Book Review – The Message of Thessalonians (John Stott)

The Message of ThessaloniansThis is actually the second time I have read (and reviewed) this book in the Bible Speaks Today series, but since I was recently going through Thessalonians again, I wanted to re-read it. I feel I have a great collection of commentaries on Thessalonians as I also really enjoyed the ones by Green and Fee. But I always appreciate Stott’s insights, and this volume has the advantage of being more concise (200 pages).

The introduction provides a brief outline of the Acts account. Stott sees the lesson of 1 Thessalonians as “the gospel and the church” and breaks it into five sections which roughly correspond to the five chapters:

  • Christian evangelism
  • Christian ministry
  • Christian behaviour
  • Christian hope
  • Christian community

Stott has a knack for breaking passages down into structures that might seem implausibly neat at first, but after he goes through the passage, you begin to think that Paul himself probably had the exact same headings in mind.

There is also a brief introduction to 2 Thessalonians, whose structure is broken down as:

  • Revelation of Christ
  • Rebellion of Antichrist
  • Responsibility of Christians meanwhile

I’ll pick out a few highlights from his commentary, which as always is insightful, devotional and practical. On the triad of “faith, hope and love” mentioned in 1 Thess 1:3, he notes that these three virtues are outgoing (faith towards God, love towards others, hope towards the future) and productive (“faith works, love labours and hope endures”).

In the section on “Christian Ministry” (1 Thess 2:1-3:13) he highlights the minister’s dual responsibility, first to the Word of God and second to the people of God. In the section on “Christian Responsibility” (1 Thess 4:1-12) he argues that “There is an urgent need for us, as pluralism and relativism spread world-wide to follow Paul’s example and give people plain, practical, ethical teaching”.

right from the beginning, converts must be told that the new life in Christ is a holy life, a life bent on pleasing God by obeying his commandments.

Although this is by no means an academic commentary series, Stott will refer to the Greek where neccessary, such as discussing the meaning of σκεῦος and κτᾶσθαι in 1 Thess 4:4.

There are a couple of places where I am not sure I agree with his conclusions. For example, he argues that the most likely explanation that some of the “idle” had stopped working was due to their imminent expectation of the Parousia. And his fitting of the “idle, timid and weak” in 1 Thess 5:14 very neatly into groups discussed earlier (so for example the “weak” are the sexually immoral) is ingenious if perhaps a little contrived. I did find his argument that the commands of 1 Thess 5:16-18 are in the context of a church service to make a lot of sense, and it is not an option I had considered before.

As I mentioned in my previous review, he provides a level-headed approach to the teaching on the second coming and antichrist. He also takes opportunities in both books to firmly underscore his opposition to the thought of modern-day apostles.

Overall, I would say that this is classic John Stott, and a fine example of how Biblical exposition should be done. Unless you need the more detailed analysis of Fee or Green, this is a great starting point for getting to grips with the teaching of these two often neglected epistles.

Book Review – The Message of Kings (John Olley)

I must start by apologizing to my handful of readers for the long delay since my last post. The last few months I have been busy working on a few different projects (writing some software, and running a leadership training course), and so I had to put blogging to the side for a while. Here’s a review of a book I finished earlier this year but never got round to reviewing.

This is the most recent addition to the Bible Speaks Today series, which is now only a few volumes away from being completed. It’s a fairly substantial 374 pages, so there is good coverage of the text of the two books.

Olley describes Kings as a story of decline and complete reversal from the high point of Solomon’s peace and security. It is storytelling with a purpose: “Kings tells the story of the past so that, in light of Yahweh’s purposes and promises, people will change their lifestyles in the present.”

The introduction includes some helpful tables such as a list showing prophesies and their fulfilments (p31). “The Kings writer repeatedly reminds his hearers that it is Yahweh who is sovereign, his word is not sovereign”. Another helpful table (p36) visualises the kings of the North and the South, showing their timelines in relation to other key events.

Olley notes that although we call the book “Kings”, it is often prophets who take the lead. He makes an interesting contrast between David’s “wisdom” in 1 Kings 1 to kill his enemies, with the wisdom of God to benefit the powerless in 1 Kings 3. In 1 Kings 9, he is critical of the way Solomon focuses on gold, acting like the rulers of other nations, to earn their admiration.

