The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Commenting on Commentaries: R. T. France's Commentaries on Matthew and Mark

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The New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) was announced in 1946 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company to be a seventeen-volume project. As of this date, the series is still not complete, although the much anticipated commentary on Matthew has just been published. I’ve been waiting 30 years for its publication. When I was in seminary, I was able to speak with Herman N. Ridderbos (1909–2007) about the commentary since he was listed as the author in the “volumes in preparation” section on the dust jacket flap. This was in 1977 when he was visiting Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, at the invitation of Dr. Richard DeWitt. He was vague on when it might be done. No wonder; he either never got started on it or gave up trying. Then I saw that Robert Guelich had been given the task. After a time, Eerdmans stopped listing the authors of the “volumes in preparation.” While I would have liked to have had the volume years ago, I am delighted that R.T. France was chosen to complete the Matthew commentary, even though 30 years was a long time to wait!

The series has seen three editors and a number of revised and substituted volumes since the first volume appeared. Some of the commentaries are classics. John Murray’s commentary on Romans comes to mind, although it’s been replaced with Douglas J. Moo’s massive work (1996). Philip Edgcumbe Hugh’s commentary on 2 Corinthians is also very good. The commentaries by F.F. Bruce on Acts and Hebrews are helpful.

From time to time, I receive emails from people asking me to recommend a good commentary set. Unfortunately, there is no single set that I can recommend. I have built my commentary collection book by book, trying to find the best commentary on each book of the Bible. Of course, this can be expensive, and the shelf space required can overwhelm almost any house. In addition to commentaries, there are Bible dictionaries, Hebrew and Greek Grammars, lexical aids, Old and New Testament introductions and theologies, and specialized works needed to round out any good theological library. Books are tools, and you can never have enough good tools. You just never know when you’re going to need that quirky device that was made for just one thing.

Maybe in the next 20 years most of the books that are needed to make up a good library will be digitized and available to all. This is beginning to happen. Logos Bible Software offers a Scholar’s Library package that includes more than enough language books to keep even the most aggressive scholar happy. The Gold edition includes more than 700 volumes and contains a number of full commentary sets, although most of these are older and do not include the most up-to-date scholarship. There is a plus to some of these older works, however, since they are not tainted by dispensationalism. Commentaries by Adam Clarke, John Gill, and Thomas Scott, to name just three, are very helpful on certain prophetic texts, especially the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Even so, they still have their prophetic peculiarities since most of them interpret Revelation and some of the OT prophetic books from the historicist perspective. The Logos system integrates the electronic books so that work being done on a biblical text is seamlessly linked with the many study tools. There is no need to search for the links; they come up nearly instantaneously on your screen. No seminary student should leave home without it.

So while we wait for the latest commentaries to be digitized, we are left with buying them in book form. The NICNT commentary on Matthew by R.T. France is a worthy edition to the long awaited completion of the set, especially since his comments on Matthew 24:1–34 are a helpful edition to the discussion of preterism versus futurism. France’s earlier work Jesus and the Old Testament (1971) laid the groundwork for the eschatological themes in his Mark (2002) and Matthew (2007) commentaries, especially the use by Jesus of Daniel 7:13–14 in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:30). Jesus and the Old Testament is a book worth having. You can find copies at www.BookFinder.com.

The best part of France’s 1233-page Matthew commentary is his comments on the often debated prophetic passages found in 10:23, 16:27–28, and 24:1–34. He sees the fulfillment of these prophetic events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 with yet “a more ultimate situation, ‘the regeneration,’ when the Twelve will join Jesus in exercising authority over Israel, while in 25:31 it introduces what is generally taken to be a vision of the final judgment” (397). France’s exposition of chapter 24, at least through verse 34, is almost exclusively seen as a prophetic depiction of what will happen to “this generation,” that is, the generation to whom Jesus was speaking.

“This generation” has been used frequently in this gospel for Jesus’ contemporaries, especially in a context of God’s impending judgment; see 11:16; 12:39, 41–42, 45; 16:4; 17:17, and especially 23:36, where God’s judgment on “this generation” leads up to Jesus’ first prediction of the devastation of the temple in 23:38. It may safely be concluded that if it had not been for the embarrassment caused by supposing that Jesus was here talking about his parousia, no one would have thought of suggesting any other meaning for “this generation,” such as “the Jewish race” or “human beings in general” or “all the generations of Judaism that reject him” or even “this kind” (meaning scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees). Such broad senses, even if they were lexically possible, would offer no help in response to the disciples’ question “When?” (930).

To have someone of France’s caliber make such a strong case for a first-century fulfillment for the Olivet Discourse, is indeed refreshing. While I commend him on his exposition on so many of these points, there are several areas of disagreement. I do not agree with him that the parousia of 24:27 is a “still future parousia” (917) or that the rest of chapter 24 and chapter 25 refer to what has been traditionally described as a “second coming.” Even so, France does a good scholar’s job of faithfully representing other positions and supplying the bibliographical information of contrary opinions, in particular N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (1996: 333–368). You can compare France’s futurist comments with chapter 15 of my book Last Days Madness (4th ed.) for a more complete preterist approach to the Olivet Discourse.

While France’s commentary in the NICNT series is expensive ($60.00 retail), there is no better one on the market today. If you would like a scaled down and more affordable commentary by France on Matthew, InterVarsity Press has published one in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series.

While D.A. Carson’s exposition on Matthew, bound with commentaries on Mark and Luke by other authors, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan) is also good, it sees Matthew 24:29–31 as referring to events in the future and not part of an A.D. 70 fulfillment. Carson interacts with some of France’s more preterist comments in his earlier commentary works on Matthew. With a New Expositor’s Bible Commentary in production, I suspect that we’ll see an updated edition of Carson’s work in the near future.

In addition to France’s commentary on Matthew in the NICNT set, Eerdmans has published his equally helpful commentary on Mark (2002). The Mark commentary makes up part of the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC). As the series title indications, the volumes in this incomplete set require some knowledge of Greek. If you decide to purchase a copy, it would be helpful to have a Greek-English Interlinear near at hand. This volume is included in the Logos Gold edition mentioned above.

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