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.

Mocking Jesus on the Cross – Matthew 27:37-44

Matthew presents three groups as mocking Jesus while he hangs on the cross. He uses a slightly different word for each (blasphemy, mock, taunt) and in each case, their words reflect Psalm 22 and other psalms which describe someone suffering unjustly.

Mocking Jesus Mihály Munkácsy

The crowd (27:39-40). The first of the three sets of mockers are simply those in the general crowd that wanders by the site of the crucifixion. The word translated in the NRSV and ESV as “derided him” is literally to blaspheme (βλασφημέω); the NIV’s “hurled insults” catches the connotations of the word well.

The people passing by wagged their heads. The phrase is drawn from Psalm 22:7, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.” The people also seem to know the false charges against Jesus since they mock him for claiming to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. This indicates that the charges against him had been made known to the general populace.

The chief priests and elders (27:41-43). These are the same people who looked for ways to condemn Jesus and who conspired to execute Jesus in secret (27:1-2). Now they publicly mock (ἐμπαίζω) Jesus (as Jesus predicted in 20:19). Rather than standing before the throne of a king and acclaiming him, they mock the enthroned king. Saving others refers to Jesus’s healings and exorcisms; they sarcastically claim if he can come down from the cross, they will believe him. In Matthew 1:21, Jesus will save his people, but now (according to the chief priests), he cannot even save himself.

Matthew intended us to remember Jesus’s temptations in the words of the chief priests. Satan told Jesus “If you are the son of God” throw yourself down from the highest point of the Temple and the angels will save you (Matt 4:6). Presumably the ones who would see Jesus in the Temple were the chief priests and elders. Now, if Jesus comes down from the cross (a high place) they will believe. Matthew puts Satan’s words into the mouths of the chief priests!

The words of the chief priest echo Psalm 22:8, “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

The Thieves (27:44). Matthew does not tell us how the thieves taunted Jesus. The ESV translates ὀνειδίζω as “reviled,” which can be a generic “heap insults on” (BDAG) or “hurl invectives.” Luke has more to say about the two thieves, for Matthew their insults once again fulfilled the words of Psalm 22:6-8.

Psalm 22:6–8 (ESV) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 25:2 (ESV) O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.

Psalm 109:25–26 (ESV) I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads. 26 Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to your steadfast love!

Wisdom of Solomon 2:13 (NRSV) He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.

Wisdom of Solomon 2:16–18 (NRSV) We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

In Matthew’s description of the crucifixion, Jesus is left to die alone. Only after his death does Matthew tell us several women who had followed him from Galilee were also present. Where are his disciples? The ones who had sworn to follow no matter what, even to die alongside him are nowhere to be found. In fact, they are not mentioned by name again in the Gospel. (The group of disciples are mentioned in 28:8-10 and the eleven are in Galilee for Jesus’s final commission in 28:16).

Where is Golgatha? Matthew 27:33

Soldiers led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to crucify him just outside the city. Matthew 27:33 says, “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).” Where is Golgotha? What does that word mean?

Gordon's Calvary

The traditional location for Golgotha (is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and is likely to be the correct location). The Greek (Γολγοθᾶ) is a transliteration of the Aramaic word for skull (גֻּלְגֻּלְתָּא, Hebrew גֻּלְגֹּלֶת). The name Calvary comes from the Latin calvarius, “skull.” Since Golgotha was near the city, outside the walls, on a main road, and near unused tombs. The Holy Sepulcher is the best candidate since it would have been outside the walls in the early first century and there is evidence of a quarry that was used for tombs near the church (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 133).

Although the tomb inside the church is covered and difficult to see, there are two tombs in the Syrian chapel that illustrate the kinds of tombs that were carved into the quarry.

The site of the crucifixion is now completely inside the church but was examined in 1988 when the Greek Orthodox Church removed a marble covering. There is a depression at the top of the rock which could be a socket for a cross (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 134).

There are several competing explanations for the name, “Place of the Skull,” although none are completely convincing. Since the place was used for executions and Romans did not normally allow crucified men to be properly buried, there may have been human bones among the garbage surrounding the cross. Perhaps the Romans marked the place of execution with a skull, like a street sign (Quaryles, Matthew, 723). The name may suggest uncleanliness, a warning to Jewish people to stay clear of the area to avoid corpse uncleanliness.

A common suggestion is the rocky area near the place of execution looked like a skull. First suggested in 1842 by Otto Thenius, the Garden Tomb has a view of the rocks on the escarpment that look vaguely like a skull. But the modern view of the cliff would look considerably different after 2000 years of erosion.  After the recent cold and snow in Jerusalem, the “nose” no longer looks quite right.

If Golgotha is at the Holy Sepulcher, then it would have been visible from Herod’s palace (just inside the modern Jaffa Gate).

Who is Simon of Cyrene? Matthew 27:32

After the priests charge Jesus with blasphemy, Jesus is led away to be crucified (Matthew 27:31-37). Jesus cannot carry his own cross, so Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry it to Golgotha (27:32). Four soldiers escort the condemned prisoner from Pilate’s residence to the execution site. If all three prisoners were sent together, there would be twelve soldiers escorting three condemned men. The prisoner was forced to carry the crossbeam to the execution site. This beam would be lashed to the person’s shoulders and arms by rope. Known as the patibulum, this heavy crossbeam was strapped to the condemned man’s shoulders with ropes.