Whilst he defends the historicity of the accounts, he does accept that some of the numbers are exaggerated, following the pattern of ancient Near Eastern “numerical hyperbole”.

In 1 Kings 2, he highlights a number of ways in which Elisha’s ministry foreshadows the compassionate ministry of Jesus. He has some interesting reflections on the difficult issue of violence in the name of God in 2 Kings 10 and some helpful material on idols in the section on 2 Kings 17.

As always, this BST volume will prove helpful for anyone studying or preaching their way through the book. Leithart’s commentary remains my favourite on 1 & 2 Kings, but the two are quite different in their approaches, so complement each other very well.

Book Review – The Message of Chronicles (Michael Wilcock)

This volume in the Bible Speaks Today series covers the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles in 288 pages. In the introduction, Wilcock sets the scene and deals with the issue of relevance. The Chronicler is telling stories of times before the exile to those living after it. If we struggle with the question, “how is all this relevant to me”, then so did the original hearers. But the Chronicler is more than a historian, he is a preacher. His sermon is about right relationship with God and his sometimes selective use of history is intended to draw out principles that illustrate various points.

One of the biggest challenges a commentator on Chronicles faces is what to do with the long-winded genealogies at the start of the book that can test the patience of even the most committed reader. Wilcock does an admirable job of helping us through this difficult section, presenting this material as “the tree of the Lord’s planting”, with its root, branches, and fruit. David, Israel (Jacob), and Adam are particularly highlighted, the Chronicler making the point that the people of God are the true kingdom, God’s true family and the true humanity.

As he goes through the remainder of 1 Chronicles, which is about “David, the man of war”, he deals with several of the chapters out of order, so he can group them into themes of nation, ark, testimony and temple. The Chronicler is preaching to a people who live in “day of small things” compared to the grandeur of David’s day, but the challenge of his sermon is that people in his own day follow the example of those before them and “offer willingly” and “consecrate themselves” to the Lord’s work.

The Chronicler is often accused of manipulating history, and Wilcock is not afraid to highlight several the places where his account deviates from the Samuel/Kings narratives. The Chronicler may be selective in places, but does so to support his point, rather than attempting to “suppress” information that his audience know in any case. Wilcock also deals with “anachronisms” such as reporting the amount of the temple offering in terms of the Persian Daric, which amounts to no more than presenting the total in “today’s money”.

Wilcock’s interpretation of the Chronicler’s sermon is that he presents David and Solomon as a double ideal – kind of two-fold picture of God’s true kingship. The point for the original audience is not for them (or their rulers) to “be like Solomon”, but that blessing will follow when the life of God’s people is directed by the one of his choosing.

As he moves through the various later kings, Wilcock picks out various lessons from their lives which he thinks the Chronicler also is trying to highlight. We see Asa’s capitulation to ‘worldly wisdom’ in 2 Chron 16:2-3, and Jehosophat’s repeated ill-advised alliances (a marriage alliance, a military alliance and a commercial alliance).

Many of the kings are described as examples of “pastors”, such as Uzziah the “strong” pastor whose strength was his downfall, and Josiah the “alone” pastor. Wilcock sees the throne and temple as the main two focuses of the Chroniclers sermon, and though Jesus is the fulfilment of the three-fold office of prophet/priest/king, it is priest and king that are at the forefront here.

Overall, this is a helpful guide that will broaden your understanding of the overall message of these books, as well as help you appreciate them in their own right as opposed to simply being the poor relations of the much fuller Samuel/Kings accounts.

Book Review – The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Philip Towner)

This is a fairly recent addition (2006) to the long-running New International Commentary series, currently under the editorship of Gordon Fee. As with others in the series, this is a thorough exegetical commentary that leaves no phrase unexamined, interacts with modern scholarship, and often deals with issues of Greek vocabulary and grammar. The series also comes from within the evangelical tradition, and seeks to address the sorts of questions preachers and serious students of the Scriptures will have.

The Pastoral Epistles carry their fair share of controversial issues, the first of which is of course whether Paul really wrote them. Towner’s introduction outlines the various arguments against Pauline authorship, which he does not find convincing, although he has more time for Marshall’s idea of “allonymity”. However, his commentary treats Paul as the author, and he continues to probe the topic throughout.

