In my preaching, research, and personal study, I have benefitted greatly from numerous scholarly commentaries. One new budding commentary series is the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT), which promises 20 volumes by evangelical scholars on all the books of the NT. I was blessed to receive a review copy* of one of the latest volumes from the folks at Zondervan Academic and koinonia: Matthew by Grant Osborne. Osborne, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is also the author of such works as The Hermeneutical Spiral and Revelation in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I was excited to start reading through this brand new, 1,152 page commentary on the book of the Bible that God really used to draw me close to him for the first time. I still remember leafing through the Gospel of Matthew with wonder as I read about Jesus. As I spent time in Matthew and in the commentary, I was once again blessed to sit in God's Word and ponder Jesus. Let me tell you right off the bat - I really like this new series and Osborne's volume.
About the ZECNT
Anyone who uses Bible commentaries with any regularity knows that there are a plethora of series out there, from every imaginable viewpoint and for the whole spectrum of possible audiences (uber-Bible nerd to regular Joe/Jill). One might ask, "Why another commentary series?" Clinton Arnold answers that question in the Series Introduction: This is a series for pastors and teachers who are looking for a "commentary series based on the Greek text." Such commentaries clearly exist (see NIGTC, WBC, Hermeneia to name a few), but the unique approach of the ZECNT that it is targeted for:
- Those with a Greek background,
- Who want precision on macro-level approaches to a section of text,
- Who want to-the-point analysis without getting sidetracked by rabbit chases,
- Like stuff like structural diagrams,
- Want something from a solid evangelical approach,
- Would like a little help with application of a section of text.
As such, they've divided the commentary by logical units into seven sections:
1. Literary Context
2. Main Idea
3. Translation and Graphical Layout
5. Exegetical Outline
6. Explanation of the Text
7. Theology in Application
The format of the text, I think, hits the sweet spot in between ultra-scholarly commentaries (see aforementioned NIGTC or WBC) and more concise or preacher-oriented commentaries (see TNTC, IVPNTC, or NAC). In addition to Osborne's volume on Matthew, there are three other commentaries available: Craig Blomberg on James, Thomas Schreiner on Galatians, and Clinton Arnold on Ephesians.
After spending about a month going through portions of Osborne's commentary on Matthew, I've come to really appreciate it. Osborne, from the preface, loves the church. This commentary is written with the church in mind, not simply adding another book on the Bible into the mix. He deftly walks through different passages, summarizing the various viewpoints, and then hits home main ideas when necessary. Whenever the sections shift into application, his paragraphs ooze his heart for God and the church. Here's a summary of the aspects of the commentary I appreciated:
+ Introduction to Narrative Hermeneutics. As Matthew is a Gospel, a narrative biography, you can't approach it the same way you'd approach one of Paul's letters. Cognizant of that, Osborne's introduction, instead of starting with the standard categories of authorship, genre, text, etc., he starts right away with a section "How to Study and Preach the Gospel of Matthew." There, he gives some basic strategies for understanding and studying the gospels, in a brief and practical manner.
+ Interaction with the Greek text. Each of the clause-by-clause analyses interact directly with the Greek text. Osborne provides his translation, with the original Greek in parentheses, and analyzes each clause piece by piece. As an added bonus, the ZECNT series does not transliterate the text, which I think makes it much easier for those with a Greek background to read it. I always had trouble reading transliterated text (such as in the Pillar Commentary Series), so I applaud this decision. Breaking up the analysis into clauses is also a good decision, in my opinion, as the comments can stay focused and precise. Moreover, it helps readers see the original breaks in the text and not the interpretive decisions of translators. When helpful, Osborne would state relevant grammatical terms and usually explain their significance. For example, here are his comments on Matt 9:34: "The imperfect "said" after the aorist of v. 33 places this charge in the foreground of the action [footnote to Porter's Idioms book here] and stresses the ongoing spread of this false premise. The contrast between the response of the crowds and the Pharisees could hardly be more stark. The former are filled with wonder, but the Pharisees make the opposite conclusion and accuse Jesus himself with being demon possessed. Since he is the great teacher and wonder worker, it must be Satan, "the prince of demons" who has given him such great power."
