A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew
Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999. xxi + 1040 pp. $60.00. ISBN 0-8028-3821-9.
Craig Keener is rapidly developing the reputation of being the one evangelical scholar of our generation who has truly mastered the primary Jewish, Greek and Roman sources relevant to the historical background of the New Testament. Professor of New Testament at Eastern Baptist Seminary, Keener has already written the IVP New Testament Commentary on Matthew, which combines solid exposition with incisive contemporary application. Without abandoning any of those strengths, Keener here adds over 10,000 references to primary sources and more than 2000 to secondary literature, in a volume that comprises 720 pages of commentary, 150 of bibliography and almost 170 of indices! And in the midst of this, he retains a very readable style of prose and user-friendly format with numerous bold face or italicized sentences per segment of text that highlight the timeless principles or cross-cultural applications that can be gleaned from Matthew’s Gospel
In his introduction, Keener outlines the factors that lead him tentatively to favor Matthean authorship, after A.D. 70 (probably in the late 70s), to a mostly Jewish congregation in urban Syro-Palestine, still engaged in an intramural debate with non-Christian Judaism concerning which group is the true heir of the promises to Israel. He surveys numerous issues that bear on historicity, taking an approach in each instance favorable to a substantial level of historical trustworthiness for this Gospel. His presentation of key theological themes is somewhat unusual, analyzing most every Christological title in some detail but surveying only one other topic, namely, the kingdom of heaven. Numerous excursuses dot the commentary proper, usually on topics related to historicity or to the historical background of a particular topic, such as the various Jewish sects, wealth, prostitution, tax-collectors, execution on Passover, and so on.
Keener has no less than 74 references to my work, mostly to my Matthew commentary, in his author index, of which 72 actually exist in the text of his commentary. (I do not appear on pp. 672 or 675; perhaps “Blomberg” has been confused with “Blinzler,” who does appear repeatedly on those pages.) I am greatly encouraged because in the vast majority of cases, Keener agrees with my various exegetical positions, even after surveying much more historical data than I did. On particularly controversial topics, he accepts almost exactly my limited allegorical approach to the parables, my understanding of Matthew 19 on divorce and remarriage (which he had independently articulated in his first published scholarly book, . . . And Marries Another ), my approach to the historical background for interpreting the antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount and my preterist-futurist approach to the eschatological discourse. He even seems to approve of my somewhat novel combination of Bacon and Kingsbury to create my outline for Matthew, although Keener himself eschews any subdivisions for the Gospel in the commentary itself beyond simple pericope headings.
A sampling of the handful of areas of substantive disagreement between Keener and me would include: (1) his notion that Jesus as artisan and those fishermen who were disciples would have been among the 10% richest in Israel (a rare example of an assertion for which he offers no primary data in support); (2) his rejection of the interpretation of Matt. 5:17-20 that allows Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law to set aside particular Old Testament Laws as no longer literally applicable in the New Testament age; (3) his Sabbatarian interpretation of 12:1-14 (which reads almost exactly like what the first three centuries of Church Fathers at times condemned as “Judaizing”!); and (4) his view that the excommunication prescribed in Matt. 18:15-18 implies spiritual death. It also seems a little odd that he would suggest that Matt. 8:5-13 and John 4:46-54 are separate events (a view that only a handful of very conservative harmonizers adopt) while not even countenancing the possibility that Matt. 26:1-16 and Luke 7:36-50 narrate different historical events (a view that almost all conservatives and not a few others have adopted). The same inconsistencies bedevil the harmonization of other apparently discrepant Gospel parallels. For example, Keener is willing to suggest that Matt. 21:5 (and even Zech. 9:9) do indeed refer to two donkeys, but does not even present the standard conservative harmonization of John vs. the Synoptics on the day of Christ’s crucifixion (he does discuss and reject other harmonizations here).