Matthew for Today. A Running Commentary on the Gospel According to St MatthewWritten by Michael Green Reviewed By David Peterson
Michael Green offers something different from recent major commentaries on Matthew: ‘A commentary that does not give detail on each verse, but tries first to understand the pattern of the book as a whole, and how each section fits in with what precedes and follows. A commentary which is written out of the excitement and impact of the text, and tries to share that excitement. A commentary which tends to apply the text to the present day and show its relevance to the Christian life.’ As such, it is rather more like one of ‘The Bible Speaks Today’ Series, though more compressed. However, with its aim of exegeting the text carefully and providing a contemporary application, that series has not attempted to treat such a complex biblical book as Matthew’s gospel within the span of 300 pages. Consequently, Green’s contribution is an introduction to Matthew, offering little satisfaction to those who want to wrestle with some of the complex issues it raises.
Green argues that this gospel was addressed, in the main, to ‘believing Jews or Jews who were hovering on the verge of confessing Jesus as the Messiah’. The structure and the character of the gospel suggest further that it was primarily addressed to teachers within the Jewish Christian community. In presenting his material, Matthew sought to record what Jesus said and did and to apply it to the lives and times of his readers. The three audiences in the gospel (the disciples, the crowds and the scribes and Pharisees) correspond to the readership for whom Matthew writes (the leadership in Matthew’s church, ordinary church members, and the leaders of the local Jewish synagogue). Most helpful in Green’s introduction is his discussion of the plan of this gospel, where he takes seriously the alternation between narrative sections and blocks of teaching, and observes ‘the hinge nature of chapter 13’. However, he makes a simplistic link between Matthew’s five teaching sections and the five books of the Jewish torah, suggesting inadequate reflection on the nature and purpose of the material presented by the evangelist. The introduction concludes with a brief review of Matthew’s main concerns: Christology first, then ‘the unity of revelation’ (how the OT finds fulfilment in Christ), the life of discipleship, the kingdom of the heavens, the people of the Messiah, the end of the world, the universality of the good news.
The strength of Green’s approach is to attempt to explain the parts with reference to an appealing outline of the whole. Furthermore, the commentary is written in an easily readable form, with plenty of sub-headings and a rhetorical prose style. This means that preachers would find the arrangement of the material and method of approach suggestive for effective teaching. Bible students approaching Matthew for the first time would find Green’s brief analysis a helpful way to get a grasp of the gospel’s emphases, themes and structure. As the author himself claims, this is a commentary designed to give you ‘the sweep of the biblical book’ and to excite you.
However, because it seeks to do so much so briefly, I wonder how ultimately useful this book will be. At the exegetical and theological level, Green gives brief assessments of complex issues which will not be satisfying to many readers (e.g. his treatment of Matthew’s use of Is. 7:14 [in fact, the king in question was Ahaz not Hezekiah], or the meaning of the highly significant Mt. 5:17–20). There is a great need for popular literature, reflecting the insights of contemporary evangelical scholarship, so that non-specialists can grasp the issues and some of the solutions that are being put forward. I am not certain that Michael Green has helped very much in this bridging exercise.
Moore Theological College,
Newtown, New South Wales, Australia