+ Great font and layout! Their choice of font and layout is excellent - the serifed font for the main body of text is very readable, as is the spacing. The explanation sections also split into two columns, which I found helpful. Footnotes are tastefully positioned in a slightly smaller, though still readable font. The outlines and structural diagrams use a sans-serifed font that is likewise quite readable.
Interaction with Other Scholars. On that note, Osborne interacts with a wide variety of scholars. Wherever there are divergent positions on an issue (for example, how exactly is it that Jesus "fulfilled" the law in Matt 5:17), he clearly lists the options, footnotes which scholars chose those viewpoints, and states his position on the matter.
+ Structural Diagrams and Outlines. I love structural diagrams. I've seen no other commentary series that explicitly provides a clause-by-clause structural diagram of every logical unit of text like the ZECNT. Some commentaries do this where it is deemed helpful, but in this commentary it's done on every single verse. Moreover, each clause is labeled according to its function in the sentence.
+ Prose, Flow, and Footnotes. Osborne's writing is extremely clear and concise. Unlike me, he doesn't get stuck in long-winded sentences only to come back (or not) to the main point. Moreover, he uses footnotes liberally when such information with undermine the flow of the text, pointing people to the appropriate scholarly resources as needed.
+ Theology in Application Section. I think this is a great feature of this commentary series. At the end of each logical unit, there is a section on application where Osborne gives a summary of the main point of the text just analyzed, and then some precisely worded points of application. Huge help.
While there is a lot I like about the commentary, there are some things I think could stand to be improved:
- Brevity at times. There were some times I wish Osborne wrote a little more on why he took a particular position as opposed to just stating it. I realize that Matthew is such a long book, and Osborne already wrote a thousand pages on it, but there were still times where I wished he would have delved into it a little more. In the introduction he says that he simply intends to refer people to other works to find the arguments there, but sometimes even a sentence or two would have been in order.
- Short Introduction. Although I appreciated the introductory section on narrative hermeneutics, the 20-page introduction was relatively short compared to other similar works (e.g. John Nolland's 63 page introduction in the NIGTC series, or Craig Keener's 73 page introduction in the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary series, both similar in size to Osborne's volume), especially considering that seven of those pages talked about how to properly interpret Matthew. Those looking for more detailed background data should probably look elsewhere.
- The Progress Bar. I know, I know, this is a little niggling thing, but I thought the little "progress bar" at the opening of each chapter showing where you were in the Gospel was a little hokey. It's styled to look like a web browser progress bar, which makes it look like some bizarre combination of an O'Reilly book on html and a textbook.
With those issues considered, I think Osborne's commentary on Matthew in the ZECNT series is a keeper. I think his love for the Word and the church, his clarity in writing, his biblical application, and thorough scholarly approach to the Greek text are an outstanding contribution to the church. I would highly recommend it for anyone preaching, teaching, or studying the book of Matthew. While you'll probably find this most helpful if you've studied at least a little Greek, the other parts--structural diagrams, literary context, and application--still make it a read. I like it enough that I put it at number one on my list of recommended commentaries on the book of Matthew. Here's my final marks for the book (each on a five-plus scale):
* I received this copy free of charge with no requirement to give a positive review.
Several weeks ago, Zondervan Academic's blog, "Koinonia", announced a blog tour featuring some of the newly released volumes in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Through their generosity, I received a review copy of Grant Osborne's volume on Matthew.
It's my hope that this brief review will provide the reader with some basic information about the series, as well as the "Matthew" volume in particular, hoping that one will be able to make a good assessment as to whether the "Matthew" volume would be of general benefit to personal study and/or pastoral preparation.
I'm excited about the volumes in this series, as the ZECNT series is proving to be solidly evangelical, exegetically helpful, academically credible, and designed with the pastor-teacher in mind.
If grades were given out solely in terms of layout, construction, and design, the ZECNT would score very highly. This commentary is not small by any means (1154 pages), but its hardcover construction and binding are of great quality for such a sizeable book. The layout and design are clear and logical, with a very readable typeset.
Textually speaking, the commentary series, as a whole, utilizes 7 different components for the analysis of each pericope:
Each pericope is considered in light of how it functions within the book as a whole.
An incredibly helpful 1-2 sentence summary of the "big idea" of each pericope.
