Top Five Matthew Commentaries

Introduction. Matthew Commentaries necessarily must deal with the synoptic problem. For the most part, virtually every modern commentary accepts Mark as the first gospel written, Matthew used Mark as a foundation for his later work, usually supplemented by a sayings source (Q). Very few commentaries written in the last 50 years have attempted to argue Matthew was written first. The synoptic problem is always looming in the background of Matthew commentaries, some will dwell on it more than others. To me, over-interest in redactional issues distracts from the usefulness of a commentary.

W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, Jr. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988, 1991, 1997). This 3 volume commentary is the best modern scholarly commentary written on Matthew. In fact, I am tempted to say it is the best commentary ever written on Matthew. Davies and Allison certainly set a high standard for detailed commentaries on the Greek text of the Gospels. There is careful exegesis of the Greek text, but also a sensitivity to the Jewish background to Jesus’ teaching. The recent volumes in the ICC series are all excellent, but priced for libraries only. I personally am frustrated by the girth of the final volume, it is too thick for convenient reading; perhaps dividing it into two sections would have been wise. Allison published a “shorter” commentary on Matthew based on this larger work (T&T Clark, 2004), intended for “readers who find the larger commentary too involved or too complicated.”

John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005). This commentary is on the Greek text of Matthew and is another magisterial commentary. For Nolland, Matthew is based on Mark and Q and was composed before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, although he does not think that the apostle Matthew is the author of the final form of the book. The body of the commentary includes brief bibliographies for pericopes, comments on text critical issues, and phrase-by-phrase comments. Greek is normally translated so that a reader without Greek can use the commentary without too much difficulty. It is the style of the NIGTC commentary series to use a smaller type for detailed which may be less important, although I find these sections excellent. Nolland does an excellent job setting the words of Jesus into a Second Temple Period background, his footnotes contain copious references to the literature of the first century.

Craig Blomberg, Matthew (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992). I have always enjoyed reading Blomberg, his work on the parables is one of my favorites. His commentary on Matthew is the most brief of the five I have listed here (432 pages), but Blomberg has a knack for unpacking a text with brevity without sacrificing depth. His footnotes interact with a wide variety of scholarship. He argues for apostolic authority and an early date (A.D. 58-69) for the gospel. He is certain that there is some literary relationship between Matthew and Luke, but is not dogmatic on the synoptic problem.

Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009). This is the most recent of the commentaries I have chosen and is part of a series published by Eerdmans which attempts to read the biblical books against both a social and rhetorical background. What this means is that the commentary works hard to place Jesus in a proper context (Second Temple Period Judaism) but also to place Matthew as an author in his (later) context. In fact, Keener is “more inclined to accept the possibility of Matthean authorship” than in his earlier work on the Gospel (p. 40). The gospel was written in Syro-Palestine in the wake of the Jewish War, and “within the range of” develop rabbinic influence. Keener therefore reads Matthew as a Jewish Christian voice responding to the tragedy of A.D. 70. One of the advantages of the Socio-Rhetorical series is the use of Excursus to treat issues which are outside of the normal scope of a commentary. For example, Keener has more than 3 pages on demons and exorcism in the Greco-Roman word, a section dense with primary sources. These excursuses are the highlight of the commentary.

Donald Hagner, Matthew (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1993, 1995). Hagner’s contribution to the Word Biblical series follows the pattern of the whole series. Each pericope begins with a detailed bibliography, followed by a translation with textual notes and a form / structure section. It is in this section that Hagner treats synoptic issues, leaving the commentary to a detailed examination of the Greek text of Matthew. Greek is not transliterated or translated, making the commentary less accessible for those without Greek. Hagner uses the literature of the Second Temple Period as the context for Jesus as a teacher. The Word series concludes each pericope with an “explanation,” usually brief reflections on the contribution of the section to the overall theological themes of Matthew’s gospel. My suspicion is that most pastors will skip over the details and read only the commentary and explanation sections. Perhaps Hagner’s introduction to the gospel the best of the commentaries surveyed here.

Conclusion.  After writing this essay, I realize now how difficult it is to limit myself to five commentaries, not to mention trying to summarize a thousand word commentary in 150 words.  I can think of another five which are work of a “top commentary” list and there are several classic commentaries which it pained me to omit.   So tell me, what commentaries have you found useful (and why)?  Who has been (criminally) omitted from this list?  What classic commentary on Matthew should be read by all students of the Gospels?

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series


Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

17 thoughts on “Top Five Matthew Commentaries

  1. I also like R. T. France’s Gospel of Matthew NICNT, (Eerdman’s 2007). And A.H. McNeile’s Matthew, The Greek Text with Intro, Notes, etc., (Macmillan, 1915) is a nice classic. You can find it sometimes on the used English books sites on-line.

