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.


DoG: Provocative Opening

It’s been a while since I posted on Campbell’s massive volume, The Deliverance of God.  I mostly stopped reading when I realized that I didn’t know Romans well enough to follow his argument.  However, as I was looking for the bibliography this morning I noticed the one of the opening pages of the book (right before the title page) contains the Greek text: “οὐαι μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσομαι.”  (Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!).  Campbell is of course quoting the great apostle himself from 1 Corinthians 9.  I had missed this bit of rhetorical flair, but I appreciate it.  His conviction is evident throughout the book, and he’s writing with an eye toward the Church and the Academy.

Errata For A Reader’s Greek New Testament

As I was reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, I stumbled across a mistake in the text.  In chapter 4 verse 11, a portion of the text reads: “καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι ταῖς χερσὶν✝ὑμῶν.” The problem is bolded, there needs to be a space after χερσὶν✝. The ✝ denotes a deviation from the UBS text, and normally there are spaces the symbol, but not here.

On another note, is there any rhyme or reason to how they write UBS at the bottom of the page? Usually the UBS reading is followed by “(UBS).” However, there are several points where it’s transliterated into Greek: “ὙΒΣ.” Seems this seems rather odd to me.

I love this handy little volume, but it does look like there is room for improvement in version 3. Is there any formal way to submit little bugs like these?

Book Review: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • ISBN-10: 0310328632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310328636
  • Amazon

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

I first heard about this little book on Michael Bird’s blog. When Zondervan announced on their blog that they would be doing a blog tour for this book, I eagerly threw my name into the hat. After reading the book, I’m glad that I did.

My thoughts on the book are largely positive. As a would-be budding scholar, I loved the care Dickson took with scripture and other sources. It’s clear that he has spent a great deal of time immersed in the literature of early Christianity. Perhaps the greatest expression of this is his definition of the word “gospel.” The Gospel is not merely the syllogism: Man is sinful + God is Holy = God sent Jesus, a savior. Rather, Dickson comes at the matter from a different angle. He lets monotheism drive his argument. If the God Jesus proclaims is the one true God, then people everywhere owe him their allegiance. The people of God, then, must promote this reality wherever they go. The gospel thus becomes the events of Jesus’ (the lord of all) life: his birth, healings, exorcisms, teachings (etc.), culminating in his death on the cross and his resurrection. This is a refreshing change from the aforementioned formula, and much more faithful to the NT’s logic. That’s not to say that Dickson thinks man isn’t sinful, or that we don’t need a savior, it just doesn’t play the absolutely central role for him that it does in other formulations of the Gospel.

One could comment more on the “scholariness” of the work. Dickson interacts with Greek directly where it’s appropriate, in ways that show he has a command of the language. More intricate details are handled in the end-notes, which is I think is appropriate for a wider audience. References to the original languages certainly don’t cloud or muddy up the work. Likewise, the work is full of references to well-respected scholars of the period. Martin Hengel is referenced several times. The end-notes contain references to everyone from Timothy Keller to Scott McKnight. Dickson is clearly well-read! One can easily see that he’s devoted much of his life to studying early Christianity.

Of course, Dickson is far from being a “stuffy scholar,” or as some like to say, an “ivory tower academic.” Dickson comes across more as passionate pastor and evangelist than an academic. The scholarly care is evident for those like me who notice such things. Most will notice instead his warmth and candor on the subject. The pages of the book are laced with stories from his own life (and the lives of others) that illustrate the point he’s trying to make. When discussing the importance of prayer in evangelism, he recounts his own story of coming to faith. This came about through a lady named Glenda, his scripture teacher from high school. The year that Dickson and several of his friends became Christians was marked by a renewed fervor for harvest in Glenda’s prayer group.

Dickson is also candid about his experiences as a pastor and evangelist. He is quick to tell stories from his own life, even embarrassing stories that illustrate “what not to do.” No less than the scholarly care, I enjoyed the many stories told in the book.

As with any book, there were a few quibbles. The charismatic in me wants to reserve a more “charismatic” definition for prophecy in 1 Cor 14. Dickson believes it merely refers to “intelligible speech.” On a different note, the book in a few places offers the common “religion = bad, Jesus = good” (to way oversimplify things) viewpoint that I’ve become frustrated with recently. Still, these are but minor quibbles. I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in evangelism, or even those who have been “turned off” to evangelism by previous teaching or systems. Dickson’s book is a great antidote to the discomfort and fear many of us have concerning evangelism. It’s a timely read for me as I start back to classes at a secular school.


Book To Review: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

I’m quite excited to be able to participate in the blog tour for John Dickson’s The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. See here for the details. I’ve been interested in the book since reading this post several weeks ago, and now I get a signed review copy! Many thanks in advance to Zondervan. The book will be timely since I’ll be reading it right before a new school-year, so hopefully I’ll be able to put some of the ideas into practice.


Enjoying “Jesus and the Victory of God”

I was at Border’s the other night, and was shocked to stumble across N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. I’m used to seeing his more popular level books in stores, but hadn’t ever seen one of his more scholarly tomes. Naturally, I interpreted this as God’s guidance to finally read this wonderful oeuvre ;-). I’m several chapters in and loving the book so far. After diving into Greek and Patristics, it’s refreshing to read something that is:

a) In English
b) Centered around Jesus
c) In English
d) Written by Tom Wright

I don’t know that I’ll be blogging about it much, but I will certainly be enjoying it.


Dream Gift

At least one dream gift of mine would be a one volume Septuagint + New Testament with my name engraved on the cover, in Greek!  I have four names, 3 Greek ones and a Hebrew one (Matthew), so I think it would look quite nice ;-).

That said, I’ve never encountered any such volume!  Zondervan has a nice Reader’s Edition Greek/Hebrew NT/OT, but I’ve never seen anything that combines the Greek OT and NT.  It almost sounds like something I’d have to buy in Greece or order from there.  Has anyone every heard of such a book?


Greek Reader

In order to work some Classical Greek into my diet, I recently picked up Thrasymachus: A New Greek Course from the Library.  I’ve absolutely loved it so far.   The meat of the book is a connected narrative in which a boy Thrasymachus encounters various stories and myths from the Greek world. It starts off very simple and progressively gets more difficult. There are some exercises and grammar in the book, but not much compared to the reading. I don’t think I would have wanted to use this as a first text, but as a reader for someone with some Greek knowledge it has been tremendous fun. Reading narrative is a nice change from the epistles I tend to read!


Rhetorical Criticism

So I’m currently planning to follow my Ignatius/Paul paper with a more focused defense of Ignatius. The last paper focused a bit too much on Paul and not enough time on Ignatius. In doing so, I’m planning to defend him on rhetorical and theological grounds. Of course, this requires me understanding rhetoric and its function. I’ve found a terrificly useful rhetorical analysis of Ignatius here. I’ve also got my hands on some of the ancient writing on rhetoric, notably Aristotle’s “The Art of Rhetoric” and Quintilian’s work (Ars Rhetorica?).

That said, I’m curious to see other works on Rhetoric. What are some commentaries that do a good job with rhetorical analysis? Works on Pauline letters in particular would be useful. Or are there books which simply introduce rhetorical criticism that might be useful? I know this tool can be overdone, but I definitely recognize its usefulness when employed correctly.

Thoughts? Suggestions?