Translation and Graphical Layout
The commentator provides his translation of the Greek text. This part is particularly helpful for visualizing the interconnectedness and flow of the text, as each section is displayed with each clause or phrase on it's own line. This is greatly helpful for understanding how each clause or phrase supports or develops the main action of the text.
After the graphical layout, the commentator explains his interpretive decisions regarding the way he related the clauses in each pericope.
A detailed description and overall flow of each passage, in outline form.
Explanation of the Text
Utilizing the Greek language (English translation provided as well for the non-specialist) the commentator works his way through the text noting and explaining textual, historical, contextual, cultural, and interpretational issues. I appreciate that the English translation is cited first and is in bold; the Greek text is offered afterward in parentheses. This, again, helps the non-specialist get the most out of this commentary, while continuing to provide the original text for the Greek student.
Theology in Application
The commentator addresses the theological implications of the passage for the church today.
Overall, the layout and design of this series are superb for the person desiring a commentary that will be "user-friendly" as well as one that will effectively and logically help a person thoroughly work their way through a particular pericope.
My only qualm with the design, and a seemingly insignificant one at that, is the use of the "computing-style" scroll bar next to each of the outline snapshots in the "Literary Context" sections. It just seemed a little cheesy and didn't connect with the rest of the overall graphical layout.
The "Introduction" to the volume was brief, but to the point. Though it my not be as thorough in matters as many scholars would like, it follows the series' purpose/intention by providing information essential in understanding Matthew's gospel for the purpose of preaching/teaching.
I found the section on "The Purpose and Audience of Matthew's Gospel" particularly helpful in giving the student a lens through which to see Matthew's purpose in writing, specifically to show the impact of Jesus' life and ministry on four groupsâ€”the leaders, the crowds, the disciples, and the demons. This will no doubt be pastorally and homiletically helpful for the pastor to aid the church in asking which group they identify with each time they come to the text.
Osborne has interacted will with other scholars well, and has provided a great deal of wealth and direction in his footnotes as well.
Overall, I appreciated Osborne's ability throughout the commentary to work his way through the text of Matthew's Gospel in such a way as to provide information and explanation essential to pastoral preparation. There aren't long discourses on controversial minutiae (though that is certainly necessary at times for certain aspects of biblical study), but rather clear, concise, and altogether helpful undertakings of the most essential matters for the pastor-teacher.
This commentary series is worth its price for the "Theology in Application" section alone. As many pastors are very busy with the ins-and-outs of fulltime vocational ministry, this section will help the pastor credibly teach a passage and with theological depth, effectively help the congregation see the practical theological implications for their lives.
One specific example of the helpful nature of this section is in Osborne's treatment of the temptation of Messiah Jesus in Matthew 4. Many pastors often make hasty, pragmatic conclusions about this text saying that it teaches that believers can defeat Satan with Scripture in every temptation. Though there may be some principles to be drawn regarding the effectiveness of God's Word in aiding the believer to think in truth and avoid the lies and temptations of the Enemy, the passage is explained with a proper focus upon Jesus as the victorious Son of God and noting the work of perfect obedience that He has successfully accomplished for the salvation of His people and the glory of His Father.
Overall, Osborne's volume is definitely one to be considered when studying or preaching through Matthew's gospel. I would highly recommend it!
The ZECNT series as a whole is one that should be sought after by pastors who desire to understand and teach the Scriptures credibly. I believe the series makes a valuable contribution in what it specifically provides to the pastor-teacher. With the matters addressed, and to the quality with which they are, this commentary series will help pastors cut straighter lines in their exegesis of the text, helping those entrusted to their care understand the theological implications of the text for doxological purposes in their lives and in the body of Christ.
My favorite thing about this commentary is its layout and organization. The section on literary flow and the relation of the passage to the whole is one of the areas that seminary always talks about but never teaches how to determine. This will be of huge help in deciding how big a passage to preach from when doing a whole book series. the theology application was helpful too, as it gave me new ideas on each passage. Looks as if this series is going to rank up there with NICNT, BECNT, and PNTC as the premier evangelical commentaries. I just hope that Zondervan hasn't gottem my hopes up only to dash them at the altar of skeptical authors.