He explains the historical context into which the letters were written, including the likely beliefs of the false teachers Timothy was opposing (he does not think they were Gnostics), and the moral climate, particularly in Crete, which was similar to Corinth. Each letter in the PE brings its own theological contributions, and Towner gives particular attention to the Christology of the three letters.

He commentates on the TNIV, although in places goes with his own alternative translation. For example he prefers “compete in the good contest of faith” instead of “fight the good fight” in 1 Tim 6:12 to keep with the athletic metaphor he discerns in 1 Tim 6:11.

He includes several excursuses, which are in-depth word studies of key words in the PE. These are a little on the academic side and you could skip over them. However, by the end of the commentary it often becomes clear that the words they explore are important recurring terms within the PE. For example there is one on ἐπιφαίνω which is an appearing or epiphany.

A few highlights for me were his treatment of 1 Tim 2:1-7 on the “universality” of salvation and on the significance of Jesus’ humanity. He is also very illuminating on the somewhat confusing section about widows in 1 Tim 5:3-16. He argues that it was not likely an office / sisterhood with vows of celibacy. Another passage that he gives particularly close attention to is 2 Tim 4:16-18, in which he detects several allusions to Psalm 21. In fact, allusions to the OT, or “intertextuality”, is one of the key areas Towner states in the introduction that intends his commentary to focus on.

Although this is primarily an exegetical commentary, there are places where he will briefly switch gear and move into preaching mode. For example, in some challenging summarising comments on 2 Tim 3:1-9, he asks us to consider our own potential for apostasy by remaking the “untameable” gospel into something we find more accommodating. Are these verses a “mirror” that we need to consider whether we see our own reflection in, and not just a description of what “they” are like?

In a detailed discussion of Titus 2:13, he considers the debate about whether Jesus is referred to as God. He argues “God and Saviour” has a single, not multiple referent, and then that it is “glory” that Jesus is set in apposition to not God. In other words instead of “Jesus, who is our great God and Saviour”, he argues for something along the lines of “Jesus, who is the glory of our great God and Saviour”, or to put it another way “Jesus is the embodiment of the glory of God”. I found this quite convincing, and it seems to me to fit nicely with Titus 2:11, in which we have the “epiphany” of “grace” (Christ’s first coming), which makes the second coming in Titus 2:13 the “epiphany of glory”.

I suspect many readers of this review will be interested in his take on one of the most contentious sections of the PE, the instructions to women in 1 Tim 2:8-15, to which he devotes 50 pages of comments. Towner, like the series editor Fee, holds to the egalitarian position, and therefore does not see these commands as having universal applicability. However, he does not choose to follow the interpretive line of some egalitarians who think that the husband/wife relationship in the privacy of the home is in view. He very much places these instructions in the context of public worship.

As someone who holds to a complementarian view but willing to have my mind changed, I was a little disappointed with his dismissive and sometimes acerbic comments directed towards the likes of Mounce, Knight, and Köstenberger. In fact he refuses to use the term “complementarian”, preferring to characterise the opposing view as “hierarchicalism” or “traditionalism”.

He draws heavily on Bruce Winter’s work on the “new Roman woman”, and this which he sees as something of an interpretive key to 1 Tim 2:8-15, 1 Tim 5:3-16 and also Titus 2:3-8. These were wealthy women who wanted the freedoms normally restricted to men, including sexual freedom, and were speaking up in public gatherings, and less modest in dress. There seems a lot that is plausible in this reconstruction, whatever one thinks of the ongoing validity of the commands. In fact, Towner himself in his comments sees these restrictions very much related to the church’s witness within society, and suggests that in certain Asian cultures, a similarly conservative approach to women’s roles might be wise, but in our western culture the opposite is true, and Christians dragging their feet with regards to the “egalitarian trajectory within the gospel” are damaging the witness of the church.

I was not persuaded by his view that the overseer and elder do not refer to the same role (he suggests a single overseer leads in concert with a larger council of elders). He sees both Timothy and Titus as operating in the role of “apostolic delegate”.

