative community, the disciples who begin to be called “the church” (; ).
After the disciples’ confession of Jesus as Messiah (-20), all is focused on going to
First, that is where all the Isaiah prophecies locate the glorious time of fulfillment (Isaiah 2:2-4; 40:1-11; 49; 60-62). Secondly, that is where the power of the authorities is concentrated, and where they must be challenged – which is what happens in the cycle of controversies in
(chapters 21-22), including the final condemnation of the “scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites” (chapter 23). Jerusalem
Finally, of course, Jerusalem is where the unfaithful people have always killed the prophets (23:37), so that the final irony is that the glorious city of Isaiah’s prophecies will in fact become the center of defeat, death, and destruction for the people who put Jesus to death instead of heeding him. Matthew, like Mark, does not expect any new life from
death. The risen Lord will be seen in Jerusalem Galilee.
It is clear that the linear story is important in Matthew. Things change, especially because the Judean people did not recognize their Messiah, and instead of Messianic blessing, brought disaster upon themselves. It was important to keep telling the story this way because the Matthean community was still living beside and arguing with the descendants of those Pharisees whom Jesus denounced in this Gospel.
The story line ends, of course, on that other mountain in
which the community of Jesus’ disciples is expanded to include all the
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:18-20.)
I was reluctant to include this section, because it is potentially endless. Lists of books without comment are not helpful. These are, of course, highly personal lists, with personal notations. The comments are what I would say in short form to graduate students faced with the bewildering writings about Matthew. (Craig A. Evans, in his 2012 commentary, lists 68 commentaries – and these are only the modern ones – 142 volumes of studies pertinent to Matthew, and then more small studies than I can count.) For what they are worth, here are my lists and comments.
1. Some Old Classics.
A. Carr, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, “Cambridge Greek Testament,” Cambridge University Press, 1894 (original 1880). Written before British scholars adopted the “Markan priority” view of the Synoptic Gospels. Follows B. F. Westcott’s views of an extensive oral tradition drawn on by the written Gospels. [The later replacement of this work by B.T.D. Smith, The Gospel according to Matthew, Cambridge Greek Testament, 1927, is surprisingly up-to-date, informed by the Oxford Group on the Synoptics, especially B.H. Streeter. It is well-written and insightful.]
A. B. Bruce, “The Synoptic Gospels,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. I, Eerdmans [reprint], 1956 (original 1897), Matthew = pp. 3-340. Bruce was the first generation of scholars to teach the “modern” view of the Synoptic Gospels to students of the Free Church of Scotland at Glasgow University.
Willoughby C. Allen, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, T&T Clark, 2d ed., 1907. Allen was an Anglican Oxford Don. For many decades afterwards his commentary served as a major source on the language usage of Matthew – words shared with Mark, with Luke, confined to Matthew only, etc. In his “Preface” he gave a perfect description of what a “redaction critic” should do – but on that he was far ahead of his time.
Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Macmillan, 1915. McNeile was a Cambridge scholar, writing in the prestigious Macmillan commentary series aimed especially at students who had to pass exams on the Greek Gospels. He takes a rigorous approach to the historicity of the Jesus story, and will have none of the Apocalyptic Jesus. He was to remain a dean of British New Testament scholars for several decades, and in this commentary he decidedly represents Anglican conservatism.
C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed., 2 vols, Macmillan, 1927. Montefiore was a prominent Jewish scholar who was part of the movement to reclaim Jesus as an important figure in Judaism. He was fully versed in current Christian scholarship such as the works of Rudolph Bultmann and B.H. Streeter.
2. The Era of the Biblical Theology movement (roughly 1935 to 1970).
Sherman E. Johnson, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951, pp. 229-625. A good representative of church-oriented scholarship of the mid-century.
David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible, Attic Press (Greenwood, S.C.), 1972. Hill gave a balanced treatment of Matthew after the full impact of form criticism.
Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, tr. David E. Green, John Knox Press, 1975. The Good News commentaries translated all of Schweizer’s volumes from the German popular series, Das Neue Testament Deutsch. Schweizer was well into redaction criticism, but the ethos of his commentaries is still that of the Biblical Theology movement.
3. New Movements in Matthew Studies.
John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel, Paulist Press, 1979. (Meier’s more recent fame is for his multi-volume work on the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew, Doubleday/Yale, four volumes as of 2009, and still counting.) This volume is a small-scale commentary on Matthew, working through issues for later publications.
