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
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