The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text by John Nolland. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. Xcviii + 1481 pp. $80.00.
It is always interesting to read an editor’s preface to a commentary series. In editorial hands the series becomes unlike anything else—or almost anything else—and at the same time the volumes become everything and nothing! So while it may seem to most of us that of the making of many commentaries there is no end, these editors tell us that “very few attempts have been made to cater particularly to the needs of students of the Greek text.” Very few except for the AB, BECNT, Hermeneia, ICC, WBC, ZECNT, etc. Nolland’s volume on Matthew, like others in the NIGTC series, is over 1,500 pages long, well over 200 of which are bibliography, yet the NIGTC editors tell us that “The volumes of the NIGTC are for students who want something less technical than a full-scale critical commentary.” These volumes are to “make their own scholarly contribution” but “the supreme aim of this series is to serve those who are engaged in the ministry of the Word of God”—two goals not easily squared. They “attempt to treat all important problems of history, exegesis, and interpretation,” but they also “attempt to provide a theological understanding of the text, based on historical-critical-linguistic exegesis” (all quotes from xvi). So everything is promised—history, exegesis, theology, linguistics—but anyone who would wish for something more is warned that this is not “full-scale.” The editorial remarks may give us wry smiles, but there is no doubt that these NIGTC volumes will continue to be studied long after their authors have gone to their rewards.
John Nolland has now written major commentaries on Luke (WBC) and Matthew (NIGTC). He states that his work is redaction critical and gender inclusive, with a labored explanation of the latter (xviii–xix). He thinks Mark wrote first, that Matthew used Mark but not Luke, and that John did not have access to the Synoptics. Against the evidence of the heading, all Hengel’s argumentation, and all early tradition, indeed, in the face of all the evidence we have, Nolland thinks it “most unlikely” that the apostle Matthew wrote his Gospel (4). He thinks Matthew was written before the destruction of the temple in AD 70, even “before the beginnings of the buildup to the Jewish war” (17). The likeness between the Gospels and ancient biographies “is only slight” (19). Matthew presents his story of Jesus as the continuation and culmination of the story of God’s dealings with Israel. The Gospel cannot be usefully compared with Jewish midrash (21). The subtle allusions and complex cross references indicate that Matthew thought his Gospel would be repeatedly and carefully studied (22).
There is much to be learned from this commentary, and I especially appreciate Nolland’s comments on Matthew’s use of repetition, framing statements, and chiastic structures. The discussion of Matthew’s interpretation of the Old Testament is one of the best summaries of that topic to be found. Jesus was called out of Egypt (Matt 2:15) as the typological fulfillment of Israel, God’s “Son” (123).
Matthew 5:33–37 calls the disciples of Jesus to avoid oaths, but not to defy legal requirements (247–52). As for “the rock” on which Jesus builds the church, Nolland sees the apostles playing an “unrepeatable role” with Peter having “some kind of primacy among them.” This, however, does not exclude the possibility of “a Peter figure from generation to generation” (670). The gates of hell will not stand against the church in the sense that “through the outreach of the church Hades will be forced to give up its claim on such people” (676).
The statement about the angels in Matthew 18:10 does not mean that only little ones have angels but that they do not lack representation (741). Nolland interprets the singular “let him be to you [sg.] as a Gentile or tax collector” in Matthew 18:17 not as a reference to the united congregation but rather as “a stance . . . actually prescribed only for the one who had the initial awareness of the problem” (747). On the statement in Matthew 24:34 about “this generation” not passing away, Nolland asserts that the term “consistently refers to (the time span of) a single human generation. All the alternative senses proposed here (the Jewish people; humanity; the generation of the end-time signs; wicked people) are artificial and based on the need to protect Jesus from error” (988–89). I am not sure he has adequately accounted for the term’s range of meaning, but I am sure that here, and in the comments on 24:36 where Jesus asserts that only the Father knows the day and hour, I found myself wishing for more of that theological interpretation, or at least discussion, promised by the editors of the series in their preface.
I am also sure that John Nolland is to be congratulated for the careful reading of Matthew that he has given us in this commentary. This volume is no small accomplishment, and it will take its place alongside the standard commentaries on Matthew, next to France, Hagner, and Davies and Allision. There will be more evangelical options, such as David Turner’s volume in the BECNT and D. A. Carson’s in the revised EBC. Students and scholars will find much to provoke their thinking in Nolland’s work. It is unfortunate that the price is as thick as the Index of Subjects and Modern Authors are thin. Those who engage “in the ministry of the Word of God and thus to glorify God’s name” (xvi) will be grateful for this volume, which provides a wealth of help, fulfilling the supreme aim of the NIGTC series.