I made use of this commentary as part of a detailed study of the Pastoral Epistles I have been doing over the past few months. I would study a few verses myself, coming up with my own understanding, before consulting Towner. Only very rarely did I find that questions I had about the text weren’t addressed in some way in the text. So I would say this is an excellent resource filled with stimulating and insightful comments, that has greatly helped in my understanding of the PE.

Book Review–The Message of Romans (John Stott)

I heard the news of John Stott’s death only a couple of days after I started re-reading this Romans commentary. It was one of the first of the Bible Speaks Today series that I read, and for all the numerous things he will rightly be remembered for, I feel especially thankful for his contributions to and editorship of this series. In this volume, as with his other commentaries, John Stott models a truly evangelical approach to Scripture. He comes reverently to the Bible, believing it to be the very Word of God, eager to learn, ready to engage with difficulties of exegesis and doctrine, and most of all, expecting to encounter God through it.

A book like Romans of course is a daunting task for any Bible expositor. So many notable expositors and scholars have already tackled it in great depth. And there are many tricky theological issues it raises. What is “the righteousness of God”? What is the correct understanding of the doctrine of election? What place does the people and nation of Israel have in God’s ongoing plan? Who is the conflicted man of Romans 7? Was Junia an apostle? Whatever positions you take, you certainly can’t please all of the people all of the time in a commentary on Romans.

Stott starts with a preliminary essay, which includes several pages devoted to the New Perspective on Paul. He is to be commended on two counts for including this. First, that he pays any attention to it at all. By my reckoning, it is only the likes of Tom Wright that have really brought the NPP into the general evangelical consciousness in recent years.  Yet Stott clearly saw back in 1994 that this was going to become a debating point, and tackled it head on. Second, the way he seeks to correctly understand and fairly represent the opinions of the likes of Stendahl, Dunn and Sanders is also commendable. In some places I felt he articulated their points better than they did, such is his gift for clarity. Having said that, he does not go along with the conclusions of the NPP. I have previously blogged about John Stott’s take on the New Perspective here.

One key interpretive issue in Romans is the role and purpose of the “law”. Stott explains that “For justification we look to the cross, not the law, and for sanctification we look to the Spirit, not the law.” However, he wants to disagree with those who deny the law a place in the Christian life. “The moral law remains a revelation of God’s will which he still expects his people to ‘fulfil’ by living lives of righteousness”. He attempts to find a balance between the errors of legalism and antinomianism by saying “Legalists fear the law and are in bondage to it. Antinomians hate the law and repudiate it. Law-abiding free people love the law and fulfil it.” Do Christians have to obey the law? Yes and no … “not because the law is our master and we have to but because Christ is our husband and we want to.” The Spirit empowers us to keep the law – our freedom from the law is not freedom to disobey it.

As he ponders what the “righteousness of God” is, he notes three explanations often given. Is it (1) a divine attribute (2) a divine activity (his saving intervention), or (3) a divine achievement (the righteous status we are given)? He asks why we have to choose – “it is at one and the same time a quality, an activity and a gift”. He then expands on this to define the righteousness of God as “God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his.”

He takes some time to defend the biblical concept of the “wrath of God”, from those who find this doctrine objectionable (again pre-empting a debate that has gained much momentum more recently in evangelical circles). “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it his just judgment upon it.” The human predicament is not only sin, but God’s wrath upon sin.

Stott’s take on the identity of the conflicted man in Romans 7 is interesting. He cannot see it as a believer, since “a slave to sin” cannot be a Christian, and yet neither can he accept the unbeliever explanation. He concludes that it is a “regenerate” man, but not one who has the Holy Spirit. For Stott this leaves him with no other option than saying that the ‘I’ is an Old Testament believer. Stott of course strongly rejects the Pentecostal view of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit for a believer (as he makes clear in his comments on Rom 8:14-17), so cannot entertain the possibility that this ‘I’ could be a believer fighting sin in human strength alone without the empowering of the Spirit.

Stott has occasion to touch on subjects such as election and predestination, and while he seems to accept a Calvinist position, he prefers to refer to the concept of “antinomy” – two seemingly conflicting truths being held together – such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I like his suggestion that “the perseverance of the saints” should be renamed “the perseverance of God with the saints”.