  2. Very good list. I agree with the choices. Two comments: I would agree with Hagner’s work, is certainly on my list. However, I feel the WBC series is really user unfriendly that I have ever seen. Since I do not have Keener’s commentary, on my top 5 list would includes David Turner, BECNT: MATTHEW, [Baker, Grand Rapids] 2008. Very useful and insightful. It is not a commentary on commentaries. Seems to present balanced arguments, a little brief in spots. But comprehensive. And you are correct it is very hard to limit to five.

    • I would have to agree with you about the un-friendliness of the WBC commentary. I usually skip the form/structure section, rarely is anything there which is helpful for me. Turner’s is great, albeit a bit on the brief side.

  3. Hi Phillip,
    What are your thoughts on ZECNT by osborn, how do they compare with the above recommendations.

  4. Lots of good commentaries on Matthew take for example Gibbs in the concordia series, Osborne in the zec and Carson from rebc. At a more practical level take a look at Wilkins nivac and Doranni in rec series.

  5. I’m reading volume one of Bruner’s revised Matthew commentary, The Christbook. It’s like reading two or three commentaries in one since Bruner surveys other works such as those by Luz, or Allison and Davies, two very expensive sets not in the budget right now. It’s an accessible read, although I’m left wondering why this fear of the OT? As Bruner says it’s the bible of Jesus, and as one who has read and studied it for years, it’s far less strange to me than the NT, rich beyond imagining, and as alive as any page of the NT. Perhaps I might recommend Harold Bloom’s interesting ditty, Jesus and Yahweh. Bloom outlines the contrasts between his two subjects, pointing out the obvious contradictions of character, which begs the question, How are these two the same God? For Bloom, it is Mark’s Jesus that most resembles Yahweh. Thought provoking stuff for those wishing to step out of their comfort zone.

  6. One interesting introduction to the “Jewishness” of the NT, and a stepping stone to appreciating the OT, or Hebrew Bible, is Willis Barnstone’s translation of the NT. The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas. not only is the entire NT translated, but it includes many very fine essays on a variety of pertinent subjects. Barnstone also reclaims the poetry in the NT in the same way the Prophets were revealed to be poets in the OT. Preview it out on Amazon, or check your library for a copy.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I have the three non-Christian texts in several other translations, but this does appear to be an interesting collection. I think it is likely biblical scholars will pick at his translations; this is not so much an accurate translation as a kind of non-Christian “informed paraphrase” like Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

  7. Being a biblical and Gnostic scholar himself, I think Barnstone might disagree with this being an “informed paraphrase”:) There are plenty of textual notes to keep everyone happy and referencing. As someone who has enough trouble with English, let alone ancient languages, I’m for all the help and differing opinions I can get. I’m gratified if you found the post of interest.

  8. Hi Philip,
    I have been racking my mind over which Greek commentary to choose between Nolland’s and Hagner’s. Can you explain their weaknesses and strengths, why one over the other.

    • It is a very close call, I almost want to say “buy both!” Both books are solid commentaries which are standards for everything written on Matthew. Perhaps the only weaknesses are the result of the style of the commentary, the Word series has a Form/Structure/Setting section which is not always that helpful, verse-by-verse commentary and then an “explanation” section which draws some theological conclusions. Nolland gives a short intro then the commentary, and there is nothing quite equivalent to the “Form” or “explanation” sections in the Word series.

      I think I would buy Nolland before Hagner perhaps only based on the date of publication. Hagner was published in 1995, and a great deal has been been written on Matthew and the Synoptic gospels since then (Nolland’s bibliographies are excellent and more up-to-date. Even though ten years separate the two books, Nolland has the edge there.

      One example: Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q was published in 2002. When Hagner wrote, he could talk about “recent attempts” to argue for the priority of Matthew, but not the sort of challenge to Q mounted by Goodacre. Nolland says “I have been interested to provide a coherent account of Matthew’s procedure in writing in order to better understand Matthew’s finished Gospel, and not to support a source hypothesis” (5).

      I think Nolland’s introduction is better, although Hagner’s is slightly longer by page count. That might just be a personal preference, there is a great deal of overlap (genre discussion, etc.)

      The NIGTC are more technical than the WBC series, that might be a factor if your Greek is not strong. Even modest Greek skills will be able to use either commentary, but Nolland will be more of a stretch.

      I hope this helps, thanks for your comment!

  9. I really appreciate your list here. A quick question – is it worth saving up and trying to buy Davies and Allison? Or is it “good enough” to get Nolland? I have already read Hagner and really liked it. What would be your recommendation? (I have kind of had it on my “bucket list” to read D+A, but it is so expensive!)

    • Nolland is a great investment if you are going to buy one exegetical commentary. Davies and Allison is so expensive it might be better to buy two or three other books for the same money. Especially if you can get to a library and use D&A.

      • Thank you so much for the quick reply! I really appreciate it.

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