Graham N. Stanton, A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew, Westminster/John Knox, 1993. This work is an excellent summing up of where things stood with Matthew as of 1990. The book is addressed to scholars and has three parts. Part I, “Redaction Criticism: the End of an Era?”; Part II, “The Parting of the Ways,” i.e., has Matthew’s church really separated from Judaism yet?; and Part III, “Studies in Matthew,” detailed work on the Sermon on the Mount (resisting Hans Dieter Betz’ theory) and on the “comfort” words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 (not really a “wisdom” saying). While not a commentary, these are the kind of studies good commentaries are made of.
4. Since 1988 -- Era of Hugh Commentaries.
W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Vol. I, T&T Clark, 1988 (750 pages); Vol. II, 1991 (807 pages); Vol. III, 1997 (790 pages). These volumes replaced the Allen work in the ICC series. It is a massive reference commentary, where you look up things rather than simply read it. Davies had published Setting of the Sermon on the Mount in the 60s, emphasizing the relation of Matthew to the post-70 rehabilitation of Pharisaic Judaism. The commentary builds on that perspective.
Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7, 2007; Matthew 8-20, 2001; Matthew 21-28, 2008; all translated by James E. Crouch; Hermeneia Series; Fortress Press. Total of 1838 pages. Luz was a Swiss New Testament scholar who published a four-volume commentary on Matthew in German in the ecumenical series, Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, here in English translation. Besides covering at length scholars’ views of form and redaction criticism, he pays special attention to the history of interpretation of the various pericopes over the ages.
5. Recent Neo-Evangelical Huge Commentaries.
Background. Since the 1970s, there has been an upsurge in publications aimed at Neo-Evangelical believers. (The “fundamentalists” of the early 20th century came to shun that name and in the 1940s began to call themselves “Evangelicals.” Historians call them “Neo-Evangelicals” to distinguish them from the much older true Evangelicals of European background.)
During the 1970s the Neo-Evangelical churches and denominations reached a climax in “The Battle for the Bible” – title of the book by Harold Lindsell, Zondervan, 1976. The “Battle” was about the inerrancy of the Bible. True believers affirm that there are no errors in the Bible, at least in the original manuscripts from which our Bible texts are descended. The “Battle” culminated in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, 1978 (Inerrancy Statement ), which most Neo-Evangelical Biblical scholars are expected to affirm.
Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, Eerdmans, 1982 (652 pages). [Later reissued under the title Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, 1994.] A trail-blazer in several senses. He found a way to keep most of the Jesus talk as coming from Jesus, but also to accept and practice “redaction criticism,” recognizing that Matthew re-wrote Mark. For Neo-Evangelicals, what is inspired scripture is the written canonical text, not what historians (believers or not) may reconstruct about the historical Jesus (affirmed on p. 2). What Gundry calls “The Theology of Matthew” (pp. 5-10) is a transparent blast at Liberal Protestants, equating them with the “false disciples” and “false prophets” referred to in the Gospel. His commentary is a defense of the faith against such false moderns!
John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, 2005 (1579 pages). Like Gundry, Nolland studies “Matthew’s” use of his sources, Mark and Q; that is, he does redaction criticism. Also like Gundry, he argues for an early date for Matthew, before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Unlike Gundry, Nolland writes an impressive, balanced and accurate, essay on “The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew,” pages 38-43.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 2007 (1233 pages). France had worked with Matthew on smaller scales for decades. He did a small commentary in 1985 (Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Eerdmans, reprint 2001), and a general introduction in 1989 (Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, Paternoster). In this mammoth commentary he insists that he will not repeat his earlier work, and that this is “a commentary on Matthew, not a commentary on other commentaries” (p. xix).
D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol. 9: Matthew-Mark, Zondervan, 2010, pp. 23-670. Carson also did the first edition of this commentary, published in 1984, though this seems to be an extensive revision. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series was initiated by Zondervan Press to provide commentaries on the new Neo-Evangelical translation of the Protestant Bible, the New International Version, 1978 (exclusive rights held by Zondervan). It aimed to do for Neo-Evangelical students and pastors what the Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon Press) did for Liberal Protestants after the RSV translation came out in 1952.
