Thursday, December 08, 2011

Book Review of The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley

The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us
Resonate Series
by Matt Woodley
ISBN 978-0-8308-3642-0
Published by Intervarsity Press
Likewise Imprint
Reviewed By Clint Walker

I am a pastor. One of the reasons I am a pastor is that I love studying and teaching the Bible. In my teaching and preaching I often use Bible commentaries to help me go deeper into the word and understand it better. Most commentaries are helpful in one way or another. Some are more technical, and can be so esoteric that it is really hard to pass on anything that I learned from them. Other commentaries, in an attempt to be down to earth, have dumbed things down so much that I find them hard to use as well. The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us falls to neither of these pitfalls. As a matter of fact, this commentary for the common person is supurb. Matt Woodley has achieved a noble mission. He has written a commentary that  will be helpful for both the lay person seeking to know more about the Bible, and the pastor preparing a sermon or Bible study for their congregation.

The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us is, as far as I can tell, written in the tradition of a lay person's commentary. In the tradition of William Barclay and N.T. Wright, Matt Woodley spends just a few pages sharing about each section of the Scripture. He does not get bogged down in details that are unimportant. Woodley clearly explains what was going on at the time the Bible was written, and with a deft eagerness makes a quick transition to why that matters to people like you and I today.

Woodley makes his interpretive framework clear from the beginning when he says, "Jesus has come to fulfill the story of God's chosen people" (p. 24). What he means by this is not that Jesus has come exclusively for Hebrews, but rather that the gospel for everyone is rooted in and the fulfillment of what God has been doing through the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. It also means that Woodley sees the gospel as expressing and rooted in a narrative process. Thus, both the commentary as a whole, and each section of the commentary have a "story-formed" feel, which I agree with and greatly appreciate.

Throughout The Gospel of Matthew, Matt Woodley shows he has a gift for being able to turn a phrase. Early in the book he says that Jesus was the "one that saves us from our sins" but that "they (many of Jesus' Jewish hearers) wanted a Messiah that would save them from the sins of others" (p. 29).

When talking about the parable of the sheep and goats, one of my favorite passages, Woodley makes some more deft observations. First he notices where the parable is located in the context of the story when he makes a point of reminding his readers that "this passage contains Jesus' last official teaching in Matthew's teaching-filled gospel" (p. 233). He goes on to share this helpful observation about the meaning of the text, "Here's the crux of the matter: mercy requires personal presence: (p. 234).

Each section of this book is written like what I shared about these two sections. This is a commentary that is actually fun to read. In the books promotional materials, I noticed that others agree with me. I could not agree more with Mark Galli, the senior managing editor of Christianity Today when he says,

"This commentary by Matt Woodley is one you don't simply want to reference but read. Woodley rightly manages to find the note of grace and promise in every passage. This is a book about the gospel--good news--of Matthew. I can't imagine studying the first Gospel without this book within easy reach."
Heck, this book is even endorsed by F. Dale Bruner, who in my opinion who has written the best commentary I have ever read or used when he wrote his two volume commentary on the book of Matthew.

If you are a pastor that is leading a study or preaching on Matthew, or if you plan to do so at any time in the near future, you need to have this commentary in your library. It is that good.

(I was given this book in exchange for an HONEST review by the publisher)

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