Book Review: Grant Osborne’s Commentary on Matthew


Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Volume: 1
By: Grant R. Osborne
General Editor: Clinton E. Arnold
List Price: $49.99 (USD)

ISBN: 0310243572,

ISBN-13: 9780310243571

Special thanks to the folks at Zondervan for a review copy!

Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew is part of the new “Zondervan Exegetical Commentaries on the New Testament.” The series has a nice level of technical detail. It assumes some Greek knowledge without assuming knowledge of intricate details. I’ve yet to feel lost in the commentary, though there were some rhetorical terms I wasn’t too familiar with (perlocutionary, illocutionary, etc). For the most part, Osborne writes clear prose and is not difficult to follow.

A few words are due on the physical layout of the commentary. The volume is a chunky one (1154 pages including indices), but considering that many commentaries on Matthew are split across two or three volumes, it’s rather compact by comparison. In the beginning of the commentary, there is a series introduction and approximately 30 pages of introduction to the commentary. The commentary proper runs around 1000 pages, and at the end of the volume, in addition to the indices (scripture, subject, and author), there is a section on the “Theology of Matthew” that runs around 30 pages.

The commentary itself flows nicely. Each section is broken down into “Literary Context,” “Main Idea,” Translation,” “Structure and Literary Form,” “Exegetical Outline,” and “Explantation of the Text.” Finally, there is a “Theology in Action” section that offers food for though for those preaching from the section. The translation is actually diagrammed like they teach in Exegesis classes (so I’m told, I’ve yet to attend Seminary). The diagramming looks like it would be quite helpful for those who are helped by visuals. I’m not one of those people usually, but I like that it’s there.

In the body of the commentary, the English translation is given for a phrase and then the Greek follows. Osborne refers to the Greek text where it’s relevant, but doesn’t overdo it. One inconsistency I found was in the body of commentary. Sometimes Greek text is written in Greek, sometimes it was transliterated. If there was a pattern to it, then I missed it. This didn’t bug me much, but it would be nice to see it consistent. Footnotes too are used appropriately. They don’t dominate but are present. Overall, I like the layout and think it will be quite useful for both students and pastors.

Concerning the quality of the commentary itself, I found plenty of things to like and some things to quibble with too. I liked his take on the Sermon on the Mount. He acknowledges that perfect fulfillment of the commands there is generally out of our reach this age, but they remain the τελος, or goal, of every Christian. Thus, they are eschatological, in that though we strive now to fulfill them, they will only be fulfilled perfectly in Christ’s return.

Likewise, he sees the importance in Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. These are not just a stage for his teaching, but an important part of Jesus’ mission. This mission is passed on to his Church. His own position on the charismatic gifts is that “they are available today but are only meant for those for whom the Spirit intends.” (158).
I also enjoyed his take on Old Testament fulfillment in Matthew. He proposes typology as a way to understand the OT fulfillment passages. Corporate Identity allows Jesus to relive Israel’s experience in an analogous manner. An extended quotation illustrates this:
“The problem is that few if any of the fulfillment passages were intended originally as messianic prophecies. So in what way were they fulfilled? The answer is typology. Typology is “analogous fulfillment,” not direct prophecy but indirect centering on Jesus as the Messiah reliving or ‘fulfilling’ the experience of Israel. With respect to this another concept is crucial – corporate identity. As Ellis says, ‘the individual ‘male’ may be viewed as extending beyond himself to include those who belong to him. Thus, the husband (at the family level) and the king ( at the national level) both have an individual and corporate existence encompassing, respectively, the household and the nation.”

There were a few quibbles. His explanation of the genealogy seemed a bit far-fetched. Matthew arranges his genealogy into 3 sets of 14, so the question is what does 14 mean. He argues that it is “gematria,” where letters are used to represent a number. The Hebrew letters in the name David add up to 14, so Osborne sees it as a coded reference to David. I didn’t see enough argumentation here to be convinced.

In commenting on 12:15, he says that “But Jesus knowing this departed from there” hints at omniscience. Certainly Matthew does tone down the difficult passages from Mark, but I don’t know that we can see a hint at omniscience there. The OT prophets knew things they weren’t supposed to know, and they were not omniscient. I’d propose instead that Jesus knew this because the Spirit revealed it to him, not because of his own omniscience.

Finally, I found some the “Theology in Application” sections helpful, but others not so much. Particularly in the birth narrative Osborne emphasizes God’s sovereignty much more than I would. Perhaps I’m just too biased against anything that sounds like Calvinism (probably the case… ελεησον με κυριε!), but I didn’t find that helpful. On the other hand, he makes several statements that don’t line up with TULIP. He asserts that God loves the whole world, and even counts himself as one who accepts the possibility of apostasy. So there’s plenty to like and quibble with no matter what side of the Calvinist/Arminian debate you find yourself on :-P.

Osborne was quick to note the importance of Jesus’ miracles, and his care for the poor in the application. I found him spot on there. So too I like his view that discipleship and not merely evangelism is crucial. Sometimes, though, the application sections were thin and didn’t do more than suggest areas to explore. I guess that’s okay, but I would’ve liked a little more meat in this area.

All in all, Osborne’s work is quite helpful. He is a careful reader of the text, and has spent much time laboring in Matthew. He care and devotion shows in his work. I ended up enjoying this work much more than I expected. I think the series has a fantastic layout, and I’m grateful to have this work going into my Gospels class in the Spring. Anyone with a little background in NT Studies will benefit from the work, though those who have at least a little Greek will benefit most.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: Grant Osborne’s Commentary on Matthew

  1. I haven’t read very much on the Gospels, so it was the first time I had seen the explanation. Perhaps if I read a different author I might be more convinced. Osborne didn’t spend much time there, for brevity I suppose.

  2. I have met Grant Osborne after hearing him speak at an Evangelical Theological Society meeting. A most gracious and friendly brother in Christ, he is far from being a Calvinist.

  3. Mark: Good to know! I suppose I need to grow up and become less concerned with a commentators theological views. All of the back and forth on the blogosphere has left me a bit jaded toward Calvinism unfortunately, which show in this post.

    1. Alex, I strongly disagree. You should be concerned with a commentator’s theology. Ask questions. Which publisher publishes a man’s books? At which schools did he earn his degrees? At which school does he teach? Knowing this information can help you discern subtle biases in a commentator’s writing. Be like the Bereans in Acts 17 who searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were true.
      And, for the record, I am a non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist.

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