Dr. Craig Blomberg reviews Grant Osbornes Exegetical Commentary on Matthew
Grant R. Osborne. Matthew. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. 1154 pp. $49.99. ISBN 978-0-310-24357-1.
Of four commentaries now available in this exciting, new series, this is the first on a narrative portion of the New Testament. It certainly lives up to the high quality standard established by the three volumes on the epistles thus far to have emerged (or perhaps I should say up to the high quality established by at least two and a half of those volumes, since I co-authored one of them and shouldn’t try to assess my contribution to it!).
Grant Osborne has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School since 1977 and has distinguished himself over his illustrious career with numerous publications, especially his commentaries on Revelation, Romans, and John, a major hermeneutics textbook, a redactional study of the resurrection narratives, and a handbook for Bible study. This new commentary on Matthew is excellent, too, and will prove of special help to preachers and church teachers, theological students and professors. I intend to use it as the main text this fall with my seminary elective on this Gospel.
As with all volumes in the ZECNT, introductions are kept brief and the focus throughout is on what the pastor needs to know, either for background to preaching or for the actual sermon. Brief sections on literary context, a grammatical layout of the passage in English (corresponding to the Greek syntax), structure and form, and an exegetical outline precede the more detailed verse-by-verse and sometimes phrase-by-phrase or clause-by-clause commentary. At the end of each section is a summary of what is labeled “theology in application.” One of the oddities of the chosen format for the grammatical layouts is that the main clauses of the narrative are in bold face type, but the actual words of characters (in the Gospels, usually Jesus) are in lighter italicized type. Instead of overly emphasizing Jesus’ words, as in red-letter Bibles, now we’ve underemphasized them, making it look visually as if the three most important points in, say, the beatitudes in 5:1-12, are “he ascended a mountain,” “his disciples came to him,” and “he opened his mouth and began to teach them, saying” (p. 163)!
Osborne finds history, theology, and literary style all present in abundance, none necessarily in tension with any other. He opts for Matthew the apostle as author and cautiously suggests a date of 65-67 for his writing. He adopts the two-source hypothesis for Gospel relationships, outlines the book by means of its alternating sections of narrative and discourse, highlights the typological uses of the Old Testament, and deftly sums us the key principles of each pericope and their implications in each “theology in application” section. With respect to concrete applications to the twenty-first-century world, he regularly and rightly highlights how shallow the Western church’s concept of discipleship and lifelong commitment to Christ is and how enmeshed we are in a materialism that drains us of the energy that should be directed elsewhere.
Other gems include the following: “The task of the church is not just to be ‘seeker-sensitive’ but far more to be ‘seeker-challenging,’ for until they obey and worship the Lord, they stand with Herod rather than the Magi” (p. 93, italics his); “universalists do not understand the power of sin; the truth is that after a billion years Hitler and Stalin will not repent—they will hate God more than they did the day they died! ” (p. 118); “Christian organizations are so desperate for funds that they actually encourage ostentatious giving by selling bricks with people’s names on them or naming buildings or even whole seminaries after wealthy donors” (p. 221); “I tell my students regularly to read 2 Cor 11:16-33 every six months and ask, ‘Am I better than Paul? Should I expect everything always to go well in my ministry?’ Christian leaders today do not know how to handle adversity!” (p. 395); and “Gossip doesn’t care enough to worry who is hurt but turns slander into entertainment!” (p. 481).
In the exegetical heart of the book, Osborne includes more references to representative scholars on the different sides of key debates than the purposes of the series might otherwise dictate, explaining that, as pastors learn in seminary about many of these individuals or the positions they represent, they can now see how they line up on a broader array of issues and be helped in their evaluation of their positions thereby. As is his hallmark throughout his teaching and writing, Osborne regularly looks for “both-and” solutions to exegetical debates, but that does not prevent him from taking stands when necessary. As is typical with narrative, fewer grammatical points require comment, but Osborne takes advantage of those that do appear, especially with Matthew’s proliferation of circumstantial participles (i.e., of attendant circumstances), temporal genitive absolutes, and imperfective verbal aspect.
