A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, vol. 3.

  • W. D. Davies, Dale C. Allison, Jr.
  • Jan 1, 1998
  • Series: Volume 1 - 1998

W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, vol. 3. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997. xviii + 789 pp. stlg 69.95. ISBN 0-567-08518-X.

With this volume, the magisterial three-part commentary series by W. D. Davies, professor emeritus of Christian Origins at Duke, and Dale Allison, research fellow at Friends University, on the Gospel of Matthew comes to a close. Volume 1 was first published in 1988. Allison increasingly wrote more of volumes 2 and 3, but Davies read and contributed to all portions of the series. In keeping with the objective of comprehensiveness, comments on each pericope of Matthew include treatments of structure; history of tradition; verse-by-verse and at times word-by-word comment; numerous excursuses, often in small print, on particular interpretive problems; and concluding summary observations. Throughout, the authors interact, both with ancient sources and the secondary literature, in minute detail, as exhibited also by the extensive footnotes and bibliographies at the end of each section.

As in their previous installments, volume 3 is both centrist and cautious. Allison and Davies find a historical core to almost every pericope but also find something in almost every passage to doubt at the level of the Jesus of history. Their perceptions of Matthew's theology are seldom thereby affected, however. Exegetical condundra are analyzed in detail, a comprehensive list of interpretive options often ensues, and at times the authors admit they cannot decide which view they prefer.

It is impossible to summarize a volume of this nature in short compass. A sampling of views, few of which evangelicals would find anything objectionable, include the following: Matthew 19:9 refers to adultery and is a genuine exception clause to Jesus' prohibition of divorce; Jesus' call to the rich young ruler to give up everything is not generalizable to all disciples; 20:1-16 forms a complex triadic parable with three points, as formulated by the author of this review(!); Matthew read Zechariah 9:9, as did several later rabbis, seeing two animals present and thus a fulfillment in the "Palm Sunday" entry (21:5); 21:1-11 is "an exhibition of Jesus' eschatological kingship" (128); the temple demonstration is both a protest against abuse and a symbolic expression of judgment; the withered fig tree is similarly an enacted symbol of God's judgment against Jerusalem; the parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46) creates a genuine, though limited, allegory not about the entire Jewish nation but only describing her leaders; 22:1-10 is from M not Q (though one parable does ultimately lie behind the versions present in Matthew, Luke, and Thomas); "Give to Caesar . . . " delicately balances the demands of both God and emperor, though clearly giving God the priority.

Pages 258-59 provide an excellent catalog of typical ancient polemic against which Matthew 23 must be read. Pages 259-60 offer detailed parallels in pre-Christian Jewish literature to every charge of Jesus against the Pharisees and scribes in this chapter, so there is no justifiable way to label Matthew's compilation as anti-Semitic! 23:39 anticipates Israel's future acceptance of Jesus. The Olivet Discourse should be interpreted by a combination of preterist and futurist perspectives, although our authors offer no clear-cut delineation between the two. Interestingly, they do not exclude the possibility of a rebuilt temple, redestroyed in the endtimes. But 24:36-25:30 clearly stresses the main idea of this discourse for Matthew as that of people being unable to know the timing of the Parousia so that watchfulness (equaling preparedness) is incumbent upon them. Davies and Allison take the parable of the Sheep and the Goats at the end of this sermon as the general judgment of all people in light of their response to all of the needy in humanity (a less compelling interpretation than that which sees the "least of these my brothers" as referring to Christians).

The Last Supper was initially metaphorical; it is questionable if later theological debates about transubstantiation and the like are even relevant. In context, Jesus' words have past, present, and future significance. Jesus seems in charge throughout his arrests and trial, though becoming an almost entirely passive victim on the cross. He is done in by responsible, wicked people--not the entire Jewish nation or race. To the question of his messianic identity posed by the Sanhedrin, he replies with a veiled affirmative but goes on to give a more clearly blasphemous response with his subsequent allusion to Daniel 7 and coming on the clouds of heaven. The original reading in 27:16 is probably "Jesus Barabbas," heightening the contrast between the two "criminals." The crucifixion has sacrificial overtones; the resurrection of Jesus represents the first fruits of the general resurrection. 28:16-20 offers a summary of many of the major themes of the entire gospel. While adjudicating on the historicity of the resurrection lies outside the scope of the historian, Allison and Davies find the historicity of the empty tomb most likely.

A closing "Retrospect" reiterates pervasive themes throughout the volumes of this commentary: Matthew's intramural Jewish setting; an avoidance of tidy salvation-historical schematizations; the genre of the gospel as Christo-centric with Jesus' speech requiring biography; Christology which no combination of titles can adequately capture; and possible links with subsequent Nazorean Christianity. An appendix treats the debate surrounding the antiquity of distinctive readings of a fourteenth-century Hebrew translation of the gospel. Comprehensive subject and author indexes for all three volumes conclude this tome.

There is detailed information in Davies and Allison unavailable elsewhere, and a work of this magnitude will not likely be replicated in the foreseeable future. These will not be the volumes to which the busy pastor will probably first turn. Short evangelical synopses may be found in Carson, France, and my own commentary on Matthew. Those looking for more detail will still probably prefer Hagner's two volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary series, both because their scope is still somewhat more manageable and their perspective more consistently evangelical. But Davies and Allison remain an exemplary finished product of extraordinary scholarship, very judicious and even-handed in all of their decisions, and the authors are to be commended for their perseverance in completing the project. When briefer treatments lack details sought for, Allison and Davies will almost always be a court of final appeal.

Craig L. Blomberg
Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary