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.


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 Review: Invitation to the Septuagint

Invitation to the Septuagint
Authors: Karen Jobes and Moisés Silva

This book has been an absolute joy to read. It offers a fantastic introduction to the Septuagint (the ancient translation of the Hebrew bible into Greek, also known as the LXX), giving both the history of the text itself and the scholarship surrounding it. Considering the complexity of the field, it is rather impressive that the authors have managed to communicate the intricacies of the topic so well. After reading through most of the book, I have been deeply impressed by the many difficult aspects of the Septuagint studies. On the other hand, understanding the Septuagint is crucial to understanding the development of the early Christian Church, and so the research will ultimately be quite rewarding.

The book is split into three parts: History of the Septuagint, The Septuagint in Biblical Studies, and the Current State of Septuagint Studies. The History gives the overview of the history of the Septuagint and its reception, so far as we can construct it. The narrative begins with the original translation of the Mosaic books in the 3rd century BC all the way up to the printing press and critical editions of today. Along the way, we see why Septuagint research is so difficult. The Old Testament was translated by various groups of people over several hundred years. These different scribes employed different translation techniques, so the Greek text of Isaiah may be drastically different from that of Leviticus. In addition, nearly as soon as the translation appeared, recensions of the text appeared to improve it. A particularly important update was made by Origen in the 3rd century. It was so important that nearly all subsequent manuscripts show its influence. In some cases, we have what looks like competing translations circulating: this definitely happens during the early Christian era, as Jewish translators offer new translations and Christians refine their own. Sometimes the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew quite substantially. The Greek text of Jeremiah is much shorter than the Hebrew version now preserved in our Hebrew manuscripts. How does one account for these differences? Were they simply the translator taking liberties with the text? Or did they have a different Hebrew text than the one we now have? Both likely happened, but it’s not always easy to tell what happened in a particular case.

After giving a terrific introduction to the history of the LXX as a document, the authors jump into some intermediate level issues associated with the Septuagint. They caution that the difficulty here is greater than part 1, and that only intermediate Greek knowledge will allow one to get the fullest sense of the book. I’m a Greek newbie and was able to get along with respect to the Greek. However, I have zero knowledge of Hebrew, which did hurt me when the Greek text was put beside the Hebrew. The authors cover a wide range of topics in this section. They look at the use of the Septuagint for textual criticism of the Hebrew text. They also examine the usefulness of the Septuagint for New Testament studies, among other topics like the impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Septuagint. These chapters, while they could get rather technical, were still informative. I’m particularly interested in how the Septuagint shaped the early Church. They had a fascinating bit that discussed Septuagint allusions in Philippians. Even when Paul wasn’t quoting scripture directly, it is evident that it had completely shaped the way he thought, and that it oozed over into his writing, perhaps even unintentionally. May we strive to the same goal!

The last chapter of the second part contains detailed analysis of two passages, Genesis 4:1-8 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12. For students researching and writing about the Septuagint, these will no doubt be extraordinarily useful. I found them interesting, though I only skimmed since I don’t know any Hebrew.

The final part gives an overview of modern Septuagint scholarship. Brief bios are given for the important individuals, from Tischendorf, to Lagarde and Ralhfs. Though this portion is largely anecdotal, it enables you to get a good grasp on how the discipline has progressed since the 19th century. Several ongoing areas of inquiry are addressed, like lexicography (meanings of words in the LXX) and syntax (how different or similar is the Greek compared to other Greek literature?). The book finishes with an overview of the current text critical work being done on the LXX (or current as of the writing of this book, around 2000).

Overall, the book has been a fantastic read. If I had to nitpick, I would pick at the vocabulary. Some linguistic terms were used without definition (like apodosis and protasis). As a newbie, it would be nice to have those defined at least once, though that was in the “intermediate section,” and a quick wikipedia search yielded the answer. Another concern is the background knowledge required. The book has been written with the seminary student in mind, or even as an intro book for a doctoral course (that was, in fact, what inspired the book in the first place). If you’re moderately familiar with biblical studies, then you won’t have a problem with a lot of it. Greek and Hebrew are definitely helpful for part two though.

With that said, I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in this very important subject. I don’t know of a better introductory book, and it’s a fantastic way to acquaint oneself with the amazing document that is the LXX.


Update: I incorrectly stated that the book ended with a chapter on textual criticism. I was wrong! After reading a little bit farther, I realized that the final chapter was actually on theological developments in the Hellenistic Age.

Book Review: ZIBBCOT Volume 5


Special thanks to Jesse Hillman at Zondervan for a review copy of this fine volume!

Before I jump in, I should share a little of my own background (insert pun apology here).  I’m nowhere near an Old Testament expert.  I have some decent background knowledge for the New Testament, (at least for an interested layman) but the OT is a different story.  For this reason I jumped at the chance to review an OT commentary, hoping it would help me appreciate the OT more.  While the series’ focus is on historical background, it is a valuable resource that any interested layperson or pastor could put to good use.

Now for the review.  First of all, some specifics are in order.  I received volume 5 which covers the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) and the minor prophets (Hosea – Malachi).  Each book has an introduction, each of which vary in length.  Most are rather extensive, though some books with scant information are shorter (Joel for example).  The introductions give information on dating, context, and the audience of the book.  The contents of the commentary are broken down by section and verse, following the normal format we see in other commentaries.  There is a plethora of end-notes and bibliographic information to further your research if you so desire.  Additionally, there is an introductory essay on comparative studies which was quite helpful to someone who was largely ignorant of the discipline.

There is a lot to like in this series.  What has impressed me most of all is the abundance of extant literature we have from the Ancient Near East.  We have Mesopotamian sources, Egyptian sources, Babylonian sources, Assyrian sources, Akkadian sources, and many others.  There’s a wide range of dates too, going as far back as the second millennium B.C.  All of these texts and records are brought to bear on the Biblical text in the relevant moments.  The volume also has brief articles interspersed throughout on a single topic of note.  Some examples include “Hymnic Doxologies” in Amos and “Divine Sonship” in the Psalms.  These typically go into more detail than the textual notes. 

As the name would indicate, there are tons of pictures in this series.  They are very well done.  I’m not a particularly visual person, but even for me they help connect the text in question to its historical context.  There are pictures to be found on nearly every page.  Often they take up half a page, and the quality is up-to-par.  They range from pieces carved in stone (murals?), to pottery and tablets.  Maps are also included at important points. 

Even with all the good things going for it, there are a few qualifiers to give the volume.  First, this isn’t a general purpose commentary, nor is it trying to be.  Detailed textual note are completely absent.  Instead, we’re treated to a rich assortment of historical background.  Second, it would be nice to have an article discussing in broad terms the various cultures which are cited in the text.  As an OT neophyte, I have very little basis to compare an Ugaritic citation with say, an Akkadian or Mesopotamian text.  Explaining these civilizations in the introduction would have helped me a great deal as I tried to make sense of the different sources.  At least a brief trace of the rise and fall of the culture in question.

All in all, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament is a great series.  This volume has proved very useful recently as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament.  If you’re wanting to gain a richer understanding for the Old Testament, I’d definitely recommend this series.  Comparative studies have too long been ignored by evangelicals (myself included!) but volumes like these stand ready to help us pick the rich fruit that the discipline has left us.