Published on February 5, 2024 by Eugene Ho

Lexham Academic, 2023 | 920 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Ross Harmon


Matthew is a volume in the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary produced by Lexham Academic. The EBTC series seeks to produce volumes that look at the theology of Scripture, giving attention to each individual biblical book, its themes, and its respective author (xiv–xv). Also, each contribution to the series takes into consideration the “history of the church” (xiv, italics original). The series’ unique attribute is the combination of a biblical theological study and its emphasis on “Christian proclamation,” having the desire to apply to all Christians in their personal and ministerial life (xv-xvi). Quarles personally wanted to write a “fresh and original” commentary, relying primarily on primary sources before engaging with the church fathers and modern scholarship (xvii–xviii). Further, Quarles wishes that pastors use the commentary to glorify Jesus in the Church (xviii).

The commentary has an extensive table of contents that shows a breakdown of the three main divisions: the introduction  (author, date of composition, etc.), the biblical-theological themes (“Christological Titles,” “Other Christological Description,” and “Other Important Topics”), and the commentary proper, which is subdivided into the “Introduction,” “Galilean Ministry,” “Journey to Jerusalem,” and “Jerusalem Ministry” (xii). Within the introduction, Quarles identifies the author of the Gospel as the evangelist Matthew (12), dating the authorship “prior to the fall of Jerusalem” (23). The book of Matthew, according to Quarles, is to witness to others about Jesus and provide a guide to discipleship (35).

A few elements or portions of the volume stand out as fairly unique among modern commentaries. First, this commentary does not contain any excurses, yet Quarles does take the liberty to accentuate different sections with more or less emphasis. One example is a longer section on Matthew 24:15–22, a section that spans 12 pages primarily providing remarks on the desolation of the temple (610–21). In comparison, the seven sections within Matthew 15:1–16:4 average about 5 pages, and the longest section is 7 pages (371–403). Unlike some commentaries, the Matthew (EBTC) commentary dedicates a significant section on biblical-theological themes, approximately 60 pages in length. This is a stark contrast to other commentaries that include small sections on themes in the introduction. With regard to the section on themes, Quarles dedicates the most space to the Christological title “Messiah” (15/60 pp., ~25%). The “Other Christological Descriptions,” include “Wisdom,” the “Prophet like Moses,” and the “Isaianic Servant” (72–104). Within the section titled “Other Important Topics,” Quarles addresses themes related to the ushering of Christ Jesus’ kingdom, e.g., “Fulfillment,” “New Covenant,” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” 

The commentary proper is the bulk of the book (105–767). Across the commentary section, Quarles follows a strict format, that is, it begins with the presentation of Scripture (“The base translation…is the Christian Standard Bible”) (xvi), a section on context, a section titled “exegesis,” and last a “bridge” section. This format is in keeping with other commentaries in the series (Psalms: volumes 1–2 [EBTC] [2021] has a section titled “Exposition” in place of the “exegesis” section found in the Matthew commentary). The context section is quite versatile and may not conform to some people’s understanding of the term “context.” Within the category, Quarles at times discusses the historical context, e.g., physical surroundings (339), the literary context, e.g., the pericope’s connection to the preceding text (636), or the author foreshadows theological conclusions, e.g., Jesus feeding the crowds relates to the manna in Exodus (361). The “bridge” section portrays biblical connections, not relationships between the text and the church today. This section explains how the passage being discussed relates to the Old or New Testaments, or both.

Across the volume, the reader will note the evangelical nature of the book and observe that Quarles provides some unique or different viewpoints that make the commentary different from its peers. First, the commentary is very evangelical. For example, Quarles frequently states or implies that Jesus is God (121, 353, 390n424, 514) and that the book of Matthew is primarily about Jesus (319). The commentary holds to a high Christology, i.e., a view that first-century believers understood Jesus’ divinity (508). The second item is that Quarles contributes fresh insights. Concerning the fresh insights, Quarles is not afraid to present his interpretations that are not commonly held or positions that face opposition from scholars. He is forthright with these positions, stating when his positions are not commonly held, which brings about a level of scholarly integrity (458n543, 504). When voicing an opinion that faces opposition, Quarles cites key interlocutors who disagree with him (450, 504n605). Related to scholarly integrity, Quarles makes known to the reader when he is persuaded by a single scholar’s work (428n491).

Matthew (EBTC) is recommended best for pastors and scholars. Although the series desired for the commentary to reach a wide audience and does not exceed well in accomplishing this goal. The commentary is accessible because of good communication (e.g., avoidance of specialized technical terms or presuming the reader has a deep knowledge of Jewish/Christian history). But the average layperson or congregant will probably gravitate to shorter and even less technical commentaries. Also, most church members may not be familiar with primary sources like the Talmud and Mishnah, which can be confusing. Along this line, there are numerous discussions that include information probably foreign to the non-scholar, e.g., the “Chamber of Hewn Stone in the temple precincts” (655). The last potential roadblock for readers is that Quarles does not present clearly the biblical-theological methods and language employed, e.g., how to identify typology or “Subtle allusions” (102). The author does provide the reader with some explanation of how Matthew uses the OT, but Quarles “resort[s] to referring the reader to previous studies published elsewhere [for further evidence]” (104n82). Nonetheless, the volume will reach a broad spectrum of readership, but perhaps not as wide a spectrum as the series hoped.

The readers in ministry will likely appreciate the “bridge” sections. Within these sections, Quarles presents the “connective tissue” that links the historical/biblical-theological elements from the book of Matthew to the rest of Scripture. Within the “bridge” sections, the author stays away from giving a prescription or precise application of the text to the reader. By avoiding prescription and application, Quarles enables the pastor or teacher flexibility to apply God’s Word appropriately to their context, i.e., the bridge section contains additional information that can serve as building blocks to teaching. Further, within the bridge sections, Quarles avoids weighing in on hot topics or dating the commentary with the events of 2022 (or prior to the year of publication). However, the absence of personal application may be another reason that laypersons may seek a commentary that is more devotional. 

Overall, the commentary achieves the desires of the series and the author. That is, Quarles delivers a commentary that is rich in biblical theology, fresh and original, and is a tool that can help pastors glorify Christ in their churches. Pastors, in particular, should consider Matthew (EBTC) as a commentary to add to their personal or church library.


Ross Harmon
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Lexham Academic, 2023 | 920 pages

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