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4 Stars Out Of 5
Do not expect scintillation.
October 27, 2013
Over the last few months I have read every single page of this 900 page plus, two volume commentary and whilst the word scintillating could never be used to describe this work the author is to be commended on his painstakingly meticulous approach that is at times dauntingly thorough. A very useful introduction, extensive bibliographies and very few stones left unturned. It is easy to ridicule the format of the WBC series but I think this particular author employs such constraints to his own positive ends and if you allow yourself to go with the author's flow you end up appreciating how comprehensive he can be. The tone overall is rather dry though and very much up the conservative American Protestant end of the spectrum but this rarely detracts from the book overall and there are times when caution and even reticence can be a blessing.
Having more than a passing interest in the Pharisees I decided to compare what Hagner wrote on Matthew 23 with what Barclay, France, Hill, Beare, Filson, Hauerwas and Gundry wrote in their commentaries on the same chapter. Whilst Hagner may lack the succinctness of Hill, the sparkle of Barclay or individuality of Gundry, it became apparent that he covered more ground than most of them put together and showed just how many of these commentators skip over various verses and issues or fail to interact with other scholars' different viewpoints.
I am not in a position to compare this work with the likes of Davies and Allison but if you are thinking of getting a middleweight rather than heavyweight commentary on Matthew this commentary might provide you with a happy comprimise. Put it this way I bought my copy secondhand for Â£16 and I think that makes it a really good bargain considering what I got out of reading it and even if you do not know Greek or Hebrew you would lose out on very little as pretty much everything is transliterated.
This commentary has 2 faults. As one other reviewer mentioned it is very superficial. It basically tells you what anyone with a third grade reading level could read from the text itself. His structures and outlines are particularly unhelpful. He basically takes the main point from each one and lists it. Something the reader himself could do quickly in no time at all. In addition, many questions that arise in the text are overlooked by the author.
A much bigger problem, however, is his theological presupposition that the Church has replaced national Israel. I assume by the "Church" he is referring to the Body of Christ, the group of believers God is dealing with today. Because of this erroneous theological presupposition he is forced to try to explain away large portions of Jesus' and the 12's ministry. When he discusses the healing ministry he insists that this is for the "Church" but then admits the Church today is not doing this and couldn't do this. It is painful to watch him try to explain away Jesus' plain statement that the 12 were NOT to go to the Gentiles. He doesn't know what to do with this. After all, going to the Gentiles is the plain mission of the Church, the Body of Christ. He is so determined to make the Gospel of Matthew fit into his theology that he treats the text dishonestly, saying over and over again that of course Matthew's hearers would not have taken this literally thereby allowing the author to spiritualize away anything that doesn't fit his theology. There are many other examples that demonstrate when you start with bad theology you end up with bad exegesis.
Of course, the simple solution to this would be for him to "rightly divide" the Word of God. The Church, the Body of Christ, has not replaced national Israel. God's program with Israel had been revealed since the beginning of the world whereby He would create and use national Israel to preach and convert the world in the following order: First the leaders in Jerusalem would be converted; they would then convert all of Judea; they who would then convert the Samaratans thereby converting the whole nation of Israel; the whole nation of Isreal would then go out to convert all the nations of the world. That is Israel's prophetic program--Christ would be ruling on His throne in Jerusalem (not heaven). This prophetic program, in short, called for God's blessings being dispersed to the world through Israel's RISE. This is what all the Patriarchs and Prophets had spoken about since the world began (Lk. 1:70; Acts 3:21) When Jerusalem's leaders rejected Christ once and for all with the stoning of Stephen and the nation stumbled and fell (Rom. 11), God temporarily set His prophetic program with Israel aside.
But He did not leave the world helpless. He raised up that other Apostle, the Apostle Paul, not one of the 12 and not the 13th apostle, to preach the Gospel of Grace to the world (not the Gospel of the Kingdom), especially the Gentiles. Paul calls this God's Mystery Program, and this program had been kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:24; Eph. 3) and that would extend blessings to the world in spite of Israel's FALL (Rom. 11). We now do NOT live in Israel's Dispensation but in what Paul calls the Dispensation of Grace. When this dispensation is fulfilled,the Chruch, the Body of Christ, will be called home through the Rapture, and God will restart His program with Israel, beginning with the Tribulation period that ends in the arrival of the King and the Kingdom, ushering the believing remnant into the Kingdom on one hand while judging all His enemies on the other. During this time the believing remnant in Matthew's day and in that day to come will apply Matthew's instructions directly to themselves as will the instructions found in the Gospels as well as those found in the General Epistles. The Church, the Body of Christ today, receives its instructions from the writings of Paul.
Matthew is writing about the King's arrival to usher in Israel's long prophecied earthly Kingdom. Jesus' instructions were for the believing Jewish remnant who were to be persecuted then and in early Acts and to a much larger extent in the Great Tribulation, the Time of Jacob's Trouble. This has nothing to do with the Church, the Body of Christ. Yes, we can learn from it about God's faithfulness and righteousness, but we will not be going through the same situations or be operating with the same divine provisions.
Ok, I said 2 faults but there is really 3. I will end with this. In addition to being dishonest with the text, he is also dishones with other theologies he disagrees with. Over and over again he says this or that is what the dispensationalists say, saying it a demeaning way. But he gives no citations or references or footnotes. He just shoots it off as a condescending generality. Well, I tend toward the dispensationalist's camp and am very well read in dispensationalist theology, yet I know of absolutely no dispensationist that says the things this author implies they say. He sets the dispensationalist up as a straw man...and then knocks him down. But it is all smoke and mirrors. No facts. The only reason I can suggest for such dishonesty is meanness of spirit resulting in evil words, which pretty much goes against the whole grain of the Gospel of Matthew (Mat. 12 would be a good start for him). This author has learned little from his "study" of this gospel and he knows nothing of what dispensationists teach.
This is a very detailed and scholarly treatment of the Gospel of Matthew. Hagner writes from a moderately conservative Evangelical perspective. The comments on the Greek words and phrases are extensive and helpful. The bibliographies are fairly exhaustive. Those interested in textual criticism will appreciate Hagner's efforts in that area. There are other commentaries that focus more deeply on theological concerns. Also, due to the intent of the series, practical applications are few and far between. But this is a very helpful book for advanced seminarians and scholars.