As for exegetical cruxes, Osborne aligns himself persuasively with those who see Matthew’s genealogy as representing Joseph’s legal/regal lineage and Luke’s his literal/biological one. The notorious eis in 3:11 means John baptizes in water “with reference to” or “in agreement with” repentance (p. 115). The “poor in spirit” in 5:3 “are the economically destitute who are forced to rely entirely on God” (p. 166). Salt in 5:13 means simply “to make an impact [presumably positively] on the world” (p. 175). Because God never leads anyone into temptation (Jas. 1:13), 6:12 means, “don’t let us succumb to temptation” (p. 230), and 10:23 refers to the perpetually incomplete Jewish mission prior to the Parousia. Jesus’ apparently rude remarks in 15:24 are designed to draw out the woman’s faith through further conversation (p. 599), Peter is the rock in 16:18 (p. 627), and the reason the disciples seem so obtuse in 17:19 is because they think Jesus is asking them to work the miracle of feeding the multitudes (p. 657). The binding and loosing in 18:18 parallel John 20:23 in terms of retaining or forgiving sins (p. 687), 21:43 does not justify replacement theology but rejects only some of the Jewish people (p. 791), and 23:13 refers to “travel to Diaspora synagogues by Jewish sages to convince God-fearers. . .to become full-fledged proselytes” (p. 848). Chapter 24 blends prophecies of the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 with a look to the eschatological future and the return of Christ, the parable of the sheep and goats refers first of all to how people respond to the Christian needy, and Matthew 26 does not contradict John’s chronology of the Passover. When rightly understood, both the Synoptics and John teach crucifixion on the afternoon after the first, main Passover meal (although Osborne seems to have forgotten this was his view on p. 962 when on p. 993 he asserts that Jesus’ trial was held “just eighteen hours before Passover began—italics mine).
Osborne generously interacts with my NAC commentary on Matthew more frequently than it probably deserves, the vast majority of the time positively. In the few places where he disagrees, he has sometimes misunderstood me, no doubt through my failure to be clear enough. For example, when I comment on 3:16 that Matthew doesn’t describe Jesus’ actual baptism but what happens immediately afterwards, I don’t mean a separate, later event but simply that we are not told what precisely John did to baptize Christ, merely that after he came out of the water he saw the heaven opened and the Spirit descending (contra Osborne, p. 124, n. 19). Or when he rejects my view that parables always make as many points as main characters (while accepting that this works most of the time), he represents my position as one point per character (which doesn’t work with the sower; p. 505) rather than per main character (in which case it does). Nor does anything in the parable of the unjust steward about the welcome people receive in heaven contradict my rejection of degrees of reward lasting for eternity (contra p. 734).
There is the occasional overstatement, as with the claim that the concepts of Messiah performing miracles and suffering death were not found in Judaism prior to 70 (p. 62; rare though such beliefs may have been) or that “demons always torture the people they possess” (p. 316; do we really know enough from 8:28-34 about those who can elsewhere masquerade as angels of light to generalize that broadly?). There are also a handful of typos (perhaps the most glaring is “angelology” instead of “angelophany” on p. 1069) and factual errors, as with attributing 32 as the year for Harold Hoehner’s dating of the crucifixion rather than 33 (p. 106, n.1). “Present kingdom” on the top of the second column on p. 183 should be “future kingdom.” A man divorcing his wife if he found one more attractive than her came from Rabbi Akiba, not Hillel (p. 200). BeblÄ“menÄ“n and puressousan in 8:14 cannot be circumstantial participles because if they described how Jesus “saw” the woman, they would have to be masculine. As feminine, they must be adjectival and attributive, modifying the mother-in-law (contra p. 298, n. 3). As I point out in my Contagious Holiness, reclining at meals for Jews was not restricted to banquets or festive meals (contra p. 335). In 20:3, “standing” can’t modify “found,” because “found” doesn’t exist in the verse; Osborne was probably remembering its later occurrence in v. 6. The reference on p. 740 back to the “theology in application” section on 11:20-24 “on the issue of rewards in heaven” is puzzling because there only degrees of punishment in hell were discussed (p. 435). Finally, I am not one of those who holds to a harmonization of 20:29 with Luke 18:35 by appealing to two Jerichos (contra p. 747).
It is not surprising, however, to find such minor mistakes in a book of this length, complexity, and detail. The vast majority of its contents is so helpful and on target that these minor flaws can be readily overlooked. I have had worse than this happen to me when I have thought I have proofread one of my own writings well, and I have had publishers or editors themselves introduce errors even after my final opportunity to view the galleys! As I said at the outset, this volume will now become my preferred commentary on Matthew for virtually every purpose other than perusing the exhaustive kinds of discussions one finds only in three-volume works like Davies’ and Allison’s revised ICC volumes or Luz’s Hermeneia offerings or for consulting the encyclopedic background citations available in Keener’s socio-rhetorical commentary. Thank you, Grant, for your labor of love in this work, like your many others, and for your expressions of love and care for all your students over the years, including my wife and me when you were just beginning your career!
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament