Walter T. Wilson, Matthew Volume 1 & 2 (Eerdmans Critical Commentary)

Wilson, Walter T. Matthew Volume 1: Matthew 1-13. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxi+632 pp. Hb; $45.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Wilson, Walter T. Matthew Volume 2: Matthew 14-28. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxi+610 pp. Hb; $45.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Walter Wilson serves as Charles Howard Candler Professor of New Testament at Emory. He previously published a monograph, Healing in the Gospel of Matthew: Reflections on Method and Ministry (Fortress, 2014), and numerous academic articles on the first gospel. He recently published Ancient Wisdom: An Introduction to Sayings Collections (Eerdmans 2022, reviewed here) and, in 2023, a commentary on the Wisdom of Sirach in the Eerdmans Critical Commentary. This new Matthew commentary is the first in the ECC series since 2012.

Wilson, Matthew Commentary

In the twenty-page introduction, Wilson suggests the author of the first Gospel was a Jewish Christian, reliant on the Gospel of Mark, writing between 75 and 95 CE, likely from Syrian Antioch. The author retained the plot from Mark and rarely omitted an episode. But he tended to abbreviate Mark, and he expanded Mark’s outline with material from a sayings source. Wilson suggests this is a different version of the sayings source than Luke’s. The use of Q (sayings source) and M (unique material) is the clearest in the five speeches. Matthew also adds a frame to Mark’s plot, the birth narrative, and the return to Galilee (Matt 28:16-20). “Evidence for Matthew’s editing within individual passages is pervasive,” even if the mode of editing is variable (6). Wilson frequently observes Matthew’s handling of sources in the commentary. For example, commenting on Matthew 8:1-9:38, he suggests, “for the substance of these chapters, Matthew draws on various stories adapted from Mark and Q, altering both their content often through abbreviation and order” (262). The rest of the paragraph offers detailed evidence supporting this thesis.

Concerning genre and orientation, Wilson suggests that the “messianic movement is a continuation and culmination of the foundation story of Israel imparted by the Old Testament” (7). Matthew imitates scripture and invites readers to read scripture in a new light. Matthew recasts salvation history in an eschatological mode. “The life of Jesus is properly understood as one continued realization of biblical (especially prophetic) predictions” (7). Like the disciples, Matthew’s readers are expected to understand Jesus’s teachings (13:51-52) and teach them to others (28:19-20). However, they will struggle to put Jesus’s teaching into practice. There is a discrepancy between the ideal disciple who follows Jesus’s teachings and the disciples’ failure. Readers should identify with the disciples since they struggle, face opposition, and often fail.

Wilson sees Jesus and the Pharisees in a mutually antagonistic relationship (15:13-20, a text not in Mark or Luke). The Pharisees are blind guides (23:16) who will be uprooted (13:37-43). Wilson suggests this estrangement mirrors Matthew’s community. They may be sectarian, factional, or a beleaguered dissident minority (11). They are becoming increasingly different from formative Judaism and open to including non-Jews (28:18-20). Matthew’s gospel “helps justify the mission to the Gentiles.”

If the Gospel of Matthew has a thesis, Wilson suggests it is Immanuel (1:23; 18:20; 28:20). Jesus reveals and enacts God’s will” (14). Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah, and the son of David. He has a royal association indicating Jesus is the agent of God’s Kingdom. There is a conflict between Israel’s Messiah and Israel’s leaders. Citing Matthew 4:1-11, this conflict is “set against the backdrop of a cosmic conflict between divine and satanic agents (15). Matthew reconfigures God’s people around Jesus. The site of redemptions revelation shifts from Mount Zion to a mount in Galilee, the sermon on the mount, the mountain in the final Commission, for example. Attachment to one’s family and land is replaced with attachment to Jesus.

The major aim of Jesus’s proclamation is to explain the demands of God’s reign. The basis of discipleship is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8; 7:16-20; 12:33; 13:23; 21:19, 43). “The ethos of the new age finds its standard, especially in obedience to the law” (19). But this obedience is the more radical standard of righteousness of the heart. All the requirements of scripture hang on the command to love and expressions of mercy. Good works manifest God to others (5:13-16).