Simon of Cyrene

Jesus was weak from several beatings in the last five hours and he is unable to carry the cross to the place of execution. The Roman soldiers, therefore, force Simon the Cyrene to carry it for him.  The verb ἀγγαρεύω means “requisition” or “forced into service” or “requisition” (BDAG), or “press into service” (BrillDAG). Matthew used it in 5:14, “if someone forces you to go one mile…”

Who was Simon of Cyrene?  All three synoptic Gospels mention Simon by name, although the name is a common Jewish name in the first century. Mark adds he is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Rufus is possibly mentioned in Romans 16, traditionally the sons of Simon go to Rome. Alexander is possibly to be identified in Acts 19:33. Both Alexander and Rufus are common names so some caution is required. The fact Mark does not mention many names with this kind of detail may imply he used Simon or his sons as a source for this detail of the crucifixion (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 100).

Undoubtedly Simon was a Jew. He has a Jewish name; Cyrene had a sizable Jewish colony (Jews from Cyrene were at Pentecost, Acts 2:10); he is in Jerusalem at Passover. Cyrene was a prosperous region in North Africa (modern Libya) with an excellent climate for agriculture (Gasque, “Cyrene (Place).” ABD, 1:1230). Josephus says Jews from Cyrene sent offerings to the temple (Antiquities, 16.6.5).

According to later traditions, Simon became a believer. This makes some sense since he probably would have stayed around the site of the crucifixion to see what happened, probably providing some witness to the believers in Rome.

How does Judas Fulfill Prophecy? Matthew 27:9-10

After Judas hangs himself, The priests use the money to purchase a potter’s field (Matthew 27:6-8). The priests realize the money is unclean and must not be included in the temple treasury. It is “blood money.” They decide to use the money for charity: they buy a plot of land to use as a graveyard for the poor. If someone who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem died in the city, they likely could not transport the body home for burial. There was a constant need for graves for visitors in Jerusalem. Matthew adds the comment that the place was called the “field of blood” to this day. The Greek ἀγρὸς αἵματος translates Akeldama (Acts 1:18-19), a Greek transliteration (Ἁκελδαμάχ) of the Aramaic phrase חֲקֵל דְּמָא)), “field of blood.”

Tombs in Valley of Himmon

Tombs in Valley of Himmon

The traditional location for this site is in the valley of Hinnom, an area that was the source of potter’s clay for Jerusalem. This explains the use of the prophecy of Jeremiah since the field is used by potters.

For Matthew, all this fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (27:9-10). But did Jeremiah prophesy this? The problem is Matthew quotes Zechariah 11:13, not Jeremiah.

Zechariah 11:12–13 (ESV) Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. 13 Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.

One way to solve the problem is to take “Jeremiah” as the title for the Prophets in general, the second section of the Hebrew Bible. In Luke 24:44 Jesus refers to the third section of the Hebrew Bible as the Psalms, the first book of the section. This is not satisfactory since Jeremiah is not the first book of the section and there is no other place I know where a writer used Jeremiah as shorthand for the “book of the prophets.”

It is better to see how Matthew has blended the Potter’s house prophecy from Jeremiah with the potter in Zechariah 11:13.  Matthew points out several passages in Zechariah fulfilled in events of Jesus’s final week. At triumphal entry Jesus went out of his way to ride a donkey into the city (Zech 9:9); the thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12); “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Zech 11:17) and throwing the money in the house of the Lord (Zech 11:30) and the “potter” (Zech 11:30).

In Jeremiah 19:2 the Lord sends Jeremiah to a potter’s house to preach a sermon predicting the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of Judah among the nations. He smashes a flask at the potter’s workshop as an illustration of what is about to happen to Jerusalem: it will be shattered, unable to be repaired. Although the word (יוֹצֵר) can refer to melting metal and recasting it, it is the same word used for the potter’s workshop in Jeremiah 19:11, strengthening the connection between these two passages.

In Jeremiah 32:9, Jeremiah weighs out 17 shekels of silver and buys a field from his cousin in the village of Anathoth. He makes sure the deed is legally written and witnessed by all, then he places an open and a sealed deed in an earthenware vessel and buried it “so that it would last a long time” (39:14). The point of these prophetic actions is that the exile will come to an end, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Both Jeremiah 32 and Zechariah 11 refer to the weighing out of silver and the purchase of land.

There is one other possible connection between Jeremiah 19 and Zechariah 11. The location of the potter’s house in the Valley of Himmom, the traditional location of Judas’s suicide, and the “field of blood.” Jeremiah 19:6 states the place will no longer be called “Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.” Slaughter (הֲרֵגָה) is rare in the Hebrew Bible, found in Jeremiah 7:32 (a parallel passage to 19:6) and Zechariah 11:4, 7.

For Matthew, even Judas’s betrayal and arrest are therefore part of the plan of God. Both Peter and Judas betrayed the Lord, and both show some sort of remorse. Although he does not experience restoration in the Gospel of Matthew, we know Peter goes on to lead the disciples in the book of Acts, Judas dies a humiliating death at his own hand.