As he tackles the subject of Israel, Stott is eager to underscore the importance of evangelism for all people, including the Jews. He includes a brief “manifesto of evangelism” that summarising the teaching of Romans on evangelism.

Overall, despite not necessarily agreeing with his every viewpoint, I would say this is another excellent work and valuable for anyone personally studying or teaching through Romans. There are of course the works by Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner which I would recommend to those wanting to go into more exegetical depth, but Stott should not be underestimated and there is plenty of well argued and thought-provoking material in here to help shape your understanding of this important New Testament book.

Book Review–The Message of Obadiah, Nahum & Zephaniah (Gordon Bridger)

This is the most recent addition to the Bible Speaks Today series, which is slowly approaching completion, filling in the few remaining gaps in the Old Testament. Bridger’s task is to cover three of the least well known of the minor prophets, whose short books are largely dominated by pronouncements of judgment.

The first thing that stands out is the length. Bridger has written over 300 pages on just 7 chapters of prophecy. This is both a strength and a weakness. It allows him plenty of space to highlight New Testament parallels and explore various areas for application. But at the same time I wonder whether it makes this less accessible than other BST volumes – this is longer than the commentaries on Isaiah and Jeremiah.

In the introduction, Bridger is keen to underscore the contemporary relevance of these books, by reminding us that all Scripture is God’s word to us. These books teach us the importance of facing up to sin and judgement and the importance of responding in repentance and faith.

Obadiah is divided into three sections – the sovereignty of God, the judgments of God and the triumph of God. Bridger has an interest in applying his teaching not just to individual Christians or churches, but also to the political arena and society in general. This is particularly true in the comments on Nahum, which he says has a particular message to super-powers. He tackles themes such as the legitimacy of war, climate change, and self-indulgent addiction to alcohol, sex and money. In his commentary on Zephaniah he draws several parallels between Baalism and the failings of our own society. Bridger writes from a British perspective, and illustrates his points with various recent events from the UK.

Although the general outlook of each of the three books is one of judgment, Bridger reminds us that the justice of God is a positive thing, and that a message of judgment is an implicit call to repentance. The day of the Lord is not just a day of destruction but also a day of deliverance. He defends the unity of Zephaniah against those who claim 3:9-20 is a later addition, and brings out an interesting alternative interpretation of the one well-known verse in these books (Zeph 3:17), in which he suggests that it may be God, rather than us, who is silent – he delights in us not just by singing, but by looking on in silence like a mother with her baby.

Overall, this is a thorough and solidly evangelical commentary on these three books. This shines through in the way Bridger makes several connections to other parts of Scripture, and New Testament teaching in particular. He demonstrates how these books point forward to Christ. The fact that the tone of the biblical material he covers is more gloomy than cheerful makes this a fairly sobering read in places, and by drawing out warnings for believers and the church Bridger himself takes on the mantle of a modern day prophet, calling God’s people and society as a whole to repentance.

Book Review–The Message of 2 Timothy (John Stott)

This is, I think, one of the earliest volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series, originally published in 1973 by John Stott as a standalone exposition of 2 Timothy, entitled Guard the Gospel. Stott sums up the overall message as a call to “guard the gospel, suffer for the gospel, continue in the gospel, and proclaim the gospel”.

The introduction includes a brief survey of the debate over authorship, in which he makes many of the same points made in the intro to The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. With over 100 pages of commentary devoted to the four chapters of 2 Timothy, he is able to take his time, discuss the meaning of each phrase, and, as always, draw out plenty of practical and devotional insights from the text.

He warns against the temptation to alter the substance of the gospel message, a call that is no less relevant almost 40 years after the first edition was published. He shows how faithfulness to the gospel involves more than just not modifying it, but we are also to live holy lives in accordance with it, demonstrating both purity of doctrine and purity of life. And we are not to hide away while doing so, but we are to proclaim the gospel, which will sooner or later involve us suffering for the gospel.

You can escape persecution by withdrawal from the world, or by assimilation to it. It is only for those who are both in the world and in Christ simultaneously that persecution becomes inevitable.

At the risk of regular readers of this blog finding the conclusions to these reviews predictable and repetitive, I have to say yet again that I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to study 2 Timothy or preparing to teach on it. Stott doesn’t just write with insight, but also with integrity, as his own lifelong passion has been to guard, to live and proclaim the gospel.

