Thursday, December 13, 2007

R.T. France on Matthew 5:38-42

Quite simply the best commentary I have ever read, check that, the best commentary I am still in the process of reading and reviewing is R.T. France's The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT; Eerdmans). This is just one example of what I am impressed with, check out his comments on Mt 5:38-42 which he labels "Retribution":

Here more than anywhere in this section we need to remind ourselves that Jesus' aim is not to establish a new and more demanding set of rules to supplant those of the scribes and Pharisees. It is to establish a 'greater righteousness,' a different understanding of how we should live as the people of God, an alternative set of values. In place of the principle of retribution he sets nonresistance; in place of the defense of legal rights he sets uncalculating generosity; in place of concern for oneself he sets concern for the other. The disciple may be forced to conclude that in an imperfect human society Jesus' illustrations of these principles could not work as literal rules of conduct, that unlimited generosity to beggars would not only undermine the economic order but also in the end do no good to the beggars themselves. But instead of therefore dismissing Jesus' teaching as starry-eyed utopianism, a proper response to this challenging section is to ask in what practical ways Jesus' radical principles can be set to work in our very different world. Our answers will vary, but if they are true to Jesus' teaching they will represent an essentially non-self-centered approach to ethics which puts the interests of the other before personal rights or convenience. We should note also, however, that a willingness to forgo one's rights and even to allow oneself to be insulted and imposed on is not incompatible with a firm stand for justice in principle and for the rights of others. (217-218)

This is just part of the introduction to the section(217-218), before the verse-by-verse exegesis! (219-222)
I have found this commentary to be intellectually stimulating, but one also that gives pause for reflection and self-inventory and highly recommend it without reservations. 'A commentary you cannot put down' is the best compliment I can give it!


Bryan L said...

What is it about that commentary that separates it from other commentaries? What causes it to be the best commentary you've ever read (are currently reading).

I have Keener's big volume, Hagner's 2 Vols and Nollands new volume. What would make me want to go and buy this one as well. I used to have his NIGTC on Mark but I ended up returning it after going through it a bit and instead getting Evans (WBC) and Marcus (Anchor) which I both really like.

I have France on my wish list but I'm just wondering what about it would make me get excited enough to get it before some of the other commentaries I have on the list (Like Collins on Mark). Maybe you can help me out. : )

Bryan L

Matthew D. Montonini said...


I wrote a response, but it did not post!

Briefly, there are many reasons I love this commentary.

One France doesn't write a commentary on commentaries. He interacts with others where necessary, but doesn't over do it. The introduction is only 22 pages devoting well over 1000 pages to the commentary proper!

Two, France's lucid writing style. I do not feel like I am reading a commentary! Not only that, but there are moments where I put the book down and start praising and thanking God for simultaneously moving my heart and mind (much like Fee's writings).

Thirdly, France's mastery of how Matthew utilizes the OT is learned and inspiring. I have done much research in this field (Paul's use of the OT), but not much in the way of the Synoptics, so this has been a great learning experience for me. Plus, this is one of France's main foci in the commentary itself.

This is all after 250 pages worth. I still have about 800 to go! I also have Keener's & Davies & Allison, but I would rate this ahead of them both.

I hope this helps. BTW- What didn't you like about his Mark commentary?

Bryan L said...

Thanks Matthew, that definitely makes me want to bump it up on my list. As far as his Mark commentary I don't really know why I didn't care for it. Maybe it just wasn't answering the questions I was asking of it or I didn't find the interpretations that convincing (but who am I anyway) or fresh. I was using it and comparing it to Marcus and Evans on Amazon and I just felt more convinced by them. Oh yeah and a NT scholar who specializes in Mark also kind of mentioned some things about it to me as well as recommending Marcus and Evans and maybe that just put something in my head about it.

Bryan L

Anonymous said...

I've been reading France on Matthew out loud in bed to my wife each night. I'm through 8.17 and we've loved every second of. This is definitely one of the most stimulating commentaries I've read, not to mention so very readable!

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