Friday, April 25, 2008

David L. Turner's Matthew Commentary: The Interview

I want to thank Caitlin Mackenzie from Baker Academic for sending me a copy of this fine commentary which has just recently released as the newest member of the BECNT series.

1) Talk about the process of writing a commentary (i.e. Matthew in the BECNT series) and what the experience was like from beginning to end.

It has been a very long road. Originally I was with another publisher which had projected an exegetical commentary series on the whole Bible. This publisher got cold feet before much had been accomplished, and Baker stepped in and retained some of the New Testament authors to do the BECNT series. That was over twenty years ago. The commentary would not have happened apart from providence—my wife Beverly’s constant encouragement, the patience of Baker Academic, and the support of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. I learned that writing an exegetical commentary is more difficult than I could have imagined, and that work on such a project can be very lonely at times.

2) What was your approach to writing this commentary and how does that differ or bear similarities to the approaches of others such as Davies and Allison, Hagner, Keener, Nolland, and France? Also, what distinct contributions has your commentary attempted to make?

The BECNT series as a whole seeks to blend scholarship with readability, exegetical detail with synthesis of the book as a whole, and critical awareness with theological integrity. So we are aiming at everyone from scholars and graduate students to pastors and lay people who want solid but accessible scholarship. My contribution in particular differs from many works (e.g. Davies and Allison, Gundry, Hagner, France) in that I do not discuss Matthew as a redaction of Mark and Q. Not that I necessarily deny Markan priority, I just think that a narrative-critical approach is more in tune with the canonical function of the text. I write from the perspective articulated by scholars like David Sim and the late Anthony Saldarini that Matthew and his audience are still engaged with the synagogue—the “parting of the ways” has not yet occurred. My own theological pilgrimage leading to what is now called progressive dispensationsalism informs my discussion of the teaching of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Olivet Discourse.

3) Speaking of progressive dispensationalism and in particular how it influences your interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-25; pp.565-611 in commentary) let me press you on a specific example (i.e Matt 24:29-31; pp.581-585). Explain the different interpretive options (i.e. preterist and futurist) and then your view on these verses.

As you can see from the commentary I take the disciples' question (24:3) about the destruction of the Temple as the point of departure for the entire discourse. So I part company with traditional futuristic dispensational exegesis which often overlooks 70 CE entirely. But I also disagree with preterist exegesis which equates 70 CE with "the end of the age," about which the disciples are also concerned in 24:3. I take Jesus' answer as encompassing not only the horrors of 70 but also the absolutely unique and unprecedented great tribulation of the end of the age (24:21), with the former providing a window into the latter. As all this relates to 24:29-31, I acknowledge the prevalent biblical allusions and imagery which is found there and I take it as describing genuine cosmic change, not merely political upheaval. Here I differ from the preterist treatment of R. T. France in his excellent NICNT work, which arrived just after I completed my manuscript. In my view this apocalyptic imagery comes from a worldview in which the present cosmic order is renovated and replaced by "new heavens and new earth." I think that the imagery of Dan 7 (24:30b) speaks in its context not only of the heavenly exaltation of the Son of Man but also of his earthly victory with his saints. I find the preterist interpretation of 24:31, where the angels gathering the elect is taken as the church's worldwide mission, to be particularly strained (cf. 13:39). So I end up attempting to hold together 70 CE and the end of the age, as do many other interpreters of Matthew (e.g. Blomberg, Carson, Davies and Allison, Gundry, Hagner). I'm somewhat sympathetic to the preterist exegesis of Matt 24, but overall I find it disappointingly anticlimactic.

4) How has your experience as a pastor/scholar influenced your writing of this commentary?

I see myself as more of a generalist than many of the scholars who have written serious commentaries on Matthew. My original graduate work was all over the New Testament and Systematic theology. Subsequently I came to the conclusion that I needed to correct my lackadaisical stance toward the relevance of the Hebrew Bible for New Testament exegesis and theology. Thanks to the late S. Lewis Johnson for that. Involvement in interim pastorates and teaching a wide range of classes have also broadened my perspective.

5) You are currently pursuing a PhD at Hebrew Union College. Your focus has been to sharpen and expand your knowledge of Second Temple Judaism. How has this experience helped in writing your Matthew commentary?

Writing on Matthew for the BECNT and Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Tyndale House) has intervened between residency and dissertation and I’m finally finishing the program. When I did my Th.D. at Grace Seminary long ago I realized that I had a glaring weakness in the Second Temple material. This is what eventually led me to HUC. The program there in Judaism in the Graeco-Roman period focuses on the primary ancient texts which interpret the Hebrew Bible. This background helps me evaluate the use of the Second Temple material in others’ works and utilize it more responsibly myself.

6) Speaking of your PhD, what is your dissertation about and was that a resource you were able to use in your research and writing of

I’m currently finishing a dissertation on Jesus as the ultimate rejected prophet in Matthew 23:32. In some ways I’m retracing the work of Odil Steck (Israel und das gewaltsame Geschick Propheten, 1967) but I’m working more specifically with Matthew’s theme of biblical fulfillment, and how Matthew presents John the Baptizer, Jesus, and even Jesus’ disciples as rejected prophets. I argue that Matthew portrays Jesus as the culminating prophetic messenger to Israel. In other words, Matt 23:32 assumes 2 Chron 36:15-16 (and many other similar biblical and Second Temple texts). Scholars of the Hebrew Bible call this Deuteronomism.

7) What more work would you like to do or see others do in Matthean studies?

At this point I don’t have any aspirations for major additional work with Matthew, but it seems to me that this is a time for evaluation of works which have utilized Second Temple material and narrative critical methodology. In other words, we need to sharpen our understanding of the historical setting of Matthew as well as our work with literary-critical theory in understanding how Matthew tells the story of Jesus. At the popular level there is a great deal of anachronistic work being done on Jesus the Rabbi which needs to be critiqued. Ongoing studies of the Qumran texts threaten to overturn the Essene hypothesis (see the current BAR piece on this), and this may influence how this material is used in Jesus studies.

8) Are you currently engaged in any writing/research projects?

I had been thinking about getting seriously into the scholarly conversation on the book of Hebrews but I’ve concluded that I’m about twenty years too late in my own career to make a contribution there. Right now I’m beginning to pursue an opportunity to write a semi-popular work on the Gospel and Letters of John. I hope this will contribute to my preparation for writing a serious exegetical commentary on the Apocalypse from a moderately futuristic perspective. Part of my concern with Matthew has been to revise previous dispensational misunderstandings, and I’d like to do some similar work with Revelation if the opportunity becomes available.

Thanks for your time, David!

1 comment:

Celucien L. Joseph said...

I recently acquired France's commentary on Matthew. It is awesome, very very good gooooooooooooooood! I have been tempted in numerous occasions to get Tuner's but I have to wait a little bit.

By the way, Matthew. Good conversation with prof. Turner.