Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution 2nd ed.

By Robert H. Gundry
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1994). 685 Pages.

Reviewed by Tim Dane
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 248-250

In 1982 Robert Gundry (Professor of New Testament and Greek at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California) introduced the first edition of his commentary on Matthew. The first noticeable change in this second edition is that the sub-title has been changed from "A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art" to "A Commentary on His handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution." The new subtitle is indicative of Gundry's renewed commitment to understanding Matthew's theological purpose as that of addressing issues in the contemporary first-century church.

Gundry notes that aside from various corrections, a new preface, and the addition of an appendix and endnotes, the commentary has not undergone any changes since its original release. This includes the fact that Gundry's purpose is still to present an interpretation based upon Redaction Criticism. For the most part, he does not interact with other views, but presents his understanding of Matthew's theological purpose. Gundry notes on p. xii of the preface that his commentary might seem "old fashioned" because it focuses on Redaction Criticism and does not deal with structural, literary, narrative, social scientific, materialist, feminist, psychological, and deconstructive criticisms, criticisms more recently in vogue. He also notes that he sees strong evidence that Matthew the Apostle wrote the gospel and that he wrote it before A.D. 70. For such reasons, he apparently considers himself to be on a more conservative side of scholarship than many.

 In dealing with passages like 13:24-50 and 22:11-14, Gundry proposes that Matthew is writing in light of the presence of both true and false disciples in the first-century Church. He sees Matthew writing to the saints to encourage faithful endurance in the face of persecution and to avoid the antinomianism of the false disciples/ teachers. He believes the rebuke of the Pharisees in chapter 23 represents Matthew's warning against antinomian false teachers in the church. He believes this antinomian false teacher paradigm will persist in the church up to the end of the age, because Matthew did not include the widow's mite incident between chapter 23 and the end of the age discussion in chapters 24 and 25 (a redactional insight). Gundry also believes that discipleship and the teachings of Jesus play a very significant part in this gospel, which Gundry believes is "structurally mixed."

To this reviewer, Gundry's work represents an immense attempt to interpret the first Gospel. One cannot help but note the detail it offers. However, one very crucial question is relevant: "Is Redaction Criticism a legitimate discipline?" Gundry wholeheartedly endorses the concept and applies it liberally. Furthermore, a comparison of Gundry's work with other commentators reveals that Gundry is more zealous than many in his application of redaction critical thinking (cf. xiii). What is the implication of this?

 The implication of this a priori assumption (that Redaction Criticism is legitimate) is that the commentator becomes the judge of the text and deems himself worthy of identifying those statements that are true and those that are lies (called by other more palatable terms and statements such as "unhistorical redaction," xvii; "unhistorical theological constructs," xx; "free adaptation and embellishment," xxiv; "Matthew distorts," xxiv; Matthew "creates" events, xxiv; "Matthew adds," xxvii; "Matthew makes," xxvii; "Matthew's creation," xxviii).

Are falsehoods such as Gundry postulates compatible with Jesus' words in John 17:17, "Thy Word is truth"? Conservative theologians have long rejected the notion that they are. Gundry, however, believes his views are acceptable (he sees his view as representing Matthean redacting and thus Matthean use of unhistorical embellishment).

For Gundry, Matthew's assumed editorial work did not keep the gospel from acceptance by the early church, because even though "the embellishments in the New Testament apocrypha went so far as to make themselves obtrusive and objectionable," those in Matthew did not (xxi). In other words, compared with uninspired literature, Matthew's falsehood is the same in kind, but simply less in degree. For Gundry, "Matthew's taking less liberty (than uninspired writers) need not have raised people's eyebrows then and need not seem unlikely to us now" (xxv).

In summary, one can admire the great detail that Gundry presents. This reviewer found certain helpful observations from the Greek text at various points. We must ask the question, though, could not Gundry have contributed much more if he had assumed the conservative non-redactionist position that the Holy Spirit inspired a perfect and truthful text?