6. Other Recent Commentaries.
Francis W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew, Harper & Row, 1981 (reissued by Hendrickson, 1987). A major commentary (550 pages) that didn't get much attention when it was published. It is, however, an independent and penetrating study of the Gospel. Beare taught for many years at Trinity College, University of Toronto. He says this commentary "was prompted in the first instance by the realization that this Gospel...is not properly understood if it is looked upon as a revised edition of Mark... The structure of Matthew is not determined by the narrative, but by the succession of great discourses..." Preface, p. vii.
Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation Commentary Series, Westminster John Knox Press, 1993 (340 pages). Hare was a long-time professor at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, a moderate Protestant institution. Following an influential book by Jack Kingsbury, he emphasizes the plot of Jesus’ story (derived from Mark) more than the long Jesus discourses.
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, Liturgical Press, 1991 (with updated bibliography, 2007). A moderate size commentary (446 pages) exemplifying the best modern (post-Vatican II) Roman Catholic Biblical scholarship.
M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, Abingdon, 1995, pp. 89-505. Boring is a lively and confident writer. His general approach to Jesus and the Gospels is close to that of the Jesus Seminar. This is not the Apocalyptic Jesus, though he is very future oriented.
Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, “The Bible & Liberation Series,” Orbis Books, 2000 (600 pages). This work is a full scale commentary on Matthew, but it takes the form of an emphatic anti-imperial polemic – in support of current Liberation theology. Carter later wrote The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide, Abingdon, 2009. The evil Herod of the infancy stories fits this approach well, but finding the Roman empire in most of Matthew is, as Carter admits, a matter of reading between the lines (“what was Matthew really thinking here?").
Robert T. Fortna, The Gospel of Matthew, The Scholars Bible, Polebridge Press, 2005 (270 pages). And here we have the full-blown Jesus Seminar! After the original Jesus Seminar separated from its parent professional society and incorporated, it created its own publishing arm. This was the third volume in their commentary series. It gives a Greek text of the Gospel and alongside it the Scholars Version translation. This is a kind of risqué translation, aimed at getting the kind of response from modern readers that the translators think the originals evoked for their hearers/readers. This translation was originally published by Robert J. Miller, The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge, 1994. Fortna gives several essays or notes on the Scholars Version diction and religious issues in the Gospel. It’s not a complete commentary, but gives the full flavor of the Jesus Seminar approach.
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Brazos Press, 2006 (267 pages). Modern Biblical scholarship was born in the eighteenth century when critics began to separate the historical Bible people from the dogmatic churches’ overlay. This commentary series tries to adjust the imbalance between history and theology that has resulted. Here we do not hear (professional) Biblical scholars; we hear professional theologians, reading the Bible. Hauerwas is a professor at Yale Divinity School (theological ethics) and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (history and philosophy). He says, “I have tried not to write about Matthew. I have tried to write with Matthew, assuming that the gospel was written for us” (p. 18).
Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Baker Academic, 2010 (384 pages). This series is clearly aimed at serving the ongoing life of the current Roman Catholic Church. It uses the New American Bible translation, long ago initiated by the bishops of the American Catholic Church. The authors are from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. The commentary sees the dominant theme as the kingdom, and expands this under the headings the Christ (Christology), the Church, and the Christian vocation.
Craig A. Evans, Matthew, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, Cambridge University Press, 2012 (565 pages). For about a century, from the 1880s to the 1970s, the Cambridge Bible series was a great collection of top-quality commentaries on both Old and New Testaments. All volumes were small – 6-1/2 by 5 inches – with brevity and succinct comments their hallmark. The New Cambridge Bible series, initiated for the twenty-first century with Ben Witherington III as General Editor, abandoned the old format. We now have relatively large-scale volumes – in some cases (such as this Matthew commentary) swollen with excessive verbosity. Evans allows himself to wander into side topics with little real relevance to the Gospel – again and again. Witherington is a professor at one of the most Evangelical-oriented seminaries in America (Asbury Theological Seminary), and Evans shows his own Neo-Evangelical sympathies at many points. He covers the general scholarship on Matthew, understands that Matthew re-wrote Mark, and reluctantly allows that Matthew was probably written after 70 CE. But his literalist preoccupation is exposed in such a comment as this on the devil tempting Jesus in Jerusalem: “How the devil took Jesus to the city is not clear; it is probably visionary” (page 85).