Wilson divides the twenty-eight chapters of Matthew into eleven sections covering a chapter or two each. These sections are further divided into several (untitled) units. Sections begin with a short introduction describing themes and addressing synoptic parallels. Each unit also has a short introduction tying it to the overall context of Matthew’s gospel. Wilson provides his own translation, followed by a commentary on the Greek text (with no transliteration). There are occasional comments on textual issues since this is not the commentary’s focus.

Wilson comments on lexical and syntactical issues (with details in the footnotes). The commentary has copious footnotes to secondary literature, so the body of the commentary is uncluttered and easy to read. Wilson includes excellent notes on Old Testament parallels and background throughout the commentary. This includes occasional references to Second Temple literature. For example, he suggests the ten miracles in Matthew 8:1-9:48 are “meant to recall the ten wonders performed by Moses in Exod 7-12” (263). In Matthew 19:28, he observes parallels between this text, Daniel 7, and 1 Enoch 108 (155). Commenting on Matthew 24:29-31, Wilson draws attention to several prophetic passages describing the collapse of the order of creation and the Testament of Moses and other Second Temple texts. He draws attention to parallels between 1 Enoch 62 and the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Although many of these comments often appear in a Matthew commentary, Wilson seems to have a knack for tracing these allusions.

The commentary does not spend much time on geographical or historical issues. For example, commentaries often offer details on Pilate when he is introduced in Matthew 27:1. Wilson comments briefly on his title “governor” and points to relevant literature in a footnote. Likewise, there is no interest in locating places like the Mount of Transfiguration or the Upper Room.  Wilson’s focus is on the textual and literary features of Matthew.

In the conclusion to each unit, Wilson summarizes and occasionally comments on theological issues raised in the unit.  He occasionally points out a theological nuance that comes forward because of Matthew’s redaction of his sources. These conclusions cannot be described as “theological interpretation” nor “application,” although he often draws out implications from the text for church life.

Each volume includes a bibliography (vol. 1, 79 pages, vol. 2, 80 pages) and indices (vol. 1, 65 pages, vol. 2, 95 pages).

Conclusion. Wilson’s two-volume Matthew commentary is an excellent addition to the Eerdmans Critical Commentary series. Wilson’s exegesis is clear, and his interest in Matthew’s use of the Old Testament (and parallels to Second Temple literature) is stimulating. Although some readers may not care for his approach to Matthew’s redaction of his sources, Wilson has produced a Matthew commentary which is a please to read. This solid academic Matthew commentary will serve scholars and students of the First Gospel for many years.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

3 thoughts on “Walter T. Wilson, Matthew Volume 1 & 2 (Eerdmans Critical Commentary)

  1. I’m glad to see commentators deal with Daniel and Enoch responsibly.

  2. Wilson says GoM “helps justify the mission to the Gentiles.”

    Does Wilson comment on how comprehensive the commands are in Matthew 23:3 and 28:20? I’ve always believed that Matthew was a Judaizer.

  3. Thanks Barry…I’ll try to speculate based on his introduction. It seems to me Wilson sees the author of the gospel as a Jewish Christian writing to a Jewish Christian community which has come under pressure (persecution) from the synagogue for their commitment to Christ. There is more conflict between Pharisees and Jesus in Matthew than the other Gospels, Matt 23:3 is an example of that. So I *think* Wilson would say the Pharisees’s attack on Jesus reflects what Matthew’s community is currently experiencing.

    As for “Matthew was a Judaizer,” I assume you mean “a Jewish Christian who insists Gentiles keep the Jewish Law.” Not sure that Wilson would agree with that, but that is certainly the use to which the gospel of Matthew was put by Ebionites and other (conservative, non-Pauline) Jewish Christian groups.

    I have always wondered what Paul would say to Matthew 5:20, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Maybe something like, “Yes, sure, but righteousness that does not come from following the Jewish Law.”

    After posting this review, I wonder about Wilson’s statement that the Gospel of Matthew “helps justify the mission to the Gentiles.” that is a common view. But I have some doubts about the “Gentile Motif” many commentator’s find in Matthew (righteous Gentiles are included to show up the Pharisees), although 28:18-20 seems to envision Jesus’s disciples going “to the nations,” but is that the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations (Isaiah 2) or the “church, the body of Christ”?

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