Last week we received the latest entry in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Since the first volume to appear in this series was on the book of James I was curious to see what this format would look like in a larger book like Matthew. So far I like what I see. In the “Author’s Preface” Grant Osborne says that the commentary is written with the primary question of “‘What does the pastor need?’” rather than ‘What do the scholars want to see?’” This is important to know since many may be disappointed that Osborne did not go into more detail on this or that passage. But I will be quick to add that there is a lot of academic meat tucked away in the footnotes. Osborne says that as a pastor he “always wanted to know which scholars held the various positions on a problem” he was studying. In light of this he notes that “there are longer lists of ‘who holds what’ in this commentary.” (14) In fact in one of those footnotes he comments on a change in his view on the ending of Mark. He writes,
“Mark ends here in order to conclude his major emphasis on discipleship failure throughout his gospel. . . Matthew, as we have seen, has that emphasis but shows how Jesus’ presence allows the disciples to overcome failure and progress to understanding. It should be noted that several recent Markan commentaries (e.g., France, Stein, Garland) think that Mark’s ending is not intentional, but is lost. That was my thinking in my PhD dissertation on the Resurrection Narratives, but now I see too little evidence for that view and believe Mark intended to end his gospel at 16:8 (there is no evidence for a further ending, and the two we have were added much later).” (1068n.13)
As the author of a major work on hermeneutics Osborne is particularly gifted to bring those talents to bear on this gospel. One of the disciplines he employs is redaction criticism. You don’t hear much about redaction criticism these days and some conservatives have questioned its usefulness and have warned that it is just another tool of liberal scholarship. In a nutshell redaction criticism studies the way in which an author used their sources. Assuming Matthew used the gospel of Mark as a source; scholars have noted the various ways in which Matthew edited Mark’s gospel as he incorporated into his own gospel. John Warwick Montgomery and Robert Thomas are two outspoken critics of redaction criticism. D. A. Carson has penned a nice article where he seeks a balance, persuasively I think, in the use of the discipline (“Redaction Criticism: On the Legitimacy and Illegitimacy of a Literary Tool” in Scripture and Truth edited by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge, Baker Academic). Osborne helpfully gives an example of one of the fruits of redaction criticism in Matthew. He asks us to consider the walking on water miracle (Mark 6: 45-52; Matt. 14:22-33).
“Both follow the feeding of the five thousand, which demonstrates that ‘God will provide’ for his people; yet when the disciples are sent across the lake and the storm arises, they forget all about that and fear for their lives (see on 6:30-44). In Mark 6:48 (only in Mark) we are told that Jesus ‘was about to pass by them,’ which demonstrates that Christ is Lord of the water; that is, as Yahweh passed by at Mount Sinai (Exod 33:18f.) and Mount Horeb (1 Kgs. 19: 11f.), so Jesus does likewise. His purpose is to ensure them that God is with them and will care for them. Yet the disciples miss the signal entirely, look at Jesus walking on the water, and think he is a ghost. They are probably thinking, ‘What he is, is what we are going to be in another minute—ghosts!’ Mark stops the story right there and deliberately (most likely) draws his conclusion—the disciples fail because ‘they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened’ (Mark 6:52).
Matthew follows Mark to that point and denotes their failure but goes on. He like many newscasters adds ‘the rest of the story.’ After the episode of Peter walking on the water and failing, the disciples then conclude, ‘Truly you are the Son of God!’ (Matt 14:33). There could not be a greater polarity than the conclusions of Mark and Matthew, from hardened hearts to a Christological affirmation greater than the disciples ever do in Mark (they never get beyond Messiah)! Yet the conclusions do not contradict one another, for Matthew recognizes the failure but passes on to the later victory. The difference is in the theological purposes of each author.” (24-25)
This commentary will prove very useful to the busy pastor who hasn’t the time to keep up with the latest in scholarship but would like a commentary which is cognizant of those developments and will incorporate them at the appropriate places. For example, I asked my pastor a couple of weeks ago if he was familiar with “speech act theory.” Understandably he was not. I told him he should become a least somewhat familiar with it since it’s finding its way into more and more literature on Biblical interpretation. Osborne is a case in point. He writes, “The significance of narrative texts for us cannot be understood until we have studied how the author intended to draw his original readers into the story (the illocutionary aspect) and what he wanted them to do with it (the perlocutionary aspect).” (25 In the footnote he says “This language stems from ‘speech act theory.’ This approach involves three levels of communication—the locutionary (propositional meaning in the communication), the illocutionary (the actions performed in it), and the perlocutionary (the effects it intends to have on the reader. See Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, 119-20, 502-3). (25n.10) At the forefront of this approach among evangelicals are, among others, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Kevin Vanhoozer. In his influential book, Is There a Meaning in This Text?, Vanhoozer writes, “The implications of the philosophical rehabilitation of speech (discourse) for a theory of interpretation are, I believe, immense.” (218) A good place to start for the beginner on this topic is the essay by Richard S. Briggs in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible on “Speech-Act Theory.”
Osborne has provided a helpful commentary which every pastor will want to consult as he/she makes her way through the gospel of Matthew.