Matthew. Bake Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

By David L. Turner
Grand Rapids : Baker (2008). 828 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 290-292

This work rates as perhaps in the top three among exegetical efforts on Matthew so far. W. D. Davies and Dale Allison contributed the best detailed work (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, ICC, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark 1988, 3 vols.). And the much older detailed work by John Broadus (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, American Commentary Series, Valley Forge, Pa., 1988) was of explanatory quality to rank with Turner for second or third. Ratings are given in this reviewer’s book, Commentaries for Biblical Exposition (The Woodlands, Tex.: Kress Publications, 2004).

Turner received his Th.D. at Grace Theological Seminary and completed course work for a Ph.D. at Hebrew Union College. He is professor of New Testament and systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In this work, he has furnished a vast panorama of bibliographic literature (cf. xiii-xvii; 693- 762), including commentaries, journal articles, essays, and ancient writings. He has 51 pages of introduction, a lengthy commentary with a careful grammar/word study and synthesis, a comprehensive yet compact treatment, and insight into history of interpretation and details of exegesis of literary and theological concern.

In prophecy, he commits to a progressive dispensational approach. He sometimes accepts dispensational ideas and at other times favors different views on details. He thinks this Gospel narrates reliable words and works of Jesus, and opts for a narrative-critical perspective rather than a source-critical approach. One is constantly aware that he regards the details as true.

Turner argues the possibility of the traditional Matthew as author and an early date, before A.D. 70. He treats the text verse by verse, handles most interpretive problems, and is usually but not always clear-cut as to his own view. He uses good charts on Matthew’s references to the Hebrew Bible (18-19), and Bible texts Matthew cites in his ten citations “that it might be fulfilled” (22). He has other helpful charts.

A good discussion resolves the problem of “fourteen” generations in the genealogy of Matthew 1 (cf. 25-27). He also treats various phenomena in the genealogy, e.g., mention of women, a comparison with the genealogy of Luke 3, and theological matters in the two genealogies. Later he argues as untenable a distinction between “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” (38-44); in his understanding, the phrases refer to the same reality. He cites, for example, Synoptic parallels and the Jewish custom of having “heaven” refer to “God.” He differs from some dispensationalists in seeing the kingdom as already inaugurated, present in the dynamic rule of God, but future as to its full display on earth (43). He lays out a detailed outline of the book (cf. 47-51).

On most aspects a user will find a good grasp of things presented in a readable way, even though they are at times concise. In the use of Isa 7:14 in Matthew 1, Turner decides for a typological explanation rather than a prediction or multiple fulfillment. Not all will concur with his idea that a predictive view in Isaiah 7 really needs to be at tension with the historical context (71). Nor will they agree with his decision that Isa 7:14 should be rendered as “a young woman,” not as “a virgin.” Candidly, the present reviewer believes that the evidence rightly sifted points to an outright prediction fulfilled only in Matthew 1.

Turner devotes a careful discussion to the Matt 2:15 use of Hos 11:1 and the 2:23 link with the “prophets” and Jesus’ being called a “Nazarene.” Turner is also astute on Jesus’ fulfilling all righteousness (3:15), and the Sermon on the Mount as giving personal ethics for the lives of Jesus’ people then and in the present age. To him, the Sermon was delivered at one time in one place; he also holds that Jesus repeated some facets in this teaching in other venues at different times and places.

Though comments are sparse on divorce in 5:31-32, the commentator goes into detail on the topic in 19:12. He favors the view that “fornication” there covers a wide sweep of wrongs that violate fidelity to one’s married partner. On “let the dead bury their own dead” (8:21-22), some will be surprised at his quick dismissal of the view that Jesus refers to eventual secondary burial of the bones of the deceased in an ossuary. Turner sees the Messianic Kingdom as having already begun (e.g., 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; and chapter 13; 334, 345). In 13:23 he views fruit as an indispensable test of genuine discipleship, meaning of real salvation. However, he qualifies that the truly saved are at various stages in the maturing process and one cannot always fairly decide from lack of fruit that another is unsaved. Like most commentators, he forthrightly rejects the view of some (not all) dispensationalists that the treasure refers to redemption of Israel and the pearl to redemption of those in the church. Instead, he sees these as picturing a real sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom in light of its value and the resulting joy. In the famous “rock” context (16:18), Turner follows many in saying Jesus means Peter is the rock, though apart from any acceptance of popery or papal succession.

It is not easy to grasp his view in 21:43 that the kingdom is taken from Israel and given to another nation, the apostles, who are a part of Israel. He does this while arguing against the “nation” referring to a transfer from Israel to the church. But since the apostles are key persons representing in effect the church in its earliest stage (cf. Eph 2:20), how is this essentially different really from just saying the transfer is to the church?

Turner in his brevity seems not to make a clear commitment on Matt 24:40- 41. He leaves a reader uncertain about what his precise view is. Is the one Jesus says is “taken” an unsaved person removed from the earth in judgment, and the one “left” a believer kept safe on the earth to enter the earthly kingdom? Or is the one “taken” a child of God in the rapture, and the person “left” abandoned on earth to rejection in judgment? Turner does not deal with details to show how this problem is resolved.

No matter how careful a commentator is with space to which a publisher restricts him, readers will inevitably isolate instances where not enough is said. Or what is said falls short of clarity. All in all, Turner has fulfilled his assignment with a diligent awareness in many cases. His work should take its place among detailed evangelical works, which in most passages pretty consistently offer well-seasoned comment.