This volume was first one of the Bible Speaks Today series that I read, and the one that set me down the path of reading the whole series. I decided to re-read it in December, to see if it was as good as I remembered.
Michael Green had in fact already written a previous commentary on Matthew in 1988, which forms the basis for this one (published in 2000). The introduction covers the arguments for and against Matthean authorship and he devotes considerable space to discussion of structure, favouring a proposal by Elizabeth and Ian Billingham. He concludes the introduction with a brief, but fascinating overview of recent commentaries and literature on Matthew.
Green clearly has a lot of knowledge of the history, beliefs and customs of the first century, and these inform the commentary throughout, but he avoids becoming overly academic, and he keeps his main focus on the message of Matthew for us today. For example, he often applies Jesus’ warnings to Israel to the church, believing that we stand in real danger of making many of the same mistakes that the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day did.
His coverage of the Sermon on the Mount is good, but concise, probably because John Stott has a much fuller exposition which is also part of the Bible Speaks Today series and which complements the present volume nicely. Green’s passion for evangelism comes out in a challenging exposition of Matthew 10.
Green is also prepared to touch upon current trends in biblical interpretation, such as a section where he rejects Sanders’ presentation of the Pharisees with their “covenantal nomism”. Like Tom Wright, he favours interpreting the “coming of the Son of Man” as a reference to AD 70, leading him to interpret the “gathering of the elect” as describing world mission. He is also willing to occasionally discuss Matthew’s differences with the other Synoptics, offering resolutions to perceived contradictions, and highlighting where the other accounts shed additional light on the story.
He often arranges his comments thematically on a chapter rather than strictly commenting verse by verse. His understanding of the structure of Matthew leads him to look for common themes running through the major “teaching blocks” of Matthew. For example, he interprets chapter 18 as being about “internal relationships” in the kingdom.
He sees the woes of chapter 23 as a “studied parallel” with the beatitudes, and is even prepared to pronounce a few woes of his own on modern day church ministers. “There is nothing so repulsive as dead religion, and there is a lot of it about”.
He devotes a good amount of space to covering Jesus’ death and resurrection. One interesting suggestion was his idea that Matthew may not have intended us to take the accounts of the graves opening and holy people walking around (Matt 27:52-53) in a strictly literal sense – it may have been the “heavenly Jerusalem” in which they walked. Its not an idea I had heard before, and I am not fully convinced by it, since it does not adequately explain the inclusion of the phrase “appeared to many”. His chapter on the resurrection gives both evidence for believing the resurrection, as well as a summary of its theological implications.
Overall I would say that this is an ideal book for someone who wants to go deeper in their study of this gospel, but perhaps doesn’t feel ready to tackle a full-blown commentary (D A Carson’s Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary remains one of my other favourites on this book). It will give you some fresh angles to look at Jesus’ teaching from, plenty of helpful bits of background information, a more cohesive picture of how the various parts of Matthew fit together into a whole, and perhaps its greatest strength is showing how all the teaching of Jesus in this gospel remains directly relevant to the present day church.