Quality theological study needs a variety of theological perspectives and voices. Limiting the voices that can influence your theological work limits the effectiveness and quality of your theological work. It is with this conviction in mind that I was so excited for the release of Dr. Jeannine Brown’s commentary on Matthew. Brown offers readers a commentary that beautifully combines quality scholarly research, with fresh cultural perspective.
The Teach the Text Commentary Series, from Baker Books, is a series worthy to be on every Bible teacher’s shelf. The series’ emphasis on accessible and competent research makes it worthwhile. As the editors explain:
The technicality of modern commentaries often overwhelms readers with details that are tangential to the main purpose of the text. Discussions of source and redaction criticism, as well as detailed surveys of secondary literature, seem far removed from preaching and teaching the Word. Rather than wade through technical discussions, pastors often turn to devotional commentaries, which may contain exegetical weaknesses, misuse Greek and Hebrew languages, and lack hermeneutical sophistication. There is a need for a commentary that utilizes the best of biblical scholarship but also presents the material in a clear, concise, attractive, and user-friendly format. (vii)
I was impressed with the achievements of this volume. Its brevity makes access the theological themes of the text easy, yet its scholarship is evident in both its insights and footnotes. It does not lose the relevant exegetical work in its effort to be relevant to the teaching of the Bible. It is indeed a commentary series for teachers.
This volume utilizes a number of headings to help teachers access the text’s main themes, and make connections for their audiences. To this end, this commentary offers readers contextual background information and interpretive insights, along with a section on “teaching the text” and “illustrating the text.” Here is where Dr. Brown shines.
The need for competent female voices in the field of Biblical studies is evident. Without meaning to many pastors and Bible, teachers read the Bible through the lens of their experiences as men. Brown helps us to see broader applications and understandings of the passage. One example demonstrated this powerfully for me.
In addressing Matthew 18:21-35 Brown walks us through the typical exegetical and interpretive insights. In many ways, her work here parallels what we find in other commentaries. Both D.A. Carson and David Turner, whose commentaries are thoroughly exegetical studies, offer similar insights to Brown. We see no loss in scholarship with this volume. Yet, Brown was the only one to offer some practical nuance to teaching this text in the midst of a world full of abusive relationships. She writes:
When we preach the imperative of forgiveness, we should also be aware that some in our audience might have experienced abuse, violence, or other patterns for serious betrayal. In these situations, preaching forgiveness without addressing the contours of perpetual violence could be not only damaging but also dangerous. A helpful course can be to distinguish between forgiveness of and reconciliation with an abuser. We ought to help victims of abuse seek the help that they need to learn what forgiveness looks like in their particular situations (and what it does not look like). (218)
This is a significant insight that contemporary preachers and teachers need to hear. Teaching this text without this nuance can do great damage to those we aim to care for in our congregations. Most scholars, however, because of their experiences as men will overlook this nuance on application. The result is their teaching will be the worse for it.
Brown is a competent scholar. Her footnotes reveal that she has interacted with all the right scholars, and her interpretive insights reveal an awareness of the textual variants, challenges, and debates. Yet, her commentary does not get lost in these particulars but stays focused on making the meaning of the text clear. Readers will not regret picking up this volume.
Jeannine Brown is a needed voice in theological scholarship today. I want to encourage my brothers especially to pick up this volume. Not only is this volume, a part of a good commentary series, it is a helpful tool for teaching Scripture. In addition to this, Brown’s voice and contributions add some particularly unique qualities to our study of the biblical text that are much needed. You will not regret utilizing this Matthew commentary in your studies, and your people, especially women in your congregation, will thank you for it.