Book Review – EBC Matthew (D A Carson)

Despite being written back in 1984 and being part of a series that generally is not considered an “in depth” level of commentaries, Don Carson’s volume on Matthew still consistently finds its way to the top of most evangelical lists of recommended commentaries on the first gospel. It is, in fact, considerably more detailed than the EBC Mark and Luke volumes, and deliberately so, as it was intended to deal in more detail with issues of harmonization of the gospels.

It can be bought separately, rather unnecessarily bound in two volumes, or it can be bought much more cheaply as part of a large hardback edition including the Mark and Luke commentaries. There is a revised version of Expositor’s Bible Commentary currently in the process of being published. Rumour has it that Don Carson will be updating Matthew for the new series, which if true will doubtless reinforce its status as one of the best evangelical commentaries on Matthew available.

It is amazing how much Carson fits in. He is ready to jump in to almost any argument concerning the historicity, exegesis, theology or contemporary application of a passage. He manages this mainly due to his ability to write in a very concise fashion, enumerating his opponents’ views succinctly, before despatching his own verdict with the minimum of fuss.

The introduction is fairly comprehensive, and includes a discussion of the “synoptic problem”. He tentatively accepts a two source hypothesis and Matthean authorship. The commentary itself includes the NIV text, and sections are introduced with anything from a single paragraph to a long discussion of different interpretations. The comments are then based on one or two verses at a time. Greek and Hebrew terms are always transliterated and translated, but he assumes that readers are familiar with terms such as apodosis and chiasm.

Carson clearly loves the gospel of Matthew. Almost every section is introduced as being special or unique in some way. His great concern with New Testament usage of the Old also surfaces in many places. He has a special interest in the word “fulfil” (pleroo), in particular how it is that Jesus can be said to fulfil the entire Old Testament Scriptures.

The content of the commentary is well suited to Biblical expositors, who will want to grapple not only with the meaning of the text as Matthew intended it, but also to deal with the diverse issues that congregations will be interested in – historical (e.g. ‘discrepancies’ with other gospels), theological (e.g. do we still need to obey the law) and practical (e.g. can you remarry after divorce). He does this in a way that treats the Biblical text as the Word of God, but he is careful not to resort to contrived harmonisations, or pious but tenuous interpretations.

Throughout the commentary he shows willingness to interact with the views of other commentators (especially Hill on Matthew and Lane on Mark), often resulting in a long list of possible options. This has the effect of making the commentary somewhat uneven in coverage as the comments on some sections are only a paragraph, while on others a number of pages.

I’ll just single out two passages for particular comment. As might be expected, the Sermon on the Mount is given an excellent treatment, as Carson has written on this separately elsewhere. In the ‘Olivet Discourse’, he surveys the wide variety of interpretations, casting doubt on both Dispensational understandings and France’s idea that the fall of Jerusalem and the “coming of the Son of Man” are the same event (I would expect that the forthcoming revision will also interact with N T Wright on this point as well, and also with 21:20-22 on the mountain that is thrown into the sea). He ends up proposing that Jesus used the discourse to introduce a concept of a delay between the destruction of the temple and the Parousia, contrary to what his disciples were expecting.

In summary, any serious evangelical student and teacher of the Bible will greatly benefit from having this commentary as part of their library. It is especially useful in providing clarity on difficult passages. I haven’t read the Mark and Luke commentaries in the same volume yet, but the price is worth it for the Matthew commentary alone. Zondervan seem to be working backwards at a rate of two volumes a year in their revision of the series, so if you can wait until 2008 there may well be an even better volume available.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – EBC Matthew (D A Carson)

  1. Pingback: My Commentary Recommendations

  2. Pingback: Book Review – The Gospel According to John (D A Carson)

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