Book Review – 1&2 Kings (Peter Leithart)

The unique selling point of the Brazos Series (also known as the SCM series) is that the volumes are written by theologians rather than biblical exegetes. In a fascinating series preface, the editor Rusty Reno calls into question the validity of approaches that attempt to approach the text of Scripture from a “neutral” mindset in which the expositor impassively and objectively gathers linguistic and contextual evidence, in order to eventually arrive at the “most probable” meaning of a given unit of thought. Rather, he argues that the church has always interpreted the Scriptures from within a theological framework (for example the Nicene Creed), and this serves to guide us as we make interpretive decisions.

The difference in philosophy is apparent right from the start. In the introduction Leithart doesn’t spend his time discussing who wrote it, and when they wrote it, but rather makes a case for seeing Kings as “gospel”, and thus to be read in an “evangelical light”. 1-2 Kings is a prophetic narrative, making it clear that there is no salvation for Israel from within Israel: neither Wisdom, Torah or temple can save them. He also argues that Israel’s history is not only evangelical, but “ecclesial”, the history of the people of God – both Israel and Judah, though divided politically are viewed by Yahweh through the one lens of the covenant.

There is roughly one chapter of commentary per chapter of the 1-2 Kings. In his comments on the early part of 1 Kings, he draws out parallels between Solomon and Joshua, but also very compellingly shows how Kings presents Solomon as a “new Adam”, hence pointing forward to Christ. He shows how the idolatrous failures of successive kings effectively reverse the exodus and conquest, re-Caananizing the land of Israel.

Each chapter will typically contain something of an excursus as he goes off for a couple of pages exploring a subject raised indirectly by the text, sometimes theological, sometimes political, sometimes ‘ecclesial’. It makes for very lively reading, as he approaches many subjects from refreshingly different points of view.
Leithart is always looking for parallels and contrasts of the story of Kings and the story of Jesus. He ends each chapter by bringing Jesus into the picture, and thus it serves as a fine example of preaching Christ in all the Scriptures. In fact, often I would get to the end of a chapter and find myself wanting to preach a sermon on the passage – surely the mark of an excellent commentary.

Overall I would say its a great read, and definitely worth checking out if you are either preaching on 1-2 Kings, or want to be inspired to see them in a fresh light.

Book Review–The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (John Stott)

Apologies for the lack of posts here recently. My energies recently have been focused on preparing some talks for Southampton and Solent CUs.

Although this commentary does not cover all three pastoral epistles, Stott uses the introduction to discuss the arguments for and against Pauline authorship for the pastorals as a whole. He does not go into exhaustive detail, but the discussion is fuller than normal for the Bible Speaks Today series.

He works verse by verse through the two letters in expository fashion, not just explaining the text, but applying it to contemporary church situations and is always willing to briefly comment on theological issues raised. Both letters contain plenty of material directed to church leaders, a passion that Stott shares, believing that “the health of the church depends very largely on the quality, faithfulness and teaching of its ordained ministers.”

His discussion of gender issues is sensitively handled, and he argues for a creation principle of male “headship” which has varying cultural expressions. This leads him to categorise women teaching alongside men raising their hands and women plaiting their hair – practises that may or may not be appropriate in different cultures as expressions of an underlying principle. It is an interesting suggestion, although it does require him to maintain that the first century cultural expression of this principle is the exact opposite of the modern one in this case.

He suggests that the ministry of deacons includes teachings, and that they functioned as assistants to the elders. The treatment of the subject of money in chapter six is particularly insightful, discussing simplicity and destitution. “Money is a drug, and covetousness a drug addiction”.

The letters of 1 Timothy and Titus have plenty to say on the importance of sound doctrine, a passion that Stott shares. He also highlights the emphasis on the importance of good works that permeates the letter to Titus. He describes Titus as being about “doctrine and duty” – in the church, the home, and the world. He argues that there is an “indissoluble connection” between doctrine and duty and that “any doctrine that does not promote godliness is manifestly bogus”.

As with all Stott’s contributions to the Bible Speaks Today Series, this is one that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to go deeper in their personal Bible study.

Book Review–The Message of Matthew (Michael Green)

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.